Beef, Bean and Cheese Enchiladas

So begins the “Use What We Have Chronicles”. With moving getting more and more imminent as the days pass, we realize that we have quite a bit of food left in our house (namely our brand new deep freeze that we need to sell, but can’t, because it’s still filled with the remains of an 1/8 of a cow). So, of course, beef has over taken our diet, and every day I stand at our pantry shelf and figure out what delicious meal I can make out of the ingredients we have on hand. We’re trying to not go to the store, only buying necessities like bananas and milk if we can help it. It just so happened that my RSS feeder has been inundated with beef enchiladas lately, and so I was inspired to make my own version.

They were neither grand or opulent, they didn’t take long to make, but man they tasted good! Except I’ve decided that without a doubt, I despise store bought corn tortillas. They break, they shred, they are utterly impossible to use, and they almost always taste dry and crumbly. Maybe its because we always seem to use an already opened bag of off-name shells, the cheapest oldest bag we could possibly buy.

Beef, Bean, and Cheese Enchiladas

12 taco shells, flour or corn, whatever you prefer
1 can refried beans
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 can chopped green chilis
3 cups shredded beef (I used leftovers)
1 can red enchilada sauce

This is so easy, its ridiculous. Ready?

Preheat oven to 350.
Spray 9x13 pan with cooking spray.
Fill each tortilla with some beef, refried beans, and top with shredded cheese. Roll and place in pan.
When all the tortillas are rolled, spread the enchilada sauce on top (I added some of the leftover beans and chilis to this to thicken it a bit).
Top with shredded cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until hot.
Top with sour cream if you wish, salsa, or chopped cilantro.


This post is going up later than I wanted, but that’s how life goes when half of your life is in boxes, the fastest crawling baby on the planet is insisting on trying dog food, three dogs are bouncing off the walls because its been raining for days (they refuse to go outside, they don’t like to be wet and muddy, but yet we all desperately need them to relieve some of this energy!), and days are flying by faster and faster with each minute that passes by.

The good news is that I am no longer a working mom. I am now, officially, a Stay At Home Mom! It feels surreal and weird. Things were getting weird at work, dramadramadrama, and I am definitely glad to be rid of that.  I want to be able to enjoy each day, the small minutes of each day, and not worry about rushing around to meet time schedules and getting chores done. I never thought I would be one to stay at home, and yet I am excited about the times that I am going to be able to spend with my daughter, that I get to teach her, excite her, take her to the park, actually have time to spend with her, watching her grow and nurturing her. I’m also nervous – I’m not sure what we will do all the time, will I be good at it? I don’t want to just fall into the “lets watch TV” routine all day every day, I want us to do, explore, experience, and LIVE!

This cake is a celebration cake.

My husband and I have now been married for three wonderful, busy years. Three years ago we stood in the center of a rose garden, surrounded by 72 of our closest family and friends and promised to love and support each other for the rest of our lives. And while the past three years have been challenging – med school, a baby, and day to day survival skills, our love for each other has grown and matured but we still have joy and giggles (ok, not Joel, he would never "giggle"....) silliness, and the ability to act like the children we are starting to realize that we aren't anymore.

This is by far one of my favorite photos from our wedding. It's so classically "US"!

This cake also celebrates the fact that my blog is turning 3 years old as well (Really in June, but its actually birthday is the day I'm moving, so we are just going to go ahead and celebrate a little early!)! I started it back on June 14, 2007. My very first post was a cake, too, a carrot cake (and still one of my favorite cakes ever!) in celebration of my dear friend and cousin Adena’s graduation from college. I was hesitant in starting a blog to begin with, but I felt that I needed… something. Not just something to do, but something that I could pour myself into, my creative energies (not that I’ve had a lot of time, energy, or stamina for much of that lately, haha), but also as a way to help me develop the love for writing, photography and cooking that I have. I know in comparison that I’m not as witty or linguistically gifted as some blogs, my photos are rarely stellar, and my recipes are not new and exciting. But the words (however hurriedly written) are mine, the photography (usually straight from the iPhone, not a stitch of Photoshop here!) is true, and the food is edible. And of that, I am proud.

And lastly, I am dedicating this cake to the future. To the future adventure that our lives are, the open roads before us. The last three years has seen a lot of changes for me – a real job, a wedding, a blog, a baby, the changing tide of close knit friends. Before us lies an open road full of changes, with only the slightest vision of what lies ahead. We are excited to see what changes lie before us in the next three years – who knows what might happen?

This cake, by the way, was simple perfection. Even though I left it in the oven a tad too long, it was tender and moist, with a wonderful flavor. The chocolate buttercream frosting I usually use includes whipping cream in it, but because we’ve been totally pigging out lately (donuts at garage sales, oreos while packing, and frozen pizza dinners), I felt that we needed something that was not quite as sweet. Since I already had buttermilk on hand for the cake, I decided to add some of that instead. It turned out wonderfully – not too sweet, delicate chocolate flavor, it was the perfect complement of this cake!

Best Yellow Cake Ever (Smitten Kitchen)
Yield: Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers, and, in theory, 22 to 24 cupcakes, two 8-inch squares or a 9×13 single-layer cake

4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (480 grams) cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk (475 ml), well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla.
Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.
At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled).
Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.
Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.
Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.
Frost as desired.

Chocolate Buttermilk Buttercream Frosting (an original recipe, by ME!)
This recipe makes just barely enough to cover a 2 layer cake (and the middle), without a crumb layer. So if you want do to the crumb coating, I would suggest making 1.5x the recipe, or just go ahead and double it up so you can have some extras for decorating! This recipe also hardens really well, so it stands up to decorating really well!

2 sticks unsalted butter, softenend
2.5 cups powdered sugar
½ cup cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
2-3 tablespoons buttermilk

Cream together the butter and sugar.
Turn the mixer down to low and slowly, slowly add the cocoa (don’t rush this or your entire kitchen will be covered in cocoa!).
Add the vanilla and mix until just combined.
Add enough of the buttermilk to make the frosting spreadable (or the thickness you like).

Ultimately Ridiculous Banana Muffins

I don't know what got into me the other day. Here I was, getting ready to make some regular pancakes, and I got hit upside the head with a whole pan of "Iron Chef Jenni". Suddenly, my regular stand by banana muffins became roasted banana, browned butter, toasted walnut, chocolate chip  bananan muffins.

Told you. Went nuts. But it was so worth it. I don't know if I will ever be able to look at a banana muffin again without thinking of my three day gorge fest fling with these muffins, in which I made a grand total of three seperate batches of these muffins!!

They were just too good, I couldn't help myself! Especially warm from the oven, slathered with a pad of real butter, slowly melting and dripping down the side.... Oh god, do I have any bananas?

these might look gross, but they tasted and smelled ooooh so good!

Ultimately Ridiculous Banana Muffins

2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 very ripe bananas
6 tablespoons butter
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees.
Take 3 bananas (they don't even need to be ripe!!). Place on a baking pan, and bake for 20 minutes. Allow to cool enough to handle. Peel and mash.
Toast walnuts in a small skillet for 4 minutes, or until you can just begin to smell them. Stir occassionally so they do not burn.  Allow to cool, then chop.
Place your butter in a small skillet and melt on med-low. Allow to heat until the fats start to turn golden brown, but the liquids are still opaque and a wonderfully nutty aroma fills the kitchen (watch this step closely, it burns fast!). Allow to cool slightly.
Generally coat a muffin pan with veggie spray (you could use the liners, too, if you wanted).
Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.
Whisk the mashed bananas, melted butter, eggs, yogurt, and vanilla together in a separate bowl.
Gently fold the banana mixture into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just combined.
Fold in the nuts and the chocolate chips.
Do not over mix! The batter will be thick and lumpy.
Scrape the batter into the prepared muffin pan.
Bake until golden brown, about 15-20.
Let the muffins cool in the pan just long enough for you to be able to get one out without burning the crap out of your fingers

** You might need to bake these a bit longer than your recipe will call for, because we have added more ingredients that make it thicker. Just watch them, and do the toothpick test.

Gorge yourself, and try to not eat all of them. At least give one of them away. :)

Cherry Cola Ribs

First Root Beer Cake, then a Dr. Pepper Roast, I have totally decided that cooking with pop is FUN! Back when I made the Dr. Pepper Roast, someone left a comment saying that their husband makes something similar with coke and ribs. We just so happened to have some ribs sitting in our deep freeze, and this seemed like too great of an opportunity to miss! I started doing some investigating around online for a recipe, and I happened to come across this recipe from Sandra Lee. Have you ever watched her “Semi-Homemade” show? It cracks me up how her kitchen always reflects what she is making – everything from her outfits to the bowls and random objects on the shelves behind her. They must have one heck of a prop department! I tend to not  use a lot of her recipes, I like to use as many whole and natural foods as I can instead of relying on pre-processed foods, but sometimes this seemed like such a fun flavor combination that I wanted to give it a shot.

I like cooking ribs in the oven because they are so simple. They usually have such easy prep (combine some seasoning and slather it on) and then just remember to turn the ribs over every so often. Oh, man! These are utterly drool worthy! Sticky, slightly sweet and savory, utterly perfect ribs. They were so good, in fact, I was kind of worried that my husband and brother were going to drown themselves in their own drool during dinner. In fact, instead of normal dinner-time conversation, or the silent noises of chewing, the only sound that could be heard this night was the unmistakable gurgling and slurping that accompanies men and meat.

These were very easy to make, and had utterly fantastic flavor. I cooked them indoors, although you can do it on the grill, too. If you opt for cooking them in the oven, make sure you use a non-stick roasting pan (or line your pan with foil), as the glaze makes a really nice mess!

Cherry Cola Glazed Spareribs – Sandra Lee’s Semi-homemade Cooking
For Ribs:
1/3 cup Rib Rub (I used Jack Stack Steak Rub, but you can use your favorite)
1 tablespoons teriyaki sauce
3 racks pork spare ribs
For Glaze:
1 cup cherry cola
1 cup BBQ sauce
1/3 cup cherry preserves
1 tablespoons teriyaki sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a small bowl, combine steak rub with 2 tablespoons teriyaki.
Sprinkle seasoning over ribs and pat in.
Place ribs in a shallow roasting pan. Tightly cover with foil.
Bake in oven for 1 hour.
While ribs are cooking, make glaze by combining glaze ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer 10 minutes and remove from heat.
Remove ribs from oven and carefully drain any fat from roasting pan (I didn’t have any).
Generously brush with glaze and continue baking ribs, uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes more or until tender, turning and brushing occasionally with glaze.
Remove from grill and cut into servings. Serve hot with glaze on the side.

For Outdoor Grill:
Set up grill for indirect cooking over medium heat. (No heat source under meat).
Prepare ribs as directed.
Place ribs in rib rack over drip pan on hot grill.
Add a handful of hickory chips to hot coals or smoke box. Cover grill.
Rotate ribs around rack every 30 minutes.
After 1 hour, add 10 briquettes to each pile of coals and another handful of soaked hickory chips. Cook 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
About 20 minutes before ribs are done, remove ribs from rib rack and lay meat side down on grill. Generously brush with glaze and pile ribs in center of grill over drip pan.
Cover and cook 10 minutes.
Turn ribs and brush on more glaze and re-pile.
Cook an additional 10 minutes.

Pasta with Carmelized Spring Onions and White Wine

Um, hello frenzied to do list! We (ridiculously) decided to have a massive garage sale this weekend, so every second of our lives these past few days has been devoted to sorting and finding things to sell. I've actually been quite pleased with how easy it has been to get rid of half of our belongings. You don't really realize how much stuff accumulates in cubbards and on shelves until you start realizing that you have to pay for each square foot of stuff you move. And when you are talking about $50 per square foot, things get cut reaaaal fast! My husband has become just a ruthless machine. I think if it were up to him, we would give away everything that couldn't fit in the back of our Jeep (which, when you factor in the baby and the two dogs, that's not much!) and drive out there today!  Luckily, we have a little bit of time to work with (not much, though, its going so fast!!!), but shelves are still emptying and boxes are still getting filled fairly fast around here. Dinners have gotten really simple.

So, I’ve become maddingly addicted to caramelized onions lately. I just can’t help myself, they just taste and smell so good! Everything recipe that I make now that has onions in it, I think “hmm…can I caramelize those…?” So of course I was really excited to find this recipe. And besides, anytime I can sneak some pasta in our menu, especially in the spring and summer, I jump at the chance.

When I looked up this recipe online, some reviewers said that it was kind of bland. I added a pad of butter to the onions, increased the garlic, threw in some parmesan and thyme to give the flavor a bit of a boost. I was really pleased with this, I thought it tasted great! It had a wonderful flavor, and even though it is a pasta dish, it kind of fools you into thinking that it is a light meal. And the panko breadcrumbs on top are such a fun crunch! It was also really easy to make. I made this on a Tuesday, home late from work, with the baby getting into the pantry, and friends coming over for dinner! So if I can do it, you can, too!  I will definitely be making this again!

Pasta with Caramelized Spring Onions and White Wine – Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine April 2011

 ½  cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, minced, divided
½  teaspoon kosher salt, divided
2 cups thinly sliced spring onions (about 1 pound)  or a Vidalia onion
½  cup dry white wine
¼  cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
8 ounces uncooked short shaped noodles, (like fusili or rotini)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
¼  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½  tsp dried thyme
¼  cup parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375°.
Combine panko, 1 tablespoon oil, 1 garlic clove, and a dash of salt in a small bowl. Spread panko mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 375° for 6 minutes or until golden brown, stirring after 3 minutes. Cool.
Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the butter to pan, swirling to coat. Add onions to pan; cook 20 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add remaining garlic and wine. Increase heat to medium-high; cook 1 minute. Add broth; cook until liquid is reduced to 1/2 cup (about 4 minutes).
Cook pasta in boiling water with 1 tablespoon kosher salt according to package directions, omitting additional fat. Drain. Add pasta, remaining salt, and pepper to onion mixture; toss gently. Place about 1 cup pasta in each of 4 shallow bowls; sprinkle each serving with 2 tablespoons panko mixture.

The Daring Cooks Make Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Things have gotten a little hectic around here lately. We finally found a place to live!!!! We are going to be renting a new condo! It's really nice, and has some great features to it (hello granite counter tops and his and her sinks!!!), a swimming pool, and lots of other great features. But that also means that we now have to walk our dogs - not only everyday, but four times a day! (I keep trying to tell myself that other people do it, we can too! It's just so nice now to open the back door and let them play in the yard!!) It also comes with a nice price tag, which means I'm definitely going to be looking out for some budget recipes!

We have also been busy finding new car insurance, new short term health insurance for the month between when my insurance ends and Joel's starts up, and dealing with the fact that our landlords are trying to sell our house, so we keep having to skedaddle while realtors show our house. Add that to the mix that Joel graduates from medical school today (YAY! I am sooo proud of you!!!!) and all the fun that comes with that (and the not-so-fun reality of student loan repayment!)

We have also been busy pulling out the belongings which we aren't going to take with us. We're planning a garage sale for next weekend, and trying to craigslist some stuff as well. It's been hard to go through clothes and books and pull out things I don't need. It was really hard to go through my kitchen and weed out extras there - a plethora of pyrex without matching lids, an extra set of mixing bowls I never use, a mini au-gratin dish I haven't seen since I got it as a Bridal Shower gift, and a whole box of single purpose kitchen gadgets I've used maybe once, or not at all.

The absolute hardest thing to do was my cookbooks. I don't know what it is about cookbooks, but we all feel the need to have a whole shelf (or more) of them. Its as if having this shelf proclaims to everyone who enters your kitchen "Look, I am a real woman! I can cook!". And of course, everyone needs the essentials. Really, whose cookbook collection is really complete without a copy of Joy of Baking or Better Homes and Gardens?! And then you have to have the books by your favorite chefs (Martha Stewart and America's Test Kitchen for me), the newest fad food (cake pops, anyone?), and regional cuisines (actually, a quick glance at my shelf indicates that my regional cuisine as of late is baby food. That counts, right?) But besides having them, how much do we actually use them now a days? I'll be honest, the majority of the recipes that I am cooking come from online, or other blogs (so, online). And that just seems wierd to me, especially since I blatantly turn up my nose at a kindley-nook, prefering instead the crisp pages of a book. And now I'm rather appalled at myself for NOT utulizing the cookbooks that I already own. I'm going to start using them more often (before my husband reads this and makes me get rid of them all!)

Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

Oh Roux, you magical thing, you!

I truly enjoyed this month's challenge! It was exactly what I needed - it was simple enough to do as long as you can follow directions. It was nice to just let my mind be at peace for a while and just chop and stir for an afternoon, basking in the revelry that is comfort cooking. Plus it not only smelled heavenly, it tasted that much better! I also really enjoyed the rice. "Basic" it is not, and how can it be, what with onion, chicken broth and a bay leaf thrown in there? I am defintiely adding this to my repetoire of "Go To" dishes, and I can't wait to make this again! And, if amazingly you have leftovers left over (hehe), they taste even better the next day!!

See that non-simmering section on the left? That's the fat you want to skim off!

Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo

Minimally adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh
Serves 10-12 big heaping bowl (about 2.5 hours)

1 cup (240 ml) (230 gm) rendered chicken fat, duck fat, or canola oil
1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm) (5 oz) flour
2 large onions, diced
1 chicken (3 ½ to 4 lbs.), cut into 10 pieces
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) Creole spice blend
2 pounds (2 kilograms) spicy smoked sausage, sliced ½ inch (15mm) thick
2 stalks celery, diced
2 green bell peppers (capsicum), seeded and diced
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 quarts (3 liters)  Chicken Stock
2 bay leaves
6 ounces (175 gm) andouille sausage, chopped
2 cups (480 ml) (320 gm) (11 oz) sliced fresh okra, ½ -inch (15mm) thick slices (or frozen, if fresh is not available)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) Worcestershire sauce
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Filé powder, to taste
Tabasco, to taste
4-6 cups (1 – 1½ liters) (650 gm – 950 gm) cooked Basic Louisiana White Rice (recipe follows)

1. Season the chicken pieces with about 2 tablespoons of the Creole Spices while you prepare the vegetables.
2. Make sure all of your vegetables are cut, diced, chopped, minced and ready to go before beginning the roux. You must stand at the stove and stir the roux continuously to prevent it from burning.
3. In a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan, heat the chicken fat, duck fat, or canola oil over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil – it will start to sizzle.
4. Reduce the heat to moderate, and continue whisking until the roux becomes deep brown in color, about 15 minutes.
5. Add the onions. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the onions into the roux.
6. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue stirring until the roux becomes a glossy dark brown, about 10 minutes.
7. Add the chicken to the pot; raise the heat to moderate, and cook, turning the pieces until slightly browned, about 10 minutes.
8. Add the sliced smoked sausage and stir for about a minute.
9. Add the celery, bell peppers, tomato, and garlic, and continue stirring for about 3 minutes.
10. Add the thyme, chicken stock, and bay leaves. Bring the gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally.
11. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, skimming off the fat from the surface of the gumbo every so often.
12. Add the chopped andouille, okra, and Worcestershire. Season with salt and pepper, several dashes of filé powder, and Tabasco, all to taste.
13. Simmer for another 45 minutes, continuing to skim the fat from the surface of the gumbo. Remove the bay leaves and serve in bowls over rice. Pass more filé powder at the table if desired.

Basic Louisiana White Rice

Adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh
Servings: About 4 cups

1 tablespoon (30 ml) (30 gm) (1 oz) chicken fat, extra-virgin olive oil, or butter
1 small onion, minced
1½ cups (360 m) ((280 gm) (10 oz) Louisiana (or another long-grain white rice)
3 cups (750 ml) Chicken Stock
1 bay leaf
1-2 pinches salt

1. Put the fat, oil, or butter and the onions into a medium saucepan and sweat the onions over moderate heat until they are translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Pour the rice into the pan and stir for 2 minutes.
3. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
4. Add the bay leaf and salt.
5. Cover the pan with a lid, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 18 minutes.
6. Remove the pan from the heat, fluff the rice with a fork, and serve.

Chicken Scalliopine with Sugar Snap Pea, Asparagus, and Lemon Salad

Ah, spring has finally sprung! All of my tulips are finally up (although stinking squirrels and rabbits ate the tops off of all but one already! How rude!), and the weather is finally nice enough that we can open windows and allow fresh air to penetrate our house. Fresh produce is also starting to make its way into the grocery stores, and its nice to have something besides apples and potatoes to choose from.
This is a fantastic meal for a beautiful spring day. It’s light and cheery, easy enough to make during the week, but seems special enough for company, too. I really like that it incorporates great spring flavor – sugar snap peas, asparagus, mint and lemon! It just makes your taste buds sing with happiness! We have been making this dish for a few springs now, and it just seems to harold in the arrival of warmer weather, blue skies with puffy white clouds, and t-shirts!
Chicken Scaloppine with Sugar Snap Pea, Asparagus, and Lemon Salad – Cooking Light Magazine, May 2009
3 cups julienne-cut trimmed sugar snap peas (about 1 pound)
2 cups (1-inch) slices asparagus (about 1 pound)
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 lemon wedges 
Steam peas and asparagus, covered, 4 minutes or until crisp-tender.
Rinse pea mixture with cold water; drain.
Place in refrigerator to chill until ready to use.
Place each chicken breast between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pound to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet.
Sprinkle chicken evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray.
Add 2 breasts to pan; sauté 2 minutes on each side or until done. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken. Remove the chicken to a plate, cover with foil, and set aside.
Add broth and wine to pan; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat; stir in butter.
Combine remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, mint, oil, rind, and juice, stirring well with a whisk.
Drizzle oil mixture over pea mixture; toss gently to coat. Serve pea mixture with chicken and sauce.
Garnish with lemon wedges.

Baby Food: Finger Foods!

I knew this stage was coming. I just honestly thought that it would come a little bit down the road.

My little cupcake has decided that she is indeed a big girl, and she will feed herself from now on thankyouverymuch. As in, "I will throw a huge fit if you even so much as look like you are about to help me!!!"

Which promptly threw me into a panic because, what am I supposed to do with all these purees currently residing in my freezer? And more important yet, what the heck and I supposed to feed this kid?!

"Is this how you do it?"
Thankfully I had some good friends help talk me off the ledge, and I realized that everything was in fact going to be ok. I have currently implemented several different strategies. And they are all messy. Very, very messy. In fact, we've been having a bath almost every single night. And the highchair, well, it will never be the same. The dogs, however, LOVE it, and several times I have turned around to a baby girl giggling her head off, only to find her feeding gooey fistfuls to one dog, being licked clean by another, and the third eating as many crumbs off the floor as he can before I notice that they are all in the kitchen, where they clearly know they are not allowed. Sigh.

The first of these is the food mesh bag, which I talked about before. These are great for putting slices of fruits and veggies in and letting baby gnaw on for a while. But I also found that you can shove a frozen cube of puree in there really easily, and hello instant popsicle! These foster a great deal of independence, but watch it or before you know it will have been flung perfectly into the dog bowl you thought was far enough away, and coated with enough dog food morsels and stray dog hairs that no amount of rinsing will cleanse.

I have also let baby girl be a super duper big girl, and I give her the bowl and the spoon and just go at it. She really likes this way best, and does a pretty good job of it! It is, of course, ridiculously messy. You have to make sure the food is nice and thick so it stays on the spoon well (ie - canteloupe was a bad choice. Roasted cauliflower and carrots was a great choice!). You can thicken thinner purees by adding baby cereal to it, or mashing in some banana, avocado, or sweet potato.

There is rice in her nose people! Rice! IN her NOSE!
I also have started more and more finger foods, which this post is going to focus on.

Ok, so what are good finger food options?

Save that cute outfit - strip that baby down! Sure, you still have a gooey stickey baby, but cleanup is actually a lot easier!

Well, pretty much everything you have been feeding your baby so far. Instead of pureeing it, leave it in little chunks so they can pick it up themselves, or slightly squash it to make it spoon worthy. Yup, that's it!

Here are some examples of what we have been doing:
  • blueberries, cut into quarters
  • baked sweet potatoes and pears, sprinkled with cinnamon and cubed
  • diced mango and banana
  • peas, carrots, and green beans, diced (sometimes I even grate some colby cheese on top)
  • little pieces of chicken or beef
    • shredded beef, peas, carrots, and cheese are a favorite
    • shredded chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn
  • soft cooked rice - you can also add in pieces of veggies or fruits.
  • fruit salad - whatever fruits you have. I did blueberries, pears, nectarines and banana!
  • soft cooked pasta (small shapes, or cut up) with some grated cheese on top
  • Scrambled egg yolks (again, you can add some cheese)

If you want something a bit different, I suggest you check out She has some recipes for Sweet Potato Fries, Apple Turkey Loaf Sticks, Broccoli and Cheese Nuggets, and a whole bunch more, I just haven't had time to try them out yet. However, they are totally in my "to-do" list, and if they work well for us I will defintiely post them!

Baby Food: Dairy Products

Are you thinking of incorporating SOME dairy products into your baby's cute little chubby cheeked diet? (hint: say yes)

There is typically a lot of confusion and concern when it comes to when a baby should begin consuming milk products. The medical community warns not to have a baby drink milk before they are one year old. This is party due to the fact that they are worried parents might start replacing formula or breastmilk with milk, when this could be harmful to your baby's health! Babies need the nutrients that are specific to breastmilk and formula and cannot be found in cows milk. For this reason, many pediatricians just say "no dairy until one" without any further explaination. They tend to leave out that yogurt and cheese are not in this category.

Lactose is broken down with the culturing of the yogurt or cheese and milk proteins are either semi-removed or limited. The culturing makes yogurt and cheese easier to digest. Many people with lactose intolerance often are be able to eat cheese and/or yogurt without trouble. The same is often true for some people with a milk protein (either to the casein or the whey) allergy. (

Pediatriations usually recommend that babies can start whole milk yogurt around 8 months of age. It is important to use whole milk yogurt as there are important fats in whole milk that your baby's brain needs. And, not to mention, that low fat yogurts typically have aspartame or splenda in them (and I try and stay away from those as it is). There are several options for choosing the best yogurt for your baby.
Some companies out there offer whole milk yogurt specifically designed for babies (Stoneyfield Farms makes an organic whole milk yogurt for babies called YoBaby. It comes in flavors such as blueberry, peach, banana, etc.).
Of course, Gerber makes what they call yogurt blends, but I don't feel right about a yogurt that doesn't need refrigeration... that just kind of wierds me out. What is in there, anyway?
Another option is to buy PLAIN whole milk yogurt and add your own fruit purees when serving. This is not only a cheaper option, but it will also allow you to change the flavor of the yogurt often. Or to not have to buy a 4 pack of blueberry yogurt only to find out that baby doesn't like blueberry yogurt...
Another option yet is to make your own yogurt! I've always wanted to do this, and while I haven't done it yet, I definitely want to! Visit Wholesome Baby Food - Make Your Own Yogurt to see how!

Cheeses can be offered to non-allergic babies between 8 and 10 months of age. Good cheeses to try include Colby, Jack, Mild Cheddar, cottage cheese, ricotta, and cream cheese. If your baby has developed her pincer grasp and can handle finger foods try grating or cutting into small cubes (smaller than a pea) and offering as a snack. You can also melt cheese over veggies (hello cheese and broccoli!) or stir into purees. Another good idea is macaroni and cheese (please, please don't use the boxed stuff! Cook your baby some ultra soft whole wheat pasta and melt some cheese over it). Cottage cheese also makes good finger food, or mixes into fruit purees well.

It is important to avoid what is called "soft cheeses" which are made from raw milk and are not pastuerized. These include (but are not limited to) Brie, Feta, Camembert, Roquefort, and Bleu Cheese. Pastuerization is important to avoid getting listeria.

*Note, I'm talking real cheese here, please don't feed your baby velveeta or spray stuff from a can, they are not ready for it yet!

Last but not least, don't forget about the 4 day wait rule! (Is it just me, or does the 4 day wait rule seems killer? I can barely feed her the same thing 4 days in a row, there are so many new things to try, I don't see how we will hardly get through them all!)

Baby Food: Meat!

Hooray! If your baby is now between 8 and 10 months of age, your pediatrician has probably told you that you can begin giving her (or him, if the case may be) meats and other proteins!

This section was the most challenging to me. I was just plain turned off by pureeing meats, which completely reminded me of canned cat food. Baby Girl had a tough time with it, too. She was entriely NOT interested in meats at all. In fact, we had a really tough time getting her to eat meats at all! We even tried buying some pre-packaged baby food with meat in it, to see if she would eat any of it! (She wouldn't.) But after reading through all the ingredients on the jars and pouches, I redoubled my efforts to make her food myself (seriously, the amount of chemicals in baby food!) Eventually we found it best if she could self-feed herself tiny pieces. I think she probably heard me say it reminds me of canned cat food, and that probably turned her off of it, too! Hehe.

Beef: Select the leanest cuts of beef possible for your baby. Excellent cuts include Eye of Round roast, Top Sirloin, and Lean Fresh Ground beef. The best way to cook beef and maintain the most nutrients for your baby is to bake, roast, crock pot or stew.

Braised Beef with Carrot, Parsnip, and Sweet Potato: Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a heavy bottom sauce pan. Sautee 1/2 cup chopped onion and 1 crushed garlic clove for 3-4 minutes. Toss 5 ounces of learn beef (cut into chunks) in 2 tbsp of flour and sautee until brown all over. Add 2 medium carrots (peeled and sliced), 1 small parsnip (peeled and sliced) and 1 medium sweet potatoe (peeled and chopped), along with 1 bay leaf and 1 tbsp chopped parsley to the pan. Pour in 2 cups of water, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Blend, adding as much of the cooking liquid as necessary to reach your desired consistency.

Beef and Barley: Cut 2 ounces lean beef into pieces. Sautee beef with a bit of olive oil until cooked through. Puree together with 3 tbsp cooked pearl barley and 2 tbsp carrot purree.

Chicken and Turkey:  Both light and dark meat are a good source of nutrition for baby. Trum as much fat away from the meat as possible before cooking.

Chicken with Leek, Carrot, and Peas: Sautee 1/3 c washed and chopped leek (the white part) for about 2 minutes in olive oil. Add about 6 ounces chicken (equivalent to a large thigh) and sautee for two minutes. Add the 2 medium peeled and chopped carrots and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Add 1/4 cup frozen peas and cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Remove the chicken and take the flesh off the bone (if there is one). Blend together with the veggies and as much of the cooking liquid as necessary to make a puree.

Chicken with Sweet Potato and Apple: sautee 1/3 cup chopped onion in olive oil for 2-3 minutes. Add 1 cup chicken breast (chopped) and sautee until it turns opaque. Add a chopped, peeled apple and sweet potato, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Puree to desired consistency.

Minced pork chops and applesauce: You can cook these seperately by sauteeing a pork chop, pureeing and mixing with already pureed apples, or you can cook together in one pan!

Eggs: Eggs are one of the most allergenic of foods! Please consult your pediatrician before offering them to babies! Most pediatricians agree that the non-allergenic baby can eat egg YOLKS around 8  months. However, egg WHITES should not be fed to a baby until they are over a year old! If your family has a history of egg allergies, it would probably be best to wait until after 12 months of age. Again, please speak to your pediatrician about this! Egg yolks can be served scrambled, fried, poached or boiled.

Egg yolk scramble: Crack and egg and seperate the white from the yolk. Warm olive oil or butter in a frying pan. Scramble the egg yolk in a bowl with whole milk or breast milk. Pour into pan and cook, stirring constantly, until cooked through and dry.

Baby Omelet: Cook as though you are making the egg yolk scramble, but put a few tablespoons of pureed or pre-cooked and cubed soft veggies as you scramble the yolks.

Fish: Please discuss introducing fish with your pediatrician before starting! Most pediatricians suggest waiting until after 3 years of age for starting a baby on shellfish and crustaceans, but actual fish can be started around 9 months of age. Buy the freshest fish possible, with firm and shiny flesh, with a mild fresh smell. If it smelss like a fish, is slimey, or the fish doesn't spring back when touched, its old! Fish may be poached, broiled, or baked. And please, please, please make sure your fish has been thorougly thoroughly de-boned!!!!

Poached Salmon wtih Carrots: Put 20 ounces of water into a 4 quart pot and boil. Wash, peel, and chop 1 pound of carrots, and boil for 6-8 minutes. When the carrots are tender but not mushy, discard the water and place the cooked carrots in the blender.  Place 1 tbsp olive oil in the same pan, and sautee 1/2 cup diced  yellow onion, 1/2 cup chopped celery, and 1 smashed garlic clove for approximately 5 minutes. Now add 1/2 cup diced zucchini, and 6 ounces salmon (cut into small pieces) along with 4 ounces of water. Bring to a simmer and cook over med-low heat for 6 minutes, covered. Pour the entire contents of the pot onto the carrots in the blender and puree until smooth.

Beans and Legumes: A high protein food, legumes and other beans are best introduced into babies diet now that they are old enough to digest them without causing excessive gassiness (which every parent knows is a dreaded thing!) I highly highly recommend using dried beans for this and not canned.  It takes more time, I know, but canned beans often have a lot of preservatives and other ingredients in them that babies do not need! To soak your beans overnight, Thoroughly wash and pick through all the beans, making sure you only have the best of the best. Place beans in a bowl and pour enough warm water over hte beans so they are covered. Cover with plastic wrap or a lid (if your bowl has one) and come back in 6-8 hours, when your beans will be ready to cook! To cook dried beans, use 3 cups of water per 1 cup of soaked beans. If the beans have not been soaked, use 4-5 cups of water. Bring beans and water to a boil in a pot, cover and simmer until the beans are tender. Be sure to check on the water level and never let the water level get below the beans. The beans are done when they are easily squished between your thumb an finger, using very light pressure.

Lovely Lentils: Sautee 1/2 cup finely chopped onion, 2 medium (peeled and chopped) carrots, 2 tbsp celery, and 1 tbsp olive oil for about 5 minutes or until soft. Add 1/4 cup split red lentils and 1 medium sweet potato (peeled and chopped). Add 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and allow to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Puree to desired consistency.

Tofu: A high protein food, I've decided to add tofu here, as an option for vegetarians. Please remember that tofu is soy based, and should not be fed to babies who have shown allergies to soy!

Cubed tofu dusted with wheat germ, crushed cheerios, or crushed graham crackers.
Blend it with a fruit like bananas, apples, blueberries or pears.
Blend with cottage cheese, avocado, or even hummus.

Wild Game: What about duck or venison? Well, that depends on if you are thinking of offering your baby "farm raised" or "field raised (from the woods)" game. Farm raised duck and other game will most likely be ok for your meat eating baby. Wild game that was caught in the forrest or fished from a stream is different.  Wild game may contain brucellosis, tularemia, or trichinosis.  One should also be mindful of the possibility of harmful chemicals that may be found in wild game. Many new studies suggest that birds and fish in particular are having more highly elevated levels of PCB and also Mercury contamination. Check your local Fish & Game department for any health bulletins and warnings that may be issued in your area. Most pediatricians suggest waiting until between 18 and 24 months before offering wild game, however you should definitely check with your pediatrician before offering any wild game to your baby!

All information for this post came from, and from "The Healthy Baby Meal Planner" by Annabel Karmel, and "The Everything Organic Cooking for Baby and Todder" by Kim Lutz.

Baby Food: 8-10 Months!

 If you are following along with my baby food series, then boy do I have a lot for you today!!! You know have a whole slew of produce that you can introduce your baby to! I’m having a hard time keeping to the 4 day wait rule myself… I get excited every time I walk into the grocery store!! And I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I am for the Farmers Market to open up in a few weeks!! Oh man, we are going to have so much fun!

Around this age, your pediatrician might tell you that you can start your baby on meats and dairy (whole yogurt) as well, but I felt that those needed their own separate posts. So those are coming up soon!!

Please remember to discuss new foods with your pediatrician before introducing them!

Blueberries – 9 months. Blueberries are not part of the “berry” family, so you can in fact feed them to your little one right now! They are actually related to cranberries. You can opt to stew them (simmer in ½ cup of water for 15 minutes), or chop them up and offer them as finger food. Remember though, they stain!! These mix well with apples, bananas, pears, plums, and peaches.
Cantaloupe/watermelon/melon – 8 months. Some babies may develop a slight rash with melons because of the acidity in them, and this is not a true allergy. You can simply puree these, they do not need to be cooked, however they are kind of runny and can be thickened with some cereal. These mix well with bananas, avocado, blueberries, peaches, carrots, summer squash.
Cherries – 8 months. Pit. Puree or squash. These mix well with apples, bananas, blueberries, nectarines, peaches, and sweet potatoes.
Cranberries – 9 months. These can cause possible rashes due to the acidity, and not a true allergy. Simmer for about 15 minutes. If you find that this puree is too tart, you may want to add a bit of apple juice to help sweeten it a little. However, some babies love tart flavors. These mix well with apples, bananas, blueberries, mango, peaches, and melons.
Grapes – 10 months. These are great when added to a baby feeder like this. You can even freeze them to help with teething! Please remember to cut grapes into small quarters when serving as a finger good, as these can be a big choking hazard! These combine well with avocados, blueberries, peaches, pears, carrots, summer squash, and sweet potatoes.
Kiwi – 8-10 months. Puree smooth. These mix well with apples, avocado, blueberries, peaches, and pears
Papaya – 8 months. Puree. These mix well with apples, avocado, bananas, blueberries, mango, peaches, carrots, winter squash, and sweet potato
Persimmon – 8-10 months. Pureed. These mix well with bananas, pears, apples, and winter squash

Asparagus – between 8 and 10 months. Steam. These mix well with carrots, summer squash, and white potato. Be forewarned, these may make your baby’s pee smell funny! Just keep this in mind when you introduce it for four days in a row….
Broccoli – 8-10 months. Steam. These mix well with carrots, cauliflower, summer squash, potato (W&S), brown rice
Cucumber – 8-10 months. Remove seeds. Squish, no cooking needed. These mix well with apples, green beans, summer squash
White potatoes – 10 months.
Spinach – 10 months.
Parsnips – 8 months. Roasting or steaming. These mix well with apples, pears, carrots, green beans, peas, squash, rice
Summer Squash (Zucchini and yellow) – 8 months, steam or sauté. These mix well with carrots, green beans, and peas.

Sauteed leeks with sweet potatoes and sweet baby peas

Onions, Peppers, Mushrooms and Leeks – 8-10 months. Add these to veggie dishes, don't serve alone (who wants to eat a big bowl of onion, anyway? ew). I made Leeks with sweet potatoes and baby peas, and my little one LOVED it!

(information for this post comes from )

Spices Baby!

Sorry sweet girl, crayons don't count as a food group!

Yikes, its been a while since I posted a Baby Food entry! Sorry guys! I've got a ton of good stuff stored up for you, though, so don't worry! This entry will kick off a WHOLE WEEK of baby food posts! I've got lots of deliciously awesome things for you coming up!

By the time your cute little chunk-a-lunk is 8 months, they are ready to enter a whole new world of food tasting. You can now introduce (I'm so excited!!!) SPICES!

Yes, don't for a second think that your baby wants bland food! With all those taste buds and a brain busy learning about the world around her, who would? However, please remember that your baby does NOT need sugar or salt in his diet, so leave that out please! :) And don't forget the 4 day rule - it applies to spices, too!

Apples and Pears with Vanilla Bean - Oh my!

Here are some suggestions for using spices in your baby food:

Apple: use cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, ginger
Pears: use ginger, cinnamon, a drip of vanilla or even mint
Bananas: use cinnamon, ginger, allspice, vanilla

Sweet potato: use with nutmeg, cinnamon and/or cardamom
Pumpkin: use with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and dash of vanilla
Carrots: use with basil & garlic - baked cinnamon carrots are yummy too.
Green beans: use with garlic
Mashed potatoes(white) : use with dill weed or garlic
Winter Squash (acorn, hubbard, butternut etc.): use with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger

** A note about Cinnamon - Please make sure that you are using actualy real cinnamon. Also, please read this exerpt I copied from
Cinnamon Allergy:  Most often, a skin (dermatological) reaction to cinnamon is from the cinnamon oil and cinnamic aldehyde within.   Many people with a cinnamon sensitivity cannot even chew gum or brush their teeth with any product that contains even a hint of cinnamon oil.  (Side note: I have this! Can't eat a red hot or chew cinnamon gum without my tongue swelling up! Wierd, huh?) A reaction to the actual powder seems to be less severe and less common than is a reaction to the oil.   Cinnamon allergy is so very rare and cinnamon is not amongst the “usual suspects” when it comes to a sensitivity or an allergy.    In looking at cinnamon allergies, there are two components of cinnamon that doctors know to cause an issue: Cinnamon oil and cinnamic aldehyde. Cinnamic aldehyde is the most common of the allergenic constituents and is used in many forms in many products. It’s extensive use makes it difficult to diagnose what caused a reactions.
Many doctors note that people react to cassia, a relative of cinnamon, and not to cinnamon itself. This is mostly true for those who seem to experience a reaction from a food that does not contain cinnamon oil. Cassia is so closely related to cinnamon that it is used as a spice and called “culinary cinnamon”. Cassia has a bigger, more intense flavor and is also more of an astringent than is “true” cinnamon. “True” cinnamon is the highest grade of cinnamon and is more mild and sweet.  The odds are 99 to 1 that the cinnamon you purchase in the grocery store is not true cinnamon but is actually cassia. True cinnamon is a very rare find in a grocer’s spice aisle.
If your baby shows skin sensitivities to certain foods and there is a history of many food allergies on either side of the family, you may wish to wait to introduce cinnamon until 10-12 months of age.   You may do a “test” for a sensitivity by gently placing a small amount of the ground cinnamon powder on your baby’s arm or cheek. Dip a cotton swab in a bit of cinnamon and tap some of the spice off. A reaction will occur in the form of redness and/or swelling.

** A note about Vanilla - make sure that you are using either the vanilla bean or an essence of vanilla that is not labeled as "pure", as most vanilla extracts often contain a high amount of alcohol. However, it is ok to use vanilla extract when baking (such as in muffins) as the alcohol will bake off.

(information from this post comes from
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