Crystal Tree

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

This is so easy and fun! I found it here on You could experiment with many different shapes of cardboard--I think snowflakes would be really cool. The crystals began to form within one hour, and spread quickly, much to the excitement of the kids. Be careful not to move the project around, though, because as we discovered (when MOM moved it to take a picture!!!), the 'crystals' are very powdery and fragile, falling off at the slightest movement.

I found the bluing at Meijer by the bleach/laundry detergent. Meijer seems to be the place that carries all the obscure items I am searching for!

  • Thin shirt cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Deep saucer or small bowl
  • Small jar with a tight-fitting lid
  • 1 tablespoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon bluing
  • 1/2 tablespoon household ammonia
  1. To create the base, cut two cardboard tree shapes (about 4 inches tall and 3 inches across at the widest point). Cut a 2-inch slot in the top of one shape and in the base of the other. Join the shapes at the slots and stand the tree in a deep saucer or a small bowl.
  2. In the jar, combine 1 tablespoon water, the salt, bluing, and ammonia (handling ammonia is a parent's job). Fasten the lid and shake well, then pour the solution into the saucer or bowl.
  3. Leave the tree undisturbed. Crystals may take as little as an hour or as long as a day to begin to form, depending on the humidity in your home (they'll grow better in drier air). The tree will keep growing over the next few days, until all of the liquid evaporates.

Tuna Noodle Casserole II

Saturday, December 10, 2011

While this recipe takes a little longer than my Tuna Casserole I, it avoids canned soups as a binder. It uses a roux to hold the ingredients together (I first heard that term just months ago and had NO idea what it meant...but as you'll see it's simple). The original recipe uses tons of mushrooms, which sounds awesome to me..but one of my little guys can't stand mushrooms right now, so I obliged to his tastes (nice mom, huh?), and substituted 2 cups of fresh green beans (chopped in 2 inch pieces). If I'd had frozen peas on hand I would have used those, because peas really just GO with tuna and noodles, don't you think? I omitted the bread crumbs, but still used cheese, which is my topping of choice for WAY too many foods. ;)

Tuna Casserole
1 11 medium onion, finely chopped
4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter (I cut it down to 3)
10 oz mushrooms, trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick (I used green beans, you could try other veggies)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/4 cup Sherry
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (6-oz) can tuna in olive oil, drained (I used tuna in oil, and two cans)
6 oz dried curly egg noodles (preferably Pennsylvania Dutch style; about 3 1/4 cups)
1 1/2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (from 3 slices firm white sandwich bread)
4 oz coarsely grated Cheddar (1 cup)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a shallow 2-quart baking dish.Cook onion in 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with a pinch of salt in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to moderately high and add mushrooms, then sauté, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms begin to give off liquid, about 2 minutes. Add soy sauce and continue to sauté mushrooms, stirring, until liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated. Add Sherry and boil, stirring occasionally, until evaporated. Remove from heat.

Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat and whisk in flour, then cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add broth in a stream, whisking, and bring to a boil, whisking. Whisk in milk and simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in mushroom mixture, lemon juice, and salt. Flake tuna into sauce and stir gently. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Cook noodles in a 5- to 6-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain noodles in a colander and return to pot. Add sauce and stir gently to combine. Transfer mixture to baking dish, spreading evenly.

Toss together bread crumbs and cheese in a bowl. Drizzle with oil and toss again, then sprinkle evenly over casserole. Bake until topping is crisp and sauce is bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes.


Red Lentil Soup

I just discovered red lentils about a year ago. They seem extra special, and a little more flavorful, than brown lentils. They are a beautiful orange-ish red, and turn yellow when cooked. They may be a little more difficult to find than brown lentils; I looked at three stores before finding them at Meijer.

This soup is delicious! I had just enough celery leaves that I had frozen from this summer's CSA, and I do wonder if the exceptional celery I used made a difference in the flavor. Hopefully when I make it with store-bought celery I'll like it just as much.

The original recipe gave instructions for making pita croutons and cooked onion for garnish. I went ahead with the extra steps and it was very worth it, only I just used my own pita chips, which I make at least once a week anyway. I ate two bowls of this soup, with the suggested garnish, and was full and happy for the rest of the day! For a hungry girl like me, that is an accomplishment for any soup. :)

2 T. olive oil
2 c. finely chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground coriander
8 c. vegetable stock
1 3/4 c. dried red lentils
2 carrots, finely chopped
1/2 c. coarsely chopped celery leaves
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (I found I didn't need any at all!)

2 T. olive oil (I only used a teaspoon)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 pita pocket breads (I used two of my homemade pita chips for each bowl)

Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin and coriander; stir for about 30 seconds.

Stir in 6 cups of the vegetable stock, the lentils, carrots, celery leaves, and red pepper flakes. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat; cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 cups of stock and the lemon juice. Season to taste.


Simply slice the onion thinly and cook it in the oil until very tender and lightly browned.
Make pita chips (my recipe here).

Top each bowl of soup with a small mound of cooked onions and pita chips broken up into pieces.

Source: A Beautiful Bowl of Soup by Paulette Mitchell

Breakfast Muffins

Friday, December 9, 2011

Here's the first recipe I actually created myself. I messed around with the measurements and the ingredients until I had a muffin I really liked. I freeze them and take one out each morning to warm up in the microwave. I love the texture and the tiny bursts of just-enough-sweetness from the raisins!

4 medium very ripe bananas, mashed (I puree them in the Magic Bullet)
1/2 c. applesauce
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1/4 c. honey

(dry ingredients are flexible. If I'm out of any of the various flours/bran, I just make sure I have 1 and 3/4 c. of some combination of them)

1 c. whole wheat flour (I like whole wheat graham flour)
1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 c. wheat bran
1 t. baking soda
1/2 c. raisins

Mix all wet ingredients in one bowl, and the dry in another bowl (including raisins). Dump dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and fold gently until completely moist. Divide into greased muffin tin cups (I get 11 muffins). Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. If you let the muffins cool in pan for about 10-20 minutes, you should be able to gently pry/twist them out, then let them cool completely before putting in a ziplock gallon bag to freeze. Take one out in the morning, microwave for 45 seconds, and enjoy!

Tip-Tomato Paste

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Just a quick tip!

I'm sure many people do this, so I'm not claiming the idea.

Several of my recipes ask for just a tablespoon or 2 or tomato paste. I used to open a can and leave the rest in the fridge, intending to use it at some point (and then it always went to waste).

Now I scoop the remainder of the paste out onto a plate using my cookie scooper. I put the plate in the freezer, and when the blobs of paste are hard enough, put them together in a baggie or freezer container. Each scoop is ABOUT a tablespoon, so when I need to use a T. or 2 in a recipe the next time, I just get them out of the freezer!


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

As you can see, I've loved this thing so much the handle has broken off! But, it's still usable, so it's not going anywhere. I'm not sure where my mom bought this style, but here is one online; I think this ball-end style works better at getting all the ingredients from the bottom of the bowl or pan. A whisk is a must have, especially when making thickeners for soups or desserts or gravies.

Cookie Scoop

Monday, December 5, 2011

It's just a miniature ice cream scooper (which is actually nice to use for those miniature cones), but it makes the job of making cookies very fun and easy! Each cookie will be the perfect size, and you'll keep your fingers clean. My mom bought one for me when you used to only be able to find them in specialty baking stores, but now I've seen them everywhere.

Grandma's Peanut Brittle

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Beware: this peanut brittle is addictive! For me, it brings back very strong memories from my childhood holidays. My grandma made it every year. This is the first year I've tried it, and I was surprised at how easy it is! A candy thermometer is very helpful, even though Grandma didn't use one.

2 c. sugar
1 c. light corn syrup
1/2 c. water

Stir over medium heat until melted, bring to a boil. Boil over moderate heat until a thin thread form when stirring spoon is lifted, about 30 minutes (250 degrees).

1 lb. RAW peanuts

Continue moderate boil until peanuts are golden brown (about 30 minutes more, and until thermometer reads 300).

Walnut sized dab of butter (I use 1 T.), stir quickly until melted, then
2 t. baking soda

Stir quickly until butter and soda is mixed in, and pour onto a lightly greased cookie sheet. (I like the way the brittle turns out better if you don't spread it out...just let it settle on its own).

Cool completely, then break into pieces.

Honey Gingerbread Cookies

Today we had our first Christmas gathering of the year! Which means I whipped out some of my favorite recipes so that I could share. Every time I make these gingerbread cookies, they all get eaten...just like they did today at our gathering. They have a mild honey-ginger flavor, and they are super easy to make. I see more gingerbread men dancing into our kitchen very soon, now that the holiday season has officially begun!

1/2 c. sugar
3 c. all purpose flour
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2 t. ground ginger
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1 c. butter, cut into dots and brought to room temperature
1/2 c. honey

Combine sugar, flour, soda, salt and spices. Cut dry ingredients into butter with pastry blender. You can work the ingredients together with your fingertips if you do not have a pastry blender. Add honey and stir until well blended.

Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

When dough is chilled, heat oven to 350 degrees. On lightly floured surface, roll the dough out about 1/8 in. thick. (I have found it's helpful to take a handful of dough and spend a minute mashing it together into a ball before rolling it out. The dough will seem crumbly until you do this.) Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes and move the cookies to prepared baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until just golden at the edges.

Here are the cookies after adding frosting!

Homemade Pita Chips

Saturday, December 3, 2011

You gotta try these with my favorite homemade hummus!

A couple of years ago, my mom got me hooked on Stacy's Pita Chips. They are incredibly crunchy and tasty, and make you feel like you are eating something healthy. But if you actually look at the label, those pita chips are full of fat and sodium. And, they are really expensive! I started using whole wheat pita breads and thought I'd come up with something inventive...but the truth is, tons of people make these. It's all over the internet!

Now that I learned to make them, I make a batch at least once a week. You can flavor them any way you want, so there are a lot of variations to play around with.

pita pocket breads (any kind you want...I like whole wheat--you could get really motivated and make homemade pitas...hmmm...)

Use kitchen shears to cut the round pitas in half (if they are not already halved), and then into thirds, for a total of 6 triangles. Cut around the bottom edge of each triangle to separate the pocket. Take triangle pieces and lay them on a cookie sheet (what was the inside of the pocket should be facing up). Spray with a little oil, then sprinkle salt or seasonings--some good flavors are garlic, Italian herb, cumin, or try cinnamon/sugar. Get inventive! (sometimes when I'm feeling like something very plain, I only put oil on them). Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, checking often. As soon as they start to get browned they are done. I've noticed that some get brown faster, so I take them out and put the rest back in.

Enjoy with dips, soups, or all by themselves!

Bread Twists

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I just can't stop making these awesome bread sticks! I discovered the recipe a few weeks ago on babycenter and have made them at least a half a dozen times already. They go well with just about anything, but especially soup and pasta. I can make the recipe JUST fit on one cookie sheet, as you can see above, although sometimes I have to get creative (like the "O" I made up 3 year old, who is currently obsessed with the alphabet, claimed that one right away). ;)

Bread Twists (4Kowboys)


1 1/2 c. warm water

1 T. yeast

Let that sit for 5 minutes. Then add:

3 1/2 c. flour (I use 2 c. all purpose and 1 1/2 c. whole wheat)

1 t. salt

Mix until smooth, then let raise for 10 minutes. Roll out dough into a large square on a floured surface. Brush with melted butter mixed with garlic and then sprinkle with kosher salt. Fold in half and cut into 1 inch strips. Twist and place on a greased cookie sheet. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes to raise. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately after baking, brush with more garlic butter and sprinkle with kosher salt (and parmesan cheese, if desired).

Dried or fresh chopped herbs like basil can be mixed into the dough for even more flavor!

Garlic Press

Another one of those super basic tools that I didn't own until I really started cooking. A lot of recipes call for minced or chopped garlic, and this baby makes a short job out of it. Have you ever tried to mince garlic with a knife? I find it next to impossible! Not all garlic presses are created equally, either. You really need a solid, strong press with an attachment (on this one its built right in) to clean out all the little holes.

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