Oats three ways

23 01 2012

It’s been a while since I wrote about cooking, and you might not sense it from reading this blog, but cooking is obviously what I do the most of, since we have to eat, and it’s something I really enjoy.  Too much, probably.  I have definitely gotten lost in a cookbook only to discover that it’s getting late and I haven’t actually made anything!  I got “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter” for Christmas and have really enjoyed reading it.  Before that, it was “Nourishing Traditions” (and just for fun, I read “Eating Animals” on my iPod—back to back, these two books are the very definition of cognitive dissonance).  It’s been a lot of reading, and I thought I would share just one idea that has made breakfasts much simpler around here.  (If you’re interested, this is from Nourishing Traditions, although Foer would probably approve too, since it doesn’t involve any factory-farmed animals.)

At night, I soak about 1.5 cups of steel-cut oats in about 3-4 cups of water (I rinse them first).  In the morning, boil 1-2 cups water in a big pot and dump in the soaked oats.  Add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil, and cook for 5-10 minutes.  Soaking overnight reduces the cooking time, but more than that, it make the nutrients in the oats more available.  (Supposedly.  For someone more knowledgeable about this, I direct you here.  There are lots of online sources, sometimes contradictory, on the topic of soaking grains.)  So that’s day 1!  Oatmeal.  We like to add in mashed banana/peanut butter, or applesauce/cinnamon, or blueberries/yogurt…there are lots of possibilities!

There should be a lot left over (if like me, you are feeding 1 adult and 2 small kids).  So, the next day, just to avoid having oatmeal over and over, we mix it up a bit and make oatcakes.  The recipe in the NT book is so simple: 1 cup leftover oatmeal and 1 egg.  I found that adding a mashed banana adds a bit of sweetness, and I like to add blueberries too.  Then just fry them up on the griddle!  They need to be small or they don’t flip well, so I make lots of little oatcakes.  Very easy, and very popular with the kids!


Then if there is still more oatmeal (there always is), I found a recipe for muffins that I thought came out really well.  Actually, this search for a muffin recipe came out of a crazy desire to not throw away uneaten oatmeal.  BB usually loves oatmeal, but we all have our off days, and one day I was faced with essentially a whole bowl of blueberry oatmeal to throw out. 


So sad!  I tried several recipes, but found that I liked this one the best.  So get your little helper to don his new apron (that’s right, LB has been promoted to kitchen assistant!), and mix up a batch of muffins, either from leftover breakfast, or straight from the stash of cooked oatmeal left over from the start of the week. 


He added the blueberries one…by…one.  He really was having fun!


We also make some peanut butter bars (found here) that are a great snack!  I have to say, I liked it as is, but I also changed it up a bit; I think it’s a great base recipe that is easily tweaked.  So there you have it; oatmeal, oatcakes, muffins…three days of breakfast from a humble pot of oats!


Fun in the kitchen

9 08 2011

One of my unstated summer goals is to keep up with the produce from our CSA.  Sometimes it’s easy; we go through broccoli like crazy and there can never be enough.  But some other things are harder, like greens, cabbage, and beets.  Fortunately, the kids are pretty good about trying new things and they have really embraced kohlrabi and zucchini, and tolerated spinach and swiss chard.  BB and I love to make muffins, so I looked up a beet muffin recipe and came up with this one


Wow, did they ever rise!  That’s probably the biggest compliment I can give them, though.  That and they used up a beet, so that’s good too.  They were OK and the kids ate them but I didn’t think they were that great.  We might make them again to use up one last tough beet that’s hanging around, but the rest of the beets are getting eaten straight up by the adults. 

For the cabbage, really the only way I like to eat it is in coleslaw.  Now I don’t know why it too me so long to figure this out, but I just shredded it in the food processor, along with a carrot, a little onion, and half a raw beet; look how pretty!


I dressed it with a homemade coleslaw dressing, which I altered a bit by substituting some yogurt for mayo.  I love how the beet looks like red cabbage, although it makes the dressing turn a screaming shade of pink.  :) 

And because we never get enough broccoli from the CSA, I decided to try growing it this year.  It hasn’t been doing so well, but finally we are seeing some crowns.  It’s beautiful!


Unrelated to veggies, BB and I made butter!  Just for fun, because I had never tried it.  I got a pint of heavy cream, left it at room temperature for an hour, poured it into a glass jar and we took turns shaking it until it looked like this:


Then I poured off the buttermilk into another jar and shook it again:


It made such a nice little cylinder!  Then I transferred it to a small bowl and rinsed it with water until all the buttermilk was out, and kneaded in a little salt.  A fresh loaf of bread and we are ready for a snack!  BB loves bread and butter and this was a fun way to see how butter is made. 


I checked out “Pretend Soup” from the library and I’m looking forward to letting BB be the head chef on our next round of kitchen adventures.  I think he’ll get a kick out of it!

Shiver me Timbers, Big Brother turned 4!

26 07 2011

This is the first time I have done a real kids’ party; in the past we have mostly just done small, simple, mostly family-only type parties.  But this time I wanted to do something a little more elaborate, since next year on his birthday we will probably driving cross-country to a new city… this was our last hurrah!  BB is big into pirates so I scoured the web and actually came up with very little.  In this case, good old fashioned books from the library (Hit of the Party, The Penny Whistle Party Planner, and Perfect Kids’ Parties) had some great ideas.  I thought I’d share some ideas here for anyone who might be looking to do something similar… not that the party was by any means perfect, as the book would have you think, but the ideas were cute and had potential. 

For starters, my “magnum opus”, as my husband and I called it:


Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, a 9×13 cake arranged following the instructions here.  The only structural thing I did differently was take the bit I cut out from the middle and add it onto the back, which I thought improved the appearance.  I ignored their decorating ideas and instead browsed images online to find what looked best.  I liked the look of yellow icing for contrast and kept it pretty simple.  The cannons are wafer cookies and I put the candles in them to prevent the sails from catching fire.  BB and I made the sails together, painting them with tea to make them look aged.  I guess I could have added more decoration but decided to quit while I was ahead, haha!  I did spell out BB’s name on the back… it is the S.S. B.B.

For prizes and favors I made some sea creature chocolate lollipops:


Michael’s had some pirate ones but honestly I thought they were pretty ugly for lollipops and decided on these instead.  I used white candy melts and colored them with Wilton gel colors.  There was much debate online whether these can be used, and I found that they worked fine without seizing the melts.  Mixing the colors and painting the molds was a lot of fun and I will definitely be doing this again!

For activities, I hid some gold and silver bead necklaces in the sandbox so the kids could dig for buried treasure. Then they could decorate treasure boxes and pirate hats, here is an overview of the mayhem:


Ah, you can see my little castaway in the blue punch:


And the fruits of their efforts, a cute little feathered pirate hat and lots of booty:


The hats were three pieces of felt, stiffened, then decorated with stickers, feathers, and pirate confetti from Party City.  Once one piece was decorated and the glue dry, I stapled two more felt pieces to make the standard tri-point hat.  This was a book idea with a template. 

Lunch was pirate boats and goldfish:


followed by cake and ice cream!  For games we did “pin the eyepatch on the pirate” and “tick-tock, find the croc”, where the kids took turns hiding a crocodile with a kitchen timer attached, then looking for it.  It was supposed to be like the crocodile from Peter Pan, with a ticking alarm clock in it.  Another cute idea, I think it went down really well but I was getting lunch set up while they played, so I have to give a big thanks to my husband and friends who helped keep things running while I disappeared to set up this, that, and the other.  Finally, I scattered chocolate “gold coins” in the yard for the kids to find in their treasure boxes. 

Whew!  It makes me tired to think about it!  I wish I could say BB loved it, but honestly, he did not seem that into it.  He’s not terribly social and I think having that many people over (just 4), and being told what to do and say (like “thank you”) are things that don’t sit well with him so he had the best time when I (the crazy bossy planning lady) was not around.  Ah well.  I won’t have to try it again for another 2 years!


27 02 2011

It’s been a while since I shared any of my favorite recipes, so I thought I would write about my current favorite (which is also out of the Cook’s Illustrated score from a while back).  Waffles!  Now, usually I would say “Waffles?  That’s too much work when you have 2 little guys clinging to your legs at 6am.”  But the great thing about these is that they are yeasted waffles, so you mix them up the night before and in the morning you just fire up the waffle iron and you are ready to go!  It’s as fast as toasting freezer waffles, and so, so, so much better.  Convinced yet?  Here’s my recipe, which is substantially modified.  (I love butter as much as anyone, but we eat these a lot, and a whole stick is a bit much.)


 ** Yeasted Waffles**

* 2 cups milk

* 4 T butter, melted

* 2 eggs

* 1.5 t vanilla

* 1 T sugar

* 0.5 t salt

Warm milk in microwave (so when you add melted butter it doesn’t solidify on top…ask me how I know).  Add in the butter and whisk well.  Add eggs, vanilla, sugar, and salt and mix it all up.  I do this in a great batter bowl thing I got at wal-mart; it holds 8 cups, which is good because this recipe will about double overnight in the fridge, so make sure whatever you use is big enough.  Next add:

* 2 cups flour (I do a 50:50 mix of white and whole wheat, add in some flax meal if you are feeling really crazy)

* 1.5 t instant yeast

Whisk it all up till smooth, cover and pop in the fridge.  In the morning just pull it out, stir it down and cook!  The boys love it, but honestly they would eat cardboard if you presented it like this:


Oh man, I don’t care how out-of-season strawberries are, this was so good.  So good.  I am ready for spring and more strawberries… 

Let me know if you try it!  I hope you find, even with the modifications, that they are “crispier, tastier, and more convenient to prepare than regular waffles”, as CI says.

(By the way, I am not done with Celebrate the Boy, not by a long ways, I am hard at work on a Scavenger Hunt bag for BB and it has been a 3 day project but I’m excited for the final result!)

Homemade ice cream—without a machine

21 12 2010

Our advent activity yesterday was to make ice cream.  I know, you’re probably thinking “Ice cream?  In December?” and usually I would agree.  I never buy it in the winter, and hopefully that helps the calorie balance sheet a little since we overdo the cookies, candies, and hot cocoa this time of year.  But this was one of those happy coincidences…  I have no idea what led me to this, but I found a post about making ice cream without a machine.  And wouldn’t you know it, I had 3/4 a quart of cream left over from making caramel that needed to be used ASAP.  (I had thought of making some other caramel recipes but was put off by the effort involved in that first recipe).  So I put on the calendar “Make ice cream” and thus began our tastiest advent activity yet.  It took a while, but mostly just waiting time, the active time was pretty minimal.  If you want to try, here’s what we did:

  1. Put a 9×13 glass pan in the freezer.  (Making room for that was the hardest part of this project.)
  2. Get your helper to stir up: 3 cups cream, 1 cup milk, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 teaspoon peppermint extract, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, until all the sugar dissolves.  (The original recipe called for 2 cups each of cream and milk but I needed to use 3 cups of cream). 
  3. Pour the mixture into the chilled glass pan.
  4. Come back every 30 minutes or so and stir it up.  BB started helping with this, but it’s not too exciting so eventually I just took over. 
  5. Once it’s getting solid, melt some chocolate and drizzle it over:IMG_3062
  6. Freeze it some more, and the attack it with a stick blender to break up the chocolate. 
  7. Go and eat dinner and when you are done, scoop up some ice cream for everyone who ate a good dinner!  There was never such a good enticement; I have gotten 2 good days of clean plates from BB.  Even though it was yesterday he is still talking about how we made ice cream, so I would say this activity is a keeper!  IMG_3064

Holiday goodies

15 12 2010

In addition to our daily advent fun, I have been doing some more, shall we say, challenging cooking.  I have not been in the mood to make cookies so we bought a candy thermometer, some good melting chocolate, corn syrup, heavy cream…all the things you would only get away with buying at this time of year.  First up, chocolate dipped candied orange peel


The verdict: not really that hard, though fairly time consuming.  It took a morning to do the peel, then after the kids were in bed at night, I did the dipping in chocolate.  But the ingredients were few and the active work involved was pretty minimal.  The results were very tasty!

Next, making marshmallows (with BB). 


The verdict: the only hard part was getting the thermometer in the liquid.  The liquid was not deep and my pot was too small to clip it on, so I had to rig a stand for the thermometer.  Other than that, the mixer does all the work, so I would say it was a piece of cake.  BB is loving the marshmallows, and I made them with the thought of giving them along with hot chocolate on a stick to his teachers.  It made quite a bit, so I think we’ll have enough.  They are tasty, but I don’t see that they are that much different from the store bought kind.  No artificial colors or flavors though, so that’s a perk.  I would do it again. 

Next, I saw these homemade peppermint patties and decided to try them, because we had a bunch of sweetened condensed milk that I don’t know what to do with. 


The verdict:  well, this is my fault.  I had mint extract, not peppermint extract, and it came out OK, but not great.  Really tricky.  I froze the patties for about 10 minutes and once I dipped them in chocolate they got all melty.  Most of the first batch was a total mess.  Once they sat overnight though, they hardened up pretty well.  I did a second batch later, and I made the patties thicker and froze them for 30 minutes.  This time I also used chocolate chips, as stated in the recipe (the first time I used the nice Swiss melting chocolate I had).  I thought the dark chocolate from the first batch looked and tasted better (the one in the middle is from the first batch).  If you’re going to go to the trouble to make candy, you might as well use good stuff.  Lots of work though.  I think it would be easier next time, and I would consider doing it next year, maybe with BB (I did them alone, it was definitely too hard for a young child to help with), and I would buy peppermint extract for it. 

And finally, on that page there was a link to these chocolate dipped caramel pecan bars…drool!  It’s all my favorite things; how could I not make them?!?


The verdict: these were about a thousand times harder and more time consuming than they looked.  I made the cookie crust; pretty straightforward.  Then I started the caramel, and the instructions were a little vague.  So if you think of doing this, let me advise you to google “how to make caramel” FIRST.  Alton Brown had some info, as did some other good sites.  It is fascinating, terrifying, and a miracle of calorie density.  I cooked 1 cup of corn syrup, 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup water and 1 cup of cream and I swear I got 1 cup of caramel.  Amazing; the laws of physics do not apply to making caramel!  No, really, you just get rid of all the water leaving only sugar and fat, it truly must be the most calorie dense thing I have ever made.  I question the need to start out with 1/2 cup of water and if I were crazy enough to try this again, I would look elsewhere for the caramel recipe.  So, when all was said and done, I went to cut the bars and they were STUCK in the pan like nothing you can imagine.  Most of them came out in pieces and only with patient chiseling did I get any out intact.  The caramel is not very firm, so it kind of oozed out as I tried to cut and extract them.  Needless to say, with a crumbling crust and an oozing top, I could not dip them in the chocolate because they just fell apart.  So I refrigerated them some more and drizzled the chocolate on top and refrigerated them again.  At room temperature I can say they are very messy.  My lucky children did get some of these in the end and it took awhile to get them unstickied. 

That’s my holiday kitchen adventures; later I will post more of our advent activities!

Quick teacher gift

1 07 2010

The past month has been a blur!  We came back from vacation, and all of a sudden, I realized it was the last week of preschool for BB!  I had wanted to make some nice teacher appreciation gifts, but it’s hard to do when you realize THE DAY BEFORE that school is almost over.  I had to make something with what we had in the house, and it had to be quick!  When I was a teacher I liked food gifts (this led me to make chocolate covered pretzels at Christmas time for BB’s teachers…that was a fiasco I did not want to repeat!), and I thought I would do something a little more original than cookies, so I made granola.  BB helped me make it, using our regular recipe with a few tweaks.  Because he is my little monkey, I called it “Little monkey Granola”, and included banana chips and other tropical things. 

Little Monkey Granola

  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • up to 3 cups nuts and other mix-ins
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Mix together oats and nuts (I used about 1 cup sunflower seeds and 1 cup cashews).  Then, mix the liquids: oil, honey, extracts, and cinnamon.  Spread in a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 10 minutes at 300 F.  Take out and stir to keep the edges from getting overcooked—try to spread the middle stuff to the edges and the edge stuff to the middle.  After another 5 minutes, I pulled it out and added 1 cup of chopped banana chips and 1/2 cup coconut.  Put back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes.  That’s it!  If you smoosh it down with a spoon before it cools, you will get some bigger clumps. 

My next dilemma… how to package it?  I was going to make bags out of the cellophane I had from Christmas (from the pretzel debacle), but when I brought it out from storage it had DEAD SPIDERS in it!  Eeeeeeewwwwww!  So I raided my stash of canning jars, figuring that if I can barely get dinner on the table these days I will not be doing much canning this year.  Here’s the final result:


The tags were a simple watercolor resist, so that was a fun project with BB also.  I wrote “thanks!” on watercolor paper, over and over, because he has lots of teachers, in white crayon, then invited him to paint away with watercolors.  It was not the best gift anyone ever made, but it was do-able in the VERY short amount of time I had!  To top it off, I made a little label for the top so they would hopefully understand the banana granola a little better:


Then we’ve been sick since school let out.  Fun!  I try to work on some projects, but it has been slow going.  I think we are all on the mend and hopefully have some more crafts to post in the not-too-too-distant future!