Saturday, June 30, 2012

Spicy Peanut Noodles

Summer is the season for get togethers.  If you're in need of a new recipe to share at your next gathering, try this one for Spicy Peanut Noodles.  I first tasted this dish at my parents' house a few summers ago when my whole family gathered for a long weekend.  To ease the stress off my mom in preparing the meals, each family took a turn making things over the course of the weekend.  My sister brought this delicious noodle dish saying it was her new favorite.  After a few bites, it quickly became mine, too! 

I misplaced the recipe in one of my many attempts to get my large collection of recipes in order, but I recently came across it again and decided it was time to make up a batch of this tasty, cool summer side dish.  This dish comes together in less than 20 minutes of prep time, but it does taste better if it is refrigerated at least 4 hours or even overnight.  The flavors just sort of go through it better.  I like this dish for summer because it goes great with just about anything on the grill and is very picnic friendly.  I took this dish to our VBS potluck tonight, and the bowl was scraped clean in about 10 minutes.  I got several rave reviews for those "spicy noodles".  This is one that the kids don't like too much because it is a little spicy, but grown ups seem to really like it.  I used a box of pasta I had in the pantry that I picked up for less than 50 cents using an instore special and a coupon making this dish economical, too.

I have played around with the original recipe just a bit to fit our tastes and also make enough to take to fill the larger bowl that I often take to potlucks.  The only ingredient(s) that you may not have on hand is Sesame Oil and/or sesame seeds.  You can find both in the Asian aisle of the grocery store.  The sesame oil runs about $3.50 a bottle or so.  The toasted sesame seeds are a nice touch on top, but I have also made the dish without them, and it didn't affect the overall taste/texture too much. The fresh cilantro is key to this recipe, however.  I have made it without the fresh cilantro and it just doesn't taste the same.  I usually use spaghetti noodles, but you could also use fettucine or thin spaghetti.  I have not ever used a tube pasta with this recipe, but I imagine if that's all you have, that would work too. 

I did not manage to get a photo of this dish before the potluck.  Here in central Ohio, we were under a severe thunderstorm watch, and a BIG storm passed through here just as I was finishing up the dish.  Winds of up to 80 mph were recorded just a couple miles from our house and we had some pretty bad roof/shingle damage.  Needless to say, I was more concerned about finding the insurance info than setting up the photo shoot.  I'll try to snap a photo when I make them the next time and upload it then.

Here's the recipe:

Spicy Peanut Noodles
12 oz spaghetti (I used a full box of Ronzoni Smart Taste Pasta)
6 Tbsp canola oil
4 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
4 1/2 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion (3-4 green onions)
1/3 cup chopped peanuts (I used my Pampered Chef chopper)
1-2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1.  Cook spaghetti in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente (about 10 min)
2.  While spaghetti is cooking, heat the canola oil, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes over medium heat in a small saucepan for about 2 minutes.
3.  Add honey, soy sauce, and salt and stir to combine; remove from heat.
4.  Drain the cooked spaghetti.
5.  Combine the spaghetti with the soy sauce/oil mixture. 
6.  Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.
7.  When ready to serve, add chopped cilantro, peanuts, and green onions.  Stir to combine.
Top with toasted sesame seeds.

What's your favorite summer side dish to share?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

American Girl Theme Dinner - Julie's Hot Dog Roll Ups

We should probably own stock in American Girl Company!  My girls have been fans of the American Girl Company for several years.  They love to play with their dolls and create mini American Girl worlds up their bedrooms.  I could go on and on about how much I love American Girl!  I love all that American Girl has taught my girls about history, friendship, courage, determination, and being true to yourself. 

Over the years, we've read all the books about the historical characters, watched all the movies, poured over the magazines and catalog, and visited American Girl Place in Chicago 2 times.  Our girls have taken their American Girl dolls on vacation, to the store, around the neighborhood, on sleepovers, and various other places. 

On our first trip to American Girl Place several years ago, my oldest daughter brought along her first historical doll, Julie, the American Girl Doll from the 1970s.  While we were shopping, she stumbled across an American Girl cookbook, Julie's Cooking Studio.  The book contains several recipes that were popular from the 1970s, cooking tips, historical facts about the time period, table talker conversation starter cards, and a cookie cutter (to make Jello cutouts).  Many of the recipes were easy to fix and budget friendly, because Julie's mom had to go back to work after the divorce from her dad and Julie was often left to start dinner on her own.  My oldest bought the book with her own money, and planned out the first of many American Girl Theme Dinners to be served around our family table.

I wanted to share about this themed dinner in today's post for several reasons.  First, Eat at Home Cooks was having a recipe link up about Hot Dogs and Sausages.  I thought this might be kind of a fun post to share with others.  Secondly, I wanted to share this post because if you ask my kids what meal they remembered most from that summer, this meal of hot dogs, watermelon, and jello jigglers would be near the top.  Not because it was so fantastic and delicious, but because they had a hand in planning and making the dinner.  Sure, these hot dog roll ups have made repeat appearances on our dinner menu over the years, but the kids ALWAYS talk about the first time they made them with their American Girls sitting right there with us at the table.

I know it's easier to try to make dinner without the kids' help at times, but I know how important it is that they help me - both in the planning and the preparation.  So, I'm trying to include them more, especially during the summer months when we have more flexibility.  The girls like to plan "theme nights".  We have a whole collection of American Girl books that spark their creativity.  We also try to pick up a new cookbook at the library when we visit.  Just last week we found a Kids Cooking Crock Pot Cookbook, and the 8 year old has a few recipes tagged to try out next week.

So, here's the recipe for Hot Dog Roll Ups.  They remind me of Pigs in a Blanket, but not quite as greasy.  We like how the bread gets a little crunchy on the edges.  We usually hold the bread down around the dog with some toothpicks, but it doesn't make for a very glamorous photo.  (This photo was taken that first night we made the dinner before I started paying attention to food photo details)

A favorite in the 1970s or today. . .
Hot Dog Roll Ups is a kid friendly meal

Hot Dog Roll Ups

1 pkg hot dogs
3 Tbsp butter, melted
8 slices white bread (you can use wheat, too0
1 1/2 tsp mustard
4 slices American cheese
pickle relish (optional)
ketchup (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 375.
2.  Use a pastry brush to paint one side of the bread with the melted butter. (great job for the littlest one!)
3.  Place the bread, butter side down, on a cookie sheet.
4.  Spread about 1/4 tsp of mustard on top of each slice of bread. (if your kids HATE mustard, just leave this step out, but it does make them really good)
5.  Cut each cheese slice in half diagonally so you have 8 triangles. 
6. Place 1 cheese triangle on top of the mustard on each slice of bread.
7. Place a hot dog on top of each cheese triangle.
8. Fold the bread over the hot dog and fasten shut with 2 toothpicks.
9. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. 

Remove toothpicks before eating.  Top with pickle relish and ketchup if desired.

We completed our meal with Jello Jigglers, Watermelon, tossed salad, and Watergate Cake (another recipe from the cookbook).  Our conversation was sparked with questions like, "Julie bites her fingernails when she was worried. Do you have any nervous habits?" and "When Julie spent three weeks traveling in an old-fashioned covered wagon, she felt like Laura Ingalls.  If you could be any book character for 3 weeks, who would you be?" and "What's more fun: sleeping over at a friend's house or having a friend sleep over at your house? Why?"  The girls had their dolls right up at the table with us throughout dinner and had a great time planning our evening activities.  It was one of those evenings when I wished I could just stop time, so I spent every ounce trying to just soak it all in and then capture it on a scrapbook page so we can remember it for years to come.

Remembering this fun night has sparked my creativity.  I can't wait to share some details of the theme night I have in mind for the coming weeks. . . . Stay tuned!

What theme night dinner has been a big hit with your family?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Crock Pot Baked Potatoes

We belong to our community pool, and the girls LOVE to go swimming on hot summer days!  In years past, we have spent the early part of the afternoons at the pool and then headed home so the littlest one could get a nap before dinner.  Now with the 3 year old just about giving up her afternoon naps, we're finding that we like going to the pool in the late afternoons when the crowds die down a bit.  My girls say they can do just as much in a two hour swim session when the crowds are less than they can in a 3 hour session when the diving board lines and slide lines are so long.

The only downside to going late in the afternoon is figuring out what to have for dinner because the girls are STARVING after a couple hours of swimming. If they have a big snack while I try to get dinner together, they won't eat much dinner.  So, I've been trying to use my crock pot in new and different ways to have meals ready to eat as soon as we get home, showered, and changed. 

Maybe the rest of you already know about baking potatoes in the crock pot.  I had not ever tried it because I usually just fix our baked potatoes in the oven or the microwave.  I also usually just fix the number of potatoes we'll eat for one night.  I never really thought about making extra baked potatoes to re-purpose later in the week.

As I was reading through some other food blogs and recipe books about crock pot cooking, however, many reported how much they love making baked potatoes in their crock pots.  So, I gave it a whirl last week. 

The verdict?  I'm sold!  The potatoes were cooked perfectly and ready to be topped with the small crock pot of chili I had going on the other kitchen counter when we walked in the door, exhausted from a 3 hour swim session and ready for something to eat.  I also loved that the two littler girls helped me wash and season the potatoes before we headed off to the pool.  Because they had helped with the prep work of the meal, they were excited to try their creation without complaining.  I'm not sure I would have had the same results if I would have just placed a baked potato as the main dish on their plates at the dinner table.

I had about 10 small to medium sized potatoes in my pantry that I picked up a couple of weeks ago at Meijer for around $3 for 8 pounds of potatoes.  We filled the kitchen sink with some water and the 8 year old set off on her mission to scrub those potatoes clean.  The 3 year old perched upon a bar stool and helped me rub the potatoes with a little canola oil and sprinkled them with salt before we wrapped them up in foil.  Then we placed them in my large slow cooker and set the control to cook on high for 4 hours.  My largest crock pot has automatically switches to "keep warm" at the end of the cook cycle, so the potatoes were cooked but not overcooked when we were ready for dinner.  I had premade a tossed lettuce salad and a fruit salad and placed some shredded cheese in a bowl before we left for the pool.  All we had to do was set everything out on the table and sit down to eat.  The kids gobbled up their dinners and the 3 year old even asked if she could have the leftovers for breakfast.  That's endorsement enough for me!

I used the leftover baked potatoes to make a batch of home fries later in the week.  I just cubed them and cooked them in a couple tablespoons of canola oil in a large fry pan on the stove over medium high heat.  I seasoned them with just salt and pepper and added in some sauteed onions at the end.  They, too, were a hit with all the eaters around the table.

Crock Pot Baked Potatoes

Potatoes (as many as you want to fix; the leftovers make great homefries)
Canola Oil
Kosher Salt
Aluminum Foil
Toppings of your choice (butter, sour cream, chili, cheese, bacon, chicken, veggies, etc)

1.  Wash and dry potatoes. (great job for kids)
2.  Rub the potatoes with a little canola oil (or even use canola oil spray)
3.  Sprinkle with a little kosher salt.
4.  Wrap each potato in foil.
5.  Cook in slow cooker on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours.

Crock Pot Baked Potato Night will definitely be making a repeat appearance on our weekly menu due to its low cost, ease of prep, and the clean plates that were the end of result of our dinner table that night! While we topped our baked potatoes with chili and cheese this particular night, I can think of a whole slew of other ways we can top them in the weeks to come.

What do you like to put on top of your baked potatoes?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fresh Blueberry Pie

I know it's been awhile. . . . . . .

The kids are out of school.  Our days are still full, but in a different way.  We're still gathering around the table nightly for dinner, but our summer meals sometimes are much more simple.  My free time for photographing food preps and then documenting them via the blog has been a bit more limited.  I think I should have been saving up blog entries.  As I read other mom bloggers, I think that's what they do.  I want to spend my time with my kiddos, not in front of the computer. 

But I assure you, I've been shopping frugally using coupons and weekly sales items keeping our grocery budget around $100 a week.  I've been keeping up with my favorite food/mom bloggers commenting when I have something to share and filing away recipes I want to try in the future.  I've been doing much more meal planning for our lunches and snacks which has helped greatly this summer.  I've made meals to share with friends, meals to celebrate the good moments in life, and had a few new recipe family favorites (and a few flops!) I've been including my girls in more of the meal preps, and they've had fun creating a lunchtime/bakery cafe in our basement.  It's been heartwarming to watch my babies share in my passion of creating easy to fix and serve food that others love to eat.

Today is Father's Day, and my dear husband has taken his girls to see a movie at the Dollar Theater as it's a rainy afternoon here in OH.  While he is gone, I put together a Strawberry Rhubarb pie, sorted through a few piles of recipes in the kitchen, and made a list of the recipes I hope to get posted in the next few days.

Here's the first one I want to share because it's one of my very favorite summertime recipes - Fresh Blueberry Pie!

I got this recipe from my neighbor, Ingrid, back when we first moved to Perrysburg, OH, in 2000.  Ingrid was one of those women that God knew I needed in my life and sent her just when I needed her most.  We had just moved to town, I was pregnant with my first baby, we had our first house, my husband had his first post-collegiate job as a chemistry professor, and I was trying to find my way into this new role of wife and stay at home mom.  Ingrid welcomed me to the neighborhood with open arms and always had a space around her kitchen table for me.  We shared many good times during our three years in Perrysburg.  We shared a love of frugal living, kids, family, God, hospitality, and most importantly - food!  Ingrid had a small collection of favorite recipes, where my recipe files have always been bursting at the seams, but her favorites were all really good, just like this fresh blueberry pie!

One of my favorite memories of this pie is from when we went blueberry picking in MI near my parents' home when my bigger girls were just 3 years old and 9 months old.  We came home with blueberries as big as nickels and sweet as can be.  I made this pie, and we enjoyed it for dessert that night.  The 9 month old kept signing "more" after each bite and cried and cried and cried when we finally took the pie out of her sight for fear of what might happen if she ate any more blueberries!  She just could not get enough pie! 

The key to this pie is that you have to use FRESH blueberries.  While we can't pick blueberries straight off the bush here in central Ohio, I love when I can find them on sale for just 99 cents at the grocery.  Last week was one of the weeks that Aldi ran their berries for 99 cents.  I picked up 4 pints and put together a fresh blueberry pie on Friday night to serve as dessert following our grilled turkey burgers that we shared with the new pastor from our church.  The other key ingredient to this pie is the addition of FRESH grated lemon zest.  That little zing makes this pie unlike any other blueberry pie that you might have tasted.  (or at least that's what everyone says after they take a bite). 

This pie comes together in less than 30 minutes, but it needs about 2 hours to firm up.  I usually use a pre-made crust for ease, but if you have a favorite crust recipe, go ahead and use that. (and share your recipe with me; I'm no good at pie crusts!) Feel free to top the whole pie with Cool Whip or just add a dollop of Cool Whip as you serve it.  I like to decorate the top with additional blueberries and lemon slices.  The pie will hold up for a couple of days in the frig before it starts to liquify, but it's definitely best the day it is made.

Here's the recipe:

Fresh Blueberry Pie

4 cups fresh blueberries, divided
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp grated fresh lemon peel
3 Tbsp corn starch
Pie crust, baked and cooled
Cool Whip (light, fat free, creamy, or regular)

1. In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup blueberries, sugar, water, lemon peel and cornstarch.
2. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil and thickens.
3.  Let cooked fruit mixture cool.
4.  Fold in remaining 3 cups of blueberries.
5.  Pour filling into baked and cooled pie crust.
6.  Cool in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
7.  Top with cool whip and garnish with additional blueberries and/or lemon slices.

Fresh Blueberry Pie

What's your favorite way to enjoy fresh blueberries?