Category Archives: Cooking

Cranberry Orange Ginger Smoothie

My favorite winter smoothie

I am a California girl. Always will be. One of my favorite things from the Golden State is picking oranges right off the tree. This winter fruit is hard to resist anyway but freshly picked? Delectable.

We don’t grow them here but thankfully we can still get them almost as easily. There are many wonderful ways to enjoy a juicy orange but last year I came up with this one. Cranberry Orange Ginger Smoothie. It’s a little bit of sunshine and pep to get the day going when you’re facing one of Seattle’s “soft rain” forecasts.


Cranberry Orange Ginger Smoothie

(Best made using Vitamix or other high speed blender)

1 cup cold water

2 oranges, peeled and cut in half

a pinch of orange peel

1 cup whole cranberries, frozen

½ banana

½ inch fresh ginger, peeled

1 tsp. honey

1 cup of ice

Blend first 7 ingredients until cranberry skins are thoroughly broken down. Add ice to thicken. You can use more ginger for extra kick.

Yields approximately 1 pint.

**Cook’s Note: also good with a tablespoon or two of Greek yogurt for a little added protein.

Apple Spice Cake with Caramel Sauce

JeanniesAppleSpiceCakeThe little apple tree in our backyard produced some tasty fruit this autumn, despite the attack made by the pesky hornets that invaded our garden this summer. More on that story to come, but this post is about the delicious treat I made with our small harvest.

Back in our graduate school days in Chicago, we’d go apple picking with good friends and come home with more apples than we knew how to handle. I came up with this recipe for apple spice cake that was perfect with a dollop of whipped cream and a cup of spice tea.

This year, I thought I’d mix it up a bit. A recipe on Pinterest caught my eye and I wanted to give it a try. How can you resist a good caramel topping? Since I didn’t have all of the ingredients listed, I decided to make my old stand-by cake and add the caramel sauce like the blogger suggested, although that, too, I adapted to what I had on hand.

I don’t know if my substitutions made a huge difference but after I pulled the cake from the oven and poured the hot caramel sauce on the top (which would later become the bottom) of the cake, it seemed to seep in a little too much.

When I served it to our anxious children, I found it a little too soggy. But the kids loved it and gobbled it down. It did taste good, I’ll give you that, but maybe a bit longer to boil in the pot would do the sauce some good. Anyway, give it a go and tell me what you think.

Jeannie’s Apple Spice Cake

2 cups flour (I replaced one cup with whole wheat flour this time)
½ tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 Tbs. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ground ginger
1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup butter
2 eggs
1 cup apple cider
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 tart apples, cored, peeled, and sliced into small chunks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan (I used a Bavaria style bundt).

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.

Cream together in a larger bowl or mixer, the brown sugar and butter until smooth. Beat in the eggs. Add the sifted dry ingredients until well combined.

Add the apple cider and buttermilk and mix thoroughly. Add the apples and fold into the batter.

Pour batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 45-50 minutes*, or until toothpick comes out clean. (*Note: different types of cake pans can vary the baking times, so start out checking earlier and adding more baking time as necessary.)

Serve with fresh whipped cream sweetened with maple syrup or with the following caramel sauce recipe (see below).

Caramel Sauce recipe (Adapted from the “Fresh Apple Cake” on Deliciously Organic)

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar (because I personally think caramel tastes much better when you use brown sugar)
½ cup buttermilk
½ tsp. baking soda

Put butter, brown sugar, buttermilk, and baking soda in a medium pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute*. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, pour butter mixture over hot cake. Let the cake stand for 1 hour and then turn it out onto a cake stand. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Cook’s note: I think you could boil a bit longer. Maybe a rolling boil for 2 or 3 minutes would do the trick.

Everyday Cooking with Maddie & Jeannie

I don’t really know how we stumbled on it but Maddie and I have become quite fond of watching Everyday Food with Sarah Carey cooking videos. It was probably because I was looking up some recipe and Maddie spied the video icon while glancing over my shoulder. The girl cannot resist media in any form. She begged to watch one and one turned into three and three into six.

Pretty soon we’d seen nearly all of the recipe demos. But that doesn’t stop Maddie from asking for more almost daily. I don’t mind, though. I enjoy Sarah’s style, she’s quirky and fun, and I find her recipes quite tasty. I’ve made several after seeing them on the screen. Our favorite has been the Bacon and Escarole Pizza. Oh, mama! Bacon? On pizza? Yes, please! Other goodies are the Vegetable and Tofu Pad Thai, the Beef Skewers with Scallions, and the Croque Madame Sandwiches.

Many times, after we’ve watched one together, we’ll head over to our kitchen and try an easy one out or just make an old stand by that we love. Usually a cookie one because who can resist making cookies, really?

Cooking with Maddie and Jeannie

I love this little pastime we’ve started together.

Lasagna with Béchamel Sauce

Trust me on this one, friends. Forget ricotta. Forget cottage cheese even. The best creamy layer for lasagna is a good Béchamel sauce.

Please don’t be frightened by its Frenchy name. It’s quite easy to make, really. Just some butter, flour, and milk, with some garlic and a dash of nutmeg.

I came across a recipe for Lasagna Bolognese from Smitten Kitchen which sounded divine but more than what I wanted to accomplish. But the Béchamel sauce. That’s what intrigued me. I’ve never loved the ricotta texture in lasagna, but the cottage cheese substitute wasn’t the final answer for me either. I knew I had to give this white sauce a go.

In love. That’s the best way to put it. We’ve made this dish three times in the last month and a half. That can’t be good but I don’t care.

I’ve modified the original lasagna recipe here, but not the sauce. I’ll be honest, it’s not the cheapest version of lasagna around, with the heavy dose of shredded parmesan and all that wonderful whole milk. But I regret nothing.

Some day I may try making my own noodles and slaving for hours over a meat sauce, like the original recipe suggests. But for now, I’ll stick to the rich, creamy goodness of this Béchamel sauce with tomato basil and spinach thrown in for good measure.

Lasagna with Spinach and Béchamel Sauce
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 lb. package of lasagna noodles, UNCOOKED
28 oz jar of tomato sauce (I use Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil)
10 oz package baby spinach
4 cups Béchamel Sauce (see recipe below*)
1 2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On the bottom of a 9×13 pan, spread about 1/4 cup of tomato sauce (to prevent pasta from sticking) and place a single layer of noodles on top. Pour 1 cup tomato sauce over the noodles, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle a generous handful of spinach leaves over the sauce. Spoon 1/2 cup béchamel over the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the layer with 1/3 cup parmesan cheese. Repeat this process 3 more times: pasta + 1 cup tomato sauce + handful of spinach + 1/2 cup béchamel + 1/3 cup parmesan. You should have 5 layers of pasta total.

On the final layer of noodles, spread 1/4 cup béchamel, then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake lasagna for 30 to 45 minutes, until bubbly all over and browned on top. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.

*Béchamel Sauce {Smitten Kitchen}
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk, warmed (I microwave it in a glass measuring cup for 2 minutes)
1 teaspoon table salt
1 clove minced garlic
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and stir it into the butter with a whisk until smooth. Cook the mixture together for a minute, stirring constantly. Slowly pour in some of the milk, whisking constantly into the butter-flour mixture until smooth. Continue to pour small amounts of the milk in until the mixture has become more of a thick sauce or batter then you can start adding the milk in larger amounts. Once all of the milk is added, add the salt, garlic, nutmeg and black pepper. Bring the mixture to a lower simmer and cook it, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.

St. Patrick’s Day

Is there a valid reason that we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like we do here in America? Is it a throwback to our Irish immigrant ancestors (which I personally have) and a way to honor their traditions? Probably not. I don’t think they ate Lucky Charms with green milk for breakfast or lunched on green eggs with ham. Did they wear green beaded necklaces and pins that say, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish for the Day!”? Doubtful, but it sure makes for a fun break from the ordinary.

Aside from all things green, we did enjoy some authentic Irish grub, some of which we feasted on during our trip to Ireland back in November 2004. (One of the best adventures we ever had.)

Brown Soda Bread with Kerrygold butter. Warm and delicious.

Irish Beef Stew, one of our favorites. We actually had this dish on St. Patrick’s Day Eve. Let the partying start early, I always say.

And these Beef and Guinness Pies— a new recipe that takes some time but is fantastic comfort food.

Yes, don’t faint friends, but I occasionally use alcohol when preparing fine cuisine. And although I feel awkward in the store and look around several times to see if someone I know is watching at the checkout, it’s totally worth the hassle. Especially when it comes to this chocolate cake, which I turned into cupcakes.

It’s usually served with a chocolate ganache, but since we were going for the green look, I used a cream cheese frosting in its place to color it up. Not too shabby.

With good food you can turn a meaningless holiday into something worth celebrating. And that’s without resorting to drinking green beer!

On Valentine’s Day…

Colin surprised me with this bouquet of roses. Roses on Valentine’s Day is overdone, you say? Not when they’re this color.

Warren came home with a sack full of Valentine’s Day loot.

We served the kids burritos for dinner (at Warren’s request) with heart-shaped strawberry ice cream for dessert.

(We decided to save the heart-shaped brownies for an upcoming Family Home Evening treat.)

Plus our good friends, Annie and Alex, hand delivered some Valentine’s goodies for us right after dinner. They were greatly appreciated!

Then Colin and I enjoyed our own romantic candle lit dinner for two we made together at home, after the kids went to bed.

The menu was perfect: Arrugula and Parmesan Salad (courtesy of our old neighbor and former ward member, Holly Y.), Fontina, Fennel, and Onion Pizza (from Martha, found on Pinterest) using this dough recipe, and Creamy Lemon Squares (also a Martha concoction, via Sarah H.). We did not care one bit that the dessert lacked chocolate. They were so, so, so good. I’m still thinking about them.

We finished the night off with “Midnight in Paris.” It was a perfectly simple day (despite sick children) and the best way to end our 6-week break from the norm. Colin returns to work starting Wednesday.

Hope your day was full of good food and lots of love.

Monthly Menu

With this extra time on my hands, I’ve been able to do some planning. Now, I usually like to prepare a weekly menu anyway (though it’s been difficult to maintain the habit since the boys joined our family), but one of my goals is to get back into the game, this time by planning out an entire month’s worth of dinners. And I have even more incentive this month since I’m participating in the spending fast. Planning meals ensures that you don’t get tempted to eat out!

I was heavily considering doing what this gal did and plan for an ENTIRE YEAR. Wow. That’s not messing around. But I just couldn’t see myself wanting to eat the meals in November that I came up with in January. Plus, that’s a lot of time. Too many unforeseen variables that could come into play that might mess up such a strict schedule. What are your thoughts? Would that be beneficial for your family to do?

Instead, I took her idea and scaled it down to the month-by-month level. It was still a lot of work because I don’t have a “rotation” of recipes already established. I have many recipes that we like and use often, but choosing them, and considering the ingredients for the whole week, and figuring in the various family activities took some effort and time. But it’s done and it feels good to have one month in place.

The other blogger suggested printing out the following for your binder:

Monthly menu (which I broke down into weekly menus)

Weekly shopping lists

A copy of each recipe you plan to use (unless you have it in an actual cookbook)

She has some great printables for organizing (including that binder cover above, which is not quite accurate since it’s supposed to represent a year’s worth of planning), as do many other awesome meal planning sites, but if the ones I created look helpful, feel free to use the weekly menu and shopping list.

I usually shop at three stores during the week, so that’s how I divided my shopping list, as opposed to by category. All of the ingredients needed for each meal is recorded on the list. But when I shop I actually use an app called “Out of Milk,” so all I have to do is transfer these items to my phone each week. Easy peasy.

My goal is to have the next month’s done by the last Sunday of the current month. Hopefully, it will get faster each time. I’m hoping that by the time I’ve done this for a few months, I’ll have a better idea of how to build a rotation of meals. If you have a good system, I’d love to hear it! I feel like planning for the whole month is going to save me a lot of aggravation in the long run, but it’s difficult to start up when it’s so new.

Certainly, I’m not the first to blog about menu planning, and clearly I’m not making any claims to be good at it. But I wanted to share just in case someone out there is looking for a starting point.


So, what kind of meal planning has worked for you? Weekly? Monthly? Any input would be appreciated!

Halloween Edibles

I’m a sucker for themed food during the Halloween season. I think it’s more fun to eat “Snake and Spider Stew” than it is to eat Thai Curry, especially for the kiddos.

So, armed with a recipe booklet from Pilsbury my mother-in-law sent last year and the plethora of ideas gleaned from, I hit the holiday with an arsenal of Halloween-style edibles. Here is what we made (a link to the recipes included) and a breakdown of how it was received:

1. Monster Munch {Halloween Popcorn Mix}

If you ask Colin, he would call this a disaster. I would disagree. I think the first failed attempt was a blessing in disguise. The recipe calls for almond bark or white chocolate, which neither of us really like. But I came home with a package of Ghiradelli white chocolate chips and hoped for the best. Long story short, the chocolate burned in the pot and we were left with a bowl full of popcorn and candies with no coating. Marshmallows to the rescue! We ended up with a rice krispie treat style mixture using the same portions you would use for making the cereal squares. Turned out fantastic! I like the flavor of butter and marshmallow better anyway. I’m still curious what the original recipe tastes like but why spoil a good find.

2. Mashed Boo-tatoes

I don’t know how Martha Stewart and her crew made these suckers without burning their hands, but I had the hardest time squeezing the mashed potatoes out of the icing bag, as suggested. My version is certainly not as cute as the professionals’ but the kids liked them and the idea was enough to make it a fun addition to the meal.

3. Caramel Apples

These are the best part of the season. The caramel makes me drool just thinking about it. Enough said.

4. Monster Milkshakes

You’re supposed to use melted chocolate to create the faces inside the cup, but we were in a hurry and I left Colin in charge of the artwork with the instruction to use a Sharpie pen to draw a monster. This is what he designed. I like it better than the original idea, just not the smell of the ink in my nose as I took each sip of my shake.

5. Bones and Bloody Eyeballs

Poor planning on my part made it so that we had no olives for this dish. So I used peppercorns for the picture. Not the same, I assure you. But this was an easy one that we all enjoyed creating and eating. Warren even drew some assembly instructions for shaping the dough. Colin did a good job forming hearty “bones” for us to dip in the “blood.”

6. Jack-o-lantern Cheeseburgers

A big hit and obviously super easy. Jut cut out the faces from a slice of cheese. Wham, instant themed dinner.

7. Spiderweb Pizza

A family favorite now. I love the combination of flavors using the red and white sauces. My blurry picture was taken in haste since we were trying to get out the door for Trick-or-Treating, but I assure you, it’s more appetizing than it looks.


What themed foods have you tried and enjoyed? I can always use more ideas!


P.S. Today is my sweet mother’s birthday. I have her to thank for my love of cooking. If she hadn’t allowed me to mess up her kitchen with culinary experiments at the ripe old age of 8, who knows where my skills would be now. Happy Birthday, Mom! I love you!


Tomatillo Salsa

Every Wednesday, Colin gathers with seven of his coworkers at lunch time for a “Salsa Meeting.” Each person takes turns bringing in a salsa of his/her choice for the others to sample.

This week was Colin’s turn to provide the salsa. Since we received a bunch of tomatillos in our weekly CSA delivery (more on how I joined that in a post to follow), he decided to make salsa verde.

Shepherd Farms Tomatillo Salsa

1 lbs. fresh tomatillos, husks removed
3 Elephant garlic cloves, or 4 regular garlic cloves
2-3 fresh jalapeno peppers
1 bunch fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
Juice from 1 lime

Preheat the oven broiler.
Arrange the tomatillos and jalapenos on a baking sheet.
Place under the broiler and roast for 10-15 minutes until the jalapenos and tomatillos are evenly charred, turning occasionally.
Set aside to cool. (Don’t remove the charred parts of the tomatillos or peppers. They add a really nice flavor.)
Place peppers and tomatillos in a blender with the garlic and cilantro. Add lime juice, salt, and pepper.
Refrigerate until serving.

Colin ended up with two batches: one that followed the recipe exactly, with the required amount of tomatillos, and another that had fewer tomatillos but still the same amount of garlic.

Wow. That second batch could pack a punch! Let’s just say consuming it would keep vampires away for a week. But both were tasty.

Colin’s first attempts at salsa-making were a spicy, garlicky success. I’m going to have to utilize his skills more often.

Birthday Cake Swap

Mary Karlee and I made a brilliant arrangement this summer. It was her idea, actually. I just went along with what I recognized to be a good plan. We decided to swap the responsibility of making birthday cakes for one another. That way, we wouldn’t have to prepare our own treat or expect our completely capable, yet busy husbands to create a time-consuming dessert for our special days. (Seriously, we know you guys could do it, but why stress you out any more than necessary?)

She made me this chocolate cake on my birthday. What a treat to have a delicious cake delivered to your door by a good friend!

I completed my end of the deal this week. She asked me to prepare this recipe for a citrus cake with berries on top.

I sampled a bit using the leftover cut cake tops and scraping the frosting bowl and it seemed quite tasty to me. Hopefully, MK was pleased with the results.

I have to say, I’m thinking this is the beginning of a long tradition. Mary Karlee, now you just have to agree to hold out living here longer than most graduate student families do and we’re good.