Equal Parts Effort & Love

This weekend, I spent a significant amount of time in the kitchen with the boys underfoot baking. This is truly one of my favorite pastimes, especially around the holidays. I love sharing my baked goods with my coworkers and spreading some Christmas cheer.

Baking a perfect cookie is equal parts effort and love. I also believe that allowing the butter to sit out on the counter for several hours before baking helps create the perfect formula for soft, fluffy cookies.

Below I’ve included the recipe for the three types of cookies I baked this weekend. The method for all three is the same. In a large mixing bowl start by creaming the butter and sugar together. Then add the remaining wet ingredients and stir until blended. Then add the dry ingredients and mix carefully. Use a tablespoon to place on the cookie sheet, spacing them evenly apart. Bake in the oven adjusting the timing plus or minus a few minutes depending on your oven. Cool on a baking rack and enjoy!

Peanut Butter Cookies

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Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 1 c granulated sugar
  • 1 c brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 c peanut butter
  • 3 c flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.

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Iced Pumpkin Cookies

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1 1/2 granulated sugar
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Icing glaze:

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons milk

Bake at 350 degree for 15 to 20 minutes.

To make the glaze, melt the butter in the microwave. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and stir carefully. Then slowly add up to 3 tablespoons of milk to reach the desired consistency for icing. Drizzle across the top of each cookie with a spoon after the cookies have cooled.

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Chocolate Oatmeal Chip Cookies

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Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 c brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbs milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 c oats
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

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Bake at 375 degrees for 9 to 10 minutes.

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Guarda tus Frijoles

Chalupas are one of my most favorite Mexican meals that was a regular staple on our table growing up. Simple, tasty, and satisfying, this dinner can be ready in no time flat if you cut corners with a few ready to go ingredients. This is a no fail weekly dinner option with a lot of versatility that’s sure to please everyone you share your table with.

Mexican bingo fondly referred to as Loteria or Chalupa comes to mind as I blog about this dish as its namesake is also a delicious meal. I enjoyed playing this game with my grandparents and cousins. It served as my first introduction to gambling, mind you with incredibly low odds. What do you expect when you’re betting with pennies?

Because refried beans truly are central to this dish, the Spanish phrase, “guarda tus frijoles” seems like a fitting way to segue into the recipe.

CHALUPAS DE CARNITAS

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Ingredients:

  • Corn tostadas
  • Pork Carnitas
  • Refried black beans
  • Shredded cheese

Garnishes:

  • Salsa
  • Sour cream

Directions:

Line a cookie sheet with foil. Spread refried black beans evenly on each tostada and set aside.

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In the microwave, heat the carnitas according to the directions on the package. Shred the pork with a knife and layer on top of the beans. Top with shredded cheese and broil on high for a few minutes.

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Keep an eye on them closely as they can easily burn. The goal is for the cheese to brown slightly.

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Top with fresh sliced avocado, salsa, and sour cream.

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Variations:

Traditional chalupas are a great vegetarian option. Swap refried pinto for black if you fancy those more. Spread the beans, top with cheddar cheese, and broil in the oven. Garnish with shredded lettuce, tomato, salsa, avocado, and sour cream.

In place of carnitas, consider ground taco meat or shredded chicken. Follow the same method of layering the beans, meat, and cheese and broil. Then top with your favorite garnishes.

Chalupa garnishes can vary widely. Consider a variation that best suits your palette. Easy options include: shredded lettuce, fresh cilantro, sliced avocado or guacamole, salsa- green or red, cheddar, cojita, or Mexican blend cheese, roasted corn, and diced tomatoes.

 

The possibilities truly are endless. Make them your own and enjoy!

 

 

 

A Week of Little Things

This Mama Bear has been M.I.A. for the last week and for no particular reason other than I spent every free moment of my already limited down time reading a page turning thriller I couldn’t put down. One of my favorite perks of being an Amazon Prime member is Kindle books available for download one month before they’re released to the general public. It feels like Christmas every time I see the email message signaling the new releases. It’s a rather difficult task narrowing down the five books available to just one. I lament over every detail and reread the book descriptions several times over before I finally feel informed enough to click on the title I think best suits me. For the most part, I hit the nail on the head almost every time. On the rare occasion, I’ve missed the mark I find myself faced with the option of abandoning a book.

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This months book, The Good Samaritan by John Marrs, was one of my favorites to date. It’s truly not for the faint of heart though as the main character’s sociopathic tendencies make her an absolute force to be reckoned with. If you like psychological thrillers than this book will be right up your alley.

In addition to losing myself in a good book, this week included some easy dinners (I’ll post the recipes later this week) and a bulletin board of positive affirmations that lifted my high school students and colleagues up. “Take what you need” the board stated and around these words a plethora of handwritten affirmations encouraging others to persevere, believe in themselves, and be kind. Students and faculty alike shared these Post It notes with one another; leaving a trail of positivity on lockers, notebooks, and classroom doors around the school.  Atticus received his one year vaccines, a heartbreaking endeavor for this Mama Bear. Four shots and a finger prick later he was all tears, and who could blame him. I’d probably be in tears too after being poked that many times with a sharp object. Our school hosted a blood drive on Thursday, so I donated alongside several of my students. The temperatures finally dropped and with it finally feeling like fall, I wore my new favorite novelty sweater for kicks. Liam spent most evenings after school jumping on the trampoline to his hearts content. He also decided his Halloween skeleton shirt made a great pajama shirt because it glows in the dark. I enjoyed some beautiful moonlit runs after the boys were tucked in for the night. Sean and I rounded out the work week a bottle of my favorite champagne; enjoying the bubbles as we made some vacation plans for the holidays, Spring Break, and the summer.

God continues to bless me in little ways every day. I’m grateful for all of these little things that make my life immensely better because of it. It truly was a week of wonderful blessings!

A Halloween State of Mind

Christmas is undoubtedly Liam’s favorite holiday, but Halloween is a very close second. He wholeheartedly embraces the spookiness and mystique that encompasses the spirit of Halloween. This weekend he embarked on his first independent venture of carving a pumpkin. Now granted he needed a little parental supervision and guidance, but overall he successfully orchestrated a pumpkin work of art.

Carving a pumpkin is truly a labor of love, and you certainly can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Liam squealed with delight as his fingers combed through the squishy, stringy pumpkin as we made our best effort to get every last seed and all of the pumpkin pulp. He also meticulously combed through the pulp with an eagle eye to gather all of the seeds for roasting.

Liam spent the better part of the morning cutting his pattern, gutting the pumpkin, using the poker tool to outline his pattern, and finally carving out his design. The end result proved to be both a labor of love and a source of pride for him.

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Carving a pumpkin creates quite the mess. Liam served as my little helper and in almost no time flat, our kitchen was spotless. We realized we’d worked up quite an appetite, so we snacked on some of our roasted homemade pumpkin seeds and relished in the beauty and artistry of Liam’s first solo carving venture.

If you haven’t carved your pumpkin this Halloween, consider saving your seeds for a savory treat. They are great as a stand alone snack but also would be ideal sprinkled over oatmeal or on top of a fresh salad.

ROASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS

Ingredients:

  • pumpkin seeds
  • sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons of butter
  • parchment paper

Directions:

Melt the butter and pour over the pumpkin seeds. Mix together and then spread the seeds evenly on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast at 300 degrees for 45 minutes. Stir at least halfway through. The seeds are roasted to perfection when they are golden brown.

A side note: the buttery smell that permeates the kitchen as they roast is absolutely heavenly. Enjoy!

Friday Night Bites

Tonight we enjoyed a family outing in the neighborhood at Friday Night Bites. Local food trucks, live music, and some great fare provided all the entertainment we needed for an enjoyable evening together.

With an assortment of vendors, choosing the perfect dinner proved to be a difficult task. After some window shopping, we decided on Falacos- a food truck specializing in vegan, gluten free taco balls.

falacos
According to their website, falacos are: “Absolutely freakinly delicious falafel balls fried in peanut oil, set on a corn tortilla with an original hummus creation, fresh veggies, and sauces that will blow your mind. Falafel + Taco = Falacos”
After much deliberation, we decided on kimchichi fries. This dish served up a dose of spicy, sweet, salty, and sour with agave pecan hummus, green apple slices, spicy chili sauce atop fried falafels. This delicacy is then topped with sweet hoisin sauce, scallions, and kimchi. All of this deliciousness rested on a bed of perfectly cut french fries. We also enjoyed their Friday the 13th combo: Amazeballs served with hummus and fresh vegetables. Let me just say they absolutely lived up to their name! Quinoa balls topped with fresh hummus, mango chutney, banana peppers, and smoked paprika. So many beautiful flavors in every bite!

We found a shady spot in the grass, laid out a giant beach towel, and plopped down for a picnic. Between bites, Liam enjoyed running around the open field we were sitting in. He ran into one of his classmates and enjoyed playing with her for a bit too.

We closed out the night with N’awlins Sneaux Bawls. Sean surprised us with their three most popular items: Squashed Bullfrog, Dreamsicle, and Bayou Blue. Each sno cone rested on a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The syrup melted into the ice cream creating a beautiful marriage of sweet flavors.

Friday Night Bites offers family fun and great food every 2nd Friday of the month in the Lakeland Village Activity Center. It truly made for the perfect ending to a great work week and was an ideal way to kick off our weekend! If you live in the Cypress area, I highly recommend making a trip out next month.

A Mama and her Bears

This weekend we were one bear short at the den with Papa Bear away on a fishing trip. The neighborhood offered a wealth of opportunities to keep the boys and I happily entertained.

We started off our morning with breakfast at the playground. Sunday mornings are always a little better when you indulge in a blueberry scone paired with coffee. Climbing, crawling, and an unexpected surprise (a hot air balloon floating through the sky) set the tone for a wonderful day.

After lunch, we ventured out to the neighborhood Farmers Market. A few key finds included savory beef samosas, spicy habanero pickles, and homemade popsicles for the boys and me. Liam wore more than half of the red berry rhubarb on his chin and tee shirt. A sure sign he thoroughly enjoyed it. Atticus and I shared a tangy lime cucumber, and I think the photo evidence supports that he more than loved his first popsicle.

For homework, Liam had to complete a university pennant. I discussed the importance of college and showed him a video for each of his parents’ alma maters: Ball State (Sean), Indiana University (Anne), and Texas A&M/The University of Texas (Me). Because I went to two universities, I felt it was important for him to understand that transferring is always a viable option too. As we watched the videos together, I pointed out various features of each school but maintained absolute neutrality. I wanted Liam to decide which university he liked most. When it was all said and done, he decided he liked A&M the most because of Reveille, the Corps of Cadets, and the spirit of Aggieland. Proud of his artistic efforts, he posed with his pennant and made sure to throw in a “Gig ’em, Aggies” for good measure.

With Halloween around the corner, Liam is counting down the days until he can don his Darth Vader costume and venture out for trick or treating. This afternoon he created a Spiderman pumpkin to add to our growing collection.

After a fun filled day of indoor and outdoor activities, I opted for a simple yet delicious dinner of fideo. This classic dish is savory, spicy, and always takes me back to my childhood. It’s also quick, easy, and a great vegetarian option. I usually serve it with warm tortillas but because I was out, I opted for a side of tortilla chips and fresh avocado.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 box of Vermecelli
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 15 ounces chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 packet of Sazon Goya cilantro and tomato seasoning
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons chili powder (more or less depending on how much kick you like)

DIRECTIONS:

Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil on medium heat until fragrant. Add the Vermecelli and sauté until brown. Then add the broth, water, salt, pepper, seasoning packet, and chili powder. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes.

Serve with fresh tortillas or tortilla chips and fresh avocado.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Most of the time when I zip through H-E-B, I have a running list in my head of the staple items I’ll need for the week. The compulsory tomatoes, milk, cereal, hummus, and multigrain bread always make the cut. Sometimes I meal plan for the week and have an agenda for what I will cook on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Other times, I go out on a limb and let the grocery store inspire me. Often I find myself inspired by seasonal produce or fresh seafood.

My most recent inspiration came from the beautiful portobello mushrooms caps in the produce section last week. I created a savory dish that paired perfectly with red wine, artisan bread, and bowtie pasta. Taking a risk in the kitchen, trusting your instincts, a little creativity, and your favorite people around the table are all you need for a perfect home cooked meal. After all, variety is the spice of life!

Savory Stuffed Mushrooms

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 portobello mushroom caps
  • 1 pound of Italian sausage
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 of a sweet onion, diced
  • 1 fire roasted red pepper, diced (I used jarred peppers but fresh would work too.)
  • 1 can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • Italian bread crumbs
  • Fresh parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Sauté the garlic and onions in olive oil over medium high heat until fragrant. Add the Italian sausage and cook until brown. Add the red peppers, artichoke hearts, salt, and pepper and cook until warmed through. Set aside.

Line an 8×8 Pyrex dish with parchment paper and place the portobello mushroom caps in the dish. Spoon the Italian sausage mix into each mushroom. Then sprinkle with bread crumbs and fresh grated parmesan cheese.

Roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes until the mushrooms are tender. Serve with a side of pasta and fresh bread. I made a simple side of bowtie pasta that I tossed with fresh parmesan, bread crumbs, and a little olive oil. It was the perfect complement to the savory stuffed mushrooms.

This recipe could easily be adapted to be vegetarian too. In place of the Italian sausage, use fire roasted tomatoes and a pint of chopped portobello mushrooms. The method would be the same with regards to preparation. Additionally omit the pasta and artisan rolls and substitute with a side of roasted vegetables or a fresh salad for a low carb dinner option.