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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nondairy Biscotti, Part Deux: Cappuccino Biscotti

So my husband and I were playing what my dad calls "polite friends" one morning. We both wanted the extra coffee but we decided to sacrifice for the other.

"There's a bit of extra coffee if you want to top off," I said.

"No, go ahead. You take it," he said.

"No, any extra will screw up my milk-to-coffee ratio. So you have it." I refused to be the schmuck who took the extra coffee.

In the end, the coffee sat, forgotten. The result? I made cappuccino biscotti.

Adapted from joyofbaking.com

2 c flour
1 t baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
1/3 c espresso or strong coffee, cooled
1 t vanilla
1/2 c slivered almonds
1/2 c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Beat egg together with coffee and vanilla. Slowly pour wet ingredients into dry until a dough forms, adding almonds and chocolate chips halfway through the process. Divide dough in half and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Shape each half into 2" x 10" loaf. Use plastic wrap so you don't have to touch the sticky dough with your bare hands.

Bake for about 35 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees. Slice loaves on a diagonal into 1/2"-thick pieces. Return to baking sheet and toast for 5 minutes. Flip them over and toast another 5 minutes.

Yield: About 24 biscotti.

Sorry, I couldn't get a beauty shot of a biscotti perched on the saucer of a cup of coffee, because my family gobbled these up.

Tomatillo Salsa Soup

I once saw Rick Bayless on t.v. making soup for a party. I missed the beginning but it looked like he put in three jars of tomatillo salsa and some chicken broth. Then he dumped a whole bag of tortilla chips (Huh? What is going on here?) into the pot and covered it. He mentioned adding cheese and condiments later and moved on to preparing his main course.

At about 6:00 p.m. last night, I was getting desperate for dinner ideas. A quick search for tortilla soup revealed that most recipes suggest topping the soup with crushed tortilla chips to ensure that the chips do not get soggy. This seemed opposite to Bayless' method. I decided to trust Bayless. Afterall, he is the expert on authentic Mexican cooking not to mention a restaurant owner and cookbook author. The result? The cornmeal chips thickened the soup without any cream! In fairness to Bayless, he probably started by browning onions, garlic, fancy chili powder from Mexico, but now it was 6:15 p.m.(!) so I made some shortcuts. Besides, I have one kid who hates onions and another who can't handle anything spicy so I figured a jar of mild green salsa would have to do.

Here's my quick version for a family of four using pantry items and about a quarter of a Costco rotisserie chicken:

1 jar of tomatillo salsa
3 cans of low-sodium chicken broth
1-1/2 cans of water
1 can of corn (or hominy) drained
1/2 bag of tortilla chips
shredded chicken

diced red onion
chopped cilantro
shredded cheese or Daiya rice cheese
jarred jalapeno slices

Bring salsa, chicken broth, and water to a boil in a dutch oven or similar-sized pot. Add tortilla chips and simmer on low heat for about 5 minutes. Give soup a stir to make sure it's not thickening too fast and sticking to the bottom of your pot. You may need to add more water or broth if it gets too thick for your taste. Simmer 5 more minutes. Add corn and chicken. Serve with condiments.

"Please sir, I want some more."

So easy, right? I don't think this even counts as cooking. Let's call it expanding.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nondairy Almond Biscotti

It's easy enough to substitute olive oil or Earth Balance buttery spread for Phoebe friendly desserts. Once in a while it's nice to stumble upon a butter-free dessert. The added bonus of biscotti: because they have to dip the cookies, my kids end up drinking an extra serving of calcium-rich milk or almond milk. Here's a simple biscotti recipe:

Adapted from Joyofbaking.com

2 c flour
1 t baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 c sugar
3 eggs
2 t vanilla
1 c slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Beat eggs with vanilla in small bowl. Slowly drizzle egg mixture into dry ingredients, mixing with a fork to form a dough. Halfway through, stir in almonds. After all the egg mixture has been added, place dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Form dough into a 4" x 12" log. The easiest way to do this is to use a large piece of plastic wrap to help you shape the log without touching the sticky dough with your bare hands.

Bake for 30 minutes. Let log cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Slice log on a diagonal into 1/2"-thick cookies.

Toast cookies in the oven for 10 minutes. Turn cookies over and toast the other side for 10 minutes. Yield: About 24 biscotti.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

DIY Mouse Trap

Today I saw a mouse scurry across the floor. We are officially disgusting people, harboring a mouse in our house. After screaming for about a minute, I surmised that it ran into our coat closet because the front door and the door to the garage have weatherproof seals. With me clinging for dear life to her waist, Chloe called Allen who basically said he couldn't help us because he had to work. He added, "You two are smart. You can figure it out."

Well, now we have to take the challenge and outsmart this rodent! We got to work on a trap. After a brief search on the Internet, we came up with this:

It's basically a ramp (leftover laminate flooring) connected with duct tape to a cardboard platform. A toilet-paper roll is balanced at the end of the cardboard platform. We put a smear of peanut butter at the far end of the toilet-paper roll. We're hoping the mouse will run up the ramp, go through the tunnel, and fall into the bucket. At first, we taped the toilet-paper roll to the cardboard platform but we worried that the mouse would eat the peanut butter and then back out the way it climbed up. Now the toilet-paper roll is perched precariously on the platform so his weight should knock the whole roll into the bucket.

We put the trap against the wall where I saw the mouse run past. It could have come from the kitchen or, ideally, from the backyard if someone left the screen door to the backyard ajar. Apparently, the mouse has bad eyesight so he/she has to cling to walls like a blind man. Mice are also creatures of habit that only go to the same areas of your house. I'm hoping tonight the mouse will come out of the coat closet and run past the same wall on its way to the kitchen.

We left the house to give the mouse a chance to come out. We chose not to put water in the bucket because Chloe didn't want to drown the mouse. This means if we manage to trap it, we have to drive the mouse a mile from our house to prevent it from coming back. We discussed who would carry the bucket to the car and decided that Chloe would do it. Yes, Chloe is very brave when it comes to spiders, and now rodents. She reasoned that she's read a lot of books with a likable mouse protagonist, such as The Tale of Despereaux, Poppy, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. Isn't she a cutie?

After we picked Phoebe up from school, we came home and discovered no mouse in our trap. We were kind of disappointed (our trap didn't work), kind of relieved (please let Allen be here to drive the mouse away). The peanut butter was still in the toilet-paper roll so we deduced that the mouse was too traumatized by my screaming to venture out of the coat closet. Either that or it's smart enough to go around the trap to the kitchen where the real food is stored.

Now we wait. Even if we successfully catch this mouse, we have to poke around the house and see if we can find a hole because we have to prevent more mice from coming in. Allen suspects that the mouse may have chewed a hole from the outside of our house to the cabinet under our kitchen sink. We also have to look through all our kitchen cabinets and throw out anything that might be contaminated with mouse. Ew! The problem is our cabinets are old and don't close securely so it's possible for the mouse to get into a cabinet. Ew! Next, we have to clean up clutter in our hall closet and garage in case the mouse made a nest. Ew! I can't get the image of the round black ball darting across our hardwood floor. Ewwwww! Ewwwww! Ewwwww!

Has anyone successfully caught a mouse? Help!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

DIY Popsicles: Part Deux

We went kind of crazy at Costco and bought too many cases of fruit for a family of four. The peaches were ripe by day two and it was too warm to bake so I decided to try making popsicles.

white peach and blueberry--no sugar!

The white peaches were so sweet that I just pureed them and poured them straight into the popsicle mold. I added half a dozen blueberries for interest. The popsicles were a hit!

I liked the texture of the pureed fruit much better than when I tried making popsicles with just orange juice or mango juice. My favorite popsicle is Dreyer's Real Fruit strawberry. It tastes like pureed strawberries, not icy like most popsicles. They add carob bean gum and guar gum to make a more stable, smoother texture so unless you add these ingredients, your homemade popsicles will still have a slightly icy texture.

I can see this working with lots of different kinds of fruit: strawberries, watermelon, even applesauce! Depending on the sweetness of your fruit, you might have to add some kind of sweetener: sugar, simple syrup, honey, agave. No matter how sweet your strawberries seem, you will probably have to add some sugar. For watermelon, you might want to add some lime zest and lime juice to cut that "fishy" smell. Then add a little agave to balance out the lime juice.

The key is to taste the pureed fruit before you pour it into the mold. Sometimes, you may not need any sweetener. You've gotta feel good about that!

For more about homemade popsicles, check out this post:


Monday, August 8, 2011

How to Deodorize Stuffed Animals

Thursday night Phoebe complained that Bedtime Beara smelled funny because she had been in a bag along with swim goggles. I really didn't feel like doing the laundry (again) so I suggested we try using baking soda, hoping it would absorb the odor. She put her bear in a Ziploc bag along with about five heaping tablespoons of baking soda. Giving the bag a shake, Phoebe pretended Beara was playing in the snow, then agreed to "marinate" her overnight. I didn't know if it would actually work but my kid seemed satisfied that we took some sort of action.

When Phoebs got home from school Friday afternoon, we dusted Beara off and her mom gave her the sniff test. Hurray! It worked! Now there's a line of stuffed animals waiting to be deodorized. Better stock up on baking soda.

Friday, August 5, 2011

How to Prevent Weeds from Returning

Poor hubby has been toiling away in the backyard every chance he gets. After we had our backyard paved two years ago, we failed to fill the planters. As a result, weeds quickly overtook the place. I'm talking about scary mutatnt weeds taller than Phoebe with prickly stems and crawling insects. Shudder. I never went outside, because the backyard was too wild. We tried homemade weed killers: spraying with a vinegar-water solution, pouring boiling water, squeezing lemon juice. Maybe our weeds were so huge and hearty that these home remedies had no effect. In the end, it took good old-fashioned digging by Allen. Needless to say, we don't want him to ever have to do that again.

Allen thinks it's obvious how to prevent weeds but I'm posting the directions for people, like me, who don't have much experience with dirt.

Step 1: Pull weeds.
Step 2: Lay down weed blocker.

Step 3: Cover with mulch.

Looks so much neater! Now when we decide what to plant, he'll cut a hole in the weed blocker, put the plant in the dirt, and replace the weed blocker and mulch. Without sunlight, the weeds can't grow. So far, he's planted watermelon and peonies. Does anyone have advice on what else to plant?

Crazy watermelon vine
Tiny watermelon!