Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Sweetest Things

If you are a stay at home mom you know that some days are harder than others.  I'm so grateful for the opportunity I have to stay home with my boys.  That said, there are days when I wish I could go to work for eight-nine hours a day and let someone else deal with the meltdowns, the messes, and the attitudes, today was NOT one of those days.  Today was one of those days that remind me WHY it is important that I am the one who is here with my kids and how very lucky I am.

We were watching Disney Jr. this morning (it's how we roll, yo) when Bug brought me a baby doll and a blanket, he motioned that he wanted me to wrap up the baby, which I did, then Bug climbed up on my lap and kissed the baby and said "nigh nigh ba-ba" (night night baby) several times over, he kissed me then patted my cheek, he touched the baby doll lovingly a few times, gave the baby a few more kisses, then decided he wanted to play and he got down.  A few minutes later he brought me Punks teddy bear and put the bear with the baby doll.  Bug gave the baby some more kisses and said something to the baby in his language.  It went on like that for about half an hour before Bug decided it was okay if I put the baby down on the couch.  My baby is getting so big and he has such a loving and sweet heart even if he's kind of a monster sometimes.

Bug put himself to bed early probably means that this will be a super long night with him, but that's beside the point.  Because Bug was in bed I got some very rare one on one time with Punk.  What did Punk want to do on this, Thanksgiving Eve, when I've been cooking for three days and will be cooking again in the morning?  He wanted to make peanut butter cookies (SO not on the menu), and how could I possibly say no to such a sweet boy with such a simple request?  So, we made peanut butter cookie dough and put it in the fridge to chill.  Punk then crawled up into my lap, gave me a giant hug, and told me (for about the fiftieth time today) that he loves me, and my heart melted into a big puddle of goo.

The house is still the typical mess it is after a day of two little boys playing hard.  I'm still tired from a long night of returning kids to their beds (a fun after effect from the three week gastroenteritis last month we still haven't gotten rid of).  I'm sure I'm in for a long night with the sleeping Bug.  Punk will likely give me attitude about going to bed in an hour.  

And I'm still one lucky lucky mommy.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Peppermint Marshmallows

Let me start out by saying that I kind of hate marshmallows.  Really, unless they are in cocoa (and I prefer whipped cream anyway) or in s'mores (there is no better substitute in s'mores) I stay far away from them.  I even prefer Scotcharoos (not made with marshmallows) to traditional Rice Krispie Treats (made with marshmallows).  So, why on earth would I learn to make marshmallows?  Well, really, it is because I am hoping that we will someday be able to throw a beautiful s'mores party for all of our friends and/or family (like the ones we've all seen on Pinterest) and how much more impressive and fun is a s'mores party with homemade fun flavored marshmallows?

I have been making marshmallows for a little over a year now.  I make them in all kinds of flavors, vanilla bean, chocolate, banana, orange cream, toasted coconut, apple, and peppermint.  You can make them in pretty much any flavor you can think of (and that you can get extract or flavoring oils in).

In case you've been living under a rock, hurricane Sandy is heading towards the east coast (where I happen to live right now), and bringing with her lots of wind and rain...and much cooler temperatures this coming week, so it's looking like hot cocoa weather and these peppermint marshmallows are excellent in hot cocoa. Plus, I was going through my pictures on my laptop the other day and Punk saw this picture:

Homemade peppermint marshmallows top hot chocolate on a stick.  Great for gift giving and super yummy.

He immediately asked if I would make him some "red square marshmallows".  I told him I would make them as soon as I could.  I then realized that I didn't have gelatin (which is strange, because I usually DO have it, but since we moved I hadn't picked any up yet).  Punk eats these out of hand, I love them in cocoa, it works out for both of us.

So, tonight I made yummy marshmallows and thought to myself when I taste tested them as I was putting them in the pan "Man, if people knew how easy and how yummy homemade marshmallows were, it would put Jet Puffed right out of business."

What you need:

A stand mixer with a whisk attachment (please don't try to do this with a hand mixer it will likely blow out your mixer).
A candy thermometer (again, don't do this without one, marshmallows are candy, they need to be cooked to a specific molten lava-esque temperature you can't guess at this)
A saucepan
9x13 pan
Cooking spray (I use regular Pam)

3 small envelopes of unflavored gelatin (I've never used flavored and, no, I wouldn't recommend it or try it)
1 cup of very cold water (divided)
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
flavorings of choice (for peppermint I use 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1 1/2 tsp peppermint extract)

"Marshmallow Dust"
1/4 cup corn starch
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Empty your three envelopes of gelatin into the bottom of your stand mixer bowl.  Add 1/2 cup very cold water, stir together and set aside.  In a saucepan place 1/2 cup water, 1 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup corn syrup, and 1/4 tsp salt, stir together and place over medium to medium-high heat.  Clip candy thermometer to side of saucepan.  Cook to 240° stirring occasionally.**

While you are waiting for the mixture to reach 240°:

Mix your corn starch and powdered sugar together (I call this "marshmallow dust" and just keep a container of it in my baking stuff).  Spray your 9x13 pan with cooking spray and coat with "marshmallow dust" (just put a few table spoons of the mixture into the pan and bump the pan around until your pan is coated then shake the rest out), you will need some of your marshmallow dust to coat the top and sides of your marshmallows after they are cut so don't use it all here!

Place your whisk attachment into your mixer.  Once your sugar has reached 240° turn your mixer on it's LOWEST SETTING and SLOWLY add your molten sugar mixture into your mixer with the gelatin (you won't get it all out, that is okay, don't try to get every drop, just pour it until it won't pour anymore, you don't want to risk touching this ish).  Once all of your sugar is in the bowl cover your mixer with a towel (so it doesn't splatter) and turn it up as high as it goes.  In a few minutes (my mixer takes about 5 minutes, but less powerful mixers can take longer, up to 15 minutes) you will have white, fluffy, luke warm, marshmallow yumminess.  When you have a white fluffy mixture you can add in your flavorings and any coloring you might want to use and mix them in using the mixer thoroughly.

Now you want to take a spatula sprayed with Pam and put your fluffy yummy marshmallows into the prepared pan.  You aren't going to get every bit out, it's okay, that's the part you just sacrifice, get what you can out and move on.  Once you have your mixture in the pan you want to wet your hands a little (yes YOUR HANDS they are often your best tool in the kitchen) and use them to smooth your marshmallows into the pan, if your hands stick they aren't quite wet enough.  Once you have the marshmallows smoothed out set them aside for about an hour.  Then you want to sprinkle the top of your marshmallows with marshmallow dust.

Wait at least four hours (I usually just wait overnight) then you can cut your marshmallows however you like. I am fond of just cutting mine into 1" squares using my pizza cutter, but you can use cookie cutters if you want to make fun shapes.†  After you have cut your marshmallows dust the cut sides with marshmallow dust to keep them from sticking.

These are NOT like store bought marshmallows, but they will last almost as long.  I've had them stay good in a ziplock bag for over 6 months.  They make a great addition to a cocoa gift for friends, neighbors, or co-workers.  And since you took all the time to make marshmallows don't feel bad giving store bought cocoa!

**240 degrees is MOLTEN HOT, please do not touch it, please do not let your children anywhere near it.  I do this when my kids are either in bed for the night or taking a nap, I just can't risk them grabbing this off the stove.

† If you use cookie cutters don't throw away the scraps, cut them into funky shaped mini marshmallows and dust them with marshmallow dust to use in your cocoa or let your kids eat them out of hand like I do!

Due to lots of requests for this recipe I'm going to post this blog before I take pictures of the marshmallows I made tonight, but I'll add in pictures tomorrow (or as soon as Sandy lets me!).

Punk is going to be so happy to see these in the morning!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fat Mints

I made these:

last weekend when I was asked to bring a "treat" for Relief Society.  I ended up getting three dozen more than I needed, so those were sent to work with Bobby on Monday.

A lot of cupcakes:

They are dark chocolate cupcakes (probably my favorite recipe I make, it's a great base cupcake for all kinds of yummy frostings, toppings, and fillings), with a creme de menthe Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, garnished with half a Keebler Grasshopper cookie.  They taste just like a cupcake version of the Girl Scouts' Thin Mints (thus "Fat Mints").

Never made a Swiss meringue buttercream before?  Think it sounds too complicated?  You are so wrong, it's an extremely forgiving frosting, it's very stable, can be flavored with anything (flavored oils like I used for these, extracts, fruit purees, nut butters, the sky is the limit), colors well (I didn't color these), keeps well, and pipes beautifully.

So here's the recipe for a standard Swiss meringue buttercream, try it today!

6.25 oz (by weight) egg whites (separate your own eggs, don't use the egg whites only in a carton) this is about 5 eggs
1 cup sugar (use the regular granulated stuff)
1 pinch salt
1 lbs unsalted butter room temperature

Put about an inch or two of water in the bottom of a saucepan (use one that allows you to use your stand up mixer bowl on top of it snugly as a make shift double boiler) and bring to a low boil, turn down to a simmer.  Place egg whites, sugar, and salt in your mixer bowl and place the bowl on top of your saucepan.  Whisking constantly bring mixture to 150-160 degrees.  YOU MUST WHISK CONSTANTLY or you will get scrambled eggs and that is not what you are looking for.  I brought my mixture to 155 degrees (some sources say 160 must be achieved for food safety, I had sources that said 150 was sufficient).  Once your temperature is achieved remove bowl from heat and put into your stand mixer.

Using WHISK attachment whisk egg white mixture on high to stiff peaks.  This should take at least 5 minutes, possibly longer (some say as long as 10 minutes).  At this point you want to make sure your meringue is not too warm, it should be room temperature, if it isn't, let it sit for a few minutes until it comes down to room temperature.  Switch from your whisk attachment to your paddle attachment and add in your softened butter one cube at a time (cube=quarter pound or 1/2 cup) while running your mixer at it's LOWEST SPEED, seriously, have a teeny bit of patience here and use the lowest speed, get all of your butter in there.  At this point your mixture is likely to go through several stages as the eggs and the butter emulsify to become pure yumminess.  First your mixture is likely to look soupy and loose, keep mixing.  Then it's likely to look curdled and yucky, KEEP MIXING.  This could take 10-15 minutes, just keep your mixer going on its lowest speed, soon you will get a smooth, creamy, light, lovely, yummy frosting.

Once you get the perfect fluffy frosting add in your flavoring.  Use whatever you like!  Just add your flavors slowly and taste until the flavor is perfect!  For my creme de menthe frosting I used about 2 tsp of my homemade vanilla extract and 21-28 drops of creme de menthe flavoring oil (oils are much stronger than extracts, if you are using them be super careful not to over do it).  I have also made a peanut butter version in the past that used 3/4 cup peanut butter.

This frosting can be kept in the fridge (well covered, you don't want it to pick up fridge funk flavors) for up to two weeks or frozen for a few months before use, just bring it to room temperature on the counter and re-mix with paddle attachment on low speed until it comes back to fluffy goodness before you use it.

I would not suggest using this frosting for any application that will be sitting in the sun for very long.  There is a high butter content in this and they will melt in the heat for too long although this frosting holds up fantastically at room temperature and this frosting SHOULD be eaten at room temperature.

Tell me what flavor Swiss meringue buttercream you would make and what cake/frosting flavor combination sounds yummy to you right now!

I'm thinking an apple spice cake with a caramel sauce and white chocolate frosting sounds divine, fall is in the air here for sure!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Buffalo Chicken Cups with Celery Blue Cheese Relish

Ever have a recipe just wander around in your mind and never really work it's way out?  Well, I've had this one going on for a LONG TIME.  The other day Bobby emailed and said that we would be attending a "Hail and Farewell" (my first) in a couple of weeks.  The invite says "bring an appetizer or dessert to share", so I decided it was time to get this recipe out of my head and see if it works.  It does.  I don't know if this will be what I take to the party but I'm glad I figured out that this works and is yummy so that I can make it again and so that I could share it with you!

There are pictures with this recipe, but they are courtesy of my phone so they are not excellent quality, I think you can see what's going on though.

What you need:

Pre-baked mini phyllo cups (my box had 15 and since I was just making them to try this was enough)
2 stalks celery, cleaned, dried
1 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 cup bottled blue cheese dressing (use the stuff in the refrigerated section, I used the WalMart brand)
3 Tablespoons whipped cream cheese (cold)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cooked shredded chicken
1 Tablespoon cream cheese (whipped is fine)
1 Tablespoon butter
1/4 cup of Frank's Hot Sauce (more to taste)

How to proceed:

Pre-heat oven according to directions on your phyllo cups.  Dice celery very small (almost a brunoise).  Put celery in a bowl and add in red wine vinegar, toss to coat.  In a separate bowl combine dressing, 3 tablespoons cold whipped cream cheese and garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.  Pour dressing over celery and stir to combine.  Add chicken to the bowl you made your dressing in (no need to clean it) add in cream cheese and butter, microwave 30 seconds, stir, if needed microwave another 30 seconds and stir again, you want the chicken, cream cheese, and butter to be well combined.  Add in the hot sauce, stir, taste, add more hot sauce if desired.

Place phyllo cups on a baking sheet, fill each with chicken mixture (enough to fill, but not over fill the cup).  Bake according to package directions (mine said 5-8 minutes).  Remove from oven and top each cup with a generous helping of your celery "relish".  Serve immediately.

These were super easy and super yummy.  Even my two year old Bug liked them...of course he will kind of eat anything...My husband liked them too and he's more picky (and doesn't really like blue cheese like I do).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sad Sick Little Punk, a Brother's Love...and a Super Funny

So, if we are Facebook friends you already know that my Punk has been sick and if you don't care to hear the details you can skip past the picture to the funny at the end (it involves the word "penis" don't read it if that might upset you).

Punk and Bug have both been battling a stomach bug for over a week now.  This past Sunday Bug was especially cranky and lethargic most of the day so I decided to take both kids into the ER (our only option since I hadn't taken the time to change our Tricare yet).  I took them in, three and a half hours later a doctor had squeezed both of their bellies (while they were running around the exam room) and prescribed them some Zofran for the nausea and sent us on our way.

Both kids seemed to be doing much better on Monday and Tuesday, then Wednesday morning we got up and Punk was sick again, throwing up, diarrhea, and he was in A LOT of pain.  I had switched our Tricare by then so I called and made an appointment for Punk to see a doctor.  We went into the doctor and the doc took a look at Punk, he was crying and in pain, he wouldn't let the doc touch his belly at all so she went and consulted with the pediatrician.  They decided that he needed to have a CT on his stomach to see what was going on and that would mean that he had to have an IV hep-lock placed to give him meds for the CT scan and to draw blood for testing.  Things were a little crazy after that for a few minutes.  I called a friend to come help with Bug and got a hold of Bobby so he could come take over with Bug and make sure I didn't loose it...

While they were putting in the hep-lock Bug was in the room.  Punk was crying and screaming, I was holding him down (I'm his mommy, I do the holding down and the comforting whenever doctor's appointments turn sucky) and Bug couldn't see anything that was going on but he was standing next to me trying to get to the bed and to Punk to see why he was crying.  Bug started crying too.  When it was all over Punk said, "I'm worried, mommy, I'm very worried!", I said, "What are you worried about, Punk?", he responded through his tears, "I'm worried about Bug, he's crying."  Such a sweet little boy, going through a scary situation himself and worried about his baby brother because he is crying.  I picked Bug up where they could see each other and they both calmed down pretty quickly...the whole day Bug wanted to be as close to Punk as he could get whenever there was a down moment...ah, brotherly love.

Extremely long scary (for me) story short.  Punk had what is called mesenteric lymphadenitis.  Essentially the lymph nodes surrounding his intestines were swollen, it's not serious and can happen after a bout of "stomach flu" especially in children and adolescents.  It goes away with a little time and the pain can be managed with over the counter meds (Tylenol and Motrin).  The doctor wanted to see him again today just to follow up.

Punk woke up this morning happy, no vomiting, very little diarrhea, with a seriously ridiculous hungry man appetite.  We went to the doctor where Punk was released, just rest until he's back to 100% and make sure he stays hydrated.  Keeping him hydrated should be no problem at all since the mere mention of the "thing in his arm" (the hep-lock) is enough to get him to down an entire bottle of Gatorade...

Here is a couple of pictures of my sick little Punk and his IV, he slept a good part of the four and a half hours we were at the doctor yesterday, these were taken after the CT not long before we got to go home.

Okay, now for the funny.  As I was putting Punk into the car today after his doctor's appointment he grabbed his crotch.  I said to him, "Do you need to go potty?" (he just went in the office right before we left), he responded, "Mom, I need to fix my penis because it's not how I LIKE it."  He then proceeded to "adjust", then he said to me, "Okay, my penis is better now, you can buckle me."  Seriously?  Who is this boy?  Why did I think it was such a good idea to teach him the appropriate words for everything? Why did I teach him that he could tell his mommy anything?  And is he always going to make me laugh so freaking much?  I love that kid...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Potato, Sausage, Broccoli and Gruyere Casserole

I am going to apologize in advance that this recipe has no picture, but I do promise a picture next week when I make it again for my parents' visit.  It was THAT good, I would be glad to eat it pretty much everyday.  Also, don't ask me about the calorie content, I don't know and I'm not going to try to find it out because I'm pretty sure I don't want to know.

This recipe was inspired by two things.  First, this good old fashioned comfort food recipe found here:  Looks fabulous and yummy doesn't it?  Well, except for the fact that I kind of hate Velveeta and I don't keep it in the house. Second, about a year ago I was at a "girls' night in" where my friend Lauren made a super delicious cheese fondue.  I have been dreaming about that fondue ever since and I asked her for the recipe just a few weeks ago.  Because she really is amazing she was happy to oblige.  I hadn't made the fondue yet though, mostly because with everything going on I didn't have time to make the fondue and come up with an array of fun dippers for it.  I had been thinking I wanted to make baked potato fries, blanched broccoli, Lil' Smokies, blanched carrots and maybe bread cubes for dipping.  Then I saw that first casserole and the genius that is this casserole was born.

Ingredient Roundup:

6-8 medium russet potatoes (I like mine to come from Idaho usually, but those apparently don't exist out on this coast)
1 package smoked sausage (mine was 14oz I know the weights vary depending on what kind you get, you could definitely use smoked turkey sausage or even ham depending on your personal tastes)
1 T extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1/2 - 3/4 of an onion, chopped (use a little more or a little less according to your taste, but don't leave it out all together then tell me the dish was a little "bland" because OF COURSE IT WILL BE)
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic, diced very fine (more or less according to your taste, but again, if you leave it out you are going to loose flavor)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream (you could probably use half and half, whole milk, or maybe even two percent, but I would stick with higher fat contents, you are making a rich lovely creamy cheese sauce, if you skimp on the fat content you risk your sauce breaking)
8 oz cream cheese (you could probably use the 1/3 fat kind, but please, don't use the fat free kind, your sauce will not be the same)
4 oz grated Gruyere cheese (use Gruyere, you will thank me)
4 oz grated decent quality Parmesan cheese (not the green can people, it has it's place but not here)
2 cups chopped broccoli (either fresh blanched or frozen, I used frozen)

The "How to":

First clean your potatoes, peel if desired (I did, but you don't have to), cut potatoes into cubes (size is up to you, but I would go with 1/2 - 3/4 inch-ish cubes, mine were closer to 1 inch pieces and they were a little too large), place in a pot cover with cool water, boil over medium high heat until pieces are fork tender but NOT mushy, we aren't making mashed potatoes here!  Remove from heat, drain, salt potatoes to taste and put potatoes into your 9x13 glass casserole to cool a bit.  Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Meanwhile cut sausage into half moons, add about 1 T EVOO to a large frying pan, add sausages and brown over medium high heat.  Don't skip this step, browning is where FLAVOR comes from.  Remove sausage from pan with a slotted spoon (leaving the drippings behind in the pan) and place into casserole dish with potatoes.

Add your chopped broccoli into the casserole dish with potatoes and sausage, make sure that your potatoes, sausage and broccoli are mixed together in the dish.

Add chopped onion to pan with drippings and cook until onions are translucent (just a few minutes).  Lower heat to medium, then add garlic, cook for about 30 seconds to one minute (careful not to burn your garlic).  Add in your heavy cream and your cream cheese, stir until cream cheese is melted.  Then add in Gruyere and Parmesan cheese, cut off the heat, and stir until cheeses are melted.

Pour cheese sauce over potatoes, sausage, and broccoli in casserole dish, stir to coat pieces, taste, add salt and pepper as needed, then place casserole in 375 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes.  Enjoy!

Next time I make this I am probably going to add more veggies (I'm thinking cooked chopped carrots at least), and I'm going to make a Panko breadcrumb topping.  Not that I didn't love this casserole the first time (because, trust me, I did), but I'm just not the kind that can leave well enough alone.  I think the carrots will add some good color and a little sweetness, and I think the Panko will add a little texture that may have been missing the first time.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Holy Long Time Batman!

It's been ages since I blogged a single thing...there is good reason!  We have MOVED!  All the way across the country to Hampton, VA!  Bobby finished an eight and a half month deployment in August and the kiddos and I met him here in VA to start our east coast adventure.  We will be here at least 2 years and are happy to be getting settled into our lovely rental home.

We are working very hard to make our new house a home.  We have a lot of stuff and much of it has been in storage for years, so we are weeding through stuff we haven't seen in a while.  The kids are loving getting reacquainted with toys they haven't seen in a while.  I am loving getting rid of stuff we no longer need (I know we should be getting rid of more faster, but it's a step in the right direction).  Our new place has a formal dining room...I know, what the heck am I going to do with that, right?...well, what I'm going to do with it is have a CRAFT ROOM for the first time in my life!  I'm so excited and when I finally get it all put together I'll post pics.  It also means that there will probably be a lot more actual crafting going on which I can just about guarantee will mean some more blogging from me...for the five people that might still care!

My boys are growing like weeds and are more fun AND more challenge every single day.  They have had to deal with a lot of changes.  They are missing their grandparents, great grandparents, cousins, Uncle Duane and Aunt April, but I can tell you it is their Uncle Ryan they have the hardest time not having around.  Ryan was awesome and made the drive out here from Phoenix with us and the kids got pretty used to him being there.  Punk asks pretty often about going to the "yellow house" which is where we lived in Phoenix and he asks about his cousins often, he also still asks regularly about his friends from WA.  It breaks my heart that my little man is finally at the age where he misses his friends when we move, but we are working on making new friends...him and I both.

This is the first move where I've had a hard time as well.  Luckily I do have a couple of friends here (people who moved with the boat from WA), but this move has definitely been the hardest one in a long while in the friend department for me...thank goodness for the internet, Facebook, and Pinterest which keep me feeling closer to my friends that are far away.

Okay, enough for now...but expect that you will be hearing more from me in the near future.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Q-Are-You?, Child Info Tag

Okay, I might be the only one, but I worry about my kids getting...ummm...misplaced.  We travel a lot and we go to splash parks and stuff like that.  My kids are also little, too little to know their phone number yet.  So I saw something kind of like this on Pinterest a few days ago but that version cost $60!  I figured I could do something similar for my kids to wear when we are in a place they might wander off...this is what I came up with...

The QR Code in this picture is purposely muddled because you can scan the real picture and get my information!  It simply says Mom-Kelli with my phone number after it.  I figure with so many people having smart phones if someone finds my kid they can scan the necklace (I also made an ankle bracelet with the same size pendant) and they can call me.

I know people who just write their info on their kids backs with Sharpie when they travel and I know people who buy custom temporary tattoos or have medical ID bracelets made with their info on them for their kids, I just thought this was an awesome alternative for the digital age (and for those of us that are just kind of nerds that way).

Thinking about selling these, would you consider buying something like this for your kid?  What do you think you would pay for something like this?