How a Mom Actually Cooks Dinner

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Last night I decided to try a new recipe for dinner.  When it comes to dinner–especially week-night dinners–I usually try to stick with the basics. Things that I’ve made a thousand times and could cook in my sleep (or in the zombie-like trance that is otherwise known as “motherhood”). I had found a new recipe that I really wanted to try, though, and I was feeling brave so I decided to give it a go.

The recipe in question this night was Sausage and Roasted Vegetable Penne. The recipe basically went like this:

Prep time: 15 minutes
Level of difficulty: Easy

Directions:
Step 1: Chop and roast vegetables
Step 2: Boil water and cook pasta
Step 3: Cook sausage
Step 4: Mix it all together and serve

It all seemed simple enough. 15 minutes. Four easy steps. I can do this. Even at the end of a long day with two tired children…how hard could it be? Famous last words…

Here is how a mom actually cooks dinner:

Prep time: 1 1/2 hours, give or take
Level of difficulty: Grueling

Directions:
Step 1: Wash your hands.
Step 2: Start chopping onions but stop halfway through to go change a diaper.
Step 3: Wash your hands.
Step 4: Start chopping bell peppers but stop halfway through to give the kids a snack.
Step 5: Start chopping zucchini but stop halfway through to deal with your distraught 3-year old who has discovered that some monster (you) threw away one of his broken McDonald’s toys.

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Step 6: Toss vegetables with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper. Place on a baking tray.
Step 7: Try to put the baking tray in your oven and realize that it’s too big and won’t fit. Transfer everything to a smaller tray. Total time elapsed thus far: 38 minutes.

Step 8: While the vegetables are roasting in the oven, put some water in a pot for the pasta. While the pot is filling, you get a phone call. You (stupidly) answer the phone and it’s a telemarketer who won’t hang up. Run back to the sink and dump half of the water out of your overflowing pot.
Step 9: Put the pot on to boil. Meanwhile, begin to cook sausage in a pan.
Step 10: Trip over the dog 5,000 times.
Step 11: Toss the vegetables and return them to the oven.
Step 12: Drag your toddler around the kitchen while he sits on your foot.

IMG_4975 Step 13: Deglaze the sausage with a splash of white wine. Decide that’s a good idea and pour yourself a glass.

IMG_4982 Step 14: Add pasta to the boiling water and cook to al dente.
Step 15: Discover that your children have moved all of their muddy balls from the backyard into your kitchen. Spend the next few minutes throwing muddy balls out the back door.

IMG_4984 Step 16: Wash your hands.
Step 17: Remove vegetables from the oven.
Step 18: Read a story to your distraught toddler who, judging by his wails, thinks you have abandoned him for all eternity.

IMG_4971 Step 19: Drain pasta, reserving some of the liquid for your sauce.
Step 20: Answer your 3-year old’s shouts that he’s “all done and needs a wipe” in the upstairs bathroom.
Step 21: Wash your hands.
Step 22: Eat some cheese.
Step 23: Combine pasta, sausage, and roasted veggies in a large pot. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.
Step 24: Collapse exhausted in your seat at the dinner table and hope that somebody will actually eat the meal set before them instead of the usual “that’s gross” or throwing food across the room to the dog.
Step 24: Give yourself a pat on the back and a gold star. Dinner: accomplished.

Hooray! You did it! Now, go clean those dishes and get ready because you get to do it all over again tomorrow night. Actually, scratch that. Just look up the phone number for pizza delivery and save yourself the trouble. How hard could that be?

Authentic Irish Scone Recipe

We’ve lived in Ireland for the better part of a year now, and in these past few months I have come to some conclusions about Irish culture:

1.  “Type-B” personalities run the roost.

2. You must, MUST, support your local hurling/rugby/football team with the undying love of a mother for her only child.

3. Tea and scones are synonymous with life itself.

It is this final conclusion that has brought me to the point I am at now–that is, the point at which I have become obsessed with tea and scones (trust me, my waistline bears the proof). Of course, it didn’t take much convincing to get me to eat fresh-baked bread smothered in cream and jam. And I doubt it will for you, either. So the next time you want a homemade treat or a tasty tea or a light breakfast, just whip up a batch of Irish scones. I have to warn you, though–you just might get hooked!

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Irish Scones
Makes 4-6 delectable treats

Ingredients:

2 cups/225 g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tablespoons/55 g butter
2 tsp/1 oz fine sugar (optional)
1 cup/150 ml milk
1 handful raisins (optional)
1 egg beaten with a splash of milk

Preparation:

  • Preheat the oven to 400F/205C/Gas 8
  • Grease and flour a baking sheet
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter or two forks to cut it into the flour mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar (if using) and stir.
  • Make a well in the center of the flour and slowly stir in enough milk to make a soft, pliable dough.
  • Add the raisins (if using) and mix them into the dough.
  • Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and knead very lightly until just smooth, then roll out to about 3/4″ (2 cm) thick.
  • Cut rounds with a 3″ cutter or an overturned glass, or cut into triangles using a sharp knife.
  • Place scones on the prepared baking tray and brush with the beaten egg and milk mixture.
  • Bake near the top of the hot oven for 15 minutes, until golden brown.
  • Cool on a wire rack
  • Serve with butter and lashings of jam and cream. Drink a cup of tea. Feel very Irish.

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Authentic Irish Scone Recipe

We’ve lived in Ireland for the better part of a year now, and in these past few months I have come to some conclusions about Irish culture:

1.  “Type-B” personalities run the roost.

2. You must, MUST, support your local hurling/rugby/football team with the undying love of a mother for her only child.

3. Tea and scones are synonymous with life itself.

It is this final conclusion that has brought me to the point I am at now–that is, the point at which I have become obsessed with tea and scones (trust me, my waistline bears the proof). Of course, it didn’t take much convincing to get me to eat fresh-baked bread smothered in cream and jam. And I doubt it will for you, either. So the next time you want a homemade treat or a tasty tea or a light breakfast, just whip up a batch of Irish scones. I have to warn you, though–you just might get hooked!

photo 1 (2)

Irish Scones
Makes 4-6 delectable treats

Ingredients:

2 cups/225 g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tablespoons/55 g butter
2 tsp/1 oz fine sugar (optional)
1 cup/150 ml milk
1 handful raisins (optional)
1 egg beaten with a splash of milk

Preparation:

  • Preheat the oven to 400F/205C/Gas 8
  • Grease and flour a baking sheet
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter or two forks to cut it into the flour mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar (if using) and stir.
  • Make a well in the center of the flour and slowly stir in enough milk to make a soft, pliable dough.
  • Add the raisins (if using) and mix them into the dough.
  • Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and knead very lightly until just smooth, then roll out to about 3/4″ (2 cm) thick.
  • Cut rounds with a 3″ cutter or an overturned glass, or cut into triangles using a sharp knife.
  • Place scones on the prepared baking tray and brush with the beaten egg and milk mixture.
  • Bake near the top of the hot oven for 15 minutes, until golden brown.
  • Cool on a wire rack
  • Serve with butter and lashings of jam and cream. Drink a cup of tea. Feel very Irish.

photo 2

Cinnamon Cookie Butter Muffins

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When we went back to the states for Christmas I noticed several changes that had already taken place since we’d move: new housing developments had sprung up all over the place, all of our friends had new babies, and the Seahawks were on their way to the Superbowl (!). Lots of big changes. No change struck me as much, however, as the introduction of this new product into the American marketplace: cookie butter. What the what?! Cookie BUTTER? I mean, come ON.

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I just had to try it. Thankfully, my ever-observant sister-in-law read the desires of my heart and I was the happy recipient of my own (rather large) jar of cookie butter on Christmas morning. The stuff is good. Really good. It tastes a bit like creamy shortbread or graham cracker pie crust. The only problem is, what am I supposed to do with nearly two pounds of cookie butter?

I’ve tried the cookie butter spread on toast (yummy) and as a dip for fruit (delicious), but I was ready to step out of my cookie-butter-comfort-zone and try something new. I found this recipe for cinnamon cookie butter muffins and, after a few tweaks, I was on the road to cookie butter perfection. It’s not exactly health food in a muffin tin but, man, are they tasty:

Cinnamon Cookie Butter Muffins
Makes 1 dozen mouth-watering muffins

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups flour
½ Tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup cream cheese
¼ cup milk
8 Tablespoons cookie butter (find cookie butter at Trader Joe’s, Costco, or on Amazon)
Cinnamon sugar (combine 2 Tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C for all of my Irish friends who may be reading this!).
2. Line a muffin tin with muffin papers.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
4. In a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined. Add the cream cheese, milk, and 2 Tablespoons of cookie butter and beat until combined.
5. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
6. Spoon muffin batter into muffin liners until about 1/2 full. Spoon about 1/2 Tablespoon of cookie butter onto each muffin, then top with another small spoonful of muffin batter.

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7. Top each muffin with a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar.
8. Bake muffins for 10-12 minutes, until the muffins start to turn golden brown.
9. When you go to pull your muffins out of the oven, DO NOT TOUCH THE SIDE OF THE OVEN thus burning your hand and spilling the muffins in the process. This may have happened to a friend. Her muffins looked like this:
IMG_1313 (Don’t worry, I was able to salvage all but one muffin from this little incident)

10. Let the muffins cool completely before you eat them (remember, there’s a molten core of cookie butter in the middle). Enjoy!

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The final verdict? Cinnamon cookie butter muffins are every bit as delectable as you imagine they would be. So go bake yourself a batch. Now!

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DIY Edible Fingerpaint

Fall is officially upon us, which means three things:

1. Leaves are gathering on the ground.
2. I’m craving all things pumpkin.
3. We have rainy days. Lots and lots of rainy days.

Number 3 is the one I least look forward to. After the long, warm days of summer it’s a bit of a rude slap in the face to suddenly be forced back indoors against my will. But, since I can’t get rid of the rain (and probably won’t for the next 10 months or so…) I will choose to make the best of our long days indoors.

David loves doing art projects but poor little Jacob rarely gets to join in on the action. He’s still at the if-I-can-touch-it-then-I’m-putting-it-in-my-mouth stage, which works well with Cheerios and bananas but no well with glue sticks and glitter. After a brief search on Pinterest, however, I found a number of recipes for edible finger paint (have I mentioned how much I love Pinterest?). I just had to try it. The recipe is really simple: only 3 ingredients and it took about 5 minutes to make:

What You Need:

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  • 1/2 cup corn starch (corn flour)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • liquid food coloring

What You Do:

  • Pour the water and corn starch into a pan and stir constantly over low heat until the mixture begins to thicken to the consistency of Elmer’s glue (a wire whisk works best to minimize clumps)
  • Pour the mixture into cups or bowls (1 container per color you want to make)
  • Add food coloring to each container and stir
  • Let the fingerpaint cool from magma-hot to safe-to-touch before handing it to your baby

IMG_3875 I happened to have an empty plastic egg carton in my recycling bin and it seemed like the perfect receptacle for David’s paints (I didn’t want to give him all of the full cups of paint because I actually wanted to preserve some of those beautiful colors for future use. Something I’ve learned about paint and little boys: it only takes them about 3 seconds to smoosh a rainbow of colors together into one giant brown blob). The egg carton worked brilliantly. IMG_3879 For Jacob, I just scooped little bits of paint directly onto his paper. It took him less than 2 seconds to get that first bit of paint in his mouth (yay for edible paint!).  I also found that it worked better to tape his paper down with a bit of painter’s tape so he wouldn’t keep trying to eat his paper. IMG_3887 Both boys had a fine time painting and the paints actually worked really well. The color was rich and vibrant and the consistency was very smooth. Jacob lasted for about 5 minutes with his art project (not bad for a 1-year old) and I had to cut David off after a few pictures so I could complete the last, essential step of this project: a bath. IMG_3888 See, rainy days aren’t so bad after all.

Mom’s “Famous” Zucchini Soup Recipe

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My mom has an incredible garden that we fondly refer to as “Nana’s Secret Garden”. I don’t have a garden myself (nor should I with my two “brown thumbs”), but my boys love playing in her garden and eating fruit, berries and veggies (literally) off the vine. This time of year Nana’s Secret Garden is bursting with zucchini, some the size of my small children. It was from this prolific garden that my mom was inspired to create this recipe for zucchini soup. This soup is one of my favorite end-of-summer treats–it is creamy with a fresh, vibrant taste. In fact, this soup is so good that it was published in Sunset Magazine–which, basically, makes this soup famous. At least to me. And it really does deserve to be famous.

Well, I was at the grocery store yesterday trying to figure out what I’m going to feed my family this week (somehow it’s still a mystery to me. Every. Single. Week. You’d think that after years of cooking every single day I’d know what to make for dinner but, alas, I still wander the grocery store looking for inspiration, week after week). This week, my store had courgettes on sale–only I didn’t know what courgettes were. I have learned that there are many different names for things here in Ireland. As it turns out, courgettes are none other than the humble zucchini. And you know what that means? I get my zucchini soup, even though I’m thousands of miles away from Nana’s Secret Garden.

So here is my mom’s award winning recipe for zucchini soup. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

zucchini-soup-su-637683-lCurried Zucchini Soup

1 large zucchini (or courgette!)
1 large onion
1 head of garlic, peeled and separated into cloves
1 quart of chicken or vegetable stock
1 can coconut milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 Tablespoon curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
*instant mashed potatoes for thickening

In a large stock pot, sautee coarsely chopped vegetables and 1 cup of stock until the vegetables are soft. Working in small batches, puree the mixture in a blender, adding more stock to liquefy as necessary. Return vegetable puree to pot and add curry powder, salt and pepper. Simmer the mixture and add coconut milk and evaporated milk. Add more stock if necessary or, to thicken, add instant mashed potatoes.

*Since the zucchini come in many different sizes, you’ll probably need to adjust the amounts of stock and seasoning you use. Sometimes I also like to add some fresh herbs like basil at the very end of the cooking. This soup also freezes well for a taste of summer in later months.

…And, if you have LOTS of zucchini to use up, here are a few of my other favorite zucchini recipes:

Zucchini Fritters
Zucchini and Corn Tacos
Zucchini Bread
Roasted Zucchini and Tomato Pasta
Zucchini “Noodles”
Zucchini and Rosemary Frittata  

Chicken Broccoli Strudel Recipe

Last week we had a great time exploring our local farmer’s market. I bought lots of yummy food at the farmer’s market, including a fresh rotisserie chicken from this guy:

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One of my favorite things about rotisserie chicken is that you can usually get multiple meals out of one chicken. For dinner after our market trip we ate the chicken straight-up with some roasted veggies and bread (also all from the farmer’s market…look how “fresh and local” I’m getting!).

After dinner there was still a good amount of meat leftover, so I knew we’d have another delicious chicken dinner coming soon. Sometimes I use the leftover rotisserie chicken to make soup or pasta dishes, but this week I decided to make one of my all-time favorite recipes. I got this recipe from my friend Elizabeth (who just happens to be a food genius) and it is ammmmmmazing! It has a few simple ingredients and takes very little effort to put together, yet it tastes like it came from a fine-dining restaurant. I’ve made this dish for guests, and they’re always asking for more. So, with no further ado, the recipe:

Chicken and Broccoli Strudel

Ingredients:

a little butter or olive oil for the tray
1 Tablespoon butter or olive oil
1 C minced onion
1 large bunch broccoli finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 medium cloves garlic
2 cups bread crumbs
2 cups grated cheese (I usually go for cheddar)
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 rotisserie chicken or cooked chicken breasts, chopped as small as possible
1 heaping Tablespoon herbs de Provence
1 sheet of refrigerated puff pastry (or 1 frozen and thawed sheet of puff pastry)
1 egg, beaten
DIRECTIONS:
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees and oil baking tray
2) Heat olive oil or butter in skillet and sautee onions 5 minutes
3) Add broccoli, salt, pepper and garlic and cook 10 more minutes, remove from heat
4) Stir in bread crumbs, cheese, lemon juice, herbs and chicken
5) To Assemble: Roll out the puff pastry onto a clean, dry board. Use a sharp knife to cut the puff pastry into four even sections. Put 1/4 of the filling onto half a section of puff pastry, leaving about a 1/4 inch border around the bottom and sides of the puff pastry. Fold the puff pastry in half over the filling and pinch tightly to seal shut (like you’re making a hot pocket…a classy hot pocket…). Repeat with each section of puff pastry until you have four strudels. Place the strudels into the greased baking tray.
6) Brush the tops and sides of each strudel with the beaten egg.
7) Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden and crisp.
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And, as always, ENJOY!