Category Archives: Uncategorized

Baking & Board Games: A Perfect Snow Day

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Baking and Board Games:
What better way to spend a mid-week, school-canceled SNOW DAY!

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With a little sledding, snow-fort making and hot chocolate sipping added to keep things balanced.

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080610 022-1Raspberry Chocolate Oatmeal Muffins (recipe below)

021910 095Our Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies (recipe HERE)

RECIPE:

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Raspberry Chocolate Oatmeal Muffins

recipe from Aimée at Simple Bites

**Prep Note: the oats need to soak in the milk for 1 hour before adding the rest of the ingredients.

1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 1 Tbs white vinegar or lemon juice)
1 cup rolled oats
1 large egg, at room temperature
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar
½ cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup raspberries or mixed berries (fresh or frozen)
½ cup dark chocolate chunks or chips

Combine buttermilk and oats in a large bowl and let stand for one hour. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

Stir the egg into the oat and milk mixture; add brown sugar and sugar; mix to combine. Stir in melted butter. In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, & spices. Gently fold into batter, taking care not to over mix. Gently stir in raspberries and chocolate.

Spoon batter into muffin tins. Bake until light brown and tops spring back when gently touched, about 15 minutes (they will take slightly longer if using frozen berries).

Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12 medium muffins

 

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Thanksgiving Meal Prep Planning

For me, an enjoyable, stress-free Thanksgiving is all in the advance planning. Best plan: pot-luck meal where you have limited cooking responsibility! But it is still possible to have a low-stress day and prepare the entire meal yourself. With one oven. Here is our menu this year, and the plan for getting it done with the least amount of Thanksgiving Day chaos.

Our Thanksgiving Menu:

Herb Brined Roast Turkey

Gravy

Rolls

Cranberry Sauce

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Garlic Stuffing

Green Beans with Bacon and Almonds

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Mushrooms

Pumpkin Pie

Cherry Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie

Thanksgiving Gameplan:

  • Monday (or earlier):
    • Make rolls; parbake and freeze
    • Cube bread for stuffing, set out on trays to dry; roast garlic for stuffing and potatoes, refrigerate (see Roasted Garlic Stuffing for full recipe)
    • Eat all of the leftovers in the fridge so you have room for all of your advance preparations and Thanksgiving leftovers! Keep eating leftovers Tuesday and Wednesday until your fridge is empty; no more leftovers? Order pizza.
  • Tuesday:
    • Prepare brine (see Turkey Timetable below)
    • Prepare Make-Ahead Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes; refrigerate
    • Make cranberry sauce; refrigerate
  • Wednesday:
    • Add turkey to brine (see Turkey Timetable)
    • Chop vegetables for stuffing; place in Ziploc bags; refrigerate
    • Prepare veges for Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Mushrooms (this is a new recipe I’m trying this year from Kalyn’s Kitchen. It sounds great, but does require a lot of oven space and time, so I am going to try to roast it for half the time on Wednesday, refrigerate, and then finish on Thursday)
    • Cook bacon and toast almonds for the Green Beans with Bacon
    • Make pies
  • Thursday:
    • Prepare stuffing. Cook for 30 minutes in oven. Transfer to crock pot. Keep warm on lowest heat. **Do this before putting the turkey in the oven
    • Prepare and roast turkey (see Turkey Timetable)
    • Remove mashed potatoes from fridge; place in covered casserole dish; let potatoes come to room temperature (I am going to reheat the potatoes in the oven; you could also reheat them in a crock pot on low for several hours)
    • Remove sweet potatoes from fridge and place on baking sheet;cover and let come to room temperature.
    • Remove rolls from freezer. Place on a baking sheet and cover with foil or plastic wrap.
    • Sit and enjoy family for the next hour or two while the turkey cooks!
    • When turkey is done: remove from oven and let rest for at least 30 minutes.
    • As soon as turkey comes out of oven: mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes go in the oven
    • Make gravy; keep warm on low heat
    • Steam green beans; stir in bacon and almonds (see Bacon Beans for full recipe)
    • While you are preparing beans, have someone else begin to carve the turkey, and kids begin to put food on the table
    • Remove potatoes and sweet potatoes from the oven. Bake rolls for 5-7 minutes, until hot and golden brown.
    • Relax and enjoy!

Thanksgiving Turkey Timetable:

  • Tuesday evening: Prepare brine. Cover and let it sit overnight.
  • Wednesday morning: Add turkey to brine; Let it sit in a cool place (below 40°F) for 12-24 hours (I usually go with close to 24 hours)
  • Thursday (Thanksgiving!):
    • 4 hours before you plan to serve the meal: Remove turkey from brine. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes
    • 3 1/2 hours before eating: Prep turkey and put in the oven. Roast until cooked through (about 2 1/2 to 3 hours total)
    • 30 minutes before eating: Remove turkey from oven and let rest for 30 minutes.
    • Serving time: Carve and serve turkey.

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Jaws 2010

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A quick break from Thanksgiving Recipes to bring you Jaws 2010. Three creative young bakers put together this fabulous 3-D Jaws Cake (complete with dismembered Barbie) for a Retro Jaws Party last night.

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An open-mouthed shark (formed out of Rice Krispies Treats) filled with blood-stained teeth (piped white chocolate) all on a sea of Red Velvet Cake. After the cake was completed the girls had a whole new respect for Cake Boss!111210 010-1

A-M-A Bakers hard at work!

111210 013-1 Many thanks to Little J for sacrificing a Barbie for the project!

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Happy Birthday

This weekend marks two milestone birthdays around here. One year ago, I started this humble little blog. That weekend also happened to be my 39th birthday. I will leave it to you mathematicians to figure out how old that makes me today. From here on out I think I will start counting my age in blog-years instead of actual years since my birth.

Since I started blogging a year ago, there are 2 questions that I get asked a lot. Why did I decide to start a blog? and Why did I name my blog “No Empty Chairs”?

With a growing family of 7 competing for computer time on one home computer, I don’t usually get much time to just “surf the net”. I usually have a specific purpose for using the computer. One day several years ago, I was looking for a recipe for a specific dish. And I came across my very first food blog (Kalyn’s Kitchen). A whole new world opened up to me that day! I had no idea there were so many people out there writing about food. I was instantly hooked. I followed links to find other great food blogs. I set up an iGoogle home page so that I could follow RSS feeds, and know when my favorite bloggers posted new recipes. I rarely commented, but loved the wealth of information and new recipes to try. I bookmarked (and cooked) tons of new recipes.

Until last year, starting my own blog was something that I thought about, but only as a far off dream. After all-I have no photographic skills or equipment; no real culinary training; I’m a math geek not a creative writer; and I felt like I had no time to really call my own, especially with little kids still home all day, big kids with their own schedules later in the day, and a full-time responsibility at church. But I did love to cook; still love to cook.

Cooking and mealtimes have always meant so much more to me than just filling a physical need for nourishment. Food and meals (and of course treats!) are a way of connecting as family and friends, a way to share both happiness and tragedy, and a vehicle for showing love and gratitude. Family mealtime, dinner in particular, is one family tradition that I have always been adamant about. I learn more about my children at family meals than at any other time during the day. And what better way to entice your children to sit and talk than to provide them with foods they love (okay-they rarely ALL love every item in every meal, but it is getting a little better as they get a little older).

For years I have collected and organized in various ways our “Family Recipes”, the food that our family loves to eat. Some are new recipes found in cookbooks or magazines (or blogs!) and some are treasured favorites from family and friends. Some are things that I have created myself. I had always planned to find the “perfect” way to pass these on to my children as part of their connection to their past, something like a family cookbook. Blogging is my newest attempt at creating that lasting link for them. One that can continue to grow.

So about a year and a half ago, I started to find myself thinking about blogging more and more. Composing posts in my head as I cooked, or planned meals. Lying awake in bed at night wondering what I would call a blog. And then usually dismissing all of those thoughts with doubts and reasons why I would never really do it- lack of time, lack of skills: both photographically and computer/technology related.

Which brought me to my 39th birthday.  A perfect time for reflection and self-analysis. And maybe just a little bit of panic! Our family was gathered around the TV in the family room watching the General Conference broadcast from our church. Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was speaking. His talk was on the perfect example of Jesus Christ, and ways that we should pattern our lives after Him. He talked about a gravestone near his home with the inscription, “Please, no empty chairs”. As he spoke about this woman’s desire for her family to be together throughout eternity, a great overwhelming feeling came to me that this is exactly what I want as well. I want no empty chairs at my eternal table. So I will start with No Empty Chairs at my kitchen table. I want my family (and friends and neighbors) to WANT to sit around my table. To share life, with all of its joys and trials, as we share the nourishment and joy of food.

And so I invite you to fill a chair at our table, as I share the food that feeds both the body and soul in our home and helps cement bonds of family unity and friendship. Welcome to No Empty Chairs. I’ve saved you a seat.

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For those of you who have dragged yourselves through such a long-winded post, I share my favorite birthday cake:

Strawberries and Cream Sponge Cake Roll

5 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
5 egg whites
½ tsp cream of tartar
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup sifted powdered sugar
½ cup flour

Powdered Sugar

1 quart strawberries, sliced
2 Tbs sugar
2 cups whipping/heavy cream
½ tsp vanilla
2-3 Tbs powdered sugar
Whole strawberries for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 15×10” jellyroll pan (or cookie sheet with sides) with wax paper and spray with cooking spray (Cooking spray w/flour in it for baking works great).

Beat egg yolks until light and lemon colored. Stir in vanilla. Beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and salt, beating until stiff. Fold in ¾ cup powdered sugar. Fold in egg yolk mixture. Fold in flour. Spread batter in pan. Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes (do not let cake brown).

Using a fine mesh strainer, sift a small amount of powdered sugar on a linen towel. Turn hot cake out onto towel. Carefully peel off waxed paper. Roll up cake in the towel. Cool on a wire rack.

Combine strawberries and 2 Tbs sugar; let sit for 5 minutes. Beat whipping cream until foamy. Add 2-3 Tbs powdered sugar and ½ tsp vanilla, beating until soft peaks form. Unroll cake. Spread cake with berries, then half of the whipped cream. Reroll cake. Place on a serving plate. Frost with remaining whipped cream. Garnish with whole strawberries. Chill until serving time.

Sugar Free/Whole Grain Alternative: Substitute Stevia or Splenda for the sugar (use Splenda in the cake; stevia does not provide the bulk the cake needs, but is fine for sweetening the filling), and oat flour or finely ground whole wheat flour (white wheat, preferably) for the white flour.

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For detailed cake prep pictures and directions, see THIS POST


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August Adventures and a Summer Peach Dessert

I have been thinking bad thoughts about computers, technology and blogging lately. I know just enough (and no more) that when things go wrong, I can usually make things even worse before calling for reinforcements (ie  my teenagers). Even they were not able to fix everything, so I am still thinking some of those bad thoughts, but finally, I am at least able to do some posting (in a much more labor-intensive way that I usually do).

The last few weeks we have had a lot of fun family adventures, but I have not done much food picture taking. Today is just a quick look at what we have been up to and a delicious recipe to celebrate the end of summer!

Piano Recital for Big and Little A:


Little A’s Baptism!

Big J performed the baptism and Brian did the confirmation.

 

Big A’s 15th Birthday

What a lovely and amazing young woman she has grown into!

Whitewater Rafting Trip

Little J wishing she was big enough to go rafting!

Tubing, Skiing and Wakeboarding on Deep Creek Lake

These Peach Cobbler bars were a great way to end a fabulous summer. You can eat them warm topped with ice cream (although they will not cut very nicely warm), or let them cool and cut into squares.

RECIPE:

Peach Cobbler Bars
—————-(adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)

Dough:
3 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla

Filling:
6 cups diced peaches (about 8 peaches)
2 Tbs lemon juice
½ cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.

Dough: In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Use a pastry blender to cut in the butter. Mix the egg and vanilla and then cut into the dough. The dough will be crumbly. Pat about 2/3 of the dough into the prepared pan. Place the pan and the remainder of the dough in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Filling: Place the diced peaches in a large bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice. Mix gently. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour over the peaches and mix gently.

Spread the peach mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble the remaining dough over the peach layer.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until the top is slightly brown.

Serve warm with ice cream (bars will not cut neatly while warm), or cool completely and cut into squares.

Yield: 24 bars

 

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Fruit Pizza

080610 078-1 Summer is birthday season at our house. With one child’s birthday at the beginning of summer and then three more within four weeks of each other later in the  summer , we have a lot of cake and sugar floating around our house. So I am grateful for Big J for going with a lighter dessert for his birthday yesterday. He usually goes for the more non-traditional birthday desserts. And with all of the fresh fruit available, I was really happy to make a Fruit Pizza.

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Eighteen Years! Eighteen years, in a land far, far away, my life changed forever. I can’t decide whether those 18 years have flown by, or that I’ve been a mom forever. Either way, it has been a wonderful journey. I love you J! It’s these coming years, as my babies slowly start leaving the nest that are making me nervous.

080610 051-1 This Fruit Pizza has a shortbread crust, a thin layer of slightly sweetened cream cheese, luscious summer fruit, and a light glaze on top. The fruit I used, from the inside out: blueberries, mango, raspberries, kiwi and strawberries.

The glaze is made from any light-colored fruit juice (I used a peach-mango, which turned out great!), some sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice (to keep cut fruit from browning, especially if you are using bananas or peaches).

Pre-Glazed Fruit Pizza:

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RECIPE:

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Fruit Pizza

Crust:
½ cup powdered sugar
1 ½ cups flour
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup butter, softened
½ tsp vanilla extract

Filling:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 Tbs powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Fruit (strawberries, blueberries, bananas, kiwi, mangos, peaches, grapes, pineapple, raspberries, etc.)

Glaze:
½ cup sugar
2 Tbs cornstarch or Clear Jel
2 tsp lemon juice
1 ½ cups clear fruit juice (apple, white grape, peach-mango,lemonade, etc)

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Crust: Using a pastry blender, mix ½ cup powdered sugar, flour, salt, butter and ½ tsp vanilla. Press onto a pizza pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Cool completely.

Filling: Combine cream cheese, 2 Tbs powdered sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla. Spread over cooled crust. Arrange fruit on cream cheese layer.

Glaze: Combine sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and fruit juice in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture is thickened. Cool and spoon over fruit (all of the glaze may not be used). Chill. Slice into wedges to serve.

 

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It’s Great To Be Eight!

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Happy 8th Birthday to my Little A,
who is not quite so little anymore.

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Don’t you just love a good set of dimples!

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Turning Teen and Three Chocolate & Peanut Butter Creations

DSC06459-1 Last week was my Middle K’s 13th birthday! While she is technically the “middle child”, she is in the unique position to play, as it suits her, the role of oldest, middle or youngest child.

In terms of birth order, you can’t get much more middle than our Middle K. The third of five children, with both a younger and older brother, and a younger and older sister.  But as there is a five-year age gap between Middle K and Little A, she spent a fair amount of time as the “baby” of the family. This age gap often divides our family when it comes to activities: the “big kids” and the “little kids” (think amusement parks here).  So in these settings, she fills that youngest child role. But at home, she has really stepped into the “oldest child” role with respect to the little ones. She is the one they come to when they want to play, and she is often the one to help them and put them to bed when Brian and I are out.

I guess it is in her adaptability that her strength as a middle child really shines. What a blessing to our family.

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If only she would look at a camera willingly!

Middle K loves to cook, as long as it is something sweet, and she has been on a real chocolate and peanut butter kick lately. Here are some of her most recent endeavors:

Peanutty Buckeye Bars

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Peanut Butter Heart Kisses

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These Hershey’s Bliss chocolates make a great alternative to traditional Kisses.

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Some of the peanut butter cookies were left “heartless”, for our chocolate-adverse Little A.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Buckeyes

052210 034-1 (Traditional Buckeyes will have some of the peanut butter middle showing at the top like an “eye”, but Middle K was in this for speed and volume, not appearance)

RECIPES:

FEB 6, 2010 187-1

Peanutty Buckeye Bars
(from Better Homes and Gardens)

1  19.5-oz package brownie mix
2  eggs
1/3  cup oil
1  cup chopped peanuts
1  14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2  cup creamy peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9×13” baking pan.

In a large bowl, combine the brownie mix, eggs, and oil. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Stir in peanuts.

Remove about one-third of the brownie batter and set aside. Spread the remaining two-thirds of the brownie batter evenly into prepared pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter until smooth. Spread evenly over brownie mixture in pan. Separate the remaining brownie mixture into pieces, flatten them with your fingers (you want them to be pretty thin), and lay them on top of the peanut butter layer. Do not completely cover the peanut butter layer.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until top is set and edges are lightly browned. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Cut into bars.

Makes about 32 bars.

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Peanut Butter Heart Kisses

½ cup butter
½ cup coconut oil or additional butter
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
Hershey’s Bliss Chocolate Hearts (or Dove Hearts or other “shaped” chocolate)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream butter, coconut oil (if using), peanut butter and sugars. Beat in vanilla and eggs. Add dry ingredients. Roll dough into  balls. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 350°F for 8-10 minutes. Immediately press 1 chocolate heart into each cookie; cool on a wire rack.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Buckeyes

1  1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 cups chocolate chips (semi-sweet or bittersweet)
2 Tbs shortening

In a large bowl, mix peanut butter, butter, vanilla and powdered sugar. (This will be a stiff dough; hands work best for mixing)

Shape dough into balls. (If the dough is too sticky to work with, refrigerate for about 20 minutes before rolling into balls) Place on a waxed paper lined baking sheet or cutting board. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Using a double boiler, melt chocolate and shortening. Alternately, melt chocolate and shortening in the microwave (for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each time).

Use a toothpick to dip balls into warm, melted chocolate. Leave an “eye” shape at the top by not completely dipping peanut butter ball. Return coated balls to the waxed paper lined pan.

Refrigerate to set.

Makes 3-4 dozen

 

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Butterfly Wings and Apron Strings

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This weekend was my baby girl’s 6th birthday.

As we count down the days to the end of kindergarten, I am also counting down to the first time in 18 years that I will have all of my children in school all day. So what is more fitting for the birthday of my last stay-at-home-at-least-part-of-the-day child than a party full of apron strings (that I’m longing to keep tied) and butterfly wings (that she is yearning to open and fly).

So we planned a “Cooking Party” for 6 little girls, complete with hand-sewn aprons, chef hats, and a make-your-own menu of mini pizzas, fruit kabobs and butterfly cupcakes.

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Our butterfly cupcakes, inspired by Annie’s Eats.

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Little J modeling the apron she helped design and make. And if you look close enough, you can see (or not see) the first tooth that she lost on the night of her birthday!

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So, how come no one ever told me that there was such a thing as a “bias tape maker” before I made about 600 yards of bias tape with just a pair of scissors and an iron!? (Actually it was closer to 20 yards, but it sure felt like 600)

0401010 023-1 All of my love to my sweet Little J, who is growing into such a lovely young lady! As you stretch your wings and fly, I hope you never completely forget those apron strings we tied together.

 

Tomorrow: a tutorial on how to make Butterfly Cupcakes, plus a totally delicious cupcake frosting (from someone who picks the frosting off of just about every cake around).

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New Year’s Beauties!

Big A and her friends M & A started off the New Year with a homemade beauty treatment (Apples & Honey)!

If I thought there was any hope that I’d end up as beautiful as these young ladies, I might actually try it myself!

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