Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Never Ending Group Project: Establish a House

These pictures are kind of deceiving. This looks like a family that has everything figured out. Look, their clothes match and they are all smiling! They've figured out how to make a family work, right?

Well, it turns out I'm not supposed to establish a house by myself.

Why do I keep fighting this real and obvious truth? It's not like my family is telling me, "You do it, Mom!" (Well, except for my three-year-old, but I'm hoping that's just a phase.)

It is because I'm the Little Red Hen, that's why! I like to do it myself. I always have.

Flashback to elementary school, junior high, high school, and college. I hated  group projects. They made me want to gouge out my eyes. It wasn't that I was afraid that I'd have to do all the work and the others would just slack. It wasn't the fact that I didn't like being with other people. It is just so much easier to do whatever was assigned alone. If I procrastinated, it only affected me. If I wanted to take a certain angle or run with a topic, or come up with a catchy title or theme, there was no resistance. Then, if I got a good grade, which I typically did, I would get the credit

Does this sound familiar?

But, there were some projects that had to be done as a group. I remember one class where part of our group project grade as to send the professor a picture of us all meeting somewhere to prove that we had actually met to discuss Jane Austen or whatever it was, outside of the classroom. And even though it was painful, and it took more time and energy, I survived. In fact, I think I actually liked having a group of people to share my thoughts, impressions- who ultimately had the same goal I had. We wanted an A on the project, and in the class.

So here I am in February of 2016. My focus for the month is to "establish a house." I had commendable goals for the month. Smile more. Get dressed. Focus on getting to a sacred place. Fill my home with the Spirit so that my home feels more like a sacred place. I have have to say, that in many ways I have kind of failed. Hard. 

But that's because I keep setting up these goals about my home, family, and spirituality alone. Funny thing is, I don't live alone! And while all these goals will surely benefit the people with whom I reside, they also involve them. If I start a new cleaning regimen, my kids have to know about it and I've got to be willing to help them adapt. If I want to set up an early morning study time, they have to be willing to wake up. In particular though, in trying to "establish a house," I've figured out my plans for improvement have to involve my husband. 

This sounds so obvious, but it has been a hard realization. I've always known I should probably involve my husband in my decision making, but remember how I feel about group projects? Establishing a house and raising a family is the ultimate group project! I've been living like I could compartmentalize and just do my part of the "project" without checking in with my group co-chair. Why ask the husband to help plan a project when I can just do it myself? Why involve him in deciding when to hold scripture study with the kids, or in meal planning, or in dreaming about how to redo the basement, or in planning out when the kids need new clothes when I can just do it myself? I always think avoiding the conversation will simplify things. Sometimes that works, but often it doesn't. I make plans like Tuesday is Temple Night! And then I get offended when I discover he's got some scheduling concerns. Or I get hurt when he shoots down insane building project because he is logical, thorough, and can easily identify the clear problems with my design. So I shut down, dig in my heels, and resolve to do more "all by myself." I am stubborn and creative like that.

Now, I recognize I am meant to have individual wants, needs, and ideas. I know it is healthy to have autonomy, and that there are certain things, especially mundane, functional decisions, that I can just make on my own. He doesn't care what we eat, as long as it isn't stroganoff and I stay in a budget. He doesn't really care what I hang on the walls. Heck, he even tells me to take a nap and go to the gym sometimes, (especially when I am being ornery), because he knows those things make me happier. My husband appreciates my initiative and the fact that I keep everyone clean, fed, and relatively happy while he is at work. That's my job while he is at his. And we are great at our jobs! 

But there is more to this "house" thing than parallel occupations. We're both in the process of becoming something eternal, together and as individuals. This month I've realized more fully the weight of choosing to be so intimately involved in another person's life. How amazing it is that we get to take part in each other's journey! Here he is, living his life, a son of God, gaining experience and being refined, becoming who God designed him to be, and he chose me to be a part of that process! What a beautiful and amazing responsibility. And I covenanted with him and God, that I would. Here am I, a daughter of God, striving to remember my own divine nature, and become the person I've covenanted to be, struggling through setbacks and successes, and my husband is here to help and bless me too. Obviously we each are accountable for our own actions, but how have I been thinking I could "establish a house" all by myself?   

What's more,  we've got these little people running around our house, calling us Mom and Dad! As we we work together to help them remember their purpose and divinity, I often wonder at how this happened! I know how it happened, but frequently I'm struck with how human I am. I'm just me. My husband is just him. And God trusts us with these precious, individual souls? But I know though the quiet moments and the tantrums, the tears and the giggles, the sleepless nights and those mid-afternoon naps with babies snuggled on my chest, I'm being shaped and refined. So is my husband. And, hopefully for the better, so are these important, priceless children.

So of course we've got to communicate! He's got to know my goals. I've got to know his. We've got to talk about things that are significant, meaningful, and at times, uncomfortable. And we've got to do the same thing with our kids. I've got so much room to improve. 

I know there are many who, for a myriad of reasons, don't experience the companionship of a spouse and children. For whatever reason though, I have that experience. And my family is experiencing that with me. So how am I going to treat that experience? Sure, like a group assignment I could just work on what I perceive to be my part and then wait self-righteously for the rest of my family to catch-up to where I think they should be. Or I could swoop in and take over, trying to over-compensate when I determine someone's efforts to be less than celestial. But I'm, no, we're establishing a house. And since we are together, we should do that together. 

The Little Red Hen may have eaten that first loaf of bread all by herself. But I hope that when the next planting season comes around she works with the rest of the coop to sow, reap, and harvest infinitely more than what she did the first time around.

Establish a house.

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Freezer Friday: Monterrey Chicken

freezer meal monterrey chicken

I am part of a Freezer Cooking Club, and this is one of our favorite meals! It is so much a favorite that more often than not, it never makes it to the freezer. We all decide we will just take it home, put it in the fridge, and cook it tomorrow. 

There is so, so much to love! Boneless skinless chicken breasts, baked in barbecue sauce. Then, smother that chicken with tons more barbecue sauce, cheese, bacon, diced tomatoes, and green onions. Broil that sticky, savory mess until the cheese melts and you have some very good eating. 

freezer meal monterrey chicken

How is this a freezer meal? There are usually 4-6 of us at Freezer Club. We will bake all the chicken with barbecue sauce until it is just about cooked through and the juices run clear. Then we transfer the baked chicken to our individual 9x13 pans and douse them with goodness. We seal the pans up with foil and freeze them. When it is time to eat Monterrey Chicken for dinner, I let the chicken thaw in the fridge overnight. Then I broil it until the chicken is warmed through and the cheese is melted. Really, really tasty! 

freezer meal monterrey chicken

When I have leftovers, I dice up the chicken and scoop up all the extra toppings and place them on a bed of spinach, or whatever I have. A happy, little lunch date for myself.

freezer meal monterrey chicken

I'm just giving rough estimates on the amounts of the toppings. Really, this is an eyeball recipe. You  just smother that chicken until it looks good to you!

Monterrey Chicken

  • 2-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, thawed
  • 1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce, (we love Sweet Baby Ray's)
  • 2 diced Roma tomatoes
  • 3 diced green onions
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup cooked chopped bacon, or bacon bits
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place chicken on a cookie sheet and baste with 1/2 cup barbecue sauce. Bake until juices run clear, without overbaking, about 20-30 minutes, depending on how thick your chicken breasts are.
  2. Remove from oven and smother chicken with remaining barbecue sauce, shredded cheese, tomatoes, green onions, and bacon. 
  3. Broil until cheese is melted and toppings are slightly bubbly.  
Directions for freezing:
  1. Bake oven as directed. Place chicken in a 9x13 freezer-safe pan. Once baked, smother chicken with more barbecue sauce, shredded cheese, tomatoes, green onions, and bacon. 
  2. Cover pan in foil or seal tight. Freeze.
  3. To bake, let thaw overnight in refrigerator. Once thawed, remove foil and broil, uncovered until toppings are nice and bubbly. 

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Dairy-Free Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Bars

These No-Bake Peanut Butter Bars are so easy to make, and most likely you have everything you need in your pantry. 

I'm trying to figure out how to help my gut, not necessarily my waistline, (although that would be a nice side affect). So, lactose! You're out! Last summer I got one of those crazy antibiotic resistant bugs and it really did a number on my stomach. The after affects are still real. Sorry if that is too much info, but why else would I do this?!  

I've been sensitive to lactose for years, and I don't typically drink milk because I know better. But lately, I've been living large when it comes to cheese and butter. It has been delicious! Just look at what I've been blogging! You should see what is to come! Tuesday morning I woke up looking normal, and by Tuesday night I was so uncomfortable and bloated that my husband and I agreed that I looked three-months pregnant. (And I am NOT.) Time to get rid of something to see if it will help. I figured dairy is a good way to start, and hard core this time. Hopefully I can come back to butter. My baking self kind of died a bit when I realized no more cookies...or cake...or buttered toast.

I'm only two days into this, and I had to make something sweet. Probably I should give up sugar, but I keep praying that isn't the problem! The best news of the day was when I realized the Kirkland brand of chocolate chips are dairy-free. Thank goodness! (Chocolate could be a problem too...please no!) Anyway, I figured I can adapt something to my current situation, and I had to make it tasty enough that my family won't know that anything different is going on. 

Success! I present these Dairy-Free Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Bars. Don't let the name turn you off! These are tasty. In fact, they are pretty much like Muddy Buddies in bar form. They are still made with powdered sugar. I know, if I was really hard core I would have used honey or agave, but I've got four kids and a small grocery budget. Crushed Corn Chex, quick oats, peanut butter, powdered sugar and a little coconut oil make a crunchy, peanut buttery crust, and melted chocolate chips combined with peanut butter and a little more coconut oil combine to make a delicious chocolate topping that stays firm without feeling like you are biting into a layer of rock. Really yummy!

Don't let my limitations stop you, though! Milk chocolate chips would be amazing and if you don't have coconut oil, you could totally use butter. If you have gluten or dairy allergies, just make sure the products you are using don't have any hidden additives. 

Let's get making! If you start now you can have a easy, fun treat to satisfy your afternoon cravings in about 20 minutes. 

Dairy-Free Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Bars

  • 4 cups Corn Chex cereal
  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup + 1 tbs peanut butter
  • 2 tbs coconut oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tbs powdered sugar
  • 1 tbs peanut butter
  • 1 tbs coconut oil
  1. Line a 8x8 pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, crush Chex cereal with your hands. Add oats and powdered sugar. Toss until combined.
  2. In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt 1 cup + 1 tbs cup peanut butter and 2 tbs coconut oil in 30 second increments. Once melted, stir in vanilla.
  3. Pour over cereal and mix until entirely coated. Press firmly into pan.
  4. In a small bowl, melt chocolate chips, 1 tbs peanut butter, and 1 tbs coconut oil in 30 second increments. Once melted, stir in powdered sugar and pour over bars. Spread evenly. 
  5. Refrigerate for 15-30 minutes, until firm. Cut into bars and serve.

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Super Sloppy Joes

It is Wednesday Friendsday and I've got the best Sloppy Joe recipe for you! That said, I had a really hard time taking decent pictures of the Sloppy Joes, so I feel a little bad because I just can't do them justice visually. Just take my word for it.

My neighbors, the Bellos, have brought my family dinner every time I've had a baby. With Stella, they brought Poo Poo chicken, which maybe I will share one day because it is crazy good. When Kells was born they brought over meatloaf, which was great and lasted us for like 3 dinners. When Georgie came, we got Sloppy Joes. Our family loves Sloppy Joes.

In saying that, I feel like I'm admitting a dirty little secret. They like Sloppy Joes?! Didn't we decide Sloppy Joes were gross back in junior high?  My friend, Alicia, and I have discussed this before. It is like bringing a tuna sandwich to lunch in elementary school, and it reeks by lunchtime, so everyone at the table is like, "EWWWW," so you say, "UGH. I can't believe my mom packed me tuna!" But inside you are secretly happy because you made the sandwich. 

Maybe a better comparison is like admitting you don't mind Star Wars Episode 1, including JarJar Binks. Or that you still listen to Spice Girls and Hanson. Or that you support Donald Trump. 

Nope. That's going too far. There's nothing endearing about that. Keep that a secret. 

So anyway, we like Sloppy Joes at our house. Not the Manwich kind. Just the homemade kind. My husband, always the comedian, likes to quote Billy Madison every time I make them, warning everyone at the table that I made them, "extra sloppy!" The kids all scream, "Noooo," and I roll my eyes. It's cute.

These Super Sloppy Joes, or Bello's Sloppy Joes, are perfect. Brother Bello told me this recipe was his mom's. He's my baking and cooking friend. When Sister Bello brought the recipe over she had a sticky note on it with notes as to how she makes it. That made me smile. Sweet, tangy, and moderately addicting, you can just eat the filling with a fork and forgo the bun. That's what Kells likes to do. I've made them with ground beef and ground turkey and both were favorites, but I think ground beef was a little bit more favorite. The original recipe called for V-8 juice, but I never have that, so I've used tomato sauce and had great success. That's how the Bellos brought them to us. They also brought us good quality, bakery-style buns, which I highly recommend. I've even used this sauce to make a quinoa sloppy joe. If you are into quinoa, it is really tasty. But my family was like, "Where's the meat?" So, you know, I haven't done that again.

Super Sloppy Joes

  • 2 lbs hamburger
  • 2 onions (or about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cups ketchup
  • 1 cup tomato juice (or 1 8 oz can tomato sauce**)
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp mustard, wet or dry
  • 2 tbs vinegar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (or a little more)
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder (I use more like 1-2 tsp)
  • *1 tsp smoked paprika, optional
  • **If using tomato sauce, you may need to add a couple tbs of water to thin sauce.
  1. Dice onion and fry with hamburger in a large skillet. Drain excess grease and return meat to skillet.
  2. Mix all other ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Pour over meat and simmer 20-30 minutes. Serve immediately. 

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

A Day in the Life: Unfiltered

So, if you don't have a sense of humor, and a strong constitution, you probably shouldn't read this.

If you don't have a sense of humor, and a strong constitution, you definitely shouldn't live like this.

Bring it on, Wednesday.

5:45 am- After a bit of a sleepless night, I awake to my three-year-old crying upstairs. Luckily, my husband goes to investigate. Unluckily, he comes back down, a panicky edge to his voice. Three-year-old has thrown up. Not a mega-hurl. I suspect this is a congestion-induced vomit, so I'm kind of glad because maybe his cough will go away soon. But it is dark, and smelly, and I am praying that I don't wake the 16-month-old in the crib just a couple feet away as I carefully strip the messy bedding.

6:00 am- Puke blankets are in the laundry room awaiting a better time of day to be dealt with. Three-year-old is dressed in my husband's giant purple Phoenix Suns hoodie from junior high and a Pull-Up because I don't want to dig out clean clothes and risk waking the baby. We spread a towel on my husband's side of the bed, (I guess I'm going in early, he says), and I snuggle down with my little guy. I'm not sleepy any more, but I'm not ready to start the day. He starts coughing and I run across the room to grab the popcorn bowl (because half of my bedroom is a kitchen. No joke. It used to be a basement apartment and now my bed is where a kitchen table used to be. I sometimes pretend I am living in a tiny studio apartment in NYC, just to keep it fun.), and arrive just in time to catch another round of the pukes.

7:00 am- Three-year-old is now wearing an oversized University of Utah hoodie because the Phoenix Suns one got puked on. He has been asking for breakfast for 20 minutes, and I remember I told my oldest that I'd make pancakes for breakfast. Plus, I've got to make the husband's lunch. Back upstairs we head to the kitchen to make pancakes. I remember that I'm starting a hard core dairy free month to see if it will help with my stomach issues. Guess I won't eat one of those chocolate chip cookies I left out last night! Bummer. Double bummer because my pancakes are killer and full of milk! -sigh- Good news though! Husband's lunch is already made from yesterday.

7:30 am- Three-year-old heads to the bathroom, (win), but returns to the table refusing to believe that there is already syrup on his pancakes because he can't see it. No amount of reasoning helps. I wake up oldest child so she can hop into the shower. The pancakes are all perfectly golden. No burned ones this time! I settle for peanut butter toast and a banana. (At least I don't have a gluten intolerance. I had a test done.)

7:45- Three-year-old finally tastes pancake and eats about 4 bites before putting his plate in the sink. At least he cleared his dishes! Kindergartner wakes up and asks for cereal. I start insisting that she eats a pancake since I made them fresh, but then remember I didn't like pancakes until I was 30. She gets Fruity Cheerios. Miss G wakes up, slightly grumpy, her face hidden behind a wall of hair and goobers. Lovely. I clear that up and serve her a pancake. She refuses it, and instead tries to talk to three-year-old in her 16-month-old language. Guy just shouts back, "I'm not Uhhn!" She's not calling you that. She's just trying to say good morning. "I don't want to say good morning!! AHHH!"

8:00 am- Scriptures are read, almost. Kindergartner is reading the last verse aloud, which is great because she is sounding everything out, but it takes She's happy though and goes to get dressed. I change and dress Miss G. I set Guy up on the couch with a towel, a bowl for the spits, and Star Wars to watch. I feel a little bit guilty about that, but this is a sick day so we are all about survival.

8:17 am- Kindergartner is still not dressed! I remind her it is time to go and she scampers off to try again. Oldest child is pretty responsible, making her bed, gathering her lunch, and watching Star Wars, thinking I can't see her doing it. I convince Guy to put on some pants so we can take the girls to school.

8:25 am- I brush my teeth and rubber band my braces shut. I put on some jeans because I'm not getting to the gym today. We load up to go to school. Miss G is looking put together, apart from her hair. Kindergartner is wearing a black and pink polka dot maxi skirt with a faded, pink and gray starred long sleeve shirt. And tennis shoes. Oldest child is wearing an orange floral shirt that my mom meant to hand down to me, but Child like it, tucked in, tennis shoes, a side ponytail, and flared jeans that look like she's ready to cross a river. She doesn't care, so I decide not too as well. You just rock that look, my girl!  As I load everyone into the car, I note that I did not brush Kindergartner's hair, and she's got long, tangled hair. Looking a bit homeless, we successfully navigate the school drop-off, and I head home with the two littles.

8:50 am- Star Wars is back on. I wonder what I am going to do today. This is two days in a row I've had to miss the gym, and my brain is feeling bad about it. What is the point of all of this? The smelly bedding is still downstairs, but I'm not ready for it yet. I'm getting bummed out about the dairy-free decision, mostly because I don't know how I'm going to bake! If this is permanent, what will I do? Small, overwhelming problems. Miss G needs some cereal, and a tissue.

9:07 am- Start researching IBS and non-dairy stuff. It is an IBS, PMS, cloudy inversion air, winter day with a spoonful of depression coming on! I get a text from a friend saying that I looked "beautiful" on Sunday. Clouds ease a bit, Isn't it amazing what a few kind words can do? I'm so grateful for generous thoughts and people who act on them! Things are looking up. Bring it, Wednesday!

9:45 am- Fruity Cheerios are all over the floor. Guy is on the second (or fifth) Star Wars, and I figure I'll write a blog post. I'm about to write about this Citrus Pound Cake I created, when I remember I'm doing a Wednesday Friendsday series, and it is Wednesday. While the computer loads I call this Irish Dance Studio I found last night. I can't afford it yet, but we really want to put Kindergartner in Irish Dance. I call and the owner answers and starts talking in an Irish or Scottish accent so thick I have to really concentrate on what he's saying. I feel a little starstruck! Send a text to playgroup saying Guy won't be there. Bummer, because I was going to take the car in to get it inspected this morning during playgroup. Set up my "workstation" at the kitchen table with Miss G sitting beside me.

10:15 am- I'm not really hungry, but I keep thinking about food that I can't have, so I eat another slice of PB toast. I start working on the blog post- a recipe from my neighbor for the best Sloppy Joes. I'm so cold too! I'm drinking warm water like it is going out of style. Weird, I know, but it does the job of hot chocolate when you can't drink hot chocolate. Miss G is smelling a little ripe, so I go check it out. Plus, I think she may have spit a bit of Fruity Cheerios up, too.

10:17 am- What?!! I go to change what I think is the standard #2 messy bum and am greeted with a triple-dog-dare-you blow out! I'm talking pull down the leggings and get a handful of under-the-fingernails excrement. Gah!  And gah again! I reach for a towel, mounds of wipes, and yell for Guy to bring me the garbage can. (Of course, it has no liner in it because someone, me, was too lazy to put one in last time.) 3, 4, 8 wipes and a new outfit later, the crisis is contained without damage to the carpet.

10:30 am- I start thinking about this day. I'm grateful I didn't start the laundry yet or bleach the bathtub, because now I've got poop clothes to put in it. Miss G has on a red velvet hoodie with gold stars and matching red pants. It is getting too small, and with the little hood on she reminds me of that episode of "The Office" where Michael has that charity auction in the warehouse and Kelly offers to teach everyone the dance to some rap song with the plan to make Ryan jealous. Random, but Kelly wears a velvet hoodie outfit in that episode too. Makes me smile. Miss G and Guy start fighting over a Pokeman card. Where did that even come from? He trades her for a wolf postcard from Yellowstone. I take a bathroom break.

10:50 am- I come back from the bathroom break to this chaos! Seriously, my floor did not look like this 5 minutes ago! I decide to start taking pictures. I follow the tracks to find Miss G and Guy playing nicely. This deserves documentation! Then they follow me into the kitchen
. Things are good, until Guy hits G in the face. Then she cries, but still wants to say "Cheese" for the camera. Life is tough when you're little.

11;15 am- Guy says he wants chicken nuggets. He can have some if he goes potty. Success! Then he comes out and tells me he needs to change his sweater because it is wet...trouble with the sink or something else? I don't really want to know, so we find his Ninja Turtle hoodie and put the Utah Ute hoodie in the laundry...which I still haven't started.

11:35 am- Miss G is going down for a nap. We're all ready for that. She goes down without a fight, which a nice change because she's been getting molars in for like, a month! Guy eats 2 chicken nuggets and calls it quits. He asks to take a rest on my bed. I guess he's still not feeling well. I close the blinds in my kitchen/bedroom, tuck him in, and sneak out. Maybe he'll go to sleep, or maybe he'll play with my husband's retainers on the nightstand. It is a gamble.

11:50 am- Kindergartner comes home. Guy and G are really asleep! I decide  write about this morning and I feel better. It isn't even noon! I start typing while she decides on lunch. Tuna sandwich it is. I go to put away the ketchup from Guy's lunch, thinking the cap was on the bottle. What is that red stuff all over the refrigerator? Oh, that's just part of the half a bottle of ketchup you squirted all over the floor...and fridge. Nice. But, Kindergartner is happy. Her hair is no longer wild because her teacher braided it and secured it with a rubber band at school. And I'm grateful. And she's happy. She tells me about her day, and how silly she was in the carpool on the way home. I have to remind her that the other kids are napping, which she obliges with a smile.

This is real life, in all its wonder. And I'm okay! How many people get to do this?

It isn't even noon. I've still got that laundry to scour. Bring it on, Wednesday.

Bring. It. On.

Bake the bread. Share the slices.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Salted Caramel Cheesecake

Introducing Wednesday Friendsday! Every Wednesday I'll share a recipe that is a friend's favorite. Sometimes the recipe may be an incredible and slightly sinful (like today). Other times it might be one of those go-to recipes that isn't life changing, but it you eat it all the time and your family likes it. Maybe it is that recipe that you make for every family function because your great-great aunt always made it and Sunday wouldn't be Sunday without it. The stories we associate with food are just as important as the recipes themselves, so we want to hear about them! I'd love to feature one of your favorites recipes, too. You don't need to be a chef, or a blogger, or anything more than a person who eats food. If you are interested, email me or shoot me a text. I'd love to meet you and your recipe!

Today we're meeting my friend April. She's one of the most amazing people I know and I've known her for more than 10 years.  April authentic and genuine. I love that. She's friendly, talks to anyone, and she's so generous with her time an resources. Frankly, that is amazing for anyone, but especially because she's got 4 kiddos, including a set of twins. She's smart, talented, and great with numbers. She's the one who invited me to join the Freezer Cooking Club, which has been awesome. Always reading something new, always organizing or improving some aspect of her life, she's a busy woman.  Plus, April is a runner. Hard core. Multiple marathons, multiple half-marathons, and even an ultra-marathon, she's done it all.

This brings me to one of April's special talents. Cheesecake. Perhaps this is the reason she runs, or at least part of it. I know it is part of the reason I work out. Cheesecake. But this girl, she's won awards for her cheesecake three years in a row! Chocolate Oreo. White Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut, and White Chocolate Strawberry. She helps us celebrate National Cheesecake Day by making a couple cheesecakes and inviting some friends over to eat them.  (It pays to be April's friend!) To me, making a cheesecake is a major affair, but she whips them together like she's making a taco. Easy peasy. She does use the water bath method, but she doesn't do the crack-the-oven-door-open-and-let-the-cheesecake-cool-in-the-oven. And it still turns out fine! I trust her methods completely. Seriously, one year she made this Peanut Butter Reeses cheesecake, and I get chills when she talks about that Samoas cookie cheesecake she made one time. April makes a cheesecake for her husband's birthday every year, and this year's creation was a Salted Caramel Cheesecake with an Oreo cookie crust, dark chocolate ganache, and salted caramel drizzle. What!?! I was like, "I need that." Actually, lots of people were, and so for our last Freezer Cooking Club, we each made a cheesecake. Six cheesecakes. It was a beautiful mess.

So, this Salted Caramel cheesecake is that cheesecake. I made a milk chocolate syrup rather than the ganache, not on purpose, but whatever. I also made a simple caramel sauce with just brown sugar, butter, and evaporated milk. Super easy. We ate it, or part of it, on Super Bowl Sunday. (I'll show you a Super Bowl!)

This cheesecake is so creamy! It doesn't get flaky or crumbly. It is dangerously light, almost like a no-bake cheesecake, so you can eat a giant slice and not feel like you just swallowed a brick. It stays so soft thanks in part to the caramel in the cheesecake batter. That's right friends. We're not just talking caramel on the top. It is in the batter! The Oreo crust is magnificent, and the toppings put this dessert over the top.

Valentine's Day is coming up, and this Salted Caramel Cheesecake would be the perfect way to round out the evening. It is also the perfect cure for a crummy afternoon, so win/win.

Salted Caramel Cheesecake

Adapted from Tidy Mom

For the crust:
  • 45 Oreos
  • 7 tbs butter, melted
Salted Caramel Cheesecake Filling:
  • 3 (8 oz) pkgs cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup caramel-flavored coffee syrup, like Torani
Simple Caramel Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 tsp flaked sea salt (optional to make it salted caramel)
Milk Chocolate Ganache:
  • 1 cup milk chocolate coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  1. Make Oreo crust. Grease 9-inch springform pan. Crush Oreos and combine with melted butter. Press into bottom of pan and up the sides. Cover the bottom outside of the pan with tin foil to protect crust while in water bath. 
  2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In stand mixer, beat cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time until just blended. Add cream and 1/4 cup coffee-syrup. Beat until blended and pour into crust.
  3. Set cheesecake on a large baking sheet (jelly roll pan). Pour some water onto the cookie sheet, about half-way full. Bake cheesecake for 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes, or until cheesecake is set 2 inches from edge of pan, but still jiggles in the middle. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack to cool. FYI: This cheesecake stays pretty soft, even after chilling all night. 
  4. Refrigerate over night. Top with caramel and then chocolate ganache. Drizzle more caramel as desired.
Bake the bread. Share the slices.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Parmesan and Creme Fraiche Potato Gratin

A few weeks ago I saw some Bellwether Farms Creme Fraiche (krehm-fresh) on clearance at the grocery store so I had to buy it for two basic reasons. First: it was really cheap. Second: I've spoken French and taught French for how long and I've never even tried the stuff? How is that right? I felt like a big French fraud, or even more so than usual.

Can I just clear something up too? I can't figure out how to put the accents on creme and fraiche, so please stop cringing and forgive me now. Thanks! Moving on...

I loved cooking with creme fraiche. Tangy, but more subtle than sour cream, it is actually much more accessible than I thought it would be. I mean, it sounds so superior and sophisticated. It was kind of like meeting somebody famous and discovering you use the same laundry detergent. You know what I mean?

After debating and searching, I decided on a potato gratin recipe that I found on the container. Initially I was concerned that this wouldn't be fancy enough. I had BIG plans for that creme friache! But these potatoes were so good! Of course, I changed them up a bit because I am the Little Red Hen and I couldn't afford the Gruyere cheese the original recipe suggested. I'm glad I did!

Thinly sliced red potatoes, layered with garlic, creme fraiche and parmesan, this Potato Parmesan Gratin would pair perfectly with a savory salad for a delicious lunch. Or, it would make an elegant, everyday side dish that you could easily eat...all by yourself. I think red potatoes are an unstoppable tasty force for eating pleasure, and turning them into delicate, garlicky, parmesan crusted wonders was brilliant and deadly. 

Don't make these Parmesan and Creme Fraiche Potato Gratin thinking it is going to be gooey and cheesy. If you are looking for that try my Cheesy Potato Casserole. This is a light dish and the creme fraiche really brings out the buttery goodness of the red potatoes. The parmesan gives them a slightly nutty flavor, and the garlic- well, it does what garlic does and makes everything even better. Really, the best word to describe these potatoes is delicate, which is a bizzare adjective for potatoes, but it is true.

I love that you don't have to make a sauce or dirty multiple pans. This is a hands-down winner in my book. I think it would be the perfect way to say "je t'aime" this Valentine's Day.

Parmesan and Creme Fraiche Potato Gratin

  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1 large slice of onion
  • 2 1/2 lbs thinly sliced red potatoes
  • 7 oz creme fraiche
  • 1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare a 9x9 baking dish, or gratin dish, with non-stick spray or parchment paper.
  2. Blanch (put in a pot of boiling water) the potatoes with the onion for about 5 minutes, until just tender. Drain and discard onion.
  3. Layer half of the potatoes in baking dish. Place garlic in a small bowl with butter and microwave until butter is melted. Using a pastry brush or spoon, spread half of garlic butter mixture onto potatoes. Top with half of the creme fraiche and 3/4 cup parmesan cheese. Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Layer remaining potatoes in dish. Spread remaining butter, creme fraiche, and cheese on top. Salt and pepper again, to taste.
  5. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the top is browned.

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Red Vine Sugar Cookies

Do you or someone you love suffer from Red Vine Megalophixia? 

Symptoms may include:
  • eating an entire bucket of Red Vines in a day
  • digging through the candy aisle for the extra thick Red Vines
  • squeezing each bag of Red Vines the way one squeezes produce at a Farmer's Market 
  • sucking on  Red Vines when they are too hard to bite
  • Symptoms may be aggrivated by Sugar Cookie Monosucromania- severe and intense fixation on finding the perfect sugar cookie
The only known cure is Little Red Hen's Red Vine Sugar Cookies. Side affects and complications may include:

  • Perma-grin
  • Intense Red Vine/Sugar Cookie mutual satisfaction
  • Not enough cookies for your kids
I can only account for this recipe as divine revelation. I jest. But really, the idea just walked into my brain one day last fall, and I've been working on it ever since. Saving a recipe I am excited about for months is hard work for me, so February brought an excited sense of relief! May I present an excellent sugar cookie recipe with my original Red Vine Icing?!!

There is no such thing as Red Vine Extract, because it is a beautiful and amazing flavor that you can't buy in a bottle. So, I created a sugar cookie based on the Swig Sugar Cookie variety, and I used coconut and almond extracts. The cookies alone taste great, and the very subtle coconut/almond flavor is a terrific base for the icing. 

I am kind of lazy and don't do cut out cookies. Growing up it seemed like frosting cookies was a great idea, but I was the one who ended up doing most of them. Plus- I'll be honest- I'm no artist, so they never looked super pretty. So, this cookie dough is great because not only do you not need to refrigerate it, but it also tastes equally wonderful if you press the balls of dough flat, or leave them puffy. (Although, I think a Red Vine Buttercream frosting would be perfect for those, so I'll work on that.)

And the icing. It is flavored with straight up Red Vines. You cook them down with some butter and milk until the Red Vines start to melt and that perfect, inimitable flavoring comes oozing out. And the color! It is so pretty! Then you whisk that into some powdered sugar. The great thing too is that you get little pieces of Red Vines in the icing, and they stay super soft. And the cookies get even softer the next day, like any great iced sugar cookie. Really, this is a great idea and it'll make your Valentine's Day. 

Red Vine Sugar Cookies

Makes about 30 cookies
  • 5 1/2-6 cups flour
  •  1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tarter
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature (2 sticks)
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tbs water
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar + 2 tbs sugar
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 eggs. room temperature
  • 2 tsp coconut extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
Red Vine Icing:
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 20 Red Vines, chopped
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbs milk
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugars. Stream in oil. Add water and extracts. Mix in eggs until just combined.
  3. Slowly add in flour, soda, cream of tarter, and salt. Dough should be soft, not sticky, so add the last 1/2 cup of flour slowly. 
  4. Using an ice cream scoop, form dough into balls. If desired, put 2 tbs of sugar in a small bowl. Press the bottom of a cup onto the dough to get glass sticky. Then dip cup into bowl of sugar and press sugared cup onto balls of dough to flatten them.
  5. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, until just done. The cookies do not need to be golden brown. Light is good! Set aside to cool.

Make Red Vine Icing:
  1. Place powdered sugar in a medium sized bowl. In a medium sized pot, melt butter and chopped Red Vines, stirring continuously.
  2. Once butter is melted, add milk and stir constantly until thickened. The Red Vines should start to melt, and it is ready it will be the consistency of a thin yogurt. 
  3. Immediately pour into bowl of powdered sugar and whisk until smooth. Spoon onto cooled cookies. 
  4. Enjoy! (These cookies get softer and taste even more like Red Vines with time, so they are great to make a day ahead!)

Bake the bread. Share the slices.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

February: Establish a House

Establish a house. Why not just, build a house, or construct, or make?

What does establish actually mean? Of course, it means to bring into existence, but establish means more than founding something. Merriam-Webster defines it as "to institute permanantly by enactment or agreement." To establish means to "make firm or stable," "to put into a favorable position," and "to gain full recognition or acceptance." Another usage is to "introduce and cause to grow and multiply." It can also mean "to put beyond doubt, or prove."

Establish a house.  Establishing a house is more than just setting up a place to live. It is more than matching plates and throw pillows. It is more than the perfect color scheme, cozy furniture, lighting, and scented candle warmers. It is even more than being organized, (thankfully)! We create homes and families because we feel love!Establishing a house is about permanance and stability.  It is about creating an environment where the initial desires that led to the establishing, can grow and multiply into proof that those desires and principles were good. An established house is built on a sure foundation so that it can withstand adversity and accomodate growth. 

So all of this makes me think of the temple. The phrase "establish a house," comes from a verse of scripture talking about building a temple. I'm a Mormon, and while we go to church each Sunday to to learn and take the sacrament, the temple is a more sacred place of worship. Each temple is unique and so beautiful! Each is carefully planned, carefully built, and lovingly maintained. They are amazing places and they are established on eternal principles! We call each of our temples a "House of the Lord," and we go there to receive instruction, personal revelation, peace, and to learn more about Jesus Christ. In the temple we learn more about His infinite love for us.

True, not everyone worships the way that I do. But don't we all have a place that we consider more sacred than others? A place where we find inspiration and resolve to improve? 

I want my home to be established the way a temple is established. But, I can't control everything in my life, even my attitude at times, let alone the other 5 people in my house! So February isn't about faking goodness for the sake of appearance. It isn't about keeping things perfectly clean and quiet, either. That's not going to happen, so why stress? But, I can expand my understanding of what it means to establish a house, and focus on creating a home where my kids can grow, be at peace, and experience love. 

It sounds wonderful, lofty, and a bit like a Sunday School lesson, so here's what I'll actually be trying this month. Feel free to adjust your goals to fit your needs!
  • Get to the temple- find a place of inspiration and peace. 
  • Learn more about Jesus Christ and His atonement.
  • Seek inspiration.
  • Stop complaining.
  • Pray to feel God's love, and share that love with others.
  • Don't ignore a generous thought and give the compliment.
  • Listen to uplifting music.
  • Genuinely smile 10 times a day. 
  • Immerse yourself in good words.
  • Take a shower. Get dressed. Live on purpose.
  • Keep your house a little cleaner. Small things make you feel good. 
  • Still, organize yourself: time, talents, everything you've been blessed with.
There is a beautiful hymn called "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need." I feel the third verse is especially profound:

Your sure provisions gracious God
Attend me all my days;
Oh, may your house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
Here would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home. 

I guess that is it. That is my prayer- that by establishing my house like His house, the more I'll feel at home with Him. I will truly be coming home. 

Bake the bread. Share the slices.