Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lunch-Box Ideas

Hi guys.  So I finally have a few minutes to type this bad boy…..We have been super busy since school started.  Addy is back at school, but Paisley is still home with me.  She starts preschool on Friday.  She is lonely since Addy isn’t here so I just spent some quality time playing My Little Pony with her.  That is 15 minutes of my life that I won’t ever get back;)
I promised you that I would give some lunch box ideas today, so let’s get to it.  I try to mix things up when it comes to Addy’s lunches.  I will pack a basic sandwich, chips and apple, but not too often.  She is really bad with claiming to like something, but then 2 days later she hates it.  So I have to keep things exciting.  I also try to utilize leftovers from dinner whenever possible.  Today I am going to show you a couple different ideas…..using leftovers and other random things you probably already have in your fridge.  I also will give you my recipe for lemon blueberry bars.  They are Addy’s favorite so I made them for her lunch for the first day of school.
I don’t know about your kids, but mine will eat anything if I put it on a stick.  I don’t know what that says about them, but seriously, if it is on a stick….they will eat it.  I know that most schools probably don’t want a bunch of 6 year olds packing skewers in their lunches, so I use lollipop sticks.  They are less shank-like.  I use whatever fruit I have on hand, like grapes, strawberries amd bananas, and I serve it with yogurt to dip the fruit in.  This is a great way to get fruit in your kids.  If it is bite-sized they are more likely to eat it.
Sometimes the fruit can be hard to thread on a lollipop stick since it isn’t sharp on one end.  I use a skewer to poke holes first.
This is the “lunch-box” version of what I had above.  Just make sure you and your kids are on the same page about the yogurt being the dip;)
Above are skewers of turkey, cheese, tomatoes and leftover tortellini.  I serve it with carrots, celery and a ranch dip.  We had tortellini the night before so I just reserved a few for Addy’s lunch.
I make my own ranch dip.  I think that ranch out of a bottle is a bit too loose for dipping.  I make mine with dry ranch mix, cream cheese and a smidge of mayo.  This makes a thick dip that stays on the veggies when you dip it.  I use low-fat mayo and cream cheese so that it isn’t pure fat. 
This lunch has everything your kid needs….  Protein from the turkey, calcium from the cheese, carbs from the pasta and the veggies are chalk full of good stuff.  Plus, I used lollipop sticks again so it looks fun and pretty.  This is Addy’s all-time fave.
Above is that same lunch….all packed up and ready to go.  As long as you put an ice pack in their lunch…this should stay nice and cold. 
My last lunch box idea is what we call “roll-ups”.  Basically, I take whatever left-overs I can find, and I roll them up in pizza dough.  Once they are sliced and baked, they make pretty little pinwheels.  They are the perfect use of left-overs, and your kid will eat them because they look cool.  They are perfect in a lunch box because they can be eaten cold.  Everyone likes cold pizza, right?
I will show you two versions that I made recently.
Above I have a can of pizza dough, left-over shredded chicken in BBQ sauce, cream cheese, left-over veggies, sliced turkey, and shredded cheese. 
I rolled out the pizza dough on a floured board and cut it in half.  One half got the chicken with sauce and shredded cheese.  The other half got cream cheese, veggies, sliced turkey and some more shredded cheese.  I made sure to leave a border all the way around….this will help with rolling.  It will keep all the filling from oozing out.
You really could put just about anything on pizza dough, roll it up and call it lunch.  Some ideas would be leftover taco meat and cheese, chili and cheese, cream cheese and jelly, etc.  The possibilities are endless.
I roll them up, tightly, and then slice them into pinwheels.  Yes, the one on the left could use some help.  He got a bit over-filled.  I baked these according to the pizza dough package directions…..it should make lunch for a few days.  You can also freeze them once they are cooked and take them out as needed.
The BBQ chicken roll-ups are my favorite. 
The veggie version was Addy’s favorite.  I pack these in a zippered bag, just like I would a sandwich.  I realize these are, essentially, a sandwich.  But the pizza dough gives it that extra something that makes it so much more special than a sandwich.  Your kids will love ‘em!
The main thing I like about all the ideas above is that they don’t take that much time.  Packing lunches is a pain in the butt, and most of us would rather not do it (I think).  These ideas are quick and easy.  They really don’t take much more time than making a sandwich.  But these will get eaten.  You won’t open your kid’s lunch box after school and find a partially eaten sandwich…..Or worse, open it Monday morning and find Friday’s sandwich.  Gross.
The last thing I am going to show you is my lemon blueberry bars.  These are a take-off of a Paula Deen recipe.  She has a recipe for orange brownies that I love.  They aren’t brownies like what you are expecting.  There is no chocolate in them.  They are called “brownies” because they are the texture of brownies.  They are cakey, but they don’t have any baking powder or soda in them, so they don’t rise.  They are dense, like a brownie.  I changed up the recipe and used lemon instead of orange, and I added blueberries.  They are amazing……
The bars need sugar, flour, butter, eggs, salt, lemons and lemon extract and blueberries.  Few ingredients=easy recipe.
I start by mixing the sugar, flour and salt together in a large bowl.
With a hand mixer, I beat in softened butter, the eggs, lemon extract and lemon zest.  I beat it for just a couple of minutes.
The blueberries get stirred in and it is ready to bake!  Could not be easier.
FYI-I stir a tiny bit of flour into the blueberries before I dump them in.  This keeps them from sinking to the bottom.
I spread the batter into a 13x9 that I had lines with foil and sprayed with cooking spray.  These bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
Once the brownies come out of the oven, I poke the top with a skewer.  Are you picturing my house packed with sticks and skewers?  I swear it’s not, but I do seem to use them a lot;)
The poking helps the glaze sink in.  The glaze is just lemon juice and powdered sugar.  I spread it all over the top.  It will sink in quickly because the brownies are nice and warm.
These “brownies” are so unbelievably good!  They are tart and sweet at the same time.  They are a perfect lunchtime treat.  Pack some extras for your kids friends!
I hope that this post gave you a couple of lunch time ideas for your kids….or for you!  It is super important to get a good lunch in your kid, as I am sure you know.  The afternoons can drag….and you don’t want your kid to be starving.  Your child’s teacher will appreciate it too!

Lemon Blueberry Bars

1 & ½ cups flour

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks butter, softened

4 eggs

2 teaspoons lemon extract

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 cup blueberries


1 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 13xp baking pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar and salt.  With a hand mixer, beat in softened butter, eggs, zest and extract until combined.  Stir in blueberries, gently.

Spread batter in baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

While bars are still warm, poke all over the top with a skewer.

Combine glaze ingredients and pour over the top.  Let cool before slicing.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mango Tres Leches Cake

Almost Friday!  It has been a long week around here….Friday can’t come soon enough.  Paisley, Chris and I have had coughs….but only at night.  I don’t understand that.  Why can’t the coughing only be done during the day, so that it doesn’t keep everyone up?   And Paisley’s is especially barky.  I love the sound of baby seals at night.  I’m kidding, I don’t.  It is awful.  But enough about poor me, or poor Paisley I guess…..
I decided to finish up my Mexican themed couple of weeks by making a Mexican dessert, a Mango Tres Leches Cake.  This is a dessert that I have made in the past, quite a few times.  In fact, I went through a phase where I only made this cake.  Your birthday?  Here is a Tres Leches Cake.  You got a new job?  Here is your Tres Leches Cake.  Having a baby?  You get the point.  But I hadn’t made one in a long time so I decided to kick it old school and bring back the Tres Leche.
Tres Leche means “three milks”.  And I know this because I took 3 whole years of Spanish in high school.  In fact, those might be the only two words that I learned.  I struggled with Spanish, and there is a strong chance that I only passed because I always knew the TA (teacher’s assistant).  My apologies to Senor Evans for not paying better attention.  Or rather, mis disculpas;)
Essentially, a tres leches cake is a sponge cake that is soaked in a syrup of three milks.  I will show you how to make the cake first.  For the cake, I used cake flour, sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, baking powder, salt, vanilla, mango nectar and diced mango.
Cake flour is softer than regular all-purpose flour.  It more finely milled and has less gluten so it produces a more tender cake….so say the geniuses on the internet.  I tend to use cake flour whenever I am making a white cake.  You can get it anywhere.
I couldn’t find fresh mango here in Reno.  I am sure that some stores have it, I just didn’t feel like searching so I used frozen mango.  I defrosted it and dried it on paper towels.
I mixed the dry ingredients together first, which is just the flour, salt and baking powder.
In a separate bowl, I beat together the oil, sugar and vanilla extract just until blended.

Then, I beat in the eggs one at a time.  Ok, actually I started to do that but by the 3rd egg….I just poured in the rest.  Do as I say, not as I do.
Once that was all blended, I slowly added the dry into the wet, beating it the whole time.  I also stirred in the mango nectar and mango chunks.  Before I added the mango chunks, I stirred a little bit of flour into them to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the cake.
Making a cake from scratch really isn’t that much different than making one from a mix.  With a mix, they combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt for you…and some flavorings.  You still have to add your own eggs and oil. I mean really, not that big of a difference.  So please don’t ever think you can’t make a cake from scratch.  Rant done.
I poured my batter into a 13x9 that I greased and floured.  You could always just use cooking spray.  I don’t invert this cake onto a different platter.  I leave it in the baking pan.  I like to keep all the syrup in the cake. I don’t want any of it leaking out.  You will see the syrup soon…..
I baked the cake for about 30 minutes on 325 degrees.
When the cake comes out of the oven, I let it cool for about 30 minutes.  Then, I poke it all over with a skewer.  This will give the syrup somewhere to go.  It would soak into the cake anyway, this just helps it out.
Here come the three milks!  I used evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream and a bit more of my mango nectar.
FYI-you might have to look in your “Latin Foods” aisle for mango nectar…..
I stirred the milks (and mango nectar) together.  You have to really make sure the condensed milk blends in as it is quite viscous.  Don’t ever say I don’t use big words.
I slowly pour the syrup over the cake, letting it soak in a bit as I pour.  Then, I pop the cake in the fridge for a few hours to let the syrup do its thang;)
Frosting this cake is super easy.  I use the rest of the heavy cream to make basic whipped cream.  I sweetened it with a smidge of powdered sugar and some rum extract.  You could always use more vanilla extract here instead of rum.  No sense in buying two different extracts.  I just happen to have every extract ever created in my pantry.  I heart extracts.
Once the cake has been in the fridge for a few hours, I frost it with the whipped cream and serve!  I top the individual pieces with the remaining mango.  Do that as you serve it.  If you top the whole cake with the mango, it will “bleed” into the whipped cream.  It is just too wet of a fruit.
This cake is seriously amazing.  You definitely never have to worry about having a dry cake with this recipe;) 
I might start only making this cake again.  If I owe you a cake…prepare to be eating a mango tres leche cake.  You will love it.  If I don’t owe you a cake, which I am pretty positive I don’t have any outstanding cakes right now, make it yourself.  It is easy and delicious.  You will love it!
Mango Tres Leches Cake
1 and ½ cups cake flour divided
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 eggs
½ cup mango nectar
8 ounces diced frozen mango, defrosted and chopped
6 ounces evaporated milk
7 ounces sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup mango nectar
1 and ½ cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 teaspoons rum extract
Remaining chopped mango for garnish
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees and grease a 13xp baking pan.
Stir together 1 and ½ cups flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat together sugar, oil and vanilla extract with a hand mixer.  Beat in eggs, one at a time. 
Slowly beat dry ingredients into wet.  Once blended, stir in mango nectar.  Add remaining flour to mango chunks and stir mango mixture into cake batter.
Pour cake batter into greased pan and bake at 325 for 30 to 35 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.  Let cake cool for 30 minutes.
After cake has cooled slightly, poke all over with a skewer.  Mix together ingredients for syrup and pour over cake.  Place cake in the refrigerator for 3 hours to let syrup soak in.
For topping:
With a hand mixer, beat together cream, powdered sugar, and rum extract until soft peaks form.  Spread over cake.  Top cake slices with remaining mango.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Green Chicken and Beerita Slushies

Hi guys!  Can you believe that summer is almost over?  I know that lots of kiddos went back to school today….mine go back next week.  Addy will be in 2nd grade and Peeps is finally starting preschool.  Addy is dreading 2nd grade because she says it is going to be “hard”.  I told her that she is in for some trouble later on in life if she thinks 2nd grade is hard.  She already told me that I have to drop her off on the first day….I’m not allowed to walk her in because I am “embarrassing”.  I can’t believe she doesn’t see how cool I am.  I’m with it!  I like Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber.  How much cooler could I be?
Paisley doesn’t really care one way or another.  Her only concern is who is going to pull up her pants after she goes potty.  I picture her cruisin’ around with her pants around her ankles because she didn’t know who to ask.  Perfect.
Back to food related news…..today I am actually sharing two recipes that aren’t mine.  I know!  Crazy!  But I had these two things at my friend’s house, and I knew I had to share.  The first recipe I will share with you is “green chicken”.  It isn’t green because the little chicken drives a Prius and recycles.  It is green because it cooks (in the slow cooker) in a green, or “Verde”, sauce.  Yep, I am still stickin’ with the Mexican theme……
My second recipe is actually from my friend’s mom.  She is from North Carolina, and she and her friends like to sit on the NC beaches in the summer and cool off with what I like to call “Beerita Slushies”.  This is the perfect summer recipe because it is refreshing and easy!  I know summer is almost over, but you still have a couple of weeks to squeeze this in.
Let’s start with the green chicken.
There is an easy way and a not as easy way to make this chicken.  I will show you the “not as easy” way.  But trust me….it is still pretty darn easy.  You can make the sauce the night before, and in the morning…you throw the sauce and the chicken in the slow cooker.  When you come home in the evening, you have dinner.  Super easy for weeknight meals.
Ok, so for the sauce, I used tomatillos, poblano peppers, jalapeno peppers, an onion, garlic, salt & pepper and olive oil.
Tomatillos look like a green tomato, but they are not.  They are actually related to a gooseberry, not tomatoes.  They are slightly tart, and I don’t think you would want to eat one raw by itself.  They come in a paper husk, like this….
Once you peel the husk off, you have to rinse the tomatillo off because it will have a sticky substance on it.  These are easy to find in any grocery store…..just look for the papery husk.
Poblano peppers are also easy to find in any grocery store.  They tend to be mild, but every once in a while you will come across one that will knock your socks off.  I used 2 poblanos, but you could always use just one.
With both kinds of peppers, the poblanos and jalapeƱos, I made sure to remove all the seeds and ribs.  That is where the heat lives.  You can adjust for your tastes…..
I started by chopping the tomatillos and roasting them for about 15 minutes.  I drizzled them with olive oil and sprinkled with salt & pepper.  This helps mellow the tart flavor.
I did the same thing with the onion, peppers (both kinds) and garlic.
Once all the veggies were roasted, I threw them in the food processor with some fresh cilantro, lime juice, agave nectar and chicken stock.  I pureed the mixture until it was almost smooth.  This essentially makes a green enchilada sauce.  And that right there is the “easy way” to make this.  You can totally substitute a big ‘ol can of green enchilada sauce and skip all of this.  But then you never get to experience the odd sticky substance that covers tomatillos……
FYI-I used agave nectar, but you can use sugar.  Agave nectar is widely available in grocery stores.  It is a sweet syrup that is actually sweeter than sugar.  I use it because the syrup blends better than sugar.
Now is the point to get the chicken in the slow cooker.  I used a mix of breasts and thighs.  I feel that chicken on a bone does better in the slow cooker, but you can use what you want.  My grocery store didn’t have any breasts on the bone, so I used boneless breasts.  You win some, you lose some;)
I poured about ½ of the sauce over the chicken and set the slow cooker to the fastest setting. Normally I would use the lowest and longest setting, but I didn’t start this till noon.  
I think the best thing about using your slow cooker is the way your house smells when you come home….like you have been slaving away all day.
I shredded the chicken and then topped it with a bit of the reserved sauce.  At this point, you can use this chicken for just about anything…..burritos, tacos, nachos, etc. It is super versatile…. I chose soft tacos.  And I served the rest of the reserved sauce on the side.
This chicken is slightly spicy and really “fresh” tasting.  The green sauce is tart and delicious.  I love the way the chicken stays moist (god, I hate that word).  It is a welcome change from chicken that is normally cooked in a red sauce for Mexican food.  Thanks for the recipe, Travis!
This recipe makes a ton, so it is perfect for a party.  Since it cooks in the slow cooker, it is a perfect party recipe….it cooks itself!
Onto the Beerita Slushies….the best part of this post;)
When Nancy (my friend’s mom) made this for me, I was instantly in love…and slightly buzzed.  In my opinion, there is no better summer cocktail.
I used a can of frozen limeade concentrate, tequila and 3 light beers.  Light in color….it doesn’t matter if they are light in calories.
I poured the ingredients into a large flat plastic dish that has a lid.  This will sit in the freezer, at least overnight.  It will never freeze all the way through, as it is mostly booze.  Instead, it will get slushy and delicious.  I scraped it with a fork occasionally, just to keep it loose and slushy.
When you are ready to serve it, scrape off the amount you need with a fork and pile it in a cold glass.  Keep what is left in the freezer….it melts fast.
Ohhhhh, I could drink this anytime…not just summer.  Thanks for this recipe, Nancy!  Now I have a new favorite cocktail!
Alright, enough for today….Thanks for reading!  I appreciate it!!  And I especially appreciate all the feedback, so keep the comments comin’!
“Green” Chicken
2 to 2 ½ pounds chicken
1 ½ pounds tomatillos, cleaned and chopped
2 poblano peppers, seeds and ribs removed and chopped
1 to 2 jalapeno peppers, seeds and ribs removed and chopped
1 small onion, or ½ a large, chopped
5 garlic cloves
1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon pepper, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup cilantro leaves, tightly packed
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons agave nectar
1 ½ cups chicken stock
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.
Place tomatillos, peppers, onion and garlic on cooking sheets.  Drizzle with olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.  Roast at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.
Place roasted veggies, remaining salt and pepper, and remaining ingredients (except for chicken) in food processor or blender.  Puree until smooth.
Place chicken in slow cooker.  Pour ½ of the sauce over the top.  Cook on lowest setting.
When chicken is done, remove from pot and let cool.  Discard cooking liquid.  Shred chicken and mix with ½ of the reserved sauce.  Serve chicken with remaining sauce on the side.

Beerita Slushies
1 12 oz. can of frozen limeade concentrate
12 oz. tequila
3 beers, light in color
Combine all ingredients in large, flat bowl with lid.  Freeze at least 12 hours.  Mixture will remain slushy.
When the chicken was done, I pulled out the pieces to cool a bit.  If you cook the chicken all day, it will be falling off the bone when you take it out.  Mine cooked a bit faster, so it stayed together.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Belly Up to the Bar...The Guac Bar

You like guacamole, right?  You must.  Everyone likes guacamole!  I, for one, love it!  There is nothing like a big bowl of guacamole with some yummy salty chips on the side.  There used to be a restaurant in Walnut Creek, CA called the Cantina.  They had a little something called “Made at the Table Guacamole”.  They would bring over a tray that had diced avocado, diced onion, cilantro, tomatoes, jalapenos and limes on it.  You got to tell them what you wanted and how much of it you wanted.  They would mash it up right there.  I would go there all the time with my bestie Jennifer.  We could easily agree that we didn’t want cilantro or tomatoes.  We were pretty much just straight avocado and onion.  My tastes have grown up and changed since then, but I still remember that place fondly.  I must be the only one because it closed.
Anyhoo, I wanted to re-create the “make your own gauc” feeling.  I decided to do a guacamole “bar”.  This would go hand in hand with a Mexican Cheese Platter (last blog) if you were having a party.  It is basically no-cook….just some assembly.  So obviously, this would be super easy to do for a party. I set out a big bowl of diced avocado, and then a ton of “mix-ins”.  I chose a bunch of things that I thought would be amazing with avocado…..but really, what isn’t good with avocado?
 I will show you how I did it, and you can steal that, or add your own mix-ins!  At the end of this post, I will give you my recipe for the perfect basic guacamole, as well as a fancy version too.
Of course you have to start with avocados.  I cut them I half, and I dice the avocado while it is still in the skin.  I am just careful not to slice all the way through and cut my hand off.  Once it is diced in the skin, you can scoop it out and dump it in a bowl.  I happened to have some bottled lime juice on hand, so I sprinkled the diced avocados with lime to keep them from browning.  Brown avocado doesn’t look appetizing.  Feel free to use real limes, fancy pants.
At one end of the bar, I set out the big bowl of diced avocados.  I set out some salt, pepper, onion salt, chili lime seasoning and hot sauce next to the avocado.  Avocados need a ton of salt.
My thought process here involves a mixing bowl.  You will need a mixing bowl, several actually, for people to put all of their guac ingredients in as they go down the line.  Then you, the host…or the guest…can mash it up with a fork and transfer it to a fancier dish.  So yeah, some work is involved, but it’s not like I asked you to dig ditches or something.
Now for all the mix-ins…..
I set out sliced limes, goat cheese, corn, diced jalapenos…..
Cotija cheese, green onions, verde salsa, diced shrimp……
Cooked bacon, cilantro, pico de gallo……
White onion, Mexican crema, diced tomatoes…..
And lastly, lump crab meat and blue cheese.
Are you already imagining the possibilities?
At the end of the bar, I set out the fancy serving dishes (margarita glasses) and chips.
I went down the line and created my own.  I mashed it up in a mixing bowl….
Here is Chris’s…..I am pretty sure he took a little bit of everything.
Ah-may-zing.  It’s always better when you make it yourself, right?
You know you want some!
How fun does a Guac Bar sound?  So fun for a party!  I think it would impress your guests, and like I said above….it is super easy.  No cooking (except bacon), just assembly!  Plus, bars/buffets ensure that you can mingle with your guests, have some cocktails, and not have to worry about how the apps are.  And buffets are as a rule, always fun.
Coming next week......more Mexican food!
Perfect Guacamole
4 ripe avocados
½ a medium onion, minced
4 ounces diced jalapenos
3 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
The juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
Dice avocados and place in bowl.  Pour lime juice over diced avocado.  Add remaining ingredients and mix gently with a fork, mashing avocado to desired consistency.

Court’s Favorite Guac
4 ripe avocados
½ cup green onions, diced
1/3 cup lump meat crab
1/3 cup goat cheese, crumbled
The juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon hot sauce (Cholula Brand)
1 teaspoon salt
Dice avocados and place in bowl.  Pour lime juice over diced avocado.  Add remaining ingredients and mix gently with a fork, mashing avocado to desired consistency.