Friday, June 27, 2014

So yeah, guess what?


30 weeks seems like long enough to post our official announcement... The Bean family is expecting another little sprout in September! 

To celebrate this big event, I'm hosting a little contest!

Jude immediately gave his baby sister a nickname, one that is sure to stick. If you can guess it, you will be entered to win a full set of personalized plantable note cards! Just type your guess into the comments below and I will announce a winner next Wednesday, July 2nd! You get an extra entry if you like my page and "Share" this post on Facebook, just leave a second comment saying you did so.

Hint: It's a fruity name;) And no fair entering if you already know the answer, friends!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The "It's Not Really a Cookie, But Almost" Bar


The boy and I are completely obsessed with Larabars. It all began back when I was first pregnant with Jude and I was looking for a snack that was good on the go and packed a protein punch. I discovered the Cherry Pie Larabars and was done for. It wasn't until I began making baby food for him that I realized I could make my own, and later whipped up the Baby Truffles version for his little fingers. Time went by, I got lazy, I forgot about Larabars. Then I got knocked up again and realized it is a pretty good time to start looking closely at what I'm putting in my mouth. 

Since Larabars are almost never on sale and the jumbo packs on Amazon don't have all the yummy flavors in them, I have had to go back to making my own. And you know what? I like them so much more! They take literally minutes to make, and you can use absolutely any combo of dried fruits and nuts. Jude still loves the PB&J and Pina Colada flavors, but now Oatmeal Cookie is my favorite. It's sweet, but not too sweet, and gives us both enough energy to make it through a full morning of art class, playtime, and Morrisey-esque meltdown drama (because toddlers). Keep them in the fridge for up to two weeks, but they likely won't last that long!

Oatmeal Cookie Fruit and Nut Bars
makes 8 bars
Ingredients:
10 oz. walnuts
10 oz. raisins
1 cup quick cooking oats
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preparation:
Pour raisins into a shallow bowl. Pour enough boiling water into the bowl to just cover the raisins. Set aside for 10 minutes to re-hydrate. Line a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with a full sheet of wax paper. Drain the raisins and squeeze out any excess water (you want them plump and moist, but not drowning).

Add raisins, walnuts, oats, cinnamon and vanilla to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until combined and a ball begins to form. If the mixture looks wet and very sticky, add a bit more oats and pulse again. Turn the mixture out into one end of  the prepared pan. Fold the wax paper up and over the mixture and press it down into the ends and corners of one half of the pan, until you have a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Slice into bars and refrigerate up to two weeks wrapped in wax paper.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sweet Indulgences


I made the mistake of making a Tres Leches Cake for a belated Cinco de Mayo celebration dinner with some hot mama friends. It was really only a mistake because the cake was so incredibly delicious that everyone wanted to take pieces home to their husbands, and there wasn't enough for me to eat for breakfast the next day. I should have made two. 

Tres Leches Cake is one of the simplest and most delicious little sweet things on Earth. If you haven't ever made it, I highly recommend you do so immediately. I really like the recipe from Pioneer Woman, which you can find here. The problem with any recipe for Tres Leches Cake is that you always end up with extra sweet cream. Sometimes a lot of extra sweet cream. And what would any sane person do with extra sweet cream? Why, make ice cream of course. Luckily, I not only had plenty of extra sweet cream, I also had extra cake. 

Some would argue there is no such thing as extra cake. I just happened to have baked a ton of vanilla layer cake for a cake pop order, and a full layer was wrapped and waiting for its destiny to unfold. Its destiny was to be crumbled by my adept little fingers into a bowl of frosty sweet cream, along with a swirl of dulce de leche, and a cherry on top. Good Heavens.

Tres Leches Cake Ice Cream
Ingredients:
1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Enough heavy cream to equal 2 2/3 cups liquid
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup vanilla cake, crumbled
1 can sweetened condensed milk for cooking or 1 can dulce de leche

In a large liquid measuring cup (at least 3 cups), whisk evaporated milk and one can sweetened condensed milk until well combined. Add vanilla and enough heavy cream to make 2 2/3 cup liquid. Stir to combine and set aside in the refrigerator.

Skip this step if using prepared dulce de leche! To make your own dulce de leche, peel the label from the second can of sweetened condensed milk. Using a can opener, pop two small holes at opposite sides of the top of the can (as if you were going to pour it out). Place the can holes up in a small pot and fill with water so that about one inch of the can is above the water line. Heat over medium high heat until simmering. Keep the water at a low simmer for three hours, checking to be sure the water is at or about one inch from the top of the can the entire time. You may need to add water occasionally. After about three hours, your dulce de leche will be soft set, perfect for this ice cream. Remove the can with a pair of tongs at set it aside to cool. Once cool, open the can, pour it into a bowl and whisk to combine.

When you are all set up to make the ice cream, remove the cream mixture from the refrigerator. Process according to your ice cream makers instructions. For the Kitchen Aid mixer attachment, that means turning the speed to the lowest setting, pouring in the cream, and mixing for 20-25 minutes. Once your ice cream is soft set, Remove the bowl and gently fold in both cake crumbles and dulce de leche. You want to see swirls in the ice cream, you do not want it fully incorporated. Alternately, you can spoon 1/3 of the ice cream into a freezer safe container, top with a sprinkle of cake crumbs and 1/3 dulce de leche, repeating layers. That's just up to you! Store in the freezer for at least an hour before serving to allow the ice cream to set up completely. You'll want to eat this up within a week, as homemade ice cream tends to crystallize a touch if left too long, but I don't think that will be a problem for you. It certainly wasn't for me!


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Sprinkle and a Strawberry Cream Cake


My next door neighbor and awesome friend K is expecting her baby girl any second now. Another friend and I put together a little baby sprinkle for her to celebrate and to make sure her little lady is fully adorned in pinky-pink goodness. She has a little boy already, so the dudes outnumber her, but not for long. Any baby shower or sprinkle is really just an excuse to sit around and gossip, but remember, a party without cake is just a meeting. This cake is a stunner if I do say so myself, and not just because it is pretty. This was the first time I actually decorated a cake with roses, and though it is a bit sloppy, I love the way it turned out! I underestimated how much frosting I would need, so you'll notice that the top layer has two shades of roses. I had to whip up a last minute extra batch and it didn't have time to set up before I needed to finish decorating! As pretty as this cake ended up looking, it is really the flavor that matters! I love strawberry cream cake, but I was worried about it becoming soggy since I had to put it together the night before. I decided to try using stabilized whipped cream as the filling and hoped for the best. It was perfect! It kept the cake moist, but prevented the fresh berries from making it wet. The combination of the light cake and the fresh berries and cream is so perfect for a shower, and the frosting is delicious (albeit a bit on the "whoa there" side for my personal taste. Those roses make for a LOT of frosting on each slice.). 
I see myself making this one again and again!

Strawberry Cream Ombre Layer Cake
Cake:
3 cups Jiffy Baking mix
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
4 Tbls. vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Frosting:
2 cups vegetable shortening
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 lbs. powdered sugar
1/4 - 1/2 cup milk

Filling:
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. gelatin 
4 tsp. very cold water

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8 inch cake pans (I also add a parchment paper circle to the bottoms, just in case!)

For cake: 
Sift together dry ingredients. Whisk together wet ingredients. Beat wet into dry until just combined and pour into prepared pans. Bake for 30 minutes or until top is just golden. Drape a clean kitchen towel over cakes and alow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Tip cakes out onto a rack to cool completely, then slice each into two layers. (Not feeling too confident in your cake layer cutting skills? Check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nipmRVMfXWg)

For frosting:
Beat shortening and butter until fluffy. Add vanilla and 1 cup sugar and beat until combined. Continue beating and adding 1 cup sugar, alternating with a drizzle of milk, until desired sweetness and consistency is reached. (*Note: I usually find that I don't need all of the sugar!) If you want to create an ombre cake, you'll want to divide this frosting into three equal parts. Tint each one with natural dye (like beet juice) or food coloring, making each batch just a shade darker than the one before.

For filling: 
Whisk water and gelatin in a small pan until combined and let sit until thickened. Place pan on the stove top over medium heat and stir, cooking until dissolved. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat cream until slightly thick. Continue beating and add vanilla. Gradually add sugar and then gelatin, beating until peaks form. 

To assemble/decorate:
Smear about a tsp. of frosting on your plate or cake circle and top it with a layer of cake. That's your glue:)
Cover the cake with a layer of whipped cream, then a layer of berries, and top with whipped cream.


Place a cake layer on top and repeat, ending with the last cake layer. If you'll be doing ombre rosettes or any other fancy decorating, you'll want to do a crumb coat. Just a quick skim coat around the entire cake to cover it and prevent any crumbs from getting into your final beautiful product! Pop the cake into the fridge to set for about an hour, but as long as overnight if you cover it in an airtight container. To create those lovely ombre roses, this video is a nice little tutorial! http://iambaker.net/patriotic-rose-cake-video-tutorial/
You'll see that I used my ombre dyed frostings for my crumb coat, too. See how sloppy it really is? No big deal! Once this is chilled all of the brumbs will stay put and your little roses can stand out. It was way easier than I thought it would be, but I know my next cake will look even better!




Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sprin-ter?

It snowed last night.

I know, it was only a dusting here, while some of you got actual inches of accumulation, so I shouldn't complain. But come on. I left Michigan for several reasons, one of the biggest being that I hate the winter. And here it is mid April, and there is frigging snow falling. My body is so confused by this weather that I have springtime allergy sneezes and a wintery cough at the same time. It's sprin-ter. If the weather doesn't perk up soon I'm buying a UV light.

I don't know what to cook. Monday we spent outside in tee shirts, lunching at a park picnic table with fruit, baguettes and fresh cheese. Tuesday was so dark and rainy I made a creamy risotto to warm things up. Today, I baked muffins just to have the oven on and mixed in some strawberries so I can pretend they are in season and it's actually summer. Cold makes me grumpy and lazy, so I didn't feel like pulling out my canisters to mix the usual batter. I had some pancake mix, so I figured that was worth a try. A baking mix is a baking mix is a baking mix, right?

These actually came out incredibly well. They were moist and soft in the center, with a good, lightly crusty muffin top (because there is still such a thing as a good muffin top). They are a little nutty and not too sweet, as well as being incredibly versatile. Mix in any fruit or nut you like, and they would easily be as delicious. The boy ate two for breakfast after he helped me mix them up, which took all of 5 minutes. Win win.

Strawberry Pancake Muffins
Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups pancake mix (I love Hodgson Mills Buckwheat Mix)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup strawberries, hulled and chopped
raw sugar (optional)

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tin with paper liners.
In a large mixing bowl, mix dry ingredients. In another bowl, whisk wet ingredients together and then fold into dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in strawberries. Scoop batter into lined muffin tins leaving 1/4 inch space from the top. Top with a sprinkling of raw sugar if desired. Bake 15 minutes or until tops are golden.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Three

Again this year I am blown away by the fact that my kid had a birthday. Is that going to happen every year? I just don't know how it is possible that we have a three year old, despite the obvious passing of time. Another year closer to pre-K, and school buses, and bike riding and all of those big boy things that will future cement the fact that our Bean is not even close to being a baby. It should be obvious since he is huge and talks like he's twelve, but it's like I'm the last person to figure it out.

This year's birthday celebration was art themed, since we spend a good chunk of our time getting crafty, and he loves it! I also figured that since most of Jude's buddies have come to our craft workshops at least once, it would be an easy way to corral them all into something organized and almost noise/motion less for at least ten minutes. With 30 people in the house and gloomy weather all day, that was a necessity.

We did a little bit of prep every day the week before the party and Jude helped with a lot of it. That way it kept him happy and busy during the day and kept me from getting overwhelmed by last minute stuff! One nice thing about his being a big boy is that he is actually incredibly helpful! So now you can get ready for the barrage of party photos and details... or just skip it:)


We spent an afternoon splatter painting with watercolors, and the big sheets became the base for the invitations. They are based on the idea of a gallery opening notice, so I kept the texts and design very simple. I wanted it to be bold, but didn't want to obscure the spatter paints. We stuck with primary colors so that became the color scheme for everything else! If you'd like to order invites, please visit the shop!


I covered all of the kitchen art with art of our own to make a little family gallery wall. The hearts and truck drawing (yes, those are trucks spraying out a fire!) are Jude's, the peach is mine, and the scene in the window is E's. He's actually very artisitic (just don't tell him I told you).


Kitchen decor was really simple, just primary colored streamers and balloons, a paint brush banner wrapped around the light fixture, and inexpensive table cloths. I spread some kraft paper on the table for people to draw on, and the paint dripped mason jars were another kid craft project. Again, if you'd like to order a banner, you can visit the shop!


Food is obviously the most important part of any party, and we stuck with brunch items since it was early! Bagels and different spreads, a big fruit salad, danish in primary colors, mini strata cups (which were in the oven at the time I took this photo), "creative juices," a paint dripped cake, and parfait push pops.




The cake was a version of my mom's lemon layer cake, but only one layer was lemon. I added a layer of cherry filling and a layer of blueberry filling to follow the primary color theme.


It was gooood. This is all that's left, so I may be having it with coffee later!


I didn't have a lot of decorating to do in the craft room, either, since it is basically decorated all the time with giant tissue pom poms and banners, plus our big art display board. I hung some balloons and drew up a little faux gallery wall background on kraft paper during a "Call the Midwives" marathon one afternoon, and that was it.


The kids worked on monogram canvases, which was super fun, and they came out so cute! I used green painters tape to make it easier to pull off, and it was kind of a PIA honestly. Most of Jude's buddies have curvy initials, so cutting and lining up all of the pieces of tape for 13 canvases took me forever. It was the most time consuming thing of the whole party! In the end it was worth it, since it kept them busy and they all had a ready to hang work of art to take home in the end!


We spent another afternoon making playdough favors, which Jude loves. We used my favorite playdough recipe (which I will post later since I have a few tips to add to the original!) and colored it red, yellow, and blue. I added a little color blending chart (similar to the ones that are on the parfait stand) and stamped tags from the scrap paper leftover from cutting the invitations.


Don't know why I don't have a clear shot of these, so use your imagination!


I stenciled a shirt for Jude to wear with a Basquiat crown, since he's one of my favorite artists, and this is the only photo I have of it somehow! It's probably just as appropriate for my child to wear Basquiat as it is for him to wear his Old Dirty Bastard shirt, so I'm cool with it. Only one of the parents knew what is was anyway, so we didn't have to delve into how fitting it is to use my toddler to pay homage to one of the 27 club members.


And the obligatory blowing-out-the-candle shot. He didn't even spit on the cake! 
But he didn't eat it either. He still prefers bagels.

*If you like this post, please take a moment to head over to the party post on Project Junior
and show a little comment love or 
click the stars to add your rating! 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Some like it hot


I mentioned that E has been training for the NYC half marathon for the last few months, which means I have been cooking carbs like crazy. Aside from pasta and pizza, these chicken and black bean enchiladas have made several appearances on the dinner table. We are a little obsessed. It had been ages since I made enchiladas, because they tend to feel like a little indulgent cheese bomb of heat, but they work out great for obsessive runners. Carbs, protein, veggies, boom. I now make a double batch and stick one in the freezer for another day cause I'm crafty like that.

I can't stress enough the difference it makes to have enchilada sauce from scratch. It's easy, cheap, and so much better than the canned stuff! One batch of this sauce easily makes a 9x13 pan of enchiladas (or two smaller pans like I make) and leaves extra for reheating leftovers. Once you make this you will never go back! The same goes for homemade refried black beans (which I'll post later so as not to clog your brain with too much tex-mex-amazement in one post).

Once you make the sauce, you can do anything you like to fill your enchiladas. I like to spoon a bit of sauce into the bottom of the baking dish and then brown the tortillas over an open flame (or the grill) to soften them up and give them a little toasty flavor. Fill each with your choice of fillings and a generous sprinkling of cheese before rolling and placing seam side down in the pan. Pour enchilada sauce over the whole pan and cover with another handful of cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until bubbly and browned on top.

Green Enchilada Sauce (two ways)
Ingredients:
1 lb. tomatillos
1 1/2 lbs. Cubanelle or Anaheim peppers
1 dried habanero pepper
3 cups chicken stock
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbls. cornstarch
salt and pepper

Preparation:
Boil 1 cup of water in small pot. Drop the habanero pepper in and set aside to soak.

Preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil and spread the remaining peppers in a single layer. Broil, turning as needed, until softened and skin has blistered, about 15 minutes. Once cooled, remove skins, stems, and seeds and set aside. Drain the water from the habanero pepper, remove stem and seeds and set aside.

Peel and wash the tomatillos. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the tomatoes and boil 5-7 minutes, until all of the tomatoes float to the surface. Drain and add to the bowl of a food processor. Add peppers and pulse until pureed.

Pour puree into a large sauce pan over medium high heat. Add stock, oregano, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.

Dissolve the cornstarch in a few Tbls. of warm water. Add to the tomatillo sauce, stirring, and return to a boil. Simmer an additional 5-10 minutes until sauce has thickened.

**When I make this sauce, I leave out the habanero until the end. That way most of the sauce is mild, perfect for making enchiladas for those who aren't heat crazed, or for a toddler with developing taste buds.
I reserve 1 1/2 cups of this sauce and then add it back to the food processor along with the habanero pepper. Pulse to combine and you have a nice spicy sauce that is a great accent to add over the top of the cooked enchiladas when serving.

Jude's first foodie photo bomb.