Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cranberry Christmas Cookies

Cranberry Christmas is one of 21 children's books written and illustrated by husband and wife team Wende and Harry Devlin, 15 of which were written about the fictional town of Cranberryport, which is presumably a New England coastal town.  The Devlins also have a series about Old Witch, which I must write about at some point!  You can read about the authors and all their books at

The Cranberryport series of books (which were written between 1971 and 1995) focuses on a girl named Maggie, her Grandmother, and retired local sea captain and family friend Mr. Whiskers, so called because of his lovely long black beard.  In most of the books, there is a mystery that involves people underestimating or taking advantage of poor Mr. Whiskers, who solves these problems with the help of Maggie and Grandmother.

Cranberry Christmas, for example, finds Mr. Whiskers in quite a predicament.  There are two problems, actually: for one, the pond next to his house used to be bustling with the activities of ice skaters - laughing, joking, and enjoying life - but grouchy new neighbor Cyrus Grape, who lives on the other side of the pond, claims that he is the pond's rightful owner, and he hates ice skating, children, and fun in general.  Mr. Whiskers is sure that he's the rightful owner, but can't find any paperwork to prove it.  And so, the skating has been stopped.

If that wasn't bad enough, Mr. Whiskers's "persnickety" sister, Sarah, has just written a letter announcing that she is on her way from the city for Christmas, and she is expecting him to return to the city to live with her for good!  "You can't take care of yourself.  Your house looks like a shipwreck and your money box is always empty," she explained.  Mr. Whiskers is absolutely furious (and very sad) at the thought of leaving Cranberryport, but he has to clean up his act to convince his sister that he's self-sufficient.  (Ironically, this requires the help of Maggie and Grandmother.)

Now, with all that's going on, do you think it's possible that both problems can be solved?  Perhaps a solution can be found that will fix both problems at the same time!

As the happy little group gathers to sing Christmas carols, Grandmother and Maggie enjoy their favorite spiced cider and cranberry cookies.  In happy news, the back cover or last page of most of the Devlins' books contains the recipes found in the book!  In other news, I didn't use that recipe.  I used a recipe that I found in a magazine a few years ago, that I've had a few people request the recipe for (it was called "Christmas Sandies."  I'm afraid I have a photocopy of the recipe but I'm not sure which magazine this came from, except that it says Christmas Cookies 2009).

Cranberryport Cranberry Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped cranberries (I chopped mine in the food processor - so easy!)
2 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
Granulated sugar to roll in

1) Preheat the oven to 350.  Beat butter with a mixer for 30 seconds at high speed.  Beat in powdered sugar to combine.  Beat in vanilla.
2) Beat in as much flour as you can.  Stir in cranberries, lemon peel, and any remaining flour, using your hands to mix if needed.
3) Shape mixture into 1/2" balls.  Roll the dough in granulated sugar* and put on an ungreased cookie sheet. (*The original recipe calls to roll the dough in nonpareils instead of sugar, but I liked the sugar better.)
4) Bake the cookies for 10 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies are golden brown.
 These are sandies, which means that they're mostly flour, and therefore don't brown up very much.  This picture (above) is of the finished, cooling cookies.  They are so yummy!

Today is not only during the Christmas season, but also Hanukkah - Happy Hanukkah!!! I have a couple Hanukkah recipes to post for you, and several more cookies, so stay tuned!  As always, please feel free to contact me via email or facebook!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How The Grinch Stole A Roast Beast

It's that time of year again!  Time for tinsel and holly and lights and goodwill towards men and silly songs and movies -- and stories!! (And food!!)  I have a bunch of awesome books to talk about this year, but let's start out with a real classic.

We all know this book.  I could have labeled this simply "Roast Beast" and everyone would know which book we were going to talk about (unless you're like me; I have read this book and/or seen the movie version every year for almost 3 decades now, and tend to call any roast a "roast beast").  But just in case you're not into that sort of thing - today we're talking about Dr. Seuss's classic How The Grinch Stole Christmas!  Just as a warning, though, I am totally going to ruin the end of this story, so be forewarned.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (yes, the ! is part of the title) was written by Dr. Seuss in 1957 as a comment on the commercialism of the holiday.  Our story begins as the town of Whoville is merrily preparing for Christmas by decorating and celebrating.  Everyone is having a wonderful time - everyone, that is, except the Grinch, who lived just north of town with his trusty dog, Max.  It's bad enough when everyone opens their gifts and plays loudly with them, but then - then!! - the Whos all gather and start to SING.  The Grinch knew he wouldn't be able to stand one more Christmas celebration, and he thought up a devious Grinchy plan "to stop Christmas from coming."

First, he made himself a Santy Claus hat and a coat, and he dressed up Max as a reindeer, and then he snuck into Whoville and, as the town was asleep, stole every gift, every candy cane, every tree and ornament and stocking!  That Grinch took the Who Pudding, the rare Who Roast Beast!  Why, that nasty fellow took the last can of Who-Hash, and left nothing but crumbs much too small for the Whos' mouses.  But then, as he got up to the top of Mt. Crumpit to dump all the cheerfulness over a cliff, he paused to listen ... and heard the Whos singing, even without their material goods!  He discovered that Christmas "came without ribbons.  It came without tags.  It came without packages, boxes or bags."  It is only then that he realizes that Christmas doesn't come from a store, and, with his undersized heart expanding wildly, he returns everything to the Who families, and he - he himself, the Grinch - carved the Roast Beast at their dinner feast.

I love this book, and I'm quite partial to the 1966 TV version that was narrated by Boris Karloff.  (Fun fact: the "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" song was sung by a gentleman named Thurl Ravenscroft, who was also the voice of Tony the Tiger and sang the "No Dogs Allowed" song from Snoopy, Come Home.)

Anyhow.  Roast Beast is a lovely way to ring in the Christmas season, and Guest Chef Theone made this one for us!

Roast Beast
- one 5 lb. beef roast, with no bone
- Olive oil
- Pepper and assorted spices, as per your preference
- Potatoes, carrots, and celery, as per your preference
- Lard for the pan (optional)

Here is Theone's recipe:

Hi Kat!     
Here's the roast beast with potatoes (actually a 5 lb beef roast, no bone). 
1) I dried the roast with paper towels (because Julia Child says to), rubbed it with olive oil and rubbed a mixture of pepper, sage, lemon thyme, rosemary & onion powder into all the sides, although any combination of herbs that make you happy will do.  (Note the spice coverage! Beautifully done! -Kat)
2) Then I plopped it on top of some cut up potatoes, fat side down, threw in a few garlic cloves, a bit of lard (it was a lean beast & there's nothing worse than burnt potatoes) and some more potatoes.
3) I cooked it at 350 for an hour (covered) and 300 for another hour (uncovered). 

I plan on serving it with horseradish sauce but a cream-vermouth sauce would be tasty, as would some high quality bleu cheese dressing or some dark, complex mustard. 
Bon Appetit!

Doesn't that look absolutely delicious?! It's making me hungry to look at it, and i just had dinner!

Here are some of my own notes:
* I usually sear my beast before I put it in the oven, to get a lovely brown crust on the outside.  This is a personal preference.  Some people say they can't tell the difference.
* A medium-rare beast is going to be 145 - 150 degrees inside when it's done.  Use a meat thermometer to determine when it's done.  The USDA doesn't recommend eating it if it hasn't been cooked to at least 145.  Please note that your roast will continue cooking for a few minutes after it's out of the oven, so you should cook it to at least 140, and it will be fine.
* Do NOT cut into your beast until it has rested for 15-20 minutes!!!  All the juices will run out, and you'll be very sad to have a dry cut of meat.  Use this time to make dinner rolls or something, or set the table.  And wash your hands.
* I've never used lard in my roast beast, but I trust GCT fully, and I'm sure it's delicious.  Don't fear the lard! (Or, if you do, a little beef stock or onion soup to keep the taters from burning should be nice.)
* For my favorite use of leftovers, slice the beast thinly and make a sandwich with the meat, horseradish sauce, and a little Swiss cheese on sourdough.  (I usually sprinkle with oregano and stick this under the broiler.)  You can also reheat slices in onion soup and serve with mashed potatoes.  Yum!!

As a side note, I have been nominated as one of the FriendsEat best blogs of 2012!  Please click on the banner to the right and "Love" my blog!  You can also Like me on Facebook!  Or email me at!  So many ways to show your love!

I've Been Nominated!

I've been nominated as one of the best food blogs of 2012!  Please take a second and click the link to the right and "Love" my page on!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bear Gives Thanks: Candied Nuts

Bear Says Thanks is the newest in the Bear series, written by Karma Wilson, and beautifully illustrated by Jane Chapman.  I want to give an additional shout-out to Jane Chapman here: I LOVE her illustrations.  I would buy a print and hang it on my wall.  I mean, look at this!

Let me just say that I may be a little biased here: I love Bear.  I am a huge fan.  So when the newest Bear book came out, I had to buy it for my library, and I am so glad I did.

Bear is the title character in this and 7 other books, which began with 2002's Bear Snores On (in which our hero is asleep in cave despite the multitude of animals that join him in order to warm up).  Bear is usually doing something that everyone can relate to - such as getting scared when all alone (Bear Feels Scared), losing a tooth (Bear's Loose Tooth), or making new friends (Bear's New Friend).

Bear Gives Thanks starts with Bear feeling "bored, bored, bored" and missing his friends.  Then, he has a great idea - he'll invite all his friends over for a delicious feast!  Unfortunately, he finds that he has absolutely nothing in his cupboard.  This doesn't stop his friends from coming over, though, each bringing a tasty dish to share with everyone.  Mouse brings a huckleberry pie, Hare brings muffins, and Gopher and Mole bring fresh honey nuts!  As more friends arrive, Bear becomes more and more flustered - they have all brought food to share, but he has nothing to share with them! Will his friends mind that he has nothing to give?

Edited to add: This is also an excellent Thanksgiving book that really gets to the heart of the matter.  There are no pilgrims, there is no turkey, but there is a lovely gathering of friends, sharing of food and company, and general gratitude.  Thanksgiving is a holiday that too often gets shortchanged as an almost-Christmas holiday.

Though these are not honey nuts like Gopher and Mole brought, I figured I, like Bear, could be forgiven, because I misremembered the specific type of nuts when I was looking for recipes, and by the time I realized it, I already had all my ingredients (and realized I was out of honey).  So, we're having Candied Nuts instead.  And, oh! Are they delicious!  Just a note: This is not a recipe that the kids can help with all the way through, but they can help with measuring and mixing.  As a bonus, the kitchen smells really good.

Gopher and Mole's Candied Nuts
1 egg white (from an egg - this won't work with EggBeaters)
1 tbsp. water
10 oz. nuts* (I used walnuts)
1 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. salt

1) Preheat your oven to 250.  Thoroughly grease a cookie sheet (or cover with parchment paper), and set it aside.
2) Whip the egg white with the water until it becomes frothy (an electric mixer comes in REALLY handy here).  In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, cinnamon, and salt; set aside.
3) Once the egg white is frothy, mix in the nuts until fully coated and there is no liquid left in the bottom of the bowl.
4) Pour the nuts into the sugar mixture, and mix thoroughly, until there is no more sugar left in the bowl (it should all be stuck to the nuts).  Then, spread these nuts out onto the greased cookie sheet, trying to keep them from overlapping if you can.
5) Bake the nuts for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

*The original recipe, which you can see here, calls for 1 lb. of pecans.  I used 10 oz. of walnuts, and I did have a little much glaze on my walnuts - but no complaints from me!  You can try fiddling with the amount and nut variety to your own taste - and please let me know what you think!

This is what my walnuts looked like before being baked:

And this is what they looked like after:
Not particularly pretty looking, but pretty tasty!  I got this recipe from the website, where it's listed as Sugar Coated Pecans.

Kat's side note: Did you ever notice how many bears in picture books are named Bear?  There's Karma Wilson's Bear, Philip C. Stead and Erin Stead's Bear (Bear Has a Story to Tell), Bonnie Becker's Bear (of the Bear and Mouse series), Olivier Dunrea's Old Bear (Old Bear and His Cub), which is not to be confused with Kevin Henkes's Old Bear (Old Bear), Else Homelund Minark's Little Bear (a whole series of him!), Bill Martin, Jr.'s Brown Bear (Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?), and the entire lovably generic Bear family created by Stan and Jan Berenstain (The Berenstain Bears and Any Topic Ever).  You'd think I'd be complaining about this, and begging for more originality, but I'm honestly kind of impressed at how each of these Bears is his own specific Bear with his own specific personality.  Except maybe for Brown Bear, Brown Bear: he doesn't do much, though you can't visually confuse him as any Bear except one designed by Eric Carle.  So, tell me: who is your favorite bear?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

One Green Apple Cupcakes

Every children's literature enthusiast is familiar with Eve Bunting, and with good reason.  All told, she has written over 250 books!  Most of the titles are for children and teens, and while I haven't read every one of them, I do enjoy the ones I have read, which cover many various topics, from homelessness to a moose's Thanksgiving table.

One Green Apple was published in 2006, and is one of Bunting's more serious books.  Ted Lewin's illustrations really capture the emotions of the children in beautiful, realistic watercolor, and help to set the tone for the tale.  It tells the story of Farah, who is not only new in her school but new to the country, and doesn't yet speak a word of English.  Worse yet, Farah is the only one in the school wearing a dupatta (her head scarf) - everything is different, and she can't even explain that to anybody.  She wants to say, "it is not that I am stupid.  It is just that I am lost in this new place," but she doesn't have the words.

On Farah's second day, her class takes a field trip to a local apple orchard.  A classmate introduces herself, but Farah is still nervous and uncomfortable.  In the orchard, each student is allowed to pick one apple, which will all be blended together to make apple cider.  Farah sees a smaller tree with little green apples - "it is small and alone, like me" - and picks one.

After a while, Farah notices that there are some things that are the same in any language - like laughter.  She gets up the courage to join the other children in pressing the cider, and, eventually, to try her first word in English.

This book is a wonderful story for both those who are new and feel isolated, and for those who may be hesitant to welcome someone who is different.  It's also a good fall story - who doesn't like cider?  And what's my favorite thing to do with cider?  Bake with it!  (Actually, I prefer to just drink it, but baking with it turned out to be a very good thing.)

One Green Apple Cupcakes
For the cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 eggs
2 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 cups applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1) Preheat oven to 350.  Put cupcake liners into muffin tins - this recipe made me 28 cupcakes.  You could do a combination of cupcakes and regular cakes, or one bundt pan, or whatever you like.  If you use a non-cupcake pan, grease and flour it.
2) In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
3) Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and add the remaining ingredients.  Mix well, and pour into prepared pans.
4) Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  This took 25 minutes for my cupcakes.
5) Cool completely, and frost with apple cider buttercream (below).

Apple Cider Buttercream
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup apple cider
3-4 cups confectioner's sugar

1) Cream the butter and apple cider until well-blended, and then add in 3 cups confectioner's sugar until fully combined. Add additional sugar slowly, until the desired consistency.

I got the recipe for the applesauce cake here, at the website.  The apple cider buttercream was found here, on the TLC website.  They came out rather well, if I say so myself - I sold most of them for a bake sale to fund the American Cancer Society.

Question of the day:
What's your favorite Fall book?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Walter the Farting Dog: Dog Biscuits

Walter the Farting Dog is the first book in a series written by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray, and illustrated by Audrey Colman.  To date, there are five Walter books.

The thing that most people notice about the books (poor Walter's flatulence) is the very reason that the book was banned.  There are a lot of people who object to "poop humor."  (I find this term particularly amusing, because those in the know will mention that the book has "scatological humor," thus removing the need to use the word "poop" - the very word they object to the first place!)

It's true that not a lot of people enjoy farting, even in a dog, and that's actually the plot of the first Walter book.  He gets adopted from the pound by Betty and Billy, but Mother and Father aren't big fans of his smell.  He gets baths, but being dirty isn't the issue.  He goes to the vet, but the low-flatulence dog biscuits make him even gassier!  Poor Walter is so stinky that Father eventually puts his foot down, and tells the kids that he is going back to the pound first thing in the morning.

What can poor Walter do?  He vows to never fart again, and just keep it all inside, no matter how much it hurts, while he thinks things over.  It's like things just get worse and worse for him.  We find out on the very first page that "nobody wanted him" at the pound, and when he finally has a loving home, Father wants to get rid of him!  It's all because he farts, but he can't help it; it's just how he is.  And then, just when all things seem as bleak as they can get, someone has broken into the house!  Can Walter save the day, and keep from being sent back to the pound?

This book was dedicated "for everyone who's ever felt misjudged or misunderstood."  That's a sentiment I can get behind (no pun intended), and I have made special dog biscuits for Walter.

Dog Biscuits for Walter the Farting Dog
You will need:
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 eggs
2 tbsp. peanut butter
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1) Preheat the oven to 350.
2) Whisk all ingredients together until well blended.  This took a couple minutes even with my stand mixer.
3) Add water if needed to make the dough workable and sticking together.  (I didn't need any water.)
4) The instructions here say to roll the dough to about 1/2" thickness and make 1/2" rounds.  I ignored this entirely and made balls out of the dough, which I flattened with my palm.
5) Bake until dried out and hard, about 40 minutes.

I got the recipe for these from, where it's listed as Peanut Butter and Pumpkin Dog Treats.  As I don't have a dog, I gave these to my boss, who has two.  I will post their reaction to the treats once they've tried them.

Question of the day: Can anybody guess what book we're talking about to round out Banned Books Week tomorrow?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bridge to Terabithia: Twinkies

Katherine Paterson has written several classic, award-winning novels, including Because of Winn-Dixie, The Great Gilly Hopkis, and Lyddie. Bridge to Terabithia, one of her most popular titles, was published in 1977, and won the Newbery Award in 1978.

Bridge to Terabithia is the story of Jesse Aarons, who lives with his family in rural Virginia.  Jess was the middle child and the only boy, with two older sisters (how awful!) and two younger sisters (how annoying!)  It was his goal to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade, and had been practicing all summer long for the first big recess race of the school year ... only to be beaten at the last minute by the new kid! A girl!

Leslie had just moved to town and didn't understand why she wasn't welcomed with open arms (after all, she was friendly!).  After she beat Jesse (and all the other boys) in the recess races, nobody wanted to talk to her at all.  And after Jesse had worked hard training all summer, too.  There were only two options after that: they could be best friends, or worst enemies.  Luckily, the friendship worked out, and Jess and Leslie became inseparable.  Jess made sure that Leslie knew the ins and outs of country life (she had moved from the city with her parents, who had decided to "reassess their value structure," and didn't know all the social norms), and Leslie made sure that Jesse had fun and imagination in his life.  Together, they created Terabithia, a world of magic and imagination set deep in the woods, that you could only get to by swinging on a rope swing over a creek.  There they would sit, King and Queen, with Leslie telling stories and Jess drawing pictures, surrounded by the magic of the forest.

This book is about transformation.  In the beginning, Jess was lonely, bored, and depressed.  As his friendship with Leslie developed, he became happier, more patient toward his sisters, and generally more outgoing.  Rather than just wishing things were different, be began to be proactive in making them better - even getting revenge on the school bully (a horrible seventh grader named Janice Avery) because she stole his little sister's Twinkies.  (When money is tight, as it was with the Aarons family, the Twinkies were a very special treat, snatched away before they could be enjoyed.)

So, why was this book banned?  There are a few answers, though none of them is very satisfactory.  The obvious answer is that it was banned because of a disturbing event that happens at the end of the book, but that isn't cited too often.  It's also said that it's banned because of witchcraft, but there is no magic in this book.  Everything that the kids imagine is pure imagination - none of it is real.  They know none of it is real.  It's all a game.  The answer you hear most often is that it's been banned for profanity, and while there may be a "damn" here and there, what most people are upset about is the fact that Jess says, "oh, Lord," when he's frustrated, which is Taking The Lord's Name In Vain, which is unforgivable.  Honestly, I don't get it.

Anyway, as I said, Twinkies were the start of the whole Janice Avery debacle, so I decided to make some.  Now, I am one of the lucky few to actually own a Twinkie making kit (no, really!), so I'm using it to make these, but mini loaf pans or even muffin tins would work just fine, as long as you don't mind the shape being quite right.
It even comes with a Twinkie The Kid official Twinkie holder!
Terabithian Twinkies
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, plus one egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk

1) The directions specifically say to use a rack in the middle of the oven (I don't know why, but do I did it anyway).  Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease the pan.
2) Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
3) In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla.  Scrape down the bowl, lower the speed to low, and mix in the milk until smooth.
4) Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just blended.  Don't over-mix, or your Twinkies will be overly chewy.
5) Spoon the batter evenly into the pan, filling each Twinkie (or muffin cup, or loaf pan) about 3/4 full.  Bake 15 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the middle comes out clean.
6) Cool for 15 minutes in the pan, and then remove to cool on a wire rack.
7) When completely cool, load frosting (you can use canned frosting, but the recipe below is really fantastic) into the flavor injector (or piping bag, or large ziploc bag with the corner snipped off), and squirt into the bottom of the cake.  Just like Hostess, I poked three holes into each cake.  If you're using a cupcake instead, you should be able to use just one.
Not that you needed to see this part, but how often do I get to use this, really?
8) Enjoy, preferably with a glass of milk.

Marshmallow Frosting
1/2 cup butter
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 cup Marshmallow Fluff
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1) Mix using a hand mixer or stand mixer until light and fluffy.

I got both of these recipes from the official Hostess Twinkies Brand Bake Set Recipe Book.  Personally, I think the cake is good, but the marshmallow filling really steals the show.  If you don't want to make both the cake and the filling, I'd recommend using a boxed mix for the cake and making this buttercream from scratch - it's that good!  Why did I never think of Marshmallow Buttercream?!

Question of the day:
Now that I've opened and used my Hostess Twinkies Brand Bake Set, what flavor combination should I make next?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing: Turtle Cookies

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume is the fourth installment in our Banned Books Week celebration.  (Why was it banned?  More on that later.)  This book was first published in 1972, which was shocking to me, because I read it as a kid and it didn't feel dated at all.  (Except the part where Fudge sticks himself all over with stamps from the grocery store.  That made no sense even when I was in fourth grade in the early 90s.)

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is the first in a series about Peter Hatcher, a fourth grade boy who feels like a great big nothing.  He lives in New York City with his parents and two-year-old brother, Farley (who goes by Fudge).  Fudge is the star of the books, and it's always up to poor Peter to clean up the messes.  If Fudge's birthday party guests don't behave, it's up to Peter to entertain them.  If Fudge won't eat, it's Peter who does handstands to make him open his mouth so Mom can pop a bite of food in.  And when Fudge tries to fly off the monkey bars and knocks out his two front teeth, who do you think gets all the blame?  Peter, that's who!

At least Peter has his turtle for company.  Wonderful, reliable Dribble, who sits around in his bowl doing turtle-y things, and never asks for anything.  And Dribble is one thing that Fudge isn't allowed to touch.  But... since when does Fudge follow the rules?

So, why was this book banned?  To tell you, I have to spoil the entire ending of the book.  So, SPOILER ALERT! When Fudge finally gets his hands on Peter's turtle, he eats him, and poor Dribble doesn't survive the ordeal (though Fudge does).  This is considered very cruel to animals.  END SPOILER!

Peter is the protagonist of a whole series of books, including Superfudge, Fudge-a-Mania, and Double Fudge.  The Hatcher family also appears in Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, which is told by Peter's neighbor and resident know-it-all, Sheila.

So, in honor of Peter's turtle, Dribble, I made turtle cookies!  (Why didn't I make fudge?  I have no idea.)

Turtle Cookies
You will need:
Vanilla wafers
Chocolate chips

1) Place vanilla wafers on a microwave-safe plate.  I only made six cookies, so I did them all at once, but I would hesitate to make more than that in a batch, because the caramel would cool too quickly.
2) Cut the caramels in half lengthwise, so you have two flat rectangles.  Place one half-caramel onto each vanilla wafer, and microwave the plate until the caramels are soft (in my microwave, it took 25 seconds, but I recommend starting with 15 seconds and poke one to see if it's soft yet, and then adding 10 seconds at a time until they're soft).
3) When the caramels are soft, poke four pecans into each one.  Set aside to cool.  They should look like this:
4) In a small bowl, pour a handful of chocolate chips.  Zap in the microwave at 15-second increments, stirring well after each increment.  Be very careful to not let the chocolate scorch! When the chocolate is smooth, dollop some on top of each cookie, smoothing it out with the back of a spoon.  Let cool on the counter or in the fridge before consuming.

Using vanilla wafers as a base for these treats was my own idea, though they play off the traditional Turtle candy (caramel, chocolate and pecans).  The idea to make turtles was Shannon's.  Thank you, Shannon!

Question of the day: This is one of my favorite banned books.  Which ones do you like best?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

And Tango Makes Three: Penguin Cookies

Penguin love story!

And Tango Makes Three is our third spotlight for Banned Books Week, and one of my favorites.  This picture book has been on the list of ALA's most banned books every year since its publication in 2005.  Who wouldn't love a true-life love story starring penguins?  Well, this one is controversial because it's about two male penguins.

Roy and Silo lived in the Central Park zoo with lots of other penguins.  They were the best of friends, and did everything together.  They walked together, swam together, and sang to each other.  "Wherever Roy went, Silo went too."  They even built a nest together, and did their best to hatch a stone.  Their zookeeper, Mr. Gramzay, had noticed Roy and Silo together, and brought them an egg that another penguin couple couldn't care for.  This egg, which Roy and Silo took great care sitting on, eventually hatched into a beautiful, healthy baby girl penguin, which Mr. Gramzay named Tango ("because it makes two to make a tango").

Roy and Silo gave her everything she needed.  They fed her, cuddled her, and taught her to swim.  "Tango was the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies," the book tells us.  She was special, in that regard, but her little family was still very much like all the other penguin families in the zoo.

So, no.  This isn't the most exciting story ever told.  But it is a really adorable little love story, perfectly suitable for a conversation about adoption.  And with all the anger and controversy over this book, I had to make something super special for Banned Book Week.

And Tango Makes Three Penguin Cookies

You will need:
- Your favorite sugar cookie dough (I used the Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix that comes in a pouch.  It is delicious and very, very easy.)  Given the option, use dough for rolling out and cutting shapes out of instead of dough for drop cookies.
- Food coloring

This is a little confusing to write out, so I have taken photos of each step.  Are you ready?  Here we go!

1) Prepare your cookie dough according to package directions.  Using food coloring, dye 1/3 of the dough blue, and half of the remaining dough orange.

2) Make one large and two medium balls out of the blue dough, one medium ball out of the un-dyed dough, and three small balls out of the orange dough.  It should look like this:

3) Smush flat the large blue dough ball, the un-dyed dough ball, and two of the orange dough balls.  Make flat teardrops of the remaining blue dough, and a triangle of the remaining orange.  It should look like this:
(HINT: If your dough is too sticky, you might have to stick it in the fridge for a few minutes.  Likewise, if the dough is sticking to your fingers a lot, you can wet them with a wet paper towel you have off to the side, and this will help a lot.)

4) Stack the un-dyed ball on top of the large blue dough ball, toward the bottom.  This will be the penguin's tummy.  Place one of the blue teardrops on each side of the un-dyed ball to make wings.  The orange triangle should overlap the blue and white to make a beak.  The remaining orange dough is the penguin's feet.  Assembled, it should look like this:

5) Bake according to recipe directions (in my case, 375 for 8 minutes).  Remember, these cookies are rather large and thicker than most, so they may take a little bit longer.  I got only 9 penguins out of my dough, with a few small discs of various colors left over.

6) Let these cool before trying to remove them from cookie sheets, or you risk breaking off (or squishing) the penguins' feet.

I got the design for these from the Better Homes and Gardens Special Publications: Christmas Cookies magazine from Christmas 2012.  Their penguins were black, but black food coloring stains everything, so I went with blue, which seemed like more of a penguin color than brown.  Their's also had eyes, which I didn't put on for the sake of simplicity.  And the BHG ones were peppermint, where mine were just sugar cookies. Maybe next time I make them, I will make them peppermint penguins, as suggested.

So, what do you think?  Will you be making Tango penguin cookies any time soon?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Strega Nona Noodles

Strega Nona, how much do I love you?  And really, how could anybody not?  This character, invented by Tomie de Paola and first published in 1975, is a lovely grandmotherly Italian woman, who uses her magic to help cure headaches and warts and to help lonely girls find love.

Unsurprisingly (as this is Banned Books Week), not everybody loves Strega Nona; this book has been banned many times because Strega Nona is a witch (her name actually means "Grandma Witch").  Worse than that - Strega Nona is a good witch!  This tells children that, not only is magic and witchcraft possible, but it's desirable, and being a witch is an acceptable career path, which is wholly unacceptable, and it shouldn't be up to the parents to teach their children that there is such a thing in life as make-believe.  After all, we can't let children enjoy themselves too much.

Sigh.  Moving on.

Strega Nona is a lovely woman, but she realizes that she's getting old.  She hires Big Anthony to do her housework and chores for her, so that she can concentrate on her magic.  Unfortunately, Big Anthony doesn't pay attention very well, so when he hears her singing to a pot to call forth pasta for dinner, he doesn't think past how amazing the magic is.  When she goes out for the day to visit a friend, he decides that he will supply a pasta meal for the entire town, and starts up the pot... but how can he possibly stop the pasta from flowing when he didn't pay enough attention to learn the whole spell?  (And what will Strega Nona think when she comes home?)

Many people believe that Strega Nona is an old Italian folktale, but according to the author, she's a creation of his very own mind.  (Yes, the cover says, "an old tale retold."  The old tale is that of the porridge pot.)  I think it is a credit to Mr. de Paola that Strega Nona has taken on such a life that people believe that she has always existed.  It takes an incredible character to stand the test of time, and one even more impressive to pervade our collective memories and insist that she has always been there.  Such is her magic.

Of course, this story is all about pasta, and here's the best way to make your own:
Strega Nona Noodles

1) Get your favorite magic pasta pot, and sing this spell:
         Bubble, bubble, pasta pot,
         Boil me some pasta, nice and hot,
         I'm hungry and it's time to sup,
         Boil enough pasta to fill me up.
2) When you have enough pasta to fill your needs, sing this spell:
         Enough, enough, pasta pot
         I have my pasta, nice and hot,
         So simmer down my pot of clay,
         Until I'm hungry another day.
3) Blow three kisses to the pot.  Do not skip this step!  Let Big Anthony serve as your warning!

Of course, if you don't have a favorite magic pasta pot, you can always try it this way:

1) Fill your favorite spaghetti pot about 3/4 full with water, and sprinkle in some salt.  Bring to a boil.
2) Add your favorite pasta and cook according to package directions.  I used egg noodles, and it took me 7 minutes to cook.  I prefer my pasta al dente (chewy but not crunchy - literally, "to the tooth"), but make it however you like it.  Seriously, though, look at the cooking times: I have a good friend who used to tell me she hated how mushy angel hair pasta was, and it turns out she was cooking it for 7 minutes instead of the 2-3 minutes it actually takes.
3) Drain your pasta and garnish as desired.  Tonight, I used a little butter and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese - delicious!

Question of the day: Strega Nona is one of my favorite fictional witches.  I also enjoy Glinda and Professor McGonagall.  Who tops your witch list?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Harriet the Spy Tomato Sandwiches

Happy Banned Books Week!  I am kicking off both BBW and my writing again with SEVEN posts about banned books, for your reading pleasure - one a day until Saturday! 

So, what is Banned Books Week?  Well, it's a celebration of the freedom to read whatever we want to.  There are a lot of people who want to have books banned - taken out of schools and public libraries - because they find them to be inappropriate.  Sometimes you can kinda understand where the concern is based, though I personally think that if a book has been chosen by a (professionally trained and certified) teacher to be appropriate for a class, it probably is.  And sometimes, the ban is so incredibly silly that you can't even stand it.  (My favorite? Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr., was banned in 2010 from schools in Texas, because there was a book about Marxist communism that was published in 2008 by a man named Bill Martin.  A completely different Bill Martin, by the way.  They didn't even take the time to check if the guy they objected to was the same guy who wrote Brown Bear, and it wasn't - in fact, there's no way it could have been, because Bill Martin, Jr. died four years before the political book was published.)  

This week, we'll be talking about seven books that have been banned for various reasons.  Tonight's is Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.  It was first published in 1964, though the cover shown here is the one from the 90's, which is the one I had when I first read it, even though I like the original cover better.  They did keep the original illustrations, though! 

Now, there aren't a lot of illustrations, but the ones that are really seem to enhance the text. Which is the point, of course.  
This illustration, for example, is our title character in her spy outfit, including jeans and a sweatshirt, sneakers so comfortable that they have holes over the pinky toes, and glasses with no glass in them (they make her look smarter).  She has has a spy tool belt, which she has usefully loaded down with pockets for her notebook and extra pens, a flashlight (in case she ever needs to be out after dark) and a boy scout knife with a collapsible knife and fork (which might come in handy eventually, although it hasn't yet).  Harriet puts on her outfit after school, before she goes out to find out what people are up to.  

Harriet has quite a list of people that she needs to keep track of.  There are her friends, of course, and her classmates, but the random people in the neighborhood are the most interesting.  And you know that the most interesting stuff isn't going to happen out in the open, so maybe she has to sneak into people's houses once in a while, maybe up a dumbwaiter every so often.  It's worth it - she writes down exactly what she sees and thinks, and she is always brutally honest.  For example, the first day of school invites the following note:

That's okay, though, because it's a private notebook.  It's not like anyone could ever read it... right?  It's not like any of her routines will ever change.  Until they do.

Harriet is a girl who likes her routines.  She has her parents and her nanny, Ole Golly, and her friends, and her spy routes, and every day she has a tomato sandwich for lunch. 

    "The next morning Mrs. Welsch asked, 'Wouldn't you like to try a ham sandwich, or egg salad, or peanut butter?' Her mother looked quizzically at Harriet while the cook stood next to the table looking enraged.
    'Tomato,' said Harriet, not even looking up from the book she was reading at breakfast.
     'Stop reading at the table."  Harriet put the book down.  "Listen, Harriet, you've taken a tomato sandwich to school every day for five years. Don't you get tired of them?'
     'How about cream cheese and olive?'
     Harriet shook her head. The cook threw up one arm in despair.
     'Pastrami? Roast beef? Cucumber?'

So be it.

Harriet the Spy Tomato Sandwiches
Your favorite bread (I used sourdough)
Fresh tomatoes
Condiments of your choosing

1) Slice the tomatoes into the desired thickness (Mine were about 1/4") and lay onto the bread.  Add condiments as desired.  

I cut my rounds in half, so I could make sure there was sandwich-wide coverage, like this: 


The tomato sandwiches are one of the things I remember about this story from when I read it years and years ago.  That, and the people she spied on, of course.  And that her middle name doesn't exist, so she gave herself a middle initial (it's M).  I love Harriet.  Unfortunately, some people don't, and her book was often criticized for teaching children to spy, be disrespectful, talk back to their parents, and curse.  And while I enjoyed every minute of this re-read, the critics do have a point: there's a part of me who wants a notebook and a toolbelt and a group of people to spy on.

Question of the day: If you could eat one thing for lunch every single day, what would it be?  

Saturday, April 28, 2012

High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake

Have you ever had one of those memories that seem so amazingly perfect, where your eyes glaze over when you think about it, and no matter how hard you try, you can never replicate the experience?  No strawberry tastes as good as the one you picked it off the vine on a summer day, sun-warmed and delicious.  You can't seem to find the exact picture book that your Grandpa used to read you again and again and again when you stayed at his house on weekends and ate butterscotch candies from the candy dish on the end table. They stopped making Keebler Pizzeria Chips and nothing tastes the same.  Do you ever want to get that feeling back, of having exactly the right thing at the right time?

That's what the main character in The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake (by Nancy Willard, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson) sets out to do for her mother's birthday. (Note: I'm going to be a pain in the neck and tell you the whole story, but I'm paraphrasing and I have very few pictures, so you still need to go out and read this book, okay? Okay.)  When she had been a little girl, her grandmother made her a cake so delicious that she has dreamed about it for years.  She's never had a cake even half as good as that one. If only she could have that cake just one more time, it would be the best birthday gift she could ever ask for.  It's too bad that her grandmother had passed away without ever telling anybody her recipe.

Well.  That might be a stumbling block, but it wouldn't stop our main character (who, frustratingly enough, is never named).  She stays up late into the night reading her great-grandmother's journals, trying to find the recipe that nobody knew about.  She eventually finds a recipe for plain-old-boring angel food cake, and with it, the note that there is one special secret that makes the cake so amazing - so mind-bogglingly delicious! - that the angels themselves sang its praises.

It isn't until her crazy uncle spills jell-o into the piano (yes, really.  I love the aunt and uncle characters) that she finds the secret to making a regular angel food cake into a High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake.  The secret, dear reader, is this: before combining all the ingredients, you take the sugar and pour it out onto a plate, and with little finger on your left hand and write "EVOL EVOL EVOL."
This is what I look like when I'm baking yet again.  "I hope he doesn't catch me sampling the batter..."
Our heroine sneaks down to the kitchen on the eve of her mother's birthday and manages to make the cake without waking up her parents, but as it's baking, the delicious smells attract a different type of visitor.  The cake, miraculously cooled and ready for eating, is exactly what wandering angels have been hoping for - it is, after all, angel food.  And she can't exactly turn down angels when they come calling, can she?  Although... it was for Mom's birthday, and now there is no gift at all. "And she's such a good mother, too!" Oh, dear.  And there aren't enough eggs left to make a new one.  It looks like this birthday isn't going as planned... but maybe the angels have something up their colorful sleeves. 

Though my mother's birthday is in September, I still needed to make the cake.  The angels didn't come a-calling for me, but I did get to eat angel food cake, so I call that a win.  I didn't use the recipe as written in the book (maybe that's why they didn't come?), but my recipe is darn tasty.  Incidentally, I didn't use Alton Brown's recipe either (my recipe came with my tube pan), but I did learn about stiff peaks and folding in sifted flour from his tv show.  You can watch the angel food cake episode here.

High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake

12 eggs
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (or another flavor - lemon or orange would be tasty)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

1. Separate your eggs.  You can use an egg separator, or your fingers, or crack the egg in half and gently pour the yolk back and forth until all the white is apart from the yolk.  I find it best to use the 3-bowl method: pour the egg white into a white bowl.  Put the yolk into a different bowl.  Inspect the white, and make sure no yolk is present (any little bit of yolk will keep your egg whites from foaming, and your cake won't set).  Once you're sure there's no yolk present, pour that white into a measuring cup.  You need 1 1/2 cups of egg white, which for me was 11 extra large eggs, but each egg is different, so you may need the whole dozen.  NOTE: If you get any yolk into the white, don't use that egg white! Wash out the bowl before cracking another egg into it, because it'll make your cake fail.  (You don't need the egg yolks for this recipe at all, so you can throw them away, or save them to make a butterscotch pudding or a German chocolate cake frosting with another time.)
2. Let your egg whites stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. They'll whip up better this way.
3. Sift the confectioners' sugar and flour together three times (I don't know why three times, but it worked for me, so I'm sticking to it.)  Set aside.
4. To the egg whites, add the cream of tartar, extracts, and salt.  Beat on high speed.  Once it's really foamy, gradually add the sugar and beat on high until stiff peaks form.  This takes a really long time - in my stand mixer, it took at least 10 minutes.  You can tell they're stiff peaks if you dip the beater straight down into the mixture and turn it over, and the batter stands straight up in a peak, even if you shake the beater a little bit.
5. This is messy: you want to gently (your batter is made of tiny bubbles, and you want to pop as few as possible!) fold in the flour mixture 1/4 cup at a time (1/9 of what you have sifted).  It takes forever and it's messy because you can't stir or the foam will collapse.  Basically, sprinkle on the flour/sugar and, using a rubber spatula, cut through the middle of the batter to the bottom of the bowl and scrape the edges, folding some of the batter on the bottom of the bowl to the top while going in circles.  (This is hard to explain.  It's easier if you see someone else doing it: again, I recommend YouTube tutorials for cooking methods that you're unfamiliar or uncomfortable with.)
6. Gently spoon the now-complete batter into an ungreased tube pan.  Cut through the batter with a knife to remove extra air pockets, and pop it into a preheated 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake springs back lightly when you touch it.
7. When you take it out of the oven, you want to immediately turn it upside-down; until the cake sets, it's a rather heavy cake supported by weak bonds, and it can collapse if you skip this part!  You also want to let it cool completely before removing it from the pan for the same reason.  My cake looked like this:

Golden brown and delicious!
The book specifically told me that the cake was frosted, but I prefer mine with  with strawberries and whipped cream.  Or with coffee in the morning as a muffin substitute.  Besides - can you look at this and tell me honestly that you'd cover up all of that beauty?
"If I hadn't brought this to work, I'd still have some to nibble on while blogging!"
Well, Mom got her cake, and my official food taster found that TGI Friday's Pizza Chips come pretty darn close to those Keebler ones, so my question to you is: what is it that you wish you could experience one more time?

**Thanks to Christy McAwesomeSauce Meisler for introducing me to this awesome book - and so many others!**

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rah, Rah, Radishes! Alpha-Veggie Pasta

This may not be the prettiest dish I've ever made, but I really wanted to tell you about this book!  

I'm well aware that this is not the healthiest blog on the planet.  My justification for making cakes, cookies, ice creams, and other bad-for-you foods is usually somewhere along the lines of, "but I can get excited about butterbeer and eat-me cakes and pink peppermint ice cream!  Nobody wants to watch me make a salad!"  But you know what?  I need to get more excited about healthy foods, too, and if anything is going to make me cheer for vegetables, it's Rah, Rah, Radishes! A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre.  

"Rah, rah, radishes! Red and white. Carrots are calling. Take a bite!"  

There are beautiful, mouth-watering photos of any number of vegetables in this book, which look like they were taken at a local farmer's market.  These are paired with a fun, energetic cheer to create a really fun book that I must have flipped through 5 or 6 times.  

The author mentions the usual veggies, but doesn't stop at peas and carrots.  Yams, squash, parsnips, rutabagas, and multiple types of peppers are shown - jalapeno, serrano, habanero.  She even shows veggies that I (I admit with some degree of embarrassment) have never tried, like fennel, Swiss chard, and kale, and a few (kohlrabi, bok choy) that I wouldn't even have known what they were if they were placed in front of me. 

The veggies are paired into families of related produce, so the combinations work well together, and the rhymes don't seem forced, though they're not using just veggies to make the chant flow.  ("Onion. Scallion. Leek and shallot.  Grab that garlic. Please your palate!")

I love that the author also added in "Thank you, farmers. Thank you, bees.", as if to open discussion on where the vegetables actually come from, and she suggests in the very back of the book that each family member become an expert on one certain vegetable - how and where it grows, how to cook it, what it tastes like - and then, once that person has taught all the others about it, they can pick up a new veggie and start over.  Cool idea!  The last page also mentions, "Note: no vegetables were harmed or mistreated in the making of this book.  Most, however, were later eaten."

Now, this is not an alphabet book, but the short, catchy chant, and the bright, beautiful photos, I believe, would appeal to the same audience as those working on their ABCs, so I made for you a lovely alphabet-pasta-with-veggies dish, that I first saw in one of those magazines that the supermarket puts out for free.  I've adapted it a bit, but the inspiration comes from Publix's "Toddler Pasta" recipe.

Alpha-Veggie Pasta
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I used low-sodium)
1 cup alphabet pasta
2/3 cup mixed frozen peas and carrots
2/3 cup frozen broccoli (I chopped it into bite-sized pieces before I measured)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Put the broth in a large (spaghetti-type) pot and bring to a boil.  You can use regular old salted water, if you like, but the broth adds a lot of flavor to the party.
2) Add the pasta and boil, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes.
3) Add the frozen veggies and boil the whole thing for another 6 minutes.
4) Drain the chicken broth, and set it aside.  Mix in the olive oil, cheese, and salt and pepper, adding in more broth as necessary to make it have a nice coating.   (I also put some of the broth into tupperware containers with the leftovers, since the pasta might get a little dry when you reheat it in the microwave.)

Incidentally, the letter-shaped pasta holds up really well in the fridge.  I've been eating this for lunch for the past few days, and it's not mushy at all!
See?  You can read every letter!  (Hmm... I wonder what those initials stand for.)

"Sun and seasons, leaf and stalk.  Know them. Grow them! Veggies rock!"  Thank you, April Pulley Sayre; I finally agree.  Veggies do indeed rock, and I'll try to showcase them more often.

As we discussed a while back, I'm partial to lima beans; what's your favorite veggie?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Chicks and Salsa

It must get awfully boring being a chicken.  There's nothing to read, no coloring books laying around, and - gasp! No TV!  No wonder the Rooster in Aaron Reynold's Chicks and Salsa snuck up near the house to watch what Farmer Nuthatcher's wife was watching - Food Network, as it turns out.  And they're making Mexican food tonight!

The Rooster is intreigued.  Maybe chicken feed isn't the best there is?  He plans a field trip to the garden to scrounge tomatoes, onions, and peppers and makes salsa - Ole!  Nothing boring about that!  This spicy dinner inspired the ducks - tired as they were of life at the pond - to make "Quackamole", and the pigs to indulge in Hog Wild Nachos. 

It looks like everyone wants to get in on the fun, and the Rooster (along with an enterprising group of mice, who supply the trimmings that you just can't get in the garden like tortilla chips) plans a fiesta!  But what happens if Farmer Nuthatcher and his wife get in on the fun?  Will there be enough to go around?

I loved both the story and illustrations in Chicks and Salsa, and it only got better when I found out that there are recipes for Salsa, Quackamole, and Hog Wild Nachos in the back of the book.  In the interest of honesty, I'll let you know that I didn't make the salsa recipe in the book, and I'll tell you why: for one thing, the recipe wants you to roast the tomatoes on a grill, and I didn't want to do that.  For another, I have a salsa recipe that I use fairly often, that I really enjoy.  If you'd like to try those recipes, please let me know how they turn out for you!  Otherwise, here's my own:

Chicks and Salsa
3 tomatoes
1-2 jalapenos, depending how spicy you want your finished salsa
1/2 bell pepper
1/2 red onion
1 tbsp. lime juice OR red wine vinegar
1 tsp. minced garlic
Bouquet of cilantro
Salt, to taste

1. Swish the cilantro in a bowl of water and let it soak for about ten minutes.  Any dirt will fall to the bottom of the bowl, and the clean leaves will float.
2. Meanwhile, seed and dice the tomatoes, jalapenos, bell pepper, and onion and put them into a bowl. (If you like, you can use a food processor to make this go very quickly.)  Be very, very careful with the peppers, especially the jalapenos; wash your hands thoroughly after touching them, because there is enough heat in them that they can seriously sting!  (Particularly if you touch them and then cut onions, because then you'll want to rub your eyes and everything will burn!)
2. Pull the leaves off the bouquet of cilantro and pat them dry with paper towels - the amount of cilantro you use is up to you.  (My Official Food Taster and I really like cilantro, so we use a lot, but if you're unsure, you can add it at the end and keep tasting it until it tastes right.)  Stack the leaves on top of each other on a cutting board, and carefully chop them fine.  Add to the vegetables.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well.  Trust me; salt really brings the flavors out of the vegetables.
4. Let the salsa sit for at least a few minutes to let the flavors blend.  Eating it the next day is better yet.

I use red wine vinegar instead of lime juice because limes don't agree with me.  You can use lemon juice, but I find that the vinegar has a nice acidic quality that lemon juice just doesn't have. 

It's just so good!  I ate it on chips...
And then I made it into Hog Wild Nachos!
To make these, simply lay out tortilla chips on a cookie sheet, and top with any combination of salsa, black beans, cheese, and even taco meat, and bake until melted.  Serve with additional salsa, sour cream, or quackamole.

You can use any variation of vegetables to make salsa, and it's so delicious, you don't even usually remember that it's healthy!  Try adding peach, mango, or pineapple for a special fruity kick.  What's your favorite type of salsa?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Cat In The Hat Hats

If he were with us today, Dr. Seuss would be 108 years old!  Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!!!

Today, I'm planning to write about his most famous character - The Cat In The Hat - but first, let's talk about his creator for a few moments.  (Note: Most of the following information can be found at the official Dr. Seuss website, here:  Dr. Seuss - born Theodore Geisel - came into the world on March 2, 1904.  He remained Ted Geisel until college, until he got into some trouble.  Having been banned from writing and drawing cartoons for the school paper and magazines, he started using his mother's maiden name, though with a different pronunciation - "Seuss".

After cartooning for quite a bit, and writing and drawing for advertisements, Dr. Seuss started writing books for kids in 1937 (To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street was the first one).  All in all, he wrote and illustrated 44 books for children.  The Cat In The Hat was his 13th book, first seen in 1957.  To this day, The Cat remains the author's most recognizable character, and some even say that The Cat was a metaphor for Seuss himself.  Let's get to The Cat now. 

The Cat In The Hat is a story that focuses on a boring, wet, dull day - "The sun did not shine.  It was too wet to play."  There was nothing to do... blah.  But then The Cat shows up (despite loud protests from The Fish), and the boredom vanishes.  His "look what I can do!" attitude is both entertaining and scary (what if they get caught?!), and even cleaning up the playthings becomes fun with The Cat around.  (But will it get done by the time that Mother gets home?)

For this story, I just had to make The Cat's iconic Hat.  I tried to make it both delicious and not horribly unhealthy.  I think it came out pretty well... what do you think?

Cat In The Hat Hats
Vanilla wafers

1. Cut a banana into rounds.
2. Cut a strawberry into rounds.  For this, I tried to choose strawberries that look like they do in drawings, instead of the giant 3- and 4-lobed ones that you sometimes get in the cartons. 
3. Stack one banana slice onto a strawberry slice and cut them in half.  Repeat until you have the desired amount of fruit slices.
4. Break one vanilla wafer in half.  On a plate, lay down a vanilla wafer half so that it stands straight up.  On one side of it, place the half-moon slices you made of banana and strawberry to make the stripes, and you have yourself a hat!  Repeat as necessary to make as many hats as you like.

I also tried this in 3D, placing whole slices on top of a wafer to make hats, but I prefer the laying-down version.  Here's a photo of those type of hats, though:
You may do with it as you will.  But whatever you do, don't ever stop celebrating Dr. Seuss.  You won't be alone - his birthday is now the official day for the NEA's Read Across America Program.

I can't decide which Seuss story is my favorite.  It's either Horton Hatches An Egg, or The Sneeches.  What's your favorite?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Yoko's Dessert Sushi

Rosemary Wells makes me sit up and take notice.  (Literally.  She was a judge on a Food Network cake competition once, and I sat up and paid attention to the whole thing.)  You may know her as the creator of rabbit siblings Max and Ruby, who have tons of books and even a tv show to their name.  Or perhaps you know her McDuff series about a lovable terrier.  But no matter which of her characters you may have seen, please don't ignore this one!

Yoko is a lovely Japanese-American kitten who is really excited to start school.  Her mother has even packed her very favorite lunch... sushi! It's too bad that the other kids in class don't appreciate it.  Or her red bean ice cream.  It's SEAWEED!  It's WEIRD!  "Yuckorama!" Sure, they may not all be eating the same thing, but... who eats THAT?  Poor Yoko.  She doesn't feel happy about school anymore. 

Her teacher, Mrs. Jenkins, couldn't seem to cheer up our poor heroine.  Being a good teacher, she came up with a great idea to get a handle on the situation.  She sent home a notice announcing International Food Day; each parent was supposed to make a family recipe and bring in enough for everyone to try.  Foods from all over the world are there! Yoko's mother makes enough sushi for everyone to have some.  But will anybody try it?

I, like many of Yoko's classmates, am not a big fan of sushi.  To be honest, I don't eat any seafood at all.  But I couldn't slight Yoko and not make sushi, so I've found a way to make her favorite dish without having to... by making it out of gummy fish instead of real ones!

I used the recipe for Original Rice Krispie Treats as found on  If you're adventurous, or hungry, there are a ton of awesome variations on their theme there.  I plan on making several of them when I have the time, ingredients, and people to eat them.

Yoko's Dessert Sushi
 6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
3 tbsp. butter or margarine
1 10.oz bag of regular-size marshmallows OR 4 cups mini-marshmallows
Gummy worms
Gummy fish
Fruit Roll-Ups

1. Melt the butter or margarine in a large saucepan over low heat.  Add the marshmallows and stir constantly until everything is melted together.
2. Add the rice krispies to the marshmallow mixture and stir until evenly coated.
3. Wait until the mixture is cool enough to touch - don't burn yourself!  This is VERY IMPORTANT!
4.  There are two ways to do the next part.  You can either
          A) Put enough Krispie Treat mixture to cover all but a 1-inch stripe of a fruit roll-up, about half an inch thick. Add a few gummy worms, and roll up, using the un-covered inch of fruit roll-up to complete the outer covering of the roll.
          B) Make a cylinder of Krispie Treat around 3 or 4 gummy worms, and then cover with a fruit roll-up.
Really, the method you choose depends on your preference.  I made them both ways, and neither one was particularly easy, but neither was hair-pullingly-hard to do, either.  All in all, they looked about the same in the end, so I was happy.
5. Then, cut your log of gummies-krispies-fruit-roll-ups into slices of about an inch.  (It may be easier to do this after a brief stay in the refrigerator.)
6. Alternately, or additionally, you can make Rice Krispie sashimi by making a solid piece of the treat mixture, adding a gummy fish, and securing with a strip of fruit roll-up.  This was much simpler to do, and it still looks pretty good.  Sound confusing?  Here's a photo of the finished product:

I had also intended to add frosting wasabi, but that sadly didn't come to pass.

As a note, I feel that it's fair to mention that these were very very sweet, but they certainly were delicious. If this is too time-consuming, I have also seen people make dessert sushi by cutting snack-cakes into slices.  They also look lovely, but they don't have gummy fish.  Or a book.  So I think I'm okay.

I feel bad that I set a bad example by not eating the food that's part of the trying-different-foods lesson, but I think I'll just have to forgive myself on this one, since I have tried seafood, and I know that I dislike it.  Would it make you feel better if I tried one new food this week to make up for it?

In other news, I'm hoping to have a minimum of one blog post a week.  Please yell at me if I don't keep it up.  You can contact me at, on my Facebook fan page, or right here on the blog itself in the comments.  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bake Sale Cupcakes

Bake Sale by Sara Varon is a graphic novel for children that follows Cupcake, a cupcake who owns the Sweet Tooth Bakery, plays the drums, and wears a delicious cherry on his head whenever possible.  He's best friends with an eggplant named Eggplant (who sleeps with a sock monkey - I love that), and we also meet such characters as Sugar, Avocado, and Potato.  If you look closely, you might even spot a cameo by Mr. Peanut.

Over the course of the novel, we follow Cupcake as he runs his bakery, attends band practice, and daydreams about one day meeting his idol, famous pastry chef Turkish Delight.  When he finds out that Eggplant's aunt is best friends with Turkish Delight, and that Eggplant is planning a trip to Turkey to go visit, AND that he is also invited to go... well! Cupcake kicks things into high gear and starts saving up for a plane ticket right then and there.  He sells dog biscuits at the dog show, marzipan animals at the Blessing of the Animals, and peppermint brownies for Valentine's Day - anything to help pay for this trip!  But when he finds out that Eggplant has been laid off and might not be able to go to Turkey after all... what's a Cupcake to do?

I picked up Bake Sale because it looked like a fun read, but imagine my excitement when I found out that 7 of Cupcake's recipes are also sprinkled in the pages!  I was tempted especially by the peppermint brownies and the sugared flowers (how cool are those?!), but in the end, I needed to make cupcakes in honor of Cupcake.  (Can you blame me?)  The recipe for the cake and the frosting is right in the back of the book - page 148 in the copy I have here.

Bake Sale Cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Line two 12-cup muffin tins with muffin papers.  ("If you make mini-cupcakes," the author says, "this recipe will make 96!"  So you may want to cut the recipe in half.  No matter how many cupcakes you make, mini-cupcakes will take about 1/3 less cooking time.)
2. In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth.  Add the sugar gradually, and beat until fluffy, around 3 minutes.  (Kat's note: make sure all the sugar is integrated before proceeding, even if it takes longer than 3 minutes.  Trust me, if you don't, then your cupcakes won't come together right and will be all gummy and gross.)
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
4. Combine the flours in a smaller bowl and whisk together.  Add it to the butter mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla.  Beat well after each addition.
5. Spoon the batter into your muffin tins, so your cups are about 3/4 full.  (I used a measuring cup and scooped it in that way.  It was easier to handle.)
6. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the tops spring back when lightly touched.  Mine came out perfectly after 20 minutes exactly.
7. Remove the cupcakes from the tin and let them cool completely before you frost them. 

 They came out perfectly.  Soft, barely golden brown around the edges, and smelling delicious. It was hard to let them cool, but somehow I managed.

For the frosting:
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
8 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Place butter in a large mixing bowl.  (I cut my butter into chunks first, but that may be personal preference.)
2. Add 4 cups of the sugar, all the milk, and the vanilla.
3. "Beat like crazy with electric mixer, until smooth and creamy."  (Love it!)  The author also notes that you should mix at a medium or high speed, but only after working up to it, because if you start on a high speed, the sugar will fly everywhere.
4. Gradually add remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, until the frosting is of the desired consistency.  You may not need to use all the sugar.

I have not historically had a heck of a lot of luck making my own frosting (which is, to be fair, my own fault for usually jumping right in instead of reading all the directions first, or for having a mixer that starts blowing smoke at me when I decide to mix with it - a problem since solved), so I was hesitant... but it came out perfectly!  It's so fluffy and delicious!  Ms. Varon states that you can store any unused frosting in a covered container at room temperature for up to 3 days.  I put my extra (about 3 cupcakes' worth, and I didn't skimp on the frosting) in a tupperware in the fridge, because sometimes I just can't help but be a rebel.
I actually cut this recipe in half and made 12 cupcakes instead of 24, but they came out perfectly.  Seriously, this was the tastiest cake batter I've ever licked off a rubber spatula.  And not too shabby baked, either!  (Good enough, in fact, that my official taster and I couldn't help ourselves from each eating one, though we had just come back from eating a huge dinner.)  Also, I didn't have any cherries, but so I substituted a strawberry. 

It's lovely, don't you think?

If you like Bake Sale,  Sara Varon also has a few other books, namely Robot Dreams, Sweater Weather, Chicken and Cat, and Chicken and Cat Clean Up.  You can visit her website at 

On a personal note, I'm sorry I haven't posted recently.  If I ever go this long again, please yell at me to write more.  You can email me with good comments, bad ones, requests, recommendations, or just to say hi at, or you can follow me on Facebook and talk to me there, OR you can leave me a comment here on the blog itself!  So many options!