Thursday, June 30, 2011

Busy Cooking: Homemade granola bars

A friend of mine sent me the link to this granola bar recipe on Smitten Kitchen around Christmastime, it took me this long to get around to making it.  Boy am I sad I waited this long to make them because they are gooood (and wicked easy to make!!!)  This is a hand mix, super easy, no kitchen aid, barely any cooking skills required recipe!

I liked the way the first batch came out that I made them again the next night.  I've made three different variations and all three turned out great.  In the recipe on Smitten kitchen, she mentioned that she was not sure what would happen if you omitted corn syrup from the recipe (did that).  I also tried one batch where I omitted peanut butter just to see how they'd hold up without it for those of you with nut allergies in the house.

These have come in handy for my kids' breakfast for the past few mornings when we had to run out the door, and snack at their morning sports camp this week.  My son liked them so much, he asked to help me make them the second night.

Below, you can see from left to right, the granola bar with no peanut butter or corn syrup, I only added cinnamon chips to this bar, next is the granola bar with no corn syrup- to this I added mini chocolate chips, and finally the granola bar I made per her exact recipe with added craisins, chopped almonds, and mini chocolate chips.
You can see for yourself the one on the right is more glossy, it definitely tasted more chewy, but I didn't notice any great taste difference between this one and the one without corn syrup.  The one without peanut butter or corn syrup was definitely not as chewy, but still held together well and tasted good- I think it was still softer than a quaker granola bar.

Oven:  350'

Prepare a 9x9 or 8x8 baking pan by greasing first lightly with butter, then lining it with parchment paper.  Make sure the parchment paper is rising up the sides, it will be like a "hammock" for the granola bars, so when they are done, you will grab both sides of the parchment paper and pull the giant bar out of the pan for better cooling.

1/2-3/4 cup sugar (you can decide how sweet you want them to be, I used 3/4 cup)
1/3 cup oat flour (you can make it in food processor from oats, I found mine at whole foods)
1 2/3 cup quick oats
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon ( I omitted second time around, I think peanut butter and cinnamon don't compliment each other well)
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup peanut butter (or other nut butter)
6 TBSP melted butter (I think once I used unsalted, once salted)
1/4 cup honey (or maple syrup or corn syrup)
2 TBSP light corn syrup
1 TBSP water
2-3 cups dried fruit, nuts, candies

1) Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl.

2) Melt butter in a small bowl.  Add in vanilla, honey, corn syrup, and water, stir to combine.

3) Add liquid ingredients into dry ingredients, stir to combine.  Add peanut butter, stir.

4) Add fruit, nuts, or candies.  I divided my batter in half and added the chocolate chips to one half and the other was almonds, craisins, and chocolate chips.

5) Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake in oven 35-40 minutes, I did 36 minutes.  You can tell it's ready to come out because the edges start to brown.  The center may be wobbly or look unsettled, don't try to cut yourself a hot granola bar, they need to be cooled and set, about 20 minutes from oven removal. After about five minutes, using the parchment paper, pull the bars out of the pan and place on cookie rack for the rest of cooling.  Cut into strips or squares and enjoy!!!

A delicious and nutritious summer snack for the kids:

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Busy Playing: Summer Fun Daily Planner

I let my kids have ice cream for dinner tonight!  Bathtime and pj's was never so quick, who knew all I had to do was tell my kids if they got ready when I asked them to, they could have ice cream for dinner?!  This is all part of my summer fun plan ;)  Today's activity was ice cream for dinner!

Instead of paying over  $2,000 to send my three boys to a summer camp for just two weeks, I told my husband I could do it myself for less than $300 for the summer for all of the kids.  I sat down, made a list of ideas and supplies I'd need to go along with them.  I got the supplies and then have been trying to figure out how to get everything done before the end of the summer.

I've had ideas in my head for weeks, now I have to make sure I do all these fun fun things with my kids before the summer is over.  I was inspired at first by these "mom I'm bored jars".  I even had pasta for dinner a few nights, just to empty up a sauce jar and I was working on a salsa jar next.  I planned to have three jars, one each for where to go, what to do, and things to make.  However, given my current situation: living between two different states, having most of my craft supplies in cardboard boxes in a truck container, in a storage unit somewhere until my house is done, I felt as though I could not handle the complete element of surprise as to what was going to be pulled out of those jars each day.

One of the blogs I enjoy reading, pinkandgreenmama, had a post up recently about a smart summer challenge she was sponsoring along with two other blogs, one which I had never heard of, teachmama. For the smart summer challenge, there was a suggested calendar of an activity a day- I didn't use their activities, but what I did like was that teachmama printed out the calendar and put post-it notes over the day's activities so her kids were surprised each day when they peeled it off.  This was exactly the inspiration I needed to come up with this:
I bought the desk calendar at Target for $8.00 (I was going to make my own on paper, but with five kids and my crazy life right now, the desk calendar is a gem!)  Oh, and today, I conveniently went into this teaching store, Chalkboard that I keep driving by- OH MY- I was going to use post-it notes to cover up our activities, but I found those irresistible ice cream shaped cut outs instead- perfect for a hot summer month!

Each day we have a planned activity, I know about it and will be prepared, and the kids will still be able to have that element of surprise each morning when they flip over the piece of paper to reveal something fun and exciting.  For today, ice cream for dinner.  For tomorrow:
Other activities will include trip to aquarium, bring buckets of water and watering cans to the playground, whipped cream fight, go mini golfing, write a letter to someone, make sunprints, make glo worms, go on a picnic, build a solar cooker, the possibilities are endless!!!  I am now keeping track of things I want to add to next month's calendar.  I can't wait because I got the dolphin shaped papers for August- oh how I love cute shaped paper! :)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Busy Playing: Family Games- Colorku

Growing up with five brothers and sisters, it's easy to find someone to play a game with.  My family was big into games, so it's not surprising, I try to play a LOT of games with my kids.  Sometimes choosing a game that's going to be fun in general and then fun for everyone can be difficult.  Looking at the box only, it's hard to judge if everyone's really going to like it and if it'll be one that comes off the shelves a lot.  I decided to try to post one of our favorite family games every week.

After our long drive a few weeks ago, I took the kids to a really cool local toy shop to get some new games.  The store had so many good ones, it was hard to choose.  This game, Colorku, stood out from all the rest to me.  I'm sure you can see why:
Doesn't this look so fun?!  It was like, "Hey buy me, I'm bright, cheery, and fun!"
Each box comes with 81 fun colored wooden beads:
"Play with us, we're so much more fun than writing numbers in squares!"
But, if you do want to convert the colors to numbers, and write out your own grid, there is a key to show you how:
The set comes with cards to start you off for over 100 games:
I sit down and work with my two oldest sons to solve the puzzles, they get harder the higher the number of the puzzle:
If you get stuck, there is a solutions sheet:
For the little ones, you can change it up a bit and do rows or columns of rainbows:
You can do blocks of rainbows too:
Or maybe even fill up each block with 9 beads of one color and do a giant rainbow block pattern.  There really is fun for everyone in this game!  It's been a big hit with all four of my "big" kids.

*I didn't get paid to do this review, it's my own decision to do it, so I am not biased in any way.*

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Busy Cooking: Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes

I was searching around on the internet for new ideas for dinner yesterday, when I accidentally stumbled upon this recipe for Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes (who cares about dinner?!).  All of the sudden, I had to make these cupcakes (like NOW)- good thing tomorrow is Father's Day because guess what my husband is getting for dessert.  I had made another batch of cupcakes earlier in the week that were supposed to make it on the blog before these, but as I was icing them, my husband pointed out to me that I hadn't updated the blog in a while.  So, in case there's anyone out there like me that finds a recipe that sounds delish and HAS to make it right then, I felt the need to post this before anything else I had planned. With an orange flavored cake, filled with a marshmallow creme, and topped with an orange buttercream frosting, these taste eerily similar to the iced treat you may remember buying from the ice cream man when you were a kid (yesterday ;) ).  

There were a few different recipes that I found.  In the end, I chose the one from I Heart Cuppycakes blog and it was delicious.

Oven:  350'

2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 TBSP orange zest
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 TBSP vanilla
3/4 cup heavy cream

Filling:  **I had so much left over, next time, I'd only use half this amount
1 7 oz jar marshmallow creme
1 stick (1/2 cup butter)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice 
1/4 tsp orange extract (I found this at Target)
1/4 tsp vanilla
4 cups confectioner's sugar

1) Preheat oven and prepare cupcake pans (I was able to make 9 large cupcakes and 12 mini cupcakes).

2) Mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, set aside.  In separate bowl, cream together sugar and butter.

3) Zest the orange, then juice it.  In a small bowl, mix together cream, orange juice, and vanilla.  Set aside.

4) Add the orange zest and eggs to the sugar/butter mixture.  

5) In alternate additions, add the flour mixture and cream/juice mixture to the batter.  Mix until just incorporated, scrape down sides, mix again.  Fill cupcake pans 1/2 - 2/3 full with batter.  Bake 17 minutes for mini cupcakes and 22 for large cupcakes (or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean).

For the filling, beat together the butter and marshmallow creme.  Pipe into the centers of cooled cupcakes.

For the frosting, combine butter, orange extract, vanilla, and 2 cups confectioner's sugar.  Add in the orange juice.  Slowly add the rest of the confectioner's sugar until you reach desired consistency.  

For the swirled color icing, I divided the frosting in half and colored half of it orange.  I put it in the frosting bag one spoonful at a time of each, one side white, one side orange:
Check this out:
My job at the ice cream shop freshman year of high school paid off for something:
Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Busy Cooking: Cookies and Cream Cupcakes

"Cookies and cream cupcakes that are a dream" should really be the title of this post.  Last year, for my son's class end of year party, I made over 150 cupcakes- these were one of the types I made.  I went on homeleave, was busy with other stuff and never got around to posting about my cupcake baking extravaganza.  These cupcakes have sadly never made it on to the blog, which is a shame, because they really are dreamy.  My brother had a birthday last week, so I took the opportunity to give these cupcakes the recognition they deserve.  My brother loves oreos, so it was easy to choose these for his birthday treat.  I found the recipe here, at beantown baker (how appropriate)- she used a cream cheese icing, which I made the first time around and it was actually quite nice, but my brother does not like cream cheese, so I made up my own fluffy cookies and cream icing, which, I must say was AWESOME!

Oven: 350

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temp
1 2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3 egg whites
1 cup milk
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 package oreos (for normal sized cupcakes, or the bite sized oreos for mini cupcakes)

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (3/4 cup)
1 tsp vanilla
3-5 TBSP milk
3-3.5 cups confectioner's sugar

1) For the cupcakes, cream together sugar and butter until fluffy.  Add in vanilla and egg whites, mix until combined, scrape down sides.

2) In separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, and salt.  In alternate additions, slowly add milk and flour mixture to butter mixture.  Scrape down sides of bowl, mix again.

3) Place liners in well of cupcake pan (I made 12 large and 24 mini cupcakes).  For each cupcake, twist an oreo apart, and place the side with the icing on it, icing side up in the bottom of the cupcake liner, (for large cupcakes, use normal sized oreo, for mini cupcakes, use bite sized oreos).
4) Take the tops of the oreos from step 3 and crush them up, set aside in a small bowl for the frosting.

5) Take about 10-12 normal sized oreos and cut them into fourths or fifths, good sized chunk pieces:
Fold these pieces into your batter.

6) Scoop batter into prepared muffin pans and fill about 2/3 of the way.  Bake 17 minutes for mini cupcakes and 22 for large ones. (toothpick inserted in center should come out clean).

Check out the bottom:
Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, cream the butter in mixer, with paddle attachment, slowly add in 1 cup confectioner's sugar and 1 TBSP milk.  Add in vanilla.  Add in 1 more TBSP milk and 1 cup confectioner's sugar.  Mix, repeat milk and confectioner's sugar addition.  Beat on high for about 30 seconds.  If frosting is too thick for your liking, add in milk 1 TBSP at a time for desired consistency.  You can add more confectioner's sugar too if you think it doesn't taste right.  Pour in crushed oreos bits (these should be like dirt otherwise they can block your decorator tip).  Gently fold bits in, put in decorating bag, and frost cupcakes.  Garnish tops with a mini oreo if desired.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Busy Travelling: Travelling Halfway across the USA alone with 5 kids

And why I'd rather travel halfway across the world with kids in a plane any day over a car.

My new house is approximately 1049 miles from my parent's house, but who is counting?  It is about 300 miles further than from my old house.  It just enough extra distance that the drive is too long to do in one day.  I've been fretting about my move from Japan for this reason for a long time now- it's almost impossible for me to travel to visit my family alone now- and I'm afraid that even though I'll be living in the same country, I'll see them less because the trip is just too far of a drive.  As if the drive wasn't long enough, add in the factor of travelling with a baby who needs to eat every three hours.  So, I've been making a list for those of you that thought I was crazy travelling 24 hours door to door from Japan to Massachusetts of why I'd rather do that trip over this drive.

1) I have to be the pilot. (enough said)

2) Tendency to overpack when you take the car, cramming stuff in everywhere, especially under your feet, which makes for an even more uncomfortable ride.

3) No one is coming around to pick up your trash.

4) No one coming around serving food and drinks.

5) You cannot get up and walk around.

6) Getting lost.

7) Unexpected delays due to traffic, really bad drivers on the road, weather, or frequent stops for various kid related reasons.

8) Stress from other people trying to convince you not to do it alone when you have no choice.

9) You cannot close your eyes to rest even when the kids are awake.

10) You cannot pick up the baby that decides to scream as you are getting off one highway and needing to merge through three others for a ten mile stretch outside a major city where there is tons of traffic and no shoulder, so you are forced to listen to ear piercing screaming for a half hour on top of the bickering.

11) There is only one tv for everyone, thus lots of bickering about which show to watch.

12) One of my kids gets car sick.

13) There are no tray tables.

14) No bathroom on board.

15) Travel time (Japan- Boston 8,000 miles, time=24 hours), (Boston- Illinois 1,049 miles time=3 days)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Babies Love Black and White

I've always heard babies love black and white and red.  Since we're living with my parent's 1,000 miles away from Dave until the house is finished, I wanted to find a way for Maeve to be able to "see" him.  I made a collage of photos of her brothers, sister, Dave, and I, and printed it out on regular paper in black and white.  Then, I used red and white ribbon that I got at Michael's and glued it around and between the photos.  I was going to mount it to a canvas with modpodge, but didn't have any canvas available, so I opted to laminate the sheet.

(okay I'm really annoyed, I can't edit the photo in blogger to be upright and in iphoto it is upright, and I don't have the patience or time right now to fix it)

Propped up at the end of her chair:
View from the playmat:
***(The ribbon is thick, so I had to run it through the laminator twice to get the edges to completely seal. - It's been a few weeks and it hasn't come apart, so it is durable, but maybe for something more lasting and that you could later mount to the wall, modpodging on canvas might be a better option)

How cute would this be for a baby shower gift?  You could punch holes in the top and thread ribbon through so it could be hung from many places.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Strawberry Crumb Bars

I know I just posted a strawberry muffin recipe, but I feel the need to post this one too, that's how much I loved it.  You would not believe it based on the amount of strawberry pastries I like to make, but until I lived in Japan, I HATED strawberries.  The strawberries (ichigo) in Japan are so knock your socks off good and I wanted to get this recipe in for my friends in Japan before the strawberry season is past.  You will see good strawberries in Japan from about February until sometime in June (you might not see them again until the next January- since they are only local).  Occasionally, you will get some imports at Costco, but they just aren't the same.

This recipe is something I never would have thought to do on my own, in my life, I have only ever seen or tried Raspberry Crumb Bars (and they are usually made with raspberry jelly as the filling).  I will only use fresh fruit in my crumb bars from now on!!!

I have already made these twice and am planning on making them again this summer.  It took me a while to post because I'm not happy with the photos I got.  Comparing mine to those around the web, I'm slightly embarrassed, but hey, I'm trying and I think I'm getting better each time.  While looking around for photo tips, I came across this food photography book for sale by Matt Wright.  Guess what??? He is donating 100% of the profits to Japan earthquake relief.  If you are interested in food photography, check it out, it's a bit pricey, but worth it for the cause.

On to the recipe, which I found at Smells like home blog.

Oven: 375'

(This make a generous amount, 9 x 13 pan; if you want, cut the recipe in half for a 9x9 or 8x8 pan)
1 1/2 cups sugar (1 cup for crust, 1/2 cup for strawberries)
1 tsp baking powder
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup (2 sticks) butter (I've had equally good results with unsalted and salted)
1 egg
4 cups strawberries, cut up into 1/4" cubes
4 tsp cornstarch
juice from 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 375'.

1) In the mixer, with the dough hook attached, combine the flour, baking powder, and 1 cup sugar.   Then add the salt and lemon zest.  Finally, add butter (cut into tablespoon sized squares) and the egg, let mix until it is crumbly pea sized balls.

2) While the butter is cutting into the flour, cut up strawberries into small pieces.

3) In a medium sized bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch (it is pretty lemony, if you're not a huge fan of a lemon/strawberry flavor, use half of the juice from the lemon).  Add in strawberries and toss until coated.

4) Remove ~3/4 cup crumbs from flour mixture, set aside for crumb topping.  Press remaining dough into a greased 9 x 13 pan.  Remember to press up about 1/2" around the edges for a crust.

5) Spread strawberry mixture on top of the prepared dough, then sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture on top, pressing it down gently.

6) Bake for 45 minutes or until topping is golden brown.

These are soo good hot out of the oven!