Monday, February 23, 2015

Making Banana Pancakes

Having middle schoolers is so interesting.  I'm seeing things about them as people, individual humans that I am fascinated by.  I sometimes wonder which of these attributes will be forever parts of them and which ones are seasonal.  An interesting quality about my son is that he cherishes ritual and celebration. More than anyone in our home.  He's the one who thinks of special ways to honor me on Mother's Day, and wants to commemorate the first day of school, or the first day of summer vacation with certain foods and traditions. Food really is the main focus of his celebrating.  He comes by this honestly.  I really think food is the cornerstone of most celebrating.  
Like earlier this month for my birthday.  I thought of a few activities that were non-food related, like hiking at Radnor Lake and cleaning my laundry room (I know, glamorous…thank you Gretchen for indulging), but for the most part it was about food and coffee.  

So, one of the desires of my son is to have "Saturday breakfast".  A real one.  Seated around the table not standing around or perched at the bar.  Weekday mornings are on-the-go and running about.  People fend for themselves or request a smoothie or egg to be made while someone is already blending or flipping.  The kids usually sit at the bar and Dave and I stand.  So, when we can, I try to honor this Saturday Breakfast Ritual. I love it too.  And I love that he loves it.  

The four mainstays of our Saturday Breakfasts are:

 our favorite Oh Boy Waffles.  If you haven't tried them you must.  They are like no other waffles.
And the Mile High Biscuits.  You need to make them this week! I crave them very often.

And French Toast - inspired by the Pancake Pantry.

And Banana Pancakes.
We were not having great luck with our Joy of Cooking recipe- they were flatter than a pancake! 
But my friend Melissa B. pointed me to the Martha Stewart Classic Pancake recipe and BINGO it's a winner.  It's a great classic pancake- that you can tweak and add to.  I love a Buckwheat pancake, or cornmeal or grainy one, but my family would rather stick to these fluffy, classic ones.
And as long as we can add some toasted pecans and sliced bananas, I'm happy with these pancakes.  They are predictable and easy.

Basic Pancakes
by Martha Stewart

1 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, or vegetable oil
1 large egg

Butter or oil for pan

Assorted toppings or mix ins: chopped bananas, toasted pecans, berries, mini chocolate chips

Soft butter and syrup

Preheat oven to 200˚; have a baking sheet ready to keep cooked pancakes warm in the oven.  In a small bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, butter (or oil), and egg.  Add dry ingredients to milk mixture; whisk until just moistened (do not over mix; a few small lumps are fine).  If you are adding mix-ins, do so now.

Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat.  Rub skillet with a little butter or oil on a paper towel.

For each pancake, spoon 2-3 Tbsp. of batter onto skillet, using the back of the spoon to spread batter into a round.  (Or use one of those fancy pancake pens- which I don't have or I would have provided photos to demonstrate. It's on my wish list.)

Cook until surface of pancakes have some bubbles and a few have burst, 1 to 2 minutes.  Flip carefully with a thin spatial and cook until brown on the underside, 1 to 2 minutes more.  Transfer to baking sheet; cover loosely with aluminum foil, and keep warm in oven.
Continue oiling/buttering pan before each pancake pouring.

Top with butter, syrup, and/or fruit, nuts, etc.


I can't help but sing the Jack Johnson song, Banana Pancakes, every time I make them! Do you know this song? It's a great weekend, breakfast-making soundtrack.  That entire album is.  I looked up the lyrics so I could really sing along and realized that I really didn't relate to it at all  (except that I like to make banana pancakes), nor was it the most family friendly lyrically.   So, for those of you who get to lie in bed on a weekday with your spouse and tempt him/her to stay in bed and take the morning slow and eat banana pancakes, then this might be your anthem.  My anthem is more about choosing to wake up early so that we can steal a quiet hour of drinking coffee, chatting, reading and centering before the onslaught of children and busyness and tasks enter the scene.  Unlike the song, our banana pancakes are requested by our children who devour them in 8 minutes.  And after a  "thanks for the pancakes" they are ready to move on to the next activity of the day.  Nevertheless, I still play the song when we make Banana Pancakes.

It's such fun to honor my teenager's desire to sit around the table together and make a special Saturday breakfast memory. I don't assume that this will always be the case, though with him, it just might.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Chocolate Shortbread Valentine Cookies

I love Valentine's Day! So fun! So much prettiness and love and sugar!  I have written about my adoration of this holiday in years past and have shared some of my favorite traditions, recipes and treats 
So, I will refrain from repeating myself and will make this a short post.  

In my home (and my home growing up) Valentine's was a fun holiday not a romantic, "Hallmark", pressure-filled holiday.  It's a day to say "I LOVE YOU" to people you adore- friends, family, co-workers, neighbors.  

Heart garland- fun to make and have love draping from your ceiling! My
friend Connie made this one for me several birthdays ago and I
bring it out each year!

Valentine BINGO played with conversation hearts

Meringue Cookies- heart shaped! 
I usually make heart cut out cookies because they are so pretty and delicious and lovely.  Hearts are my favorite cookie cutter shape and the easiest to frost, in my opinion. 

 I sometimes make sugar cookies or these linzer shortbread cookies.

If you are more in the chocolate mood, these chocolate shortbread cookies are a treat!  

They are soft and like a thin brownie!  

The dough is just a few ingredients that you mix together.

They are easy and fun to ice.

After a bit of refrigeration, the dough is easy to cut out.

Here's the recipe:

from Everyday Food- Martha Stewart
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  With an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy.  Add flour, sugar and cocoa; mix just until combined.  (Chill dough in refrigerator for 10 minutes or more…if you chill it for longer, set out to soften a bit before rolling as it becomes hard in the refrigerator with all of that butter!)

Pat dough onto a flat surface and roll out (using a dusting of powdered sugar or flour to keep from sticking). Cut with cookie cutter into hearts (or desired shape). Place on cookie sheet (I line mine with parchment for easy clean up and no sticking). Bake 10-12 minutes until firm but not crispy.  
Cool completely and then frost as you wish. (See below for ideas)

1. Ice with a simple glaze-
I scooped 1/2 cup powdered sugar, a heaping Tbsp cocoa powder, a few drops of vanilla extract in a small bowl, stirred and added drops of water until it was smooth and thin, but not too thin. Spread on cookies with a spoon.  Add sprinkles while they are still wet.
2.  Melt melting chocolate wafers (I use the Ghirardelli brand) and dip the cookies (half or entire cookie) adding sprinkles while still wet.  
3.  I had some buttercream frosting left over from making a Giant Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake and decided to make sandwich cookies (inspired by the double-doozie cookies at the cookie store)

I think the key is frosting them in a way that makes them easy to stack and package for giving away! The sprinkles provide a nice barrier to cookies which keep them from sticking to each other. 

Bake some lovely goodies, write a kind note, make something pretty, bring warmth to this wintry month, share your adoration with someone! 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Brownie Bottom Coconut Bars & Honoring MLK

For about 8 years my family has sought to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King on his birthday weekend.
We talk about the life and work of Dr. King, and we think about what we can do in our lives to carry on the work for equality and dignity for all people that he and his colleagues did. I posted HERE about this tradition. As my kids are getting older, I want to think of some even more significant things we can do for this holiday.

I always make a treat that somehow incorporates chocolate and vanilla to represent racial integration and togetherness.  I have made cookies and cakes of various sorts.  Like this one.

I was trying to decide what to make for this year- a new recipe, one we've done in the past, a variation on a standard.  But when I was looking for another recipe in a stack of my old Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazines I found this recipe for Brownie-Bottom Coconut Bars.  I have had the recipe in my torn out magazine pages for years but have never made them.  I knew they would have to be good since they are brownie on the bottom and coconut macaroon on the top!  I decided MLK weekend would be a good time to make them, with their black and white togetherness.  They are simple to make and they are really, really good!

They are pretty and feel special.  All of my coconut-loving people gobbled them up.

Brownie-Bottom Coconut Bars 
from martha stewart's Every Day Food magazine

Chocolate Brownie Base:
1 stick butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup all purpose flour

Coconut Topping:
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 package (7 oz.) sweetened shredded coconut (1/2 cup reserved for sprinkling)

For the brownie:
Preheat oven to 375˚
Line a 9 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving a slight overhang; butter bottom and sides of foil (not overhang)
Place butter in a large microwave-safe bowl; melt in microwave.
Add sugar and salt; whisk to combine.
Whisk in egg, then cocoa and flour until smooth.
Spread batter into prepared pan.

Bake just until sides begin to pull away from edges of pan, 10 to 15 minutes (do not over bake). Let cool slightly while preparing coconut topping.  Keep oven on for topping.

For the coconut topping:
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs with sugar and vanilla.  Gently mix in flour and coconut (except 1/2 cup reserved for sprinkling).
Drop mounds of mixture over chocolate base; spread and pat in gently and evenly with moistened fingers.  Sprinkle with reserved 1/2 cup coconut.

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool completely in pan.  Lift cake from pan,  peel off foil, and cut into 24 bars.

It makes 24 small bars- but they are rich- so being small is good.

In our city Regal Cinemas and Metro Public Schools teamed up to offer free admission to students to see SELMA in the theaters.  We went on Saturday and it was very impactful.  If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend that you do.

It was hard  to watch.  It was emotional  and painful  and honest  and hard.  Lainey and I held hands most of the time and cried a lot during the film.  It was really important though.

It is a very well done film and a raw look at the difficulty of a tumultuous and unjust time in our country and the bravery of some amazing people. I think we need to know and remember and in doing so deepen our compassion for the not-so-long-ago events that continue to have ripple effects today.

Thanking God for the courage, clarity and spiritual strength of Dr. King and his comrades this weekend and praying that we might be people of conviction and action like them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Last Call for Cranberries: Cranberry Orange Bread

Cranberries are so lovely.  They add such zip, color and flavor to recipes!  November and December are the main cranberry months, but if you look quick you can get some in January!  I always stock up for the following 10 months!

I am always looking for a great quick bread recipe that can be thrown together easily for breakfast or to take somewhere. This recipe is a favorite- chock full of cranberries, orange juice and zest and chopped walnuts!  (As for Cranberry muffins these, from King Arthur Flour, are my all-time favorites - though they require a little more time to prepare with more chopping and measuring than this Cranberry bread).  

My friend Emily shared this bread recipe with me a few years ago.  I can't even remember when or in what context, but I printed it out, tucked it in a notebook, and have reached for it many times through the years.

Emily continually inspires me.  She has an lovely blog Celebrate Today, where she shares about her daily life and beckons the reader to celebrate each day- in grand and small ways.   You can check it out HERE.

This week she wrote about her morning run - seeing the sun rise (inspiring, I told you) and she noted seeing the crocus flowers starting to peek through the ground, signaling that spring is coming soon.  I needed to hear that.  I needed the reminder that these gray days will end and there will be green grass, blooming blossoms, and sunny days again. This gives me hope. 

In the meantime as I wait for those spring days, I am going to use my cranberries, and try to embrace these days.

2 cups all purpose flour (or combination of whole wheat/ all-purpose or whole grain pastry flour)
1 cup sugar (or a little less)
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 egg
½ cup orange juice
grated peel (the zest) of 1 orange
2 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tbsp. hot water
1 cup fresh cranberries (or frozen)
½ to 1 cup chopped walnuts (depending on how nutty you like it)

In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients.  In another bowl, beat egg. Add orange juice, peel, butter and hot water.  Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened. Gently fold in cranberries and walnuts.  Spoon into greased loaf pan (or mini loaf pans).
Bake at 325 degrees for 60 minutes (if using large loaf pan- reduced if using small pans) or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. 
Cool for 10 minutes before removing and placing on a wire rack.

I made it a couple of weeks ago and doubled the recipe.  I baked 1/2 in my mini-loaf pans to slice and take to church and the other 1/2 in a large loaf pan, which I wrapped up, froze and took to the Joneses when we went to visit during the holidays. 

It freezes well, thaws easily, travels well, and is good for breakfast, lunch, or for snacking!

We got to enjoy it for breakfast at their home with omelets, yogurt and homemade granola.  Delicious! 

While the cranberry bread was baking, I couldn't resist making a jar of cranberry sauce with the rest of the cranberries in the bag.  I wrote about making cranberry sauce HERE. So easy, pretty, and delicious on sandwiches, with dinner, or in my yogurt for breakfast!

Seize the cranberries while they last, and hold out hope that spring is coming soon!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Chicken Chili on a Chilly January Day

I hope you are having a great start to the new year.  Choosing Happiness is the goal that we set for this new year.  On our road trip home on New Year's Day, Dave and I did some reflecting on 2014 and vision casting for 2015 and realized that last year was more of "survival" year in many respects and we want this year to be marked with more joy, happiness, play and laughter!  I have determined that my motto for this year is: "Complain Less, Hug More, Choose Happiness!"  We'll see how it goes.  So far, I already feel more hopeful.  I realize that when I extend love (via hugs and other extensions of generosity and compassion), it's hard not to be happier.

I'm glad that the bleak, cold, grey days are more than 1/2 way over. In the meantime it helps if I look for the wintery beauty in the midst of the bleak.  And I find great comfort with a piping hot bowl of soup!

 I have made this Chicken Chili several times over the past month.  During the winter, I really just want to eat soup, sliced apples and crusty bread everyday.  Healthy and Comforting!
This recipe has become a new favorite in our house.  I'm delighted to have another soup that is 5 for 5 at my table!  
This is so very easy to make.  In fact, there aren't very many photos because… there is not much to photograph, unless you want photos of me opening cans and stirring.  
Also, this soup is hard to capture in photos because the good stuff tends to sink to the bottom of the bowl and pictures don't do it justice.  
Every year our Social Work department has a chili supper and the faculty/staff provide crock pots of Chili for students to enjoy.  Patsy always makes this Chicken Chili and I always choose it.  It is delicious!  I got the recipe years ago, but was reluctant to make it for the family because my girls are sensitive to spicy (sad!), and my boy has a bean aversion (really sad!).  But Dave loves chili and wishes that I would make it more. So, I decided to make it with mild salsa and reduce the number of beans to accommodate my kids and give it a go.  It was very well received!  I was happily surprised!  It wasn't too spicy and Asher had just come from a 2 hour wrestling practice and was famished and therefore wasn't too picky with the beans!  Progress is being made in the bean situation!
It is a Weight Watchers recipe originally, so it is healthy and is simple and versatile. 
I roast chicken tenderloins in the oven while I "prepare" the rest of the soup.  (The original recipe says to boil them but I prefer the roasted flavor.)  It only takes about 25 minutes to roast and then I tear it apart and add it to the soup.  

I serve it with sour cream and shredded cheese, like the recipe recommends, but I also add some slices of lime, tortilla chips and diced avocado.  OH MY!

I have shared the recipe with a couple of friends and decided that I needed to post it to share with even more friends.  It's too great to not pass along!

Chicken Chili

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or I used about 12 tenderloins)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 jars (16 oz. each) of picante salsa
49 oz. chicken broth
48 oz. Northern white beans
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garlic powder

Roast chicken in oven:  Preheat oven to 400˚.  Drizzle or brush chicken with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper (and garlic powder and cumin, if you'd like).  Place on baking sheet, place it in the oven and bake until fully cooked.

Mix all other ingredients: salsa through garlic powder.  Shred cooked chicken and add to the pot.  Bring to a boil and cook 20 minutes.  Reduce heat and simmer slowly until time to serve.  (You can also put it in the crockpot in the morning and let it cook on low all day).

Garnish with sour cream, shredded cheese, slices of lime (for squeezing), tortilla chips and diced avocado.  And if you want to turn up the heat, you can splash some hot sauce in your bowl!

Another new year's goal is that I hope I will be able to blog more frequently this year.  Last year was much less often than I would choose (thus, the year of surviving). December was so full and blogging didn't happen after all of the grading and closing down of the semester, and then Christmasing and New Year's travel.  But I sure did cook a lot last month!  And I made some really yummy things, which I photographed for the time when I can post them here and share the recipes.  Some will probably have to wait until next year, as they are Christmasy, but others, I will share promptly - like this Chicken Chili.   
Enjoy! Wishing you the happiest new year!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Gratitude (and a Recipe Sharing Friend)

This time of year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, breeds thankfulness. Unfortunately, I am easily overwhelmed in my life, and it sometimes feels paralyzing, and this time of year is so full that it is especially overwhelming.  I am engulfed with the messes in my house, the responsibilities that I carry, the individual and enormous needs of each of my children, things I need to do and things I want to do.  During this season, even the fun things (like holiday gift buying, baking, card sending, and decorating) can feel overwhelming. 

I have to stop and breathe and focus on GRATITUDE.

Gratitude is a powerful force.  It is more than a fluffy idea.  There is science behind it!
The research that has emerged recently on gratitude is incredible. 
Here are a couple of interesting pieces on the power of gratitude.
This short piece, by my hero Brene Brown, is about the link between Gratitude and Joy:

And this fun experiment measuring the link between Gratitude and Happiness, from SoulPancake.

So, I am stopping for a moment and making a list of 10 things for which I am grateful TODAY. 

Some things I am grateful for are:
1.     The health of our family
2.     Wonderful schools with great faculty and administration that are impacting my kids everyday
3.     Good coffee
4.     Meaningful work with incredible students
5.     Laughter
6.     Neighbors with whom we can loan ingredients and tools, and lend a hand and feel so not alone in this life.
7.     God’s faithfulness- His mercies that are new every morning!
8.     The seasons
9.     A good night’s sleep under a fluffy comforter
10. Friends- old and new, near and far

#10- friends old and new, is the inspiration for this post.  I have a new friend, Sandi.  She is a very talented, wise and generous woman that I have gotten to know this fall.  She and her husband are in our small group at church and one of the unexpected blessings of this new friendship are the food and recipes that have come from her kitchen.  Because we share a meal together each week at group, we have the chance to eat each other’s food weekly!  (That is not a typical opportunity in many friendships).

She is a great cook and has so many recipes that are NEW to me.  It has been a boon for me and my kitchen! Through the years of my food blogging, one of the things that has kept me at it (when I wonder why in the world am I doing this in the vast number of food blogs on the internet) is knowing that some friend or some unknown friend, is finding inspiration and help with what to make for dinner.

Sandi’s gift of new, delicious, do-able recipes has been so great.  I couldn’t decide which recipe to share with you that I have tried of Sandi’s lately, so I decided to share both!  At the rate I am posting lately, I might should double-up when I do sneak the time to create a blog post!  

Recipe #1 is her Apple Cole Slaw.
I love it!
It is sweet and tangy and healthy!  It is good as a side with just about anything!

I have made it twice and I approached it differently each time, and it produced different results.  I liked them both.  I made it once in my food processor and it yielded a much finer, juicer slaw (think Chick fil a slaw texture) and the second time I chopped with a knife and it yielded more of a loose, crunchy salad.

1 apple, chopped
4 slices pineapple, chopped
2 cups cabbage, chopped

2 Tbsp. mayo
2 Tbsp. milk
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
¼ tsp. salt

Mix together the dressing in a small bowl or measuring cup.
Toss together the apples, pineapple and cabbage.
Pour dressing over. Stir to completely coat.
Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes before eating.

Recipe #2 is Nani’s Cake
It's called Nani's cake because the lady who gave her the recipe got it from her Nani.   
My mom tasted it and said she thinks she has this recipe from somewhere in her past and called it Butter Pecan Cake.  I'd call it Sticky Coconut Bundt Cake.  It is a simple- throw it in a bowl, stir and bake cake.  It has a can of coconut pecan sticky frosting stirred into the batter- so it needs no frosting on top.  It gets even stickier and moister after a couple of days, so it is a great make-ahead dessert.  The coconut and nuts are not dominant, so even people who don’t love those ingredients would like it, I think.

1 box yellow butter cake mix
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup milk
1 can (Pillsbury)- coconut pecan frosting*
1 tsp almond extract

Beat all together (including frosting).
Spray bundt pan generously.
Bake 350 for 40 minutes.

It gets better with each day so try not to eat it all the first day.

 * we used Betty Crocker frosting because they didn't have Pillsbury

Another gift from Sandi was the book, Not By Sight by John Bloom (President of Desiring God ministries). Click the link to read more about it.  It has been a refreshing morning read this fall.  I highly recommend it. 

So, thank you, Sandi, for sharing your kindness, and generous gifts.  What a blessing.


I hope in the midst of these busy December days we can all purpose to spell our days with gratitude.

But be forewarned, it is sometimes vulnerable to do so!

PERSONAL CONFESSION: Surprisingly the act of writing the gratitude list in this post felt challenging- though in a good way.  I had to dig deep, and be still for a few moments to really think about the things for which I am grateful today
And the act of sharing the list feels/felt vulnerable and somehow risky, and I wonder if that may be part of what holds us back from practicing and expressing gratitude more!