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Cranberry Mango Sauce

My five year old has discovered my kryptonite…

You see, when bedtime arrives, Liam will begin spewing an endless stream of stories and questions in an attempt to delay the inevitable lights out. It’s his routine. He speaks so fast you may imagine he’s in training for a career in auctioneering. Math facts, dinosaur facts, sight words, stories about school, menu planning, favorite mythical creatures… The only escape is fast and brutal, even as he’s mid-sentence talking about the cunning swiftness of the velociraptor.

Good night. I love you. Lights out. 

Reindeer Liam

But the clever bugger has picked up on something… I can’t leave if he’s talking about God. I’m physically incapable of it. What am I, some sort of monster?!? Stop talking about God. Mommy needs to go downstairs and drink my wine! No, I can’t turn the lights out and walk away when the kid starts talking about God or heaven or angels or prayer. And the little stinker has figured it out.

So, when he senses that I’m about to put a quick kibosh on the nighttime story telling, he doesn’t miss a beat. Without even pausing for a breath, he slides right into the God talk. Questions and stories and ideas. It’s endearing. And also manipulative. Amongst a million other things, I’m so thankful for that clever kid and the opportunity to talk about important things with him, like dinosaurs, three-headed dogs, and God.

The countdown to Thanksgiving is on. If you’re hosting, it’s likely you’ve already started the preparations. I beat the Thanksgiving mayhem at my grocery store, by completing most of my shopping early yesterday morning. Just a few fresh items to pick up tomorrow and we’ll be set for a grand feast.

And this morning I started the cooking with this cranberry mango sauce; a unique twist on the ubiquitous cranberry condiment which graces most dining tables come Thanksgiving. For years, I’ve been making a cranberry orange sauce, which we’ve always enjoyed. But this year, I had mangos on my mind. I’d imagined that the mellow sweetness of a mango would be the perfect match for the cranberries’ tart bitterness. I was correct. The smooth mango puree wraps itself around the sharp flavor of the cranberries and gives the dish a satisfying flavor which will pair perfectly with that golden turkey.

Today’s Focus on Technique – Thanksgiving Turkey Safety

Send your guests home on Thanksgiving with a full, satisfied belly. Don’t send them home with food poisoning. Here are a few tips for safely preparing, serving, and storing the star of the show.

  • The safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. This technique can take 1-3 days for a small turkey or 5-6 days for a large turkey, so plan ahead. Turkeys that are defrosted in the fridge can be held in the refrigerator for a couple days before roasting.
  • A faster way to safely defrost a turkey is in a large pot of cold water. Wrap the turkey securely, then submerge completely in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes or so, so that it remains cold throughout the defrosting process. Cook the turkey soon after it is defrosted. This process can take a few hours for a small turkey or up to 10-12 hours for a large turkey.
  • The microwave is another option for safely defrosting a turkey, assuming you can fit your turkey in your microwave. To prevent bacteria from multiplying, turkey which has been defrosted in the microwave should be cooked immediately following. Do not refrigerate or freeze it once it has been defrosted.
  • Never, ever, never defrost a turkey sitting on a counter at room temperature. The outside will defrost much faster than the interior, creating a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Yuck!
  • Cook your turkey at a minimum temperature of 325 degrees. Any lower could result in the center of the turkey sitting at an unsafe temperature for too long during the cooking process.
  • Consider not stuffing your turkey. To be safe, every part of the turkey, including the stuffing, needs to reach 165 degrees. It can take a very long time for the stuffing to reach this safe temperature, since airflow is restricted within the turkey cavity. This usually means that you will need to continue cooking the turkey beyond the point that the turkey has reached a safe temperature, meaning an overcooked turkey.
  • If you do decide to stuff your turkey, stuff it loosely and use a food thermometer to check that it has reached at least 165 degrees before serving.
  • Use a food thermometer, inserted into the meatiest part of the breast and the innermost part of the thigh and wing, to check for doneness. Turkey is safely cooked at 165 degrees.
  • Do not allow your cooked turkey to sit at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. Get those leftovers in the refrigerator promptly, so you can safely enjoy all of those turkey salad and open-faced turkey sandwiches smothered with gravy!
  • Enjoy your leftover turkey, hot or cold, within 3-4 days.

*Check out the USDA website for more information about turkey safety, including time estimates for safely defrosting and cooking that big bird!

Cranberry Mango Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 ripe mango, pureed*
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger

*See my photo guide on how to chop a mango HERE.

Directions

Rinse cranberries and remove any stems or overly mushy berries. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Lower heat and continue simmering for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all cranberries have popped and the mixture has thickened. Remove from the heat and cool completely before serving.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Panini

boy, n.
1. noise with dirt on it
 

Daylight savings time has done a number on my noisy boys’ sleep schedules. They’ve always been early risers, but now we’re talking about 4:30 in the morning early. And they don’t wake slowly. They wake with the force of a jack-in-the-box that someone has been cranking all night long. It’s startling…even when you know it’s coming.

And they’re loud; so incredibly loud. I can’t even begin to put words to the kinds of noises which come from their little bodies. As they come barging into our room making all manners of inexplicable noises, I bury my head under my pillow and wonder why little boys don’t come with volume controls.

But even as I’m hoarsely grumbling ‘go away’, I’m reminded to be thankful for all of that predawn noise; that noise which means we have three healthy, active little boys to be making it. In a month of thanks giving, I am thankful for that.

Thursday nights are crazy nights for our noisy little family. For the few hours preceding the boys’ bedtime, it’s a revolving door of activity. The boys have ninja training (karate class) right about the time we’d normally be eating dinner, so we eat early. My husband gets home from work shortly after we return, then runs off to rock and roll training (band practice) just after the boys get to bed. At that point, I curl up onto the couch for my extremely informal sommelier training (glass of red).

So, everyone eats dinner in a rush and at a different time on Thursdays, making it essential that Thursday night dinners are simple and easy to reheat. This satisfying chicken cordon bleu panini fits the bill perfectly! Breaded chicken breasts are sliced and combined with salty prosciutto and a creamy gruyere sauce, then pressed together, wrapped in foil, and heated until it’s hot and melty. Every part of this sandwich can be made ahead of time (even the night before). Best yet, it can be wrapped in individual portions, which are ready to pop in the oven whenever your future ninja, rockstar, or sommelier gets hungry!

Today’s Focus on Technique – Bechamel Sauce

A bechamel sauce is one of the five French ‘mother sauces’, which means that it is a base sauce from which many variations can be made. Bechamel sauce is a simple white sauce made with a combination of roux (butter and flour) and milk. It’s typically seasoned with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Bechamel sauces can be made thinner or thicker by varying the amount of roux used in the sauce. A basic bechamel can be seasoned in a multitude of ways and used in lasagna, as the base of a cheese (mornay) sauce for macaroni and cheese, or as the start of a creamy soup.

The process of making a bechamel is simple. Combine equal parts butter and flour in a pan over medium heat, whisking constantly for a minute or two to remove some of that raw flour taste. Gradually add milk to the roux, whisking constantly. (Ideally, the milk should be warm or hot when it’s added to the roux, though I’ll admit that I rarely warm the milk and have never had a problem.) Whisk until well combined. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for a few minutes, whisking constantly, until the milk is thickened. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

*1 tablespoon each of butter and flour to 1 cup of milk will produce a thin bechamel which makes a good base for a cheese sauce. Use 2-3 tablespoons each of butter and flour to 1 cup of milk for a thicker sauce.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Panini

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf of wide, flat crusty bread (such as ciabatta)
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
  • Olive or vegetable oil
  • 3-4 ounces prosciutto (or ham)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup gruyere (or other swiss-style cheese), shredded
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of nutmeg

Directions

For the chicken: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dip the chicken breasts in the beaten eggs, then press into the bread crumbs, until well coated. Heat a thin layer of oil in a fry pan over medium/medium-high heat. Cook the chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet. Place in the oven, until cooked through. (Chicken is fully cooked at 165 degrees. Cooking time will vary based on thickness of the chicken breasts and how well they’re cooked during the browning step. Mine took about 13 minutes in the oven.) *The chicken can be made ahead and refrigerated.

For the sauce: Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic. Cook for a few seconds, being careful not to burn. Add the flour. Whisk to combine. Cook for a minute. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for a minute or two, until thickened. Reduce the heat. Add the cheese and whisk until melted. Season with a pinch of nutmeg and salt and pepper, to taste. *The sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated. It will thicken as it cools.

To assemble the sandwiches: Slice the loaf of bread in half. Spread a layer of sauce onto each half. Arrange the prosciutto in a thin layer on the bottom half. Slice the breaded chicken breasts into thin pieces. Arrange them on top of the prosciutto. Cover with the top half. Tightly wrap the sandwich in foil, pressing down to flatten the sandwich. If desired, you can pre-cut the sandwich and wrap in individual servings. Bake in a 375 degrees oven for about 20 minutes until hot and melty. *The entire sandwich can be made ahead of time. If cooking from cold, allow for extra cooking time.

Buffalo Chicken Pasta Bake (and Giveaway Winner!!)

Well, we did it! We made it through Halloween. I enjoy Halloween, especially now that I have kids to celebrate it with – but to be honest, for me it’s mostly just the gateway holiday to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those are the holidays which really have my heart. I’ll admit, a small tear of joy may have run down my cheek when I walked into Target the other day to find the first of their holiday decorations hung from the ceiling. I have no problem with celebrating Christmas even as we prepare for Thanksgiving. The two go hand in hand for me.

But Halloween was fun this year. Really fun. The boys dressed up for the pre-Halloween party at their school. There was a dj, a disco ball, and hundreds of costumed children, half-blinded by masks, crashing into each other on the school gym dance floor. All varieties of goblins, ghouls, princesses and superheroes roamed the school cafeteria with slices of pizza and pumpkin cookies hanging from their mouths.

On Halloween, the boys put on their costumes for their school parade. Liam was Harry Potter, a costume I’m certain he selected for the pretend glasses it came with. Lucas was a terrifying werewolf, a costume I believe he selected for the shredded jeans it would give him a reason to wear. The kid’s got a weird love for jeans, as long as they have a real, functional button and zipper…none of those faux buttoned, elastic-waisted toddler jeans for him!

After school, we attended a pre-trick-or-treating party at our friends’ house. I dressed as a princess with baby James as my frog prince. We brought along a bucket of spooky eyeball cake pops, which everyone enjoyed after the delicious dinner served by our friend. There was pasta and meatballs, a vibrant pasta salad, Italian bread and butter, jumbo shrimp, fresh veggies with dip, cheese and crackers, baked ziti and chicken wings.

And that’s when the seedling of an idea began to take root, right there surrounded by ninjas and vampires – baked ziti and chicken wings…

Y’all know I’ve got a little thing for inserting buffalo chicken wing flavor into all varieties of other foods…chicken wing dip, buffalo chicken lasagna, buffalo chicken monkey bread, buffalo chicken pizzabuffalo chicken meatballs, buffalo chicken potato skins… so, why not buffalo chicken baked ziti? As my sister put it, “Why have we not eaten that before???” It’s a practically ludicrous idea to consider. Fortunately, we no longer need to commiserate over the absence of buffalo chicken baked ziti in our lives. I made it last night and my hybrid baked ziti-buffalo chicken world is now beautifully complete.

Focus on Technique – Poaching Chicken

It’s common to find recipes calling for poached chicken. Poaching is simply the process of very gently simmering a food until it’s cooked. Eggs, poultry, and fish all responded well to poaching. Foods can be poached in a variety of liquids, including water, milk, wine, and broth/stock. Various herbs and seasonings can be added to the poaching liquid to impart delicious flavor into the chicken. When poaching, it’s important to control the heat in order to keep the liquid at a gentle simmer.

Properly poached chicken breasts remain moist and tender. Poached chicken works well on its own, in chicken salad, on pizza, in soup, or mixed in with pasta.

To poach chicken breasts, place the chicken in a pot large enough for the chicken to fit comfortably. Cover the chicken with cool water (or chicken broth). Over medium heat, bring the liquid to a gentle boil. Adjust the heat so that the liquid maintains a gently bubbling simmer. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. An instant read meat thermometer is the most effective way to determine doneness. Chicken is done once it’s reached 165 degrees.

Buffalo Chicken Pasta Bake

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pasta
  • 1 pound of chicken, poached and chopped into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 cup Frank’s Red Hot hot sauce (or your other favorite hot sauce)
  • 1 cup blue cheese dressing (I always recommend Marie’s)
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled (optional)
  • Salt and pepper (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook the pasta for about a minute less than the package directions call for. Strain and rinse with cool water to prevent overcooking. Return the cooled, strained pasta to the pot. Add the chicken and chopped celery.

In a bowl, combine the hot sauce and blue cheese dressing. Pour the mixture over the pasta. Add the ricotta cheese and 1 cup of the mozzarella. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, or additional hot sauce, as desired.

Transfer the pasta mixture into a large 13×9 baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and the crumbled blue cheese (optional) over the top. Bake for about 30 minutes.

*You can prepare the entire dish, up to the baking step, ahead of time. If preparing ahead of time and refrigerating, allow for approximately 10-15 minutes of extra cooking time. 

Werewolf and the frog prince

GIVEAWAY WINNER!! We have a winner! Using http://www.random.org to select a number at random, out of the 28 entries received for the dairy-themed gift bag giveaway, the winner is #12 , Jessica M. Congratulations, Jessica!! I’m going to send you an email at the address provided with your comment to get the information necessary to send you out your prize!!

Delicious Dairy Round-Up and a Giveaway!!

In many ways, I’m an overly trusting person. I’m an optimist by nature and I tend to assume the best in people, almost to the point of foolishness. It’s the way my brain (and maybe my heart?) works and it can be both a benefit and a curse. Because my personal belief system comes from a place of trusting that most people are honest, moral, ethically-minded people, I sometimes fail to ask the questions I ought to ask. And when it comes to the food I feed myself and my family, I really should be asking more questions.

View from The Inn on the Lake – Canandaigua Lake, NY

Like most of us, I strive to feed my family a well-balanced, nutritious diet which is mostly composed of whole foods. I try to stay aware of current findings in nutrition research and I use that information to make the choices I feel are best for my family’s needs. But sorting through the vast amount of information, which is easily accessible in today’s modern technological age, can be positively confusing. You can find a strongly-worded, research-based article full of references and evidence, to support or refute just about any claim. Add that to the fact that as technology changes and new information becomes available, widespread belief systems about what’s healthy or not change. Remember when eggs were bad for you? Or margarine considered healthy? Or fat-free products the ticket to healthy living? It’s a moving target. On top of all of that, you then need to contend with the difference between what medical professionals tell you and what you heard from your neighbor’s best friend’s former schoolmate. It’s absolutely overwhelming, even to a well-educated adult with a background in biochemistry and an avid interest in food.

Canandaigua Lake

Most of us want to do the right thing when it comes to our family’s well-being. But in an age of way too much information, where it’s almost impossible to sort fact from fiction from personal preference, identifying that ‘right’ thing can be downright perplexing. You can’t win. In fact, I stopped trying to win. Ultimately, I end up basing most of our choices on the bits of information which seem the truest and our own personal evidence. If my family appears and feels happy, healthy, and well-nourished, I consider our choices a success. If something isn’t working, we look for the culprit and go after it with our fiercest ninja moves.

Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, NY

For myself and my family, dairy products have always been a part of our diet, which we all enjoy and thrive on…our personal evidence. The kids drink milk, we use it in our cereal, we love ice cream and yogurt, and you might as well crown me the ambassador of cheese. (Make it an extra sparkly crown, please!) Convincing me to like dairy was never an issue. So, when I was invited to attend a NY Dairy Farm to Table event hosted by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, which would involve touring an upstate NY dairy farm, followed by eating cheese and drinking wine, along with two uninterrupted nights of sleep in a comfy hotel room, nobody had to twist my arm real hard.

Mama cow and her calf, just a couple hours after the birth, comfortably resting in a clean stall.

I eagerly accepted the invitation, certain it would be an enjoyable (and yummy) experience. What I hadn’t counted on was how positively eye-opening the experience would be and how it would answer so many of the questions I hadn’t taken the due diligence to ask.

I walked into the experience thinking about cheese, delicious cheese. I walked out of the experience feeling absolutely blown away by the level of planning, thoughtful practice, and monitoring, that goes into producing the safe and nutritious milk which ends up on our store shelves and is used in some of our other favorite dairy products. (Yes, I’m thinking about cheese again.) I have a new found appreciation for the animals who provide us with the food that many of us enjoy on a daily basis and for the hard-working farmers who care for those animals in order to get a plentiful supply of that food to our families’ tables.

I’ve tried really hard to prioritize my thoughts, but there are just so many things I want to share with you. So, pour yourself an icy cold glass of milk (perhaps a few cookies on the side for dunking) and stay tuned until the end, where I’ll share links to my top ten favorite Gourmand Mom recipes featuring dairy and an awesome giveaway!

One of the long spacious barns at Noblehurst Farms

We spent the morning at Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, NY. Noblehurst is a large, modern, seven-generation multi-family dairy farm. They care for and milk 1700 cows to produce a daily yield of approximately 15,000 gallons of milk. Most of the milk produced at Noblehurst Farms is sold to Steuben Foods in Elma, NY for yogurt production or Sorrento in Buffalo, NY for mozzarella cheese. Mmmm….cheese.

Seventh generation dairy farmer, Kitty Noble Rudgers, co-owner of Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, NY, (who I should note is currently thirty-six weeks pregnant with the eighth generation of Noble dairy farmers), hopped on a hayride along with Noblehurst’s cow nutritionist and dairy manager to show us how Noblehurst produces those 15,000 gallons each day. We toured their vast property from where they grow the food which feeds the cows, to where they ferment and store the cows’ food, to the digester that turns the cow’s waste into energy which can be transferred back into the power grid. We visited a large barn where many of the cows are housed, the milking parlor, and the barn where calves are born and raised. (I pet a baby cow. He mooed. I considered adopting it.) Afterward, we had the opportunity to meet with the veterinarian who cares for the herd as well as the CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) planner who works with the farm to ensure they are meeting or exceeding all standards for keeping our environment safe.

Young calf, resting with other young calfs.

Everyone we met was open and informative as our small group toured the farm’s operations. Here are a few of the highlights…

  • The vast majority of farms across NY and the nation are family owned and operated. This just makes me feel good when I’m thinking about the food I feed my own family. It sort of makes me think back to a time when every family owned their own cow for their family’s milk and eventually meat. Nowadays, very few people own their cow, but we’ve got these farm families who were born and raised on dairy farms and are now providing the rest of us with delicious dairy.
  • Anyone who’s ever nursed their baby can attest to the fact that comfortable, happy, and well-nourished moms make the most milk. Well, same goes for cows. Comfortable, stress-free, healthy cows produce the most milk, so if for no other reason than profitable business, it is in the best interest of the farmer to take darn good care of their cows. Cows are fed a carefully crafted blend of food which is optimized for their overall health, taste preferences, and milk production. Each cow eats approximately 90-100 pounds of food every day along with a bathtub’s quantity of fresh water. Holy cow…90-100 pounds?!?! I’m rethinking my desire to adopt a cow.
  • All dairy products are antibiotic-free. Sick cows on conventional dairy farms may be treated with antibiotics, when necessary, just as doctors may prescribe them for ourselves or our family members when needed. But milk from these cows is not allowed to enter our food supply. Multiple levels of safety screening occur at both the farm level and production plant level for every batch of milk to ensure that antibiotic-tainted milk does not end up on our store shelves. Loads of milk which test positive for antibiotics are dumped, at great cost to the farm, so it’s not something that anyone takes lightly.
  • The use of artificial growth hormones to increase milk production is a concern to many people, who worry it may enter the milk and cause adverse affects in our bodies. I hear ya! Though the FDA has found no significant difference in the quality of milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones as compared to the milk from untreated cows, I’d always rather lean towards the side of extra caution when it comes to my family’s safety. The good news is that while use of these hormones is currently still allowed in the United States, most dairy farmers (including Noblehurst Farms) are responding to consumer demand by eliminating the use of artificial hormones in favor of optimal nutrition practices.

Weeeeeeee…a carousel ride for cows!

  • Dairy cows are not over-worked milk machines. In fact, they spend a very small amount of time being milked each day. Cows at Noblehurst Farms are milked three times each day on a rotary carousel milker. They step onto the slow moving carousel, are examined for any signs of infection or health concerns, are sanitized, then hooked up to the milkers. The milkers automatically fall off once the cow’s flow reduces to a certain level. They finish their ride on the carousel, then step off and spend the rest of their day eating their carefully crafted diets and resting on comfortable beds in their stalls. The entire process takes nine minutes. Multiply that by the three milking cycles each day for a total of twenty-seven minutes spent in the milking process. And on average, they get about two months off from milking each year. Doesn’t sound like such a bad deal to me! I nursed my three sons and let me tell you…I spent a heck of a lot more than twenty-seven minutes being milked each day and I certainly didn’t get all of that time for resting and eating in between or the two months of vacation time!
  • Rotary milkers aren’t the only modern technology being used for efficiently milking large groups of dairy cows. We met a pair of local dairy farmers who use robotic milkers. With robotic milking, the cows roam freely and can choose to enter the milking stalls as they wish, as often as they wish. Once in the stall, the robotic milking system automatically cleans the cow for milking, attaches, and effectively milks the cow. It’s even capable of recording coordinates for each individual cow so that it can more easily identify the correct placement of the milkers each time that cow enters the stall! How cool is that?? But the funny thing is that apparently, some cows enjoy this process so much, they choose to enter the stalls for milking many more times than necessary each day! Silly cows!
  • All milk is healthy, wholesome, and nutritious. – Whether you choose organic or conventional milk, whole, reduced-fat, or skim, you’re getting those nine essential nutrients: calcium, vitamins A, D and B12, protein, potassium, riboflavin, niacin and phosphorus. And did you know that whole milk is actually only 3.3% fat?? Personally, I’m a skim milk girl, but if you prefer the fuller body of whole milk, there can certainly be room for it within the framework of a healthy balanced diet.

Milking machines on the rotary milker at Noblehurst Farms

I loved dairy prior to this experience. It would have put a serious damper on my love affair with cheese to have observed anything other than the remarkably well-designed, efficient and sustainable production they’ve got in place at Noblehurst. Instead I walked away feeling more confident than ever about the dairy products I feed myself and my family. Seeing it all firsthand, I am reminded to be mindful of where our food comes from. It’ll be hard not to think about those adorable and generous cows every time I enjoy some delicious cheese!

In honor of this awesome experience, I’ve put together a round-up of some of my favorite recipes featuring delicious dairy! Give them a try!

Spicy Bacon Mac and Cheese

Cannoli Ice Cream

Mixed Berry Mousse with Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

Quadruple Berry Muffins

Creamy Bacon Mushroom Soup

Three Cheese Fondue

Aged White Cheddar and Broccoli Soup with Chorizo

Spiced Fruit Bread Pudding

Bacon Cheddar Drop Biscuits

Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Want to win this???

GIVEAWAY TIME!!!

The American Dairy Association and Dairy Council is offering a gift bag of dairy-themed items for one lucky reader! It’s an awesome bag of goodies, including a cow print apron and oven mitt, a gorgeous wooden cheese board, cow cheese spreaders, a cow wine cork, little squishy cow toys, a sturdy cow-print lunch bag, and a Taste of New York cookbook! To enter, simply leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite cheese or favorite use of dairy products. The contest will close on Saturday, November 3 at 12:00pm EST, at which point a winner will be randomly selected. One entry per person, US mailing addresses only, 18 years or older please. 

Good luck, friends!

The American Dairy Association and Dairy Council hosted the NY Dairy Farm to Table event. As part of this event, they provided me with accommodations, compensation towards travel expenses, a gift bag of dairy-themed goodies, and a delicious evening at the NY Wine and Culinary Center. I was under no obligation to the ADADC, Noblehurst Farms, or any other agency to write this post or in any way share my experiences.

Candy Corn Krispie Pops

I had the coolest adventure this past weekend, at an event hosted by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council in upstate NY. I pet a baby cow. I drank wine. I ate cheese. Mmmmcheese. I’m in the process of organizing my thoughts so I can tell you all about it. I’ll even be hosting my first ever giveaway in conjunction with this dairy adventure!! I’m really pretty excited about it all!

In the mean time, I wanted to share this straightforward and adorable idea for a fun Halloween treat. These candy corn krispie pops almost never happened, as a series of wild events ensued in their making, beginning with the microwave dramatically giving up the ghost in a plume of stinky gray smoke as I was trying to melt the candy for coating these pops. That was just the beginning. I won’t go into the rest.

Suffice it to say, my life set a series of obstacles between starting and finishing these sweet pops. My end result lacks a bit of the finesse they may have had if I weren’t simultaneously jumping hurdles as I made them. But they’re too darn cute not to share. Yours will look nicer than mine!

Line a small baking sheet or baking dish with wax paper or parchment paper. Prepare rice krispie treats by melting 3 tablespoons butter and 4 cups of mini marshmallows in a large pan over low heat, stirring until melted. Turn off the heat, then stir in 6 cups of rice krispies cereal. Press the mixture into the baking dish in an even layer.

Once cool, cut the rice krispie treats into triangles. You can make them any size you wish, but smaller is easier to dip.

Try not to eat them all…yet.

Insert lollipop sticks into the bottom of the triangles. Cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour or two.

Melt about 3 cups of yellow candy melts in a double boiler or in the microwave until smooth. Dip the entire pops in the yellow candy melts. Cool until hardened. Then, melt about 2 cups of orange candy melts and dip the top 2/3 of the pops. Cool until hardened. Then, dip the final 1/3 in white candy melts.

A piece of styrofoam is handy for arranging the pops in an upright position as the candy hardens.

Finished pops can be stored at room temperature for a couple of days or in the refrigerator for several days. Take them out of the fridge a few minutes before serving so they soften up a bit.

A Few Other Spooky Treat Ideas for Halloween…

Spooky Eyeball Cake Pops

Chocolate Covered Spiders

Bloody Molten Lava Cakes

Wormy Apple Pops

Caramel Apple Tartlets

I had a little mommy meltdown yesterday. It was very unpretty…crying, rocking, gasping for the air which seemed to be sucked from the room. And over what? I don’t even know. Nothing even worth writing about. Stupid, every day, normal stuff…just too much of it. Fighting with an uncooperative vacuum while trying to banish the tumbleweeds of dog hair from our living room was the little thing that sent me over the edge. So silly. And yet in the moment it felt like the world was caving in on me. To an objective observer, I probably looked pretty ridiculous, throwing myself down onto the ground and mumbling under my breath as I cried, while my inner voice tried to coach myself to pull it together and act like a grown-up. But for me the feeling was crushing. Sometimes day-to-day life is just overwhelming.

Sadly, the kids witnessed my little meltdown, and I can only imagine how scary and unsettling that must have been for them. In the moment, rational mommy (as compared to crazy lump of tears mommy) told them I loved them and explained that I was just stressed and needed to cool down for a minute. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get that minute of serenity in a house with three young boys. Eventually, I stopped fighting with the vacuum, collapsed against one of the toy boxes and closed my eyes for a second.

And then the most beautiful thing happened. I opened my eyes and my precious 17 month old was sitting in front of me, completely silent. He sat facing me, knees bent, feet together, so that his entire little body was nestled within my own bent legs. And he just smiled. Silently, calmly smiled. I kissed his forehead. He smiled and leaned forward to rest his head against my chest. He stayed like that for what felt like a perfect eternity. I inhaled his sweet baby hair as I felt my heart rate slowly returning to normal. Eventually he turned around so that he was leaning against me, holding my hand as it rested on his little belly. And he stayed like that until his daddy arrived home from work. He greeted his daddy, then returned to sit by my broken side, smushed up against me with a perfect grin on his face. He was like a tiny, precious bomb defuser.

Such perfect, simple love…and trust. He saw me torn apart and irrational. If it were me, I would have run from that crazy woman. But he came straight to me. As close as he could get to me. Confident that his presence would fix me. How in the world did I get so lucky??

These drool-worthy caramel apple tartlets are bursting with flavors as uncomplicated and confident as my sweet little man’s love. We baked them using fresh-picked apples from our favorite local orchard. Though the apple crops up here were hit hard by an early spring bloom followed by a bloom-killing frost, the kids got every bit of fun out of filling buckets of unusually small apples. I made these tartlets using store-bought puff pastry and caramel sauce for time-saving convenience. The end result is still dripping in homemade yumminess.

Focus on Technique – Puff Pastry

Puff pastry is a rich and flakey pastry made by repeatedly folding and rolling generous quantities of butter into the dough, resulting in puffy, delicate layers when baked. It’s a manageable and fun thing to make at home (and will totally wow your guests), but takes a few hours of repeatedly rolling and chilling to be made properly. When ease is the name of the game, store-bought puff pastry provides great results with great convenience. It can be used to make decadent savory appetizers, like warm pastry-wrapped brie or sweet treats like these caramel apple tartlets. Check your grocery store’s frozen section, near the frozen pie shells for boxes of puff pastry sheets. Always defrost the sheets according the package directions and lightly sprinkle your clean work surface with flour before rolling.

Easy Caramel Apple Tartlets

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
  • 2 large apples (or 4 teeny-tiny ones), very thinly sliced
  • 4-5 tablespoons caramel sauce, store-bought or homemade
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Lightly sprinkle a clean work surface with a bit of flour to prevent sticking, then roll the sheet of puff pastry into a square, about 12″ wide. Cut the square into four 6″ squares. Place the squares on the prepared baking sheet. Spread about 1 tablespoon of caramel sauce into the center of each pastry. Arrange a layer of thinly sliced apples on top of the caramel. Then, pull each of the four corners over the apples, slightly twisting each point so that the corners meet in a sort of pinwheel design revealing four pockets of the caramel and apples. Gently press the points together with your fingers to hold them together. Brush each pastry with some of the egg white. Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over each pastry. Bake for about 20 minutes, until puffed and golden.

Enjoy hot out of the oven or at room temperature.

Makes 4 Individual Tartlets

Rice Krispie Treat ‘Sushi’

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I’m just about ready to put this chat about ninja parties to bed. (I’ve got a recipe for some really delicious and very un-ninjalike Moroccan lamb meatballs in a minted apricot glaze coming up soon.) But before we bid farewell to ninjas, I wanted to share a quick photo guide for making the rice krispie treat ‘sushi’ which we served as part of our dessert spread. It’s super easy and insanely cute. The hardest part was peeling those darn fruit roll-ups off the wrapper.

You can find lots of variations of this sort of thing all over the web. Here’s how I did it…

You’ll need:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups mini marshmallows
  • 6 cups rice krispies cereal
  • A baking sheet
  • Wax paper
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • A few long, soft candies (like twizzlers, gummi worms, or sour straws)
  • Fruit roll-ups (green would be most realistic looking, but might be difficult to find)
  • Swedish fish candies

Step 1: Melt the butter in a large pan over low heat. Add the marshmallows. Stir until melted. Remove from heat, then stir in the rice krispies.

Step 2: Arrange a piece of wax paper on a baking sheet. Spray the wax paper with non-stick cooking spray. Transfer the rice krispie treat mixture to the baking sheet. Spray your hands with the cooking spray, then press the rice krispies into a thin (less than 1/2″) even layer.

Step 3: Arrange a few fruit roll-ups (the ‘nori’) on top of the rice krispie treats.

Step 4: Place a couple of the long candies on top of the fruit roll-ups. I used sour straws. Multi-colored Twizzlers or gummi worms would also work well.

Step 5: Lift up the edge of the wax paper and begin to roll the rice krispie treats around the fruit roll-ups and candy. Use the wax paper to help squeeze and tighten the roll.

Step 6: Once you’ve achieved a small ‘California Roll’ size, use a knife to cut the roll from the remaining rice krispie treats. Slice into pieces. Roll in colored sugar ‘roe’, if desired.

Repeat to make additional ‘California rolls’. Alternately, you can roll the candy within the rice krispie treats, but reserve the fruit roll-ups to wrap around the outside of the roll prior to slicing in pieces.

To make ‘nigiri sushi’: Using your hands, mold portions of the rice krispie treats into small oblong clumps. Place a swedish fish on top. Use thin strips of fruit roll-ups to wrap around the rice and fish.

Serve with a bowl of chocolate syrup ‘soy sauce’.

Barbecue Bacon Mango Pizza

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The sun is barely risen. I’m lying in bed and I can feel sweet warm breath rhythmically hitting my face. I slowly open my eyes and find myself nose to nose with Lucas, my three-year-old, who climbs into bed with me each morning. I put my arms around him, then close my eyes and pretend to be asleep. He plays with one of my earrings, trying to remove the small silver leaf from my ear. After a moment, he abandons the earring and begins running his tiny fingers over my eyebrows. Behind me, I can feel my five-year-old, Liam, trying to braid my excessively long hair. Lucas becomes bored with my eyebrows and begins trying to forcefully push my eyelids open. I roll over to face my Liam. Liam pushes his nose closer to mine and whispers, I love you, Mommy. I kiss his nose. The baby begins to peep through the monitor, wordlessly begging to join the family snuggle time. My husband rolls out of bed to grab the baby. Once in our bedroom, our sweet baby James crawls over his brothers to get on top of me. He puts his wide open mouth onto my cheek. I think it’s a kiss. A very sloppy kiss. Then he tries to jam his finger into my mouth to touch my teeth. I rouse myself then, to bring the boys downstairs for breakfast before my little amateur dentist gets too aggressive.

I’ve come to realize that I belong to my children as much as they belong to me. We belong to each other. It’s a thoroughly symbiotic relationship.

More than anything, I want my family to feel loved in the same way they so generously give their love to me. And one of the ways that I show my love is through fresh and delicious food, carefully crafted into delicious meals we can enjoy as a family, like this barbecue bacon mango pizza. This pizza is inspired by one of the recipes provided by The National Mango Board in a booklet they sent along with a shipment of beautiful ripe mangos. It instantly reminded me of a sweet and savory Hawaiian pizza, only substituting the ham for bacon and the pineapple for mango. Genius. Only I took that idea a little further by coming up with a homemade mango barbecue sauce, rather than slathering on something store-bought.

Though unplanned, the preparation of this pizza became a family affair. Small noses came running at the scent of bacon. Small hands stole said bacon. Small mouths gobbled up an entire mango before I had a moment to protest. We dubbed the afternoon Mangofest. There were tears when the last of the mango had been devoured, but smiles returned once this pizza was presented. Definitely a family pleaser! Best yet, the recipe for the barbecue sauce will make more than you need for the pizza…perfect for grilled mango barbecue chicken breasts the next day!!

Barbecue Bacon Mango Pizza

Ingredients

For the mango barbecue sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh mango puree (2 medium mangos should do the trick)
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more, if desired)
  • Salt (optional), as desired

For the pizza

  • 1 12″ pizza crust
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 mango, chopped*
  • 6-8 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Fresh parsley, chopped

* Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to chop a mango.

Directions

To prepare the mango barbecue sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium/medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook for 5-7 minutes until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add all other barbecue sauce ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to a very gentle simmer, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Allow the sauce to cool, then use a food processor or blender to puree until smooth. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning as desired. Refrigerate until using.*

To prepare the pizza: Heat the oil in a small pan over medium/medium-low heat. Add the onion. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until the onions are tender, sweet, and lightly golden. Spread a thin layer of the sauce (approximately 1/2 cup) over the pizza crust. Scatter most of the bacon, mango, and onions over the sauce. Top with the shredded cheese. Scatter the remaining bacon, mango, onions, and parsley on top. Bake in a 400 degrees oven for about 12-15 minutes, until hot and melty.

*The barbecue sauce recipe will produce more sauce than is necessary for the pizza. You can use the sauce as you might use any barbecue sauce on grilled chicken, ribs, shrimp… It would also freeze nicely for later use.

Bacon Cheddar Drop Biscuits

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There’s a full moon tonight. Of that I am certain. I didn’t look it up online and I haven’t glanced at the evening sky. I need only to spend a moment observing my children to know for sure that the moon is full. They are like small, incredibly accurate phase of the moon indicators. And they’ve been in rare form this week.

Just yesterday, two of the boys spent thirty minutes engaged in a volatile argument over who is going to get the longer surfboard. You should understand that getting a surfboard of any size is not (and has never been) in our plans, which made this argument completely irrelevant and bizarre. But for thirty minutes they argued their way around Target shouting at each other about surfboards, until my five year old exclaimed that he was going to hire a shark to bite Lucas’ arm off. Anyone know what the going rate for mercenary sharks is this days??

Meanwhile, the baby has learned how to remove his own diaper and in the process has discovered that he’s a boy. He’s absolutely delighted with his new skill and new discovery. So, in between calling off the sharks, I’ve been chasing the baby and his bare tushy around the house, hopelessly trying to keep him dressed. He thinks he’s pretty funny. But I had the last laugh when I stuck him in a onesie and foiled his disrobing endeavors.

Trouble monkeys; every one of them.

When life gives you chaos, make bacon. Bacon makes everything better. Truly. Even the baby eagerly oohs and ahs at the sight of a plate of bacon. Smart baby. When he was younger he used to crawl around teething on a rubbery piece of pretend bacon. We called it his ‘training bacon’. We’re raising these kids right.

Make a lot a bacon and then throw some in these biscuits. These super simple drops biscuits are a delicious variation on my cheddar garlic biscuits. Cheesy, buttery, bacony; they make a perfect accompaniment for just about any meal. We enjoyed them alongside some grilled chicken in a spicy apple barbecue sauce and corn on the cob. You may want to make a double batch. These biscuits are gonna go fast.

Bacon Cheddar Drop Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cold
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup bacon, cooked to crisp, crumbled
  • 2-3 green onions, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter, melted (for brushing the biscuits)

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly coat baking sheets with cooking spray or vegetable oil. In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the 3 tablespoons of cold butter and 3 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening to the flour mixture. Use a dough cutter or fork to blend the butter and shortening with the flour mixture until pea-sized bits of flour-coated butter and shortening are dispersed throughout the mixture.

Stir in the buttermilk, cheese, bacon, and green onion. Do not overmix. Use an ice cream scoop or measuring cup to drop mounds of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes.

Melt the butter in a small pan or microwave. Brush over the baked biscuits.

Makes 10-12 Biscuits

Grilled Soy-Ginger Flank Steak and Asian Cabbage Slaw

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I’ve written before about my Lucas and his regard for the truth. If Lucas tells you that pink elephants are falling from the sky, you’d better seek cover and fast. The kid doesn’t lie.

What I didn’t realize until recently is that his regard for the truth carries over into his assumption that everyone else around him is also always telling the truth. My first inkling of this issue occurred on an afternoon when Lucas approached the screen door, which was locked to prevent the baby from letting himself out. He called inside, where my husband and I were sitting, and requested to be let in. In what should have been obvious jest, my husband called back, Nope, sorry. You’re an outside kid now. I giggled. Lucas did not. He instantly crumbled to the deck floor and sobbed, But…I don’t want to live outside. 

His literal interpretation of any statement explains why he became so upset when his older brother told him we were going to put salt on his ice cream cone instead of sprinkles. It also explains why a simple game of hide-and-seek with his brother became so complex. Lucas was assigned the role of seeker. Liam came crashing into the house, ran into the bathroom and slammed the door behind him. Very un-ninja-like. Lucas began counting, 1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. 5.. 6.. 100. Then, he began searching the house. Meanwhile, Liam is raising a ruckus in the bathroom…slamming the toilet seat, running the water, banging into walls. Lucas jiggled the bathroom door knob, but couldn’t get the door open. So, he called into the bathroom, Are you in there, Liam? Liam (clearly from the bathroom) shouted, No…I’m under the dining room table. Lucas ran off to check under the table. Unable to locate his brother in the dining room, Lucas returned to the bathroom to ask, Where are you? Liam then explained that he was hiding under the kitchen table. Lucas, of course, checked the kitchen table and then came to me and sadly said, I can’t find Liam. 

He’s in the bathroom, silly goose.

I cried myself laughing when I shared this story with my husband. As exhausting as it often feels to spend spend all day, every day, with my very busy kids, I am so happy to be able to witness these funny times in their lives.

At the end of a busy day of mind-boggling hide-and-seek, a delicious dinner is always in order. This meal is inspired by a cabbage salad I recently had the pleasure of tasting at a friend’s barbecue. I’ve tasted other similar salads; fresh cabbage in a sweet, tangy dressing, topped with some sort of nut and crushed ramen noodles. It’s the ramen noodles that sell me every time. Seriously, how addicting are uncooked ramen noodles?? I decided I’d come up with my own rendition of an Asian cabbage salad, sweetened with honey, mixed with sweet red pepper and bean sprouts, and finished with cashews and the gotta-have-’em ramen noodles. This recipe makes a bucketful of the addictive salad. I’ve been happily eating it for three days now.

But, this meal doesn’t stop with the salad. Using the same set of ingredients in different proportions, I came up with a simple soy-ginger marinade, which I dunked a nicely trimmed flank steak into. I let the steak chill out in the marinade for about an hour or so, then I threw it on the grill and sliced it up to serve over the cabbage salad. Let me tell you, aside from imparting savory goodness into the meat, this marinade did something magical to the steak. Even though I let my steak go a bit too long on the grill, the result was incredibly tender, practically falling apart around the exterior. Even the baby, with all of his six (almost eight) perfect teeth, thoroughly enjoyed this steak. I’m sure the tenderizing has something to do with the soy sauce in the marinade breaking down the proteins in the steak. Honestly, I’m just as content to believe it’s a magical marinade.

I told Lucas it was magic. He ate all of his steak, of course.

Grilled Soy-Ginger Flank Steak

Ingredients

  • 1 flank steak (1.5-2 pounds), trimmed of excess fat
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sambal oelek (ground chili paste)*

*Can substitute cayenne pepper, to taste

Directions

Whisk together the soy sauce, ginger, oil, honey, garlic, rice vinegar, and sambal oelek until well combined. Pour the mixture over the steak in an air-tight container. Refrigerate for about an hour or two. Periodically turn the steak in the marinade so that all sides are coated.

After the steak has been well marinaded, preheat the grill at medium heat. Place the steak on the grill. Allow the steak to cook for approximately 6 minutes on each side, or until it reaches your desired doneness. Remove the steak from the grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

Serves about 6

Asian Cabbage Slaw

Ingredients

  • 1 head cabbage, shaved or very thinly sliced
  • 1 sweet red pepper, ribs and seeds removed, shaved or very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sambal oelek
  • 1 cup roasted cashews
  • 1 package ramen noodles, uncooked, broken into small pieces

Directions

In a very large bowl or container, combine the cabbage, red pepper, and bean sprouts. Toss to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, honey, ginger, soy sauce, and sambal oelek until well blended. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss until well combined. Add the cashews and toss to disperse. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Add the crushed ramen noodles just before serving.

Serves about 8

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