Monthly Archives: March 2013

Happy Easter

Missed cooking with the kids this week due to scheduling conficts, but hope you and your family have a great Easter Celebration.

I will leave you with my Mom’s favorite Easter Cake Recipe! Coconut cake with Jelly Bean Eggs! Enjoy!

074This is a basic white cake recipe. My mom’s secret ingredient was sour cream.  I have experimented with adding in lemon curd, and that works too!

3 egg whites
1 c. sour cream (you can also add one jar lemon curd)
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 c. cake flour, sifted
1/4 tsp. soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. cold water
1 tsp. vanilla

Beat egg white in a glass bowl until stiff.  Add 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar to the final stages of whipping. Lighten sour cream by stirring until smooth and fold into egg whites.  If using lemon curd, thoroughly mix with sour cream before adding.   Sift flour with the other dry ingredients.   Add vanilla to water.  Add flour mixture alternately with cold water mixture.  Divide batter evenly and pour into two floured and buttered 9 inch cake pans.*  Drop pans gently on counter tops to remove any bubbles in batter.

Bake  in the center of the over for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.  Makes 2 layers.  Let cool on baking rack.  When completely cool, remove from cake pans.

*This recipe also makes approximately 24 cupcakes.  Bake cupcakes approximately 18-20 minutes.

Buttercream Frosting:

1 cup salted butter (or 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup softened cream cheese)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 lb confectioners sugar (one box)

2 T + milk.

Cream butter and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Slowly add in sifted confectioners sugar until frosting becomes firm.  If too stiff, add milk to soften into spreadable form.

Frost layers of cake and sprinkle top and sides with shredded coconut.  Add Jelly Beans to top of cake as desired.

Happy Easter!


Grandparents’ Day

40083_1552916748132_789470_nYesterday was Grandparent’s Day at my grandchildren’s school.  Every year, this private church school sets aside a special day to honor grandparents at their school.  If a child does not have a grandparent living close by, other family members are invited to participate with the kids, or barring that….there are lots of volunteer grandparents to call upon in their congregation.

Fortunately for me…I live close enough to the grandkids to participate in this every year!  I always look forward to this day.  Grandparents are treated to all kinds of special treats during the morning, and then school is dismissed early (11:30 AM) and teacher conferences with parents follow over the next day and a half.  For me…it means a whole day with my gkids!

Our morning started off in Cooper’s classroom where we saluted the flag, said a morning prayer (it’s a church school) and what followed was acting out certain bible verses.  What a hoot.  Cooper’s class acted out (very appropriately) the scene near Jesus’ tomb when several women came to collect his body for burial and found the stone rolled away.  The kids acting out the soldiers (with aluminum foil swords) who guarded the tomb, the women (with blankets over their heads)…and then the angels that appeared…well you can imagine.  Saying their bible verses in unison was very sweet, until they came to the part where the angels rolled away the stone.  The verse says “Suddenly…”  When this happened all the kids clapped their hands and fell to the floor!  (It’s what the tomb guards evidently did when they saw angels!)  Those angels were some scary dudes!


Much more entertainment followed.  I was invited to the big assembly in the middle of the morning to be serenaded by a remarkably good Middle School Band number, some HS singers, and the musical stylings of the 3rd Graders.  Fun!

After assembly, since I have two grankids in the same school, I visited Olivia’s 3rd Grade Classroom where we played math games and I was interviewed by my granddaughter for their story journals.  Some of the questions surprised me…like who my favorite friend was in Elementary school….what advice did I have to give her?  Good questions all, can’t wait to see the story she writes about me!

Olivias Interview

So after school let out, we opted for a special treat….lunch out!  No cooking!  So by unanimous consent…off to the local pancake house we went!  We were kinda lazy after chocolate chip pancakes, french toast, eggs and sausages!  Wow what a treat!

254423_2102191239651_7265277_nLater that day, I spent some time with Olivia at her horseback riding lessons.  Cooper likes to go watch too, but fire and brimstone wouldn’t get him on a horse.  He has more fun with the barn cats!

All in all, even without the cooking lesson, it was a very good day!




Shamrock Spaghetti Salad and Leprechaun Swords!

While the kids were here last Thursday, they were discussing what they would wear that was “green” to school the next day in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.  Olivia had it all planned out…her green hair accessories, her green T with the horses on it….Cooper said maybe he had a green shirt somewhere.  I really didn’t have the heart to tell them that we were actually of Scottish descent and should probably wear Orange…but I digress.


When I asked them why we celebrated St. Patty’s day…my smartmouth grandson said “because that’s when Leprechauns were  born!  You know, we had President’s Day, now it’s the Leprechauns’ turn!” I don’t know where he gets it!

leprechaun I am going to ignore the obvious joke about comparing Presidents to Leprechauns…but I thought he might be half right.

My much more savvy and fashion-conscious granddaughter, Olivia who is nearly 10 going on 25 said, “No, St. Patrick’s Day is when a priest named Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland”…My smart alec answer was “What kind of car do you suppose he was driving?”  The Leprechauns made me say it.

Without missing a beat, Cooper says…”probably an SUV…it’s bigger.”  Pa dump dum.  Bested by a 7 year old Leprechaun in disguise.

We talked about making “green” food and the kids remembered the St. Patrick’s Day green eggs and ham their Mom made them one year as an ode to Dr. Seuss…but green dyed food is just not that appealing to me.  So we decided to add a lot of green stuff to our noodle salad along with Cooper-the-chicken-man’s request for “chicken on a stick” as he calls it, otherwise known as Chicken Satay.  Satay is made of any cubed meat, not just chicken, and skewered kebab-fashion, then grilled and eaten with a peanut  sauce dip.  In keeping with the Irish theme, we called them Leprechaun Swords! Since I already had this planned, I had marinated the chicken breast strips in a mixture of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and honey overnight.  The kids then helped me skewer the strips onto the soaked wooden skewers.  I soak the skewers in water for at least an hour so that the wood doesn’t burn as I grill them.

I did not tell them that we were actually making Oriental Food…talk about confusing, so, like the Satay, the Szechuan Noodle Salad… turned into Shamrock Spaghetti Salad!  A nice invention.

Lots of chopping and nibbling raw veggies went on, and that is always a lot of fun.  While I cooked the spaghetti, the kids chopped the veggies.  We had a chance to talk about how many things (many many) we could eat raw, and how many things we needed to cook (like pasta).


The final touch was to add chopped cilantro and chopped mint to the salad…in a green bowl of course!

Next we made peanut sauce in the food processor.  The peanut sauce was serving two purposes.  We would use it for a Satay dip, and also as dressing on the salad!  Although the original recipe calls for a hotter version….I toned down the chilis to make it more kid friendly, and used natural organically grown peanut butter.

Cooper thinks anything made with Peanut Butter is good…and you don’t have to be a Leprechaun to enjoy this meal!


Sláinte Maithe!



Happy Pi(e) Day

Yesterday was officially Pi Day…you know the 3.1415926535… kind of pi. Lots of clever word games with pi out there.

3_14-pie-small But of course…we made it into Pi(e) Day. So postmodern! Our version was the berry kind.

This was the cooking lesson chosen by unanimous consent.  First, as I picked up the gkids from school for one of our cooking days, the lobby of their private church school was filled with all kinds of pie.  Seems there was a fundraiser going on, and Pi Day was also Pie Day for the kids.  Resisting the very gorgeous homemade pies of all stripes….the only way to satisfy these kids’ sweet teeth was to make one of our own.

Besides…daddy was coming to the dinner we were about to prepare together, and Daddy looooves pie.  So pie it was.  I had some early Washington strawberries, raspberries and blueberries in the fridge (I try to keep stocked up on these superfruit) but what we really needed was cherries!  But cherries are pretty much out of season, so what’s a Nana to do?….stalk the canned fruit aisle to see if there were any good canned organic cherries.  I considered frozen ones, but they are usually those dark sweet cherries…and we needed pie cherries.

tart%20cherriesI have very mixed feelings about cherries because as a kid, I used to raid Grandma Ruby’s cherry trees for these sweet treats.  I have had my share of green cherry belly aches, scraped knees from trying to skinny up or falling out of her trees,  but also have her wonderful cherry pie recipe that is so delicious, you can’t resist it.  So I definitely felt we needed cherries to represent!  But I was looking for “pie” cherries – those smaller, tart, paler cherry cousins to the lush dark red sweet ones I usually find in the grocery store.  I have not found fresh ones here in the Northwest.

So the next best thing was Oregon Montmorency Cherries – great for pies.

We fixed other things for dinner..(green stuff for St. Patty’s Day) but we will get to that later!

Here’s a pictorial review of our process

oregon cherries20130314_160422_resized20130314_160926_resized

So we had our cherries.  I like to combine these with other fresh berries to make a very flavorful pie (with less sugar needed!).  So into the pie plate we dumped a pint ofraspberries and a pint of blueberries along with 2 cans of our cherries.  We opted to make more of a cobbler (one crust) but we decided it still counted as pi(e)!  We added 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 4T of organic cornstarch, and a splash of lemon juice mixed into the berries.  Next, dot 2 pats of butter (cut into tiny squares) over the top of the berries.

20130314_162021(0)_resizedNext we made pie crust in the food processor.  1 1/4 cups flour, 1/2 cup cold butter cut in small cubes, 1/2 t salt, and about 1/4 cup ice water.  Pulse the butter into the flour and salt until it is crumbly and well mixed.  Dribble enough cold water through holes in the lid while spinning until dough just comes together in a ball. It may or may not be exactly 1/4 cup.  Don’t over blend.  The dough will be crumbly. (For the old fashioned 2 crust recipe, see the recipe section).

Turn out on a floured surface and form into a flat disk.  Refrigerate in plastic wrap for 30 minutes (this is really important for flaky crust).

When chilled, roll out, starting in the center and pushing outward, into a rough circle.20130314_162312_resized  When sized appropriately, roll up on rolling-pin and transfer to the pie top.  Cut some slits in the top crust and crimp the edges.  Kids love this part!

Sprinkle the pie top with a pinch of sugar and bake in a 375 degree preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until crust is browned and pie is bubbly!


Can I just say….Pi(e) Day was a big hit!


Pantry Paninis


Yesterday was a beautiful bright day….the sun was out here in the Pacific Northwest for the first time in a while.  Temperatures rose to 65 and we all basked in the glorious sun like so many lizards on a rock.  When I picked the gkids up from school we decided to stay outside, take advantage of the sunshine, and work in my garden awhile.  As you can see, it has been neglected a bit over the winter.  With visions of carrots and green onions fresh from the soil, and future tomato sandwiches, we weeded a bit, checked to see if the volunteer 20130308_111614_resizedcarrot seeds had sprouted, picked out the dead herbs caught in the recent frost, raked a bit, and generally enjoyed being outside.  The garden is looking pretty good, but we were not fooled by this early rare Northwest sunshine, we ignored our urge to start planting….I know we have some cold, wet weather ahead. But it was pretty tempting!


With the sage, rosemary, chives, and thyme looking pretty good, it was with some reluctance we came in, a bit muddy and hoping the sunny days would last a few more before the rain returned.

So cooking…hmm…what to fix in a hurry? After their garden exploits, the gkids were starving, so we began to rummage around in the pantry.   My answer for a quick meal is always sammies (sandwiches) as the kids call them.  But since the kids were there and available for a cooking lesson, I didn’t want to fall back on PB&Js or grilled cheese.   So we settled on making Paninis.  What are those?  Italian style sandwiches!  It so simple:  Stuff slices of mozzarella, tomatoes, prosciutto, fresh basil, roasted red peppers, and whatever else makes you happy between two slices of good Italian foccacia or ciabatta, brush with extra Virgin olive oil, and press between the hot plates of a panini grill.  Delicioso!

A look through the pantry told me I had none of the above! But if living in Italy taught me anything, it taught me to be inventive!  So, what was on hand?  I had  raisin nut bread, a few cold cuts, and left over Mascarpone cream (although cream cheese works great too!).  And no white potatoes, but I had just two big sweet potatoes left in the pantry. A banana, some blue berries and yogurt.  We were off to a good start!

20130308_111402_resizedI also owed my son-in-law a batch of his favorite peanut butter cookies for fixing the latch on my warped front door.  With all the rainy weather, my door had warped just enough to make the latch stick and not lock properly…it was Randy to the rescue, so I had promised him some cookies for his kindness.

OK…a menu!  Turkey and Roast Beef Mascarpone Panini with sweet potato fries, and fruit parfait with peanut butter cookies for dessert!  Not bad for a pantry raid on a late afternoon spent outside!

First the cookies.  Peanut Butter Cookies are not only Randy’s favorites…but my gkids also love them.  I always have the ingredients in the pantry, and they are really quick to stir up


Making the criss-crosses with forks seem to be the most fun (next to eating them).  There were plenty for us for supper and plenty to take home to dad.

Next, since the oven was hot, we cut up the sweet potato fries, skins and all, sprinkled them with olive oil and salt, tossing them with our clean hands,  and put them in a hot oven – 450 degrees for about 20 minutes until they were tender crisp.


Next, while those were cooking we built our Fruit parfait with chopped fruit, vanilla yogurt and the last few strawberries I had for the top.  These go great with cookies!

Then came assembling the paninis…raisin/walnut bread spread with Mascarpone (or cream cheese) and piled high with cold cuts from the deli.  In our case we had a combo of smoked, sliced turkey, and slivers of roast beef.  A bit of butter on the outside of the sammy and into the press!  These really take such a short amount of time, we waited til the potatoes were done before we started them.  Using unexpected ingredients in our paninis is what make them fun.  Cooper added some sliced apple to his, and Olivia opted for a slice of jicama!  Fun!  You can make panninis without a press by using a grill pan and weighting each sandwich with a dry skillet or heavy pot while they are cooking, Flip and do the same…just as good!  The kids like the panini press, it’s pretty inexpensive and I recommend one.  They also work great for quick grilling almost anything…including veggies!


And finally, our plate looks pretty good for a quick “what’s in the pantry” meal!

20130307_183109_resized Such an enjoyable day with my gkids.  I am so lucky to live nearby, to get to spend time with them, watch them grow and join in the fun!  Take some time to enjoy your day too!

National Chili Day, Feb. 28, 2013

Did you know we had a National Chili Day?  I didn’t!  Chili is something my family loves especially during the winter months and since it’s February and President’s Day month,  there is also a tie-in to the “National” part.

When I was researching President’s Day…I found out that two presidents in particular love Chili.

Maybe the most obvious is President Lyndon B. Johnson…who famously made Perdenales River Chili at his ranch whenever he got a chance.  He had very definite opinions about chili:  “Chili concocted outside of Texas is usually a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing,” Johnson is quoted as saying.  He favored chili that is quite spicy. “One of the first things I do when I get home to Texas is to have a bowl of red. There is simply nothing better.”  So it is not surprising that in 1977, chili manufacturers in the state of Texas successfully lobbied the state legislature to have chili proclaimed the official “state food” of Texas “in recognition of the fact that the only real ‘bowl of red’ is that prepared by Texans.” After his heart trouble, Lady Bird insisted it be made with Venison, but you can find it here.

Barack-Obama-Chili-Recipe_largeAnother president who loves chili?Hawaiian/Chicago President, Barack H. Obama (go figure) also loves chili and learned to make it in college. The health conscious First Lady, Michelle Obama makes it with ground turkey and serves it with saltine crackers.  She also notes that a green chili pod has as much vitamin C as six oranges.and can be a very healthy dish.  She also confesses that from time to time, she adds additional vegetables to the main recipe….like carrots, celery, and many colors of sweet peppers along with the spicy chilis that make this signature dish a hit with our president.

My favorite chili is a mish-mash of various recipes that turns out a bit different each time I make it.   Probably everyone has their own favorite recipe and we have ours as well.  For many folks the question is beans or no beans?!  Lots of disagreement on this, but I come down on the side of beans.  Not only because this is how I learned to make it, but also the health benefits of beans cannot be overstated. (Not to mention the “musical fruit” advantage that my grandson so enjoys).  You might want to take some beano beforehand…if you know what I mean!

My son-in-law, Randy, also loves chili….and makes his quite spicy.  He is known for his version8 - Chili Bowl 3 which he dubbed “After Burner Chili”…hahaha…he is a pilot after all.  I could crack wise about this moniker, but I won’t… Frankly I think Randy wins folks over to his version of chili because of the toppings….especially with the kids since his chili is HOT!  We need something to calm our tongues down,  and sour cream, cheese, and corn chips help, right? Smart alec that he is…he makes no promises concerning the burning that might come “after”.    The gkids like to eat it more like a dip. Lotsa chips, very little chili! And please God, no afterburners!

But tonight we are making Nana’s Black Bean Chili recipe.
In preparation, I am soaking black beans overnight. I will use only half the recipe and save the rest for Cuban Black Bean Soup.


I like it very meaty, so I use a combination of turkey and ground round.  But I like the 80/20 ground beef version since the fattier cut makes up for the too lean turkey in this recipe. I use both because I really like the flavor combination.  I also like to use black beans for their health benefits and for their flavor, and a lot of vegetables.  If you have tomatillos in your market…those add real flavor too. If not, try some canned tomatillo salsa verde.   I have also eaten a “white” version  of chili with white beans, ground turkey and green salsa…I guess you could say, mine is a combo of the best of both types.


The kids like to do the chopping, so I did invest in a few kid friendly knives.


One of my weaknesses is the crunch that comes from eating this with tortilla chips…so to make it a bit healthier, I make my own chips.  It’s easy and more tasty besides.  If you can find blue corn tortillas…great, but I really love these hand-made tortillas from my local tortilleria.






Putting it all together….it’s a hot mess…but it’s the way we like it!




But what they are truly looking forward to is Chocolate Cherry Banana Splits.  We are making the sauce together, and it will stay warm until dessert time!  I like to use almost over ripe bananas for this.  I also found some decadent organic chocolate ganache ice cream made by Kroger that only has milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, eggs, cocoa powder and dark chocolate squares.  If you have an ice cream maker, you can always make your own.  Nuts or no nuts?  The verdict is out on that, but if you do….toast some up in a dry pan on the range top for a few minutes….and the sweet nutty flavor (and aroma) will permeate your house!  Ahhhh….nut perfume!  I love it!  We are using walnuts for tonight, but peanuts, almonds, pecans…all would be good!


Cooper is a purist…no nuts for him…he’s nutty enough he tells me!


The only problem with tonight’s dinner…it might increase your pant size!