Thursday, February 27, 2014

Happy Birthday, E!

Yesterday E turned another year older. Birthdays are kind of a big deal around here, but even more so since we had Jude. Having a kid has given me a new excuse to be ridiculous with any celebration that pops up, it just gets harder to top myself every year. This year Jude and I drew a giant birthday card for his annual "Happy Birthday, Daddy" Facebook photo, and as cute as it is, it still can't beat the original.

Anyhow, along with crating and photo taking antics, we had dinner at E's favorite Mexican place, followed by birthday cupcakes and candles. The perfect birthday cupcakes for someone who isn't into chocolate? PB and J of course. Nothing could stop me from whipping up a little bit of fudge frosting for the extra cakes, though. Because despite E's aversion, it isn't a birthday in my kitchen if there isn't some chocolate floating around.

These cupcakes began as a spin on an old family favorite, the maid of honor. They are a little pastry that my great grandmother made, then my grandmother, and now my mother is in charge. They have a pie crust base and a lightly sweet vanilla cake on top, with raspberry filling and almond frosting. No family event is complete without them. And though there are many versions of peanut butter and jelly cupcakes out there, most of them are missing the essential crust. This version has the lightly toasted crust, fluffy white bread-esque cake, a jam center and the fluffiest peanut butter frosting known to man.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes
makes 18-20 cupcakes

1 cup strawberry, blueberry, or grape preserves
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
3 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbls. sugar
1/3 c. very cold shortening
1/2 c. cold water
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 c. sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. buttermilk
1 c. peanut butter
6 Tbls. unsalted butter at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. confectioners sugar
1/2 c. cream

Grease muffin tins with butter and dust with flour.

Prepare crust. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse flour, salt, and sugar until combined. Add cold butter and pulse a few times until the butter resembles small peas. With the processor turned on, add the cold water a Tbls. at a time, until the dough forms a ball. Dump the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and knead into a ball. Wrap tightly in the wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes. Once chilled, slice dough ball in half and return one half to the refrigerator. On a floured board, roll the other half into a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut rounds using a biscuit cutter and press into prepared muffin tins. Repeat with the remaining dough.

In a small bowl, stir the jam until smooth. Spoon a generous teaspoon into the center of each muffin cup. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar using a mixer. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture and milk gradually, alternating between additions and scraping down the sides of the bowl.
Pour batter into muffin cups, leaving 1/4 inch space from the top. This should be just enough to cover the jam.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until cakes are just golden. Allow to cool 5 minutes in the pans before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Prepare the frosting. Beat butter and peanut butter at medium speed until combined. Add vanilla, salt and sugar and beat until fluffy. Add cream and continue beating until pale and fluffy. Frost each cupcake and top with sprinkles if desired.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Triple Ginger

I think it is pretty safe to say that I am cookie obsessed. It's not a bad thing. Cookies cure everything from heartbreak to homesickness, boredom to the blues. My usual go-to mood booster cookie is chocolate chip, but when I want to mix it up a little I go for ginger. I absolutely love these Triple Ginger Cookies from Bon Appetit for their spice and snap. However, they are a little heavy on the molasses and I was looking for something a bit softer. See, E doesn't really do chocolate, and after our anniversary dinner at Le Bernardin, he is obsessed with mango gelato. For Valentine'd Day I had to make that gelato for dessert, but I couldn't serve it alone. It was served with little bits of crystallized ginger at the restaurant, so that was what inspired my hunt for a perfect ginger cookie. This one did it. Super soft on the inside, a little crisp on the outside, buttery and super gingery. The best part is that when kept in an airtight container, they were exactly as soft even a week later. No need to give them all away or scarf down 8 cookies in one sitting so they don't go to waste! You can dole them out as needed for a mood boost, and they are especially good on a gray, rainy day like this with a mug of hot tea.

Soft Baked Triple Ginger Cookies
from Theresa Sullivan
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling
2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature and cut into small pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped candied ginger

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Combine milk & ginger in a small cup. Heat in microwave for about 20 seconds. Set aside to steep.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and ginger. Set aside.
In a large bowl, blend together sugar and cream cheese. Blend in warm melted butter. Add oil, egg, milk steeped with ginger, and vanilla extract. Blend until combined. Fold in flour mixture with rubber spatula until incorporated and a soft dough forms. Fold in chopped candied ginger. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes until it firms enough to roll into balls.
Place remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small bowl. Using a 1 1/2 Tablespoon cookie scoop, portion out 12 dough balls per baking sheet. Roll each dough ball in your hands, then roll in sugar to coat. Space about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.
Bake 1 sheet at time at 350°F for 11-13 minutes, until set and just beginning to brown on the bottom. (They might not look done, but don’t over bake!) Cool on the baking sheet for 3-5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Little Bean Toddler Arts and Crafts Workshop - Winter Round-up

Back in the fall, I started running a little arts and crafts workshop for toddlers in our home day care. I knew the boy and I would start getting pretty antsy come winter, and although he has an awesome group of buddies, I wanted him to start interacting with some new people. Looking around at commitments and prices for the kiddie programs in the area left me feeling pretty bummed. $15 for an hour of open gym time? Or $35 for an art class once a week? I just couldn't justify it, especially since I knew we could plan something fun for ourselves with just a little time and money. 
I asked around, then made up a schedule and posted it to my Facebook page. Over the past few months our group has grown to include 18 mamas and their toddlers who pop in for classes. It's been so much fun, and my favorite part is watching all of them get to know each other. 

I try to use our favorite books as inspiration for our projects, so I thought I would share some of the things we have worked on so far this winter. We have had record breaking snowfall this year, so with all of the snow days, everyone is feeling a bit like caged animals. If you and your littles fall into that category as well, these are some fun activities for you to try out the next time you find yourselves deliriously house-bound.

The Snowy Day

One of my favorite winter themed picture books is The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. It's a classic, and it perfectly captures the fun and exploration of a small boy out playing with snow. The colors are bold and bright, and the story is a great length for toddlers from one year on up. 

Peter watches his footprints in the snow, makes tracks with a stick, watches some older boys have a snow ball fight, and  tries to keep one in his pocket. I figured a perfect project would be to make some of our own white playdough and set out different tools for the kids to explore with their "snow." They had a great time making little snow men and rolling out the dough and drawing tracks or stamping objects into it.

Ingredients for Perfect, Long Lasting Playdough:
1 cup water
1 cup all purpose flour
1 Tbls. vegetable oil
1/2 cup salt
1 Tbls cream of tartar

In a pot over medium heat, stir water, oil, salt, and cream of tartat until warmed through. Remove from heat and stir in flour util combined. Turn out the mixture onto a board or countertop and knead until smooth. Store in an airtight container or ziploc bag for up to six months! If you find your dough dries out at all, try adding a teaspoon of water and kneading it again until it is soft.

Tools for creative play:
- a paper plate
- a ball of dough
- a small rolling pin (actually they are cylindrical wooden blocks!)
- a pine cone
- a craft stick
- small cookie cutters


Another incredible winter picture book is Ice by Arthur Geisert. It isn't a great read aloud book, because, guess what? It has no words. It's pictures tell the story of Geisert's familiar crew of pigs on a new adventure. They find an iceberg, and have to figure out how to carve it up and transport it. They make all kinds of crazy machines, and your little one could probably look through this book for an hour discovering all of the little details. We couldn't exactly carve ice with a bunch of 2 year olds, but I figured some ice painting would certainly be manageable!

Tools for creative play:
- An ice cube tray
- water
- food coloring
- craft sticks
- water color paper

Fill your ice cube tray with water and add drops of food coloring to each one. Obviously the more food coloring you add, the bolder your colors will be. Snip craft sticks in half and put one into each space in the tray. These will serve as handles. Let paint cubes freeze overnight.

I set out a sheet of watercolor paper for each kiddo on top of a big plastic table cloth and let them go at it. This is a fun activity for talking about hot versus cold, melting and freezing, and color blending. The kids made a huge mess, and created some very cool effects with their paints!

Snuggle Puppy

OK, so this one was a Valentine's Day themed story and project, but it doesn't have to be! Snuggle Puppy by Sandra Boynton is one of the first board books I ever read to Jude, and one I buy for every friend who has a new baby. There is also an adorable audio version of the story, sung by Eric Stoltz, that we like to listen to along with the book. Since it's February, we did love themed crafts to imitate the imagery and bold colors of this sweet little book. 

Bleeding art tissue paper is one of my favorite kiddie craft supplies. Unlike regular tissue paper, it is heavily pigmented and meant to get wet, so that the colors will bleed onto paper. We have done several projects with this paper and this time we paired it with pastels to create a resist.

Tools for creative play:
- Bleeding art tissue paper
- Heavy cardstock or watercolor paper
- Pastels or crayons

First we let the littles scribble a design on their watercolor paper (or the mamas drew something). It is important to use a heavy hand with the pastels or crayons here, because you want it to resist the water later! Then they spread pieces of bleeding tissue over the designs. It can help to use a bit of glue from a glue stick (nothing permanent!)  to keep the tissue bits in place, especially with a group of energetic kids! Once the image is covered, they used paintbrushes, cotton balls, and cotton swabs to bruch water over the surface of the tissue. Once dried, the tissue falls away leaving a watercolor effect behind, and the crayon image shows through.

Next up is one of our other favorite books, Perfect Square by Michael Hall, a collage art book that is so simple, but a fantastic invitation to create collage art in a small space. Class is tomorrow, so I will post some photos and share the steps for that project soon!

Do you have a favorite picture book that inspires you to create with your toddler? If so, please share it in the comments so I can look into it!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

Oh hooray! It's here! The day that is the most equally loved and loathed holiday of the year! Well, whichever category you happen to fall into, you can't deny the ridiculously over-zealous holiday spirit that explodes across the internet over Valentine's Day. I recently discovered the vigor with which elementary school moms also debate the pros and cons of this day, thanks to my little town's Facebook page. The fury that candy isn't allowed in class was so hot I was laughing at each post (oh, and the turn the conversation took. Allergies, diabetes, obesity, oh my!). Then came  claims that kids were home crying because Valentine's Day parties would be postponed due to school closings. The horror! Might I share with you why or schools have closed two days this week? Take a gander:

That's our deck, people. I couldn't get out there if I tried. Roads are a disaster, schools and businesses are closed, and children across the county are wailing with sobs that their 4th grade party is postponed. Sigh. It's seriously time to get a grip people. 

While I love Valentine's Day (another excuse to snuggle my family, make treats, and send cards? It's right up my alley.), I certainly don't love the pushy, in-your-face bullshit of it. So, we'll be celebrating sans bullshit over here. We had a nice family breakfast (after E spent two hours digging our cars out) with heart shaped toads in a hole, fruit, and bacon. Jude hung out with a buddy this morning decorating cookies, and then we made mango ice cream for later. E doesn't really do chocolate, so we are having mango ice cream sandwiched between soft baked ginger sugar cookies tonight. They are DOPE, so I'll post that recipe tomorrow! Dinner will be Ina's Beef Bourguinon with garlic mashed potatoes. Simple, hearty winter food that's a bit special sine I never make it. We don't usually do gifts, but I did buy Jude a little something because I couldn't resist. 

Could you? I mean really. If you haven't seen the shop Her Bunnies Three and you have a little one, please do go over and visit! Her dolls are so adorable and she held a flash sale over the weekend. I scored a little blonde Mini Sweetie for Jude, which will be here any day. It will be his belated valentine, so he'll just get lots of extra kisses in the meantime.

So, how do you celebrate this so-called Hallmark holiday? Dinner out and roses? Scorn and Morrisey on repeat? Either way, I'd love to hear! I'm always gathering up ideas for next year!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Leftovers Shmeftovers

Well, that Super Bowl was a bust! Boring game, boring commercials, a total snore fest (unless you are a Seattle fan, I suppose!). Thank God for Bruno Mars or I would have fallen asleep on the couch in a carbo-cheese induced coma. The Super Bowl almost always ends up turning into a mini-Thanksgiving food wise, with a bunch of people stuffing their faces with everything in sight, then passing out on the couch full of beer and shame. Then come the leftovers. At least with Thanksgiving you can easily make another meal of it, but Super Bowl leftovers require a bit more creativity. Is your fridge stuffed to the gills with bowls of leftover guacamole, spinach dip, salsa, buffalo wings, or cold cuts? Not to worry. These ideas will get it gone for you, and fast.

What to do with all the leftovers?

1. Calzones. Just preheat your oven to 400 degrees and roll a prepared pizza dough into an oval onto a greased cookie sheet. Spoon the dip onto one side of the oval, leaving an inch border at the edge. Top with a little extra shredded cheese if you like and fold the dough over the filling. Pinch the edges to seal and bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is browned. Serve with some marinara for dipping! This is also a great way to use up your leftover pizza dip, buffalo chicken dip, or wings.

2. Macaroni and Cheese. Boil 8 oz. of whole wheat shells, reserving about 1/4 cup of pasta water. Melt 2 Tbls. butter in a sauce pan with 2 Tbls. of flour, whisking constantly until it is golden. Whisk in 1/2 c. milk. Then add a generous cup of spinach dip, stirring until smooth. Toss pasta, reserved cooking water and the sauce together and serve immediately. Again, you can substitute the spinach dip for pizza dip, buffalo chicken dip, or wings.

3. Pizza. This one works for just about any leftover appetizer you can think of. Roll out a prepared pizza dough and cover it with anything! Those dips or wings I keep talking about, crumbled meatballs, sliced ham or capicola from your deli tray, whatever! Just top it all with some shredded cheese and you are good to go!

4. Quiche, Omelettes and Frittatas. Eggs are my favorite way to use up leftover salsa and cheese, as well as any raw veggies from a veggie tray. Saute those bad boys up with a little oil, and pour a few scrambled eggs on top. Sprinkle it with cheese, fold it over and serve with salsa (or maybe a little guac if you're feeling crazy.) To make a quiche, spread 1 cup of your leftover dips (buffalo chicken, spinach artichoke, pizza, etc) into the bottom of a prepared nine inch pie crust. Whisk together 4 eggs and 1 cup milk or cream and pour over. Then bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until the eggs are set and golden brown.

5. Sandwiches (but only if you didn't actually make sandwiches for the Superbowl). All of your dips make great sandwich spreads, as long as you pair them with the right ingredients. Sliced turkey with artichoke dip? Yes please. Pizza dip on ham? Not so much. Any leftover chicken makes great chicken salad, obviously, and guacamole is fantastic in quesadillas or wraps.

6. Salads. I know, you really need a salad after that binge-fest last night. All of your cold cuts, chicken, cheese, or steak leftovers make perfect toppers for a big ole' healthy bed of greens. Use leftover ground beef with your guacamole and salsa to make a taco salad, or shred the wings and add cranberries and raw veggies from your veggie tray. However you mix it up, you're guaranteed to feel a little lighter.

7. Smoothies or Parfaits. Just in case you actually had some fruit at your party (which we actually did, so there!), you may need ideas for using it up before it spoils! This is my Pinterest board dedicated to drink recipes. Click on over and go nuts making a different smoothie every morning until the fruit is gone! Or layer your fruit with yogurt and granola and call it a healthy breakfast or dessert. Anything to erase the bloat from yesterday.

8. Pancakes. You're all confused now, probably because you're thinking of spinach dip, which I do not suggest putting into pancakes. Fruit obviously works in pancakes, and guess what? So do hot-dogs.Really, I haven't lost my mind. Bear with me as I toss an old school WT breakfast food at you. Slice the dogs up into 1/4 inch rounds and toss them in a bit of maple syrup. Prepare your pancake batter, pour into a hot pan, and drop the sliced dogs into them, as a normal person would blueberries. Flip and serve with butter and syrup. It may be a breakfast at the same caliber as Velveeta and shells, but hey, would you rather throw them away?