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Category Archives: All Around the Kitchen

Nice and Easy

A couple of posts back, I made mention of my recent adventures cooking with the kids. Now, if you’re someone who naturally digs cooking with your little ones, you are not going to be impressed; trust me on this one.

However, if you — like me — tend to get a little frazzled, and were not born with that super useful ability to unclench a little because they’re just kids and this is supposed to be fun for all, well, this post is for you.

Also: if you like delicious chocolate, this post is for you. We’ll be covering both.

So, my kids love to go through this book and make their requests. I like that, since I’m all too happy for new lunch ammo, and the recipes we’ve sampled have been hits. This time around, my son lit on the oatmeal bars. I told him that we’d give them a shot one day. Ah, that mythical day, when we have some free time, and I’m in the mood to get everyone into the kitchen with me and the table is clear….

It just doesn’t happen that often. And why? Because I totally overthink it! This time, after he went to school, I looked at the recipe again, and realized that we had everything in the cupboards. And the table was 80% cleared off. And we had free time in the afternoon. Oh, and it is a super easy recipe. Why not just make the darn cookies? No reason not to. I did, however, try to think of a way to make it less stress-inducing for me, because it just makes sense.

Brace yourself — here it is:

  1. Prep all the ingredients and have them all set up before calling the kids into the kitchen. Yes, this takes some of the fun learning out of it, but it’s a process. We’ll get to more fun hands-on stuff down the road. Probably way down the road.
  2. Pick something easy!

I can’t stress that second one enough. The oatmeal bars were as easy as they read, not to mention delicious, and took about ten minutes to put together. I thought it might have been too easy, and they’d be kind of let down by the experience, but no! They were happy to have cooked, happy to be done, and didn’t fight for the rest of the afternoon.

Oh yes. Best ten minutes ever! I could not believe the difference.

Fast forward to yesterday. I love a couple bites of tasty chocolate at the end of the day, but always feel a little guilty when I throw the “good” bars into the cart (especially since I don’t like to share. Shhhh.) Also, we have been eating A LOT of dessert lately, so I thought that having a nice nibble of something sweet at the end of the meal might wean us off somewhat without all the ruckus. What about chocolate bark? I found this recipe on Pinterest and figured that it would be a good one to try sometime. Doh! Here we go again! See how ingrained this tendency has become? So my little buddy and I stopped at the store for a bag of Ghirardelli chips, rummaged through the pantry for fancy add-ons, and made us some bark.

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(I meant to take fancier step-by-step pics, but then I forgot, what with all of the excitement over actually doing something.)

We added chopped salted almonds and flaked coconut to our chocolate. I spread out the chocolate puddle, and Bridget rained down the toppings. And then I rained down some more, because she totally refused to get out to the corners. Teamwork!

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Here it is after it’s chill time, all nice and shard-y. It’s quite delish, and it sure has done the trick as far as making everyone forget their nightly cries for ice cream cones (mine included), but next time I think I’ll stir some of the toppings into the chocolate to add more flavor. We’ll see.

I’m going to need a lot more of these quick little projects before the summer is upon us.

 

Seriously — Out With the Old

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My mom gave me a lovely set of metal mixing bowls for Christmas. (Thanks again, Mom! And it’s an old photo — the tongs are no longer wrapped, although you know I do like to savor a gift fully before putting it into use.) Metal totally trumps plastic in a lot of ways, but the key to me is that it’s so much easier to clean when you’ve used any kind of grease. Have you tried washing a plastic bowl after eating buttery popcorn? Ugh! Drives me bonkers. Also, they look nice in an industrial way when used as serving bowls, especially considering that they’re replacing a bunch of mismatched green ones.

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I mean, they are all green, so they can be considered a “collection”, I guess? But they weren’t making me particularly happy. Yet, when it came time to swap them out for the shiny new ones…that was a little hard.

Might they come in handy some day?

Don’t I have some little smidgen of space in the pantry where they could be stashed? You know — in case of a bowl emergency?

What constitutes a bowl emergency?

Am I my own grandma? Because I hold onto things like someone raised in an orphanage during the Depression.

The Greens headed out the door to Goodwill this morning, along with a few other beautiful, perfectly good things. The load is lightening every day, friends!

Whatever

What day is it? With all the crazy “snow” days interrupting our regular schedule, and all of the other stuff making our days a little cuckoo, I’m feeling even more scattered than usual. But that’s winter for you.

Still, we press on! This weekend we made ninjabread cookies (thanks, Ms. Heather!):

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Later, I gave new life to one of Bridget’s old faves, thanks for this tutorial:

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She was so happy. I, of course, spent the next hour wildly looking for more ruined long-sleeved shirts in my stash to try that trick again.

And then yesterday we had Cold Day (which is when they close the schools on account of the weather, and then it doesn’t actually do anything), so I decided to make good on the beef bones in the freezer and whip up another batch of stock. Oh, it simmered away all afternoon, and I had big plans for french dip sandwiches and pot pies in our future. Finally, I lovingly strained it into my largest bowl, and caught the bottom of the pan on the edge of said bowl, tipping it over and dumping the entire contents down the drain. I mean straight down the drain, as though it were being vacuumed down the disposal. AGH!! It was just disgusting. So I washed the nasty, greasy dishes and closed the kitchen for the night. Or maybe FOREVER! Ugh.

 

Kitchen Wiz

Right off the bat, let me apologize for the lack of pretty pictures, or — more accurately — any pictures. I meant to take one of the beautiful bowl of chopped veggies waiting to go into tonight’s soup, and then I got to talking on the phone, which caused me to completely forget about snapping a shot before making said soup.

You’re not missing much. Imagine a square quart-sized glass bowl filled with a chopped rainbow of vegetable goodness. Ahhhh. There you go!

Now — back to business. This week, I have been killing it in the kitchen! Now, to put that in perspective, I’ve not yet broken even with those who actually cook all their meals at home and swear off all things processed. Oh my, no. However, by merely putting on my apron and bossing myself around a bit, so far I’ve:

  • caramelized a big batch of onions (because that’s the only way anything onion-y is going to make it into any of my food)
  • baked three loaves of artisan bread
  • cooked up a pot of applesauce*
  • made a half-batch of jambalaya
  • roasted tomatoes and garlic for sauce, thus salvaging the tomatoes that I could almost watch going soft on the counter
  • froze some chocolate covered banana bites for snack
  • baked up a tray of Coconut Granola Bark

Dinner was a pot of creamy any veggie soup [scroll down - it's the second recipe on the page]. I make this soup about once every two weeks or so, and it really is a little bit magical. It looks absolutely terrible, though, but everyone at my table slurps it down. Tonight’s combo was pretty wild — broccoli, carrot, tomatoes, Swiss chard, black radish, and golden beet — and it still worked. Our youngest member complained about the spice, but that wasn’t until the last bite. (It wasn’t spicy.) This soup is a terrific way to clean out the crisper and any other annoying leftover drips and dabs in the fridge, including any last cups of stock you might have.

Speaking of stock, I loved reading this post, especially the part about the chicken stock hanging over her head. I can relate! A couple of weeks ago, my mom and I were talking and I was telling her that I just couldn’t stand the thought of fooling around making a pot of stock and having to mess with straining it and all that. She agreed, but then she said, “It’s really not that hard.” What just happened? Totally the opposite of agreeing! But she was right, and just hearing her say that made me think, “Oh yeah! It isn’t that hard”, so I put on the pot and — four hours later — froze several quarts of stock.

The hard part is facing how often I’m just unwilling to put in the time, and how easy it is to sit and think for hours on end about how hard “it” is. Yikes.

But that’s not today! Today we dined at home!

 

*I didn’t have any apple juice in the house, and as a result almost didn’t make the applesauce for the third week in a row. Then, I remembered that we do have running water, and subbed that. Still delicious. The key to kitchen success: Know when not to be a slave to your recipe!

 

Pickled

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The other day, I found myself the proud owner of a ridiculous serpentine cucumber, courtesy of our CSA share. Not wanting to see one bit of it go to waste, I decided to take this quick pickle recipe out for a spin. I mean, it includes lemon and garlic, and doesn’t require canning. Worth a try? Totally.

Friends, these bad boys live up to their name. SO GOOD!! The only thing I didn’t like was that the cuke only [yeah, only] yielded one jar, and we killed it in one sitting. Goodbye, most delicious pickles. Still, they only took about ten minutes to make. This is what I need to keep reminding myself so that I don’t get all “Oh, who has time to make pickles with one lousy cucumber?” the next time around. You know who has time? This girl. Ten minutes well spent.

Along those same lines, there were a few blackberries and some rapidly withering blueberries in the fridge. Wasting summer fruit REALLY makes me sad, but — here again — who has the time to be boiling up sauces and stuff? And to only get a cup or two out of the deal?

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Yeah. There went another ten minutes, and the fresh berry syrup definitely kicked breakfast (or was it dinner?) up a notch for the maple-abstainer at the table. And one cup was enough for more than two meals, which makes it seem silly not to do stuff like this more often. [In case you're wondering, you mix one cup of berries with half a cup of sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and the berries start breaking down, about 8 - 10 minutes.]

Getting Ahead?

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Alright –

Let’s just establish right off the bat that this is something of a lament, or maybe I’m just trying to fancy up that it’s a whiny complaint, but not a complaint in the “oh, could it get any worse?!” sense. No. This is more of a “have you ever wondered why you bother?” variety of rant.

And, ultimately, a tale of resilience! But — again — not in a way that would be anything impressive; just a minor personal victory.

You’re glad you stopped by today, right?

OK, so a couple of weeks ago, during VBS, I came home and decided to try to cook up some extra meat for the freezer. You would think that summer would be a time when one has more time and energy to whip up lovely feasts every night, but I’ve not found that to be the case. I have found that taking the fully cooked main component out of the freezer makes dinnertime at least feel like it’s totally do-able, even on the busiest day. (This book is definitely the flavor of the month around here. I love it!) So, back to the meat: I browned up three pounds of chuck roast and set it to simmer away in the crock pot. Then I went to pick up the kids at my sister’s house, and proceeded to hang out for a couple of hours. It shouldn’t have mattered one way or the other, except — what do you know! — the power blinked off for a minute and shut down the crock.

Yes. We came home to a stone-cold crock filled with three pounds of spoiling meat. The hour I spent browning all that meat? Could have cut that down to thirty seconds had I just cut out the middle man and thrown the whole roast in the trash.

So, live and learn. The next time I tried it, which was a week ago, I stayed home while it was slowly cooking. And it’s a good thing I did, because when my husband shut off the breaker to the dishwasher…yeah. It shut off the crock pot. But I saved that batch — score!

Also last week, I planned a whole feast which required the grill. Roasted corn (and I had twelve ears shucked, so that there would be plenty for the freezer), marinated chicken — delicious. Oh, but the grill had run out of gas. But we replaced the gas! But…I still couldn’t get the grill to turn on. So I waited for my hero to return home from the salt mines, aaand of course it was a night where he had gotten hung up and was running late.

Super late.

And then he did get home, and discovered that the grill was actually dead.

No feast. Chicken: to the freezer, raw. Corn: bagged, in the fridge, getting dry.

By Saturday, new grill. Kevin really wanted to make pizza on the grill. It’s never worked out for us, but we were feeling good about the new grill and the crusts have been coming out nice and thin in the oven — maybe we were ready to kick it up a notch!

Or, maybe we thought that cinders would taste better than they do. I don’t know. It was disgusting.

Also, the sun-dried tomato pesto that I made to spread on that hot mess just about killed the food processor. Who knew those leathery little suckers were steel-belted?

Tonight started out with a bag of pita that had gone moldy (despite the fact that today was the sell-by date listed on the package) and a bowl of potatoes that I forgot to roast for the roasted potato and steak salad until it was too late. Not only that, but when I realized that I’d forgotten to roast the potatoes, I also remembered that I’d forgotten to even bag up the potatoes when I went to pick up the veggies from the CSA drop this afternoon. Doh!

And this is where what passes for resilience comes in, because I so wanted to just get some takeout and call it a day at this point. I ditched the potatoes, pitched the pita, and went to the freezer for a loaf of ciabatta. Crostini would be great with the salad! So many good spreads in the fridge!

What’s this? No ciabatta in the freezer. Well, sure.

What I did find was a heel from a loaf of rustic sourdough. And croutons it was, and the salad was fine without the potatoes, and everyone is fed and happy and out of the kitchen.

So, there you have it: a tale of good intentions, poor execution, and questionable organizational management. An everywoman story? I like to think so; please don’t rob me of my delusion.

 

Paletas

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I’m sure it’s no surprise that, for me, a stellar recommendation from Heather is equivalent to the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Maybe even more so, because I don’t know much about the sensibilities of the GH testers. Anyway, when she announced her Popsicle Parade, complete with recommendations for a recipe book and molds, it also won’t surprise you that I hopped right on and ordered both. (Yes. Give me an excuse….)

For the record, happier I could not be. The molds fit nicely in my freezer, and make a very official-looking pop, and the Mexican Chocolate paleta is delicious! I’m not sure if I measured wrong, though, or what, because I had a TON of chopped chocolate and almond mixture, and just couldn’t imagine jamming the molds full of it. Now I have a bag of it in the freezer for next time, so all is not lost.

Also, like a bonehead, I dipped the molds in the a sink full of warm water to soften them up a touch. See the top of the one above? Yeah, she hadn’t really dug in yet — that’s the way the top was shaped after it rapidly started melting. Ruh-roh. Of course, with the next batch, I dipped them in cold water and had much the same result, so I don’t know. Guess we’ll have to just keep making more til I get it right! We’re all about the pursuit of excellence around here, don’t ya know.

Deliciousness aside, I’m going to tell you that this recipe in particular ended up bumming me out. See, I was even more excited to try this one out because I had everything I needed in the pantry. The box of Ibarra tablets had been languishing away in the pantry since winter. And after celebrating the fact that they were finally going to achieve their chocolatey destiny, I realized that I bought that box with the full intention of lovingly stirring up some delicious Mexican hot chocolate for the niƱos on chilly after-school afternoons. Yet there is sat until June, untouched and unenjoyed. Never mind that it wasn’t all that cold this winter; my shelves are filled with good intentions. That is, until they’re past their prime and I pitch whatever it is in the trash.

So, my modest goal this summer is to bust out all the “someday” stuff lying around and use it for something. And to have fun, and be lazy, and just hang out with my kids. I mean, we’re with each other all the time (all.the.time), but it feels like we’re always rushing to get something done or be somewhere. But the funny [not in a traditional sense] thing is that I don’t feel like I ever accomplish all that much, and we don’t really go anywhere. So, yeah. Less rushing and more funning and lazing purposefully. Doesn’t that sound good?

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