Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Illinois Marathon Edition + Super Sweet Carbo Celebrating

It's Illinois Marathon weekend here in the bustling microurban community of Champaign-Urbana. Last year, our family was deeply involved: Sean ran the full marathon, I ran the 5K, and Finn participated in the Youth Run. Although Finn was the only one of us to participate in a race this year, we still kept busy watching races and cheering on friends and neighbors. It was a super fun weekend, with 20,000 runners participating in six different races and lots of opportunities to get involved.

The Youth Run is a 1K race that starts in the southeast corner of our football stadium, skirts three sides of the perimeter, then ends on the 50 yard line. Last year, at age 3 1/2, Finn sort of half-heartedly loped along, picking up sticks on the way while I encouraged him to keep going. This year, he sprinted and I raced to keep up with him. I was crazy proud of his enthusiasm and energy.



It seemed only right to have a bonus dessert night this weekend after all his hard work, and Sean came up with the brilliant idea of making bread pudding. I had defrosted a loaf of my Easter bread the day before and we still had quite a bit left; the other ingredients were all things we had around the house, so with a quick recipe search and about ten minutes preparation, I threw together this incredibly delicious evening treat for our little runner (and his family).

The sauce has brandy in it, and since my kids were plenty tired without having any alcohol, I scooped a couple spoonfuls into their bowls before adding the liquor. Also, the original recipe calls for Italian bread, allowed to get stale overnight. I think any bread that was somewhat dense would work just fine. I used the anise bread which wasn't stale and frankly it was off the charts good. My proportions halve those in the original recipe as we didn't need 8 to 10 servings, but you could easily double it for a crowd and prepare it in a 9x13 pan.



Bread Pudding
Adapted from Paula Deen
Yield 4-6 servings

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  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large beaten eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups cubed Italian bread, allow to stale overnight in a bowl
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans 
For the sauce:
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 egg, beaten (do your best)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp. brandy (whiskey would also work)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 2 quart casserole dish.

Mix together granulated sugar, eggs, and milk in a bowl; add vanilla. Pour over cubed bread and let sit for 10 minutes.

In another bowl, mix and crumble together brown sugar, butter, and pecans.

Pour bread mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle brown sugar mixture over the top and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until set. Remove from oven.

For the sauce:
Mix together the granulated sugar, butter, egg, and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir together until the sugar is melted. Add the brandy, stirring well. Pour over bread pudding. Serve warm or cold.

Enjoy!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dessert Night: Strawberries on a Stick

I can hardly call this a recipe; it's more the fortuitous result of having my kid remind me that it's dessert night (Friday) and looking in the fridge to see what I can come up with. I had a pint of strawberries and a batch of plain yogurt, among other things. Add in some brown sugar and you've got all you need for Strawberries on a Stick. Ready? Here goes.

Wash and hull a strawberry.

Stick a toothpick in the end.

Dip it in plain yogurt (sour cream also works).

Roll it in brown sugar.

Yum.



NOTE: Although the photo only shows one strawberry, you should by no means limit yourself to one. These are super yummy!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dinner Tonight: Cornbread on the Side

So for years I have wanted a set of soup and sandwich platters from Uncommon Goods; since I came across these lovely sets four or five years ago, they have had a permanent place on my wishlist.  Aren't they neat?


Besides the obvious soup and sandwich combination (which is usually featured at least once a week for dinner around here), they are perfect for soup and bread, or cereal and toast, or fruit and a muffin, or soup and a salad...just think of all the things that can go together!

Long story short - Sean got me a set for my birthday, and I am ridiculously excited about them. They made tonight's dinner (which was essentially reheated chili that I found in the back of the freezer accompanied by big slabs of corn bread) so much nicer, and I foresee extensive use in our future.

In addition to bragging about my new favorite product, I thought I'd share a quick corn bread recipe with you all. I posted this several months ago, but it is worth posting again. Why, you may ask?

  • Making cornbread from scratch (rather than from a mix) takes maybe two or three minutes more. Seriously. The first step is to mix all the dry ingredients. When you buy a mix, that is the only part that is done for you. But chances are the dry ingredients in your cupboard are fresher than those in a boxed mix, and I'm pretty sure this recipe uses more baking powder than the average boxed mix.
  • Making cornbread from scratch yields the fluffiest, lightest cornbread I have ever tasted. See above re: baking powder.
  • Homemade cornbread does not crumble into a million pieces when you cut it. It stays in nice wedges that are, coincidentally, perfect for putting on the square part of a brand new soup and sandwich platter.

This is the recipe on the canister of Quaker Yellow Corn Meal. Nothing fancy, but oh so good!

Easy Corn Bread

1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup corn meal
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 egg whites or one egg, beaten

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 8 or 9 inch pan.

Combine first five ingredients.

Stir in milk, oil, and egg, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened.

Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden brown. Serve warm.



Saturday, April 21, 2012

SURPRISE!


As some of you may remember, my niece Iona lived with us for four months last fall and attended middle school here in Champaign. Just before Christmas we tearfully sent her home to France and started counting the days until summer when we would see her again. Shortly after that, my sister (her mother) let us know that for the first time ever, they wouldn't be coming in the summer - seems those crazy gas prices impact air travel as well. We never did tell the boys about the change in plans - Emmett wouldn't quite get it, but Finn would have been devastated.


Then something amazing happened. Lufthansa posted tickets from Frankfurt to Chicago for ridiculously cheap that just happened to fall over their spring break. Plans quickly fell into place for a short spring visit. Once again, we decided not to tell the boys - but for a good reason this time!

And so, after lunch yesterday, I told Finn and Emmett to put on their shoes. It was the first time we referenced the surprise at all. We planned on meeting Iona, her brother Edgar, her sister Didi, my sister, and my parents at a restaurant halfway between Chicago and Champaign. As we pulled in, we told Finn that we were going to get a bite to eat before the surprise...still no clue. And then...

(with advance apologies for the terrible quality - we're going Handycam to Webcam here...my computer doesn't want to talk to my videocamera today)

video



Best.surprise.ever.

Today happens to be my birthday. I can't imagine a better way to spend it than with this crew!


We've got one more surprise in store. This evening, Iona will be surprising the fourteen girls that she attended school with last semester. That's fourteen fourteen-year-old girls about to be surprised by the return of their friend. Expect shrieking. Lots and lots of shrieking.

Happy weekend, all!





Friday, April 20, 2012

Dinner Tonight: Quinoa Stuffed Peppers for a Crowd

This week's menu was largely inspired by this week's sale paper; when peppers go on sale (10 for $10!), we eat a lot of peppers in a lot of different colors for a lot of nights in a row. Since I had recently made my standby roasted red pepper soup, I went searching for something new. This was a delicious and beautiful meal that I found in Moosewood Restaurant New Classics, a favorite tome of mine. The cookbook recommends serving the peppers with a tangy salad, which would be lovely, but I think it would also be great with black beans on the side. You could also serve it with eggs as a brunch dish.


This makes a lot of peppers - between the four of us, we ate five halves, saved one, and packed the other six up for a friend who just had a baby (you know who you are!). While there is a bit of preparation involved in this meal, you could make and stuff the peppers in advance then do the final bake just before dinner.

Enjoy!

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics
Serves 6

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1 cup raw quinoa
6 medium bell peppers, any color
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. salt, or more to taste
1 cup peeled and diced carrots
1 cup diced zucchini
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse well under running water. In a covered pot, bring quinoa and 2 cups of water to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the quinoa is soft and the water is absorbed.

While the quinoa cooks, cut the peppers in half lengthwise and, leaving the stems intact, seed them. Brush the peppers on both sides with oil. Place peppers cut side down on an oiled baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes, until softened and slightly browned but not collapsed. When the peppers are roasted, remove from oven to cool and reduce the heat to 350 degrees (or turn off oven if you are going to bake them much later).

In a large skillet, warm 1 tbsp olive oil and saute the onions and garlic on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the onions have softened. Stir in the spices, carrots, zucchini, and corn. Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are very tender.

Combine the sauteed vegetables and the cooked quinoa and add salt to taste. Turn over the pepper shells and spoon filling into each half. Sprinkle each bell pepper half with some cheese. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, until the filling is hot and the cheese is melted.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Popsicles for Breakfast

I am proud to say that since posting the recipe for slow cooker yogurt, I have consistently made a batch a week, and we've all enjoyed having that bowl of thick, creamy yogurt on  hand. As the weather turns warmer, we've also been experimenting with yogurt pops. Super easy, super delicious, and much healthier than a popsicle...so I thought I'd share a few tips with you today.

 
A homemade yogurt pop is essentially a frozen smoothie on a stick, so you basically make a batch of fairly liquidy smoothie then freeze it in a popsicle mold. I have found that it is necessary to make the smoothie a bit sweeter than you do for a smoothie that you drink - it seems to lose some of its oomph in the freezer. Go ahead and experiment to find what works best for your family. These are the general proportions that we use - it is of course very flexible:

1 cup plain yogurt
1 ripe banana
1 cup berries (fresh or frozen)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup milk

Blend - pour - freeze!

BONUS: When you make popsicles out of smoothies, you have the option of offering them at breakfast time, which makes you a VERY popular parent. It was a Mom of the Year moment, for sure.




Easter Dinner a la Sean

Forget orchids for this mama - for my Easter treat, Sean volunteered to cook the entire dinner and in fact explicitly forbid me from the kitchen the entire day. Throughout the afternoon he photographed his handiwork, claiming inspiration from none other than this blog. I love this man.


And so, a moment to remember his divine work:

Deviled Eggs with Bacon, Scallions and Cherry Tomatoes

Roasted Chicken and Sauteed Swiss Chard with Onions and Bacon

Roasted Beets, Carrots, and Potatoes
The Cheese Course, courtesy of Prairie Fruits Farm

Strawberry Custard Pie

The roasted chicken was the gift that kept on giving; a few days after Easter, I made a ridiculously easy and delicious chicken and dumplings recipe that I found here. And I got fourteen cups of homemade chicken stock by simmering what was left after that.

As thoughts turn to spring and summer, I'm finding myself feeling somewhat uninspired...time to get my hands on a new project or a new cookbook...or perhaps to start planning the vegetable garden. I'll keep you posted.





Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Greek Easter Bread


I'm not sure when my mother started making this bread on Easter, nor do I know where she came across the recipe. I only know that when I think of Easter morning, it evokes the wonderful taste combination of hard boiled eggs and big, thick slabs of this fantastic, subtly sweet bread with lots and lots of butter. This is actually a variation of Christopsomo, which is a bread traditionally served on Christmas in the Greek Orthodox tradition, but I'm sharing it here with you today in case you are looking for a little something to go with your Easter eggs this weekend.

The bread is made with just a touch of anise. I'll say up front that I do not particularly like the taste of anise (and I absolutely despise the taste of licorice), but it adds a complexity to this dense loaf that works so perfectly.


 Enjoy!

Greek Easter Bread

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2 packages yeast, active dry
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup milk, scalded and cooled
1 cup butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
4 eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. crushed anise seed
1 tsp. salt
7 cups all purpose flour
1 egg white, slightly beaten

  1. Blend yeast with warm water and let stand until softened, about 5 minutes.  In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture, milk, butter, eggs, sugar, anise, and salt.  Blend thoroughly.  Gradually beat in the flour.

  2. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a large greased bowl, turning so surface is coated. Cover and let rise in a warm place about 2 hours or until almost doubled in size.

  3. Punch dough down and knead on an unfloured surface. Divide into two balls and knead until smooth. Place on a greased baking sheet and flatten to form two discs.  Cover and set in a warm place for about 1 hour or until almost doubled in size.

  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush both loaves with beaten egg white. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack.

  5. To reheat, wrap bread in foil and place in 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.