Sunday, February 27, 2011

Monkey Cake and Train Cake

I love the idea of making birthday cakes for my kids. 
As a mom, we all create traditions for our family.  Some of those traditions come from our childhood homes and the traditions that were started way before we had kids. And some traditions we develop on our own. It is traditions that create a sense of home and family and safety in our children's lives.  I don't think it matters what those traditions are, but I think it is essential that traditions exist.  It gives kids something to look forward to --- something to come home to when they are all grown.  One of my traditions is the birthday cake.

Now, I know I have only had two birthday parties so far.  My son is 2 1/2, and my daughter is 8 months.  They both have summer birthdays.  So this summer I will be creating my son's 3rd cake and my daughter's first cake.  So I don't claim to have a lot of experience in this area, but I am excited about the concept of creating birthday cakes for my children.  My heart is definitely willing; even though my experience is saying buying cakes is much easier.

My son's first birthday party had a monkey theme.  Here are the cakes. This cake hinged on my flimsy
art skills.  I drew the monkey on the cake by pipping small stars. I based the monkey face on a small rug (I bought from Bed Bath and Beyond) in my son's bathroom bath.

My son's 2nd birthday party had a train theme.  Here is that cake.  The train cake was tons of fun to make.  And Aidan, my son, loved eating it. I filled the train cars with pretzels (log car), M&Ms (because they are colorful and cute), animal crackers (zoo car), and crushed Oreos (coal car).

I have not come up with the theme for his 3rd birthday yet -- or my daughter's theme for her first birthday. Let me know if you have any ideas.  Remember I have very little artist ability, but I make up for the lack of ability with a wiliness to try anything.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Crock Pot Chicken Chili

My neighbor Kristy doesn't love cooking.  She likes it --- and she loves the idea of cooking for her family.  She knows I love cooking, so she asked me to give her some ideas for good family dinners.  Now let me start off by saying that her crew isn't the easiest to cook for -- they have some food -- shall I say dislikes.  They don't like eating vegetables.  And Kristy is endlessly trying to get veggies in their tummies.  They are a meat and potato family. But I told her that the vegetables and beans can always be hidden in the meal. Last week she asked me to come by and cook dinner with her.  I thought I would show her an easy chicken chili recipe.  This recipe has a bit of sweetness to it because of the marmalade, and it can have as much heat as you can take. 

What is great about this recipe is it is easy and when I say easy, it is EASY.  This is a great meal to go to when your day has been too crazy to even make yourself and peanut butter sandwich. There is nothing better than smelling a crock pot dish coming together.  The end result is warm and fills your belly.  The crock pot allows the flavors to become fully married, and oh the best part -- only one pan to clean up after dinner.

Chicken Chili -- (with Mommy hints)

2 -3 chicken breasts
1-2 Tablespoons of taco seasoning (Mommy hint -- use your favorite kind -- if you want more heat use 2 Tablespoons -- my  favorite is La Preferita)
2 cloves of garlic
1 cup of salsa (Mommy hint -- use your favorite -- my favorite is Newman's Own all natural medium salsaIf you want the chili to be spicier -- use a hot salsa)
1/2 cup orange marmalade (Mommy hint --  if you don't like orange marmalade don't worry - you don't taste the orange - all you taste is the sweetness in the background My husband hates orange anything -- and when I tried to make it with another preserve for him, he didn't like it as much -- the marmalade is the best of the different fruits that I have tried.  But take a chance and change it up with any fruit you want)
1 can black beans (Mommy hint -- my neighbor's husband doesn't like beans, so we pureed the beans.  We were able to keep the nutrients and fiber and hide the scary beans from Mike)

Brown cubed chicken in a saute pan with olive oil, taco seasoning, and garlic. Once browned place chicken mixture in crock pot.  Then deglaze pan (Mommy hint -- get all the flavorful brown bits off the bottom of the pan) with salsa and marmalade. Once deglazed, place mixture in crock pot with chicken. Cook on low for 2 - 3 hours.  Mommy hint -- don't put beans in until last half hour before serving. 

I like to serve this over noodles. Use a short fat noodle.

Mommy hint -- If you don't want to use the crock pot, and you want to go from refrigerator to stove to table quicker, you can.  Do this whole process in one pot.  Cook on low for 45 minutes and serve. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Soft and Fluffy Pancakes

I have been playing with different pancake recipes for years now.  I try a recipe and tweak and tweak
it.  Then I try another -- but I have finally found the perfect combination of ingredients and tweaking.  These pancakes turn out fluffy and tasty every time.  It is not worth my time or calories to make any other pancakes -- this pancake recipe has been perfected.  I hope you try them and you enjoy them as much as my family and I do.

Mommy Tips-----
I think there are a few key steps that make this recipe.  First it is important to warm the milk slightly.  The milk shouldn't be hot, but it cannot be cold from the refrigerator.  If it is cold, when the milk and the melted butter touch each other, the butter will start to reform and form crystals.  When the milk is slightly warm, the wet mixture remains smooth and silky.  The next key to this recipe is the egg white.  You really have to beat them until they form beautiful peaks.  If you are saying, "I have never beaten egg whites right -- I don't know how to."  You are not giving yourself a chance.  You just have never beaten egg white long enough.  Trust me -- I used to feel this way about egg whites --- UNTIL -- I did it long enough.  You will know when you have beaten them long enough, because once you create those beautiful stiff peaks, you will never forget how to do it.  The last key is the mixing -- don't over mix the wet and the dry ingredients.  And ever so gently mix the egg whites into the batter.  You must maintain the fluffy aspect of the egg whites.  This is why the pancakes are so fluffy.  These little steps make all the difference.  You will never make pancakes from a mix again.

Make it homemade; you are worth it.

Soft and Fluffy Pancakes
* 1 cup flour
* 1/8 teaspoon salt
* 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 2 egg yolks
* 3/4 cups skim milk, more or less (warm 30 seconds in micro)
* 4 tablespoons butter, melted
* 2 egg whites
* 1 tablespoon sugar
* 1 teaspoon or a bit more vanilla

Directions: Place first three dry ingredients in a bowl (flour, salt,baking powder)mix together. In another bowl, mix the yolks, milk(with the chill taken off it), melted butter, and vanilla together until smooth. Next, make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the mixed wet ingredients all at once. Stir until just combined. DON'T OVER MIX. Beat the egg whites until light and fluffy. Add the sugar toward the end of the beating process. Fold the egg whites gently into the batter with a spatula.  Pour onto a buttered grill, cook your pancakes, and enjoy.

Slowly incorporate egg whites into the batter.
Here are the pancakes moments before my family ate them for breakfast.