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I spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  It's a well-oiled machine!  Efficiency is my middle name! 

I enjoy making someone laugh a lot more than I enjoy making someone dinner.  Maybe here I can manage to do both.


A Sweet and Spicy Asian Sauce

I often get in cooking ruts. The majority of the people in this family do not like many interesting foods. This means that I cook the same thing over and over. And over and over. And over and over again. 

Recently, I was delighted to discover a new recipe using ground beef (my rotation of chili, pasta and meat sauce, and taco salad was getting old). It was just what I was looking for: very easy and made up of ingredients that I already had. Also? It wasn't tomato saucy. A little variety is always a good thing. 

I found the recipe on the website This Glorious Day. The author of this blog adapted it from another recipe, found here. I followed the adaptation almost exactly, until I got to the green onion part...only because I had no green onions. Oh! I also did not cook my beef in the oil, since it was already cooked and in the freezer. I crunched up the frozen meat with a metal utensil while it was in the freezer bag to loosen it up, then put it in the skillet and mixed up the other ingredients in a cereal bowl (this is where I added the oil). Once the other ingredients were combined, I poured it over my beef and let it heat up. 

1 lb. lean ground beef
heaping 1/3 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. low-sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp. sesame oil 
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
salt/pepper to taste
1 bunch fresh green onion, diced green portion only


The second time I made the sauce, I doubled the recipe (and added extra garlic) (my garlic is not fresh pressed, but from the fridge). 

Michaela did not care for the beef version the second time I made it (she liked it, but has trouble with ground beef these days...that's all I'll say about that), so I offered her the sauce with some pork that I had in the fridge, already cooked. I also had cooked rice...bonus! I put the rice in a bowl, heated that up with some peas, and put the warmed up sliced pork with sauce on top. 

This sauce could be used on chicken too (Michaela has eaten it on chicken as well and liked that the best out of the three meat choices). It is very good, and so simple! Try it...this is one that will be in our reportoire from now on. 


A Cupcake Extravaganza

Well, Valentine's Day came and went, and so did our cupcakes.

I was supposed to help out with Christian's class Valentine's Day party, and I volunteered to make cupcakes for the class. It was going to be simple. Cupcakes, frosting, and a couple of M&M's on the top of each one (the pink and red ones in the Valentine's bag). My plan was to make some yellow cake ones and some chocolate cake ones...there is at least one kid in his class that doesn't like chocolate and I didn't want her not to have a treat. But if I'm making cupcakes, I'm making chocolate ones, because who's going to go to all that trouble for yellow cake? And then eat it?

Not I, that's who.

I was trying to be organized and efficient.

That should have been my first clue that things would probably not go according to plan.

I started with the frosting, since that didn't require eggs, and I could just quickly rinse out my KitchenAid bowl and get to work on the cupcakes. That went very smoothly! I set my frosting aside (buttercream...mmm, you just can't go wrong there) and began the cupcakes.

Yellow cake first. Now. I have two cupcake watchamacallits. I was going to say tins. But they're not actually tin. One is metal and the other is stoneware. I was trying to be efficient, so I thought I could make 24 cupcakes at a time.

Michaela checked on them and noticed one set was puffing up faster. I was nervous about this, but I figured that I could just take the one set out early if I needed to. And after this initial scare, they turned out fine. I thought.

Then it was on to the chocolate cupcakes. I used the Pioneer Woman's sheet cake recipe; it's one of those no-fail cake recipes, and she had an adapted-for-cupcakes version on her site.

This was after the yellow cupcakes. Oh dear. Clean-up was super fun later that night. Especially after I grilled steaks too.

When I turned the first cakes out, I noticed that they left a lot of grease behind. This worried me. Were they going to be too oily?

Then, once I had my chocolate cakes done, we discovered they didn't come out of the wrappers easily. At all! They just crumbled and stuck to the sides. I told the girls we would just keep the chocolate ones here and take all yellow (too bad for us, huh?). Even if we were digging out the cake with spoons, we'd eat them. I'm not wasting good chocolate cake.

We got the yellow cake cupcakes frosted, and stuck an extra liner on each one to hide the too-much-butter bottoms (that's not a phrase I ever foresaw myself using) (although I know another bottom that the very same phrase could apply to), and with the M&Ms on top they were as cute as could be. (Sorry, that's a pre-M&M picture.)

In the end, the class cupcakes were good enough to eat (I know because there were no empty plates in the room)...frosting covers a multitude of flavorlessness. And apparently, if your cupcakes are leaking butter out of the bottom, then it's a great idea to smear powdered-sugared butter on the top. Balance! And the chocolate cupcakes settled down in their wrappers later. We managed to get the liners off with little trouble or cupcake loss. A few of them were burned, but I just cut the bottoms off and frosted them. (Frosting! Covers problems!)

I made enough cupcakes for Cox's Army. This was my initial thought. But it turns out that we can tear through some cupcakes around here. Especially when we even eat them for breakfast. I'm thinking I need to make more, since we have more liners (Mom and Dad sent some cute Valentine's Day ones). I cannot let those go to waste. Right?!


My Cup Runneth Over

You know they say,"Don't cry over spilled milk."

I laughed instead. They also say certain combinations of things are recipes for disasters. You are looking at one of those combinations: Christina + anything in the kitchen.

Michaela and I made cupcakes and frosting for a presentation she gave today. The first cupcakes we made Saturday; they were for trying out the decorating technique she was planning on showing her class. I made frosting and she practiced. It went just fine. I had put the frosting in the fridge so it wouldn't get too melty (it was homemade buttercream), and when I pulled it out and put some in a disposable decorating bag and added a tip to it, she squeezed it for a few seconds and it was quite squishy. (Just so you know, I tried several, more sophisticated words there and none seemed right: malleable, pliable, elastic. "Squishy" won.) 

Monday night I began the process of official cupcake-making and official frosting-making after Eliana went to bed. I had a box mix and thought,"This is going to be a breeze!" How hard is it to make a box mix? And then powdered sugar frosting? Pffft. No problem.

Unless you have no eggs. Then you have a problem. Fortunately, Mike was willing and able to go to the store and save me from my own exceptionally poor planning skills. He returned and it was back to the grind! I whipped up those cupcakes and popped them into the oven. Just as I did, Mike came in the kitchen and said,"You're not doing something you've never done before? An experiment?" My quick reply? "Of course I am!" And, indeed, I did. I made a gluten-free recipe. I like to live on the wild side. 

(By the way, it was totally worth it to make the special cupcakes. One kid in her class eats gluten-free. She did her demonstration, and he participated (every child had a cupcake and a decorating bag). Then he set his cupcake aside, without complaining a bit. His mom leaned over and said,"It's gluten-free, you can eat it!" and his face lit up like he just won on The Price is Right! He was so excited. It was A Sweet Moment.)

(I can't say I personally care for the gluten-free cupcake, but the kids put so much frosting on their cakes that WOULD YOU LIKE SOME CUPCAKE WITH YOUR FROSTING? and I don't think they cared a bit.)

So. The cupcakes came out of the oven just fine (quite nice and tall, actually). I started working on the frosting. I creamed the butter. I added the powdered sugar. Then came some milk and a bit of vanilla. More powdered sugar. You know the drill. And it was coming along nicely. Oh so deliciously, in fact.

My next step was to fill the bags so that we just had to toss everything into the car in the morning without a worry or a care. All would be ready and prepared. Because I'm like a Boy Scout. In no way ever. 

Ahem. I bought special thingies for the kids to use with their decorating bags, in order to avoid a Great Big Mess. Couplers, they call them. This is a two piece tool; one piece goes inside the bag, and one screws onto the other one once a tip has been placed on the outside of the bag. I knew none of this when I first bought the couplers. Nor did I know it when I tried to use the couplers for the first time. I thought I could figure it out.

Oh no I could not. I needed Google. Google did not fail me.

I found out how to use these plastic prizes (which worked wonders for holding a tip in place). But the first time I put a bag together, I still hadn't figured it all out. Maybe I should have read more carefully? I put the inside piece in, and draped the bag over a glass so that it was standing on its own and I could spoon the frosting into the bag easily. What I later realized is that it is best to also add the tip and the screw part to the outside before you put the frosting in the bag. Otherwise it is very squishy and hard to get the tip to stay put and go over the part that it is supposed to. 

(This is where the tip should have gone on and then the screwy part on the outside of the bag. You can imagine trying to hold that thing in place, while frosting is in the bag, and also trying to keep the frosting from squeezing out of the hole at the same time. It's tricky.) (I won't make that mistake again.)


Once I figured the whole thing out, though, the process went very smoothly and I was so happy that it was done. 

So pretty! And it was only 2am. Awesome. 

7:30am came all too early. But arrive it did, and so we got ready and carted our goods to the church where our class meets. I usually sit in on Eliana's class, but for the presentation today I slipped into Michaela's class to help out and take a few pictures. I had put the bags of frosting in the fridge (they had been in our fridge all night) once we got to the church, and I got them out a few minutes before she was supposed to begin. I didn't think it would be a problem at all, because when we used the frosting over the weekend, it had softened right up. What I did not realize (and still am not entirely sure about) is that the tip must have made a difference (I had not used a coupler the first time, so we had not added the tip until just before she used the bag before. The tip never went in the fridge, is what I'm saying.). When she and the other kids tried to squeeze that frosting out, no amount of pressure or superhuman force could make it move even a nanometer. These kids were holding the bags with both hands and putting the full moves on them, and I thought for sure once the frosting started going, it would end up on the ceiling or in someone else's hair, across the room. Nope. I fiddled with a few of them, stuck a toothpick in the tips, tried to get things moving. Poor Michaela. She handled it so well. And the children didn't flip out or go nuts...everyone just kept working at the bags, trying to coax that frosting out like they were drawing out scared snails in shells. Finally, the pressure started working, and I have no idea what got the frosting going, or which bag worked first, but eventually all the students got to try to make stars on their cupcakes. And some of them just made giant, criss-cross piles of frosting. To each his own.

I was proud of Michaela for staying calm. (She does, though. I'm the one who freaks out.)

In the end, there were cupcakes...with frosting. They were happy. That's a good ending, I think. Our cups runneth over, indeed.


Breakfast for Dinner, No Disasters!

I saw a recipe a while back on a website I've been reading lately. Laurie (read about her love for cooking from scratch here) posted a scrumptious sounding recipe with fantastically gorgeous photos for pumpkin bread. I always have grand ideas about using pumpkin in the sounds so right! The changing leaves, the cooler temperatures, the early dusk just cry out for using something as colorful and flat-out fallish as pumpkin. But I never get around to it. It's not in my regular repertoire. (Note: not much is in my regular repertoire, much to the chagrin of my family.)

When I went to the store the other day, though, I tossed two cans of pumpkin into my cart, knowing full well that this bread was in our future. 

I did take a few pictures, but the truth is if you appreciate step-by-step pictures of a recipe, you should go read her post. It's pretty. 

It was a simple recipe. 

I was hoping to shave a little time off the cooking time by using a shallow baking dish rather than a loaf pan, but I think it still took almost as long as the time it would have taken as a loaf (loaf-one hour, ten minutes). But cooking loaves makes me nervous. I can usually mess that up, so I took my chances on converting this one.

She says it's dense. It is.

She also covered her turned-out loaf in a browned butter maple syrup glaze (Um, hello yummy!), which I did not do. I made the glaze, but put it on individual pieces. Christian wanted his pumpkin bread (cake?) plain. Mike, Michaela, and I had the glaze. It was good. Very good. 

Along with the bread, I served scrambled eggs and turkey sausage. I made the sausage tonight. One pound ground turkey, one egg, and spices went in the bowl: sage, garlic powder, pepper, and salt. Next time I'll add more sage. It really gives it the sausage flavor. I can tell you no amounts; I just sprinkled the spice over the meat until there was an even layer. (As if anyone would make the recipes I post.) I eyeballed it. 

I mixed that up in my KitchenAid mixer and then used a quarter cup measuring cup to put the turkey on a heated skillet. I pat (patted?) the patties (haha!) so they were flatter and let them brown on one side, then flipped 'em over. 

I let the patties sizzle until they were cooked up the sides a bit.

They are very fast to make. My pound of meat made eight patties. Once I thought they were done, I turned the heat off while I finished cooking the eggs. Just before serving everything, I turned the burners back on and heated the patties for a few seconds on each side. It worked out just fine. 

Now I have to go clean up my kitchen. This is why I never make breakfast for breakfast.

Also? For some reason, it takes me forever. I think I was in the kitchen for three hours. There must be a better least the result was a good one! If you make breakfast for dinner, what is a must-have for your meal? Fruit would have been a nice addition...ah well, there's always next time.


A Riddle

What do you get when you cross a pineapple with fried rice?


Well, don't ask me! Because when I got to this step:

I suddenly realized that instead of a sliced, grilled pineapple, I had this:

And my meat was already like this:

So we just ended up eating Pork Chops with Fried Rice.

And it was tasty.

The Pioneer Woman actually cut her pineapple up and added it to her recipe...I recommend trying this one; it was delicious, and I just know the pineapple would have made it even tastier! Maybe next time?