March 31, 2012

Cream of Broccoli Soup

Every Wednesday night at my house is soup night. We all decide on a soup and try to make something new each week. With soup it's really not that hard. There are a million soups and often times I find myself using up veggies and other ingredients I have on hand in the fridge and pantry.

This is a great way to get kids to eat broccoli. My kids are pretty good about eating veggies but broccoli is not one of them. They can't see whole pieces of broccoli since this is blended and they love it!

This recipe is modified slightly from the book - CIA Book of Soups. You can find it at Barnes and Noble or on Amazon.

Cream of Broccoli Soup
1 16oz pkg broccoli
3 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 small celery stalks, chopped
1/4 c. flour
4-5 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. milk
salt and pepper to taste
juice of half a lemon

In a large stock pot heat oil and add broccoli, onion and celery. Cook until veggies are tender. I like to use the organic packages of fresh broccoli. I can't find organic any other way but you could substitute regular fresh broccoli, just weigh it to get an approximate amount.

Add in flour and stir to combine. Cook 3-5 minutes to cook off the flour taste making sure the flour doesn't burn.

Add in broth, stir again to combine. Let simmer 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender (my favorite new kitchen item) blend soup until it is smooth. I got my Cuisinart SmartStick Immersion Blender at Sur la Table but you can find then just about anywhere. If you don't have an immersion blender transfer soup to a blender and blend.

Return to heat and add milk. Stir to combine. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve hot with a little sprinkle of your favorite cheese!

Playmobil Secret Agent Headquarters

I have to admit this is a pretty cool toy. There is a secret agent secret room that opens up. There is a transforming car/vehicle, a motion detector alarm, a trap door leading to a jail cell, and tons of accessories. The people have lots of weapons to hold in their hands, and modern features like laptops and dvds!

And, the best part, it is very compact. I expected a huge set up by the size of the box but I would say it is approx. 18 inches wide by 12 inches high!

This was purchased as a gift for my son. The price tag said $89.99. Expensive but seems to have already provided hours of play and fun. I'm not sure where the toy was purchased but I have seen it at Toys R' Us and Playmobil online - among others.

My only complaint about this was assembly. There were photo instructions without labeled pieces or bags. When I say bags I mean there were probably 12 different bags of pieces and when you started with step 1 you had to open several (4-5) bags to get the necessary pieces. Why not just have all the pieces for step 1 in the same bag?! That would be to simple huh?!

Anyway, we also had to look a lot at the box for pieces/parts that were not listed in the instructions at all. We figured it all out in the end but it did take me 2 1/2 hours to assemble. That was of course with my two boys needing to show me every piece. My advice would be to put it together when the kids are sleeping and it would go much faster!

*****For my boys, ages 2 and 5, this is not an age appropriate toy, however, they love it and play with it supervised on a daily basis. They have acquired many many toys that are not age appropriate. Some have worked out and some have not. If you have kids that still like to put things in their mouth I would recommend against this one. Some of the pieces are really really tiny. The box says for ages 7-12.*****

Pros - compact, interesting, provides hours of play and using imagination
Cons - assembly is lengthy, expensive

March 30, 2012

Deconstructed Cheese Ball

Everyone I know, including myself, loves cheese ball, however, it is a bit unattractive in its ball form rolled in nuts. I deconstruct the cheese ball when I want an elegant look which is great for a dinner party.

These cheese ball bites are very easy to make. You will need a sharp knife to dice the veggies very small.

You will need to following ingredients:

1 baguette - sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
4 oz cream cheese - whipped is best for this application
1/4 onion - finely diced
1/4 red bell pepper - finely diced
1/4 orange bell pepper - finely diced
2 oz monterey jack or cheddar cheese - sliced in thin strips
4-5 olives - finely diced
8-10 walnut halves - sliced in thin strips
6 slices salami - sliced in thin strips

There isn't an exact recipe for these. Use what veggies you have (and love) in the fridge. Mix and match what ever you want! I made these for a few people who don't love spice but diced jalapeno peppers would be really yummy!

If you don't want to cut out bread rounds you could also use crackers.

From your baguette cut 1/4 inch slices. Using a cookie cutter or a small rimmed glass cut out rounds. Don't throw away your scraps. Toast them and use for bread crumbs in a later dish!

Smear with cream cheese. I used whipped cream cheese to make it easy to spread but you could use regular. Just make sure it is really soft as to not tear your bread.

Finely dice all of your veggies. If you are using salami and cheese just slice them into thin strips.
Cut slices from walnut halves. You don't need to be exact. Just keep them thin.

Start making thin rows of veggies, cheese, and meat with your diced and sliced pieces.

I did it in this order:
red bell pepper
orange bell pepper

Keep in mind what flavors you want the most of and keep those toward the center. The longer the row is the more flavor you will get from that ingredient. You can make these a few hours in advance and keep in the fridge.

Banana Cream Stuffed Strawberries

This is a very quick and easy dessert finger food. They are also great for an after dinner treat and they look elegant so they are also perfect for a party!

My kids love eating strawberries alone but on occasion I stuff them with banana cream cheese for an extra smile!

Banana Cream Cheese Filling
8 oz cream cheese - whipped or regular
1/2 ripe banana mashed
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 lb. strawberries

In a medium mixing bowl combine cream cheese, banana, vanilla and brown sugar. Stir until mixture is smooth and creamy. No lumps please! Fold in strawberry pieces.

Wash and dry 1 pound of whole strawberries leaving on the green tops. Cut one side of the strawberry off and finely dice it. Set aside. Once strawberries are cut in half carefully cut out the center. You can use a knife or a small melon baller.

Drop a spoonful of banana cream cheese mixture into the center of the strawberries. Amount will depend on the size of each strawberry. Be generous. There will be enough mixture to fill a 1 pound carton of strawberries.

Eat and enjoy!

March 25, 2012

Sock Monkeys

When someone I know has a baby I usually make something for a gift instead of buying something. It's so much more personal and will be remembered long after the bibs and onesies are outgrown.

When my friend Amanda was having a baby girl and wanted me to make a sock monkey I cringed. I have always been turned off by the traditional red heel sock monkeys. They seem a bit scary to me but when I saw some modernized versions online I knew it could be cute. And cute they are!

I followed this pattern and found it to be an easy project. I got fun striped socks from the discounted bin at Target. You will definitely look at socks differently at the store if you have a sock monkey to make!

I didn't have any cotton stuffing laying around so I stuffed the monkeys with cotton balls. I knew a baby would be chewing on them and I wanted something safe. It worked great and the monkeys still have their shape today!

Birthday Cakes

Each year when my boys pick a theme for their birthday cakes each year they seem to get harder. I am posting a few pictures of the ones I have liked over the years. They are so fun to make and my boys love what they get. They are not professional in any way but fun none the less!

cake of cakes

cake of cakes
Angry Birds and Ninjago Cake - On my son's 5th birthday he insisted that he wanted an Angry Birds cake and a Lego Ninjago cake. Since I wasn't going to make two I just added some ninjas in with the birds. He, of course, thought it was the best thing ever!

cake of cakes
Pirate Ship Cake - This cake was my favorite to make out of all that I have made. It is a chocolate layer cake with buttercream frosting for the layers and chocolate frosting for the outside of the pirate ship. I really enjoy trying to use frosting instead of fondant since fondant tastes terrible. We printed the sails and stuck them on wooden kabob sticks. I got the pirate figures from Party City and decorated with malted milk balls, chocolate coins, square pretzels, rolos, mini chocolate bars, and hershey kisses.

When I take my boys to parades or after Halloween I always save the left over candy the doesn't get eaten and use it for decorations on cakes, cupcakes and creations.

Dragon Cupcake Cake - This dragon was out of the Hello, Cupcake! book. It was surprisingly easy to make and I used Hershey chocolate bars for the spikes on its back instead of cookies.

cake of cakes

cake of cakes
Horse Cake with Southwestern Cupcakes and Cookies - This was a cowboy themed party for my son's 1st birthday. I made a simple sheet cake and cut it into the shape of a horse and made decorated southwest themed cookies on top of pudding filled cupcakes.

March 21, 2012

Stuffed Owl

When ever I have time I love to make things for my friends or family with little girls. Since I have two boys I never get to use 'girl' colors! And I really like pink!

Owls have been trendy for a while now and they are so easy - and cute! I made this owl as a gift for my friend's daughter Ava. I used scraps from my sewing box and hand stitched the whole thing with embroidery thread then stuffed it full with cotton. Simple and inexpensive!

March 12, 2012

Lego Ninjago Spinners

My boys are crazy about Lego Ninjago. What isn't there to love? There are good guys, bad guys, ninjas, snakes, skeletons and weapons! The skeletons are a bit unattractive to look at, in my opinion, but I'm also not a boy. Who am I to judge?!

It all started with the iPad app Lego Ninjago Spinjitzu Scavenger Hunt. I installed the app and almost immediately deleted it. Seriously, all you do is spin around (by tapping on the screen) trying to break another character apart. Seemed pretty boring but the boys liked it so I left it on the iPad. Then we were shopping and randomly saw the skeleton spinners in a clearance bin. I got each of the boys one and they haven't stopped spinning them since. Every character in our lego collection has been in a Spinjitzu battle at one time or another. We have Kruncha and Wyplash - both skeletons but with a birthday fast approaching I'm sure we will be seeing some more spinners in the house!

Oh yeah, the app does get better. It's called a scavenger hunt for a reason. You can scan barcodes off of lego boxes to unlock new characters to fight and earn coins. You don't have to buy the legos, you just need to scan the code or type in the number. We tried scanning codes at Toys R' Us because they seem to have a good selection of Lego Ninjago sets but they didn't have the ones we needed. Then we found them online and it made things much easier. In all, it's a fun app.

Did I forget to mention there's a Lego Ninjago cartoon on Cartoon Network that elevates the desire to collect unnatural amounts of ninjago 'stuff'? Yep, why not have it all!

Pros - Boys love playing with them, spinners have fallen on tile floors repeatedly without breaking
Cons - Skeleton hands have already broken from changing weapons so often, characters don't stay in spinners when you try to spin them 'extra fast' - as my son puts it

Handmade Easter Baskets

When I was a little girl I adored my Easter basket and couldn't wait to find it filled with Cadbury Creme Eggs each year. My basket was woven with yellow and pink rubbery plastic tubes. If you are thirty-something you can probably relate to what I am talking about. You might have even had something similar!

When it came time to buy Easter baskets for my boys I desperately searched for the same woven type of basket that I had grown up with. I found a plethora of Lightning McQueen, Buzz Lightyear, Star Wars and thin wooden woven baskets that were bound to put splinters in my tots fingers. To me, none of them were acceptable. When I can't find something I like, I make it instead.

Although my boys are still young they have looked forward to getting out their Easter baskets each year and haven't even asked about the themed baskets they see at Target. I am so happy.

The baskets were woven with wool yarn over plastic grid sheets and lined with felt. I slipped a piece of cardboard between the woven plastic and the felt to give it some strength. I whip stitched the pieces together with yarn.

March 6, 2012

Vintage Potholder Remake

My Great Grandma Hall was fantastic at sewing and embroidery. She made this potholder and eventually passed it onto my mom. My mom still uses it and will likely never part with it. Since it is literally falling apart (and dirty) I decided to copy the pattern and make a new one for my mom's birthday.

It was very enjoyable to take something vintage and give it a fresh look. I was happy to make it in honor of my great grandmother.

March 5, 2012

Chicken Wings

I have eaten chicken wings in two restaurants that I actually really enjoyed. I'm not a huge fan of fried chicken wings doused in Red Devil. I like them to be a little more jazzed up. And baked!

Again, my carnivore husband and boys can't go for very long without chowing down on chicken wings. And for me, home is the best place to eat them. The following is not actually a recipe, more of a idea or a starting point.

Season the wings with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and paprika. Bake on a silpat (an item I could not live without - I bought mine at Target) until chicken is fully cooked and golden brown with a little crispiness on the skin. Take directly to the grill and put a few marks on them. Toss in your favorite sauce, homemade or store bought, and I promise you won't need to get them out anymore, unless of course you want to!

Homemade Pizza

If you live in the southwest or plan a trip to Arizona (or if you even live there and haven't been) you must stop in and eat at Pizzaria Bianco. It is in downtown Phoenix and you will eat the best pizza in the US. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Check it out here.

Okay, on to my next point. In college my husband worked at a little pizzaria/deli flipping pizzas. Not for Chris Bianco, of course, but he did learn how to make a great pizza and still loves to do so.

We start by using Chris Bianco's pizza dough recipe courtsey of Martha Stewart. Why wouldn't we?! It's thin, crisp, and salty! Since we don't have a brick oven in our kitchen we have to settle for pizza stone. I bought ours at Bed Bath and Beyond for a reasonable price.

My husband makes delicious homemade sauce and changes the toppings every time we make pizzas. He makes stretching the dough look easy but I've tried it and I'm not great at it! If you use patience you should do fine though.

One secret of his is to stretch the dough, ladle on the sauce, put on all toppings except cheese and bake at 550 degrees F on a pizza stone until sauce becomes a deep red color and crust is par-baked. Pull the pizza out of the oven and top with cheese. Put back in the oven and bake until cheese is bubbly and crust is a deep golden brown.

The pizza pictured above is spinach, onion, red bell pepper, mozzarella and feta cheese.

Banana Cream Pie

My Aunt Linda makes two things that one could seriously obsess about. Cheese Ball and Banana Cream Pie. They are both sinfully delicious (but the cheese ball is for another day). I changed her pie filling recipe quite a bit, however, the nut crust is not to be messed with!

For the Crust:
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. flour
1/4 c. chopped walnuts
1/4 c. chopped pecans

In a medium sauce pan melt butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar and stir until dissolved. Add flour and nuts and stir constantly until flour becomes crumbly. Remove promptly from heat. Pour mixture into a 9 inch pie pan and press to cover bottom and sides. You will be able to see a little butter pooling on the crust. Cool in the refrigerator.

For the Filling:
2 ripe bananas - sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1 4oz box cooked pudding
3 oz cream cheese
1 T. sugar

Cook pudding according to package directions and let cool. You can substitute instant pudding but in my opinion cooked pudding is so much better and takes very little time.

Add cream cheese to the bowl of a stand mixer and cream with sugar until smooth. Add in cooled pudding and mix until smooth.

For the Whipped Cream:
1 c. heavy cream
3 T. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract

In a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment add cream, sugar and vanilla. Whip until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Layer bananas on cooled pie crust. Top with pudding mixture. Using a spatula or spreading knife carefully top with whipped cream. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. Serve with a few sprinkles of pecans.