Monday, October 31, 2011

Day 31 | Todiefor Gingersnaps and Halloween {cue the finale music}

Happy Halloween friends!

It's the Great Pumpkin!

We made it to Day 31!  Can you believe it?!

In honor of the wonderful Fall festivities which are upon us, I give you Todiefor Gingersnap Cookies.  This recipe was given to me by Dr. Julie Sweet, my Colonial American History professor my last semester at Baylor.  Dr. Sweet was passionate about the subject she taught and worked hard to make Colonial America come alive - including baking for these fabulous cookies for her students.  I have never forgotten her or her class, and I take a small trip down memory lane every year when I bake her gingersnaps.  Enjoy!

Dr. Sweet's Todiefor Gingersnap Cookies {I added the "todiefor" ;) }

2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup margarine, softened {I use unsalted butter}
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves

In mixing bowl, combine half the flour and all other ingredients.  Beat until combined.  Add in remaining flour and beat well.  Shape dough into one inch balls.  Roll in sugar.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  Cool cookies on wire rack.

And because everyone loves babies...I give you our official candy distributor. ;)  He loved Halloween and cried huge crocodile tears when we took him out of his pumpkin costume for bath time. 

I was Lucy and Hubster was Charlie Brown. :)

Hope y'all are having a wonderful evening!

Check out all the other 31 Dayers here.

Day 30 | For When Inspiration Fails You

I hate it when the Hubster asks the inevitable "so, what's for dinner?" and I have nothing.  Nada.  Zlich.  Can't seem to make my brain function and I couldn't even start to think of what I'd like to eat.

Sometimes I get my inspiration from a meal we both loved at a restaurant.  Sometimes it's just the usual comfort foods {pizza, burgers, or spaghetti for us}.  But when I feel like I'm in a rut and I just want something new and different I search the web for inspiration.  Here are some goodies:


Southern Living

Food & Wine

The Girls' Guide to Guns and Butter {the name makes me smile every time}

The Everyday Kitchen {one of my new favorite blogs}

Simple Bites {not just for moms!}

Petit Appetit {for when you're cooking for little ones}

Mennonite Girls Can Cook

Life in Grace {I love Edie's blog and her fearless use of butter and bacon fat.}

The Happy Home {my sister-in-law-to-be bakes some todiefor goodies}

So what about you?  Any good sites for inspiration when your mind draws a blank?

Check out the other 31 Dayers here.

Day 29 | Pasta with Lentils, Kale, and Spinach {YUM!}

I must have been hiding under a rock all my life, because until this fall I had never {ever} had kale.  Or lentils.  And now I love both.  I just about died when I came across this recipe on Epicurious.

I only made a couple of changes to the recipe - adding spinach and parmesean.  This recipe is definitely going into rotation at my house.  This serves 4 and it didn't even last 5 hours in my house.  Hubster had 2 servings at dinner and I couldn't resist making a midnight snack of the remaining serving.  ;)

Pasta with Lentils, Kale, and Spinach {based off of this recipe}

1/2 cup lentils, cooked and ready to go
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/4 lb kale
1/4 lb baby spinach
1/4 cup shredded parmesean
3/4 lb short dried pasta
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, then add onions, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper.  Saute for about a minute over medium high, then reduce heat and continue to cook for about 20 minutes or until golden.

While your onions are cooking, remove the center stems from the kale and cut kale into bite sized pieces.  Boil kale in a 6-8 quart pot of salted water for 5-8 minutes, or until cooked through. 

 Remove the kale with tongs and strain in a colander.  Add your dried pasta to the already boiling pot of water and cook until al dente.  Add lentils, kale, and baby spinach to the skillet with the onions and simmer for about a minute.  Check for seasoning and add salt/pepper as needed.

Once pasta is al dente, add pasta to skillet, plus about 1/3 cup of pasta water.  Toss to coat and simmer for another minute or so. 

Transfer to serving dish and add parmesean and a drizzle of olive oil.  Toss one last time and serve immediately.

Seriously, this is my new fav.  :)

Check out the other 31 Dayers here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Day 28 | Grits Are Good!

I hope you all will forgive my lazy blogging these last couple of days.  The Hubster is on vacation and I have been enjoying time spent with my little family.  :)

Texas is an interesting state.  My old History of Texas professor used to say that Texas was really like two states in one; the Eastern half {east of Austin onward} was part of the American South, and the Western half {Austin and westward} was part of the American Southwest.

As a child I never understood the term "The South".  I didn't understand how those "Northern" states like North Carolina could be considered the South.  I mean, you can't get further South than Texas without going to Mexico.  As far as I was concerned, Texas was the end-all-be-all Southern state.

So imagine my surprise when I learned of a "traditionally Southern" food that I'd never had: grits.

I guess I grew up in the part of the state that's a little more Southwestern than Southern.  My only experience with grits was limited to a very paste-like version which was dumped on our cafeteria trays at summer church camp.  They looked like paste and tasted like paste.  I couldn't believe people actually liked them.

Enter the April 2011 edition of Southern Living and it's drool-enducing Spring Brunch...including cheese grits made with Gouda.  They looked todiefor.  I had to try them.  And once I did, I was hooked.

 My very battered and splattered copy of April 2011 Southern Living.

I don't keep Gouda on hand, so I have tried these grits with every kind of broth/cheese combination I can think of {including American cheese} and I LOVE them nomatterwhat.  If you have never tried grits, or think you hate grits, you must, must, MUST try these.

Here is the variation I made a couple of nights ago {there were absolutely no leftovers even though this was supposed to serve 4}.

Cheese Grits {based on Southern Living's Gouda Grits}

2 cups chicken broth {or whatever you have on hand...even boullion works}
1/2 cup of half and half
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup of stone ground yellow cornmeal {or quick cooking grits, whatever you have}
1 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup skim milk
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp Frank's Hot Sauce {plus an extra shake or two}

Bring the first 3 ingredients plus 2 cups of water to a boil in a dutch oven or large pot.  Once boiling add grits/cornmeal slowly while wisking to prevent lumps. 

Reduce heat to medium low and allow to simmer until cooked, stirring occasionally.  When grits are cooked through {should be thick like cream of wheat or mashed potatoes} remove from heat and stir in cheese and remaining ingredients.  Serve immediately and don't blame me if you become a grits addict.  ;)

Cheesy, creamy goodness.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Day 27 | Fall Breakfast. Fast.

I love oatmeal.  I eat it year round.  But there is something about waking up to the first cold Texas morning that makes you want a really good bowl of oatmeal.  Nothing instant and powdered, but it still needs to be quick.  Because we've got places to go and people to see on this beautiful Fall morning.

There is nothing like oatmeal made on the stove top.  But that is a rare occurrence in my house.  The general rule of thumb with oatmeal is the same as with rice.  1 part oats to 2 parts liquid.  I use thick organic oats, so they aren't "super" quick cooking, but they're still pretty dang quick.

My Favorite Fall Oatmeal

1/4 cup organic oatmeal
1/2 cup organic apple juice
generous helping of ground cinnamon
handful of organic rasins

Add everything to a microwave safe bowl.  Heat on high for about 2 minutes {more or less, depending on your microwave}.  Let cool for 1 minutes before diving in and devouring.

Warm Fall goodness.  :)

You might like milk or water instead of apple juice in your oatmeal.  Apple juice is naturally sweet so I don't add any extra sugar, but if I use milk or water I often add some brown or turbinado sugar, or a drizzle of real maple syrup.  You can add dried cranberries, nuts, a dash of wheat germ, flax seed {whole or ground}...your only limit with oatmeal is your creativity.  It takes all of 30 seconds to toss everything in a bowl and 3 minutes to heat and cool, so oatmeal is my go-to healthy, warm breakfast for a busy, cold morning.


Check out all the other 31 Dayers here!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Day 26 | Grandpa's Salmon Dip

Our leftover wild Alaskan salmon turned into the most lovely dip!

Grandpa's Salmon Dip

1 salmon fillet, seasoned, cooked and shredded
3 heaping table spoons {from off the table, not measuring} of mayo
Juice from 1/2 a lemon

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Enjoy with your choice of chips or veggies {we loved Fritos with this dip}. :)

Post edit:  So sorry for the wonkiness of this post!  We were traveling and I was using the Blogger App on my phone.  :/

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Day 25 | Dinner with Extended Family

We are visiting Grandma and Grandpa this week! So I'm not technically cooking at home, but we aren't eating out either. It's lovely when someone else takes the reins and cooks for you. :)

The Hubster and Grandpa did the grilling. Alaskan Salmon from Grandpa's fishing trip and beef steaks, mixed veggies, and sweet potato fries. They kept it simple and it was so good!

Post edit:  So sorry for the wonkiness of this post!  We were traveling and I was using the Blogger App on my phone.  :/

Monday, October 24, 2011

Day 24 | Kale. Marinated.

I took off Day 23.  It was random and not planned, but I needed a Sabbath and I had one! 

Last week our little family decided to check out a new vegetarian restaurant that just opened by our house.  We were not disappointed.  Everything off the menu was todiefor, right down to the vegan cupcakes.  What I loved about this place was that it was comfort food, vegetarian style.  You just can't beat comfort food.

I had a portobello "steak" with sweet potato mash and marinated kale.  It was hearty and delicious.  I love me some kale, so I was super excited to try to make my own version last night.

Marinated Kale

1 bunch of kale, washed and dried
2 tbsp soy sauce {I used low sodium}
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar
3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large ziploc bag

Add the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and olive oil to the ziploc bag.  Seal the bag and shake to blend.  Trim the stalks from your kale and tear kale into bite size pieces. 

Add kale to your ziploc bag, seal shut, and shake to coat.  Remove the air from the bag and reseal.

Spread the kale out so that it is in one layer inside the bag and has as much surface area touching the marinade as possible. 

Let sit for 1 hour or overnight.  The longer it sits, the more the kale softens and absorbs the flavors from the marinade.

We had ours with roasted organic chicken and mashed potatoes made from half white and half sweet potatoes. 


Check out all the other 31 Dayers here.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Day 22 | Yummy Beef Stew and a Confession

Okay, confession first.

I am so tired of 31 days of blogging about cooking.

I love cooking.  It's something I enjoy in my daily life and I love making good food for my family.  But that is just one part of me.  And I am dyyyyying to tell y'all about my fuzzy chair makeover, the cute jacket I actually sewed for the Kiddo, pumpkin shopping, Fall decorating and 1st birthday party planning...the list goes on.

I know I'm not the first 31 Dayer to feel the blogging burn.  And if I chose to, I wouldn't be the first to drop out.  But I'm committed and I'm going to finish this.  Mostly because I said I was committed to running a 1/2 marathon in November and I'm not, so I have to finish something!

On to the stew!  The Hubster has been begging me to make meatloaf for about a month now.  His goal for today was to do all the yard work {we have a huge front yard...and a huge back yard!} and I thought it would be super nice to make him meatloaf and potatoes for lunch.

Alas, we are out of ground beef!  I'm not sure when we'll be getting the new cow for next year, but I hope it's soon!  So, on to plan B.

Yummy Beef Stew

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 lbs beef stew meat
1 16 oz package frozen stew veggies {new potatoes, onions, carrots, and celery}
1 16 oz package frozen mixed veggies {green beans, peas, corn, carrots}
1 small zucchini {or 1/2 large}, sliced
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 3 oz can tomato paste
1/2 cup merlot {optional, but it gives it oompf!}
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp raw honey
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp dried oregano, crushed
1 bay leaf
3 cups veggie broth, plus more as needed

Note: If you don't have the veggies listed above, check your fridge and freezer.  Do you have something similar that you could use instead?  The lovely thing about soups and stews is they are forgiving and are wonderful ways to clean out produce that's about to go bad!

Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or large pot over medium high heat.  Add stew meat, season with salt and pepper, and cook until nice and brown.  Add 1/4 cup of the merlot and allow to reduce.

Add diced tomatoes and tomato paste and stir until well blended.

Add the frozen stew veggies, the frozen mixed veggies, the zucchini, and 1 cup of the veggie broth.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and add honey, worcestershire sauce, oregano, bay leaf, and remaining 2 cups of veggie broth.  Allow to simmer covered for 30-40 minutes.

Taste your broth {careful not to burn yourself!} and add remaining 1/4 cup of merlot along with any needed salt/pepper to taste.  Allow to simmer covered for an additional 45-60 minutes.  {The longer the better, my friend.}

Serve immediately.


Check out the other 31 Dayers here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Day 21 | The Best Chocolate Cupcakes. Ever.

 One of the 31 Dayers I've been following is Jessica at This Blessed Life.  She is doing a series titled 31 Days to a Cleaner Diet which is full of really good information.  If you are curious about how to go about transitioning from conventional, processed foods to cleaner versions, this is a wonderful resource.  Jessica says:
"I am here to show you that clean eating is affordable, attainable, and a worthwhile goal for your family."
In a nutshell, if you've ever tried to switch to cleaner foods and have been completely overwhelmed, this series is for you.

That said, on Day 3 Jessica posted hands down, the BEST chocolate cake/bread/cupcake/muffin recipe ever.  I. kid. you. not.

I'll let the photos do the talking on this one.

I added buttercream icing to the grown-ups' cupcakes.  So good!

Check out all the other 31 Dayers here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Day 20 | Pasta Amore {Cafe Express Style}

About a month ago we visited friends in Houston and ate out at Cafe Express.  To be honest, I don't have anything nice to say about Cafe Express, but it was close and convenient while we were out and about, so we gave it a go.  {If you love Cafe Express, please forgive me for raggin' on them.  All I can say is when you cook fresh food at home on a regular basis, you notice how much salt is in restaurant food.  Plus, you don't want to pay for a poorly cooked meal when you could make it better, yourself, at home.}

Surprisingly, the Pasta Amore wasn't as heavy on the salt.  It was made of just a few ingredients {which I'm pretty sure didn't cost the $9 I paid for it}, but they managed to keep it fresh and not mess it up.  I won't tell you about the other disappointments dishes we ordered. 

My rendition of the $9 Pasta Amore from Cafe Express...


4 cups dry pasta, cooked and drained {I used shells, you can use whatever you have on hand}
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra
1/2 16 oz bag frozen quartered artichoke
1 4 oz can chopped black olives
2-3 tbsp fresh basil, chiffonaded {I know, I'm gettin' fancy here}
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
shredded parmesean for garnish

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add minced garlic and saute until golden, reducing heat to medium.  Add frozen artichoke and saute for 2 or 3 minutes.  Add diced tomatoes and chopped black olives and continue to cook until artichokes are cooked through.  Add basil and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add pasta to skillet and toss to coat.  Serve immediately.  Garnish with parmesean and an extra drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Serves 4 generously.

Only 11 Days left!  Check out the other 31 Dayers here.

Day 19 | Stockin' the Fridge

The way I look at it, if your pantry items are your most basic food staples - your black pants, and if your freezer is a step up from your pantry, the fairy godmother magically helping you make fresh meals even though the food is technically frozen, then your refrigerator is full of your favorite clothes you wear each season.

There are a few obvious refrigerator staples that you should have on hand year round:
  • milk
  • eggs
  • juice
  • yogurt
  • condiments
But everything else should change with the seasons.

This is an idea which was commonplace to our grandmas and great-grandmas, that our parents kind of got away from and that we, today, have no frame of reference for.

I'm not going to go off on a tangent about organic versus conventional produce.  Personally, my family buys everything organic and local with the complete exception of bananas, and sometimes garlic and onions.  I want to focus more on local and in season produce. 

For most of us, we are fortunate to live in a place where it is easy to just drive down the street to our local mega-mart and buy large quantities of fresh produce.  We don't really stop to think about what's in season, because if you can buy it at the store it must be in season, right?

Nope. Not at all.

One of the widest used examples is tomatoes.  There is just nothing in this world like the taste of a fresh tomato, locally grown in season.  The color, smell, and taste are far superior to what you find in the produce bin in January.

Sure, you can find red tomatoes in January.  A lot of them are genetically modified to have that bright red color on the outside, but when you cut into them, they are a pale in color and bland in taste.

Or, you find tomatoes in January that taste almost as good as those summer tomatoes.  These tomatoes come from countries far away that have growing seasons opposite ours.  So they are "in season"...but definitely not local.  Why does this matter?  Well, it's not as if the tomato is airmailed overnight to your local grocery store.  It takes at least a week to travel...maybe two.  So you aren't getting a really fresh product for your money.  And the longer that tomato takes to travel and sit on the store shelf, the more nutrients are lost each day.

SO, whether or not you buy organic, generally you will get the most nutrient rich and flavorful produce if you buy #1 what's in season for where you live, and #2 produce grown as locally as possible.

For me, that means my fridge right now has some remaining summer squash {which is still growing in Texas}, spinach, arugala, okra from my garden, zucchini, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, onions, and carrots.

For fruit I have bananas {which are not ever in season or local for North Americans, but I can't live without}, apples {also not local}, and an abundance of fresh berries which my in-laws graciously left with us from their visit the other day.  Fruit is challenging for me.  Because of my location, local fruit generally consists of strawberries and peaches and only in the summer.  So I broaden my definition of local for fruit to mean local to the US, and try to get local to Texas before local to the US.

Gradually, as the weather in Texas jumps from one extreme to the other as the season changes, my fresh foods will be mostly greens and other "winter" produce.

That might seem really limiting to you.  After all, we do live in a society where you can have what you want when you want it.  For me, I see it as a challenge to think differently about the meals I will create this Fall and Winter.

One thing we have which are grandmas and great-grandmas didn't have is the internet, Google, and seemingly endless pockets of inspiration.  If flipping through pages of a cookbook doesn't inspire you maybe someone in the blog-o-sphere will.  Try Pinterest.  Ask your friends on Facebook for ideas.  I'm partial to recipes found in Southern Living.  Wherever you find your inspiration, save your ideas for future days when your brain is fried and you just can't think of what you want to eat.

Here are some recipes I'm loving for this Fall:

Scalloped Sweet Potato Stacks

Butternut Squash Spoon Bread

Butternut Squash Gratin

Winter Pizza Ideas

Turkey Bean and Kale Soup

Classic Russian Borscht {I haven't tried this one yet, but it looks soooo good!}

Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

What about you? Do you change what foods you stock with the seasons?  Do you have any recipes you are loving for the Fall?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Day 18 | Love For Cafe Mocha

Good morning friends!  We are all excited that Grandma and Grandpa are coming to visit today!  My mother-in-law found a treasure trove of the Hubster's old toys and we can't wait to watch the Kiddo have a blast pushing old-school Tonka's around.

The beauty of having friends over for the weekend is that my fridge is stocked full of leftovers and I get to take a break from cooking, but still reap the benefits of all my efforts.  :)

One thing we have in my house, no matter what, is fresh coffee every morning.  The Kiddo is cutting his 4th top tooth, and we ran out of infant tylenol last night {recipe for disaster, I know}.  Needless to say, there is no shortage of caffeine in my house this morning.

I hope you'll enjoy this re-post from January and go make yourself a coffee-house worthy beverage!


My love affair with all things coffee began as a teen when one night at Rockin' Java a close friend introduced me to the fabulous Cafe Mocha.  I was adamant that I hated coffee; that I only liked the way it smelled.  One sip of Cafe Mocha and I was a changed girl.

Rockin' Java closed soon after that and I discovered Starbucks' Cafe Mocha, Seattle's Best's Cafe Mocha, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf's Cafe Mocha, It's A Grind's Cafe Mocha, Wildfire Coffee's Cafe Mocha…you get the picture.  And while I have discovered many other wonderful ways to drink my coffee, you never forget your first love.

My dear brother and his wonderful fiance gave the Hubster and I an espresso machine for Christmas.  Incredibly intelligent folks they are, they thought we might need some liquid energy to get us through the sleepless days and nights of parenthood.  Did I mention how wonderful and smart they are?  So after 50,000 shots of straight espresso for me and 50,000 Iced Americanos for the Hubster I got to thinking…surely I can make my old standby Cafe Mocha at home.

After consulting Mother Google and many trials later here is what I've come up with:

Cafe Mocha

2 oz. espresso (or double strength dark roast coffee if you don't have an espresso machine…a french press also works well for this if you have one)
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. hot water
4 oz. steamed milk (whole milk is standard, but you can use skim or soy if you like…should be approx. 140 degrees)
whipped cream (optional)

Mix cocoa powder and sugar in the bottom of your mug.  Add hot water just until a syrup forms and stir until you have no lumps.  Add espresso and stir to mix, then add steamed milk.  Top with foam or whipped cream (or both if you like).  Makes an 8 oz. cafe mocha.  You can make any size you like; the important thing to remember is you want equal parts cocoa and sugar, and you want twice as much steamed milk as espresso.

While this is a very good basic mocha recipe, variation is the spice of life.  Here are two of my favorites:

Mexican Mocha

Same as above but add 1/4 tsp. cinnamon to the cocoa powder/sugar mixture.  Smells wonderful!

Aztec Mocha

Same as above but add a dash or two of cayenne pepper {easy does it daredevil} to the cocoa powder/sugar mixture.  This is my favorite variation…this recipe takes advantage of your entire palate.  You taste the sweet from the chocolate on the front of your tongue, the full-bodied espresso on the middle of your tongue, and the heat from the cayenne in the back.  Wonderful way to warm up when it's cold outside (and clear congestion from cedar fever)!

And for those who prefer their coffee cold, here is the Iced Americano recipe my Hubster swears by:

Iced Americano

2 oz. espresso
16 oz. glass with ice

Pour espresso over ice.  Fill to top with water.  You're done!

What's your favorite coffee recipe?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Day 17 | Puppy Love {Cookies for the Pooch}

I must preface this by saying that we are a hard core, dog loving family.

Once upon a time, almost 4 years ago, the sweetest puppy ever came to live with us.

The moment I first laid eyes on my sweet pupster.

It was love at first sight.

His first trip to the Vet...he's always loved to play with the big dogs.

To say that we spoil our beloved pooch is a huge understatement.  After all, he has his own raincoat...

...and he gets to eat Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner before anyone else...

He even gets his own chair at the lake {the pregnant lady was lucky to get her own chair, too}.

Needless to say, when we brought the Kiddo home from the hospital almost a year ago {can you believe it??}, our beloved Pooch was less than thrilled.

It wasn't that he didn't love and guard the Kiddo...he just wanted us to himself again.  Um...sibling rivalry with a dog?!  Yes, friends, that's what we had.

But as the Kiddo got bigger, the Pooch began to see that maybe this wasn't so bad.

And now they are not only best friends and playmates, they are inseparable.

So, to treat our sweet Pooch for his faithful friendship...and because there is a seemingly endless supply of leftovers in my fridge...we made dog cookies.

Add the peanut butter, skim milk, baking powder, and whole wheat flour to a mixing bowl and beat until well blended.

Like so.


...roll out...

...and cut out your cookies.

Let your pooch inspect...he'll probably try to do this anyway.  ;)

Can you go any faster Dad?

Bake for 20 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

Let cool so your Poochie doesn't burn his tongue.