Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Snow Bound Camping

Our family does some of our best bonding camping. Our preferred way is as rough as we can make it. The further we are from any signs of humans, the happier we are. We are in the midst of another cold and snowy spell, I wonder if I can recreate any of the joys of camping in my limited time budget.

Ladybug is creative. I set her to work on the tent. With a stepladder, a tarp, an yardstick, and some packing tape, she creates a very credible tent in our front room while I start our Dutch Oven favorites.
Briz gathers the children around and tells them stories from our past camping trips. They then look at pictures and remember the time dad almost went crazy trying to defend us when a truck alarm went off. After recounting an owl sighting, they read a family favorite, Owl Moon.
We light the "fire" (candle) in our tent, eat, then roast marshmallows. My new favorite roasting marshmallows are the ones covered in a coconut. When roasted, they produce a crispy sweet and crunchy crust on the outside and for whatever reason, a much gooier center. We start roasting over the candle, then switch to the flame on our gas stove, because is was quicker. For singing around the campfire, we sang "Rose" in rounds and "I Love the Mountains". Even my reluctant singer took part. Have you ever examined the beauty of a pea pod? Hold it in front of a flame. The veins and peas are visible and it is quite exciting. Full and sticky, the small campers snuggled up in the tent to watch the movie Dash.

After dark, we took out the flashlights and made shadow pictures on the wall.

I missed the smell of pine, so next time I will spray the pine scent I use on our fake Christmas tree around our tent. The food was amazing but like most good camp food, not number one on the Weight Watcher program. Hot dogs only taste good in the mountains. But I discovered that Dutch Oven tastes just as good in the oven.

Dutch Oven Sausage and Vegetables
This is the quickest and tastiest Dutch Oven dish we make. Only the spices, onion, sausage, and potatoes are constant. The other vegetables are as you wish or whatever is at hand.

1/2 pound cooked smoked sausage
1-2 onions in thin wedges
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 sweet potato or potato per person (I love sweet potatoes in this dish)
Any other vegetables you have. I have used:
green pepper
2 tsp. thyme
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. rosemary
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Saute the onions, garlic and sausage till onions are soft. Add rest of vegetables, stir till mixed and add the spices. Cover at cook at 350 degree heat for 30 minutes.

Apple Soda Dumplings
These tart sweet buttery morsels are as good and easy as it gets. This is a must try.
2 large Granny Smith apples
1 12 oz. can of lemon-lime soda
2 8 ounce cans refrigerated crescent rolls
1 stick real butter - yes a whole stick
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

1. Use a Dutch oven large enough to fit all apples in one layer.
2. Cut each apple into eight pieces. Wrap each piece in one crescent roll
3. Melt butter in the bottom of the Dutch oven and roll each piece in the melted butter before placing them in the bottom of the pan.
4. Mix cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle mixture over all apple pieces. Carefully add the soda so as not to wash away sugar from the dumplings. It will steam and look really cool.
5. Based on oven size, adjust the amount of briquettes on top and bottom and bake until dumplings turn golden brown. (in conventional oven 30 minutes at 350 degree heat)

The best part of this camping experience is that clean up was easy and I get to sleep in my own bed tonight!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Leprechan Kidnapping

The Leprechauns came to our house on St. Patrick's Day. In the morning they left treasures for everyone, in the evening, they returned to do some mischief. Right before dinner the doorbell rang. One of my girls answered the door and found a note notifying them that the leprechauns had kidnapped their parents. Luckily they left clues so we could be rescued before the dinner got too cold.

After 10 plus agonizing minutes (for us with gags), they burst into our playhouse with their grandparents who were assisting them and freed us from our bonds.

The leprechauns, always capricious, left us a full meal set up in the playhouse. Though the accommodations were a little squishy for seven, we enjoyed BBQ salmon, snow white salad, bacon flavored green beans and mint brownies. The kids had Little Cesar's Pizza.

While we ate, the two older girls who just this morning told me privately that they knew that I left the treasures, wondered about the little green men. "What did the one that got you look like? What color was their hair? How tall were they? If they are only about knee high, how did they overcome you Dad?" Then they found two little green flies. They knew that the kidnappers had changed themselves by magic into those flies. We had to be very careful because they could hear everything we were saying. We planned to set a trap next year to curb their mischief, but it had to be done in code so our plans would remain secret.

So, we all had a WONDERFUL time.

I had plans for a creative leprechany dinner, but health concerns interfered and I had to do the best I could. Thus the pizza etc. Here is my absolutely favorite brownie recipe. It is not too cakey and not too fudgy. It is not super healthy... In fact, the brownies are the opposite. But I love them and can eat a whole pan. Sometimes I make a pan and cover it with a layer of cookie dough (without the egg) and top it with fudge icing. This time I covered the fudgy topping with a light green mint drizzle in honor of the day. The secret is in the corn syrup so don't leave it out or substitute.
Vonnie's Brownies
2 cups sugar
1 cups shortening or oil
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp corn syrup
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
Mix all ingredients. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, or just until knife comes out clean. Frost with favorite butter cream icing.

Butter Cream Icing:
Melt 1 cube margarine in pan. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add 1/2 cup or so cocoa, beat together with electric beater or whisk. Add powdered sugar until desired sweetness is reached. (About 2 cups) Over low heat stir in milk teaspoon by teaspoon until the frosting takes on a glossy sheen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Irish Anscestor Dinner

With St. Patrick's Day approaching, I created an authentic Irish meal and used the opportunity
to connect my girls with some Irish great great great grandparents. I found the Downs they lived in and googled them to find pictures of the cities they would have walked when they would have walked them.
While dining, we looked through books on Irish Culture from the library and listened to Nightnoise, with many of the songs in Gaelic. After dinner, my husband read some Irish stories to the kids.

We told stories of the two grandparents as we passed around pictures from their hometowns. I explained the Irish love of Stout or Guinness. At the table, we each had a mini bottle of soda to pour in our beer glass to see who could get the largest head.

For dinner we had an Irish Bacon and Cabbage Soup that the reviews said was really authentic. It was o.k., everyone ate it, but next year we go back to the plain Corned Beef and Cabbage Boiled Meal because everyone loves it.

The real hit was the Oatmeal Soda Bread. We each broke off many helpings and couldn't get enough. The crust was crunchy and the inside was soft and mildly sweet. This recipe is also much lower in fat than other similar recipes. So, you had better try it for your St. Patrick's Day feast with some Irish Butter... Ooooh that stuff is amazing. It really is.

Oatmeal Soda Bread
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 (8 ounce) container low-fat sour cream
  • 3/4 cup skim milk
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  • In a large bowl, mix together flour, 1/2 cup oats, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  • In another bowl, mix together sour cream, milk, honey, and sugar. Add to the flour mixture, and mix just until well blended. Stir in melted butter or margarine.
  • Turn dough onto a lightly sprayed baking sheet. Shape into a round, lightly mounded circle, about 8 inches diameter. Brush the top of the loaf with melted butter or margarine, and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon oats. With a knife, score the top of the loaf into quarters.
  • Bake for about 40 minutes, or until browned. Cool completely before slicing.
Secrets for a fantastic Bread and quick rise bread
1. Preheat the oven with a cooking stone on the middle rack and a broiler pan underneath.

2. Let any quick rise bread, muffin, biscuit, pancake sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the soda and baking powder to dissolve and start to work, making a fluffier item. I let the bread sit on the baking peel while the oven preheated.

3. Pour 1 cup of water in the broiler pan when you place the bread on the stone or pan to cook. The steam assists the rising process, and keeps the inside moist.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Gotta Wear Shades

The sun cleared for a moment, turning my spring fever into spring madness. There is nothing for it but a picnic. It's too cold and dark outdoors, so I did my best to bring summer indoors in less than 10 minutes.

  • picnic table cloth
  • beach towels scattered over sofas and other nearby surfaces
  • sunscreen lying around
  • lawn and camping chairs scattered around the kitchen
  • beach umbrella stuck in a corner of my sofa
  • sunglasses/ swim goggles laying everywhere (everyone had to wear them)
  • sun hats hanging on our fake tree
  • Gipsy Kings music for that sunshiny island feel
Our picnic menu included tons of classics like deviled eggs, lemonade, chips, fresh fruit, focacia bread, kabobs, and dirt for desert. Enjoy two FABULOUS recipes.

Chicken and Bacon Shish Kabobs
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup cider vinegar (I used pomagranate because it was all I had)
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons canola oil
sprinkle of red pepper flakes
1/4-1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
10 large mushrooms, halved
2 green onions, minced
3 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, chunked
1/2 pound sliced bacon, cut in thirds
1 can pineapple chunks, drained

1. In a large contained mix soy sauce, cider vinegar, honey oil, green onions, ginger and red pepper flakes. Place chicken and mushrooms into the mixture and stir to coat. Cover and marinate in refrigerator at least 1 hour.2. Preheat grill for high heat. (I used my George Foreman again)
3. Wrap chicken chunks with bacon, and thread onto skewers so bacon is secured. Alternate with mushroom halves and pineapple chunks.
4. Lightly oil grill grate. Cook for 15-20 minutes, brushing occasionally with remaining marinade, until bacon is crisp and juices run clear.
*Note: I usually keep a jar of minced ginger and garlic from the produce department in my fridge. I also keep a knob of ginger in a Ziploc in my freezer. It is easier to zest that way and it lasts for months. I've had this knob for 7 months and it tastes great.

Dirt Pie with Worms
Serves 10

1/4 cup butter, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
2 (3 1/2 ounce) packages jello instant chocolate pudding
3 1/2 cups milk (skim works fine)
12 ounces Cool Whip, thawed
20 ounces Oreos, crushed finely
20 gummy worms (optional)

1. Mix butter, cream cheese and sugar in bowl and set aside. In separate bowl, mix milk and pudding. fold in Cool Whip. combine the two bowls gently by folding until combined completely.

2. Layer in individual buckets or in one large pot. Start with a layer of cookies on the bottom, pudding mixture, cookies, pudding and cookies on top. Top with gummy worms. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. (Not totally necessary, but it tastes better).

Note: Be creative in your packaging, sand pails are darling! I used a lined flower pot, then stuck a few cleaned artificial flowers in mine and used it for the centerpiece.

We did a little salsa dancing as the skewers finished cooking. I should have done the limbo. But WE FEEL WARM!!! I can't wait for warm weather and BBQ season.