Friday, October 30, 2009

Keepin' It Real

All right people.

I'm going to come clean.

I just need to come out and say it. 

Sometimes, I just don't feel like cooking.

There...I said it. 

I feel so much better now.

I've been cooking and baking steadily for the past 3 weeks.  Even got some lovely salmon thawing in the fridge for dinner tonight.

But 6 o'clock came, and suddenly, I just didn't want to make anything for dinner. 

I wanted take-out instead.  Correction....I needed takeout.  Yes, really...we are normal.  I've told y'all that from the start. 

I decided to make the kids something quick for dinner, and David and I would get some take-out later on, preferably after the chittlins were in bed. 

So you want to see what the kids had? 

I have the pictures to prove it. 

I got some frozen tater tots (the package actually said, "Potato Rounds"), frozen popcorn shrimp out of the freezer, and some frozen peas.  'Cause every Mom I know feels better serving a green vegetable to their kids, especially alongside frozen, deep fried food.  

The shrimp and tater tots went into the oven, and the peas got zapped in the microwave. 

15 minutes later, dinner was ready.  Man...that was easy, wasn't it?

(Side note:  I don't mean to make fun of anyone who makes dinner like this okay?   Seriously.  I did my student teaching in the poorest ward of our city.  I am sure any one of those kids would have been grateful for a meal.  I know for a fact the free lunch at the school was probably the only square meal they got every day. So by no means am I mocking anyone here.) that I've clarifed things, back to our dinner. 

I used paper plates.  What's the point of ordering take-out for yourself if you have to do the kids' dishes?  That's no fun, right?

So I made up the kids plates.  No fancy garnishes here...just a big dollop of ketchup.  

Yes, this is Gabriel using his hands to scoop up his peas, dip them in ketchup, and shovel 'em into his mouth.   (We make sure to teach our kids proper table manners, and always use their fork and spoon properly). 

Check out that tongue action.  This takes serious concentration, don't you know? 

For good measure...because dinner was so healthy, we had yummy chocolate Halloween cupcakes for dessert.  The kids surely appreciated that. 

And you can bet Gabriel especially enjoyed his cupcake.  Didn't even miss a crumb!

Isn't he so stinkin' cute?   Especially when he's eating. 

Oh, one last thing.  We  had just enough milk for everyone for dinner.  I haven't been to the store since Monday (today's Friday).  So thank goodness we had something wholesome to drink with our dinner :-). 

That's it for this confession. 

I'll be back in a few weeks.  Hopefully my penance won't be too serious. 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Cutest Little Pumpkins

Gabriel's MDO class is having a little Halloween party today, so I decided to make these cute little pumpkin cake ball lollipops.  Okay...Rebecca saw these on Bakerella's website, and begged me to make some too.  How could I say no? 

I've made cake ball lollipops before, but this is the first time I've posted the recipe.  A few of my friends have asked me to post them on my own blog.  These sweet treats take MIL would say they're "putzy," but they're not hard to make.  You can change 'em up, and make almost anything you want.  I've made them for a dessert social, Christina's birthday, and a back-to-school luncheon.  Maybe I'll make some that look like Christmas ornaments later on in December.

Okay, y'all asked for it, so here goes. 

Pumpkin Cake Ball Lollipops

I box chocolate cake mix (or your favorite)
Eggs, oil, and water called for on the cake mix box
1 can store-bought frosting (our fav is chocolate)
1 package (at least 50 count) lollipop sticks (available at craft stores)
2 bags orange Wilton candy melts
2 teaspoons solid vegetable shortening (may or may not need it)
1 box green Tic Tacs (wintergreen flavor)
Black edible marker (available at craft stores)

 Make the cake according to the package directions.  Let cool completely. 

Dump the cake into a large bowl...

and use a fork to break up the cake into fine crumbs.  Make sure to take a must sample to make sure the cake turned out good, right? 

Add 3/4 of the frosting to the crumbled cake.  I just buy whatever happens to be on sale at the time.  Philsbury, Duncan Hines, or Betty Crocker all work the same. 

Some recipes I've seen call for the entire can.  I like the texture better by using only 3/4.  Stir gently until all the frosting is incorporated.  At this point, it will look like chocolate dough. 

The quickest and easiest way to make the balls is to use a small ice cream scoop.  This one is 1 1/2 inches in diameter.

Scoop out the cake mixture and lay the balls out on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. 

Repeat with the remaining cake mixture.  As you can see, one recipe makes quite a lot (57, including the three that didn't fit on the baking sheet). 

Now we have to shape the balls.  Take one ball and roll it in between your hands until it is nice and smooth. 

Your hands will get a bit messy...sometimes I wash my hands when I'm halfway through.  This is the most tedious part (at least, I think so).  Keep at it until you're all done ;-).   

Place the cake balls into the freezer for at least one hour.  You can make the balls a day or two in advance, and hold them in the freezer until you're ready to coat them with the candy melts.  

Have your lollipop sticks, tic-tacs, and a block of styrofoam laid out on your work surface. 

When you're ready, heat the candy melts in a double boiler.  If you're lacking a real double boiler (and I don't), a heatproof bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water works just fine. 

Empty one bag of the candy melts into the bowl and let it melt completely.  It won't take but a few minutes.  If it looks too thick, add one teaspoon of shortening.  

Meanwhile, take about 6 of the cake balls out of the freezer.  Dip a lollipop stick into the melting coating, and once the cake balls are thawed just enough, push the stick into it (there will be a slightly flat spot on the bottom where it rested on the baking sheet). 

This keeps the cake ball from falling off the stick while you're dipping.  (If that happens, fish it out, and let the kids have harm done!). 

For the dipping, you need a large, deep cup.  A large coffee mug works well.  I'm trying out my 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup this time (it worked nicely, BTW).  Spoon the melted candy melts into your vessel of choice. 

Here's where you need to try and work quickly.  Take the cake ball and in one motion, dip it completely into the candy melts.  You can move it a bit to cover the bottom. 

Now lift the cake ball back out and straight up.  Rotate it 360 degrees and tap the stick very gently to smooth out any imperfections.  There's always a bit of a peak at the top, but that's okay.  Immediately push a tic-tac into the top.  You won't have to push it in very far, the candy coating will hold it once it dries. 

Isn't that the cutest little pumpkin you ever did see? 

Now I'll be honest, the first couple of times I made these, I found it easier to swirl the cake balls in the coating.  So they came out looking more like these (not smooth like the one in the picture above). 

But you know...pumpkins aren't perfect in nature, so don't be like me and aim for perfection if this is your first time making cake ball lollipops.  You'll the hang of it...don't worry!  If your kids are like mine...they don't care anyway...they just wanna eat 'em! 

Continue with the rest of the cake balls until you have a whole crop of pretty pumpkins. 

Sometimes as the cake ball is thawing, it will expand too much and make the coating crack.  If this happens, use a toothpick and some of the melted coating to fill in the crack, (just like spackling a hole in a wall) and smooth over with your finger.  No problem!

Here's where I had a period of frustration. I tried using Wilton Edible Markers to draw faces on the pumpkins.  It didn't work.  Boo hoo! 

I went back to Bakerella's Halloween post, and she uses CK Candy Writers and Gourmet Writer Food Decorator Pens.  Well shoot.  None of the local craft stores sell them...they're only available on-line. 

I called my hubby in near tears.  He promptly looked online, found a baking supply store 30 minutes from his office, and drove there to get me a CK Candy Writer in green.  He actually bought one in every color they stocked (they were just 99 cents) and saw some Blue's Clues cupcake toppers and cupcake liners and bought those for Gabriel's birthday.  I truly don't deserve such a wonderful man. 

So my darling David gets a big THANK YOU from me! (BTW, he didn't find a black writing marker, which is what I really wanted, but I had to make do). 

Note to self...and anyone reading this...only the candy writers or the gourmet writer food decorator pens will work with the candy melts.  Make sure you have them on hand if you want to use them!

Anyway...back to the cake ball lollipops.  Using the green candy writer, I made little jack-o-lantern faces on all the pumpkins.  (You have to melt the candy writer tube in hot water first before using it).  Nothing scary...these are for Gabriel's MDO party...and they're just 2-year-olds after all.

I put about 2 dozen in a vase to take to the preschool.  This is just an inexpensive $2 wreath from Micheals, a vase (also $2) and some candy corn to hold the lollipops upright.

Well...there you have it.   A complete post on making cake ball lollipops.  I won't lie...I was up until just past 10 PM finished these up...and I'm tired.  Think I'll go grab a quick nap...but I'm going to eat a pumpkin first!

God bless your table tonight!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Turkey Bolognese

There are those rare days I really wish my hubby liked pasta as much as I do.  But he doesn't.  And for the most part, I'm okay with it.  I decided to try making a really meaty sauce, (since David is a carnivore) and see how it would fare at our dinner table.

The one thing I didn't want to do was make it with ground beef.  I am trying to keep the meals lighter for the time being because I know the holidays are upon us, and I can't guarantee David and I won't have a few pieces of that Halloween candy ;-).  I used 80/10 ground turkey, and a little pancetta, and it worked just fine. 

The  one thing about bolognese is you can't rush it.  I let the pot simmer all afternoon, for 4 hours.  So this isn't something you can't start at 4:00 in the afternoon.  Make sure you put it together in the morning, to allow time for the sauce to reduce until it's really thick.  You'll have to turn the heat on your burner down to the lowest possible setting-- lower than low.  I tried to put mine on "low", but the bolognese started to stick to the bottom of the pot.  So low and slow, okay people?  If you can't get your burner low enough, transfer the pot to a crockpot and set it on low for 6-8 hours. 

Turkey Bolognese

8 slices pancetta, finely diced (can be found at the deli counter)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely diced/shredded carrot
1 cup finely diced/shredded celery
1 cup finely diced/shredded onion
2 pounds 80/10 ground turkey
salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 cups whole milk
2 cups red wine (use a decent bottle!)
2  28 ounce cans whole tomatoes packed in juice

In a large Dutch oven, brown the pancetta over medium heat.  You'll want to render out most of the fat, but it doesn't have to be crispy.

Pancetta is cured pork, simillar to bacon, but it's not smoked.  Don't substitute regular bacon for the pancetta, we're not going for that flavor this time.  You should be able to buy it at your deli counter.   

I used my mini food processor to shred the carrots, celery, and onion--this saved me a lot of time chopping.  Be careful and just pulse the vegetables until they are very fine...but not mush!   (When we finish this sauce, you'll see why everything had to be chopped very small). 

In french cooking, this is called a mirepiox, and we'll use it as the flavor base of our sauce.  Add the mirepiox to the pot and cook until softed, but not brown. 

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan over medium low heat, cook the ground turkey, breaking it up into very tiny bits with a wooden spoon.  Don't let the turkey brown, we want it to stay soft, but past the raw stage. 

Add the mostly cooked turkey to the pot, along with any drippings.  Pour in the 2 cups of milk, and bring to a simmer.  Let the milk reduce until it is nearly gone, about 25-30 minutes; you will see just the fat remaining.  Be careful and don't let it burn...the burner will probabaly have to be on its lowest setting (or lower). 

Now pour in the wine (I used a cabernet sauvignon), bring to a simmer and reduce the sauce again until the wine is nearly gone...25-30 minutes.

I know it doesn't look like I used red wine, but I really did :-).  While we're simmering the wine away, let's prep the tomatoes.

Open both cans and use a large slotted spoon to remove the tomatoes (save the juice!).  Used your hands to gently squeeze each tomato-- letting the seeds and juice fall back into the can.  This will keep the tomatoes from squirting out all over you when you're chopping 'em up. 

Now you can dice the tomatoes up very finely.  Use your largest cutting board, preferable with a little trench around the edge so the tomato juice doesn't end up all over the place. 

Here's what the sauce looks like after the wine has reduced. 

Pour in all the tomatoes and the tomato juice. 

Bring back up to a simmer (this is the last time, I promise!).  The pot needs to be at a bare simmer.  There should be a few bubbles that break the surface, but it should not be bubbling all over...or it will reduce too quickly.  Slowly cooking this down (uncovered), will give the sauce, epecially the meat, a melt-in-your-mouth consistency. 

After 2 hours, this is what my pot looked like.  You can see on the sides where the sauce started, and how much it's reduced.  Oh, and you can give this a stir every once in a while.   As long as you keep it at a bare simmer, you shouldn't have to babysit it though. 

Continue to simmer the sauce until all, or nearly all  the liquid has evaporated.  This will take 3-4 hours, depending on your pot and your burner.  When it's finished, season with more salt/pepper to taste. 

Here's where I oopsied when I should have daisied.  I forgot to take a picture of the finished sauce, and only realized it after the dishes where done, and the remaing bolognese was already in the fridge.  So here's the finished sauce in a very nice plastic container :-).  

I  reduced the sauce until just a little liquid remained.  You can reduce it more if you'd like.  My sauce had already simmered for just over 4 hours.  I also wanted to see how the family would like it...hence my decision to leave it a tad kids like it that way. 

Once you're ready to serve, boil up your pasta according to the package directions.  I have tried various types of whole-wheat pasta, and just wasn't completely happy with the texture.  This time, we tried Ronzoni Smart Taste Penne Rigati: 

This a white pasta with added fiber and calcium, but is lower in calories and slightly lower in carbs than traditional pasta.  I really liked it...and the kids did too. 

Back to the serious part...the eatin'!  Serve the pasta with a portion of the bolognese sauce on top, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. 

Yum....I could eat this every day...and I did...for 4 days.  There's still one serving left in the fridge..and that's after we ate it over past for 3 nights! 

I should mention here I made a double batch, so if you don't want to make a big pot, cut all the ingredient amounts by half.  This sauce freezes well too, so go ahead and make a double batch, freeze the rest, and save it for later.  Bolognese sauce makes a great base for spaghetti pie or lasagna, by the way. 

Just for's a close up.   Mmmm!  The sauce will be very thick, but it will just melt away in your mouth. 

I  know, you can hardly stand it, right?   

I had to take the kids to their swim lessons the day I made this, so I left the pot on while we were gone.  When we came home, my gracious, the smell that hit us at the door...divine...I'm tellin' ya!  I hope you make this soon...and tell me how you liked it :-).

God bless your table tonight!