Easy Dessert Pasta and the Football Widow Goes to the Beach

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I’m prepping for a beach trip with a few other ladies and I thought I’d share this beautiful little pasta salad.  It’s a dessert salad but there is no mayo or marshmallows or weird stuff like in Midwestern dessert salads.  I mean, I like those salads, but this one seems healthier.  And because of the no mayo thing it is safe to take to the beach or on a picnic.

The recipe comes from me after piecing together what goes into a similar salad at the pasta salad stand at Roots Country Market in Manheim, PA.  The proprietor lists the ingredients but obviously not the measurements so I improvised. What I like about this salad is its versatility; the basic ingredients are just categories and you can customize the salad to your taste.

The main ingredients are:

  • 1 regular container of non-dairy dessert topping
  • 1/3 box of very small pasta (Pastina or Acini di Pepe)
  • Fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, mini chocolate chips, etc. to taste

That’s it!  Thaw the dessert topping if it is frozen.  Cook the pasta and drain using a mesh strainer (you could use cheesecloth, too).  Rinse with cold water until the pasta is cool.

11715050_10153971189248098_236019134_o Tiny star pasta!

In a bowl, mix pasta, dessert topping, and fruit.  I used a package of sweetened dried blueberries, ½ c. fresh pitted and quartered cherries, and 1/2 c. cocoa almonds as well as a healthy sprinkle of chia seeds.

mmmm cocoa almonds  I know they have added sugar but these dried blueberries are so good!

I used this Pinterest trick to pit the cherries using a straw.  Not bad for a small batch, though it I was doing a lot of cherries I’d want to use a real pitter.

That’s it!  Refrigerate and serve cold.    Now, cross your fingers that I don’t get eaten by sharks out there!

Yum!

Yum!

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Things I Did With a Three Year Old

1. Went to Broad Street Market.  Aunt Tanya has a stand called Apple Dumplings Etc.  It was too hot for a dumpling but Lexi had a cookie and Emmi and I had smoothies.  I bought the Wildberry because Lexi declared that she wanted to have a “purple” smoothie but then she ended up only drinking Emmi’s which was peach.  This market is a great place to grab lunch and pick up some produce, meat, and baked goods.  It was my first trip but will not be my last!

mmm cookie

mmm cookie

Um that is Aunt Emmi's peach smoothie

Um that is Aunt Emmi’s peach smoothie

2. Went shoe shopping.  This kid loves to try on shoes, and I was in a work shoe deficit.  Now that it is past Labor Day I am supposed to wear stockings and everyonw but the people who wrote the dress code at my wok knows that open-toes shoes look ridiculous with nylons.  The trouble with women’s shoes is that one shoe does not match all. Some outfits call for flats, some for heels.  My ankle books are worn out, too.  Sheesh, that’s a lot of shoes.  I ended up with a pair of flats, kitten heels, high heels, and ankle books in black as well as a sweet pair of blue flats because they were only $8.  The best deal was either these Ivanka Trumps for $10 or these ridiculous heeled clogs for the three year old that were only $7.  Hey, the kid needs to learn how to walk in heels sometime, right?  Quotes from the shopping trip include when she left Emmi’s aisle and somehow didn’t see me in mine.  I heard her ask a stranger, “You know where Icky is?”  She can’t say “Alyssa” or “Sissy” so her pet name for me is Icky.  I’m sure the lady was baffled.  The clogs were connected with a string but that didn’t stop her from hobbling around the store in them.  After a few shuffles she pointed to her feet and asked, “Icky, you cut da tring?”  Yes, but we need to BUY the shoes first!

These boots were too tight....

These boots were too tight….

Necessary

Necessary

Competition:  Whose shoes were a better deal?

Competition: Whose shoes were a better deal?

3. Watched a movie.  Current obsessions are “Monty Ink” (Monsters Inc.) and  “Meemo” (Finding Nemo).  We were at Emmi’s house but couldn’t watch a new movie; it had to be Nemo.  Whatever.  There is nothing like snuggling under the blankets with your loved ones to watch a favorite move and eat popcorn, watermelon, and candy.  Her favorite scene seems to be the “Shark Bait Hoo Ha Haa” part.

4. Went “out ta eat.”  Kid loves to eat out.  Well, me too, so that works.  Sunday morning we tackled a Minnie Mouse pancake from my favorite diner and colored with crayons from a Minnie Mouse cup.  When I asked what we should draw, the answer was “You draw your mommy and I draw my daddy.”  Fair enough.

My mommy is actually Lexi's Grammy, so this is a portrait of a well loved lady right here!

My mommy is actually Lexi’s Grammy, so this is a portrait of a well loved lady right here!

This is mostly her daddy, but also she asked me to draw some feet.

This is mostly her daddy, but also she asked me to draw some feet.

bla bla bla

5. Baked a cake.  Well, cupcakes.  I babysat the other evening and I always give Lexi a lot of opportunities to make her own choices for activities.  Often with me her request is either “Icky you paint-a my nail?” or “Icky, we bake a cake?”  Sometimes she cannot be satisfied with baking a pretend cake in her play kitchen so we have to bake a real one.  What kind of cake should we bake? “Pink!”  Well, that’s not really a flavor of cake, child, but okay.  We decided on a pink (vanilla) cake with brown (chocolate) frosting.  Here is how to bake pink cupcakes with a toddler:

 

  • Ask her to get the recipe box.  It’s stored where she can reach.  When she brings you just a recipe for sugar free cream cheese icing, ask her to bring you the whole box because this isn’t the pink cake recipe.
  • Use Paula Dean’s 1-2-3-4 cake recipe.  It’s easy and it can be converted to non-dairy.
  • Beat the butter but do not let the toddler stick her finger in the butter. Ask her to get her bench while you unwrap two sticks and begin to beat it.
  • Have her measure two cups of sugar.  When she decides to measure with a teaspoon instead of a cup, fill the cup yourself but immediately surrender it when she sees you evening off the top and shouts “No, me!” because she wants to measure everything.  Quickly dump into the fluffy butter and continue to beat for about 8 minutes, or until the other ingredients are measured. Because that will take at least 8 minutes.
  • Let her measure baking soda, baking powder, salt, and flour to make about three cups of self-rising flour.  Just use the recipe in the back of the red plaid cookbook (Better Homes and Gardens).  Let her whisk the flour together.  Ask her to go wash her hands because she just stuck her finger in some spilled sugar and licked it.
  • Ask her to count four eggs with you.  Crack the eggs into their own bowl and while she is running to the play kitchen to retrieve her tiny whisk because ALL EGGS MUST BE WHISKED AND SHE HAS A WHISK get out the milk and a liquid measuring cup.  The eggs actually get added one at a time to the butter/sugar mix and by now the butter and sugar are crazy fluffy to just let her break the yolks and add the eggs slowly to the mixer.
  • Ask her to watch as you pour milk into the liquid measuring cup.  We need one cup of milk so just ask her to tell you to stop when we get to “this line” and pour slowly, asking “is that enough” every 2 seconds so she stays focused.
  • Add the flour and milk a little at a time, beginning and ending with flour.  Tide the kid over because she is not allowed to add anything to the mixer when it is on by teasing her about the color of the cake.  “We’re making a blue cake, right?”  “Are you sure you don’t want a yellow cake?”  Just laugh when she gets panicked and tearful “NO. PINK!!!” (stomp stomp, pouty lip) Ask the kid to wash her hands because she just stuck her finger in the butter wrapper and licked it.  You can turn on the oven now – it will be several more minutes before we are ready to bake this cake.  Trust me.
  • Add pink food coloring.  Use the gel because it is better but do not let her touch the bottle or the toothpick.  “No touchy.”  Yeah, it stains.  Badly.
  • Remind her that we do not lick the batter yet, her tongue is not pink because there is not enough food coloring in the batter to turn it pink, nobody wants to see her tongue right now, and can she please go was her hands AGAIN because she just stuck her finger into batter and licked it and you promised your friends at work they could have some of these cupcakes.
  • Let her put the cupcake liners in the tins.  They are pink and she will do a great job because sorting and matching are developmentally appropriate tasks and she needs the fine motor skills practice.
  • Fix the cupcake liners that are doubled and scoop the batter into the liners.  Bake for 25 minutes at 350º.
  • Get everything into the dishwasher immediately because you hate doing dishes and you will need the mixer bowl for the icing once the cupcakes have cooled.  Clean the kitchen by yourself because suddenly your tiny helper would rather lick the scooper and put on pretend makeup and costume jewelry than wipe counters.
  • Wipe the flour dust from the sides of the cabinets and ask loudly whose fingerprints are all over the cabinets.  Agree when she declares the prints and smudges are the work of Murphy, who is a small gray cat without fingers.
  • Make dinner and eat dinner. Pull the cupcakes from the oven to cool. Play a little and then realize you better get the icing started because it is close to bedtime.
  • Take the mixer bowl out of the dishwasher.  It’s in the drying cycle so it’s hot but clean.  Curse your bad timing and slow dishwasher.  Follow this simple chocolate frosting recipe but use ¼ cup of black cocoa powder to make the frosting very dark.  The recipe is pinned on your SWEET NOMS board so you won’t ever forget it!
  • Unwrap the butter while she is washing her hands.
  • Let her measure and even out the cocoa and sugar. It’s her thing and she is REALLY good at measuring.
  • Pick out sprinkles from your epic sprinkle collection.  Having this many sprinkles doesn’t hurt anyone.  Pick purple of course.  Set up the sprinkles for her.  Ask her to wash her hands because she just swiped a handful of sprinkles and is licking her fingers.  Again.
  • Frost the cupcakes and let her decorate.  Since it takes her about a thousand years to decorate each cupcake, decorate the prettiest cupcakes for you to take to work so your colleagues have less toddler spit in their treats.
  • Agree that it is okay for “my take dis cupcake por my daddy.”  Pack a cupcake in a container so she can take it to her daddy.
  • Eat cupcakes for a bedtime snack.
  • Swiftly send the kid to do teeth, jammies, and stories because you are god awful exhausted and there is coco powder on your clean kitchen cabinets.  Bed is early tonight. Feet hurt..  Thank goodness you have cupcakes!
MMMM Cupcakes!

MMMM Cupcakes!

Bacon Apple Pie

I went to a friend’s party last night while Chuck was at the BU game.  The potluck was themed as such:

  • Any savory dish with meat in it must have bacon as a component.
  • Any savory dish without meat must have red peppers as a component.
  • Any sweet desert must have apple as a component.
  • Dishes with alcohol involved get one automatic extra point.
  • Cheating is encouraged and will be rewarded.

I have a penchant for baking, but what if I combine some of these categories?  Obviously my apple dessert contained bacon.

OBVIOUSLY.

Here’s my pie crust recipe.    Well, Actually, my SIL found it in an old pie cookbook.  Still, it’s a fab recipe.

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I know it seems like adding water to the fat wouldn’t work, but if you truly add boiling water and whisk it quickly, you get a beautful lard slurry that becomes a light, tasty, flaky pie crust.

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Lard already has a hearty meaty scent to it.  It seems natural to add bacon.

I cooked up a half pound of thick-cut bacon and crumbled it up.  Half of that went into my pie crust.

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I used Cortland apples.  These are firm, white, tart apples.  I use very small, fine pieces of apple in my pie.

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The crumble is the magical part of this pie.  I don’t mix any flour or seasoning into the apples themselves.  Instead, I use my pastry cutter to blend flour, butter, and sugar (and in this case I used brown sugar and added the remaining bacon crumbles!) and douse the pie.  As the pie bakes, the crumble crisps on the top and some melts into the pie, thickening the juices as the apples bake.

 The pie is done when it’s  bubbling.

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I won a bottle of Kraken.

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Evolution in my Kitchen

This is the story of how I keep it real in the kitchen.  I started with a craving for a local restaurant’s classic southern barbecue and ended up with tiny apple pies.

Chuck and I love going out for southern barbecue.  Our local restaurant, JoBoy’s, serves amazing smoked meats and delicious homemade sides and desserts.  The slow cooking results in a tender pulled meat that they pair with a homemade barbecue sauce.  Basically, it is to die for.

Though I can’t reproduce the unique smoky flavor, I can make a similar meal at home fairly easily.  I threw a pack of chicken thigh/leg quarters into the crock pot and made a sauce with the contents of the door of my refrigerator.  some mustard, ketchup, brown sugar, cola, Worcestershire,  fresh minced garlic, salt, and pepper, simmered on the stove and served in a gravy boat.

Emmi came over and we made these cauliflower latke thingies, but all dairy free.  I have a ton of fake cheese right now.  It helps me a lot.  I loooove cheese.  I might add another egg next time, but they turned out delicious and would be very good with eggs.

Once dinner was over, I loaded the bones and skins right back into the slow cooker, added come carrots, celery, and onion, and coated the contents with water.  I cooked the broth overnight on low.  The whole house smelled amazing!  In the morning, I strained the bones and such out of the broth and shoved it into the fridge.  The fat rose to the top and solidified, making it easy to spoon off.

Here is my cooled broth with the fat scooped off

This morning, I made a double pie crust and popped it into the fridge.

I wasted the rest of my day doing whatever unemployed people do, and then I made a PIE pot pie.  I emphasize the pie because I don’t want you to confuse it with POT pot pie, which is a delicious Pennsylvania Dutch stew that is made with homemade noodles.  Here are the steps I took to make my PIE pot pie:

This is a lard crust. Non-dairy never means vegan in my house!

I cooked a bag of frozen peas and carrots in the fat I culled from my broth. Once the veggies were warmed, I added flour, salt and pepper, and broth to make a gravy-like sauce. I layered leftover chicken with the veggie gravy in the pie crust.

I topped the pie with a crust and put slits in the crust to help air and steam escape.

This deep dish is Polish pottery. So pretty!

I baked the pie for about 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven, or until it was bubbly.

I think it turned out perfect. Chuck thought it should have been creamier, so next time I will add some milk (soy or almond) to the gravy.

Whoops, guess what?  I had extra pie dough.

I cut the extra dough with a cookie cutter, but you could use a drinking glass, too.

I pushed each round of dough into a mini muffin tin and filled it with apples. I used Fiji apples, which are very sweet and crispy. I diced the apples so they would fit into the pie cups and then mixed them with sugar, cinnamon, and flour. I used 4 apples, 2/3 c. sugar, 2 T. flour, and 1 t. cinnamon. I added the apple mix to each pie crust and baked them in my still-warm oven.

These only baked for about 20 minutes, until they were bubbly.  They came out a bit messy, so next time I may use cake liners. A quick jab around the edges with a table knife loosened the pies

Voila!

They are super sweet!  I think they would be pretty with an icing drizzle on them.

And that is how the ADD mind works in the kitchen.

BETTER Bay Biscuits

Not EVERYTHING we entered in the town fair’s baking contest won a prize.  But we did well enough.

I’m competitive about a lot of things, but not sports because I don’t “do”  “sports.”  Baking is more of an art form than a competition, but I still enjoy submitting my creations every year.

I found out last night that my apple rhubarb pie won the official apple pie contest, so I get to take it to the State Farm Show.  All night, I was like,

They called me this morning to be sure I could participate next January.  Not a problem, since I already try to go to the PA State Farm Show every year.  Yes, our state fair is in January.  We don’t have scary kiddie rides or painted ladies, but we have looots of kids in FFA and 4-H who are competing for prettiest cow awards, or something.  It’s a grand time.

…………

I had a brief conversation friends yesterday about homemade food.  The consensus was that we would all be rotund if we bothered to bake and cook at home all the time.  On those occasions when you do cook or bake, it is important to go all the way and not “Sandra Lee” your recipe too much, especially avoiding high fructose corn syrup and fake gravy.  The exception in this recipe is bottled salt-free seasonings, which I adore with cheese.

These biscuits, which won third place in their category in the 2012 Manheim Farm Show and are on display until Friday night, do take advantage of a no-salt dried spice medley, but they have way more butter and cheese than that skinny wench Sandra Lee would ever allow in her recipes.  It pairs nicely with soups of all kinds and since they bake up in minutes and you don’t even need to soften the butter first, you won’t be pressed for time when making them.

BETTER Bay Biscuits

2 c. flour

1 T. baking powder

1/4 t. baking soda

1/2 capful Mrs. Dash (can use more)

1/3 c. butter, slightly softened

Shredded cheddar (Start with at least a cup.  More cheese = more biscuits.)

3/4 c. buttermilk

Butter, melted

1. Start by mixing the first four ingredients (the dry ingredients).  Whisking these together beaks up any clumps in the flour.

2. Use a fork or pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour mixture.  If you’ve never made a pastry before, it may seem like it’s not working.  The goal is to break the fat (butter) into tiny pieces (no bigger than a pea) that are completely coated in flour.  Once the liquid is added, you are done, so do your mixing now.  don’t stress out if it seems very dry or like there is too much flour. There’s enough!

I don’t have a pastry cutter and I do kind of wish I had one. Some alternatives include a food processor (I’d own one but I have no desire to clean it), a fork, two knives, or just your fingers. Only use your fingers if they are cold – you don’t want to melt the butter. Just pinch the large chunks of fat into smaller chunks. It’s fun. My hand model, sister, and co-baker, Emmi, is using a fork.

3. Add the cheese and gently toss into the flour mixture.  The cheese is also a fat (for the love of the goddess do not use low-fat cheese in this recipe – just use less cheese) so you want to coat it with the flour mixture a little bit as well.

4. Make a well (hole) in the center of the mixture and pour the buttermilk into it all at once.  Use a fork or wooden spoon to juuuust mix the liquid into the dry ingredients.  It you have more than a few tablespoons of dry ingredients at the bottom of the bowl, add some more buttermilk.  DO NOT OVERMIX.  As the butter melts in the oven, it will incorporate extra flour. It’s better to be a bit dry.

5. Drop dough onto a cookie sheet.  I usually make 1/4 c. biscuits but you can also make smaller 2 T. biscuits if you eat like a bird, are for some reason simultaneously watching your weight AND eating pastries, or if you are feeding a crowd.

6. Bake @450º for 10 minutes.

7. Brush baked biscuits with melted butter.    The remainder of the stick you cut up in the beginning of the recipe should do it – about 2-3 T.  Just melt it in the microwave while the biscuits are baking.

mmmm melted butter…..

These biscuits are rich, buttery, and cheesy.  The Mrs. Dash contains onion, celery salt, citrus peel, and garlic, which are all typically found in seafood seasonings, but there is no added salt, which would make these biscuits too salty.  Butter, cheese, baking soda, and more butter all add enough salt.  BTW I usually use salted butter for this recipe, and I have substituted Earth Balance products as well.  I still use cheddar, but as an aged cheese it contains little or no lactose and when I am baking these just for my own enjoyment I do try to eliminate as much lactose as possible. Lactose intolerance sucks and sometimes I just give my baking away because I can’t eat more than one serving.  I suppose you could also substitute vegan “cheese” and make these into vegan biscuits.  I bet they would be delicious with non-dairy parmesan…

This is *the* award-winning biscuit at the Farm Show. YUM!

I usually make these to pair with soup, not fish.  Soups and biscuits seem to go hand-in-hand.  Try with creamy potato or hearty chicken noodle.  Or some concoction you made up from the crap in your fridge, like I did this afternoon.

Sneak Peek!

My middle little sister and I have sore feet and fuzzy teeth today.  We have been baking almost nonstop since Sunday morning!

The town in which I live hosts a fair every year that celebrates the farming traditions that built the local economy.  There are livestock auctions, terrifying kiddie rides, food stands hosted by every volunteer organization in town, and dozens of contests in which any county resident can enter.  The items that can be entered into each contest include but are not limited to goats, pigs, cows, sheep, soybeans, feedcorn, various garden produce, preserves and canned goods, decorated pumpkins, homemade lard, indoor plants, photography, textiles, cut flowers, and baked goods.  As I have not sewed much in the last year, my garden is pathetic, and my sole houseplant is not currently blooming, I only entered a few cut flowers and a disgusting amount of baked goods.  My middle little sister, Emmi, lives in the county, too, so she came over to contribute to the baking.

I dropped off some flowers on Sunday, but the baked goods are not judged until Tuesday at noon.  Tonight, we went to the show to drop off cookies, brownies, cake, and pie totaling 14 entries in all – 6 for Emmi and 8 for me!

Since we were there, we trotted over to the flower displays and guess what?  My mums won 4th place and my Russian sage and iris each won 1st in their categories!  That would be $10 in my pocket, people.  And yes, I have an early-blooming iris that usually reblooms in October.

Tomorrow I will go to the show again to see which of our baked goods entries won prizes,  Keep in mind, anyone in the county can enter so really I could be up against some steep competition.  Or not.

I’m too tired to write more.  Here is a sneak peek at some of our delicious food:

Weddings Part I: DIY Cupcake Tier

At my age, everyone is having babies and getting married.  Weddings in general make me barf.  Well, that’s an exaggeration.  I usually only gag.

If I’m a total cynic about weddings, it may be because I was raised by wedding cynics.  My parents recently celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary and they eloped, only telling a handful of people of their plans.  Chuck and I announced our intention but didn’t invite anyone to our 30 second JP ceremony in Arlington, Va.  Best decision I ever made.

I have been a bridesmaid two and half times and that’s really enough for me.  The cost, the stress, the cost, the scheduling, the cost, and the general nonsense are really too much.  Chuck recently sent me this funny article on being a bridesmaid.  I can’t say I’ve ever had it this bad, but I don’t want to try.

Chuck has missed several weddings in the past several years due to football.   These include the weddings of two of my brothers.  Before you jump to conclusions and call him selfish, please remember that weddings are pretty darn selfish as well.  Chuck likes to remind people that he only has about a dozen football games to attend each year so as long as an event takes place outside of those days, he will attend.

Out of 12 grandchildren, four of us are now married, but this was the first of my cousins to be wed.  I have to say, she did an excellent job at keeping it beautiful, low-key, and budget-friendly!  It was my honor and privilege to bake a “cutting” cake and 4 dozen cupcakes for this wedding.  I also designed and built a tier for the cupcakes and I made custom toppers for each of the cupcakes.  This helped coordinate them as there were a few other bakers also contributing.

Here is how to make a cupcake tier:

1.  Make cardboard discs:  You can buy these at the store but I have tons of clean cardboard left over from my new kitchen cabinets.

I used some twine and pens to make three compasses. This way I was able to make six circles, two of each size. I decided to double the cardboard to reinforce it.

Just use the pens as a compass to make perfect circles!

Use craft glue to stick two circles together. I made sure that the “grain” of the cardboard went in opposite directions.

2. Cover the discs to make them pretty.  I used wrapping paper, but I suppose you could use contact paper/shelf liner as well

Use a gluestick to adhere wrapping paper to one side of each disc.

Trim the wrapping paper to 1/4 inch.

This is too much. It needs trimmed.

This is perfect

Use hot glue to fold and adhere the edges of the paper

I used decorative ribbon to trim the edges of the discs.

Just hot glue the trim along the unfinished edges.

clean and simple!

Finished edge. Fold over the edge and stick it in the back when you construct the tier.

Ta Da!

3.  Construct the layered tiers.

I used canning jars and glue to make the tiers, but you can also use dowels, soup cans, TP rolls, or paper cups. Double-sided foam tape is also very helpful for sticking the glass to the cardboard.

4. Add the finishing touches!

Cupcake Toppers – I only made 1/3 of the cupcake for this wedding. To coordinate the cupcakes made by three bakers, I made these cupcake toppers using circle punches, scrapbook paper and embellishments, toothpicks, and hot glue. Super easy and super cute!

I only brought 1/3 of the cupcakes to the wedding. This is what 4 dozen cupcakes looks like!

This is the cupcake tier before all of the cupcakes were added.

This is what 144 cupcakes looks like. All but about 10 fit on this tier.

Dessert table complete!

More wedding musings and photos to come, and then Farm Show pictures!