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  1. Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    Cooking with Kids Redux…and DELICIOUS Chocolate Almond Crackles

    When I asked for tips for cooking with kids a few weeks back, you shared wonderful suggestions and tips. And many of you identified with my struggle, which made me feel much better knowing I’m not alone. 😉

    Since that post, I’ve had Cate helping a LOT in the kitchen. There was ample opportunity given that it was Thanksgiving week. We’ve had some great success and, while there are still moments of frustration, I’m doing much better with the whole process overall. In fact, Cate cooked with me for hours on Friday and we were both happy the whole time. It was great!

    Here are a few things I’ve concentrated on the last few weeks that I think have made a big difference:

    When Cate and I made Chocolate Almond Crackles, I prepared a lot of the recipe ahead of time (and she didn’t even realize it). For example, I had the chocolate melted and cooled waiting to be mixed in. The butter was softened. All the ingredients were taken out of the cupboards and all of the measuring utensils were on the counter. I can’t believe how much this helped!!! I think a lot of the trouble Cate and I have in the kitchen is she gets bored. By prepping these simple steps ahead of time, there was very little downtime while we were actually cooking together, so Cate felt consistently engaged.

    Set expectations for myself – expect things to take longer, expect things to get messy, etc, etc, etc. Set expectations for my kids – for example, before we even go in the kitchen, I remind Cate that she can’t just grab things or move too quickly so that we can stay safe. I also try to remember to communicate what all the upcoming steps are so she knows what’s going on.

    That one word says it all. The more patient I am, the happier everyone is. Easier said then done sometimes, but I’m working on it!

    And now for the recipe for these delicious cookies. They’re from the Martha Stewart “Holiday Cookies” special issue that’s on newsstands now. (There’s a $1 off coupon for the issue on the homepage, bottom right.) My contact at Martha sent me a copy of the issue (muchas gracias, Mark!) and it is full of all kinds of amazing-looking cookies. I absolutely love these Almond Chocolate Crackles. They have great texture, moist and chocolatey but with a bit of crunch thanks to the almonds. And they just plain taste good. The powdered sugar doesn’t really stay bright white over time…just an fyi!

    Chocolate Almond Crackles
    Recipe type: Dessert
    • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
    • 1 cup blanched almonds, toasted (350 degree oven for 10 minutes)
    • ½ cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • ½ teaspoon coarse salt
    • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
    • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 1 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
    1. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water. Let cool slightly.
    2. Pulse almonds in a food processor until very finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl, and stir in flour, baking powder and salt.
    3. In a separate bowl, beat butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix in chocolate. Reduce speed to low, and add almond-flour mixture. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.
    4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls (this was my job). Roll in granulated sugar to coat (this was Anna’s job – my 3-year-old) then in confectioners’ sugar (this was Cate’s job – my 6-year-old). Arrange on parchment or silpat-lined baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until surfaces crack, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

  2. Windows Phone 7 Winner!

    I’m happy to announce the winner of the Windows 7 Phone Giveaway!

    Congratulations to “D” who said, “My more with less Thanksgiving tip is not to have a dinner on Thanksgiving – have a turkey dinner some other day so that it’s easier for everyone to get there and less hassle grocery shopping for it.” Congratulations! I hope you love the phone!

    I kind of like that unconventional tip! I have to say, when I cooked a turkey on Friday for our own “leftovers,” it was far less stressful preparing that meal on a day when I wasn’t expecting guests or on a schedule. I think D is onto something here… 🙂

  3. Sunday, November 28, 2010

    Week 201 Menu

    Happy {three days after} Thanksgiving! I hope you all feasted well! We certainly did. My 5-year-old (who shouldn’t even know what Thanksgiving leftovers are in the first place) requested that I make a turkey this weekend so we could have leftovers for ourselves (we ate at a friends’ place on Thursday)…so we ended up basically having two Thanksgivings! It’s been a tasty weekend and my girls are loving it.

    I made the America’s Test Kitchen pumpkin pie recipe. I didn’t make the crust (I should have…but I was sick of cooking by that point!), but I can tell you that the filling was really good. A delicious, smooth, creamy flavor, and no cracking!

    – Leftovers

    – Homemade pizza

    Orange Chicken (Nate’s grandma’s recipe that we have not had in ages!)
    – Rice and salad

    – Nate’s Omelettes (he keeps getting off the hook for this, but not this week!)

    – Leftovers

    – Eat out Chinese (there’s a place in Palo Alto Nate and I want to try out…taste testing for Christmas Eve!)

    – Breakfast for dinner

    As always, THANK YOU for all your menus last week! I don’t think I ever commented, I got a little caught up in all the holiday preparations. But, please know how much I love reading all your comments! Looking forward to seeing your menu for this week – please share!

  4. Friday, November 26, 2010

    My Holiday Wish List…and an AWESOME Black Friday Giveaway!

    This giveaway is now closed. Thank you!

    It’s Black Friday. I must admit, I didn’t go shopping. Two years ago Nate and I got up at 4 am on Black Friday to purchase our T.V. It was worth it for that. But otherwise, I’m just not brave enough for this the greatest of all shopping days. Apparently that gene didn’t get passed down from my mother to myself!

    Since I’m a wimp and didn’t hit the stores, I’m going to “celebrate” Black Friday right here on my blog. Today’s Mama is hosting a killer giveaway from GameStop and invited me to take part in the fun. They’re giving me a gift card to GameStop AND I get to give away a $250 GameStop giftcard to one of you! I’m pretty sure you could put that to good use now that holiday shopping is in full swing!

    Please simply add a comment to this post to be entered for a chance to win the $250 GameStop gift card. If you want to join in the meme fun, feel free to answer one (or more) of the questions below, but you don’t have to – any comment will suffice! Your comment must be posted by Midnight PT on Wednesday, December 1. One entry per person and winner will be randomly selected and announced on December 2.

    Here is my Holiday Wish List Meme:

    1. What is your holiday wish for your family?
    My holiday wish for my family is simple – that my girls grow up with great holiday memories. That’s it.

    2. What is your Christmas morning tradition?
    Christmas morning tradition? Get up, see what Santa left in the living room and then veg the entire day!

    3. If you could ask Santa for one, completely decadent wish for yourself, what would it be?
    I would absolutely love to go on a trip to a hotel alone for 3 days. Preferably a hotel in a cute town by the beach. I’m thinking Carmel would suffice.

    4. How do you make the holidays special without spending any money?
    Food, food and more food! Cooking Thanksgiving food with Cate this week has been really precious and wonderful. Reading books is also at the top of my list.

    5. What games did you play with your family growing up?
    Trouble, Candy Land, Parcheesi, Chutes & Ladders…oh and Monopoly, although I must admit I kind of had no clue what was going on. When we were older, Rook was a favorite, too. When I was in elementary school we got a Nintendo from Santa. We loved Super Mario Brothers and Tetris. And my mom, believe it or not, loved Zelda. She got addicted there for a while. 😉

    6. What holiday tradition have you carried on from your own childhood?
    As kids, Nate and I both would get pajamas from our parents on Christmas Eve, so we’ve continued that with our own children. My family always had a big Swedish feast on Christmas Eve, while Nate’s family ordered Chinese take-out. We’ve adopted the latter tradition, but I have started making Swedish meatballs for Christmas Day. Maybe one day I’ll tackle the amazing Swedish ham that my grandmother and mother always made.

    7. Where would you go for a Christmas-away-from-home trip?
    A cabin in the mountains with snow all around.

    8. Check out GameStop and tell us, what are the three top items on your GameStop Wish List this year?
    We have a PlayStation 3 (which plays Blu-Ray discs AND streams Netflix…it’s a dream). We definitely want to get the Move Controllers. Let’s see. Rock Band would actually be pretty rockin’ (ridiculous pun intended), so we need the drums, the microphone and the guitar for SURE.

    Alright, people, get commenting! And Happy Black Friday!

  5. Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    How a sieve saved Thanksgiving…and a Californian complaining about the cold

    Every Thanksgiving I write about cranberry slush. Because the whole reason for the existence of this blog is to convert all of America to my family’s tradition of making cranberry slush each Thanksgiving. Now you know my evil master plan.

    And now that you know the plan, I have to kill you. Okay, not really. But you do now understand just how much I love cranberry slush and that it’s a must for me on Thanksgiving. I would hazard to guess that I’ve never experienced Thanksgiving without it.

    So, imagine my utter despair today when I couldn’t find my colander and giant wooden pestle, the tools you see in the photo on the cranberry slush post. When we moved in February and I ended up with enough space in my kitchen to store a fork and a plate and not much more, I stored a bunch of my kitchen wares in boxes. And apparently I stored my colander and pestle. The horror! I was convinced this was going to be the worst Thanksgiving ever. (What? You think I’m exaggerating?)

    Nikki (my friend who has saved me on more than one occasion and not all of the kitchen variety) had a nice big sieve for me to borrow. Which brings me to the whole point of this post. A sieve and a big serving spoon work GREAT. See, years ago I tried using a tupperware strainer and it was a huge pain in the patootie. So, I thought the colander and pestle were the only way to go. But they aren’t! The sieve and spoon are straining my cranberries just like they’re supposed to. If you haven’t ever made cranberry slush because you don’t have a colander and a pestle, never fear! If you have a sieve and a spoon, hop to it! You can still freeze your slush TONIGHT for serving tomorrow. You have time! Click here for the recipe.

    P.S. While I was photographing the sieve freezing my tail off on the back porch, I took a picture of my socks. Which I was going to write about. Because I’m mad I have to be wearing big fluffy socks. Because it’s COLD. And then I looked up and saw palm trees. And remembered it is November after all. And I was looking at PALM TREES. And I decided I better stop complaining. Because I might have more than one of you throwing snowballs at me.

    Off to finish making slush! Yippee!

  6. Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Thanksgiving Prep: Roux for Perfect Gravy

    Today I made a white roux so that on Thursday we can make gravy. Smooth, delicious, lump-free gravy. Mmmmmm…

    Nate and I used to watch Good Eats. A lot. In fact, we were a little addicted. But we learned a lot from that show! Years ago, an episode called “Gravy Confidential” aired and that’s when I discovered the technique of using roux to thicken gravy. Until that point, I had always used what Alton calls a “slurry,” flour and cold water whisked together. It works fine, but I must admit that gravy made with roux is in fact richer and smoother.

    This is what the roux looks like right after I take it off the stove to cool. It turns a more golden color as it cools and all the bubbles disappear.

    If you want to see the Good Eats episode that changed my gravy life forever, click here for Part 1 and click here for Part 2. Part 1 has lots of introductory information (and, of course, some silliness), but the first 5 minutes of part 2 is where Alton actually makes the roux and is the part I find most helpful.

    So, let’s make some roux! I’m giving you a play-by-play, so it might seem daunting at first glance, but it’s really quite simple to whip up!

    Thanksgiving Prep: Roux for Perfect Gravy
    Recipe type: Thanksgiving
    • 1 oz butter (2 tablespoons)
    • 1 oz flour (I do 3 tablespoons since {gasp!} I don’t have a kitchen scale. True confessions, people.)
    • Roux made from these measurements will thicken 1 cup of fluid*
    1. Since I know I’m going to be making gravy for a bunch of people on Thursday, and even making my own turkey again next week as per Cate’s request, I decided to make a lot of roux at once. You can put it in the refrigerator for up to one month, and you want it cool or at room temperature when you add it to your hot liquid, so having some on hand in the fridge works perfectly. Today I used 1 cup of butter and 1½ cups of flour to make my roux. This will thicken 8 cups of fluid.
    2. Melt butter (preferably in a saucier, but a regular sauce pan will work, that’s what I have) over medium heat. Have a whisk with lots of wire loops handy and ready to whisk! When the butter is melted and starting to bubble a bit, add the flour all at once and start whisking. Whisk constantly over medium heat until the roux starts to liquify. If you’re cooking a lot of roux like me, this takes a little while”©be patient, it will happen! Once it’s liquifying, turn the heat to low and cook for about 3-4 more minutes, whisking occasionally.
    3. The roux and the liquid need to have opposite temperatures, so if your roux is hot, your liquid (broth) needs to be room temp or cool. If your liquid is hot (which mine always is), then the roux needs to be at room temp or cool.
    4. In the video, Alton talks about how gravies thickened with flour will thicken as they cool, so you probably want to have your gravy a bit on the thinner side on the stove so that by the time it reaches the table in the gravy boat, it’s the perfect thickness.
    *In terms of the liquid”©when it’s Thanksgiving, I always simmer the turkey’s heart, neck and giblets for an hour or two and save that broth, then combine it with the juices from the cooked turkey. If I’m still needing more liquid, I add chicken stock, but I don’t often have to do that. And don’t forget salt and pepper!

    A note on storage: I always just put my finished roux in a bowl or tupperware to store in the fridge. I would then chisel out pieces of roux to add to my hot liquid later. It’s kind of annoying. So this time around I’ve put the roux in a ziploc bag with the air squeezed out and I’m going to cool it in the fridge flat like this. I’m hoping it will be easier to break off pieces…we’ll see!

    Postscript 11/28/10: Storing the roux in these ziploc bags worked GREAT. I knew that each “brick” would thicken appx 4 cups, and it was super easy to break them evenly into fours, so I could estimate accurately how much roux I was putting into the fluid. And it was easy to break and pop out of the bag. Will definitely store the roux like this from now on!

  7. Sunday, November 21, 2010

    Week 200 Menu

    Whoa. Menu #200? That’s kinda nuts. Where does the time go? I took a look back at Menu #1. Good thing my friend Margo commented so it at least there was one comment! To honor the big 2-0-0, I think I’ll have a piece of toast. Yeah, we like to celebrate big around here.

    Pasta Primavera (have some in the freezer already made – love that!)

    – Paninis

    Pesto Tortellini Soup

    Happy Thanksgiving! We are feasting with two other families. I’m bringing broccoli casserole, sweet potato souffle, corn souffle, cranberry orange sauce, cranberry slush…and I might have to make these rolls.

    – Crossing my fingers for leftovers! Since we’re eating with friends on Thursday, we might not have that many. Hopefully there are a few!

    – Eat out

    – Spaghetti

    Time to share your menus! And please feel free to share your Thanksgiving menus as well!

    P.S. Don’t forget to enter the Windows Phone 7 giveaway. You can comment once a day until November 29, just as long as your comment is at least 25 characters and is different from the day to day. AND your comment does not need to be  a Thanksgiving tip…it can be about anything. I finally got my phone this weekend and it’s really cool. You want to win it. 😉

  8. Friday, November 19, 2010

    Thanksgiving Prep: Broccoli Casserole

    My mom always makes broccoli casserole for Thanksgiving. This recipe definitely reminds me of her, so I end up making it myself almost every year. When I take a bite, I go back in time, back to a time when I didn’t do much on Thanksgiving morning except watch TV. Those were the days, eh?

    I must warn you…not everyone loves this broccoli casserole. Kids especially. I remember not loving it all that much myself when I was younger, but it grew on me. I think the reason is that there is blue cheese in the sauce and, well, blue cheese isn’t always a universally loved flavor. In fact, I pretty much detest blue cheese in most things. I can’t help it.  But I do really like this casserole. I like the strong savory flavor of this dish in contrast with the more mellow, often sweet flavors on the Thanksgiving plate.

    Thanksgiving Prep: Broccoli Casserole
    From my mom Phyllis Wallin (don’t know where she got the recipe from!)
    Recipe type: Side Dish, Vegetable
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 2 tablespoons flour
    • 6 oz cream cheese
    • ¼-1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (I do ¼ cup)
    • 1 cup milk
    • 2 14 ounce pkgs frozen broccoli – thawed and drained
    • ~15 Ritz crackers (half a sleeve or so), crushed
    1. In saucepan melt butter; blend in flour and cheeses (this part doesn’t always go that smoothly for me, but once I get the milk in there things melt and blend better). Add milk; cook and stir until mixture boils. Remove from heat and stir in broccoli.
    2. Place in casserole dish; top with cracker crumbs. Bake at 350 for 30 mins.


    As you can see, I’m freezing the casserole for next week, so I’m keeping the crackers stored separately until it’s time to bake.

  9. Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Thanksgiving Prep: Sweet Potato Souffle

    I don’t have much to say about this recipe except that it’s wonderful. I discovered sweet potato souffle last year when my friend Mindy made it for our Thanksgiving dinner. She got the recipe from her sister who got from a friend who got it from a friend and, well, you get the idea. It’s one of those recipes.

    Well, for whatever reason, this recipe was not in my recipe box. But that situation has been remedied. The sweet potato souffle recipe now has an honored place in my {virtual} recipe box and is one of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes…along with my great-grandmother’s cranberry slush. (What? You haven’t had cranberry slush yet? Better get it on your Thanksgiving menu plan, folks. Trust me.)

    Note – I have adapted this recipe a bit from what I posted last year, after making it twice myself. Go with this version.

    Sweet Potato Souffle
    From Someone Somewhere...with a few Jane Maynard adaptations
    • Base:
    • ¾ cup sugar (over the years I've reduced more and more until I didn't even add sugar at all, so consider the sugar optional, but at the very least you can definitely do less than ¾ cup)
    • 3 eggs
    • 5 roasted and mashed up sweet potatoes (I usually do 6)
    • 1 Tbsp. vanilla
    • 6 tablespoons melted butter
    • ½ tsp. salt
    • Topping:
    • 1 c. brown sugar
    • ⅓ c. flour
    • ⅓ c. butter, either softened to room temp or cut into a bunch of little chunks
    • 1 c. chopped pecans
    1. Preheat oven to 350ÂșF.
    2. Mix the "Base" ingredients together in a medium-large bowl. Spread in a 9x13 pyrex dish.
    3. Mix together the brown sugar, flour and butter with a pastry blender or fork until crumbly.
    4. Mix in the chopped pecans, then spread topping evenly over the sweet potatoes. I like to use the pastry blender even after adding the pecans to crunch them up a bit more.
    5. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.


  10. Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    ‘This Week for Dinner’ Cookbook Club: The Earthbound Cook

    I’m starting something new. Because I’m kind of bored. There’s just not that much going on in my life. 😉

    Okay, seriously, here is my new thing. The ‘This Week for Dinner Cookbook Club.’ It goes something like this. I convince a publisher to give me a bunch of copies of a cookbook. Then I email the members of the Cookbook Club, they get copies of the book and we get together for a potluck where we all cook recipes from the book. I then write about our meeting here on the blog to share with all of you!

    I have a diverse and wonderful group of women who are members of the cookbook club. And they have been waiting very patiently for our first meeting. See, I put the club together months ago. And so far being a member hasn’t meant much.

    Thankfully my dear friend Linsey Krolik got the ball rolling! She has her own book club, From Left to Write, where the members are all over the country and they read all kinds of books. And she rustled up a bunch of copies of Myra Goodman’s new cookbook The Earthbound Cook. And, last Wednesday, the stars aligned and we had our first meeting – combined with Linsey’s lovely group, of course!

    What an evening! I encourage you all to start your own cookbook clubs. It was a BLAST all having the same cookbook, emailing and Facebooking about the recipes, planning what we were going to make. And then…then! Getting together and eating all the wonderful food and spending a few hours chatting.We all walked away that night feeling warm, happy, and full!

    It certainly didn’t hurt that we all loved Myra’s book. What a wonderful inaugural cookbook for our club! It is full of wonderful recipes as well as great stories and insight. And every single person agreed – there was not one dish at the potluck that wasn’t good! Everything was wonderful. Of course I had favorites, but everything tasted great.

    So now I am inspired. I can’t wait for our next cookbook club meeting!

    I have to share one of my favorite recipes from the night with you. Because I want to whet your appetite for the cookbook…and I think it would be a yummy Thanksgiving treat! It’s the squares you see pictured above. They were fabulous!

    Oatmeal, Carrot and Apple Breakfast Squares
    From The Earthbound Cook
    – Butter, for greasing baking dish
    – 1 3/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
    – 1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) whole wheat pastry flour
    – 1/4 cup ground flaxseeds
    – 1 tablespoon baking soda
    – 1 teaspoon baking powder
    – 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
    – 1/4 tsp salt
    – 1 1/4 cups (11 1/4 ounces) packed light brown sugar
    – 2/3 cup canola oil
    – 2 large eggs
    – 1 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
    – 1 1/2 cups grated peeled carrots
    – 1 cup grated peeled apples

    – 2 cups walnut pieces
    – 1/2 cup (2 ounces) unsweetened shredded coconut
    – 1/4 cup (scant 2 ounces) packed light brown sugar
    – 1 tsp ground cinnamon

    Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter the bottom of sides of 9×13 baking dish.

    Place the oats, flour, flaxseeds, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl and stir to combine.

    In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and the oil. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the buttermilk.

    Add the oat mixture to the buttermilk mixture, and stir to combine. Add the carrots and apples, stir just til blended. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking dish.

    Place the walnuts, coconut, brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Stir to blend and sprinkle over the batter.

    Bake until the batter has set and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 1 hour then cut into 12 pieces.

    Below is a list of the From Left to Write bloggers who have written about The Earthbound Cook today. Definitely a list of blogs posts worth checking out!