August 31, 2012

Sweet and Funny Things

Tuesday was a cooler morning (rejoice!). Joe said it was a little bit cold, and I told him I thought it was refreshing! He replied, "Yeah! Like a cup with ice and fresh water with cucumbers!"

He is also a very good kitchen helper.

We met a St. Bernard on the way home from school. Bracken has never met a dog bigger than her. Well, she met Ron's Doberman, but Nikki was terrified of her, so she doesn't count. Bracken was In. Awe. The St. Bernard was nice, but her "playful growl" made Bracken sound like a terrier! And her growl scares neighbors! After a tentative greeting, we went on our way, but not soon enough for me to avoid this parting gift...

I am so glad we don't have a St. Bernard.

Joe got out of punishment during dinner. Daddy said, "You're lucky Mom is nicer than me!" to which he  stated, "Mom, you're the Queen of this house!
I said, "Yes, but Daddy is the King!"
Joe, "And we're the Wild Boys."

I call this series, "A Boy and His Dog". (no posing, I promise)

After dinner, little Stephen put his dishes in the sink and asked, "Mom? Can I do a quick clean-up with the vacuum?"

I am the luckiest Mom ever.

August 30, 2012

The Bread (Best Homemade Sandwich Bread)

Whenever the subject of comforting, nostalgic scents comes up, what always seems to be in the Top 5? Fresh-baked bread. Well, thanks to this recipe, you can have that scent any time, anywhere!

I mentioned a few posts ago that whenever we moved, my Mom would introduce us to the neighborhood/new office by baking. Even more famous than her Cookies was her Bread. Yes, it deserves a capital letter. This is The Bread. 

Bread-baking days were always quite an experience. Mom would whip up double and triple batches, and there would be bread cooling on every surface, bread coming out of the oven, the occasional batch burning as she got used to new ovens, half-melted sticks of butter everywhere... always followed by a trip 'round the neighborhood, delivering bread (and sometimes jam!) to break the ice with new neighbors. 

I have never liked whole-wheat bread, especially homemade, because it always seems to turn out dense and gummy. This bread changes all that. It's the lightest, fluffiest homemade wheat bread I have ever had! 

The Bread

2 1/2 cups barely warm water
1/3 cup potato flakes
2 Tb yeast
1/4 plus 1/8 cup oil (3/8 cup)
1/4 plus 1/8 cup honey (3/8 cup)
2 tsp salt
1 egg
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour  (you can use all-white or all-wheat also)
2 Tb dough enhancer
2 Tb wheat gluten
(the enhancer and gluten may be a little pricey, but they will last you a LONG time)
Add the yeast and potato flakes to the water to soften.
Add all of the other ingredients and mix well. Add up to a cup more flour if your dough is too sticky.

Knead for 10 minutes. (If you have a mixer with a bread hook, you are lucky! If not, I know this is a long time to knead, but it's worth it) Divide into 2 loaves, place in well-greased loaf pans, coat generously with oil/cooking spray, let rise 15 minutes.

Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes, rotating loaves halfway through. Remove from oven and butter the crust with a stick of butter- it will melt on contact!

Let cool at least 10 minutes before slicing!
Such a pretty golden crust! I mentioned you can make this whole wheat or white, also. I like half and half best, but both still turn out very well. And my house smells so homey!!
I promised you light and fluffy, and this bread delivers! There is something so homey and satisfying about making your own bread.
This bread freezes wonderfully, if you don't think you'll use both loaves before one molds. Since it doesn't have preservatives, that happens faster with homemade bread. Also, if you're interested in making a double batch, let me know, because the measurements are different. (not just doubled)
Warm, fluffy homemade bread with sweet, tangy homemade jam. Can life get better?? I submit that it can not!!

Link & Mingle 2

It's Mingle Time Again!! I have finally figured out how to work Pinterest, and am gathering some fun things. Took me long enough!! These days I'm a little busier, and Stephen needs the computer for his thesis more often, so it may take me a while to visit everyone but give me time! I'm excited!

The long of it is, the "Link and Mingle: Sisters in Blogging Social Media Linkup". The short is, the "Link & Mingle". Call it what you wish. :)

Meet our weekly hosts!

and for this week's co-hosts, we have
Sarah | Life in a Break Down

Thank you, ladies!

Last week there seemed to be a few mix-ups, so in this week's link party, I'm including links connected to each header, to show you just what you should link up. :)

The "rules" are thus:
visit/follow/like as many links as you can,
link up to as many social media sites that apply to you (please link up only links that apply - blog posts and other links that do not apply will be removed),
share, tweet, and blog about this link party if you so wish,
grab the button {below},
and have fun meeting new people!

We would love it if you followed all of your hosts and co-hosts, but that's not mandatory. Just have fun! :)

If you would be interested in hosting this party permanently, or co-hosting it periodically, send an email to {}.

Alright, ladies! Button-up, link-up, and meet-up! :)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Link & Mingle

Thank you for linking up!

Come back next Thursday for another round of the Link & Mingle!

August 29, 2012

Pasta Caprese

This is one of those recipes that is simple, but takes perfect timing. It's easy, but you better read the instructions through a few times! It is also one of those recipes that my brother and sister (Sorry Zack, you're sharing the crown these days!) can eat obscene amounts of. And if you want leftovers, you better either hide them, or wake up at 3 AM and eat them for breakfast. Before they do. Because they will

My Mom concocted this recipe. Kind of. I think, once upon a time, it may have resembled a Cooks Illustrated recipe. Since then, it has existed in a state of uncertainty. To be honest, my Mom still has no idea how she makes it, really. There is a lot of "winging it". And throwing things in blenders. And puzzlement over color changes. I wish you could see the document she sent me with this recipe, it's hilariously confusing. At one point she was telling me to add the lemon juice and sugar during three different steps of the recipe, one of which also involved marinating tomatoes. ?! We are very different cooks. She is a "spur of the moment" cook. The problem is, after that moment is over, she has no earthly idea what she did. Anytime I change something, I write it down. Okay, most of the time. She says she's glad I'm sorting it all out, I just hope she doesn't mind what I come up with!

Pasta Caprese (this recipe will be warm, not hot)
Printable Recipe

loose 6 cups of fresh basil (tight-packed 3 cups)
1 shallot
2-3 garlic cloves
2 tsp sugar
4 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp salt (at least)
1/2 tsp pepper

1 lb rotelle pasta (you can also use penne, or anything similar)
1 can petite diced tomatoes (or 1 cup seeded and diced fresh tomatoes)
1 lb fresh mozzarella, cubed (you can substitute Sorrento mozzarella, it's very good!)

First: Start water (plus 1 tsp salt) heating for pasta. While you are waiting for it to boil, cube the mozzarella and put it in the freezer.
Second: When water boils, add the pasta. While it is cooking, put the basil, shallot, garlic, sugar, lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper in a blender or food processor.
If your pesto is too thick, add a drizzle of olive oil. Blend till relatively smooth. It should be BRIGHT green!
Third: When pasta is cooked, drain and quickly return to pot off heat. Add pesto and tomatoes, stir to coat.
Add cheese, stir to combine, add salt/pepper if needed, serve IMMEDIATELY!! Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Note: This recipe makes about a cup of pesto. We made a half batch, and it was plenty for the 4 of us for one meal. You can make this in advance and freeze the pesto! So: 3 cups packed basil=1 cup pesto=1 lb pasta. I'm going to freeze it in 1/2 cup quantities. It is yummy for leftovers, but not nearly as pretty! Also, if you are like my hubby, and don't care about the cheese getting all gooey, you can mix it together over heat so it can be served hot instead of warm. Or skip the cheese-freezing step. (Cold cheese cools the pasta)
It's so green!! Not my best pictures, I'll admit; we had a rainstorm, bye-bye natural light. But I LOVE rainstorms, so it was worth it.
I also love this pasta, it's so fresh and summery tasting. The cheese stays in nice little chewy nuggets, the basil is sharp and almost spicy, the tomatoes are juicy... (yes, even canned ones!)
Perfect Bite!!
I highly recommend serving this with bread. Mopping up the oil/basil/vinegar just might be my favorite part!
Watch out, siblings. This one's going to steal that crown someday soon!!

Shared at Marly's This and That for Foodie Friends Friday!

August 28, 2012

Me vs. Healthy Habits

Ahhh, a morning begun with a walk is a good morning.

*listening for the sound of my mother keeling over in shock*

It's true, I am not athletically inclined. *snicker* In fact, there is an old family tease that resurfaces occasionally, that the only way they could get me to go on hikes through adolescence was by bribing me with food. We found out later, of course, that my hiking misery wasn't really my fault, but if I'm honest, I can't blame it all on my dysfunctional body. I'm lazy.

There! I said it! I am laaaazy. And I hate sweating. Hate hate hate. Now, this doesn't mean I don't like physical activity of any kind, I love being outside and walking with my little family. My hiking tolerance is about equal to the boys, so it's perfect! I just hate any kind of "work out" exercise. Bleh. I like Pilates, because it is quick, and easy, and it works, and I can do it in my living room, but I have a hard time making it a habit. Enter: First Grade!! Stephen's school is a mile from our house, and he has to be there at 8:40. Could there be a more perfect walking time or distance (for me)?? I think NOT! It's nice and cool, hasn't gotten hot yet, Big Stephen is still home, so we have a family walk to school every morning. It is awesome. I love it.

*Have you recovered, Mom?*

Along with this exercise, I am determined to lose the 5 pounds I gained eating whatever the heck I wanted after surgery. (After years of limitation: Bliss!!!) I love baking and yummy food too much to do a real diet, so I am trying to plan healthy-er meals, balance them with lots of veggies and fruits, and eat less of the un-healthy things. But my favorite key to weight-loss is smoothies for breakfast. Doesn't work so well in the winter, but is awesome in summer! So today: The Perfect Smoothie!

First: Frozen Fruit. I like strawberries, blueberries, and peaches. Raspberries are yummy but have TONS of seeds!! Bananas are great for sweetness, and creaminess too! You can buy them, or pick your own and freeze them (those taste WAY better!) A large handful of fruit is good for one serving. (about a heaping cup)
Second: Something creamy. Sometimes I use buttermilk, I love the tang! It also has probiotics which are great for your innards. Usually I use fat-free yogurt. You can use Greek yogurt too, it's a great source of protein! If you want to edge out the last bit of sugar, use plain yogurt and add a splash of vanilla or almond extract. I promise it will still be sweet enough, I'm just lazy. (I believe I mentioned that.) Add about a quarter cup of creamy-ness.
Third: Protein powder. If you can get it, it's almost the most important part! The protein powder makes the smoothie more filling, so you aren't hungry again in half an hour. And it's good for you! I usually get vanilla flavor, but they come in chocolate, berry, lemonade, almost anything you can think of! I think my Mom even had blue raspberry once...(If protein powder is hard to find, or too expensive, using Greek yogurt for your creaminess is a great alternative!)
Fourth: Juice. Simply is my favorite. I love their cranberry juice and orange pineapple juice. Juice is where you can get all creative with funky flavors! Add enough juice to just barely or not quite cover the fruit. (Depending on how thick you like it)
Voila!  A super healthy smoothie, no added sugar, filled with many things good for you, and a huge serving of fruit and protein! You can add a handful of something green, like kale or baby spinach to turn this into SUPERsmoothie! If you are used to a big breakfast, it will take a few days for your body to adjust, but then, I promise this will last you till lunch. And that's coming from me, the Queen of Munchies!
I miss my smoothies in the winter. I think this year I'm going to start doing oatmeal... Happy Healthy Habits, Everyone! And as my Mom always says, no matter what ails you...

"Go for a walk and DRINK WATER!"

August 27, 2012

Spiced Plum Cake

Today: Lesson on Plums! I'm so talented, I can mix education and food! :)

I discovered something new at our farmer's market. A teeny little plum, red and green on the outside, and deep dark maroon on the inside.
I had never seen such a thing! They're the size of walnuts! Or maybe golfballs... somewhere in between. The man growing them was happy to teach me about them. These are called Satsuma Plums. They come from Japan, and are the ancestors of many plum varieties we know today, some of which are also called Satsumas, but these are the originals. He called them "The Great-Grandmother of Plums", and his wife told us, "These are the plums people used before they were supposed to be pretty." Not pretty?! I think they're gorgeous!! Apparently they are great cross-breeders, and their characteristics are dominant in their hybrid varieties. I guess that's like my boys looking just like their Dad, with very little of me in there... Anyway. That's all I know! I couldn't find much about them on the internet, how odd is that?

Can you believe the color on these things??
Of course, there was only one thing I could do with such beauties. Bake a CAKE! Some might have made jam, others might have just eaten them, I chose to bake with them for the very first time. And I am so glad I did. Stephen wasn't very excited, he couldn't believe that it could be anything special, but oh boy...

It was. 

Spiced Plum Cake (adapted slightly from The English Kitchen)
Printable Recipe

4 ounces (1 stick) butter, softened
1/3 cup caster (ultrafine) sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg
1 Tb sour cream
pinch of salt
the grated zest of one lemon
1 3/4 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups plums, pitted and sliced into wedges

6 Tb cold butter, cut into bits
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup caster (ultrafine) sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 10 inch cake tin with a removeable bottom (I used a cheesecake pan) Line with baking paper, butter the paper, and set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, lemon zest, vanilla, and sour cream. Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together in a separate bowl and then add it to the wet ingredients, mixing it in well. Spread this batter in the bottom of the cake tin. (This batter is pretty thick, and my paper kept sliding around, so I held it down on one edge and spread it out with my fingers.) 

Spread the plums over top of the batter to within 1/2 inch of the edges. You could arrange them carefully in a  pretty circular pattern, but mine were teeny and I needed to get it in the oven!

To make the streusel, whisk together the sugar, flour and spices. Rub in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over top of the plums. There is lots of streusel, use it all!!

Bake on a middle rack for approximately 45-60 minutes until the streusel is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let sit for about 15 minutes on a wire rack, before you remove the sides of the pan and the paper. Serve warm, with whipped cream or ice cream. (Or clotted cream, if you are one of those lucky British people I envy so much!!)
Mmmm, the streusel. Let's start with that. It's crunchy and spicy and warm and holiday-ish... I was sure the streusel itself would win Stephen over, he loves the stuff! 
But it's that beautiful little ribbon of ruby plums that got me. They almost taste like raspberries! They're sweet, and sunny, and tangy, and they practically turn themselves to jam in this cake!
How's that for mouthwatering??
Stephen's version of an "action shot"...
The cake part is scrumptious too. The tiniest bit of lemon to set off the plums, it's light and buttery, and even though my crust was a tad overdone, it tasted like shortbread. I love it. This cake is a new favorite, and so are these plums. See if you can find some in your area!
It's a good thing I am forced to get rid of share most of it, this stuff is dangerous!!

Shared at On the Menu MondayTotally Tasty Tuesdays, and Cast Party Wednesdays!