Day by day, our children are taking over our lives with a force that eclipses their small stature.  First was the living room, invading the space with a pulsing tide of toys and other detritus.  Slowly their influence oozed into our music, favoring 90’s grunge rock for no explicable reason.  The most recent conquest was the meal plan.  Though they are both enthusiastic eaters of most dishes I serve, they now each direct the selection of one dinner a week.  What seemed benign at first quickly spiraled into many successive nights of pesto pasta, hamburgers, and spaghetti and meatballs.  My kids, who would eat anything, had a very short list of items they would actually request.  Luckily with some gentle encouragement, they happily incorporated some new meal variations that keep them (and their parents) satisfied.

Baked Chicken Flautas are crispy, crunchy flour tortillas wrapped around a moist, mildly spiced bean and chicken filling.  They hit on all of my children’s favorite notes: finger foods, beans, cheese.  They are tasty enough to appeal to the adult set as well.  Whip up some Chipotle Salsa for a dip to make these flutes really sing.  Feel free to change the filling around.  Not a fan of beans?  Leave them out and increase the chicken.  What to make them vegetarian?  Omit the chicken and add crumbled tofu or corn to the mix.  Really, anything you would throw in a taco can be rolled up in these tortillas and baked.  We ate these for dinner, but they would be great as a party appetizer as well!  So, how about you?  What are the family pleasing meals that grace your table?

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Rye Bread (redeemed)

March 15, 2012

Last year in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day, I corned my first beef brisket.  It was a smashing success, but the loaf of rye I made to sandwich the leftovers failed miserably.  It took an entire year to return to this challenge, but when Caroline at Grow It , Cook It, Can It suggested baking bread for Cook It, 2012, I knew this was the loaf for me.  So this year, with the beef corning in the fridge, I tried a new recipe for rye bread that turned out just as I hoped.

After scouring my many cookbooks, I settled on this recipe from the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. This bread is moist and chewy with a pronounced flavor of rye and caraway.   It includes two types of flour in perfect proportion to achieve the signature flavor of the rye and all purpose flour to supply the required gluten and keep it light. My family loved these loaves so much that they were devoured before I had a chance to stick one in the freezer for this upcoming weekend.  This weekend, when I bake another batch, I will roll the dough into shorter loaves to make larger slices more appropriate for sandwiches.  I also plan to toss in a cup of minced onion to flavor the bread.

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Meyer Lemon Pudding Cakes

February 25, 2012

The birthday spirit lives on around here, but the cake does not.  Given one more chance to sing a Happy Birthday, I whipped up a second birthday dessert, this one a bit brighter and lighter than the first (Caramel Cake).  There have been a lot of posts about sweets and liquor lately, but to be honest, that pretty much sums up the month of February around here.  I did mention the “birthday month“, did I not?

Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake is just the thing for a sweet wintery treat.  A cross between a souffle and lemon curd, but so much easier to prepare.  Prepare the batter and bake.  As the cake bakes it separates into two delightful layers, a lemon pudding on top and an incredibly light and moist cake on the bottom.  Serve with a gently sweetened berry sauce.  I used ollalie berries from my parents bushes (thanks Mom!), but blackberries, raspberries, even blueberries would be delicious.  This can be made one day in advance, making it a great dessert for guests.

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My search for the perfect banana bread ended years ago.  There are plenty of recipes out there, but none that fit my tall list of criteria.  So many have a dead bland banana flavor, others are too dry, or full of overpowering seasoning.  This recipe, which is my standby banana bread, is to my taste, the best. It has just the right amount of sweetness (not a lot), a crispy , crunchy, buttery crust, a moist bananay interior, and a delightful tang from the baking soda.   Chunks of dark chocolate melt into the bread making it just a little more special.

This is why, though I attempted to give another recipe a try last weekend, I simply could not find another one worth baking.  Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread, developed from years of tinkering, is the one for me.   We ate this bread for dessert after a disappointing football game, the rest served as a happy surprise in my son’s school lunch.

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2011 was not my favorite year, which seems silly when I think of all the giggles and thrills that graced the last 12  months.  My son learned to swim, my daughter to climb trees with ease, our family to adventure by canoe.  We ate a lot of very good food.  The many good moments cannot, unfortunately, overlook the abundance of unexpected misfortune and challenges that betook my family and friends. We are all looking forward to a better 2012.

I am hard up to think of a better way to start a day (or a year) than with a tall steaming stack of pancakes.  Way back when, I asserted my love for pancakes in my first post on this blog.  Those Buttermilk Pancakes continue to be our weekly standard, but sometimes we are craving something a little different (or do not have any buttermilk in the house).  On those days we have Buckwheat Blueberry Pancakes.  Buckwheat blends with whole wheat and all purpose flours to produce a pancake that has the characteristic blue hue of buckwheat, but the lightness of a regular pancake.  A touch of yogurt in the mix gives them a pleasant moist quality.  I like to dot the top of each cooking pancake with blueberries, but they are also very good with a mashed banana mixed into the batter.  Stack the pancakes with just a touch of butter between the layers and stream Mixed Berry Syrup over the top.  I am off to whip up another batch to welcome my family into the New Year!

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The holidays are upon us.  Anticipating a busy couple of weeks, we have transformed our home into a full-fledged  Christmas scene.  The tree is up, Santa Lucia is perched on the buffet, and the winter mugs in the morning coffee rotation.  While trying to convince the over-eager children that it is too early to start hanging ornaments on the advent calendar (whose idea was it anyway to decorate for Christmas in November?), we have been brainstorming ideas for edible holiday gifts.

I love making edible gifts for just about any occasion. Cooking for others is a way to treat those we appreciate with a delicious treat and share a bit of ourselves in the process.  It is best to plan ahead and start cooking early so that the making and giving does not become a stressful burden.  Riding the food hangover following Thanksgiving, our first foodie gift to make was Cranberry Cashew Granola Bars.

These granola bars are just sweet enough to count as a treat, but full of wholesome ingredients so they are also right at home in your little one’s school lunch bag.  The bars hold together pretty well, better than other granola bars I have tried.  Any crumbly bits taste tremendous sprinkled atop yogurt and fruit for breakfast.  Feel free to change up the types of nuts and dried fruit, just be sure to use equal quantities.  If you are using roasted nuts or toasted wheat germ, do not toast them again in the oven, instead add those items to the bowl with the cranberries.

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Soft Ginger Cookies

November 26, 2011

Perhaps it is illogical to bake the day after Thanksgiving.  Perhaps I should be following up a long run in the rain with salad and a nap.  But on the other hand, it may be best to let oneself down easy after a big feast.  No use going cold turkey (pun intended) on the rich food when the air is cool, and everyone is still lounging around the house enjoying the long weekend.  Why not break out the butter that did not make its way in the mashed potatoes make up some delicious treats?  When you really think about it, cookies seem to be an appropriate coda to the traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Soft Ginger Cookies are tender, buttery, intensely ginger flavored treats.  Roll the chilled dough in balls and then spin through a dish of sugar to give each cookie a sparkly look.  Slices of candied ginger add a decorative touch, as well a strong gingery spice.

This recipe makes a generous number of cookies, which provides a good excuse to drop in on your neighbors and friends.  You can also form the cookies and  freeze them to bake up later.

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