Friday, September 30, 2011

RECIPE: Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Cookies

Okay, I have to admit -- for all my shortcut-taking in the kitchen, one place I like to overachieve is the cookie department. I love cookies. Nom nom nom cookies. I don't care if it takes me three hours to bake, because the reward (face full of cookie) is worth it.

On the flip side, I hate being disappointed by cookie recipes. Which is what I've been with every pumpkin cookie recipe to date. And because my obsession with cookies is rivaled by my obsession with pumpkin, I have tried a lot of cookie recipes in an attempt to unite these two amazing tastes in my belly.


This is adapted from Annie's Eats -- very, very closely adapted. Basically, all I did differently was to skip the salt and go a little light on the flour.

You'll need...

  • 3 3/4 cups of flour (I went a little light on each cup)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened (NOT melted!)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar (light's okay too; I just prefer dark)
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (I went heavy because I LOVE cinnamon)
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • a shake or two of allspice

    Hold on one sec...I just have to take a quick bite of the pumpkin...

    ...okay. Yum. Seriously, sprinkle a little brown sugar on it and it's like a tiny pumpkin pie!


    Mix the cookie ingredients together, starting with the dry stuff, then adding the wet stuff. Use a hand mixer on the lowest setting or else you'll get powdered George Washington-style by flour. It's nearly impossible to mix. Your mixer will make sad machine sounds, and the batter will crawl up the little blade thingies, and you'll have to scrape it off, and then it'll just happen again. Stick with it!

    Eff you, batter.

    Once the batter is mixed, stir the ingredients for the coating in a small bowl. Roll the batter into 1" to 1 1/2" balls, then dip the balls* in the coating and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet.

    To make sure they cook evenly, you'll want to smush them a little bit. In lieu of getting sticky hands, run a glass under some cold water, then dip it in the coating.

    Now use it to smush the cookies. Ta-da! Love this trick -- I think I like this Annie girl.

    Now bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. 

    Perfection. Not too cakey, not too soft or mushy, not too buttery, just perfect cookie consistency. I'm bringing these to my family reunion tomorrow, so my short-term goal is to not eat the entire batch before we get there. My long-term goal is to not eat the entire batch while we're there, even if it's fair game once it hits the dessert table.

    It took me longer to write this recipe than it usually takes me to prep an entire dinner, but if you ever have an hour of free time -- today's serendipity was a long nap from my two-year-old and an excessively cooperative mood from my one-year-old -- these cookies are worth the trouble.


    RECIPES: Healthy Green-Egg Salad and Angel Eggs

    I'm obsessed with eggs. Seriously -- I could hoover a bowl of egg whites like it was a bowl of ice cream.

    This isn't a hypothetical situation. I've done it.

    My husband is slightly disturbed by my egg consumption, and has expressed concern that my cholesterol reading might someday be around 209374029. So, just in case, I decided to make some slightly healthier variations on my two favorite egg recipes.

    First, egg salad. I loves me an egg salad sammie! The trick is to replace the mayo and mustard with guacamole. It's a healthier fat, it's a fruit, and more importantly, it tastes like amazeballs.

    The second one came from a tip I saw in Shape magazine. It's a twist on deviled eggs, but this time, instead of mayo and mustard, you mix the yolks with hummus. (If you're feeling extra-virtuous, you can ditch the yolks and fill it with straight hummus. But I love the yolks.) I used Cedar's chili pepper hummus and it was phenomenal -- loads of flavor and a bit of a kick. I have big plans to hunt down my favorite hummus in the whole wide world -- Tribe Forty Spice -- and lock myself in the kitchen* with a dozen or so of these. I nicknamed them "angel eggs" because, well, if mayo is the eeeeeevil ingredient in deviled eggs, I think hummus deserves a halo. 

    P.S. If there are any fellow egg-lovers reading this -- we recently switched over to brown eggs, organic eggs, local-chicken-plopped eggs -- but yikes, it's hard to get around the weird color and texture variations! There was a mysterious red spot lurking in one of these eggs. How long will it take me to overcome the mental obstacles of eating eggs that aren't creepily uniform in size, shape, and color?

    *Potential logistical problem: Kitchen has no door. 

    Monday, September 26, 2011

    ROOST: Backyard Science for Toddlers

    Yesterday's weather forecast called for ridiculous apocalyptic amounts of rain. I was okay with that, because "rainy day activities" coincidentally overlap with several of my personal favorite activities such as watching TV, drinking assorted hot beverages, and lying on the futon.

    But it didn't rain, so I put my hot-chocolate-and-Pixar plans on hold and took the boys outside. I'd seen a blog post about fun DIY chemistry projects for kids, and this one was my favorite suggestion of the bunch. By which I mean it seemed like I had a 99% chance of not screwing it up.

    First, I filled a water bottle with plain old vinegar and punched a hole in the cap using a grilling fork. Yep, we're running a high-end laboratory over here. Then I filled four plastic cups with baking soda, 7-8 drops of food coloring, and water.

    Spoiler alert: That's where I screwed up. The first step. When I poured a test drop of vinegar into one of the cups to make sure I wasn't about to drench my children with a technicolor explosion, the baking soda mixture just sparkled like a nice bottle of Perrier.


    I consulted my hubby, the engineer, who told me (in so many words) that baking soda isn't exactly a strong alkaline, which is why I'm allowed to put in in cookies without poisoning anyone. He suggested I dump most of the water out and add more baking soda before administering the vinegar catalyst. He's very useful to have around. 

    So that's what I did. I handed my two-year-old the vinegar bottle, informed him that the usual "no dumping your bottle just for the heck of it" rules were temporarily suspended, and let him have at it.

    He took the job very seriously. He was having so much fun that my one-year-old -- who was busy digging wet leaves out of the trunk of his Little Tykes car -- eventually wandered over and joined in. 

    Although for the most part, my one-year-old was more interested in dunking his hands in the mixture and licking his fingers. And that, my friends, is why food is perfect for toddler science experiments. We'll move on to barium* in a year or two. 

    Total cost of the materials: $2. (I'm not counting the food coloring. We've had the same four bottles for several years now, and they seem to mysteriously regenerate.) And the liquid didn't stain their hands. Win-win!

    * Not a clue what barium is. I passed chemistry by doing lots and lots and lots of extra credit.

    Sunday, September 25, 2011

    RECIPE: Zucchini Bread

    I've never tried to grow zucchini, but it must be pretty easy because people are always complaining that they have more zucchini than they know what to do with. And I'm always like, "Send it my way! I know exactly what to do with zucchini!"

    (I like to cook with it. You knew that's what I meant, right?)

    But as much as I love to throw zucchini into pasta, stir-fry, wraps, and soups...I've never made zucchini bread. And I love zucchini bread! But I'm always intimidated by the idea of making bread in general.

    After some hunting around, I found a recipe that doesn't call for yeast (which terrifies me) and doesn't require a cup of vegetable oil (which terrifies my bathroom scale) and uses ingredients I already had in my cabinets (woohoo!). The sad thing is, it was from a site called Simply Recipes, but I simplified it even more. Here's my extra-super-duper simple adapted version:

    You'll need:

    • 2 eggs
    • 1 1/3 c. sugar
    • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
    • 3 c. shredded zucchini
    • 2 tsp. baking soda
    • 3 c. flour
    • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
    • 2 tsp. cinnamon
    • 2/3 c. melted butter*

    Mix it all together. I added the ingredients in the order listed above. Grease a 5x9-ish bread pan, pour in half the mixture, and bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. (Stick a toothpick in it after 40 minutes to see if it need to stay in a little longer.) That's it. Hubby and I basically polished off the first loaf within about 20 minutes, then gave the second loaf to our awesome neighbor 1) to thank him for loaning us his truck and 2) to avoiding eating two loaves of zucchini bread in an hour.


    * Cover the butter with a paper towel or you'll have a butter volcano in the microwave. Trust me.

    Saturday, September 17, 2011

    ROOST: DIY Recipes for Natural Cleaning Products (and Cool Uses for Vinegar)

    A few days ago I washed my hair with vinegar. On purpose.

    The inspiration came while reading my friend Whitney's DIY blog. Whitney is one of those crafty super-moms -- like, "Oh, yesterday I photographed a water birth, knitted eleventy baby hats, and redecorated my son's nursery." Most of the projects on her blog are so out of my league that I get to line two and I'm like, "Fat quarter whaaaaa...?"

    But I was psyched when she recently posted recipes for natural cleaning products, for two reasons:
    1) I hate the smell of cleaning products, which is one of the key reasons I almost never clean, and
    2) They all seemed easy to do.

    Click the pic to check out her post:

    One catch -- so far I've come up dry in my quest to find castille soap. Well, I found it at Whole Foods, but it was $16, which is way more expensive than my current strategy of not cleaning at all. I found some on but just need to figure out how to fill out the order minimum to get free shipping, because I haaaaaaate paying shipping :)

    But her post did inspire me to figure out other ways to use natural products I have lying around the kitchen. I read several places that vinegar made a great hair rinse for breaking down soapy residue, which my hair desperately needed. So I diluted a tablespoon of cider vinegar in a cup of water, brought it in the shower, and tried it.

    Two things happened.
    1) My scalp immediately froze and I thought, "OMG! This shit is like menthol! It's reacting with my scalp!" Then I remembered that I'd diluted the vinegar in cold tap water. Duh.
    2) It smelled like Easter egg dye. My first instinct was to mask it with conditioner, but I figured that would defeat the purpose. So I rinsed and hoped for the best. The good news: When I got into bed, my husband didn't say "Why do you smell like salad dressing?!" or anything like that.

    Best of all, it actually made my uncooperative hair look shiny. And it bought me an extra day or two between shampoos. Woohoo!

    A few other cool uses for vinegar:
    • spray it on weeds in your driveway
    • spray it around your door to prevent ants
    • pour some down the kitchen drain to deodorize
    • clean your hairbrush (same basic principle as the hair rinse)
    • soothe itchy bug bites (I live in mosquito heaven -- this TOTALLY worked!)
    • leave a bowl out to neutralize a nasty odor (smoke, puke, etc)

    Happy vinegar-ing :)

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    RECIPE: Holy Mole Mexican BBQ Pork {Slow Cooker or Oven Roast}

    Seriously, I haven't even started digesting this and I had to come on and share the recipe -- it was that good. It's based on my usual pulled pork recipe, but I tweaked it a bit and added some spices and chocolate to make a Mexican-mole-inspired sauce. I love it when experiments go well :)

    I totally forgot this pork was expiring (um, yesterday) and didn't fire up the slow cooker this morning, so I made it as an oven roast. But it's pretty much a dump recipe, so it would work in the oven or the Crock-Pot equally well. (Although, like most things, it would probably be juicier in the slow cooker.)

    • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar (unpacked)
    • 1 Tbsp paprika
    • 1 tsp chili powder (mine was a heavy mistake)
    • 1/2 Tbsp cumin
    • 1 Tbsp garlic (minced)
    • 1 square of dark chocolate (like those Ghirardelli or Lindt squares...I used 85% dark)
    • fajita fixins (cheese, tomato, guacamole, whatever floats your barco)
    Throw everything in a casserole dish and cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes (or until meat is thoroughly cooked).

    Throw everything in the Crock-Pot and cook on low for 7-8 hours (or until meat is thoroughly cooked).

    I served it on whole wheat wraps with shredded pepperjack, guacamole, and black beans. Yum.

    Thursday, September 15, 2011

    ROOST: Upcycled Storage Jars (Super Easy Craft Idea)

    An unexpected side effect of my newfound Pinterest addiction is the urge to do crafty things. The problem is that I'm not a crafter. Honestly, to date, the pinnacle of my crafting career is that I bought a Knifty Knitter (a loom for people who aren't coordinated enough to knit properly) about 15 months ago and so far have fake-knitted about seven inches worth of a scarf. If all goes well, I should be finished it by winter. Of 2015.

    Anyway, I stumbled across a DIY blog post for making amazing candleholders out of old glass jars. If there's one thing we have an abundance of in our house, it's glass jars -- that's where salsa comes from! The problem was that the plans called for Mod Podge. Actually, pretty much everything on Pinterest calls for Mod Podge. I'm surprised I haven't seen a recipe for Mod Podge cookies.

    Anyway. Given my track record in the crafting department, I decided maybe I should take baby steps. So I made a much, much, much, much simpler version. First, the finished product:

    Still cute, right? And they're doing a fabulous job of holding annoyingly small clutter. One holds my jewelry* and the other holds choking hazards we've confiscated from the kiddos**.

    • about three feet of raffia (I had some left over in my gift-wrap drawer)
    • a button or two (I had some left over from pabnts that my husband asked me to fix circa 2005)
    • empty glass jars

    1) Clean the glass jars. I soaked them in warm soapy water for awhile to get most of the label off, then scraped off any sticky stuff with my fingernail.
    2) Hold the raffia about four inches from the end, and wrap it around and around and around and around until you're about four inches from the other end.
    3) Thread the two ends through a button. Stack two buttons if you're feeling advanced! (I wasn't.)
    4) Tie a bow.
    5) Pat self on back.

    * This isn't where I keep my jewelry on a permanent basis. I tend to take off my jewelry in the downstairs bathroom and then never have the motivation to bring it upstairs to my bedroom. Also, thanks to my love of cheap costume jewelry, there is probably a whopping $17 worth of jewelry in that jar.

    ** Martha Stewart would vomit in her mouth.

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    RECIPE: Braided Apple Crisp Pastry

    First, about the title of this post: I concocted this recipe and then realized I didn't know what it would actually be called in bakery-land. Is it a turnover? A streusel? It's not a tart, right? (Or is it tarte?) So I decided to play it safe and go with pastry. That's my fancy kitchen jargon.

    Anyway. I got inspired by this blog post on Eat Live Run, but needed to make a few adaptations to fit my own cooking philosophy.

    Namely: Needs more sugar. Needs fewer steps.

    So in lieu of baking my own bread, I picked up some Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts (the rolled-up kind) and used a simplified version of my mom's apple crisp recipe as the filling. This recipe makes two braids.

    • 5 apples, peeled and chopped
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup flour
    • heaping spoonful of margarine or butter, melted
    • 1/2 t. cinnamon
    • 1/2 t. nutmeg
    Mix everything together. Put a little bit of flour on the bottom of a baking sheet, lay the pie crust flat, and -- leaving the center intact -- cut five diagonal slits on either side, like you're drawing a fugly Christmas tree, or the Element skateboard logo. Scoop half the mixture into the center.

    With the diagonals facing down and away from the center, start braiding your dough like you're lacing up a corset.(In the photo below, the starting point was the lower-right part.)

    Put it in the oven on 375 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. Depends on your oven. Watch for the edges to turn slightly golden.

    Last, you'll need to make a glaze to put on top.

    • 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
    • 1 T. milk
    • 1/4 t. vanilla

    Stir it up and pour it all over the braid while it's still warm. This whole recipe honestly took me about 10-15 minutes and two bowls to prepare. Not going to lie, I ate the "first draft" pretty much entirely by myself, and then took the second braid to a baby shower, where everyone polished it off. It's delish.

    Thursday, September 8, 2011

    RECIPE: Bruschetta-Stuffed Mushrooms

    I struggle with side dishes. My side-dish staple tends to be décongelés légumes congelés, which -- as you'll see if you check Google Translate -- is a very complicated and exciting dish*. 

    Some days I shake it up by dipping frozen cauliflower in barbeque sauce, but suffice to say that's not going to win me any culinary awards. But yesterday -- after a mere 10 years of serving bland veggies! -- it occurred to me that I can break out of the rut with stuffed mushrooms, which basically require two minutes of effort and taste like a yummy meal on their own. 

    • some mushrooms, preferably at least 1-1/2" diameter
    • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
    • 3/4 cup bruschetta sauce (I used Trader Joe's)
    • 1/4 cup grated parmesan or romano
    • 1 T. garlic

    Twist the 'shroom stems to break them off and arrange them in an oven-safe dish. (I put a little bit of olive oil in the dish first.) Mix the other ingredients and scoop it into the mushroom caps. Cook at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes. That's it!

    * Assuming Google translated correctly. Je ne parle pas français.

    Sunday, September 4, 2011

    RECIPE: Slow Cooker Farmer's Market Veggie Wraps

    I'm trying to be more of a locavore. My inner hippie knows I should probably stop importing beef from New Zealand and start eating more fresh veggies from the local farms. I mean, I do live in the Garden State. And it's not just an ironic nickname.

    Really. It's not.

    During the summer, there's actually a farmer's market in my town every weekend, which is super-convenient. I figured that was a good place to start.

    I usually pick up some free wine* and a picklesicle**, but this week I vowed to branch out and buy some proper veggies.

    I ended up with a sicilian eggplant, which is the yellow thing; a zucchini; a ton of peppers in varying degrees of scary hotness; two cloves of garlic***; and a bunch of cilantro.

    I also bought three cannolis but they were gone long before I took this photo. 

    Then I got home and had no idea what to do with any of it. But after looking through my fridge, I got inspired by a half-eaten bag of Pepitos mini tortilla shells and decided to make a veggie wrap, and in lieu of marinating and grilling, let the crockpot do all the boring work.

    You'll need:

    • some veggies (I used eggplant, zucchini, four mushrooms, and three hot peppers)
    • 1 T. garlic (um, I used the minced despite having fresh cloves on hand, sorry)
    • 2 T. soy sauce
    • 2 T. balsamic vinaigrette
    • one small jar of roasted red peppers (I chopped it up and dumped it in with all its juices)

    Chop up the veggies. Everything goes in the pot on LOW for 3-4 hours. If you work during the day, this would be a good recipe to use a timer, because there's no raw meat involved. If your crockpot doesn't have a timer, just plug it into a normal outlet timer and set it to turn on halfway through the day.

    Once the veggies are cooked, strain them well and scoop into wraps. I added a slice of gouda cheese on mine. <-- Yes, I have gouda in stock. I'll explain my fancy-cheese philosophy one of these days. But almost any cheese would work.

    Mmmm. Tasty veggies!

    * Oh, did I forget to mention they have FREE WINE?!??!

    ** Okay, they don't call it a picklesicle. But they should. It's a pickle with a popsicle stick in it.

    *** I use garlic in almost every recipe but have literally never used fresh garlic in my life. I had to ask the girl how to use it. She said, "You can chop it or grate it." I'm sure she wanted to say, "Um, you're 32. You should know this."

    Saturday, September 3, 2011

    ROOST: I fail at making creative lunches.

    I'm swamped with work today, so I decided to buckle down and be productive.

    Just kidding. I screwed around on Pinterest for three hours.

    I can't help it -- that site is like a time warp. Before I even realize what's happening, an hour has passed and I have a pin board full of upcycled lighting fixtures and weird recipes like "S'mores Breakfast Burrito!" (If you're not familiar with the site, it's like a cross between a wish list, internet bookmarks, Facebook links, and those collages you used to make in middle school with magazine cutouts of NKOTB. Suffice to say your life is over the instant you get an invite. I highly recommend it.)

    Anyway, I was stumped on what to make my kids for lunch so I decided to do a quick search for sandwiches. I was hoping for maybe a fancy grilled cheese recipe. Instead I got a bajillion pages of things like this:

    I didn't make this sandwich.

    How do you even realize that you know how to make a sandwich look like a robot? Clearly I need to step up my game in the sandwich department. And the lunch department in general. Here's what my boys ate for lunch today:

    In fairness, they requested it. Quite loudly. Then again, I didn't tell them the alternative was robot sandwiches.

    If that weren't bad enough, eventually they'll go off to school and I'll have to start competing with brown bag artists like this.

    Here are some other awesome ones I found. I pinned them in case I ever develop artistic abilities with bread as my medium.


    Okay, this is just kinda mean. My brain wants ice cream, my mouth gets bologna.

    And this is a whole entire page of amazing sandwich cutouts.

    I mean, really? I couldn't draw Mater this well with a pencil. -->

    This puts my fancy grilled cheese to shame.

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    RECIPE: Slow Cooker Sweetballs

    I'm kind of a one-trick pony when it comes to appetizers -- I've probably brought the same spinach-artichoke dip to every party I've attended since 2005. But no more! Now I'm a two-trick pony! A beef craving inspired these tasty balls, which would make Pete Schweddy proud.

    (If you haven't experienced the magic of Pete Schweddy, please take a moment...)

    Anyway. Here's the recipe:
    • 1 can cranberry sauce
    • 3/4 cup ketchup (again, Heinz organic is the bomb)
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar (not packed)
    • 1/2 can of beef broth
    • a bag of frozen meatballs

    Put everything but the meatballs in your slow cooker, and cook on HIGH for half an hour. Add the meatballs, reduce heat to LOW, and cook for 2 hours or until the meatballs are thawed. Balls accomplished.

    LIST: 5 Random Thoughts for Friday

    1. I have a newfound obsession with buying a Keurig. I’ve somehow convinced myself that an extra 100mg of caffeine every morning will transform me into a hyper-charged cleaning maniac, with enough energy left over to maybe do some fancy art projects with my kids. I’m sure it would take about two days for reality to set in, but who cares? I only need to stay delusional long enough to justify the purchase. Then I can be like, “Sorry I didn’t vacuum again today, but I made coffee that tastes like donuts!”

    2. I spent all of yesterday thinking it was Friday. It was a bummer when it was happening, but today it’s like, “Woohoo! Two Fridays in a row!”

    3. My friend posted on Facebook that Tony Danza died. I was devastated. Then she posted that the report was a hoax, and I went back to taking Tony Danza for granted.

    4. I hit 100 fans in 24 hours! But then I looked at the Crock Pot Girls and their one million fans and went back to feeling like the awkward kid in gym class. (Then again, I'm pretty sure all my fans are human. Interesting.)

    5. My kids aren’t old enough for school yet, but I’m really excited for everyone else’s kids to go back to school. I miss having the world all to myself on weekdays. And by the world, I mean Target. Clearly I’m not the only person who brings their kids there for entertainment, because it’s been packed for the past two months. I look forward to having the aisles all to myself again. In fact, I would sum up my feelings on Labor Day like this:

    Anyway, my one-year-old is on a new kick of waking up at 4:40, so I'm off to bed!

    Thursday, September 1, 2011

    RECIPE: Slow Cooker Sweet Pork Stir-Fry

    Okay, so it's not technically stir-fry, but it tastes just as good without all the stirring and frying.

    You'll need:

    • a big old hunk of pork
    • 1 bag of steam-in-bag asian veggie mix
    • 1/2 can of mandarin oranges*
    • 1/3 c. brown sugar
    • 1/3 c. cider vinegar
    • 1/4 c. soy sauce
    • 1 T. minced garlic
    • 1/2 tsp. chicken bouillon
    • 1/4 t. ginger

    Throw everything but the veggies in the crock pot and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours. A few minutes before you're ready to eat, cook the veggies in the microwave and dump them in. You can also dump them in frozen at the very beginning, but they stay a little crisper this way. At least that's what I tell myself; it's not like I ever tried it the other way.

    * I assume you could just peel a regular orange, but who wants to? Oranges are one of my favorite fruits and I almost never eat them because they're so freakin' hard to get into.