Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Half a Birthday

Can you believe it?  Lydia celebrated her six month birthday this week.  In honor of the occasion, Big Sis and I whipped up a half a birthday cake.  Of course, Lydia didn't have any, but that didn't stop her from launching herself across the table during mama's photo session, and trying to plant her face in the middle of the cake.

I made a red velvet cake with cream cheese icing.  Since Lydia wasn't eating any, I picked the cake that I wanted.  (Incidentally, if you make a similar cake, I would definitely not recommend this combination: putting white icing on the cut part of a red cake was a nightmare.)

In any case, we had a very nice litttle birthday celebration, complete with a rousing rendition of "Happy Half Birthday to You," followed by an Alice in Wonderland-inspired, "A Very Merry Half Birthday to You."

 Like I said, Lydia (who has developed quite the knack for grabbing cereal bowls, cups of water, and anything else within her surprisingly long reach right off the table) was not content to sit in daddy's lap and look at the cake.  She wiggled right onto the table and almost crawled toward her destination. 

Even Hannah, who usually eats only the icing, devoured her whole piece of cake, and then asked for more.  Quite an occasion!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Birthday/Thanksgiving/Anniversary (and that's about enough, don't you think?)

First of all, take a look at that turkey!  Isn't that the prettiest turkey you've ever seen?  My very talented brother-in-law cooked up that beauty on the grill.  You should have been there.  It tasted even better than it looks.

Okay, on the the people shots.  I celebrated my birthday this week.  Last year was a "milestone" birthday.  I had visions of The Melting Pot.  Instead, I had a different kind of melting pot: a church potluck, and an all-night drive to Chicago.  This year, Jonathan made a very nice to-do about the date, and boy was it fun. 

It involved a lot of chocolate cake, so what was not to enjoy?

Jonathan and my friend Anne made a really nice surprise birthday lunch for me last week. Anne made the richest, most decadent chocolate cake I've ever had.  It smelled like cocoa.  I think I ate about a quarter of it, along with some vanilla ice cream.  Yummy!

I also took full advantage of the free cakes at restaurants, the most memorable of which was this mud pie cupcake.  More yummy!

For the holiday (Thanksgiving, not my birthday), we went to Chicagoland to visit Jonathan's family.  The girls got to be memorialized on Opa's door jam, a much tidier version of my grandma's door.

Looks fun, huh?

Hannah and Cousin Brady had a real blast together.  Check out the "Magic Ball" bouncing competition.  This went on for about an hour.  (Don't tell Uncle Wally, whose deathly afraid that something will go through his TV.)

 Meanwhile, Lydia participated in a rousing game of Pass The Baby.

And edged out by the football game, while the grown-ups were engaged in tryptophan comas, the kids settled down in the abandoned dining room to watch Toy Story.

And as for the wedding anniversary that wasn't?  Even though Thanksgiving was a good time to get married, it's a bad time to have an anniversary.  So that's postponed for later...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tiny Pies and a Big Girl Sous Chef

Hannah and I made some mini pies to take to a Thanksgiving celebration.  More on those later, but bear with me while I wax sentimental for a few minutes.  Baking together has been something that we Hannah and I have enjoyed since she could stand on a chair at the kitchen counter.

Her participation has evolved from banging together her own mini utensils, to actually participating in the making of things.

Of course, licking the beater has always been part of the bargain.  (I'm going to have to buy another stand mixer when Lydia is big enough to help.  Whoever made those with only one beater must have been an only child.)

But yesterday, I realized that Hannah was really helping.  She knows how to level the top of the measuring cup with her finger.  Although, because her finger is so tiny, using her whole hand works better...

She can stir things, using a full-sized spoon.  And most of the time, most of the ingredients stay in the bowl.

When I was chopping the apples, Hannah helped.  Look at her dice: not too shabby for a three-year-old, huh? 

Well, all of this, as I said, was to make some mini pies.  We made pumpkin and apple.  I looked at many recipes online for pies in muffin tins, and finally used the pumpkin pie recipe on the can of Libby's pumpkin, and my favorite crumb-topped apple pie recipe.  I baked them according to the temperatures and time listed in the recipes, and even though they're miniaturized, they came out just right.  One hint I picked up from reading other's experience is to liberally grease the muffin tins: a big help in getting the little guys out.

I also used pre-made crust - pie crust is not my forte.  With that confession out of the way, I will say that this is the first time I can remember using canned pumpkin.  I am in the habit of roasting and pureeing my own pumpkin, then keeping it in the freezer to use throughout the year.  But last year's pumpkin is gone, and as you can see, this year's pumpkin is still adorning the kitchen counter.

The little pies look lovely, and Hannah and are very excited to share them with our friends this afternoon.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chicken Enchiladas with Green Sauce

Have you noticed how much Mexican food I have posted on Wee Warrens?  It must be because I really like making it.  Some people are Italian buffs, or grill masters.  I guess my favorite food culture is Mexican.  Especially things wrapped in tortillas and covered in cheese.  What more could you want in a meal?

Hands down, the favorite Mexican-inspired dish at our house is chicken enchiladas.  It's comfort food for me and Jonathan, and Hannah likes it too. (Keep in mind that this is a kid who started eating salsa straight out of the bowl at 8 months.  And not just any salsa, this stuff would have made some grow-ups cry.  That being said, this really is only as spicy as the sauce you use.)

This is also a super way to use up leftover chicken.  My mom makes turkey enchiladas after the holidays.  If you don't have any cooked chicken on hand, an easy and tasty way is to simmer a couple of chicken breasts (or whatever pieces you have on hand) in just enough water to cover, with a little onion and oregano. 


2 cups cooked chicken, diced or shredded
12 corn tortillas (if you want to do it the "real" way, you have to use corn and not flour)
Sour cream
Cheese that's melty (If you want to be really authentic, skip this "authentic" cheese blend I bought and use Monterrey Jack.  If you want to be frugal, buy what's on sale, like I did. You could also use queso fresco, which is really yummy, but it doesn't melt at all.  So I would use queso fresco in the enchiladas and put the melty cheese on top, to make it look prettier.  Because isn't melted cheese all over your dinner pretty?!)
Green enchilada sauce (My "secret ingredient" is this kind of sauce: Herdez Salsa Verde, which is not enchilada sauce at all.  It's tomatillo salsa, but it has a nice tangy flavor, and just the right amount of spice for our family.)

Step 1: Heat your tortillas.  This keeps them from crumbling when you fold them.  If you don't do this, you're going to get super frustrated, and just have a big tortilla mess on your hands. 

I have this nifty tortilla warmer, that you use in the microwave.  Alternatively, you could use my mom's tried and true method: take the tortillas out of the bag and wrap them in a couple of damp paper towels.  Microwave them for 30-60 seconds.

Step 2: Working with one tortilla at a time, spread lengthwise down the middle: about 2 Tbsp of sour cream,

and 1-2 Tbsp of cheese (this depends on how cheesy you want it, or whether or not you're going for low-cal.  Based on the picture above, it looks like I used a little less than a cup.)

and a nice handful of chicken.

Step 3: Roll up the tortilla.  This is where you'll find out why it mattered to heat the tortillas first.  If they're not hot (or not hot enough), they'll break and crumble.

Step 4: Put them in a 9x13 baking dish, making sure the "seam" side is down.  This keeps all the good stuff in while they're cooking.

Step 5: Cover it up with enchilada sauce.

Make sure you get all the edges, or they'll get crusty and dried out.

Step 6: Top the whole thing with some more cheese.  Again, it's good gooey, and it's nice with just a little for decoration for the diet version.

Step 7: Bake it at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and it's heated all the way through. 

Usually, one person would eat 2 or 3 enchiladas.  So this recipe would serve 4, and you might even have leftovers for lunch the next day.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cooking Something Pinteresting

Are you a Pinterest addict?  I am.  Pinterest is a site where you can waste hours of time doing two things.  One: create a virtual bulletin board of pictures and websites you want to remember for later ("I love the cute hair bow tutorial I saw online.  I'm going to 'pin it,' so I can find the instructions later.") Two: look at the myriad of stuff other people have pinned, then re-pin it to your own board ("Oooohhh... it never occurred to me that you could deconstruct Baby's crib and make a bench out of it, and I never would have read the kind of blog that talks about this, but now that I see it, I have to do it!!!!")  I've seen so many good ideas on Pinterest that I decided I can't look at it while I'm up at night with Lydia.  I get so excited about the possibilities that I literally can't go back to sleep.  I know...I can't help it.

(By the way, want to follow me on Pinterest?  Click the big, red button on the side bar.)

The folks at Pinterst have helpfully created some umbrella categories that one can peruse, like fashion, food, crafts, photography, and travel, just to name a few.  I spend most of my time looking at kids, crafts, and food - and I mean this virtually, not just in real life.  Let me tell you, seeing row after row of beautiful photographs of really nice food just does something to me.  My mouth waters as soon as I log in.  (I don't want to hear your remarks about Pavlov.)  I got so many cakes going on my food board that I even created a separate cake board.

So after weeks of looking at all these pictures and accompanying recipes, I decided to get out my mixing spoon and make a few.  Some are wonderful.  Some look good and taste mediocre.  I figured that I'd try my hand as a food critic; that is, of my own cooking, based on recipes I find on Pinterest.  Interested?  Then read on...

Just before Halloween, there were a plethora of pumpkin recipes making the rounds on the Food Boards.  I really like cooking with pumpkin.  I always buy several pumpkins, which I roast, puree, and freeze to bake with throughout the year.  So I was looking for ways to use up the end of last year's pumpkin.  And this Pull-Apart Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Bread showed up over and over again.  This is from a beautiful and yummy-looking food blog called Sunny Side Up in San Diego.  It looks amazing, doesn't it?  I had just made pumpkin muffins, which Jonathan and Hannah both devoured (and these are people who turn up their noses at banana, blueberry, or chocolate muffins).  So I was ready to venture deeper into the realm of pumpkin breads.

One afternoon last week, Hannah and I gathered the ingredients and went to work.  This is a yeast bread, so it was a lesson in delayed gratification for daughter and mother alike.  Hannah especially enjoyed cutting the strips of dough to make the pull-apart bits.  It baked up into a nice loaf, which looked almost as lovely on our plate as it does in the original picture.

Hannah and I sat down to take our first bites.  She liked it okay, but unlike the magic pumpkin muffins, only ate a few bites.  (This is normal for my non-sweet-tooth.  I don't understand how she is related to me, but I guess it's for the best.)  I, on the other hand, was hugely disappointed. 

I don't think I've ever said this before in my whole life, but there was too much sugar.  The entire bread tasted like sugar: cinnamon sugar coating each piece of bread, and then a very sweet glaze drizzled over the entire thing.  (By the way, I left the rum out of the glaze.  Maybe that was the problem.)  It did not taste one bit like pumpkin. I was sad that I used my second-to-last cup of frozen pumpkin on a bread that didn't have any pumpkin flavor.

Bottom line: this one's not going in the Keeper File.  As a cinnamon sticky bread, it was just fine, but for a pumpkin bread, it missed the mark for me.
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