Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Skillet Lasagna

Monday nights I take a class and I need to leave home by 5:45.  I need to have dinner made and kids eating before I leave, so I usually like to have something quick and easy. Recently, I started making my way through the Skillet Meals chapter in my America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook.  This lasagna will be the fourth skillet meal I've made within the past month.

Let's put it this way, this lasagna was so good and easy to make, I may never make one in the oven again. In less than one hour, I started to make the meal, photographed it, and had it on the table.  One thing I don't like about making lasagna is that the noodles always stick together and rip when cooked and you are trying to layer them.  Even if you use the non-cook noodles, you still have to layer and it just takes time.  Even a novice can make this and have it taste good too.

The hardest thing in the recipe was dicing the onion- seriously!  If you've never made lasagna before, or are intimidated by it, I'd suggest you give this a try.  It's going to be added to our family's regular meal rotation, that's for sure!

Skillet Lasagna:

1 28 oz can diced tomatoes (I only had crushed, so that's what I used)
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 medium onion
3 garlic cloves
1 TBSP olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
pinch red pepper flakes
10 lasagna noodles (broken into 2 inch segments)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 lb ground beef
3 TBSP fresh basil (I used a few tsp dried)

1) Put diced tomatoes in a 4 cup measuring bowl.  Add water until it reaches the 4 cup mark- set aside.

2) Heat olive oil in 12 inch skillet.  Add in diced onion and salt, then saute until shiny, about 4-5 minutes.  Add in minced garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Mix in ground beef, and saute over medium heat until meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

3) Place broken lasagna noodles on top of beef.  Pour the diced tomato/water mix on top of the noodles, and then add in the tomato sauce.  Cover, and let simmer for 20 minutes over medium low heat.  Stir occasionally.

4) Remove from heat, add in all but 3-4 TBSP of parmesan cheese, mix to combine.  Drop spoonfuls of ricotta cheese on top of the lasagna, sprinkle with basil, and serve topped with a sprinkle of the remaining parmesan cheese.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ruffled Rainbow Streamers

I saw this idea on Dana Made It when I was done looking for the freezer paper stencils.  I couldn't resist thinking I would make these ruffled streamers for Maeve's birthday.

Well, the day of her birthday arrived and I still hadn't made them, so I had pretty much given up on the idea.  The thing in our house used to be that when the kids went to bed, "Mr. Birthday" came and decorated the house as a surprise when they woke up.  I think Mr. Birthday goes on hiatus when dad is gone away on a 2 week+ business trip out of the country.

I felt pretty guilty that I did not really decorate for her birthday, so at 12:00, I went up to the sewing machine to try out a batch.  OMG- awesomeness!!!!  One line turned into three - I had to stop so I could run to pick up the ballooons, but when I came back, I belted out so many more.  It was just so darn easy and fun.

All I did was take two colors of streamers and stick a pencil through the centers of the rolls:
Then, I set my sewing machine to the highest tension and longest stitch:
Put the streamers overlapping slightly under the presser foot and go, straight going in, ruffled coming out:
Look how the yellow and blue kind of make green in the center:
I even made the rainbow that we taped to the front door.
All in all, the streamers took about 30 minutes total to make, if that.  I even saved them when I took them down- usually I recycle streamers.  If you have a lot of birthdays in your house, this may be for you, you can do lots of color combinations, and when you're done, roll them up and store them in a box for the next fun day!

The colored balls were from Party City.  My mom did all the decorating, without her, this would not have been possible, she just has a thing for decorating (I don't).

Who ever knew sewing paper could be so fun!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rainbow Cake and Cake Push Pops

For Maeve's first birthday, I wanted nothing but a rainbow cake.  For the past few months, I've been looking for ideas, and even tried a few different ways of decorating cupcakes.  In the end, the decision was easy, once I searched for rainbow cakes on pinterest and found the idea for THIS cake on Bakingdom blog.

My heart didn't come out quite as nice as hers, but hey, I had a migraine while I was doing this.
I was so excited to try and make the cake, but honestly, as the day approached, I began to get nervous.  I felt like such a cake was WAY out of my league!  I was thinking I'd have to make three batches of batter just to make all the cakes for the layers.  Then, I went to Sur La Table and I found the cutest little cake pans- they are only like 4-5 inches.

About two weeks ago, I decided to try to make the rainbow cake.  To make it, you have to make two 6-layer cakes!  I used the recipe I posted a few weeks ago for vanilla bean cupcakes with vanilla bean icing.

Here are the mini cakes:
Then, I frosted them with a coordinating color frosting, and stacked them into layers of three:
I refrigerated them to let the set about 20 minutes, before cutting out the centers to do the internal switch.  Then, I stacked the cakes to make the two 6-layer cakes.  I frosted the outside with a thin layer of plain white frosting.

The way I did this is explained here at I Am Baker.  I found the link from the Bakingdom blog.

The big reveal:
We had a practice birthday that night, since I had already cut the cake:
Since it came out the way I wanted, I froze the second cake.  It was in a tupperware in the freezer for almost 2 weeks.  I put it in the fridge the night before her bday, then on the counter about 3 hours before the party, and it tasted GREAT!  Huge time saver for a future birthday-make the cake ahead of time and freeze it!

I spent so much time putting them together and making sure they were in the right order, but failed to take into account that once you cut into the cakes, the top layers would be flipped over to connect them, so that is why my layers are not red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.  In the end, I don't care, they came out better than I thought, so I was very happy.

Since the cake was rather tiny to feed all of us at the party, there needed to be more cake.  So, let there be cake push pops!
For the push pops, I used the same cake recipe (doubled) as for the layer cakes and the same vanilla bean icing recipe.  I lined the bottom of my rimmed cookie sheets with parchment paper and greased the sides with butter.  I divided the cake batter into six pans, and used Americolor food color gels to color them.  Then, I was able to spread 2 colors in each cookie sheet, 1 on each half and spread them to meet in the middle.  It was only about 1/4 inch of batter in the pan.  I wanted it to be thin.  I baked each pan about 5 minutes, then rotated it, and baked for 6 minutes more.

Once the cakes were cool, I used a shot sized measuring cup to punch out cake circles.  I layered the cake circles into the push pops, starting with purple, and ending with red.  Between each layer, I put a circle of vanilla icing around the cake circle, then I'd add in another circle.  On top, I made a bigger swirl of frosting topped with rainbow non-pareil sprinkles.  These were such a huge hit with the kids, assured that all cake was eaten, and NOT just frosting and was so much less messy.

I got the push pop containers on amazon.com.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

First Birthday Rainbow Dress

Being born on St. Patrick's Day, Maeve is bound to love rainbows!
So, I had to make her a rainbow dress, I had tons of ideas and inspiration from the internet, but ended up settling on a jersey knit dress, with ruffles on the back made from old t-shirts.  Comfort is what babies like best!
I used my favorite pattern Claire by Portabellopixie for the dress.  Before I sewed the pieces of the skirt together, I sewed on rows of rainbow colored ruffles that I made from 2" strips of old t-shirts.

From the back:
From the front:
From the side:
And the birthday girl:
Happy First Birthday to my last baby!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Pie

Happy National Pi Day!  Yes, I am nerdy enough to know that today, 3/14, is a celebration of the infamous math symbol pi (3.14).  Yay for math being an excuse to make pie!

The good thing is that two weeks ago, I stumbled across a new blog, Love and Olive Oil, that I liked so much, I scrolled through 1 year of her recipes, and stopped when I found this recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cream Pie.  HELLO??!!  She is even writing a cookbook completely filled with recipes that ALL have to do with cookie dough!!

I wasn't sure that anything could ever beat the chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes that I love so much, but this... there may be a tie.  My son told me this was the BEST dessert I have ever made!

The day I found the recipe was the day I made it and decided this had to be the pie I post in honor of pi day.  I'm not  terribly proud of the pictures I took (I hope you cut me some slack, I had a sick kid in the house and my husband has been away for 10 days now).  I was trying to use natural sunlight to take the pictures, and I'm not complaining that it was 79' on March 14, but it was 79' and the whipped cream started to melt.  When I went to cut the slice out of the pie, it flung off the spatula and landed on top of the opposite side of the pie.  I tried to doctor it as best I could, but seriously, pictures aside, this is something you have to try if you're a fan of cookie dough.

You start off with a crushed chocolate cookie crust.  Top it with a thick layer of raw cookie dough.   Fill it with a brown sugar/cookie dough pudding.  Cover it with a thick smooth layer of homemade whipped cream!  Garnished on top with cookies, are you sold?
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Pie:

7 oz. chocolate wafer cookies, finely ground (1 1/2 cups) (I used teddy grahams)
6 TBSP melted butter

Cookie Dough Layer:
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/8 cup sugar
3/8 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 TBSP milk
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Pudding layer:
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups whole milk
3 egg yolks
1 TBSP unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla

Whipped Cream Topping:
1 cup heavy cream
3 TBSP sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

1) Preheat oven to 350'. Using food processor, grind up the cookies.  Melt butter, then mix with cookie crumbs.  Press into a pie pan, make sure the edges rise up about 1-2 inches.  Bake in oven, 8 minutes, until set.  Set aside to cool.

2) While crust is baking, prepare cookie dough layer.  Beat sugar, brown sugar, and butter in bowl of mixer with paddle, until light and fluffy.  Scrape down sides, add in vanilla and milk.  Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.  Add to mixer bowl, mix until combined.  Add in chocolate chips, mix, scrape down sides.

3) Put 3 small balls of dough onto a cookie sheet, lightly press down on the tops.  Bake in the oven at 350, 8-10 minutes.  These cookies will be the cookies that will garnish the top of the pie.

4) While the cookies are baking, press the remaining cookie dough into the cooled cookie crust.  Set aside.

5) Prepare the pudding filling by mixing the brown sugar, flour, and salt in a medium saucepan.  Add in 1 cup whole milk, stir constantly over medium heat until mixture reaches a boil.  Let simmer for 2 minutes, then remove pan from heat to cool slightly.

6) Put egg yolks in a small bowl, whisk until smooth, then add in remaining 1 cup milk.  Whisk, set aside.  Once the mixture in the saucepan is slightly cooled (I usually let it sit about 3 minutes), pour a small amount into the bowl with the egg yolks and milk, while whisking.   This is tempering the eggs.  Add a bit more of the mixture from the saucepan to the egg mixture, while whisking.  Then, add all of the egg mixture into the mixture in the saucepan, whisking constantly.

7) Return saucepan to heat, and stir constantly over medium until mixture comes to a boil.  Let simmer 1 minute, then remove from heat- should be the consistency of pudding.  Add in the 1 TBSP butter and 1/2 tsp vanilla now and mix.  Let cool slightly, then pour into the pie pan ontop of the cookie dough, smooth the top with a spatula.

8) Cover pie so pudding does not form a skin.  Refrigerate until the pie is completely cool.  Before serving, make whipped cream topping.  In medium bowl, beat cream until it forms soft peaks.  Mix in sugar and vanilla, beat again until firm peaks form.  Spread whipped cream on top of pie.  If desired, reserve 1/2 - 1 cup whipped cream and pipe it on to form decorative peaks to insert the cookies into.

9) Garnish the pie with the cookies you made earlier and enjoy it!
While I was eating my pie, I noticed a perfect shot of the cookie dough on the inside.  It was dark out, so there was no natural light, but I wanted to take a picture anyways to entice you further:
This pie was taste tester approved.

Here's something I love even more than this pie:
My little girl can walk!  I want to eat her up too!

And just for kicks, 3 years ago, big sister in the same dress :(

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Star Wars Birthday Party

Over the past few weeks, I've been posting about the Star Wars Birthday Party my son had.  Here is the complete listing of what went on at the party.

For invitations, I scanned in a picture he drew one day he was bored at school, I added some text, this was all done in Power Point- I couldn't post the actual invitation because it's not jpg, it's ppt, so this is the picture I used, then I wrote on it "7 years ago in a galaxy far far away, a young jedi was born".  It was in Star Wars font, which I downloaded for free here.
In case you were wondering, here's what the inside said:  Young friend, join me in an effort to strengthen my jedi force.  The rebels are growing stronger and we must be prepared.  You have been chosen to complete jedi training.  If you accept this challenge join me at:

You can view this post for the masks we wore.

You can view this post for the party favors.

I bought a set of king sized tan sheets from Target for 24.99 and cut them up into Jedi Robes.  Since jersey doesn't fray, I was able to do these without any sewing.  I have seen ideas here and here for the robes with hoods, but I couldn't do that for 18 kids, plus it would have been more expensive just to buy the fabric.  All I did was cut rectangular lengths, folded them in half, and then cut a neckhole out of the fold.  The kids put them over their heads and they stayed on, we didn't even use rope around their waists.
For games, I made each kid a "Jedi Training" punch card.  Each time, they completed a game, they got a punch on the side, and if they got them all, they earned cake.
The games:  I found useful information here and here.
1) Pin the saber on the character.  We used rectangular shaped file labels and the kids had to place it closest to the hand on one of the characters.  Instead of drawing a picture for this game like I would normally do, I found a cheap Star Wars poster on Amazon.com, I bought it because I knew my son would want to hang it in his room after the party.  The stickers came right off too.
2) Obstacle course.  My awesome friend came over and helped me set up a fun obstacle course in the basement.  Since I was the only adult supervising the obstacle course, there are no photos.  We utilized some plastic cones, pool noodles, a low table to crawl under, a pogo stick, a chair to run circles around, and carpet circles to jump across.  The kids had a lot of fun with this!

3) Light saber ball dodge. I'm not sure what to call this game, but my son was pretty adamant to have it.  You have to use your light saber to repel balls being thrown at you.  It is in a Star Wars movie.  We used my son's light sabers and my husband threw five wiffle balls at them.
4) Dunk Darth Vader in the trash.  We used a small Darth Vader stuffed animal my son got for Christmas, and the kids had three chances to stand behind a line and throw him into the trash.

5) Defeat Darth Vader.  My husband put my son's Darth Vader mask on from Halloween and came downstairs- he put on this Jedi Badge I found on the internet and printed on cardstock.  The kids were told he stole it and was trying to learn their secrets.  In order to defeat him, they had to touch the badge with their pool noodle.  This was the biggest hit of all the games, but my poor husband really did end up bleeding, the kids took the game a little too seriously!

 This kid wasn't messing around, he broke out his real light saber and put on his real Yoda robe:
6) Cross the lava pit.  We never got to this one and I'm sad because I was excited about it.  I bought a red plastic table cloth and we had some leftover masks and the kids were supposed to leap across the tablecloth only touching the masks, while the others were throwing wiffle balls at them.  There was an important battle between Obi Wan and Anakin over a lava pit.  My son was sad we didn't play this, but hey, there's always spring break!

7) Punch Darth Vader's lights out.  I got a mylar Darth vader balloon, and holding your foot on the string, with one punch, try to get the balloon to go all the way down and touch the ground.

For food, I made labels in photoshop.  The fighter ties were gobbled up so fast, I couldn't photograph them.  I got the idea from the Star Wars Cookbook.  It's basically pigs in a blanket.  The biggest hit of all the food was the Yoda Soda.  It was just green Hawaiian Punch and Sprite mixed together, the kids LOVED it!

For the cake, I started off great with the shape of Yoda's face, but in the end, I didn't spend too much time on the detail of his face, but no one seemed to mind (part shrek/part yoda ;).  I also made the awesome cake push pops, I'll post about them next week.

For serveware, I went with plain colors.  For the Yoda Soda, I got clear cups (super cheap), so you could see the green, and we cut out pictures of yoda and taped them onto plain straws.  For the Vader Taters, we bought black cups and taped his picture on the front of the cups.  I didn't want to spend a lot of money on the paper goods, since I knew they'd be thrown away.
I found the Yoda and Darth Vader images by googling Yoda images and Darth Vader images, I right clicked, saved the image on my computer, and then pasted it into a power point a bunch of times, after I resized it.  I also found these mini printables that we used for the straws.

I hope you find this helpful if you ever want to have a Star Wars party.  For what started off as something I was afraid I knew nothing about, I ended up finding so much awesome stuff and in the end had too many things!  May the force be with you with your party planning!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Roasted Garlic and Cauliflower Soup

I realize it's been quite some time since I actually posted a recipe that wasn't a dessert or breakfast.  This soup is sooo delicious!  In fact, it's so good, that I have probably made it once a week since first trying it before Thanksgiving.  I haven't posted it yet because I was never happy with how the pictures turned out.

I'm happy to say that yesterday, my budding 4 year old photographer and I got a good shot.  As I was pouring the hot soup, she set up the chair by the window, with a cloth on it, and even carried the bowl of soup over without even being asked.  When I turned around I was surprised to see the shot all set up, so I went with it.  So, what you see is all Hazel's doing.  She even asked to use the remote so she could "take the shot".

This soup is loaded with vegetable goodness and won't disappoint.  You can top it with crumbled bacon or serve with toasted bread. (or in this case, a toasted homemade bagel-recipe to come).  When I said I made it about every week, I'm not kidding, I've eaten it for lunch 3 out of 5 days every week- even Hazel loves it.  If you're looking for a way to sneak veggies in to unsuspecting picky eaters, this might be the way.

One time, I found "carnival cauliflower" at the grocery store- it was purple.  I thought it would be fun- see photos below of the purple cauliflower in the simmering soup.  When it was pureed, I thought it would be an awesome purple, but with the celery and carrots, the color got muted to a grey mauve.  It still tasted just as good.

Roasted Garlic and Cauliflower soup:

Source:  Cooks Like a Champion, who adapted it from GoodLifeEats

Oven:  400'

1 head cauliflower
1 head garlic
1 TBSP olive oil
3 oz bacon (or 2 TBSP butter)
1 medium carrot
1 1/2 celery stalks
1 small onion
1 TBSP flour
1/4 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup white wine
1 bay leaf
2 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup half and half

1) Preheat oven to 400'.  Cut cauliflower florets off head and place on baking sheet, toss with olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Cut top off garlic head, so the tops of the cloves are exposed.
Drizzle a little bit of olive oil on top of garlic.  Wrap garlic head in aluminum foil and place on baking sheet with cauliflower. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes.  Take cauliflower out and leave garlic in for 5 more minutes, then remove from oven to cool. Once garlic is cool, squeeze the cloves out of the head, discard the head.

2) In stockpan, cook bacon until crisp- remove bacon and let drain on a paper towel.  Discard all of the grease, except for 1 TBSP.  Put the 1 TBSP grease back in the pot.  If you are vegetarian or do not have bacon on hand, you can simply melt 2 TBSP butter in the pan and use this for the grease.

3) Dice the onion, carrot, and celery, add to pot, and saute for about 10 minutes.  Add in spices and flour, stir for about 30 seconds.  Add in the white wine and water, then mix, until simmering, about 2 minutes.  Add in garlic, bay leaf, and chicken stock, let cook at a simmer for 10 minutes.
4) Add cauliflower and let cook five more minutes.  Discard the bay leaf.  Place soup in your blender and puree to desired consistency.  If you like chunky, you might want to only puree half. I like mine smooth, so I pureed it all.

5) Return soup back to pan, add in the half and half, mix to combine, then serve.  Top with crumbled bacon, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Even the baby enjoyed the soup- nothing like a nap on a full stomach with your favorite stuffed animal!