Thursday, September 29, 2011

The perfect time for soup (Lentil Soup, That is)

When you are a soup person, there is no bad time for soup.  Unless you don't have air conditioning -- then summer can be a no-soup-zone. But if you have air, you can even find soup days in the middle of the summer.  So there might not be a bad time for soup, but there still is a perfect time for soup.  And today is a perfect soup day in Chicago.  A few days ago was the first day of Autumn, it was 59 degrees, it was cloudy and misty outside all day.  If you cannot hear the day yelling make soup today Mommy, you must be taking a nap.  And then good for you.  Today is a lentil soup day at my house. Lentil soup is comforting, healthy, and tasty.
Lentil Soup  

You have to start with the magnificent trio -- I would use the term Holy Trinity of Cooking, but it is a bit offensive, but true.  Onions, carrots, and celery.

1 medium onion
2 carrots
2 celery

salt/ pepper
olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1   32 oz box of chicken stock (low sodium)

8 cups of water
2 bay leaves
3 - 4 medium potatoes
1   16 oz bag of lentils (wash and sift through them looking for rocks or foreign debris)
3 chicken bullion cubes
1 ham shank or hock (I prefer the shank. You can cut meat off of it and put it in your soup in the end.)
          * If you don't want to use meat, don't. It will still be tasty without it.
small piece of cheese rind (my secret ingredient)

          * Again you don't need this, but I love adding it to my soups.  It adds a saltiness to the background.
4 handfulls of pasta (I use digitali, but any short pasta will do.)

Chop the first three ingredients up, place them in a stock pot with some olive oil over medium heat. Salt and pepper them to help draw out the water. When the magnificent trio become softened (about 3 - 5 minutes), add two minced garlic cloves for about 1 minute until the flavors meld together. Then add chicken stock, water. bay leaves, cubed potatoes, washed lentils, 3 chicken bullion, ham, and cheese rind. Let simmer for a couple of hours.  If you want noodles add them in at the end.  Take the shank out and cube up into desired size for soup.  Lastly, drop pasta in soup and let boil for the amount of time stated on package.  Then shut soup off so to not over cook the pasta.  Serve and enjoy the warmth.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

T-Rex or Firetruck Birthday Cake

Both of my kids have summer birthdays.  My son turned three this summer.  I asked my son to pick a theme for his third birthday party -- he said,  "T-Rex driving a wee-wee party."

A translation is needed at this point.  I often have to translate Aidan speak to English for people.  As many moms have to translate for their children. 

A wee-wee is not what you might think it is -- it is the sound a firetruck makes -- weeweeweewee.  Hence he calls firetrucks wee-wees -- makes sense doesn't it -- almost a convincing argument to change the name of firetrucks to wee-wees.

Anyway back to the theme dilemma.  I told him to pick ONE theme either T-Rex or firetrucks.  He is obsessed with both.  He said, "I want a T-Rex driving a wee-wee party." I let it go- we had all summer to figure it out.  And during the weeks leading up to his party every once in awhile I would ask him about his upcoming party, and he would always say --- T-Rex driving a wee-wee party.  I looked online, and if it is sold.... it is sold online,  they don't make party plates with that particular theme.  Shocking right?  Then I came up with a reason we couldn't have the party --- a reason even a three year could understand.  I simply told him a T-Rex is too big to drive a wee-wee.  He calmly went over to one of his many firetrucks and took one of his many T-Rex toys and placed the small T-Rex in the firetruck's cab and said,"T-Rex driving a wee-wee."  I couldn't fight him anymore.  It was clear what his expectations were for this party.  It was going to be a T-Rex driving a wee-wee "firetruck" party. I made the firetruck and placed small T-Rex statues on the cake.  It was as close as I could get to his three year old request.

T-Rex and firetruck cookies were given to guests as their take home treat.

I also had a small play date birthday party for him with a few of his friends.  The birthday cake I made for  him for that day was a T-Rex. I cannot wait to hear what he wants next year.  You have to love how kids think.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Butterfly Birthday Cake and Ladybug Appetizers and other Yummy Treats

My baby girl just turned one. Since she is too young to pick out her own theme for the party, I selected a garden theme. Butterflies and ladybugs we the insects of the day. I had fun researching cute bug ideas. I decided on two kids of ladybug cheese and crackers for appetizers.

This is a Ritz cracker with some garlic cream cheese spread I made.  But you could easily use a store bought spread.  Cherry tomatoes halved and then quartered (to make lady bug wings).  Use half of a black olive for the head and two small cuttings of chives for the antennas. Use gel food coloring to die a small amount of the cheese spread black.  Place black cheese spread into a sealed plastic baggie (making a pipping bag) and place tiny spots on the lady bug wings.  To die for cute.

These were simple too.  Ritz crackers, a piece of pepperoni, a round piece of cheese cut in half, and half of a black olive for the head. Cutting the cheese was the hardest part.  I use Mini BabyBell cheese.  And I cut each wheel in thirds.

This is the butterfly birthday cake I made.  The butterfly on top of the sheet cake is made out of a 9 inch round cake pan.  The butterflies body is made out of yellow M&Ms.  Licorice was perfect for the antennas.

These butterfly cupcake were easy to make.  I used pretzels for wings,  an M&M for a head, black licorice for antennas, and the body was pipped in using pink frosting. A cute yummy treat.

This was her smash cake.  She didn't do much smashing.  She didn't like getting messy. But she loved eating it.

Lastly, each guest was given two cookies to take home and eat --
one butterfly and one flower.

 Overall, it was a fun party to plan.  I know my daughter will not remember this party.  But that is besides the point.  It was a wonderful celebration of her fabulous first year of firsts.   I enjoy having my family and friends over and sharing with them the food I created in honor of my daughter.   It is one of the best ways I know how to show my love --- my love for the little girl I was honoring (my daughter) and the guests I invited.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sneak a Zucchini on your Friend's Porch Day

August 8th is Sneak a Zucchini on your Friend's Porch Day.  I know I am late to be writing about this.  I have no excuse except for life is full, and I am better off for it.  Don't beat yourself up if you missed it this year -- or if you didn't realize that this holiday existed. I just recently found out about it myself. Since the zucchini is one of our Earth's most prolific plants, it only makes sense that gardeners have to figure out something to do with this surplus of zucchini beside zucchini bread.  Too bad zucchini didn't grow everywhere in the world -- talk about putting a food dent in many nations' hunger problems.  And I am not trying to take the world's hunger issue lightly -- it is a genuine wish that the more prolific crops could grow in any climate.

But that being said, by the time August rolls around a lot gardeners have a lot of zucchinis.  When this  August 8th holiday is upon us next year ...  think about leaving a zucchini on your neighbor's porch. Maybe if you have time, you could cook something delicious made from zucchinis..... OR you could make a zucchini person with your child and leave that on your neighbor's porch.

My three year old and I made two zucchini people, Mr. and Mrs. Squash and left them with a little note on our dear friend's porch.  It was tons of fun to make.

Here are some pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Squash 2011