Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Individual Shepherd's Pies

After Thanksgiving, we got to share in the wealth of the leftovers and they were delicious as is for a few days, but today I thought I'd love to use the potatoes in a new way.  Suddenly it came to me--Shepherd's Pie!  I knew that we didn't have that many potatoes, so I wanted to make just enough food to fit into our small individual serving sizes--which actually turned out to be plenty of food and quite satisfying!

I chose a recipe from the Epicurious Iphone App while at the store and then found I pretty much had all the ingredients already.  On a whole, the only things I had to pay for at this time for this meal was the ground beef and the peas.  I bought Organic beef that was vegetarian fed because it came in a smaller package, I didn't think there was  much of a taste difference if that's something you have always been wondering but were too afraid to try (I have).  This took about an hour to prepare from the chopping to the baking but I don't know why, I felt like I got home and dinner would be on the table in minutes but I guess I dilly-dallied more than I thought.

Ingredients (I changed the recipe to have less meat because I knew I had less potatoes but I kept the spices and liquid the same)
1 T canola oil (or similar)
1/2 one small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced (I don't peel carrots anymore, I can't taste the difference)
0.6lbs of lean ground beef (this would be good with lamb which the original recipe called for or even turkey)
6 T frozen peas
1 C+ leftover mashed potatoes, or make your own, or buy some already made
1 T tomato paste (I recently bought a tube of paste because recipes are always calling for too little of the can to keep around, it's really handy even though it initially seems like a bad value)
1 Cup broth (I used vegetable)
1 t Rosemary, crushed a little (I used dry)
1 clove garlic smashed
1/2 t Oregano (I used dry)
Salt & Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. In a large skillet brown beef, onion and carrot over medium high heat--about ten minutes
3. When the meat has browned, drain and return to pan.
4. Add all other ingredients EXCEPT the peas
5. Bring to a simmer and cook about 10 minutes until mixture has thickened slightly (honestly my mixture didn't really thicken but I still removed it after 10 minutes
6. Divide mixture between two individual oven-proof dishes. Add 3 T peas (straight from the freezer is fine) to each dish
7. Top the dishes with leftover potatoes and try to cover as much surface as possible, as you can see I was a little short on potatoes but it still tasted good
8. Bake dishes at 375 for 30-35 minutes until the potatoes are golden brown on top
9. Dishes will be very hot right out of the oven.  If you can wait, hold off 5 minutes before eating.

A little bit of Giving

As the Holidays are upon us I like to do as much as I can to help the less fortunate.  My favorite thing to do is to buy a few canned goods and things at the grocery store and then donate them right there--it's rather convenient and most likely I'm going to each of those aisles they point to for something of my own.  This year, Toyota is promoting the huge cargo space in their new Prius V with a Toys for Tots campaign.  Each day you can click on their widget on Facebook or the one I post right here and give a toy to a child who needs one.  This is even easier than the grocery store--which I will still do, but this one I can do all month long or until the fill all these prius Vs.  And with this cargo space, it could literally be all month long and then some, so start giving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Apple Pear and Dried Cherry Pie

Apple Pie does not scream Thanksgiving to me. It screams 4th of July. But after years of celebrating with the Smith family I have come to understand that Apple Pie is as much a part of Thanksgiving as is the turkey.

But unlike most people, Joey and I like to make pies that have a little twist on the traditional. Joey is an expert and enthusiastic pie maker and we scrounge the web and recipe books for something new every year--even when we have found a winner.

This year was no different--even though we're attending the Peterson Family Thanksgiving instead of the Smith Family Thanksgiving. We searched high and low for an apple pie that met our fancy and then we decided to turn an apple crumble into a pie recipe--with our fail proof almond tart crust from last year's pear tart.

We taste tested this pie ourselves and then shared it with Joey's office and it was completely gone by 10am. This pie is paired with a maple syrup whipped cream which really adds a nice flavor, so don't skip this step even if you aren't accustomed to having whipped cream on apple pie (apple pie goes with ice cream).

We also tasted the juices inside the pie since we cut into it a little early before it really firmed up. Best cider ever! Now we know how to make cider...



1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 t almond extract


1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 4 cups)
2 large pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 3 cups)
1 cup dried cherries (about 6 ounces)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel

Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 T maple syrup (b quality if you can find it)


1. Blend powdered sugar, almonds, and salt in processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and blend until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Mix in egg yolk. Add flour. Using on/off turns, blend until dough comes together in clumps. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

2. Roll out chilled dough and place in a buttered pie plate. Poke holes all over with a fork. Freeze for 5 minutes. Cover crust in buttered foil and weigh down with dried beans. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Remove foil and beans and bake 10 minutes longer until golden brown. Set aside to cool.


1. Mix 1 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and nutmeg in large bowl. Add apples, pears, and dried cherries to bowl; sprinkle with lemon juice and toss to coat. Pour filling into slightly cooled pie crust

2. Using fingertips, mix butter, brown sugar, lemon peel, remaining 1 1/2 cups flour, and remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon in medium bowl until moist clumps form. (this is the best playdoh!)

3. Crumble the topping over the fruit and try to cover it completely but don't pack it down.

4. Heat the oven to 350. Bake about 1 hour until fruit bubbles and topping starts to brown. Cool at least 20 minutes before serving to help thicken the juices. If you don't want to wait taste the juices after you cut your first slice..best cider in the world

Whipped Cream

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer whip 1 C cream until peaks form. Add syrup gradually to sweeten.
2. Whipped cream can be made ahead but doesn't hold it's shape well into the second day and begins to separate.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Construction & Building Birthday Party

You know those blogs that show you these perfect birthday parties for kids? They rent furniture, they get a baker to bake something fancy and covered in fondant that shoots fireworks, they get a photographer and they go hog wild.  And then the kids look like they're having fun but they're not really paying attention to the decor?  Well this is not one of those birthday parties.

This is one of those birthday parties where kids & imagination reign.  It was a cardboard box city on a whole new level.  The idea was a construction/building party--it came together to be one of the most cost effective parties of all time and the kids loved it.

From the people who bring you Ignite Creative Learning Studio, a studio that embraces creativity and imagination in extracurricular academic classes, learn how to build the perfect construction party for your child's next party!

Materials (it looks like a lot but it's not so bad):
1 for every 2 kids large appliance boxes (we had 5)
Lots of assorted smaller boxes of all sizes
Your recycling; egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, soap boxes, shoe boxes, paper towel rolls, plastic tubs from cookies and things
Sidewalk Chalk for little hands
Washable paint in several colors
Paint roller pans
Paint rollers and brushes (smaller rollers for kids)
Safety Scissors
An exacto knife for an adult
Washable markers
Wood working center with wood pieces and an adult handyman and some special tools
Ride-ons that don't require helmets (have kids bring their own!)
Gold coins or pennies
Favors (1 per kid): - Label them with their names so everyone is sure to get one of each thing
Toolbelts (cheaper at Home Depot than Loews and you may be able to get them for free)
cut pieces of wood
sand paper squares
plastic hard hats
miniature tape measures
electrical tape
2 kinds of savory snacks like popcorn and veggie sticks
water, milk and or juice

The Setup:
1. Cut doors and windows in the boxes with an exacto knife.  If you want, you can label some of them like General Store, Snack Shack, and Bank.  The Bank played a part in our story so we needed to make sure it was there.
2. Get all your supplies together and set them aside for easy access
3. Start collecting interesting pieces of recycling and store in a safe place
4. On the day of the party, draw lines on your driveway or sidewalk for the ride on drivers.  Put in crosswalks, two lanes and different signs like "dead end" for the end of the driveway and "one way." Kids can help with this!
5. Setup the large boxes around the yard or driveway, remember, kids will be painting on these boxes so if you are worried about paint on the driveway you may want to put old sheets under them or something or extra cardboard
6. Put the assorted boxes, recycling and markers in an accessible area and label it as Building Supplies
7. Put the screwdrivers, tape measures and electrical tape in one of the large boxes and call it the general store.  If you have a cash register set it up nearby--adults can run the store but only kids can fit inside--if you have some kind of side opening it works well for adults to crawl in and find the tools with their name
8. Setup paint trays and rollers next to the large boxes and fill with paint colors right before the kids arrive or as they do
9. In the back yard or a neighbors (get permission first!) setup a coin hunt.  Hide coins at kid height in both harder and easier places. Concoct a story for later about a bank robbery (Our story was that there was a bank robbery in town but when he ran away through the back yard there was a hole in his bags and he dropped coins all over--who could find them?)

The Arrival & The Party:
1. As kids arrive, have a grownup at the front welcoming them (as workers) and giving them their supplies along with five coins with which to buy their tools at the general store and snacks at the snack shack (tell them how to use their coins).  Tell them about the town and the rules (really there are no rules but you can give suggestions about driving around or painting the buildings. If they seem nervous and there's not a big crowd give them a tour.
2. Have another adult stationed at the General Store to help with the purchasing of their tools
3. Let the kids do their thing, if they seem like they don't know what to do offer suggestions.  Try to get the braver kids to the woodshop area if possible
3a. The adults should carry safety scissors and a few other special materials (in their toolbelts!) in case the kids need something extra
3b. Have paper and pens available in case kids have another idea of what they need to make their town perfect
4. Midway through the party open up the snack shack and put an adult there to "sell the snacks" 1 coin for each bowl--some savvy kids may buy more than two snacks by dipping into the cash register...
5. Later in the party, when you are seeing a lull or just before you want to break for cake & presents, announce the robbery (at our party, some kids were building a police station so we got them involved in the robbery and had them announce it).  While the kids run around looking for coins setup the cake and move on to that.
6. At the end kids can use coins they found in the hunt to buy other favors if you have any others that you'd like to.
7. Let the kids play in the town a bit more until they have to leave


  • The Coin hunt was fun for us to work the story into the party but it was not necessary.  These kids did not bore of the cardboard box town and riding on the roads
  • The paint was a huge hit, if we had more rollers and colors it might have been nice. People also wanted to paint their creations at the woodshop
  • If you don't have a handyman in the family you could buy a few pre-made kits for woodworking and have those on hand to build or put together or you could skip this part altogether--although it was a big hit
  • The trick is to be hands off but filled with ideas. If someone asks for help or looks bored you can point them in the right direction
  • If someone wants new materials and you don't have them try to suggest something similar--or run in the house to find them

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dirt Cake

This year for Christopher's birthday party we decided on a construction/building theme.  We first thought that it would be more construction based and I begged Katie to let me make a dirt cake.  She wouldn't have it.

Finally after weeks of begging she decided that we could indeed have a dirt cake as long as there was also some regular cupcakes for people who might be scared to eat dirt, worms and ooey gooey pudding mixture.  Those people are missing out.

I basically followed the recipe over on Baked Bree.  Aunt Kathy's traditional recipe calls for vanilla pudding but when I saw Bree incorporating chocolate pudding instead (indecently those pudding boxes from trader joe's are awesome looking) I knew that that was for me.  Bree also used real homemade whipped cream which, I think is probably a great idea! However, I took the escape route and went for good old Cool Whip.  12 oz of Cool Whip is the replacement.  I also chose to just fill up  a regular 9x13 (actually this pan is bigger for lasagna) dish instead of flowerpots cause this is a party for boys.  I got two types of gummy worms--the regular and the neon.  Personally, I think the neon ones are delicious but the regular ones look rather cool slithering through the dirt and you can hide them more like real worms.  I hope these kids aren't too grossed out to try it!

I'll be serving the cake in these small, clear "crystal" style plastic cups.  I bought forks to eat with although spoons probably would've been the better option...oh well forks it is.

Let's Eat Dirt!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chocolate Pumpkin Tart

I love chocolate chip pumpkin muffins or bread. I think that chocolate adds a bit fun and everything is better with chocolate.

Well unfortunately, in the case of chocolate crusted pumpkin pie, I was one of the only people that thought it would be and then thought it was fantastic. Joey's work gave it only 1/2 a thumb up unfortunately. This means it is not a contender for Thanksgiving even though I thought it was delicious.

I was unable to find chocolate wafers at the store which was really annoying. I could've gone with oreos because I was buying them anyway but I ended up choosing chocolate animal crackers. These worked fine. I also may have used a little too much chocolate in the layer between the crust and pumpkin but I followed the directions. I liked the crunch the crust added and the texture of the chocolate layer. I really liked this tart no matter what you say!

The one thing I did differently from the recipe was that I used 2 eggs instead of 1 egg after reading the reviews that the pie didn't set up for others. With the two eggs I did have to bake for a bit longer but in the end it was still firm.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Center Cut Pork Loin Roast and Vegetables

We have a store called Sprouts Farmer's Market near our house, previously called Henry's. It's kind of like Whole Foods in that it has a great produce section, lots of bulk pantry items, a glorious coffee section and really expensive packaged goods--but it's cheaper than Whole Foods.

I love Henry's except shopping there goes against one of my strongest arguments for not going to Trader Joe's--you can't always get everything you need for a recipe there or do all your shopping. But Henry's aka Sprouts is a good place to go sometimes and especially when you didn't go to the actual Farmer's Market.

So anyway, I was shopping at Sprouts this weekend and I noticed there was a sale on Center Cut Pork Loin Roasts. The other great thing was that the roasts were small--2 1/2 to 3 pounds at most. So I picked up a roast for $4. Then I added a couple of vegetables to my cart--a turnip, some carrots, an onion, some white sweet potatoes, some apples.

Tonight after work I thought it was high time to make the roast. The thing is I knew it would take about 25 minutes a pound to cook--so I was looking at dinner in an hour and a half. No big deal right? People eat latish dinners all the time...well it was ready at 9:30 and it was totally worth the wait! I made up this recipe almost entirely by myself--I only based the cooking time off another recipe and stuffing the middle with apples from something I read on Epicurious. Make this recipe! But maybe start earlier than 8pm.

Serves 4 with this size roast but you may want to increase the vegetables

Center Cut Pork Loin Roast, 2 1/2 lbs
1/2 C Apple Cider
1 Apples, chopped small
1/4 C craisins (or dried cherries!)
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 t cinnamon
English Prime Rib Rub, to taste
1 large white sweet potato, cut into medium chunks
1 large onion, cut into thick rings
1 turnip, cut into medium chunks
3 carrots, cut into rounds
1 apple, cut into medium chunks
1 t olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
2. In a small bowl mix the cinnamon, finely chopped apple, craisins, lemon juice and cider.
3. Cut a bit of an incision all the way through the pork and try to stuff in as much of the apple mixture inside
4. On a jelly roll pan toss vegetables with the olive oil and lay onions down flat as a sort of rack for the pork roast.
5. Salt the vegetables and pork and sprinkle with some English Prime Rib Rub or seasoning of your choice
6. Place the roast on the onions and move the vegetables to surround the onions. Pour the rest of the filling on top of the roast and vegetables
7. Roast for 25 minutes per pound--about 1 hour and 35 minutes in this case turning the pan midway through and tossing the vegetables at least once so they don't stick to the pan
8. When the pork reaches 150 degrees remove from oven and slice on a carving board with a mote as the juices will start to flow
9. Sneak a little of the crispy pork fat that has caramelized from the top of the roast. Don't tell anyone about it and eat it all yourself

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Pumpkin bread pudding was on the testing list for Thanksgiving this year. This is pretty much the easiest dessert you could make. It doesn't make the cut for the big event because I think it tastes best warm and it is really rich--richer than pie and therefore not the right thing after a big meal.

But if you're having a small autumn dinner party or you just want to make a weeknight dessert this is for you--assuming you like both pumpkin and bread pudding.

The biggest snag in this recipe is that you have to plan ahead a little bit and buy the bread a day before--or if your bread at your local grocery is as fresh as ours you might want to try two days. Or maybe you can toast your bread a little in the oven or in a dry pot on the stove before using it in the dessert. For us, our bread wasn't as crisp as we would have liked.

You only need 1 french baguette for this recipe. We didn't have allspice so we just substituted a bit of nutmeg.

1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
5 cups cubed (1-inch) day-old baguette or crusty bread
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
Whisk together cream, pumpkin, milk, sugar, eggs, yolk, salt, and spices in a bowl.
Toss bread cubes with butter in another bowl, then add pumpkin mixture and toss to coat. Transfer to an ungreased 8-inch square baking dish and bake until custard is set, 25 to 30 minutes.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Roasted Tomatoes

I read a recipe while perusing my regular blogs about roasted tomato soup. I thought maybe I'd make it since I had tons of tomatoes around and garlic and all the things in the soup. So one night while we were already doing a bunch of cooking I decided to roast up my tomatoes.

But I didn't re-read the recipe.

So I didn't make any soup.

Cause I didn't follow it at all. But I'm still interested in trying it sometime.

So I just roasted some tomatoes with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. But in the end they were really tart. Really really tart. I didn't like them that much actually which is really sad because I do love me some tomatoes.

So after they were cooked I added some sugar, and then they were okay, but not the best. But don't they look pretty?

Individual Apple Crisps

I really like warm desserts on cool fall and winter nights--but I don't want to make a huge thing that forces Joey & I to eat more than our fair share. So last night, I created individual apple crisps for the both of us. I was hoping that because these were smaller they'd cook faster but that was not the case actually. However, they were delicious and because they are already individually sized and they're made with oats and therefore less sugar they are not that bad for you either!

I loosely followed this recipe for a crumble and then just made it into two individual things and at about 1/4 of the recipe. Of course now that I'm writing about it I can't find the recipe, but I can give it a guess.

1/4 C oats
1/4 brown sugar, + a few sprinkles
1 T flour
2 apples
2 T cold butter
baking spice (optional)
pinch of ginger
dash of lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350
1. Chop the apples into bite sized pieces--not slices, slices are weird in this dish
2. Toss the apples in each container with a few sprinkles of brown sugar (maybe 1 T each thing), lemon juice and all the spices to taste
3. In a small bowl mix the sugar, flour, butter and oats
4. Top the apple mixture with the oats mixture and bake at 350 for 45 or more minutes until it's bubbly and crispy and brown. Cool slightly before digging in

Friday, November 4, 2011


Carrots are one of my favorite versatile vegetables. They are good raw, they are good with a dash of salt, they are good with a bit of lime, they are good with their peel on or off, they are good roasted, they taste nice in butter sauce, they're great. The other great thing about carrots is that they're really cheap and they offer lots of nutritional benefits.

The other great thing about carrots is that they are sometimes found in desserts! How crazy is that am I right? Carrot Cake is so sweet you can't imagine that it has anything that could be good for you (although just to clarify, carrot cake is NOT good for you, just the carrots are)

Hungry for a little crunch? Carrots. Hungry for a little roasted flavor? Carrots.

Add Carrots to your next meal--weather roasted, steamed, pureed or plain they will add some color to your meat and potatoes.