Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sunshine and Rainbows Cupcakes

My Curly Girl is three!

So being the DIY mom I am, I just had to come up with a cute cupcake decoration to send to daycare with my girly!

Sunshine cupcakes made with yellow frosting, candy corn rays, M&M eyes and a gel frosting mouth.

Rainbow cupcakes made with blue frosting, "Brite Crawler" gummy worm rainbow and marshmallow clouds.

Big hit with the toddlers, I tell you! The most fun part was hearing Curly Girl recant what each kid chose. "Jack chose suns. He likes 'lello'. Trina had an airplane..." (Which must have been what the rainbows became.)

Homemade frosting? Of course! Why go for that canned stuff when making homemade is as easy as 1-2-3!

Quick & Easy Buttercream Frosting
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk or whipping cream
3 cups powdered sugar

Whip the ingredients together until light and fluffy. Adjust ingredients as needed (more sugar for stiffness, more milk for fluffiness). Drop in food coloring a few drops at a time until you reach desired color, if needed. 

Happy birthday, my girl! You bring me sunshine and rainbows and everything lovely to my life each day!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Homemade Chicken Stock

Want your chicken soup to have true healing powers? There is nothing. Nothing. Better than homemade chicken stock. ...ok, so maybe that's a little dramatic. There are better things in life... But if you pride yourself as a decent cook, this is definitely a bucket list item. The great thing? It really doesn't even take that much effort. It mostly just takes a really big pot.

We've tried a few different stock recipes and it is certainly something that you can customize according to your own flavor preferences but for us, Ina Garten has it down.

Homemade Chicken Stock
recipe from Ina Garten
click above for my easy print google doc


3 (5-pound) roasting chickens
3 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
6 carrots, unpeeled and halved
4 stalks celery with leaves, cut into thirds
4 parsnips, unpeeled and cut in half, optional
20 sprigs fresh parsley
15 sprigs fresh thyme
20 sprigs fresh dill
1 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in 1/2 crosswise
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns


Place the chickens, onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, parsley, thyme, dill, garlic, and seasonings in a 16 to 20-quart stockpot. Add 7 quarts of water (or enough to cover everything) and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 4 hours. After an hour of simmering, you can remove the chickens and remove the meat from the bones to use in other recipes (like chicken soup!). Return the bones back to pot for the remaining three hours. Strain the entire contents of the pot through a colander and discard the solids. Chill the stock overnight. The next day, remove the surface fat. Use immediately or pack in containers and freeze for up to 3 months.

Did your stock get a little jelly overnight? Pat yourself on the back! That means you've got a super rich stock! I know I freaked out the first time I ran into that. It's not fat. Collagen in the bones gets drawn out the longer you let it simmer. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

my photography homework

So I work in higher education. One of the many benefits of my job (outside of working with amazing, optomistic "I'm going to change the world" college students) is that I get a tuition waiver so I get to take classes from talented faculty. for. free. 

So this fall I decided I should take some classes for "fun" so I'm taking two classes from our Mass Communications department--one in social media and the other in photography.

I think I'm actually getting somewhere in my photography class so I thought I'd share my homework with you. In this week's assignment, we've started working with photo editing so we were tasked with some black and white photography and "high key" and "low key" backgrounds. 

above-my perfect little Curly Girl in a "Rembrandt" style portrait. To do this, I just hung a black bed sheet over my dining room curtains and left the east side window curtains open for side lighting. I underexposed the photo just a bit to make the black background rich. 

Second, birthday flowers from my husband made for a nice subject with both a white and black background. I used a low f-stop on the first to create a small depth of field for that blurry background

Last, a beautiful little Mary statue I found in an antique store this summer. 

Returning to "college" has certainly been an experience. I LOVE learning so it's been fun to be back in the classroom but certainly awkward too. My photography class is online but my social media class is in person. I have to admit I feel like a nervous ninny my first day of class, being that "old" person (especially in a social media class!)... but hey, just like this delicious quote from Brian Tracy:

Sometimes you have to get a little uncomfortable to grow, right?


Monday, November 4, 2013

Perfect Roast Chicken

The perfect roast chicken. There is nothing more classic. I've made more than a few in my days but I just keep coming back to this recipe from one of my Food Network faves Ina Garten. No one does classic like she does. 

I love her combination of vegetables in this one, particularly the fennel. It might be silly but this vegetable was literally on my bucket list of ingredients to use. I LOVE roasted vegetables and roasted fennel in this recipe turned out sweet with a hint of licorice and was delish. You can also toss in brussel sprouts or potatoes or parsnips if you want to change it up. 

Perfect Roast Chicken
click above for an easy print google doc

1 roasting chicken (5-6lbs)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch of fresh thyme
1 lemon, halved
1 head of garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 TB butter, softened
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
1-2 bulbs of fennel, tops removed and cut into wedges through the root
Olive oil


Prepare the vegetables and place in the bottom of a roasting pan covered in aluminum foil. (I love roasting but it can create a sticky mess so be sure to take a minute to cover the pan.) Toss with salt, pepper, 20 or so sprigs of thyme and olive oil. Spread around the pan to create a roasting rack for the chicken.

Prepare the chicken by removing giblets and giving it a good rinse inside and out, removing excess fat or pinfeathers. Use a paper towel to pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside cavity. Stuff the cavity with a handful of thyme, half of the lemon and the split head of garlic. Close it off with the other half of the lemon. Rub the outside of the chicken with butter. (If you want to be neat about this, you can melt it and brush it like Ina but I like to give the chicken a good rub down.) Liberally salt and pepper the outside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wings under the body of the chicken.

Place the chicken on top of the vegetables. Roast the chicken for about 90 minutes or until the juices run clear when you poke it between a leg and thigh or a meat thermometer reaches 160 degrees.

My veggies all chopped up and ready for roasting. 
You can see I did toss in some brussel sprouts this round.  

The chicken all rubbed down and ready to be cooked. 

Done! with a little lemon poking out of the back. 

This can even been a great "prep ahead" meal. For my make ahead meal schedule, I've put this all together on Sunday night and covered the roasting pan with aluminium foil The night day I plan to serve it, I pop it in the oven before I head to work and set the delay start on my oven so that it's just about done when I get home with the girlies. I've also bought double the recipe and pre-prepped extra veggies and the cavity stuffing to put in the freezer for future cooking.

Happy cooking!


Friday, November 1, 2013

Pumpkin Curry

One of my absolutely favorite fall traditions is making pumpkin curry. We discovered this three years ago when we first joined our CSA farm and received a half dozen pumpkins during the fall season. Outside of make pies and treats, we had no idea what to do with them! So we searched for some savory recipes and discovered the idea of pumpkin curry. We've played around with recipes and settled on these ingredients. 

We loooooove international cuisine, particularly Thai.  Once upon a time we lived in Minneapolis and had a ton of restaurants at our fingertips so we could be picky little food snobs who would go to one place for curry and another for noodles and another for stir fry. Now that we live in Fargo, that level of selection isn't available to us anymore so we've been forced into the kitchen to experiment and concoct the flavor profiles that we really love. 

If you love creamy, sweet, spicy Thai curry, this recipe is for you! With just a few simple ingredients you can really taste each thing. If you haven't experimented with international cuisine, this is an easy one to start with. 

click above for a link to my easy print google doc

         1-14oz can coconut milk
         2 TB red curry paste
         1 lb fresh sweet pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cubed
         1 chili pepper (jalapeƱo is great for this)
         4-5 kaffir lime leaves (try your local Asian market for these)
         7-8 thai basil leaves
         1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
         salt, to taste
         1 cup shredded chicken, optional

Prepare pumpkin by peeling and removing seeds. Cut into about 1 1/2 inch cubes. Some small and big is good. The smaller cubes will dissolve to thicken the curry. Julienne the pepper. Tear the center stem from the kaffir lime leaves and julienne the Thai basil.

Pour half of the coconut milk into a pot over medium heat. Add the red curry paste and mix it well with coconut milk. Stir to prevent the bottom from sticking and burning. Simmer until a reddish oil ring starts to form, then stir to let the oil bring out the flavor and aroma in the spices.

Add the pumpkin and stir to coat pumpkin with curry sauce. Add the rest of coconut milk and stock. Season with salt; start with a teaspoon and taste. Prepared curry paste can vary in salt content so increase salt to taste. Simmer until the pumpkin is soft, about 25 minutes.

Add sliced pepper and kaffir lime leaves. Add Thai basil. Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly and combine flavors.

This is a great make ahead or freezer meal as the flavors will increase as it rests.

A handful of relatively simple ingredients

Prepare pumpkin by cutting into about 1 1/2 inch cubes

Julienne basil and pepper. Tear lime leaves from step and tear or chop into smaller pieces

Let coconut milk and curry paste simmer to bring the oil out

Add pumpkin and stir to coat pumpkin in curry. Add the other half of the coconut milk and stock. Simmer until pumpkin is tender and smaller pieces break apart to thicken the curry. Add salt to taste. If you want a slightly sweeter curry, you could also add in a tablespoon or two of brown sugar. 

At the last minute, add the pepper, basil and lime leaves. You can also stir in some precooked chicken at this point if you want to add a protein to the dish.

There it is! Yummy sweet, spicy pumpkin curry.

Happy cooking!