Thursday, December 28, 2006

This Bark Has No Bite!

I may have discovered the simplest and neatest way in the world to melt chocolate. First, I place my cast iron griddle on the stove as a normally would and let it heat up over medium-low heat. While this is heating, I grease my largest cookie sheet and then place it on top of the griddle. My cookie sheet is large enough that it rests on the elevated lip of the griddle, NOT directly on the cooking surface of the griddle.

By resting on the lip of the griddle it creates an air space underneath that acts like the water does in a double boiler. When I put chocolate on it to melt, I am very careful not to put any chocolate on, or very near, the area where the lip of the griddle makes contact with the cookie sheet. I assume it would burn if I did. I cover the first cookie sheet with a second that is the same size, creating a lid.

I let the chocolate melt until it is soft but not liquid. I then took crushed candy candy canes, sprinkled them over the top of the melted chocolate and ran a knife through the mixture to evenly distribute everything. I then removed the cookie sheet from the griddle and placed it on a rack to cool. Don't forget to turn off the griddle at this point, I almost did!

Once the cookie sheet was cooled to room temperature, I placed it in my freezer for about 30 minutes. This causes the edges of the chocolate to lift making it very easy to remove the chocolate from the cookie sheet. Remove from freezer and break into small pieces (I used the handle of a butter knife to do this), place in a fancy serving dish and you have a very elegant dessert with minimal effort and mess.

I tried this with chocolate baking bars meant for melting and semi-sweet chocolate chips. Both work equally well. By using the griddle method I didn't have to worry about condensation getting into the chocolate and messing it up during the melting process which was a definite plus. If candy canes aren't your thing, you can add in whatever you like best instead.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Vegan Instant Cappuccino Mix

Here's the Cappuccino Mix recipe from The Vegetarian Group that I used as the starting point for my vegan version.

1 and 1/3 cup instant coffee
1 and 1/2 cup instant coffee creamer
2 cups instant chocolate drink mix
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Mix well, store in airtight container.

To use it, stir about 3 teaspoonsful into a cup of boiling hot water.

Here's my vegan version:

1 and 1/3 cup instant coffee
1 and 1/2 cup Better Than Milk powdered soymilk
2 cups cocoa powder
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Mix well, store in airtight container.

To use it, stir about 1 tablespoon into a cup of boiling hot water.

I increased the amount of sugar because I was using cocoa powder rather than powdered chocolate drink mix. The Better than Milk worked very well. The girls like to enjoy this with a splash of vanilla soymilk.

The boys helped mix this up and gave it to the girls along with two coffee mugs and a tablespoon measure. It was a big hit! BTW, 1 tablespoon is equal to 3 teaspoons.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas - The Food

I'm going to take my own advice and forgive myself for not getting one last update in before the celebrations began. I hope others will do the same. I'm always a little sad when Christmas is over but there is a sense of relief that washes over me when the last guest leaves. This year, Christmas was like a 3 day festival (I've made the Woodstock comparison several times this weekend.)

Saturday, my in-laws came for coffee and cake in the afternoon. We had banana nut bread, chocolate chip cookies, rice pudding and sesame sticks as well as clementines which our guests brought. Despite teaching two classes Saturday morning (or maybe it was because I was teaching two classes), I was able to get the Baked Butternut Pasta totally prepped and in the pan before our company arrived. Once this task was done, I felt I could relax. I knew it wasn't likely that our guests would stay for dinner but it felt good knowing I could offer it to them.

Jim, the kids and I enjoyed the Baked Butternut Pasta immensely. I served it with homemade foccacia bread. The recipe was defintely improved by replacing 1/2 of the silken tofu with firm tofu.

Brunch Sunday morning was a big success. My 2 year old niece couldn't get enough of our chickpea scramble and pumpkin muffins with dried cranberries. That was a big thrill. We also served cinnamon raisin toast, roasted potatoes, rice pudding and fruit - once again brought by our guests.

As promised, for dinner we had Tofurky with roasted vegetables and gravy. I like the new basting mixture recommended on the Tofurky package. The new Tofurky gravy is delicious but way too salty for my taste.

For brunch Christmas morning I made pumpkin pancakes and served the last of the chickpea scramble with it. There were bananas and clementines as well.

Dinner on Christmas day was a vegetarian feast to behold. I warmed up a pan of the baked butternut squash pasta and the foccacia. I also put together a vegetarian baked ziti with baked tvp. We served this with a mix of ground walnuts, nutritional yeast and garlic powder and a green olive bruschetta. There was a salad and a veggie plate as well. Desserts ranged from the healthier pumpkin muffins with walnuts and dired cranberries to homemade chocolate bark made with crushed candy canes. I also made Dr. Furhman's Almond Carob Fudge which is always a hit.

After three days of entertaining, I'm fairly certain that no one missed the meat. Today we'll be eating leftover baked ziti for dinner while I tend to the laundry I neglected during this entertaining frenzy.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Final Pre-Holiday Update

I'll be giving a final update late Friday evening. In the meantime, lets all take a deep breath and remember the holidays should be about family and friends getting together and enjoying each others company, not papered packages under a tree or shoved in a sock. Let's give ourselves permission to skip that last minute marathon sprint through the local Walmart or mall for "just one last thing." Finally, let's forgive ourselves for all the things that we intended to do but never got to.

Friday Freebies

Free Dog Treat Recipes

Free Printable Christmas Gift Tags

Coupons for Ecos Earth Friendly Products

Coupons for Ecover products

Seventh Generation Coupons and free newsletter

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Menu

The menu is in a state of evolution, a very early state of evolution. Here are the meals I need to provide for company; dinner Saturday, brunch Sunday and dinner Monday. I've been going through my pantry to see what I have an overabundance of and what I might be missing. I've come to the realization that the pantry is quite full and I want to make use of the things I have on hand. For example, I still have a lot of squash from our CSA that I would like to feature in our meal, in part because I have an abundance but also because it was locally grown. I love to illustrate the connection between food, the seasons and local farmer. I think its a connection that needs to be made more often.

Thoughts of that squash whirled around my head all day yesterday until I finally decided how to use it. I'll be making a baked version of the Butternut Squash Pasta dish but I will be substituting extra firm tofu for the silken tofu to give it a more ricotta like texture. I'll make a loaf or two of bread to go along with it, possibly foccacia.

I like the brunch menu I used last year, although I plan to add oven roasted potatoes to it.

Since different people will be at the two dinners, I will most likely use the same menu. This will cut down on my food prep time which is certainly at a premium right now! Although, there will likely be more people on Christmas Day so I'm leaning towards making a Red Lentil Roast since it stores well.

As in year's past we will celebrate Christmas Eve with just the kids. The menu for that evening is by popular request. They want Tofurky! I'll make some stuffing and some mashed squash to go with it.

Desserts are still up in the air. Most will be fruit based because I know others will bring sweeter cookies and cakes. More on these tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas is Coming!

I took my pre-holiday stroll through the local natural food store yesterday in search of a powdered milk alternative. Ruthie had metioned Better Than Milk Soy Beverage mix in the past so I used this as a starting point. Sure enough, it was on the shelf waiting for me.

I did not have any success looking for powdered creamer in the natural food store but I think I can manage without it. I'll check the regular grocery store tomorrow but I know when I've checked these out in the past, they all have hydrogentated oils in them. I'll be doing test runs shortly.

Jim's on a quest today for the perfect gift for our niece (2) and nephew (not quite 4 months). These little guys have everything kids could want but we think we've nailed down the perfect, non cluttering, parent and child friendly gift. More on that later today.

Rob's class is sharing holiday traditions all this week. On Friday, I'll be joining him and his class to share our tradition of the kids hand making presents for the family. We'll be making rice pudding mix, in bags instead of jars to make it more school bus ride home friendly. I'll post the recipe later today.

The time has come to get our holiday menu in order! With the longer holiday weekend it looks like we'll be entertaining at three different times on three different days. The first order of business is to nail down when the company is coming. The menu will evolve from that. Look for my tentative holiday menu tomorrow morning.

Working more hours has clearly changed the way I operate and not always in a way I like. I'm not a fan of this last minute business. Although I am pleased with the way my fleece projects are coming, I wish I was further along with them. Similarly, I know I can pull together a holiday menu with the foods I have on hand but I don't want to lose the joy of the cooking/creating experience in the process. Scaling back my hours at work has become a bit of an obsession for me.

Friday evening will be the great Christmas project finale at our house. We'll put on A Christmas Story in the background and let it play over and over again (Jim's not a hugefan of this little tradition but the kids and I have come to love it! Sorry Jim). The boys will actually put together their rice pudding mixes, the girls will finish up their crafts and so will I. Thank goodness for the sewing machine! Its a festive bit of mania. Jim's not left out, he's our jack of all trades, filling in wherever he's needed, usually on clean up which is the most important and least appreciated job of all!

I finally found the rice pudding mix recipe! I've never been able to findground vanilla, so I use vanilla sugar instead or I add 1 tsp of vanilla to the list of ingredients to add.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Flavored Coffee Mixes as Holiday Gifts

I've got two cappucino hounds, disguised as teenage girls, living in my house. They both get dreamy eyed and rave whenever they talk about the cappucino sold at school. I'm putting together some flavored coffee mixes to satisfy their cravings without leaving them penniless.

I've always been a big fan of gifts in a jar. The challenge with these coffee recipes is to find vegan alternatives to some of the ingredients. I'll be working on that today. I'll share any discoveries I make and you can feel free to do the same.

Here are some links to recipes to get you started:

Mocha Espresso Coffee

Cappucino Mix

Instant Cappucino Mix

Swiss Mocha

Several different coffee mixes

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Vegetarian Article & Fleece Project Update

The link to a very intriguing article about kids, IQ and vegetarianism has been making the rounds on many of the lists I belong to. It turned up yesterday in our local paper as well. Jim clipped it out and hung it on the fridge. Just in case you missed it, here's the link to it.

I've heard others mention but I never realized there was a crockpot section at this site. Its definitely worth checking out. I'm especially happy about it because I'll be working some pretty long hours this week and this will make dinner time a breeze.

I've had some great success in my fleece projects. So far I've made hats for each of the boys and I'm working on my first pair of gloves for them. The source of fleece for these first projects has been a pair of fleece pants that Leen outgrew. The beauty of this is the sides of the hats were already sewn (the legs of the pants) I just had to pin and stitch the tops! I simplified the pattern to make the hats for the boys by rounding the top of the fabric rather than doing elaborate folding. This seems to eliminate some of the lumpiness the folding caused. They must be coming out ok because when Leen saw them, she asked me to make her one as well.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

So You Think You Have a Day Off?

Murphy's Law is hard at work in my life. I've got this morning off and I had big plans to accomplish things but there's a kink in my plans. My youngest is home with a skin rash that is actually a staph infection. How gross is that?! I always think of staph infections as gaping, non-healing wounds from my days in the nursing home but it turns out it can also just look like hives. The source of this wonderful infection is your own skin, but it only flourishes when the skin is broken as it was with my son's recent bought of eczema.

So instead of focusing on holiday crafts this morning, per his doctor's orders, I'll be washing his sheets and pajamas in hot water so he doesn't reinfect himself. On the lighter side, this is only bothering me. Kyle hasn't been bothered by it one bit. It doesn't itch or burn or anything. From his perspective its a bonus day home with mom, catching up on the latest PBS has to offer followed by episodes of The Partridge Family that Jim brought home from the library.

Last night I made split pea soup and Cold Thai Peanut Noodles. I usually substitute kale for the sprouts and cabbage but I didn't have any in the fridge. Instead, I boiled some small beets for about 30 minutes; until they were fork tender and the skins slipped off. I cut them into small pieces and added them, along with grated carrots to the noodles. Here's a little tip from my kitchen to yours, be careful what you add beets to. From a flavor standpoint, this tasted great. Visually, the results were not so stunning. The beets gave everything a pink tinge, which is very unappealing.

I love to make soups this time of year. Today I'll be tinkering with a dhal recipe that uses red lentils in the slow cooker. Jim isn't a huge fan of Indian cooking, in fact he can smell an 1/8 tsp of curry powder a mile off, but I'll serve it with something that he likes to make the whole meal more palatable. I find this to be a good technique with the whole family. As a result, we often have melting pot type meals that intermix many culinary styles.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Simple Fleece Projects

Here are some links for easy fleece projects. There are tons more out there if you don't mind sorting through a google search.

Fleece Socks

Fleece hat

Kids Fleece hat

Hooded Scarf

Fleece Hat and Scarf

Fleece Mittens

Another Fleece Mitten

Monday, December 11, 2006

Not Your Average Bow on a Package!

I think wrapping paper is a rip off, no pun intended. I prefer to get a little creative with my wrapping. For example, I'm a big fan of using recieving blankets for wrapping paper on baby gifts. The holidays don't always lend themselves to this kind of creative wrapping so in many cases I just go with the minimum. Yesterday, however, I came up with a frugal, waste free way to adorn my gift packages.

I have quite a bit of scrap fleece from my curtain lining project last year. Since the gift in question was for my 2 yr old niece, I used my youngest son as a model. I cut the appropriate width and length of fleece for a scarf and cut a small fringe into either end. I then used the scarf to create a chunky, toddler sized bow on her birthday package. It looked pretty neat.

Since I used fleece, making a scarf is a no-sew project. That makes it great for doing with the kids. A few years back we did it with our girl scout troop with good results as well. In the past, I've seen a pattern for a fleece hat that I may give a try. It only involves making one seam up the side. I'll post it tomorrow. Hats, gloves and scarves may be the perfect gifts to make for the child in your life who leaves more at the school lost and found than at home in his/her closet.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Holiday Shopping with Update

Its hard to go into specifics about our holiday gift giving plans when I know so many relatives read my blog, including my nosy teenagers who are itching to find out what they're getting. Ok kids, no reading past this point!

Today is the day I plan to finish shopping for the kids. Its pretty minimal because I've squirreled a few things away over the last few months. In fact, I'm on the hunt for just 4 things. I'll let you know how I do later today.

Good gift giving for kids is a challenge, especially if you are trying to keep it frugal while keeping your clutter potential down. All the electronic doodads that every kids seems to have really add up. Personally, I'm a fan of low tech, interactive toys like these Devil Sticks. We saw a guy on the beach playing with these and my kids were just fascinated. He let them try them out and it took a lot more coordination than they anticipated but it kept them busy for hours. I bought a set for the boys and one for the girls. Gifts that can be shared by siblings are a great way to give a worthwhile gift without breaking your budget. BTW, Chad over at the Devilstix website is a pleasure to deal with.

Upon entering the local mall, I encountered undulating masses of arms reaching and grabbing for toys and electronics. I'm not certain anyone was actually seeing what they were grabbing. It was akin to sharks in a feeding frenzy. There was little in the way of holiday spirit and I couldn't help but wonder where all these people were coming from at 1:00pm. Didn't anyone have to be at work? I left with nothing but a feeling of disappointment.

I headed back to the smaller plaza where my gym is located and entered a large toy store. It was equally crowded but at least it seemed a bit friendlier. It also helped that they had what I was looking for, a marching band type drum with cymbals for each boy, as well as small student size guitars. The lone guitar that Kyle got last year has been a source of jealousy all year. In fact, recently Am put his foot through it. As a result, the boys are buying each other guitars for Christmas. (FYI Toys R Us has them on sale for $19.99.)

A quick stop at another local store netted a digital camera the girls have wanted, on sale with a $20 rebate. Big ticket shopping is done, everything else will be hand made. More on that next week.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Amish Baked Oatmeal

I got this recipe from Donna over at The Vegetarian Group. Its a great resource for vegetarian and vegan recipes just be warned its high volume. I stick with the digest format to make it manageable.

The original recipe calls for eggs and butter so I tinkered a bit and here's what I came up with:

Katie's version of Amish Baked Oatmeal
The night before I combined the following in a greased 9" x 12" pan:
1 1/2 Cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 Cup vanilla sugar
1/2 Cup milk or soy milk
1/4 cup ground flaxseed meal
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup of raisins

In the morning, since I was unable to get out of bed, I had graduated from the bathroom floor by that point, Leenie added:

1 1/2 cups of plain soymilk

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes or until edges are golden
brown. Immediately cut and spoon out into bowls; add
milk. Top with fruit and/or brown sugar if desired.

Serves about 6

This was really delicious and mighty convenient. Thanks to Donna for sharing the recipe.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Surviving the Virus

All the handwashing and cleaning I did last week didn't save me from getting slammed with the virus that my son and daughter had. In case anyone's curious, this mom follows her own rules. I too slept on the bathroom floor while active puking was in progress.

I'm feeling much better but my appetite in very minimal and I'm just wiped out, although it hasn't stopped me from teaching classes yesterday and today. Thank heavens for our teenage daughters who were able to run the house while we were out of commission. Leenie even filled in for me at a fitness event for Daisy Girl scouts. Poor child has been in the gym so much over the years that she was able to pretty much replicate the type of class I would have done with them. Of course it helped that she had all my notes but don't tell her that.

Tomorrow I'll blog on the baked oatmeal Leenie made herself and the rest of the kids Saturday morning. I had prepped the dry ingredients the night before so all she had to was add 1 1/2 cups of soymilk. That was a happy accident.