Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cold Brewed Iced Coffee

Since I posted yesterday about boozing it up, I figured that I should write something about a non-alcoholic beverage today. In addition to an evening, or afternoon perhaps, cocktail, summer is the season for iced coffee. I love purchasing an iced coffee, but I tend to feel kind of guilty about this spending habit after a while. So when the weather turns warm and I crave cold caffeinated beverages, I set about making iced coffee at home.

The easiest "method" is to just brew a cup of coffee the night before, add sugar if you like, and stick in the the fridge for the next morning. The only potential pitfall is that the resulting iced drink will get pretty weak when the ice starts to melt. This is easily fixed by choosing a strong coffee to begin with and/or brewing it stronger if you are using a regular coffee maker. I have a cute Keurig machine, so I can't really control the brewing beyond purchasing stronger blends. (Coincidentally, I just got a coupon in the mail for the K-Cups made especially for iced coffee and tea.)

But if you really like iced coffee, you might consider making a big batch of cold brewed coffee to fulfill your caffeine needs. Pioneer Woman recently posted on her method which, like most of her recipes, will yield a huge about of coffee.  (It also had the effect of making me think that I needed to purchase a Pottery Barn mason jar drink dispenser. A weary look from Dave and 24 hours of "think time" made me come to my senses, however.)

Since my refrigerator space is slightly more limited than that of a professional cooking blogger, I elected to just get a 2 quart glass pitcher to make my coffee. To get a sense of proportions, I used this "recipe" from the New York Times, courtesy of a Google search. (BTW: Google better withstand these anti-trust suits - I am not sure I can change to another search engine.)

So to save you from doing the math:
-Put 1 cup of coarsely ground coffee into the pitcher and add 4 1/2 cups of cold water. Let it sit on your counter overnight.
-Line a strainer with a coffee filter or cheese cloth. (I recommend the coffee filter, though.) Strain out the grinds.
-Wash out your pitcher, pour coffee back in. Refrigerate. Drink. Yum.

PS: I had a totally cute picture of my coffee with the morning paper, but my camera and Lightroom software are not playing nice with each other today.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summery Drinks

 For whatever reason, summer seems to be a particularly boozy season for our family. Perhaps it is the warmer weather. Maybe it's ability to enjoy a cocktail on the patio. And it is certain that the first beer back from the beach tastes especially fabulous.

There are obvious summer favorites: the vodka/gin and tonic, the margarita, sangria, Corona with lime, of course, but if you are looking for some new additions to your summer boozing repertoire, I have a few suggestions:

If beer is your thing, you can't go wrong with a Hoegarrden. A light, citrusy wheat beer, it is our favorite just-spent-hours-on-the-beach-and-survived beer. If you want to support breweries that are more local than ones in Belgium, try Victory Brewing's Whirlwind, their summer "witbier", or their Summer Love, an ale that they introduced this year and wont be around for long. Also, if you like beer and also like your drinks on the girly side, try Harpoon's Raspberry Wheat.

I like beer as much as the next girl, but I also like not-beer too. This year I have discovered, courtesy of Jenny and Andy at Dinner a Love Story, the Dark and Stormy. Wow! This is one deliciously summery cocktail. Made with dark rum, lime juice and ginger beer (not to be confused with ginger ale), it is the perfect end to a summer day.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The New Dirty Dozen

Each year the folks at Environmental Working Group find new ways to scare us and/or protect us, depending on your mood and/or perspective. This independent, nonprofit organization is dedicated to:

1. To protect the most vulnerable segments of the human population children, babies, and infants in the womb from health problems attributed to a wide array of toxic contaminants.
2. To replace federal policies, including government subsidies that damage the environment and natural resources, with policies that invest in conservation and sustainable development.

One of the ways they work to achieve these goals is by creating a list of the dirtiest and cleanest (in terms of pesticide contamination) fruits and vegetables. Spoiler alert - Apples are at the top of the "Dirty" list this year. They even have a handy dandy pdf so you can print out the list for your shopping trips. (They really need to make a smart phone app for this, too.) A great resource.

In addition, they maintain a database of the best and worst beauty products. Check out Skin Deep before your next vacation  for some excellent choices in non-toxic sunscreen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Best Ever Almond Butter

I have been a lame blogger of late. Dave took a new job that has him out of town three nights a week. Needless to say, we have been a little discombobulated around here. I have not exactly been a model of cooking excellence.

Until today.

Today I made Cinnamon Raisin Almond Butter. (That's right, this qualifies as cooking in my book.) I saw a post about this on the Tasty Kitchen blog and I decided to give in a try. It took about as long as it takes to play four Uno games with Kara. Not only did she have fun measuring the almonds, but watching nuts turn to butter turned out to be completely fascinating to both my kids.

I made the recipe as written by Eating Bird Food with two changes: She says that if you just process the ingredients long enough in your food processor, it will get smooth and creamy. Well, that might be the case, but I started to fear for the health of my Cuisinart, so I added about 3 tablespoons of peanut oil. Worked like a charm. Also, I added a couple squeezes of honey.

Can't wait to have this for breakfast tomorrow. Can't wait to share it with Dave when he comes home.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Homemade Challah

Challah is one of my most favorite things on this earth. Next to my family, friends, etc., of course. But seriously, challah is probably the yummiest bread I know. If you don't know from challah, you are missing out. Get yourself out to a good deli or bakery and grab a loaf. Sweet, rich and soft egg bread, challah is the perfect breakfast toast, the best pb&j bread and hands down the best French toast bread - it's not even a contest.

In my continuing quest to make my own bread, I made some challah a few weeks back. It wasn't quite as good as the bread my Grandma Bea gets for me when we visit, but it was a close second. It's really easy to make and looked gorgeous. This would be super fun to do with little ones too.

This recipe should make 2 loaves.

-In a large bowl mix 2 eggs, 1/4 melted butter, 2 1/4 cups lukewarm water, 1/4 cup honey, 1 1/2 tbsp yeast
-Add 3 1/2 cups flour and mix until combined. The dough will be wet and shaggy.
-Let rise for at least 2 hours.

This is what the dough looks like just mixed. (Nice bread bucket, right?) It expands quite a bit, so make sure you use a big bowl or pot to avoid a dough fiasco on your counter.

-At this point, you can make your bread, or refrigerate the dough for up to 4 days. I recommend refrigerating the dough for at least a couple of hours - cold dough is just easier to work with.

-When you are ready to bake: Divide dough in half. Divide each half in to three pieces and roll into long ropes - about 12 inches each. You will need to flour your hands and work surface to keep from having a sticky, frustrating dough mess. Line up the 3 pieces of dough and starting from the center braid out to one end and then repeat so that you have one big braid. Pinch the ends together. Place braided loaves on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Let stand for at least an hour.

 I don't usually do the step-by-step photo thing, but I was 
pretty proud of myself during this cooking endevor.

-Heat oven to 350. Brush the tops of the bread with egg wash. Bake for 25-35 minutes.

 I made one plain loaf and for the second loaf  I improvised a cinnamon raisin version. I just rolled out each strand of dough, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and about a 1/2 cup of raisins. I closed up each strand and then braided as usual. It was fabulous!

One more tip: This is a dough scraper, a tool I had never even heard of until a month ago. If you ever make anything involving dough, you should invest. And by invest I mean plunk down the whole 5 bucks that this costs. It is great for cutting, measuring, dividing and, clearly, scraping up dough. Amazing gadget that I wish I had owned before a month ago.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Girliest Party Ever

This is the last of the Kara Birthday posts, I swear. But I just had to write about her awesome party with her friends. I am not entirely sure why it happened, but I became quite invested in this party being super cool, and somewhere in the planning process, I went completely overboard. I have two theories as to why this happened. 1. The thought of eight little girls who are bored or unhappy at my kid's party inspires serious levels of anxiety. (Imagine the more terrifying play date of all time.) 2. Whatever ambivalence I may have about being a stay at home mom, I am certain that I want to be the mom who gives her kids great birthday parties. It is like showing off your mommy muscles to plan and execute an elaborate two hour play date.

Reflecting on the party, I can say without reservation that it rocked.

The first key to our success was that I hired my niece, Alex, and her friend, Sierra, to come an be my party helpers. Their primary job was to play games with the girls and supervise the free play in our yard. They were amazing. Negotiating Middle East peace has nothing on getting eight little girls to play the same game at the same time. Alex and Sierra were firm and in control, but also kind and warm and funny. Not to get too deep, but in addition to helping me out, they were wonderful examples of how to be a teenage girl who is smart without being a smart ass, cool without being snotty, funny without being sarcastic.


Can't you just tell that Alex is the sweetest teenager ever?

Big girls and little girls playing tag

The second key to our success was the Oriental Trading Company. If you are planning a kid party of any kind, you must visit this site. It is a veritable treasure trove of party favors. I bought a ton of craft supplies: ceramic watering cans to decorate, stickers, make your own pinwheels, hibiscus hair clips, nylon butterflies and dragonflies to color, markers, more stickers - and the girls just crafted it up for over an hour. They were so quiet and focused it was kind of creepy. Made me wonder if those stickers had some magical tranquilizing power.

I may have gone a little nuts, but the party was awesome. I heard more than one girl actually say, "Kara, your party is so cool" which resulted in an inappropriately huge ego boost for me. I have issues, I know. But the best part was that Kara was just brimming over with joy the whole day. Even after complete present overload, she was a peach.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Happy Birthday, Kara!

My darling 6 year old girl.

Last week we celebrated Kara's birthday, again, with a big family dinner. She originally wanted to have mac and cheese, Kraft not homemade, but was amenable to a menu alteration in light of the fact that guests were coming too. So Kara went with her second favorite dinner, rotisserie chicken, sweet potatoes, asparagus, cranberry sauce. It was awesome.

With a June birthday, Kara often has strawberry shortcake for her birthday dinner dessert. This year we decided to mix it up and make this Strawberry Cake recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod. My friend Katie introduced us to this amazing dessert when she brought it to a dinner a few weeks ago. I generally don't like cooked berries, but this cake manages to sweeten the strawberries without turning them to unappealing mushy blobs.We served it up with fresh pink whipped cream. Love those gel food colors.

PS: Not for nothing, spring strawberries are one of the best illustrations that locally grown food just plain tastes better. What goes better with birthday cake than a side of food politics?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Water Play

My brother in law Frank, when he is channeling his inner curmudgeon, likes to point out that kids have too many toys these days and that given everyday stuff, they can make up games that are much cooler than anything Fisher Price or Nintendo could come up with. Despite the fact that my kids have way too much stuff, much of it purchased by Dave and I, I generally agree with Frank.

Case in point: the garden hose. Playing with the hose was one of my favorite summer games when I was a little girl. My kids are continuing the family tradition. For the past week or so it has been super hot, more like August than May, and our kids have been having a blast just horsing around in the yard with nothing more than the hose. While some parental intervention has been needed to help Kara and Jamie comply with the "take turns" rule, they have been pretty self-contained.

Making water rainbows.

Making "rainstorms".

It took Jamie about 5 minutes to figure out how to spray his sister.

Armed and dangerous.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Cupcake Catastophe

This is the week of Kara's birthday - the big 6. By our count, she will get to celebrate her big day four times: at the beach with Dave's family, at school with her class, at our house for our traditional family birthday dinner and at her birthday party with her girls this weekend. I am exhausted just writing about all that frolicking. Though this all could seem a little excessive, I am apt to shrug off those concerns. If you can't totally embrace the joy of birthdays as a six year old, I don't know when you can.

I will admit that one of my favorite parts about celebrating Kara's birthday is making the classroom cupcakes together. As I have mentioned before, I love box cake mix, so this is the perfect excuse to purchase and then sample some of Betty Crocker's finest. I also love the icing in a can. I know that objectively speaking it is a pretty nasty concoction of oil and high fructose corn syrup, but it tastes great and is super easy to use on cupcakes. (Box cake and icing exist in a special loophole of my basic philosophy that we should eat locally, sustainably produced whole foods. I embrace my hypocrisy on this one.)

Yesterday while Kara was at school, Jamie and I made the cupcakes in anticipation of decorating them after school. After applying a thick layer of icing, Kara got busy decorating each individual cupcake with a rainbow of sprinkles. It was darling and those cupcakes looked lovely.

All was well until we went out for t-ball after dinner. I "hid" the cupcakes on the top of the microwave which is about 5 feet off the ground. I was under the assumption that this would prevent our dessert-loving mutt from eating them. Bailey, the mutt in question, has quite a tradition of gobbling sweets off the counter, so we are pretty well trained to keep them out of harms way. Imagine my shock when Dave called to "mentally prepare" me for what he found when he got home. Bailey didn't eat all the cupcakes - turns out her limit is 15. Sometimes I wonder why we have pets at all.

Anyway...I ran out to the store for more Betty Crocker, whipped up another two dozen cakes, and this morning Kara decorated them all over again. All in all, we handled the cupcake incident with uncharacteristic grace and calm. Kara wisely commented, "I am bummed Bailey ate my cupcakes, mom, but at least we get to make them together again." Smartest six year old ever.