• Curry in a hurry

    One of the hardest things about having little kids and working in retail is that I don't get to cook as much as I used to. Since we got the CSA delivery, we have a wider variety of produce and so I've been trying some new recipes again. But mostly we rotate through easy-to-make dinners that the kids like, so it's a lot of mac 'n cheese and pizza. 

    I do have a few reliable recipes, though, that are ridiculously easy to make. And this curry is one of them. You only need one pot and four things:

    • Whatever veggies you have on hand, maybe 6 cups total

    • A can of coconut milk (half and half works great, too)

    • Concentrated curry paste - Indian, Thai, whatever you like! I use about half a jar per batch. 

    • 90-second rice pouch

    Basically all you have to do is saute the veggies, add the curry paste and coconut milk and let it simmer until all the veggies are cooked through. If you wanted to add some cubed chicken or other meat, that works too. While it's cooking you microwave the rice and you're good to go. 

    I'm not a believer in cooking one type of veggie for a few minutes, then taking it out and cooking another and so on. Just dump it all in. (The only exception would be if you are trying to render fat from meat and use that to cook with). I really like broccoli and potatoes, but carrots, peas, bell peppers, onions, asparagus, cauliflower, greens and all kinds of other veggies will work. 

    This recipe checks a lot of boxes, too. If you use coconut milk, it's vegan. Put it on cauliflower rice and it's Paleo. Use more meat and fewer veggies if you want more protein. Use basmati instead of brown rice. You do do! 

    The curry paste has all kinds of flavorful spices, so you don't have to add anything. Maybe a little salt and pepper, if you like. Try it! You will love it. 

  • Blue Bottle waffles, first attempt

    After we got the waffle maker, I was wondering if I could recreate the amazing hand-held waffles at Blue Bottle Coffee.

    They have this nice crunch of caramelized sugar on the outside, so you don't need any toppings. After a bit of online research I found this recipe for Belgian liege waffles that seemed like it would work great.

    They made it clear that you need to have pearl sugar to get the authentic crunchy sugar bits within the waffle. I looked everywhere, but could not find it (there is something the Berkeley Bowl doesn't have?!). So eventually I just ordered it online.

    The morning I decided to make the waffles I realized too late that I didn't have enough time to make the yeast batter. So I thought I would just go ahead and use my go-to waffle recipe with the Belgian waffle technique. You mix some pearl sugar into the batter.

    Then after you put the batter in the waffle maker, you sprinkle on some granulated sugar that will caramelize the outside.

    We realized that the best waffles had tons of sugar on the outside and were nice and crispy.

    Our waffles were really tasty, but they didn't really resemble the Blue Bottle ones. So I went back to the Internet for more advice and discovered that I bought the wrong kind of sugar! I bought the Swedish pearl sugar, but I should have bought the Belgian pearl sugar, which comes in much bigger chunks.

    So I guess it's back to the drawing board, and we will just have to make waffles again.

  • Homemade vanilla extract

    Have you ever tried making your own vanilla extract? I am going to try it and see how it turns out. I just put a split vanilla bean pod in a jar with a cup of white rum. The recipe I have says to leave it in a cool, dark place for 8 weeks. Then you can keep feeding it, kind of like a sourdough starter, indefinitely.

    I will report back in a few weeks.

  • Buttermilk skillet cornbread

    The other night when I was making Shipwreck Stew, I remembered that we always used to make it with cornbread. So I decided to whip up a batch in one of our cast-iron skillets. I combined a couple recipes I had saved in my recipe book, and I thought it turned out really well.

    My skillet was 8 inches in diameter instead of 9, so it made a really tall cornbread, but that's OK. Next time I would actually use frozen corn instead of fresh off the cob. The fresh stuff was so watery it didn't have much flavor when it baked.

    So here's what I came up with:

    [yumprint-recipe id='3'] 

  • Cooking with apples

    Even with our ridiculous weather (today's forecast: "abundant sunshine"), you can still feel a chill in the air as it turns to fall. I love this time of year. It reminds me of new school years and football games and pumpkins. Don't even get me started on the idea of putting Harper in an adorable costume for the first time...

    But one of fall's greatest gifts is the apple harvest, and I'm excited to get cooking with mine. If you're lucky enough to pick your own at an orchard, you're guaranteed to have way more than you know what to do with. So here are some ideas for ya:

    Recipes: apple tart / stuffed turkey tenderloins / mini apple crisp / caramel apples / homemade applesauce

  • Lighter pumpkin bread

    I had some extra canned pumpkin leftover from making pumpkin muffins and I really wanted to make pumpkin bread. But it's not exactly the healthiest recipe, so I thought I would try to adjust it a little.

    I used all whole-wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour and left out 1 cup of sugar. I also used organic cane sugar, which is a little less refined than the white stuff. And because wheat flour tends to dry out recipes a little, I added an extra 1/4 cup of pumpkin.

    It turned out awesome! Certainly not as sweet as the original, but pretty darn good. I put it in the fridge so it's nice and cold when you eat it. I think because pumpkin has so much moisture it really masks the wheat flour. You would never know that's what I used.

    The recipe makes two loaves, so you could also cut it in half or make mini loaves.

  • Guest recipe: Mike's eggplant parm

    This photo does not begin to do justice to my husband Mike's eggplant parmesan. It's transcendent, as food bloggers love to say. Instead of just baking the eggplant slices, which often leaves them undercooked and tough, he adds cornmeal to the crust and deep fries them. They end up silky soft on the inside and crispy on the outside.

    You can even eat the eggplant slices plain like a fried green tomato, before you put them in the casserole dish with the sauce and cheese. That would be a great appetizer for a football viewing party, with some marinara on the side for dipping. 

    I'm an impatient cook, so I don't often make recipes that require triple dipping and deep frying at a specific temperature. Too much precision, too big of a mess to clean up. But once in a while it's fun to make something that takes a little more effort. And trust me, you'll be rewarded with this recipe. 

    Here it is, with Mike's signature humor. 

    [yumprint-recipe id='4'] 

  • Homeroom mac 'n cheese

    Maybe you remember a while back I mentioned trying mac 'n cheese at a few restaurants in the east bay. One of the places I mentioned was Homeroom, which is a restaurant dedicated to mac 'n cheese. And their version is great — rich and creamy and even good reheated.

    I've tried many times to recreate this type of mac 'n cheese at home, but I'm never quite successful. My guilt-free recipe is great, but I don't have one for when I want the laced-with-guilt version.

    My adorable assistant.

    The recipes I've tried, even ones with tons of whole milk and cheese come out lumpy or lack the creaminess I see in restaurant macs. So I was really excited when I saw that Joy had posted a recipe from Homeroom's cookbook for their classic mac 'n cheese. 

    I tried it the other day and it was great. It seems that the secret is more butter and more flour in your roux. When you use their measurements, the sauce cooks up in minutes, so it's not even hard to prepare. 

    I decided to add some bacon to mine, just to make it a little more special. Two big slices, cut in half, cooked, then chopped into little pieces.

    I mixed it in right before I put the mac in the oven so the breadcrumbs could toast.

    I love panko breadcrumbs, but I think they might toast even a little better if you added a drizzle of butter on top before toasting. Then your mac will become truly evil. 

    This recipe is a great base, and you can certainly add whatever other toppings you like, or change the types of cheeses to your liking. We were thinking more cheddar might make it more like the color of traditional mac 'n cheese.

  • Roasted brussels sprouts

    Recently I discovered that I love roasted brussels sprouts. The first few times I tasted a brussels sprout I really didn't like them. Like, so bad I spit it out. And that's kind of strange because I really like cabbage. But I guess those experiences made me rule out liking brussels sprouts. 

    But in the last few years they've really made a comeback. I see them all over cooking store catalogs and foodie blogs. So I decided to try making them myself. I used this recipe from Real Simple, and lo and behold, I loved it! 

    Roasting the brussels sprouts really deepens the flavor, and you get little crackly caramelized leaves here and there. Plus, there's a kick of spice from the jalapeno, and the dip in honey at the end gives the sprouts sweetness and a little extra moisture. 

    I've made these a few times now, and I found that if I strayed from the recipe (used more sprouts, subbed sweet peppers for jalapenos) they weren't as good. The only thing I left out for good was the ginger because it's not my favorite thing. But I'll definitely be keeping this recipe in my book and using it when brussels sprouts are in season. It was so fun to buy one of those stalks full of cute little sprouts! (FYI, one of those provides enough for 2 batches). 


  • Vanilla bean ice cream

    I fiddled with the recipe for vanilla mint chip ice cream to come up with a simple vanilla bean ice cream that would be perfect for any occasion when you want to top some fabulous dessert with a scoop of vanilla. I love that the recipe uses honey for the sugar and that it's so simple to make. But I don't love the fact that the eggs aren't cooked at all. So I sort of combined the recipe with the technique from the Bi-Rite ice creams I've made in the past — this will allow you to temper the eggs before you put the mixture into the ice cream maker. The result was just what I was hoping for — thick, creamy, and studded with flecks of vanilla bean. 

    I'm sorry I don't have photos of the process, but I will add them to this post in the future if I get some taken. 

    [yumprint-recipe id='5']

  • Easy peasy pizza

    Believe it or not, I have never made pizza from scratch. Mike is the head pizza baker in our house, so I have never been motivated to try it out. But I saw Smitten Kitchen's recipe for "Lazy Pizza Dough" and that sounded right up my alley!

    Dough before rising.

    I tried it last week, and it turned out really well. The crust was delicious, and cooked all the way through. I followed her advice for draining the extra liquid off the whole peeled tomatoes before I blended them for the sauce, and that really helped. But the best part is that it really was easy. I followed the instructions for a 6-hour rise. And even though the dogs ruined my first batch of dough while I was out running an errand, I managed to make a second dough and let it rise enough to still have pizza at dinnertime. That's a forgiving dough!

    Dough after rising.

    Since the dough recipe makes enough for 2 pizzas, I decided to make them different styles. One with traditional red sauce (whole peeled tomatoes blended up with garlic and basil), plus mozzarella cheese, Italian sausage, caramelized onions, and spinach.

    For the second one I mixed up some leftover shredded chicken with barbecue sauce. I used more barbecue sauce in place of the red sauce and then topped it with the chicken, caramelized onions and cheddar cheese mixed in with the mozzarella.

    They were both really good. Mike preferred the sausage one and I liked the chicken one, so it worked out well.

    Not the most beautiful pizza, but it tasted good!

    I did have to add a little extra water to my dough, something she mentions in an edit of her original post. And I had a hard time stretching it out on the pans, but that might have been because the dough did not rise long enough.

    I think in the future I will try an overnight rise, and I might also use some whole wheat flour and maybe a little honey. I'm glad to know that I can actually make pizza from scratch, and I will definitely be making this again.

  • Blue Bottle waffles, take 2

    A while back I attempted to make waffles similar to the handheld ones Blue Bottle Coffee sells alongside their tiny, expensive, and totally awesome coffees. ;)  

    They were tasty, but not quite right. I learned I had bought the wrong kind of pearl sugar to go inside the waffles. So I ordered some Belgian pearl sugar chunks, and they were just right.

    I gave myself enough time to let the batter rise overnight and used this recipe for liege waffles.

    In the morning the batter had puffed up and was nice and airy.

    I dropped in the chunks of pearl sugar and let them soak in the batter for 15 minutes.

    The batter was so sticky that it just sort of plopped onto the waffle maker and was really easy to work with. I didn't try to spread it out, so some of the waffles had those signature rough edges. Definitely closer to the originals!

    The waffles got better as I made more, and some of the sugar chunks melted onto the waffle maker.

    My only complaint is that the waffles tasted kind of eggy. Which is not surprising since the recipe calls for 5 eggs! There was also a recipe on the sugar box that only called for 2 eggs, so I might try that next time (or a combination of the two).

    I suppose it would help to have an actual Belgian waffle maker, but we are so out of space in our kitchen!

  • Thanksgiving recap

    Thanksgiving was a little crazy this year, but we managed to have a really good dinner by the end of the day. Harper had been sick all week, so we were pretty stressed out and sleep-deprived by Thursday. It was hard to get all the cooking done since she didn't want to be put down.

    She looks a little out of it here.

    But by the afternoon she seemed to finally be feeling better and we all got to eat together. Thank goodness we decided to stay home this year!

    These are the recipes I used:
    Smothered Pork Chops from the New York Times (half recipe)
    Haricot vert with shallots from Smitten Kitchen (lots of butter, skipped the tomatoes)
    • Mashed potatoes, similar to the ones in my shepherds pie recipe
    Dad's sweet potato pie from Joy the Baker

    We also had some champagne mixed with apple juice, which actually tasted really good and seemed perfect for a fall meal.

    I failed to finish that pork chop. But I sure tried.

    The pork chops are so, so good. After they've cooked in their own gravy for 2 hours they become fall-apart tender. I ended up spending way too much money on them at the Berkeley Bowl, but oh well. It was a special occasion.

    I also thought the pie was a home run. The crust was probably the strangest pie crust I've ever made. You mix in oil and milk to the dry ingredients and press it into the pan so you don't have to roll it out. The result is almost like a shortbread cookie.

    The recipe is for a 10-inch pie, so I had enough leftover from my 8 or 9 inch pan to make an extra little pie. Sadly, I broke my favorite pie pan while I was washing dishes. I guess I will just have to buy myself another one.

    Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family. I am totally in the Christmas spirit now!

  • Christmas essentials

    The cookies

    Sugar cookie cutouts

    Peanut blossoms

    Chocolate Suzies

    And if you're really ambitious...

    Candy stripe cookie sticks

    Christmas morning breakfast:

    Bubble bread

    Crumb coffee cake

    Quick gifts:

    Twisted convertible cowl

    Recycled wax candles

    We'll be spending Christmas in Wisconsin with Mike's family. We're thinking of making bubble bread there, and I've been baking cookies and Chex Mix here. It may be 65 degrees out, but it sure feels like the holidays!

  • Nana's cranberry salad

    I meant to share this in plenty of time for your holiday celebrations, but I guess it will have to go on the list for next year. This is my grandmother's recipe for cranberry salad, featured at every Thanksgiving meal as long as I can remember. I believe it was her mother's recipe to begin with.

    Normally I'm not a big promoter of Jello salads, but this one is interesting and it's really pretty tasty. Of course I changed a bunch of things because I can never leave a recipe alone. But I think it retains its original character. Plus I got to use the grinder attachment on our KitchenAid mixer.

    If you don't have one, you could probably grind the cranberries in a food processor or blender instead. It might also help to make this recipe a day in advance so you have plenty of time to let the flavors meld together and the gelatin to set. It may still be soft, but at least not pure liquid.

    [yumprint-recipe id='6']

  • Thai coconut soup

    After so many congested days I thought I would try my hand at making a Thai coconut soup. I've always loved those at restaurants. This recipe from Real Simple was great. It seemed to need a little something extra, so I would probably add some fish sauce and maybe some sriracha or other spicy seasoning next time. Otherwise I did a very rare thing: stuck to the recipe.

  • Broccoli with cheese sauce

    The other day I was feeling nostalgic for a recipe that was my job to make as a kid: cheese sauce for steamed broccoli. With pride, 10-year-old me stirred up chunks of Velveeta and mixed them with milk until I had a creamy sauce. When I think about all the things I grew up cooking, this one stands out as a favorite.

    So it was a funny coincidence when my mom, who is visiting this week, pulled out this recipe card from my childhood.

    Isn't that hilarious? I admit I cringed a bit with my spelling of you're.

    I tried to recreate the sauce, sans Velveeta, and it was pretty good. It still seems like a great companion for broccoli. You just make it like your classic bechamel. Recipe below:

    [yumprint-recipe id='7'] 


  • Farro with arugula and pomegranate seeds

    I had never cooked with farro before this recipe. But I found I really liked it and will make it again. This makes a light, fresh side dish.

    [yumprint-recipe id='8']

  • Enchiladas verdes

    I get my fair share of daytime TV watching now that I'm home with Harper, and that's how I discovered Pati Jinich and her fabulous Mexican recipes (I think on The Chew). I decided to try her enchiladas verdes, which both sounded really good and allowed me to try some new ingredients like tomatillos and Mexican crema. 

    Isn't that color gorgeous?

    Her recipes always look really yummy and she seems like a genuinely nice person. Can't say that about all TV chefs...

    So, I tried the enchiladas and they were fantastic. The main reason was the tomatillo sauce. It was super easy to make, and it had this wonderfully tangy, sweet flavor. You could put that on a piece of cardboard and it would taste good. 

    We had leftovers from a homemade roast chicken, so I think that helped, too. 

    I had never tried "passing the tortillas through oil" to get them nice and soft, but it totally worked. 

    The only thing I changed was to add a little bit of the queso fresco and tomatillo sauce to the chicken before I rolled it up. I was afraid it would be too dry otherwise. And next time I think I would leave the raw onion off the top. But otherwise, this is a great recipe I can highly recommend. 

    Another bonus: I learned that I really like Mexican crema in place of sour cream. It's just a little bit thinner. I actually used some to make ranch dressing and it turned out perfectly. Cool!

  • Our first time making sausage

    How is this for adventures in cooking — we made our own sausage links. Inspired by the currywurst we ate in LA, we decided to make that with a curry ketchup sauce. 

    As I suspected, making your own sausage is the kind of thing we don't do very often because it is a pretty involved process.

    First you run your meat (pork butt, in our case) through a grinder. We used the grinder attachment for our KitchenAid mixer. I think we actually ran it through twice, with the finer plate the second time.

    Not surprisingly, Sadie was very interested in this.

    Raw meat everywhere, gah!

    The currywurst is supposed to be really fine, like a hot dog. So you actually take the ground meat, mix in some other ingredients, and then run it through the food processor.

    Then you're ready to actually stuff the sausage. For that you need the sausage stuffer attachment. You also need casings, which we got at the Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley. Did I mention you also have to pre-soak those, changing the water halfway through, then put water through them so they puff out?

    Mike did the actual stuffing while I pushed the flavored meat through the grinder. There was no way for it not to look ridiculous, so of course we laughed a lot. But he said it wasn't too hard to get it inside the casings and twist it into links.

    We sauteed the links in a cast iron skillet while we cooked the currywurst sauce, which also had many steps.

    By this point I was like, let's just eat the f***ing things! But we were rewarded in the end. I thought both the sausage and the sauce were really tasty. We had tons left over, so we'll be eating currywurst again. Which is good, because I don't know when we'll have the patience to make it next.

    Toothpicks required for authenticity.

    Here are the recipes we used: sausage and currywurst sauce

  • Chicken wild rice soup

    My mother-in-law made this soup over Christmas and it was so good we decided we had to make it when we got back here. The recipe comes from the Pie Place, the sweet restaurant in Grand Marais, Minnesota where we had our rehearsal dinner 3 years ago. While we were in Duluth last month we picked up some hand-harvested wild rice. It's hard to find in other places, so you have to get it while you can. Though regular wild rice works just fine in this recipe.

    We decided to bulk up the soup with some chicken, carrots and leeks, and it was wonderful. It's creamy, but not too thick or gloppy. The wine and sherry really makes the flavor. Try it!

    [yumprint-recipe id='9']

  • Gluten-free baking success

    Up until recently my efforts at gluten-free baking had been mostly failures. It's a tough thing to master. But I picked up a couple of recipes on Kristin's blog, and they both turned out surprisingly well. At the time I was looking for a guilt-free snack I could bake, and these seemed to fit the bill. Substituting other flours for wheat often yields a higher-protein, healthier baked good, so I thought it was worth a try.

    I made the lemon-blackberry breakfast cookies, substituting blueberries since I had so many in the fridge.

    I'm not usually a big fan of banana-flavored things, but in these recipes the banana was more subtle. You can taste it, but it's not overwhelming. 

    I also made flourless peanut butter chocolate chip muffins. I was amazed by how much the texture resembled something made with flour. The muffins are soft and fall apart easily, so I would not make them bigger than mini muffin size. But they taste great, and I bet you could add nuts, fruit or other ingredients to change them up. 

    They disappeared so quickly, I have to make another batch!

  • Buttery peas and potatoes

    This was a favorite side dish growing up. I hadn’t made it for ages and when I finally dug out the recipe I couldn’t believe it didn’t include dill. So I added some. ;)

    My mom always boiled the potatoes and then added the other ingredients (which you can certainly do), but this time I sauteed it all in a pan together. I’m all about one-pan dishes these days.

    It was just as good as I remembered. Whatever you do, don’t skimp on the butter. It’s key!

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  • Skillet meals

    Skillet enchiladas, so good.

    These days I'm a big fan of dinners that come together in one pot, pan or skillet. It's kind of the Hamburger Helper concept — saute meat and maybe some onions or other veggies, add in pasta or rice plus water and seasonings, put the lid on and let it simmer until the pasta is cooked through. Top with cheese (no cheese powder needed...) and serve. Usually the prep is under half and hour and you only have one pan to wash. My kind of dinner!

    Here are some of my favorite recipes. They are getting me through life with a toddler, that's for sure:

    Chicken enchiladas skillet

    Cheeseburger mac (I always use less paprika and add more cheese)

    Mexican taco bowl spaghetti, great with macaroni pasta too

    • Southwestern chicken and rice skillet, topped with cheese 

    Skillet lasagna (I add sweet red peppers)
    All-veggie options:
    I'm surprising myself at how many of these recipes I have! Hopefully it helps if you need a quick recipe.
  • Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

    If I thought my last stab at gluten-free baking was successful, these cookies were even better.

    I'd been looking for a way to use almond meal (a bargain at Trader Joe's, though you can grind it fresh yourself) for a while and when I saw this recipe for coconut-chocolate chip cookies I had to try it. 

    Though the cookies don't plump up like traditional chocolate chip cookies, they are a little crisp on the outside and chewy inside. I used mini chocolate chips instead of chopped dark chocolate but otherwise stuck with the recipe. It's a good base that would be good with other add-ins too.

    Everyone in my house loved the cookies. They're not too sweet. More like granola bars than cookies. My only complaint is that the recipe doesn't make enough. You'll definitely want to double it!

  • Easy chicken gyros and tzatziki sauce

    I picked up this recipe from the Say Yes blog a few months ago and it has become a staple in our house. It couldn't be easier to throw together these gyros on a weekend night when you don't have a lot of time to cook. Just put the chicken in a bag to marinate while you do a few other things and then saute up the meat. 

    Go here for the full recipe.

    We have just a few cherry tomatoes growing in our back yard (when Harper doesn't pick off all the green ones) and they work great as a topping. 

    Any kind of pita, lavash, or pocket bread will do. 

    You can whip up tzatziki sauce in just a few minutes. Here's my recipe:

    1/2 cup Greek yogurt
    Juice of 1/2 a lemon
    1/2 teaspoon dried dill
    1/2 teaspoon salt

    Taste it and see if it needs a little more of anything. It's not a terribly precise recipe. 

    When your chicken and onions are just starting to brown, they're done. Put everything together and dinner's ready. 

  • 3-bean chili, the meat version

    I still really love my vegetarian chili recipe, but lately we've been eating a meaty version of it, and it's great, too. For the meat version, I added ground beef, but left out some of the veggies, herbs and chipotle chiles.

    So it's basically a simplified version that's a little less spicy. Although, you could certainly add the chiles for extra heat or add the veggies to make it healthier. It's a very adaptable recipe.

    We always have our chili with a little bit of cheddar cheese and saltine crackers. These little ones are still my favorite. 

    [yumprint-recipe id='11']

  • Some recipes that worked

    As you might have guessed, the last couple months have been crazy busy. I had some success selling hats and cowls at local shops, which has been awesome. But it's so much work on top of what I was already doing with Etsy that I've had to rethink my whole business and what I want it to look like. Life is only going to get busier, so I'm thinking about phasing some things out and focusing on what I know will sell and creating more patterns, which bring in steady income without the headaches and time commitment of actually making the items. 

    So anyway, cooking has been a lot of quick and easy meals lately, but I thought I'd share a few recipes that were winners. 

    This balsamic onion chicken that you serve over egg noodles could not be easier. I usually add a little bit of cream to the sauce or thicken it with some cornstarch. 

    For New Years I made black eyed peas with a leftover ham hock for the first time using this New York Times recipe. It's not the most beautiful recipe, but it tasted really good. It was definitely the perfect way to use up leftover ham. Perhaps it would be worth making again after Easter? 

    We actually had more good food for New Years than I care to admit. But another winner was this recipe for baked brie bites. I used lollipop sticks to hold them up and they disappeared in minutes! These would be perfect for any occasion when you wanted a little bite-sized appetizer. 

    For a weeknight dinner, I highly recommend Real Simple's rigatoni with bacon and peas. I used a can of crushed tomatoes instead of fresh ones, so it became kind of a kitchen sink of items I already had on hand. Any pasta would work. Try it!

    And finally, I made Smitten Kitchen's chicken noodle soup last week and it was once again the perfect soothing soup. We might have to make it again since Harper has a cold and it seems like the rest of us may be going down too. 

    Harper's 2nd birthday party is coming up in a couple week's and I'm planning on making a fun birthday cake in the shape of Brobee from Yo Gabba Gabba. (Am I nuts?) We also got a crazy good deal on a midcentury table and chairs from the antique mall where mom has her stuff, so that will be another fun project to share. 

  • Homemade pastry pups

    We made these for New Years and the Superbowl and they were SO GOOD. They're basically just a homemade version of Trader Joe's Pastry Pups. Which are like a fancied up version of a pig in a blanket.

    I always liked the way they used puff pastry instead of plain bread. So I thought, why not just roll up some 'lil smokies in a puff pastry sheet and call it good?

    So basically all you do is thaw 2 sheets of frozen puff pastry dough and then unfold them (one at a time) on a cookie sheet. At this point you have the dough kind of naturally divided into thirds. So just cut along those folds so you have 3 pieces. then cut those in half to get six. Then cut diagonally across each piece to get 12 triangles.

    No need to spring for any kind of fancy dog. These store-brand ones were great.

    Then roll up a dog in each piece of dough and place them a couple inches apart on the cookie sheet. (You could sprinkle them with a little parmesan cheese here, although I didn't and I don't think they need it.)

    I think I baked them at 400 degrees for about 10-12 minutes. But just check on them periodically and take them out when the dough is puffed up and starting to brown. 

    They are so yummy dipped in a little mustard.

    Make both sheets because 12 will not last very long at all. Trust me.

  • Make this carrot cake!

    Mom wanted a homemade cake for her birthday a few days ago, so I dug out some recipes I had been wanting to try. One of them was for "the BEST carrot cake," and it sure looked like it. So we decided to give it a try.

    Oh man, was that a good cake. I went ahead and made the full recipe even though it made way too much cake and frosting. I added pecans but no raisins or pineapple or anything like that. The layers baked up beautifully and I managed to construct a cake that wasn't too lopsided.

    Normally I like ice cream with cake, but this one didn't even need it. It was rich, a little spicy, and perfectly spring-ish. I highly recommend giving it a try, maybe for Easter?

  • Donut muffins

    Speaking of recipes you have to make...

    I found this recipe for donut muffins on Red Tricycle and I knew I had to try it. I first had one of these scrumptious breakfast desserts at Bette's Diner in Berkeley and I immediately fell in love. The muffin itself is pretty plain, but then it's dipped in butter and rolled in cinnamon sugar (a la Bubble Bread), which sends it over the top.

    The only thing I changed was to scale back the cinnamon to a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon. I feel like people have a compulsion to add too much cinnamon to recipes. Or maybe it's just me. But I thought the batch of muffins I made turned out perfectly and they were gone in a flash!

  • My first time making gumbo (and corned beef)

    I used to be a pretty voracious blog reader, but lately my Feedly has been skimmed to a select few blogs I occasionally have time to read. I keep reading them, though, because I realized that even though that time is precious, it is mine. And I really like discovering new recipes, new crafts, and whatever else I find there. It's kind of nice, actually, to have culled a giant mess of posts down to the ones I truly care about and will get something from. 

    So, that is how I found this recipe for chicken and sausage gumbo from one of my long-time favorite reads, Iowa Girl Eats. Check out her post for pictures of all the steps. I was kind of intimidated to try gumbo, but it was not hard at all. And it turned out so well! We all wanted to lick our bowls after dinner. 

    Changes I made (of course): I used chicken breasts cut into chunks instead of thighs so I wouldn't have to shred it after it cooked. And I realized mid-week that I was out of tomato paste, so I just squeezed in a little ketchup and that seemed to work. Sometimes you gotta be MacGyver in the kitchen! 

    For St. Patrick's Day I also tackled a new-to-me meal — corned beef and cabbage. I used Martha's recipe, which is not so much a recipe as an instruction to throw everything in the Crock Pot and let it cook all day.

    I was surprised that it made a clear broth rather than a gravy after all that time, but the meat turned out perfectly and the veggies were good, too. I had so many left over that I ended up roasting them in the oven with a baked chicken yesterday and they were even better. 

  • Grandma's sour cream lemon pie

    My grandma loved to make this sour cream lemon pie — it is such a perfect spring dessert. Mom made one for us last weekend with some lemons a co-worker had brought from home and we ate it up!

    Grandma's other tradition was to make my mom a little pie of her own in this sweet mini pie dish. So mom saved the dish and now she can make Harper a little pie to go with the big one. So cute.

    Here's the full recipe.

    [yumprint-recipe id='12']

  • The best summer dessert

    I couldn't let June go by without mentioning my favorite summer dessert. I'm sure I've mentioned it here many times, but oh man do I love a strawberry-rhubarb crisp.

    It's sweet, tart, crunchy, and even better warm with vanilla ice cream melting on top.

    You can vary the strawberry to rhubarb ratio as much as you want. You can change up the nuts or leave them out. You could do fresh whipped cream instead of ice cream. Just ... yum.

  • Sweet potato hash

    There is this really great breakfast place near us called Sam's Log Cabin that serves the most delicious vegan hash with sweet potatoes, carrots and greens. I tried it on a whim one time and was pleasantly surprised by how rich and filling it was. So, I really wanted to try making it at home. The other day I saw someone making sweet potato hash on a cooking show and I was like, OK, I'm doin' it!

    I, of course, thought it would be better with bacon. Similar to Smitten Kitchen's bacon corn hash, I thought the bacon fat could be used instead of butter to cook the vegetables. So here is what I came up with:

    [yumprint-recipe id='13']I like to put a runny fried egg (or eggs) on top of my hash. I just think it's the perfect combination. I've also seen a recipe where you spread the hash out in a 9x13 pan, crack a few eggs on top and then bake them. That sounds pretty great, too.

  • Butter shrimp

    I never knew the magic of butter chicken until we moved to a place that has a Nepalese restaurant on every corner. I'm not sure the connection, but we have a LOT of Indian/Nepalese restaurants in our area, and they are wonderful. Have you had momos, those little meat or veggie-filled dumplings? Sooo good. Anyway, I tried the butter chicken at Taste of the Himalayas (my fave) and was totally hooked. So when I saw Posie had posted a recipe for butter shrimp, I wanted to try making that at home. 

    I didn't have tandoori paste, so I tried making it myself and it was super easy. I was thinking you could put that in a lot of things to add major flavor. 

    The brilliant colors of all those spices remind me that I need to cook with them more often. 

    I think I only used 1 pound of shrimp instead of two. It was frozen in a bag so I thawed it in some water first. 

    Anything with this much butter has to be good!

    I skipped the sliced almond garnish but I definitely added peas. Overall, I was happy with how quickly this dish came together. I think the sauce is even better than the chicken tikka masala recipe I had been making before, so I might just go with this one from now on. 

  • Easy strawberry jam

    I feel like jam is one of those things that seems intimidating, but is actually really easy to make. I think it's the canning aspect that's scary, but you can make a quick fridge jam that will disappear too quickly to bother with the canning anyway.

    We were only getting a handful of strawberries from our garden every day, so I decided to save them in a bag in the freezer until I had enough to make jam. I found this recipe in Real Simple and it worked perfectly.

    Basically all you do is combine the fruit with sugar and lemon juice and simmer it until the fruit has broken down into a soft, chunky mixture. Let it cool and pour the jam into a jar.

    You can make a decadent toast with cream cheese and berry jam - yum!

  • My first pickles

    I promised I would report back on pickles and I'm finally getting to it!

    Our cucumber plant produced a TON of cukes so we had to figure out pickling. I wanted to keep them as simple as possible, so I followed Deb's instructions for the easiest fridge dill pickles.

    First, I had to use a vegetable peeler to scrape off all the little spiky bits on the cucumbers. Some of them were really sharp. Then I decided to slice mine into spears.

    I didn't have fresh dill so I used dried and I think it worked just fine. One thing I had to adjust, though, was to add water to fill the jars to the top. Maybe because I had spears instead of slices, my cucumbers didn't let out enough water and they were super vinegar-y. Once I added the water they were just about perfect.

    I thought they might go bad quickly in the fridge, but they have lasted weeks and weeks. In fact I think they get better over time.

  • Biscuit donuts

    Um, why did no one tell me about the wonderfulness that is a biscuit donut?

    I learned about them on the Say Yes blog and couldn't believe I'd never tried them before. Basically all you do is crack open a can of biscuit dough, stamp out the middles, fry the donuts in oil and roll them in cinnamon sugar.

    They come out remarkably similar to donuts you would buy in a store. They remind me a lot of the cider donuts you get when you go apple picking.

    It does take a pretty large amount of oil for frying, but you can actually save it an reuse it another time. Because you will be making these again.

    I am a lazy cook, so I did not use a thermometer to figure out how hot the oil was. When it seemed like the donuts were cooking too fast, I turned down the burner a little bit. That seemed to work fine. They got brown and crispy really quickly, so it didn't take long to make a batch of 8 plus the donut holes. Harper ate most of those and we ate the whole ones. Perfect!

    This was sort of the opposite of the breakfast baking I did the weekend before. I have been determined for a long time to find a yeast cinnamon roll recipe that was worth all the effort. I've tried 3 times, I think, and they were never good enough. I mean, how can a cinnamon roll that takes 3 hours to make be just OK?

    But I finally found THE recipe. I think it came up on Pinterest and it just looked too good not to try. One morning I actually had energy so I got to work. I had to be at the store later that morning so I ended up taking some shortcuts and the recipe still turned out fine. For the first rise, I probably gave it 40 minutes instead of an hour. Then I think I shortened the second rise a little too. The dough was very sticky, but it rolled out just fine.

    I made some other changes too. I used all butter instead of margarine because I am a butter girl. My yeast was expired but that didn't seem to matter either. And then I probably used 1 tablespoon of cinnamon instead of 3. That seemed like plenty to me.

    The cream cheese icing seemed like it was too sugary and not cream cheesy enough. But then later it seemed fine, so maybe it just needed to meld a little more.

    I couldn't make this recipe everyday (and definitely shouldn't!) but I will keep it on file for special occasions. It is everything you want from a cinnamon roll — soft, crumbly bread with a gooey center and melty frosting on top. And at least when you make these at home you know what's in them.

  • Easy enchiladas

    Now that we have two kids, it's even harder to find time to cook weeknight dinners, so we've had to find recipes that come together really quickly. And we're finding that the secret is tacos! Actually, any kind of variation on a meat that you can put on corn tortillas, so we've had a lot of enchiladas, too.

    I've been making this recipe for green chile enchiladas with the leftovers from a roast chicken — something we also have a lot because it's easy.

    You take all the meat that's left on the chicken and shred it. I would say it's about 2 cups.

    Then saute some sliced onions and mix it with the chicken. Then you add about half a jar of roasted salsa verde (I really like the Archer Farms version from Target).

    That's your filling. Roll it up inside corn tortillas, adding a little shredded Monterrey Jack cheese to each one.

    Spread some salsa verde in the bottom of your baking dish, then add the enchiladas. Pour a little more salsa verde on top and sprinkle with a little more cheese.

    Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and you're done!

    You can also make a sort of free-form enchilada casserole by layering tortillas with salsa verde and whatever other toppings you like. I made this one with black beans, sweet potatoes, and then some crema and feta cheese on top.

    On the taco front, we've made a lot of crock pot shredded pork, which is great with pickled red onions.

    Or, you can saute some pork tenderloin slices and then cut them up into chunks to put on tacos (hat tip to Real Simple for this one). I made some with pineapple, and they were so good! Super easy because the thin pork slices only take a few minutes to cook.

    When all else fails, we just hit up the neighborhood taco trucks. Their al pastor is so good!

  • Grandma's potato salad

    I finally did it. I took a stab at making my grandma's famous potato salad, and I think I nailed it. Her recipe is legendary in our family. And while I could never make it as well as she did, I couldn't imagine not having it anymore. So I dug out her handwritten recipe and tried it.

    I'm going to share it here because I love the way she wrote it with such detailed and funny notes. It cracks me up that she referred to the cost of the celery seed, because her thriftiness is one of the things I loved most about her.

    I remember watching Grandma cut ingredients into the tiniest pieces without even looking. She was a pro!

    Really the only thing I changed was to use real mayonnaise instead of Miracle Whip. I wasn't sure if she used regular mustard or mustard powder, but I used powder and I think regular mustard would work just fine.

    I always thought it was the pickle juice that was the secret ingredient. But now I think it's the egg-to-potato ratio, which makes her recipe like a combination of egg salad and potato salad. When I took the bowl out of the fridge after mixing it up, the smell made me tear up. It was just like hers. I love how a recipe can do that for you.

    Here's another kind of unusual thing — have you ever boiled whole russet potatoes with the skins on? I wasn't sure I'd be able to get the potatoes cooked without being too mushy, but it worked just fine. I tested them with a fork a few times until they seemed soft. Actually one potato completely fell apart, so I just tossed it and used one less egg.

    I like that you can adjust the recipe for how many people you're feeding. Grandma always had a HUGE bowl of potato salad in her fridge, but we didn't need quite that much. I'm excited to make it again for our next potluck or family gathering!

    [yumprint-recipe id='15']

  • Halloween peanut butter cookies

    I had to share this cookie idea I found on Pinterest. There it says to use a cookie mix, but I tried it with my peanut blossom cookie dough recipe and I think it was well worth the extra time.

    All you need to do is add about a cup of peanut butter chips and a cup of Reese's Pieces candy to the dough. Then you press it into a 9x13-inch pan and bake at 350 degrees until it's just starting to brown on top. Maybe 20 minutes?

    When the pan comes out, press in a few candy eyeballs (which you can find at craft stores like JoAnn and Michaels). Let the pan cool, then cut the cookies into rectangles. They are SO GOOD, especially when they are still a little warm.

  • Trying the Slow-Carb Diet

    My goal with Max was to not gain a bunch of weight after I weaned him like I did with Harper. So of course that's what happened. I swore off diets and was trying to focus on small changes. But those were basically just producing small results. I felt totally disconnected with the good eating habits I developed before I had kids, and I just felt like I had to do something

    A friend had mentioned that she lost a huge amount of baby weight on a Paleo-esque diet that included some cheat days and another friend had mentioned adopting a slow-carb philosophy (and listening to Tim Ferriss for some self-help type stuff). Then one day I was driving and listening to the Outside podcast and who comes on but Tim Ferriss. He talked some about how his diet plan works. So after all that I just felt like the universe was trying to tell me something and I started googling the slow-carb diet

    Salmon salad with grilled veggies.

    If you read his book, the 4-Hour Body, you understand the diet as a way to maximize results in minimal time (hell yes) by shifting your body into fat-burning mode. It has elements of Paleo and keto diets. You eliminate basically all carbs except for beans and legumes. Except for one glorious day a week, which you declare a cheat day and have whatever you want. It does serve an actual physical purpose, to keep your body from thinking it's starving. But it's also helpful mentally, since we are all likely to cheat anyway. 

    So about 2 months ago I started the diet. This required a major shift in my cooking. But one of the main reasons I thought it would be okay is that because of my retail work schedule, I often eat something different than my family anyway. You're also encouraged to eat the same meals over and over so you don't have to think about it (another plus). 

    Buttered cod and green beans with bacon. So easy and good.

    I lost somewhere in the 5-6 pound range each month. Not fantastic, but definitely an improvement. My clothes fit much better and I feel motivated to keep going. I think the limited weight loss is because the cheat day inevitably undoes some of the progress you make during the week. So, I'm going to keep some aspects of the diet and change other ones going forward. 

    Here's what I like about it:

    • It forces you to eat more vegetables. I've never been good about eating enough vegetables, even though I like a lot of them. I love fruit, so before this I was regularly eating 2 pieces of fruit a day and hardly any veggies. Well, that changed on this diet. I snacked on carrots. I ate more salads. I sauteed veggies with dinner all the time. I sliced avocadoes on all sorts of things. And that leads me to my next favorite part, breakfast. 

    • I came up with this kind of odd breakfast that I have eaten religiously for weeks, so I thought I would share it. It keeps me full until about 2 p.m.!

    Curry Chicken Breakfast

    1 chicken breast (I cook these in some water in the slow cooker on Sundays so they're ready to go)
    1/2 cup frozen peas
    1 Tablespoon ghee (olive oil works too)
    1/2 teaspoon garam masala
    1 teaspoon curry powder
    2 eggs
    Salt/pepper/hot sauce 

    Saute the chicken and peas in the ghee until they are warmed through. Stir in the curry powder and garam masala. Pour mixture into a bowl while you cook the eggs. I like my eggs over medium, but you can make them however you want. Put them on top of the chicken and peas and season how you like. It makes this kind of ugly but good-tasting breakfast where your only carbs come from peas and you get the anti-inflammatory benefits of spices like cinnamon and turmeric. 
    Just add eggs. I swear it's really good.

    • The cheat day keeps you in check during the week – you can always say no to something because you know you can have it later. 

    • Cauliflower rice! Especially the stuff that comes already crumbled in steam bags. I found that I really didn't mind either skipping rice or replacing it with this. Same with most crackers, cereal and bread. The carbs I missed are all sweet things – cookies, cupcakes, muffins, etc. 

    • Zoodles - Another fun way to get your veggies in. I bought a mini spiralizer and used it on some zucchini. 

    • I found some new recipes that are great replacements for weeknight dinners that my family also likes. Here are some of them:
    Shrimp & Sausage Skillet
    Easy Cashew Chicken
    Slow Carb Beef and Broccoli
    Slow Carb Bean Salad
    Buttered Cod in Skillet
    Chili is also a great staple

    What I didn't like:

    • The cheat day ends up messing with your mind in a different way. Basically you hit your lowest weight and then have to purposely mess it up by cheating. Then it takes a few days to get back to where you were before (presumably you gain some water weight with the cheat foods). It just feels like a little roller coaster a lot of the time. 

    • You can't have fruit or cheese. Or Greek yogurt. Or any whole grains. At some point it seems kind of crazy to eschew so many healthy foods. 

    • I felt low-energy enough for it to bother me. And I need every bit of energy I can muster for life with 2 small kids. I remember when I did the cleanses I felt such an energy surge. So I know a diet doesn't have to mean feeling tired all the time. 

     So yeah, it was a mixed bag for me. (Here's another great post from someone else who had a lot of the same feelings). But I did learn a lot in the process. I remembered that daily journaling helps me a lot.  I started reading labels and I was reminded of just how much sugar is in everything. And I think it was a wake-up call that for me, certain foods are a slippery slope towards bad habits. I just have to always be vigilant and have some kind of plan. We're all different, but that is my deal. 

    On the exercise front I am just trying to walk or run Max to daycare whenever I can. I think a FitBit would be helpful to keep reminding me to get in more steps. And I also really want to get a kettlebell.