Kids in the Kitchen

My guys and I had a great afternoon in the kitchen. Things have been really hectic lately, and I haven’t gotten to spend very much time just hanging out with them in a while. Since Zander’s progress report was really good (including a 7 point jump in his lowest score from his last report card!), I had promised to make monkey bread as a treat.

As I was gathering all of the ingredients, Wyatt popped open his step ladder to join me. He was determined to help me cook, and instead of trying to get him out from under foot…I found him a job. In fact, I let him do a job that he’s never gotten to do before–using a knife to cut something up! He got to use a table knife to cut the biscuit dough into quarters before dropping them into the bag of cinnamon sugar. Zander got in on some of the cutting action too, and we had the whole pack cut up before long.

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A few shakes of the bag in each set of hands, and we were ready to dump the dough pieces into the Bundt pan, pour the butter and brown sugar goo on the top, and bake it!

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I tried to let it¬† cool a bit before serving, but it already looked like this before I was able to snap a shot. ūüôā

A half eaten loaf of monkey bread.

This is how the monkey bread looked after I tried to let it cool enough to eat. I had to put it out of reach (notice it is sitting on the coffee pot) so the kids couldn’t grab any more before supper. It didn’t help at all to keep MY hands off of it.

This project wasn’t anything fancy, and we just used the recipe on the 4-count package of small Pillsbury Biscuits. It was the time and focus and fun that really made this one special.

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Broccoli Cheese Soup Success

I love the idea of including¬†an occasional meatless meal into your weekly meal plans. The idea is great–but I married a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. If it doesn’t have meat, it isn’t a meal.

I have tried several different approaches to meatless dishes: adding lentils to “beef up” a stew, scrambling tofu (which then¬†resembled shredded chicken) in a skillet meal, throwing so many ingredients into a casserole that you wouldn’t be able to spot meat anyway, and more. Nothing worked. One bite in Michael would say, “Does this have meat in it?” If the answer was no, that was that. He would either pick at it or fix a sandwich instead.

It isn’t that he doesn’t want me to try new things or support my culinary endeavors…he just wants them to include recognizable ingredients and meat. ūüôā

For about a week I’ve been wanting to try¬†cooking broccoli cheese soup. Potato soup with smoked sausage has been a big hit with my guys, so I thought that the broccoli soup with likely succeed as well. I planned to make this soup¬†pass the “meat test” by tossing in some¬†chicken at the end, but¬†when I mentioned it, Michael surprised me by suggesting that we leave¬†it out!

It brings me great pride, therefore, to present the FIRST  EVER meatless* meal from the Purser household!

*The recipe does contain bacon, but any nutritionist will tell you that bacon is not considered a meat in dietary terms–it¬†is a fat.¬†I’ll split hairs if I have to, since it has taken us 10 years to get this far. ūüėČ

Broccoli Cheese Soup

  • ¬†3-4 strips of bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 4-6 cups chicken stock (I use homemade)
  • 1 large crown of broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1-2 cups milk (you need enough stock + milk to cover the broccoli)
  • 1/2-1 T¬† sea salt (to taste)
  • 1/2-1 t black pepper (to taste)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1-1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used mild cheddar, but I might try sharp next time)
  • additional bacon and/or cheese for garnish

Cook the bacon until crisp and browning. Add onion and cook until pieces begin to soften (about 2 min). Stir in flour and cook 1 minute, taking care not to let it scorch. Add in stock, milk, broccoli, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil then simmer 15 minutes (or until broccoli is tender).

At this point, you have a choice–you can use your spoon to chop/mush up the broccoli a bit, use a potato masher to do the job, or blend the soup with either an immersion blender (which I don’t have but would love) or a regular old blender. I was in a hurry to get supper on the table, and my crew isn’t really picky on the texture of their soups, so I just mushed my broccoli a bit with my spoon.

Mix in the cream and cheese until combined, then check the seasoning levels. I had to add a bit more cheese, salt, and pepper to get mine just right (hence the range of amounts in the instructions).

I served mine with a loaf of Peasant Bread, and it was awesome!

In fact, this is all that was left of the whole big pot of soup:

Enough soup for two (small) lunch servings.

Enough soup for two (small) lunch servings.

I sent the Thermos with Zander today–at his request. The other bowl will go with Michael for lunch tomorrow.

That’s it! Every other bit was gobbled up by those lucky enough to be at my house last night. ūüôā

In all, it made 5 adult + 3 child sized servings. This isn’t a low-fat meal, and it wasn’t intended to be.¬†It is, however,¬†full of good, fresh, real ingredients and plenty of nutrients from those foods. I know everything that was put into it, and I think that’s pretty cool.

Plus, it has bacon. Enough said.

Do you have a favorite soup on a chilly night?

Muffins, Muffins, Muffins everywhere!

Sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted…I’ve been baking muffins.

Ok…maybe I’ve done a few other things too. I have baked a LOT of muffins though.

We’ve tried lots of new recipes over the last few weeks with lots of new ingredients. I’ve been trying to master the art of making a whole-wheat muffin taste more like a muffin and than like…well…warm spicy bread. Although my dad and Paula Deen say that you can never have too much sugar, I’ve been trying to find a balance that will allow the natural flavors to shine without feeling like I’m feeding my family a candy bar.

Since I’m trying to move toward more whole-food ingredients, there has been a definite learning curve. Some of the new ingredients I’ve been playing with in my muffin recipes include¬†whole wheat flour, ground flax seed, raw honey, less refined sugars, and veggies!

I’ve had success with recipes like carrot-applesauce muffin, zucchini muffins, pumpkin muffins, and our old reliable banana muffins. I’ve also had failures with those same recipes–except the banana muffins…those are resilient enough that¬†I haven’t managed¬†to mess them up yet. ūüôā

Some things that I’ve learned:

  • Adding sour cream or yogurt to the batter will help moisten whole wheat muffins and¬†make the sweetener¬†sweeten better
  • ¬†Although they say you can substitute ground flax for an egg (1T flax + 3T water)¬†or some of the fat (3T flax for 1T butter/oil)¬†in a recipe, I’m almost always too chicken to try it. I usually just adding a bit for an extra boost of nutrients in the overall recipe.
  • Whether or not it is possible to have too much sugar, it is definitely possible to have too little.
  • If you put too little sugar in a recipe, you will clean up 6-10X the crumbs from your floor/furniture because the kids would rather crumble the muffins than gobble them down like properly sweetened ones.
  • Baking¬†my own muffins from scratch¬†is much less expensive than buying pre-made muffins, and I get to control what goes into them!
  • Muffin recipes are amazingly flexible. As long as you add enough sweetener (see above), you can add or substitute ingredients pretty much at will. Batter seem too thick? Add a splash of buttermilk! Don’t have buttermilk? Use sweet milk or almond milk or yogurt or sour cream or applesauce or…you get the idea!
  • I hate muffin papers. I don’t use them. I bake muffins in an oiled muffin tin and they come out just fine. I don’t lose any muffin yumminess to that sticky paper, and I have one less thing to pick up when the boys forget that our maid doesn’t exist.
  • I love silicone baking liners, but I don’t use them for baking. I use them for separating items in Zander’s lunch…sometimes even muffins! ūüôā
  • Muffins freeze really well. I just cool them completely and pop 6 into each quart sized freezer bag. They warm up in 30 seconds in the microwave for a fast breakfast, or I can just pop it still frozen into the lunchbox. By the time they get to lunch, the muffin is ready to eat.

Now for a recipe!

Whole Wheat Banana Muffins (adapted from Heavenly Homemakers)

  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour (I usually bump closer to 2 cups)¬†
  • 1¬†teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup mashed over-ripe bananas (about 2-3 bananas–I always use 3 and have a bit more than 1 cup in the end)
  • 1/3 cup honey (if using sugar, I would probably double this amount)
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • up to 1/2 cup pecan pieces (optional)

Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a separate bowl, mash bananas, or puree them in a blender. 

I keep ripe bananas in my freezer all the time for this very purpose. You just let them sit for a few minutes on the counter (or zap them for 30 seconds in the microwave if you’re running behind like I usually am)¬†to soften them enough to squeeze them out of the skins¬†(gross but oddly satisfying). The great thing is that they’re already pretty mushed when they come out, so there’s¬†not much¬†mashing or pureeing required–just a few swipes with a fork to finish it off.

Mix mashed bananas, honey, melted butter and eggs into flour mixture.

Fold in pecan pieces if using–I actually spoon half of the batter into cups first, then fold them in for the last half of the batch because Michael only likes¬†them WITH nuts and Zan only likes them WITHOUT nuts. Naturally. ūüôā

Spoon batter into buttered or paper lined muffin tins.¬†Bake in a 400¬į oven for 20 minutes.

I get anywhere from 12-15¬†muffins from this recipe, depending on how I hold my¬†mouth¬†when I’m mixing it up.

When they come out, I let them cool for a minute or two in the pan before removing to a wire rack. Since these are quite moist, they need to be completely cool before putting them into a container or you can put a paper towel in there with them to absorb the extra moisture if you’re too rushed to wait the whole time.

Enjoy!

I’ll post my pumpkin muffin recipe tomorrow, after I test it one more time tonight. It’s an adaptation of this recipe,¬†but I have to make sure I can recreate it before I unleash it on anyone¬†else. Ha!