Thursday, December 27, 2012

Snowman Pizza

You know what I'm noticing about themed pizzas. It doesn't matter if Frosty looks like he's put away a little too much eggnog this season with those bloodshot eyes and that flattened top hat. No. No one in the 10 and under crowd cares about those things. They're just happy their pizza looks like something--it brings a little spark to the after Christmas days. And we all need that.

Slice olives for the top hat and buttons/eyes.
Use pepperoni for eyes, buttons (I also put a bunch under the cheese because we love pepperoni pizza.
Our scarf was made of spinach. But I think you could get away with lots of toppings for the scarf.
And the nose was a carrot (well, of course) sliced flat and thin.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Homemade Nutella

Oh. Wow. Maybe this is circulating on the Internet right now; I don't know; I don't care. You should have this recipe and you should make it. And--truth be told--it's actually way more virtuous than most of the edible gifts being passed around these days (being larger parts nuts and cocoa than sugar, although, yes, sugar does herein exist). Many thanks to A Southern Fairytale for introducing it to me.

It's just incredible and it can be gluten free. It tastes amazing. And it's quick and easy to make. It is not intensely cheap, although I intend to experiment with some cheaper nuts and give this to friends and teachers next Christmas.

Every year I give Kip a jar of Nutella in his stocking. I also try to make a homemade gift or two. This kind of kills two birds with one stone for me. Now if I can just keep it a secret a few days longer.

One note on this: I had to order the hazelnuts online and they weren't cheap. If you can find them locally, they'll probably be more affordable. However, after making this, I'm sure it would be devilishly good with peanuts, almonds, or probably any other nut that you like. 

Oh, and to answer the big question that you all must be asking: Does it actually taste like Nutella? Well, yes and no. The flavor is very similar to Nutella. It's a little hazelnuttier, which IMHO is nothing but an endorsement. However, the texture is a little less smooth (at least when made with my food processor), just so you know--more similar to the texture of a natural peanut butter (though not quite so thick) than the incredibly smooth jarred Nutella.

Homemade Nutella
adapted from A Southern Fairytale
Makes about 2 Cups
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cost: $8.60
(hazelnuts: 7.00, coconut oil: 1.00, cocoa: .25, sugar: .35)

2 C toasted hazelnuts, peeled
1/2 C coconut oil, melted
1 C powdered sugar
1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

Put hazelnuts in food processor or high-powered blender. Process until they form a paste. Add remaining ingredients and process. Scrape down the sides as needed and just keep blending until it's as smooth as possible.

I put this in mason jars to give away. Supposedly it lasts two weeks. I'm giving Kip a day and a half top.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Spinach Potato Soup

You know it's kind of sad when the quintessential compliment at your dinner table is, "Wow, this tastes a lot better than it looks." And yet. It's kind of a badge of honor too. You took something that they thought looked icky and it was actually good enough to defy their expectations. I kind of love that. I served this with hot dogs and boxed mac and cheese because I was expecting a very poor reception. It was bright green, for goodness sake. Guess what Kip ate? Not hot dogs. Not mac and cheese. Nope, spinach soup. It was almost excessively gratifying.

He liked it with good reason too. This soup is delicious. And--in stark contrast to so many of the foods we're eating at this season--you feel even better after you've eaten it.

Spinach Potato Soup
adapted from Pioneer Woman
makes 6-10 servings
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cost: $3.75 or about $.40/serving
spinach: 1.80, onion: .05, butter: .25, flour: .02, milk: .43, cream: 1.00, potatoes: .20

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion
10 oz baby spinach
2 cloves garlic
1/4 C water
4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 1/4 C milk
1 C cream
4 small-medium sized waxy potatoes (we used reds)

Set a pot of water on the stove and get it boiling. As it heats, peel and dice your potatoes. Put them in the hot/boiling water with a good shake of salt.

While the potatoes boil, heat olive oil in a large pot. Add onion and cook until tender--about 5 minutes. Add garlic and spinach. Cook until the spinach is wilted (a lid makes this happen faster), stirring every minute or so.

Add the spinach mixture to blender with 1/4 C water. Blend until smooth. Let it set while you make a roux.

Add butter to your big pot and melt. Whisk in flour. Whisk in salt. Stir pasty mixture for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in milk. Cook, stirring constantly (or close to constantly) until mixture thickens.

Add spinach mixture to milk mixture. Whisk. Taste for salt (you'll probably need 1/2-1 tsp more) and pepper.

Add cream and mix in.

About now, your potatoes should be tender. Drain them and put them in the soup. Then give them a good mash. Taste again for salt and pepper and serve. Kip liked it with a good grate of cheddar thereby.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Three Favorite Christmas Cookies

I have a lot of favorite Christmas treats. Most years I try to make them all, but this year in keeping with my slightly-scaling-back philosophy, I'm trying to limit it to three.

1. Dutch Almond Bars. These are surprisingly easy to whip up. Even if they weren't I would make them because they're some kind of wonderful.

2. Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies. You can make them with Andes mints or nuts or more chocolate if you're not a fan of cherries (and I'm not).

3. Seven Layer Cookies (aka Magic Cookie Bars, aka  Dolly Bars). These are the perfect holiday cookie for those of us who don't want to exert a lot of effort or don't have a lot of cookie skill or who just like 7 layers of decadent goodness.

Okay, so even as I write this, I'm feeling all twitchy and wanting to add more cookies to this list because I do love me some Christmas cookies. Here's a runner-up. If I dare call it anything that sounds subpar in anyway.

4. Molasses Crinkles. Sugar-crispy outside, soft middle, spicy, comforting, lovely.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Grasshopper Cake

I know some people make a cake for Jesus's birthday. It's a nice tradition. That I don't do. I trust that Jesus understands. You see, by the time His birthday rolls around, we've already celebrated one December birthday and stuffed ourselves to the brim with sweets all the other days just for good measure. I expect that by the time Christmas rolls around, He's proud to see me eat the orange from my stocking and--for heaven's sake--put something protein-rich in the crock pot.

However, if you and yourn manage to exercise enough December control to not be repulsed by the idea of a whole cake on Christmas. Or if you and yourn have an actual human birthday to celebrate in December--December being a very popular month for birthdays as April is (apparently) a very popular month to, um, connect with our  primordial heritage and get our Geehawhoowhoo on.

Well, I've certainly digressed now, haven't I? At any rate, if you're looking for a completely amazing in every way December (or St. Patrick's Day, for that matter) cake, I've got your back baby. Just don't blame me if your back is looking a little fuller after you eat this thing, okay.

Grasshopper Cake
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
makes 2 layers (or even 3 if you have, truly, no self control to be found in all this world)
Prep time:15-20 minutes
Cook time: 35-40 minutes
Cool and frost time: Some more (yeah, I don't know; I usually plan a morning or an evening for the making of a cake such as this. If you are organized and efficient, you can do it faster)
Cost: About $1.50 and then add $3.50 more for frosting and glaze

2 oz. chocolate (I use chocolate chips)
1 C hot water
2 C sugar
1 2/3 flour
1 C cocoa
1 1/4 baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 C oil
1 C buttermilk (or 1 scant C milk with 1 Tbsp vinegar)
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease 2 9-inch pans, put wax paper on the bottom (cut it into a circle) and regrease the wax paper.

Heat water. Add chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate if you're classier than me). Let it stand, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and all is smooth.

Whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, bet eggs until thickened and lemon colored (3-5 minutes of beating). Add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture, beating all the while.

Divide batter between pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a fork/knife/cake tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Let cool 10 minutes. Then turn out to cool completely. (Don't cool too long in the pans. Things get stuck that way, even with waxed paper.)

You can plastic wrap and freeze these if you'd like.

(For a three-layer version for all those who like to make very merry indeed, here you go.)

adapted from Pioneer Woman

1 1/2 C butter, way soft
6 Tbsp milk
6 C powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp mint
a few drops of food coloring--you can go green, or you can just leave this white and garnish it with some crushed peppermint/candy canes at the end

Combine and beat it until it's smooth, fluffy, and delicious.

When cake layers are cool, frost the cake.

Dark Chocolate Glaze (not pictured above because my ganachey glaze looked kind of ugly. But it sure tasted perfect with this cake)
Note: This is for a lot of glaze. My family was all over that. However, I think I personally would have preferred to halve it and just have a drizzle of chocolate over the top instead of a delicious sheet of it. It's up to you.

2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
7 oz chocolate chips
1/2 C butter

Melt it all together (I do this in the microwave at 30 second intervals). Whisk it together. Let it cool just a bit--you don't want to melt your mint frosting. When it's cool enough not to melt stuff (stick your finger in; it will be mildly warm), but still pourable, pour it over the cake and let it drizzle down the sides. Or drizzle it delicately over the top--whichever is your preference.

Here it is in all its ugly-sheet-o-delicious-chocolate goodness.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

100% Whole Wheat Cinnamon Swirl Bread

This is nice. This is nice when you're craving cinnamon and sugar and warm-from-the-oven goodness, but you want it to have some redeeming value.

This is also nice when you've got a party or some other activity to go to and you need a sweet, but you don't want it to be quite all that crazy sweet. I feel this way about after school snacks and other children's/adolescents'  events. The kids are kind of expecting a treat (especially at this time of year). But that treat doesn't necessarily have to be dripping with sprinkles or icing or otherwise bonboned goodness.

And you know, I actually like the cinnamon swirl even more in a good moist whole wheat loaf than in a white one. I don't know why--the structure of the sturdier bread holds hands really beautifully with the ooey gooey swirl.

Here's what you do:

1. Use this recipe for 100% whole wheat bread (or any other that you love)
2. Instead of shaping it into a ho-hum loaf, roll or press it out into an 8x12 inch rectangular-ish blob.
3. Soften to the point of near meltiness 4-6 Tbsp butter per loaf (so if you're doing 2 loaves, you're going to need about 1/2 C butter. Spread this on rolled out dough.
4. Combine 3/4 C sugar (per loaf) with 1 1/2-2 Tbsp cinnamon (per loaf). Sprinkle this on butter.
5. Roll it up, tucking any edges. Place it seem side down into your loaf pan and let rise.
6. Bake as you otherwise would. (Until an instant read thermometer reads 180 or so, but make sure you've got the tip of the thermometer in the bread and not the butter/sugar mixture.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cranberry Orange Juice

This morning when I did my weekly fridge look through, I found 2 bags of cranberries that needed to be used. From one I made my stand-by cranberry sauce. The other I planned to use for more cranberry relish, but as they sat there in all roly-poly glory on my countertop, I realized that if I juiced them, my kids might actually consume them.

It's tough to be brilliant, especially when it involves peeling a bag full of citrus that seem to have no desire in this world to lose their skins. Nevertheless I persevered. I'm glad I did because what I got was a pretty little juice with a good girl kind of a bite. I liked it. The kids and Kip wanted a little sugar and I gave it to them--figuring that it was still a good turn better than Ocean Spray (fingers crossed).

I know that juicing requires a special tool (like this one: Breville BJE200XL Compact Juice Fountain 700-Watt Juice Extractor), but in the winter it's something we do once a week or so when the oranges, etc. start to sell for really cheap (right now I can get them for $1.50/3 lb at Aldi and/or Ruler foods).

And now I will give you what wasn't supposed to sound like an advertisement for juicing, but that sounds like an advertisement for juicing (when all I really want to do is explain why the heck I bother posting juice recipes here now and again). Supposedly juicing allows you to absorb nutrients more efficiently from your food (because there isn't all that refuse to slow the nutrients down or carry them out of your body). You don't get that from store-bought juices because they are pasteurized (heated), which kills many nutrients and because they are stored for a long time, which kills nutrients. Is juicing the cure all for your December? Well, um, it depends on how many cookies you've eaten. But let me say this: I don't know if juicing will fix all your health problems, but a couple of times when I have had a cold, I've juiced a bunch of oranges and felt better the next day. Yes, that is a little witch-doctory. However, if nothing else, juicing allows you (or your kids/husband) to get some extra fruits/veggies into your/their diet, and for us, it allows a nice, comfortable, safe way to introduce unusual fruits.

And yes it is the best OJ ever, so it's just a bonus if you can sneak in some other stuff too (carrots, pomegranate, cranberry). It's a good foil for the 17,000 cookies my kids ate this weekend. Amen.

Cranberry Orange Juice
Makes 3-4 C juice
Prep time: 20 minutes
Juicing time: 10 minutes
Cost: $2.33
cranberries: .83, tangerines: 1.50

1 12-oz bag cranberries (ours probably ended up as less, since we had several wilty cranberries that got thrown out)
3 lb bag tangerines or oranges (we used tangerines because that's what I had)
2 Tbsp sugar (optional)

Wash your cranberries. Peel your oranges.

Juice them per the instructions of your juicer.

Taste. If it's too sour for you, just give it a second and think about it. You might decide you kind of like it--I did. I loved it. In fact, I'm craving more right now. Unfortunately I added sugar to the rest so my kids would drink it. However, if you taste and think and it's still got too much kick for you, you can add a bit of sugar. 2 Tbsp was plenty for us (and we are not exactly Spartan in our sugar usage).

We came out with about 4 cups of juice. It's not a lot, but since the produce was very cheap, it still came out at a good price for fresh juice.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cinnamon-y Chocolate Chip Cookies

Okay, so if you read this blog and know about my chocolate chip cookie obsession, you also know that recently I reconnected with my soul-mate chocolate chip cookie. Don't worry, I'm not leaving it. But just because you're with someone doesn't mean you can't have friends, right? This cookie is my friend.

It has a lot going for it: crispy buttery edges, chewy perfect middles, cinnamon-y aha moment. The cinnamon gives it a warm, wintery twist--a hum of something exotic. It's not an oatmeal cookie parading as a chocolate chip cookie. Oh no, it doesn't even pretend to have any wholesomeness going on. Not only does it not bother with something as whole-grainy as oatmeal, but it's also got a little more sugar than most cookie recipes. It's proud of this. It says, "I'm a cookie, not a snack." I thank it for its honesty. And come on, isn't it kind of refreshing to have a friend or two who is a cookie and not a snack. 

Feeling Christmasy? Throw in a handful or two of Christmas M & M's. They add a nice pop when you bite into them and they make a basic cookie recipe something you can hand to your child's teacher. 

Cinnamon-y Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from (and called Bob's Cookies)
Makes 24-30
Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Cook time: 9-10 minutes
Cost: $4.00 or about $.12/cookie
butter: 1.50, sugar: .05, brown sugar: .20, egg: .10, flour: .15, chocolate chips: 2.00

3/4 C (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened (I get mine very softened)
1/2 C white sugar
1 C brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla 
1 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 C chocolate chips (it's a lot)

Cream butter and sugar. Beat it until it's combined well. Add egg and vanilla and beat. Add dry ingredients (except chocolate chips). Stir in chocolate chips. 

Plop it on a cookie sheet or roll it into balls if you want rounder cookies. 

Bake 9-10 minutes at 375. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Roasted Parmesan Acorn Squash

Okay, we're still going for our healthy December theme, although cheese and cream have both entered the picture (and some cinnamon-y cookies are coming later in the week, but don't tell). Nevertheless, the main player here is this beautiful healthy squash and that squash is here to make the easiest side dish ever. It could also be eaten as a simple little lunch (which was the route I took).

This is very good. I was surprised how well the Parmesan and thyme paired with each other and the squash. It's even great if you're kind of 'meh' about acorn squash like I am. However, if you don't really like acorn squash, I'm not sure this recipe will convert you to it because cream and cheese or not, the squash is still the main player.

This requires a long cooking time, but absolutely no effort on your part. Also, these pretty squashes pose well if you're going for fancy.

Roasted Parmesan Acorn Squash
adapted from Everyday Food
makes 4 servings
Prep time: 3 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour- 1 hour 20 min.
Cost: 3.00
squash: 2.50, cream: .25, cheese: .25

2 acorn squash, cut in half and seeded
salt and pepper
1/4 C cream (I bet you could get away with 1/8 C)
1/4-1/2 C grated Parmesan (I used about 1/4 C)

Preheat oven to 375.

Cut squash and seed it. If you cut horizontally, you'll get a flower look. If you cut vertically you'll get a rustic squash look. Both are pretty. Season with salt and pepper.

Put on baking sheet cut side up.

Pour 1/2 Tbsp-1 Tbsp cream into each squash. Sprinkle on thyme.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until you can pierce the insides easily with a fork. Note: I kind of wished I'd put a bit of aluminum foil over them while they baked because the outer/upper layer of the squash developed a sort of "skin" from being baked uncovered. So you might want to tent it with foil. However, I must say I haven't actually tried this, and you never know, perhaps it would ruin everything, including potential world peace. However, I doubt it. I think it would help you not get that tough skin of squash as it bakes.

Sprinkle 1-2 Tbsp Parmesan per squash and cook another 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and pretty looking.

Told you--easiest side dish (or simple lunch) ever.

Serve warm.



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