Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Big Freezer Stock Up - Round 2

I mentioned that I have a chest freezer almost bursting in the basement. I'm pretty excited. Pear's arrival is sneaking closer and closer, and the Girl Scout in me needs to be prepared on all fronts. Food is obviously the most important thing to prep, since everything else (nursery decor, new clothes, sleep) is really just icing on the cake. Fun icing, but not really essential in the end. Food, though? Absolutely essential. 

I am so blessed to have a crew of incredible mamas who are doing a Meal Train for us in the first weeks after Pear's birth, but after that, I still don't want to have to cook. My hope is to go a full month without having to make anything more complicated than a sandwich. To that end, I have been stockpiling, batch cooking, and freezing like mad. The last few freezer parties I had were great fun, and the lists and recipes for those are wonderful (and can be found here), but this time it was easier to just do the prep on my own. I stretched it out over a few weeks and just cooked when I had time, or when Jude took a really long nap. I also added some breakfasts to the usual dinner freezer prep, because nothing is worse than a hangry nursing mama with a newbie to deal with. 

Since I didn't actually plan a party, I don't have a full shopping list or printable labels for you at the moment. I may get around to it, I may not. Depends on this girl and her time table:) In the meantime, here is a grand list of recipes for all of the things I have stocked up for the next month! Hopefully you can find a little inspiration here to get you stocking up for September and the dreaded beginning of school!

Breakfast:

Strawberry Banana Muffins - This recipe is great, and freezes well. I did substitute whole wheat flour for white, so I increase the yogurt by 1/2 a cup.



Lunch/Dinner:
Oven Baked Fajitas - I froze these in large aluminum pans with the plastic tops. Double wrap the pan with foil, add a package of shredded cheese and a package of fajitas on top with your note for baking info, and pop the plastic top over it all. That way your full meal is ready to go when you pull it from the freezer. No hunting for ingredients!

Enchiladas - No you don't need to make your own sauce, but it is worth it if you have time!

Beef Chili - I really like this Emeril recipe. It has chocolate and beer in it. No brainer!

Meat Lovers Lasagna - I make it different every time, but here's a good recipe for it!

Honey Dijon Curried Chicken - This is a new one for me, so I don't have a review yet. I added a sliced onion and peppers to each pan with the chicken, and plan to serve it over rice. it sounds delish, so here's hoping since I prepped three pans full!

Fish Cakes with Corn and Cilantro - I made these a few weeks ago and Jude loved them! I add a handful of finely chopped cilantro and some cayenne to the mix and they froze up beautifully!

French Fried Onion Chicken Fingers - I changed this recipe up a lot as well, but the onion in the breading is key! Dip and bread your fingers, line them on a baking sheet ad freeze. Once they are frozen solid, toss them in a big ziploc bag for safekeeping and you can pull out a few at a time to bake!

BBQ Pulled Pork - I did a huge pork shoulder in the crock pot, served up half for dinner and froze the rest. This makes great fare for sandwiches, pizza, nachos, anything! It may not be a full meal in one pan, but it is still a good time saver! I love this recipe from Slow Cooker Revolution. Hands down the best slow cooker cook book ever, by the way!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Peach Pie FTW!


We have about 3 weeks until the arrival of Baby Pear, and this house is in full nesting swing. The nursery is almost completed, the freezer is almost fully stocked with meals, and we have just enough time to squeeze in some more family summer fun before she arrives. Today's adventure was the Peach Festival at our favorite summer market: Ramsey Farmer's Market.

Of course, because I'm a maniac, I decided this morning to bake a peach pie for the contest they were hosting. I've never made a peach pie before, Actually, I've never made a pie before! My grandmother makes the world's best pies, so I have never felt the need to bake my own. But there I was, a huge bag of peaches on the kitchen counter and a few hours to fill before market opening, so a pie I made. I used the crust recipe my mom swears by, and modified my peach cobbler filling a bit (since I am out of bourbon, the shame!). Of course, my peaches felt a touch under-ripe to me, so I blanched them a bit longer than usual and ended up freaking out that I had overcooked them. Then Jude started climbing on me, I spilled a bunch of cream on the floor, we had a matchbox car emergency, and in the end, the pie came out of the oven at 11:45, 15 minutes before I had to enter it in the contest. I didn't have high hopes, though it did look pretty! I had to carry the hot as lava pie plate at a full preggo clip through the crammed market, but thankfully the judges were all late. I was all nervous to see one of the judges was Produce Pete, so I assumed he'd be a tough judge and figured, whatever, at least I'll have pie to stuff in my face later. To my surprise, about half an hour later they announced the winner and it was me! Sweet! Apparently the winners from a bunch of markets have to compete in a regional contest for a big prize, but that takes place in September, a few weeks after Miss Pear's due date. Methinks I will have to pass, but you never know. If preggo hormones inspired me to bake today, nursing hormones may inspire me to do it again!


Prize Winning Brown Sugar Peach Pie
Ingredients:

Crust:
3 cups AP flour
2 Tbls granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
2 sticks plus 2 Tbls. chilled butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/2 Tbls white vinegar
1/2 cup ice water (you likely won't need it all)

Filling:
8 cups peaches, peeled and sliced
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbls. cornstarch

Topping:
2 Tbls heavy cream
raw sugar


Preparation:
In the bowl of your food processor, pulse flour, salt and sugar to combine. Add chilled butter and pulse until coarse crumbs form. Add vinegar and 8 Tbls. of the ice water and pulse until just combined. If the dough is too dry, add more ice water by the teaspoon and pulse quickly until the dough begins to come together. This happens fast and you don't want to add too much water or overwork the dough, so be careful! Turn dough out onto your work surface and gently shape into a mound. Cut the mound into two pieces, press each into a disc and wrap with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for at least an hour.

Prepare the peach filling. In a large bowl, toss peaches with brown sugar, nutmeg, vanilla, and cornstarch. Set aside.

Once the dough is fully chilled, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove one disc of dough and roll out on a floured surface. Place dough into a pie plate, fill the shell with foil and pie weights or dried beans and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and beans/weights and allow to cool.

Using a slotted spoon, spoon peaches into bottom crust. Discard excess juices. Remove second disc of dough from the refrigerator and roll onto a floured surface. Cut into 1/2 inch strips. The quick cheat way to make the lattice top is to simply layer 6 stripes across the pie horizontally, about 1/2 inch apart, then lay the other strips on top of them going vertically. If you'd like it to be fancy and official, you can weave them ala Martha. Press your strips gently to adhere to the bottom crust and trim any overhang. Brush lattice top with heavy cream and sprinkle with raw sugar. Place in the oven for 30 minutes. If your pie is beginning to bubble over, slide a cookie sheet underneath to catch any drips! Cover loosely with foil if the crust is beginning to over brown and bake another 20 minutes until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown.


He wouldn't stop chewing for a second, not even to smile. I guess it was good!

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.