Aprons and a Plan

Today has been a nasty, snowy, windy day here in central Utah.  Great time to spend some quality time with the kitchen.  The girls and I put our new aprons to good use (made by Grandma!)


As I spent the afternoon in the kitchen, I thought about one of my goals for 2012:  make a pie every month.   I know it’s a strange goal — after all, I usually am trying to restrict goodies and use less sugar.  But pie is a special kind of dessert.  It always seems to me to be more work than a cake, and especially if it is a fruit pie, more wholesome.  It is also old-fashioned and (in this family) consumed in a single sitting.

I realized that of all the things on my goal list for last year, this was one I had accomplished!  We have eaten some wonderful (and not so wonderful) pies this year.  So my plan is to share my pie resolution with you.  Here it is:  make a pie every month during 2013.  Share it with the group of us here on this site.  I am already excited to begin for 2013.  About the 15th of each month, I’ll post about the pie I made, and you can leave recipes or links in the comments to the pies you made.  Sound good?

Here’s my plan so far:

  • January — Honey Pecan pie (I’ve never made a pecan pie, and I object to corn syrup)
  • February — Grape Pie (the recipe says it is a lot like a gooseberry pie — I’ll have to try it!)
  • March — Lemon Meringue Pie
  • April — Old fashioned Indian Cream Pie (doesn’t the name say it all?)
  • May — The Best Rhubarb pie (with my mother-in-law’s secret ingredient)
  • June — Cherry pie (or some variation) for cherry season
  • July — Peach pie (the summer’s first peach pie is the best!)
  • August — Pear- maple syrup pie (I think I can get pears by then, and I’ve never made pear pie.)
  • September — Apple pie, of course!  Maybe an apple-raspberry, or apple-?
  • October — This could easily be another apple pie — apple season is wonderful or banana cream, Shandy’s favorite
  • November — Pumpkin pie with home cooked squash
  • December — Cranberry pie –now to choose my favorite recipe

Of course, the list is likely to change.  Still, I’m excited to share my pie creations with you, and see what you have to share as well!


Fruit Pizza and a Rant about Public School

I know, you’re dying to ask.  What possible  connection could there be between this lovely, delicious dessert and a rant against public school? Well, I’m dying to tell you.

Eden has taken several on-line courses through the state electronic high school system.  This started out as a way for her to supplement her English learning.  My own fifth grade teacher was teaching ninth grade English — and remembering her as a fantastic teacher, I let Eden sign up for the course.  It turned out well, although there was not as much teacher/student interaction as I would have liked.  Eden is like me, though.  She thinks she would like to try this course, and that one, and that one . . .  so she signed up for several.  The one she is just completing is Foods and Nutrition.

The Foods and Nutrition course teaches basic nutritional facts about carbs, proteins, milk, vitamins and minerals, etc., and then allows the student to do either an experiment (like cooking broccoli for 20 minutes and describing its texture, color and flavor) or prepare a recipe.  Here’s my rant:  throughout the course, no recipes were assigned.  The student was assigned to make “a milk-based recipe” or “a quick bread.”  I lied.  One recipe was assigned.  In the fruits and vegetables section, the student was assigned to make a fruit pizza.

Here was the perfect opportunity for a teacher to introduce nutritious recipes with a variety that would allow students to become acquainted with real food.  Eden completed her tomato-corn bisque for the milk-based recipe, and learned to make garlic-parmesan biscuit roll-ups for the quick breads.  This innovation was only because I found interesting recipes, though.  No ideas were even suggested by the teacher.  Why, a peanut butter sandwich would have qualified for a protein recipe!  But the fruit pizza was the last straw.  With millions or billions of recipes available which make innovative and nutritious use of fruits and vegetables, why ask students to make a sugar cookie (shortening based so it doesn’t even taste good) topped with Cool Whip (not even real food!) and fruit?

Eden complained.  She asked if we could just “say” we had tried it?  After all, we could imagine what it would taste like!  We ended up subbing real whipping cream for the Cool Whip, and everyone (included the little kids) threw away the sugar cookie and ate the fruit.  (And this was not coercion — it tasted bad!)

Just one more reason to homeschool, folks . . .

Have you had a similar experience?  Please leave me a comment below.

Kids in the Kitchen: Gold Nugget Soup

Max and Lulu wanted to do something fun the other day, so they looked at cookbooks.  After looking through one of the two kids cookbooks that we own several times enjoying all the dessert pictures, Max begged to have a cooking project of his own.  So we settled on Gold Nugget Soup.

As you can see, this was a recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cook Book.  While I cannot unequivocally recommend this cookbook, because it uses lots of prepared items in its recipes, it was a good choice for Max because he could follow the steps easily and do nearly all of them himself.  I think one very important skill for young cooks to learning is to read and follow the directions carefully.  This book writes directions in a very step by step manner that is useful for kids.

He began by measuring the water into the pot.  He has finally learned to raise the liquid measure to eye level to see if it is really at the right amount.

He chopped the vegetables and opened the cans by himself (with a tiny bit of help with the can opener.)

One of the joys of being the youngest is that Mom lets you pour the milk by yourself. (And spill it all over the counter and floor and clean it up by yourself, too, but we didn’t take a picture of that one.)

Just a few minutes of cooking and Voila! Lunch provided by Max.

Gold Nugget Soup

From Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cookbook

Serves 6

1 1/2 cups water

2 cups frozen diced hash browns

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 stick celery, chopped

1 10 3/4 ounce can cheddar cheese or cheesy broccoli soup

1 16 ounce can creamed corn

1 1/2 cups diced ham

1 1/2 cups milk

Place water and hash browns and vegetables in a soup pot.  Put on stove and turn heat to medium high.  When boiling, turn to low and cook for 10 minutes.  Add soup, corn, milk and ham to the pot.  Cook on low 10 more minutes until hot.  Add salt and pepper as desired.

Again, not the most nutritious lunch ever made — certainly not all “real foods” — but great for a first soup for Max.

Hope you’re having a good weekend — I’m running my first ever marathon today!  I’ll let you know how it goes on Monday.

Kids in the Kitchen: Easy Stuffed French Toast

Lulu made more bread for us this week.  We put her to work this morning making breakfast from her homemade white bread.  We found a new way to make a delicious “fancy” breakfast without much effort at all.  The first step is to whip up the “dip” for the sandwiches, the egg/sugar/milk mixture that makes french toast so custardy.

The next step is to slice the bread thinly and spread with a cream cheese/jam combination or peanut butter and jelly.  Top with another slice of bread to make sandwiches.

Fry these delicious sandwiches in butter until the outsides are golden brown and the filling is melting.

Serve with syrup for a delicious breakfast.

Recipe:  Stuffed French Toast

For dip:

5 eggs

1 cup milk

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix vigorously in a bowl wide enough to fit your sandwiches for dipping until thoroughly combined.

For filling:

1 block cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese

1/2 cup jam (raspberry is wonderful)

Mix together with a hand mixer until thoroughly combined with few to no lumps.

Assemble the sandwiches:  spread the filling on one slice of bread, top with the other slice of bread.  Meanwhile, heat a large skillet with 1 tablespoon of butter.  Dip the sandwich into the egg mixture (using your hands is easiest, although messy.)  Fry on one side, then the other about 2 minutes per side, until golden brown.

This recipe makes enough for 8 sandwiches, plenty for 6 hungry people.  Serve with syrup or a sprinkle of powdered sugar.  We like to use this same recipe with peanut butter and jelly instead of cream cheese.  We don’t bother to mix the peanut butter and jelly together, just make the sandwiches, dip and fry.  The peanut butter is wonderful when it is hot and melted, mixed with syrup.

Hope you are enjoying your weekend!  Have a wonderful day.

A Mexican Feast: Molotes and Tres Leches Cake

Inspired by a desire to try the Pioneer Woman’s Tres Leches Cake recipe, I planned a Mexican feast for last weekend. As a sort of side note to this post, I want to refer you to an excellent post I just read about kid’s cookbooks.   I absolutely agree with this article, that kids can learn to cook from any book that inspires them to work toward making good food an important part of their lives.  I think the Pioneer Woman cookbooks do this, and are especially excellent for kids to use because the photos show how each step should “turn out.”  In addition, every recipe I have tried from these two cookbooks has turned out wonderfully.  As you can see, we added a fruit salad to the side of our Tres Leches cake to make it more authentic.  It was a big hit, and I strongly recommend you try it today!  Eden followed the recipe step by step.  It was her first time making a sponge cake, and it turned out wonderfully.

To accompany the cake I made a wonderful deep fried concoction called in Spanish Molotes but which my family calls affectionately, “salsa cars.”

Originally inspired by the Rick Bayless cookbook, I attempted this recipe without having eaten them before, but soon thereafter was describing the dish to a friend from Oaxaca.  She couldn’t believe that I knew the dish, saying they were a “plato tipico” from her country.  She soon invited us to eat them at her home, and sure enough, I had made molotes myself!  In fact, I still use the Rick Bayless recipe with some alterations, because her recipe did not include the mashed potatoes and the dough was not as tender.

If you have not tried patting out corn tortillas before, this is a good recipe on which to make the attempt, as it doesn’t matter at all if you leave them quite thick, or if they do not turn out round.  Also, the dough is a little more forgiving than regular corn tortilla dough.

This recipe makes 14 molotes, enough for a hungry family of 4, but stretched to fit our family of 6 with beans, lettuce and vegetables on the side.


makes 14

2 potatoes, boiled until tender and then mashed.

2 cups masa harina


1 teaspoon salt

1 pound queso fresco

Oil for Frying

Boil and mash the potatoes, and then put them in a mixer bowl with the masa harina, salt and start with about 2 cups water.  Add enough warm water as you beat the ingredients together to make a very soft dough — like a soft cookie dough.  As the ingredients mix together, take an old plastic grocery bag and cut out two circles about 8 inches in diameter and wash with soapy warm water.  Dry thoroughly.

Take a big spoonful of the dough, roll into a ball, and pat out into a circle on the plastic bag circle.  You should make about a 6 inch diameter circle.  Cut a 1/2 inch by 3 inch rectangle of queso fresco and place in the center of the dough circle.  Fold the circle in half and pinch the edges together.  Using wet hands, pat it into a torpedo shape and place on a plate covered with plastic wrap to wait while you make the rest of the molotes.

Heat the oil at a depth of about one inch to 350 degrees (I don’t use a thermometer, I just test for sizzle by dipping the edge of one of the molotes into the oil.)  Fry the molotes a few at a time, turning after about 2 minutes.   Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel.

Serve as shown in the photo, with refried or pot beans, sliced lettuce and salsa.

I consider trying new cuisines an important part of our homeschool.  We love getting to know a little about peoples and cultures by trying new foods.  Is that something you enjoy?  Please leave me a comment.


Happy Sunday: Apron Art

The picture says it all.  Fabric markers + white apron = happiness!  For a great helper.

How do you make your chore helpers happier?  Leave me a comment!  Enjoy your day.

Kids in the Kitchen: Lulu’s Homemade Sandwich Bread

The weather was too beautiful to do regular school today.  I have been wanting to introduce Lulu to yeast bread making, and we decided today was the perfect day for this.  We started early this morning.  This easy bread recipe is successful every time, smells delicious while it is baking, and is easy to knead and form.

The first step is heating the buttermilk and butter just to the point where the butter is starting to melt, but not hot.  That way you don’t have to cool it before using it in your bread.  (If you do get it too hot, just set it aside to cool to lukewarm.)

Next, mix water and yeast in the bowl of your mixer.  After watching that your yeast has started to work (it starts melting out of its little balls and forming a brownish scum in the water,) put in dry ingredients.  Pour milk and butter mixture on top of the flour, and begin mixing with the dough hook of your mixer or with a spoon.

A smooth dough should begin to form.  Slowly add about one-half cup more flour to make a stiffer dough before turning it out onto the counter to knead.

Flour the counter well, especially if this is your first experience with yeast dough.  Kneading is basically four movements stretch, fold, press and turn.  Grab your ball of dough at the side farthest from your body, stretch it out and fold it over onto itself and press down hard and away from your body.  Give the dough a half turn, and repeat.  As you gain experience your hands will become less sticky because you know how to touch the dough lightly but firmly.  Try to use mainly your fingers instead of your whole hand.

When the dough forms a nice ball but is not too stiff, put it in a greased bowl to rise.

After about one hour, the dough should be kneaded again, divided in half and formed into loaves.  These loaves can be baked on a greased cookie sheet, but I love this kind of bread for loaf pans.

Allow to rise another 30-45 minutes, until the loaves are approximately doubled in size.  Preheat the oven to 350 and bake about 30 minutes.  Try to restrain yourself from eating it until it cools enough to cut nicely!  We went on a nature walk, and then had our bread with honey for lunch!

Buttermilk Sandwich Bread

Makes 2 loaves (try not to eat them all at one sitting)

2 cups buttermilk

4 Tablespoons butter

1/4 cup lukewarm water

1 Tablespoon active dry yeast

4 cups flour

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

In a small saucepan, heat buttermilk and butter over low heat just until butter begins to melt.  In a large mixing bowl, proof yeast in lukewarm water.  Add dry ingredients, then pour buttermilk mixture into the mixing bowl.  Stir with a large spoon or the dough hook of your mixer until a soft dough forms, adding up to 1 cup of flour to make the dough.  Knead until smooth, then allow to rise in a greased bowl for 1 hour.  Form into loaves, and place in greased loaf pans.  Allow to rise again for 30 to 45 minutes.  Place in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and pans, cool on cooling rack until ready to eat.

Hope you’re enjoying this beautiful spring day.  There’s nothing a little homemade bread won’t make better.  As Max says, “It smells like heaven!”  Eden was glad to know that heaven smelled like our house!

Kids in the Kitchen: Chickpea-Couscous Salad

With spring time starting, and summer just around the corner, we are beginning to leave our winter lunches of soup behind and turn to our summer fare of salads, wraps and sandwiches.  Last summer, I discovered many new salad recipes that incorporated grains and legumes along with the vegetables.  These help make a cool but filling lunch that also packs well for picnics.

This week, we are eating Chickpea-Couscous Salad.  This was a great recipe for Max to help make.  Adapting a recipe from The Splendid Table, and using their idea of microwaved couscous, this came together really quickly. Note:  please think of the above picture as a still life, not as an ingredient list.  After I snapped it, I realized how many of the ingredients I had left out of the picture.

To microwave couscous, just measure the couscous and water into a covered bowl, microwave on high for 2 minutes, and allow to stand for 5 minutes to finish absorbing the water.  For this recipe, I used 1 1/2 cups couscous and 3 cups of water.

Max did some of the chopping.

And just a reminder, when you have kids stirring, get a much larger bowl than necessary. Two seconds after this picture was taken, there were chickpeas all over my kitchen floor.

Chickpea Couscous Salad

Makes 12 Large Servings

1 1/2 cups couscous

3 cups warm water

1 large bell pepper, diced

1 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 large cucumber, chopped small

1  cup green olives, halved

1/2 cup raisins

2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 Tablespoon salt

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4  cup olive oil

Prepare couscous in the microwave according to method described above.  Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.  Allow to stand 1 hour or longer to allow flavors to blend.  Refrigerate, but bring to room temperature before serving.

Remember — I warned you about the big bowl!  This salad tastes great with pitas.  Happy Thursday!

Kids in the Kitchen: Pineapple Cheese Sandwiches

One of the things my kids and I like to do is check out cookbooks from the library.  Sometimes we make foods from them, often we just dream over them.  I don’t like to buy kid-specific cookbooks, but the library lets us try them out for free.  I don’t like to buy them, because the recipes included in them often do not fit our healthy eating preferences.  Even so, we like to try out some “junk food” recipes every once in a while.

Max found this recipe, and was anxious to try it.  It was in Paula Deen’s For the Lunchbox Set, which I recommend if you’re into white bread and sugar.  This recipe required that I buy white bread, which hasn’t been inside our house for months, but we enjoyed playing with it anyway.

First, thoroughly drain canned pineapple rings on paper towels, so your bread doesn’t get soggy.

Then, use the can (dry it well) to cut circles from your wimpy storebought white bread.  Max discovered it works best if you press the  can down hard and then tear the  crusts away from the can.  We saved our crusts to make bread pudding tomorrow morning for breakfast.

Spread each slice thinly with mayonnaise, then top with a ring of pineapple, a slice of cheddar cheese, and another bread circle.  Let everyone in the family taste test.

The general consensus was, “It doesn’t taste as bad as I thought it would!” (Great recommendation!)

Hope you have the courage to try a weird combination today.  Happy Wednesday!

Kids in the Kitchen: Potato Quesadillas

Glancing through vegetarian blogs this week, I spotted a recipe for potato quesadillas with homemade whole wheat tortillas.  I honestly didn’t follow this recipe, because the idea appealed to me, and I just went with it.  We enjoy mashed potato taquitos and a special Hispanic dish called molotes, which are a homemade corn tortillas dough, wrapped around mashed potatoes and queso fresco and deep fried.  We also love thinly sliced potatoes with rosemary, sea salt and olive oil on pizza and potato strudel made with puff pastry.  All these dishes have in common a very special way the potatoes melt into the dough, creating a unique texture which is very delicious.  This recipe would have been better with uncooked flour tortillas, but I just bought whole wheat flour tortillas and made the quesadillas with them as a quick lunch time treat.  This was an excellent dish for Max to help with.  I baked the potatoes in the microwave for about 10 minutes, and then peeled them with a knife.  Then he grated the potatoes.  This wasn’t his first experience with a grater, but it still takes real concentration to avoid grating his fingers.

Then we filled half of each tortilla with grated potato, and topped with grated cheese.  I got a great deal on some pre-grated cheese this week, and so we used a “Hispanic blend.”  Max was a little timid with the cheese.  Next time, I will make sure there is more cheese on each quesadilla.

Fold the tortillas in half.  Many quesadilla recipes stack two tortillas on top of each other, but they are easier to flip if they are made from a single tortilla.

While assembling the quesadillas, heat a griddle over medium high heat.  Generously butter the skillet, and lay the tortillas on the hot butter, pressing down with a spatula to help them cook evenly and melt the cheese.  Flip after about 3 minutes to grill other side.

Cut in half to serve.

To make 7 quesadillas:

8 small potatoes, scrubbed and poked with a fork

7 whole wheat tortillas

1 1/2 cups grated cheese (I used an Hispanic blend with asadero and cotija)

butter for the skillet

Bake potatoes in the microwave until just soft.  Peel (or not, if your potato skins look fine.  Mine were ugly.) Grated on the large holes of a box grater.  On one half of each tortilla, layer potato and grated cheese.  Fold in half and cook on griddle over medium high heat with plenty of butter.  Serve with salsa and pot beans (if you have them.)

Do you have a special potato dish that is your family’s favorite?  Leave me a recipe or a link in your comments!