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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Haunted Halloween Gingerbread House

This was one of those, "I have to have it" items; a fully baked complete Halloween Gingerbread Haunted House kit from Williams-Sonoma. No infomercial was necessary to convince me that this was a cooking toy ready made for my child-like, Halloween-loving and cooking experiment tendencies. For under $20, it's one of those things you don't have to love love love in order to justify purchasing. I have a lot of those justifications that fall within my under $20 rule. If you like it and it's $5, $10 or $20 bucks, you can buy it. Small wonder that my house looks like a thrift shop!
The gingerbread house came with black and orange icing, to use as the "glue" and decorating adhesive. It also came with candy corn, pumpkin gumballs, orange sprinkles, candy bats in orange and black, two ghosts and a gingerbread headstone. A few of the items were damaged in transit but fortunately, I had some Halloween cake decorations from last year to use as additional embellishments, plus we had loads of candy pumpkins and candy corn to add to the house. Putting these houses together is not that easy, though the kit is nearly full proof, but not fool-proof. I do not have the gift of icing piping. It took three days to put the house together mostly because it takes several hours for the icing to harden and dry. With the damp and humid weather of late, the icing didn't set as quickly as it should. Also I do not have a steady and patient hand. Covering up my errors and mishaps with candy decorations hid a lot of the bad. I will not win any Food Network Gingerbread Challenges nor will I be asked to join the team of Charm City Cakes any time soon. It was a lot of fun to put together and I will definately buy one again next year, at full price too if I'm not working at the store next year. I'm hoping that they may have a Christmas version too. I learned a few lessons in what not to do and what I can do better next time. Note to self - cut a smaller hole in the icing bag and get some spray icing in a can for better piping.
Some good or not so good lighting, as the case may be, can also add to the illusion of a cute Halloween Gingerbread Haunted House. Let's just say I put this together in time for a) Halloween. It's now proudly on display in my front window, the main attraction of my South Philly Halloween Window; b) I made it so that I can show it off to the Nibblet for his (hopefully) Halloween trip home from the hospital. While I am busy going back and forth to the hospital several times each day, as I stated in my previous post, cooking and to an extent, playing with food is relaxing to me. So is decorating my window for the holidays. Hey, it keeps me in sync with my routines. Now I just have to get back to the gym and on the bike. Of course, the Nibblet will have the ultimate say in how and when that happens.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Stuffed Pancakes ala Xpress Redi Set GO!

One would wonder how I've found the time to cook now that we have a baby. Given that he's still in the hospital, there are a few spare hours when I'm not doing errands, driving back and forth to the hospital, or trying to clean and organize the house - the nursery, the "office/guest room" and the rest of our humble abode. Cooking is my relaxation. Besides, we need to keep the healthier foods on hand. It's becoming way too easy to grab a meal or pizza out or on the go. I've not been able to get to the gym for two weeks, and eating well has been somewhat challenging. The first 5 days from the day Liz went into the hospital until she came home, I don't think I ate more than one proper meal during that whole time. Weight gain concerns aside, I am finding my biggest challenges to be making time for housework, cooking, and getting into a routine. Cooking at least allows me to feel like I have some small amount of control over my life right now.

My present for attaining my driver's license and for the baby's entree into our world (aside from the Nibblet himself!) was the Xpress Redi Set Go cook unit. Granted, I can and do purchase a lot of cookware from Williams-Sonoma, but there is something so soothing and addictive for me when I watch cooking Infomercials. I have watched for hours, the infomercial for the Magic Bullet. Even though I have a blender, a huge Cuisinart food processor, a mini-food processor, and a combo blender/food processor - I'm covered on my blending, whizzing, whirring and pureeing areas of the kitchen. However, I covet the Magic Bullet! The other infomercial that has hooked me is for the Xpress Redi Set Go! The thing about these infomercials is that they are so perfectly scripted, with a cast of hilarious characters and such easy to make food from your own ingredients, that you can't help but get convinced that you not only want these cooking machines, you entire culinary life depends on your having these items NOW! With the Magic Bullet, the dish that convinces me I need it is - Alfredo Sauce. I don't even eat that stuff any more. With the Redi Set Go, it's a combination of Instant Easy Pizza, Stuffed Chicken Breast made from scratch and the piece de resistance - cooking those Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls - one or two at at time as opposed to turning on the oven and cooking the whole batch. Cinnamon buns whenever you want, without wasting oven heating time! Please baby please, I gotta have it! So, Liz ordered it for me and today it arrived. I wasted no time and made stuffed pancakes, which I will now share. Aside from my love of the cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, I do believe that I will be blogging recipes and meals made with my new favorite cook tool. So far, I made breakfast and dinner using the Redi Set Go unit. Tomorrow I may make all three meals in it!

Caramelized Apples and Banana Walnut Chocolate Chip
Stuffed Pancakes Ingredients:
(makes 4 large stuffed pancakes)
  • 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 Cup Quick Cooking Oats
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon of Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 2 Large Eggs, or 1/2 Cup Egg Substitute - lightly beaten
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 1/2 Cups Milk (I used skim, but any kind will do)
  • Butter, Oil or Cooking Spray for the Xpress Redi Set Go
For Stuffed Ingredients:
  • 1 of Each - Peeled and thinly sliced apples and bananas
  • 1 Tablespoon Butter or Margarine - divided
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar - divided
  • 2 Tablespoons Chopped Walnuts - divided
  • 2 Tablespoons Chocolate Chips - divided
  1. If you have the Magic Bullet, whiz all the ingredients together in that, otherwise follow on:
  2. Whisk the dry ingredients, flours though Cinnamon, together in a large mixing bowl.
  3. In another bowl, beat the eggs, vanilla extract and the milk to incorporate. Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and stir to combine thoroughly, but do not over mix. There should be some small lumps. Set mixture aside and allow to sit for at least 10 to 20 minutes so the flours have time to absorb into the liquid. This allows the flavors to meld together and in general, makes a more tender pancake.
  4. Brush or spray oil or butter into the large well plate of the Xpress Redi Set Go cooker. Turn on the machine and allow it to heat up. When it's ready, melt some butter into the cooking plate sprinkle some sugar over the melted butter and arrange 5 or 6 apple slices over the sugar. Close unit and cook for 2 minutes to caramelize the apples.
  5. When the apples are cooked, pour the pancake batter over the caramelized apples. Close the unit and cook the pancake for 5 minutes or until the top portion is no longer wet.
  6. Carefully remove the pancake with the plastic spatula. Serve hot with butter, syrup, peanut butter, powdered sugar or whatever topping you desire!
  7. Repeat steps with bananas, except pour the pancake batter over the bananas before they caramelize. Next, top with chopped walnuts and chocolate chips (if using) and push the walnuts and chips into the wet batter to submerge them. Close the unit and cook for 5 minutes or until the top of the pancake is no longer wet.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nibblet News

We've been a little bit busy these days. The baby is now 10 days old. Hard to believe that he's only been in our lives for 10 days! There have been multiple daily trips to the hospital to see him, feed and cuddle with him. For the most part, we - mother, baby and momma, are doing well, though it is difficult to have to head out each day to visit him and then to have to leave without him. He's doing better each day, getting stronger and growing a bit. Considering he still had about 5 weeks to go, he's doing extraordinarily well. The nurses have told us that he "suffers" from "Wimpy White Boy Syndrome." Whereby the premie white males tend to be lazy or immature eaters! Yikes - my boy a lazy eater! No son of mine should ever be considered slow to eat. He's reached all of his major late-term premature baby milestones though - he's now gestationally 35 weeks old, can hold his body temperature outside of the isolette (aka, the incubator), and has gained some weight after having lost a few ounces from his birth weight. The biggest hurdle to overcome is getting him to eat entirely from a bottle and not have to take his feedings via a tube gavage style. Poor little gossling! We figure we'll work on the nursing later - his mouth wants to work on learning how to nurse but his mouth is too small and his latching skills aren't up to snuff yet. In the meantime, we've been heading to the hospital at least two times a day for a few hours. When not at the hospital, we've been trying to have some sort of routine. I finally got most of the house cleaned and organized; cooked a bunch so we could have some decent meals and got his nursery and clothing sorted. Heck, I even found time to can four jars of applesauce - the last of our organic apples from the farm share. Hopefull in a few months time, when the Nibblet is on solid foods, I'll be feeding him from my organic pantry storehouse. For future Nibblet News - We'll be posting at our other blog - Nibblet News - As of today, we don't have any posts up. Videos, pictures and baby food recipes will be forthcoming!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

May I Present to You: Nathaniel Paul

The birth of our son came as a quick surprise. The Phillie's game was on the television, Thursday evening, October 15, 2009. The Phillies were playing the LA Dodgers in California and the game was ending in a loss. Liz and I were both in bed; I was just drifting off into sleep. Around Midnight into Friday morning, Liz had a strange sensation and thought her water had broke. She threw back the bed sheet and discovered that it wasn't water, but rather, blood, a lot of blood. I hear from inside my sleep distance, "OH NO! There's blood!" Liz rushed into the bathroom, leaving a trail. I jumped out of bed and start running around frantically. Liz is calming telling me to call 911. I'm screaming, "Should I call the Doctor? Should I call our Neighbors? Should I take you to the Hospital?" "NO! CALL 911!" yells Liz. She's strangely calm. I on the other hand, am crazed. After several more "OH MY G*D's" and a call to 911 later, Liz is instructed to lay down on her left side. She's so quiet. I covered her with a blanket and we waited for the rescue squad. Hamlet, the dog was barking and Liz tells me to go get dressed, put on a bra, socks, shoes and take the dog to the neighbor's. Out into the street I go, waving down the rescue squad and into the neighbor's house I ran, tossing Hamlet towards Michele and Fabrizio. Within minutes, four strapping firefighters come into the house and upstairs to talk to Liz. After a few questions as to her current state, how far along in the pregnancy she was, Liz was put onto a stretcher and taken to Penna Hospital. Once admitted, Liz was whisked into a labor and delivery room and checked and monitored. The doctors thought that Liz was experiencing Placenta Previa - where the placenta moves down in the uterus and covers the cervix. Either that or it had moved and caused a tear. Whatever the case (we are all still unsure) the doctors determined that the safest route for mother and son would be to deliver the baby via c-section. Liz is on blood thinner medicine, to prevent her from having a blood clot - so they waited 24 hours to have the medicine get out of her system, before they could operate. Saturday morning, October 17th at 9:30 am, they took her into the Operating Room and by 10:08, Baby Boy Nathaniel came into the world with a great big yelp! 6 pounds of pure love and energy. Nothing like a fairly quick delivery to take all of the guess work out of what needs to be done, how and why. Because he came into the world so quickly and unexpectedly, we had little choice for all of the decisions we thought we had to make - such as how and when will Liz's medicine get changed; when to pack a hospital bag; finishing his room and getting his gear together. Our house is in disarray, the car seat has yet to be purchased, and his nursery is only half finished. A week ago, we were attending a parenting - pre-natal birthing class. A week ago, I finally got my driver's license. A week ago, we were a two-some, contemplating the three-some we were about to become in 5 to 6 weeks. Now, I am a mother, a full-fledged driver, a grateful parent and relived partner. Whew, who knew 48 hours and 6 pounds could change your life so completely?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Embellished Banana Muffins with a Twist

Bananas are my favorite fruit. Compact, easy to carry, and they come in their own disposable/biodegradable container. Bananas are high in potassium; they are thought to help ward off the a cyclist's dreaded leg cramp known as a "Charlie Horse"; excellent food to eat for an immediate energy boost; and they help with high blood pressure control. South America's greatest export. I absolutely believe in a banana a day as my daily medicine, though an apple a day is much more filling. I've previously posted that I am not much of a baker and tend to stick to the things I do well and that are easy. Quick breads and crisps and the occasional pie. I could post several entries on the "Mess-Cake" series. Treats that taste mostly good but are not photo or blog-worthy. Maybe the next time I'm stuck for an entry, I'll publish some of my memorable-but let's never talk about it again-baking experiments gone awry. This recipe is firmly in the category of works every time, tastes great, and guess what? it's really good for you. A retooled Deceptively Delicious Banana Bread recipe, I've worked it up to lower the fat even more, added in more fiber and kept the muffins low-cal and incredibly moist. I'm tooting my own shofar here - These muffins are my best baking effort yet! I have been making the recipe in a regular sized 12 portion muffin-pan; keeping six plain, and adding chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and or nuts to the other six. This way if Liz wants a plain muffin that she can add a schmear of peanut butter to, it's there. I prefer banana and chocolate - a more perfect combination I know not.

Banana Muffin Ingredients:
  • 1 1/4 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Wheat Germ, Flax Seed Flour or Quick Cook Oatmeal
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/2 Cup Packed Light or Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Non-Fat Greek Style Plain Yogurt, or Regular Non-Fat Plain Yogurt (or use a small container - 4.5 to 6 ounces total)
  • 2 Large Eggs or 1 Whole Egg and 1 Egg White (it depends on what you want- or of course, you could use egg substitute liquid)
  • 1 1/2 Cups Banana Puree - about 3 Medium/Large Bananas. (It's okay to use a bit more, up to 2 cups, if that's what it measures)
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • Optional add-ins: Walnuts, Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Peanut butter Chip
  1. Preheat oven to 350 Degrees. Use a 12 portion regular sized muffin tin or two 6 portion tins and line each with cupcake liners/inserts.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, flours, wheat germ or oatmeal, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. In another large mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar and the yogurt and whisk to "cream" the sugar - incorporating the dairy product with the sugar to help the sugar start to dissolve. Mix in the eggs, banana puree and vanilla. Stir to combine thoroughly.
  4. Gently fold in the flour mixture and stir to combine. If the mixture appears too wet and loose, feel free to add in more flour, oatmeal, wheatgerm or flax seed flour - by the quarter cup. The batter will be wet, but should not be too loose or liquidy.
  5. Using a spring loaded ice-cream scoop, fill each muffin insert to the top with the mixture. It's easier to fill the muffin cups with the ice-cream scoop. If adding in nuts and chips, scatter over the top of the muffin batter and gently push down into the wet batter, submerging part-way. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Cool muffins in the muffin tin for 5 minutes before removing them. Turn out and cool the muffins on a wire rack completely before serving. Makes 1 dozen 4-6 ounce muffins.