Monday, February 16, 2015

A Corny, Mushy St. Valentine's Day

We celebrated St. Valentine's Day over the weekend. The hubby and I had a nice date night and Sam enjoyed his school party. For Valentine's morning I decided to make a special breakfast for the family that included a blast from my past I've been making a lot lately, corn meal mush.

Sure fancy people may call it "polenta," but to me it will always just be delicious mush. Cue my dad yelling at the food network whenever they talk about polenta, "Oooo, polenta. It's corn meal mush!"

Corn meal mush can be eaten as a hot cereal like oatmeal, topped with a little honey and milk, but you can also chill it, slice it or cut it into shapes, and then fry it up in a pan. This is known as fried mush.

The ratio for corn meal mush is 1-1-2. One part corn meal and one part water added to two parts boiling salted water. I usually use 1/4 to 1/3 a cup cornmeal when making a bowl for myself. Since I was cooking for more on Valentine's day I upped it to a full cup.

Fried Cornmeal Mush

Directions:

In a bowl, add 1 part corn meal to 1 part water. Bring 2 parts salted water to a boil. Add in corn meal/water mixture and stir together. Lower the heat and put the lid on the pot and cook for a few minutes until thick.

Pour and spread the mush into a baking dish and then let it chill in the fridge until it gets firm. You can then cut into squares or use a cookie cutter to make fun shapes, (like hearts for Valentine's day!).

Put oil or butter in pan and cook the mush until it is golden brown and crispy on both sides.

Serve with honey or syrup and other breakfast items like eggs and sausage. I hear that this also works well in savory applications, but I've never tried it that way.



As for the preschool Valentines, since Sam goes to a Catholic preschool I like to incorporate the saints and the faith into his school treats when I can.  I included a poem about the trinity when passing out candy corn for Halloween, and we made these saint themed valentines last year.

We had some fun selecting a maze toy made out of chocolate, since there are only 6 kids in his class and we could splurge on something a little bigger then normal. Then all we did was glue the Happy Saints St. Valentine prayer card to the inside, and there you have it, a super simple way to help remind everyone that Valentine's day is a saint's feast day and the importance of showing others God's love.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Girly...Hip Hop Cake!

As some of you may know, my dance studio hosts birthday parties for children who love to dance, and I'm the in-house baker who provides the cakes. Most of the time the birthday girl wants a ballet cake. Feel free to take a look at girly ballet cakes one, two, and three!

The ballet cakes always turn out so pretty, but this past week week I got to mix up a little bit with a hip hop cake. I just love the way it turned out! I wish I could take credit for the great colors, but that was the birthday request.



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Little Chef Birthday Party

My little boy turned 5 years old recently. Five! I'm sure every parent can relate to that feeling of disbelief on their children's birthdays. When did they get so big!? How did they get that old!?

Despite seeing my Sam grow up too darn fast, I love themes so throwing a kids party is a lot of fun for me. This year Sam decided he wanted a chef themed party. Actually, at first he wanted a Cutthroat Kitchen birthday party, but I figured that having a large group of five year olds cooking at my house was enough of a sabotage, so we simplified it to just a chef party. (Though a more involved Cutthroat Kitchen, Chopped, or Iron Chef party would be pretty fun for a group of teenagers or adults!)




The nice thing about a cooking party is the food is the entertainment, so you don't have to come up with a bunch of games for them to play. I ordered some plain chef hats and aprons from Oriental Trading Company for them to decorate. I like to have something for the kids to do while we wait for all the guests to arrive, and not only did this activity give them protection for clothing while we cooked, but they got to take them home as their party favor as well. The hats and aprons cost less than two dollars per kid.

I used electrical tape to secure a plastic table cloth to our floor as the decorating space. Electrical tape is what we use at the dance studio to mark off a stage area for summer camp, so I knew it would come off easily after the party.

Next we moved to the kitchen to mix up some cupcakes. Note how I covered the table with a plastic table cloth so any messes would be easy to clean up. We did the cupcakes first, so they would have time to cool before we decorated them. Hot cupcakes = melted frosting! For this age group I pre-measured all the ingredients in small containers and had them take turns adding them to the bowl and stirring. Then I put the batter in the muffin tins and put them in the oven.

Next we moved on to making our pizzas! I bought pre-made pizza dough and gave each child a piece. I set out containers of sauce, cheese, and a variety of pizza toppings and let them go for it. When they were done we put them in the oven and did presents while they cooked.  I didn't label the pizzas with which one was who's, but they were all different, so it worked out!

I'm pretty proud of my present to Sam. I've been meaning to learn how to sew for quite some time, and I've finally done it! The apron he got for his birthday is the first sewing project I've done all by myself. While it's not perfect, I think it turned out great! It's a little big, but he'll be able to use it for a long time. 

After presents we returned to the kitchen to eat our pizzas, and decorate and eat the cupcakes. I put out a few tubs of frosting in different colors with butter knifes for spreading, along with fun toppings like sprinkles, gumdrops, M & Ms, and chocolate chips. I didn't actually buy any candy either, I mostly used leftovers from Christmas!

All in all, I think the kids had a lot of fun. I know Sam did, he's asked for another chef party next year! We'll see if he changes his mind in the next 12 months.

Since in a cooking party, timing is important, here is a breakdown of the order of events. The party lasted 2 hours. At this age any gaps in planned activities were filled in by them simply playing with each other. We got everything done with time to spare.

Arrival of guests/craft (about 1/2 hour)
mix cupcakes - put in oven
make pizzas , take cupcakes out - put pizzas in.
Presents
Eat pizza
Decorate and eat cupcakes
Kids go home!






Monday, January 5, 2015

Rosca De Reyes (Mexican Three Kings Cake)

Sunday was Ephiphany, or Three Kings Day, the part of the Christmas season when we celebrate the three kings, (or magi, or wise men), visiting the baby Jesus and bringing him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6th, but here in the U.S. at least it gets moved to the Sunday closest to the the 6th.

In Mexico, this is the traditional day to exchange gifts, rather than Christmas day, which makes sense since it is the day Jesus received his gifts! It is also a tradition to make three kings cake, which usually has a prize hidden inside. Whoever gets the prize in their piece of cake is supposed to host a party on Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, and provide the tamales and atole! Candlemas is on February 2nd. My great aunt on my Mexican side, whom we simply refer to as "Tia," (aunt in Spanish), gave me this recipe for three kings cake - rosca de reyes. It is less like a traditional cake and more like a sweet egg-y bread which is filled with fruit, similar to the German stollen or the Italian panettone.


The original recipe called for preserved fruit that you typically find in fruit cake; candied cherries, diced orange peel and citron. I tried using the citron once and wasn't too pleased, so I replaced it with diced dried pineapple this time. I also decided to replace the candied cherries with dried cherries - also much tastier. Of course I'm sure you could add in any dried fruit that you would like!

Rosca de Reyes (Mexican Three Kings Cake)

Ingredients:
1 pkg yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs plus three egg yolks
1/2 cup (1 stick) soft butter
2 cups flour
100 grams dried cherries
100 grams diced orange peel
100 grams diced dried pineapple (the 100 grams things is what the recipe says, but I just eyeball it!)
powdered sugar
cream

Directions:

Stir the yeast and lukewarm water together -set aside.

Mix together the salt, sugar, eggs and butter. Add the yeast mixture.

Add in the flour and mix thoroughly. Knead at least 6 minutes. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise for at least 1 hour.

Dust the dough with flour and mix the fruit the fruit into the dough. This is best done by hand.

Place on an ungreased baking sheet and form a ring. Add a porcelain prize or coin wrapped in wax paper. Let rise for 30 minutes.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Drizzle a mixture of powdered sugar and cream over the cake while it is still warm.

Cool and slice. Enjoy!




Friday, December 26, 2014

Kumquat Refrigerator Pie

Merry Christmas! Yes, it is December 26th, but for Catholics the Christmas season starts the night of Christmas Eve, and then continues until Epiphany which is traditionally January 6th. So Christmas is not over, indeed it has just begun! As such, you will still see me posting Christmas themed things, like this recipe for Kumquat Refrigerator Pie.

As some of you may know, kumquats are a traditional Christmas food at my house. It all started with my dad inventing Kumquat Christmas Drink back when we were kids and has grown into a myriad of kumquat recipes, including the Kumquat Marmalade we sometimes make with the leftovers. Besides the Christmas drink, this pie was the first kumquat recipe we made, as it was printed on the container of kumquats we bought. A Christmas celebration just doesn't seem complete without a slice of Kumquat Pie!





Kumquat Refrigerator Pie

Ingredients: 

1 8oz tub whipped topping
1 cup (or a little more) kumquats - seeded and pureed
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon or lime juice





Directions:

Get a 9 inch pie crust ready to go. If using a traditional pie crust, pre-bake it. Graham cracker crusts work well too.

Beat condensed milk and whipped topping until thickened. Add lemon or lime juice and beat some more. Fold in the kumquats.

Pour in the pie shell.

Chill several hours.

Garnish with thin slices of kumquats.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mexican Sweets for St. Juan Diego

Yesterday was the feast of St. Juan Diego, whom my 4 year old son proclaimed as his patron saint a couple years ago. As I  have a Mexican heritage, this feast as well Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th is special to us that way as well. I like to think that my ancestors came into the Catholic Church through Our Lady. Of course both of these days are a great time to eat some delicious Mexican food!

We had tostadas again this year, and they were delicious! I do have some new Mexican recipes for you this year though. We also watched Juan Diego: Messenger of Guadalupe. CCC of America has lots of great saint movies for kids.

The additions to our Mexican feast this year were sweet ones. We made a refreshing rice and cinnamon drink called horchata as well as some Mexican chocolate sundaes with cinnamon sugar tortilla crisps, yum! Since we already had a pan of oil on the stove for making tostada shells, making the tortilla crisps for the sundaes wasn't too much of an extra step. The horchata does have to be started the night before, but it is really so easy to make.

Horchata

1 cup uncooked rice
2 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks - do not use ground
1/2 cup sugar
Water

Place 1 cup rice in 2 cups water and add the cinnamon sticks. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

Next day, remove the cinnamon and pour the rice/water mixture into the blender and process until very fine. Place back int he refrigerator for a couple hours. Strain through cheese cloth and add 2 quarts of water and the sugar.

Enjoy!

Mexican Chocolate Sundaes

Mexican Chocolate Ganache

1 disc Mexican chocolate, chopped
1 8oz container heavy cream

Bring the cream to a boil over medium heat. Add in the chopped chocolate and stir until melted. Take off the heat and let cool.

Cinnamon Sugar Tortilla Crisps

Flour tortillas
oil for frying
cinnamon sugar

Cut the tortillas into quarters and fry in the hot oil until golden brown. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels.
While they are still hot, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. (my husband made a nifty cinnamon sugar shaker by drilling holes in a mason jar lid!)

  - Serve the cinnamon sugar tortilla crisps and Mexican chocolate ganache over vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

This post is linked up on the Equipping Catholic Families 2014 Saints Linkup! Check it out!


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Making an Advent Wreath


An Advent wreath is a wonderful tradition, and growing up my family always had one. I probably thought that every family lit an Advent wreath in preparation for Christmas! We had it on our dining room table since we always lit it at dinner. Dinner is a great time for the family to do their Advent prayers and reflections since everybody is already together. I like to stick with what I know; I prefer my Advent wreath to be a circle, have taper candles, and be on my dining room table

I used to have a little Advent wreath I made out of items from the dollar store. I had four taper candle holders surrounded by four mini wreaths which I pushed together to make it look like one big wreath. If I couldn't find Advent candles I'd paint white ones with melted crayons. (Hint: If you're looking for Advent candles try craft stores like JoAnn Fabrics or Hobby Lobby!) However, last year my wonderful husband burnt that one down. I noticed that the candles were getting low, so I blew them out. He came around later and decided he wanted to light them. We are now down one Advent wreath and one bookshelf! We are thankful we caught it in time, it could have been much worse! We may have lost an Advent wreath, but we gained a family story. 

The good thing about the great Advent fire of '13 is that now I get to craft a new Advent wreath, which is something I've kind of been wanting to do. I started with a basic plain Advent wreath. 

From the craft store I got:

pink and purple glitter poinsettia picks
pink and purple ribbon
faux pine garland




First I wrapped the wreath with the fake greenery. I found that the garland was too big and thick to wrap around my wreath, so I cut off individual fronds and wrapped those around. It took me about eight in between each candle holder. No glue necessary, the garland holds in place all by itself!

Next I twisted the pink and purple ribbons together and wrapped them around the wreath. Once again, no glue necessary, I just tied it to the wreath at the beginning and end. 


Now we need some glue to put the flowers by each candle holder. I tried cutting off the stem of the pick, but there was a metal wire in it which made that difficult. Luckily it wasn't that hard to just pull the flower part off of the stem! I used a hot glue gun to affix each flower to the wreath.


And voila! A new Advent wreath to light as you pray and reflect to prepare for the coming of Jesus! A new candle is lit each Sunday of Advent, with the pink one being lit on the third Sunday. Just keep an eye on how low those candles get! 



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Food for the Soul

November is one of my favorite months. Yes, most of the brightly colored autumn leaves have fallen to the ground leaving the trees bare and it can get cold and gray; but there is a certain quiet, intangible beauty in those bare trees against the gray sky that I can't help but admire. I feel that it kind of goes along with the Catholic Church remembering the dead this month. Of course November 2nd is All Souls Day, but the whole month is dedicated to remembering those who have died and praying for the souls in purgatory. On the surface it can seem morbid or sad, and of course feeling sorrow over those we have lost is natural, but by praying for the dead not only are we are helping them to reach the glory that is heaven, but it also serves to remind us that we believe that there is life after death, that Christ has given us victory over the grave; and that my friends is a beautiful thing.

We made a special All Souls meal this year in remembrance of some close family and friends who have passed away in a nod to the Mexican Dio de los Muertos tradition of placing a loved one's favorite food on their grave or on an altar. We are blessed to have some of the culinary traditions of those loved ones written down, which helped make this special meal possible. Food can do so much to connect us; not only to the people around us when we are enjoying the meal, but to those we can't be with and to our past. If you have a favorite family recipe that isn't written down or you don't know how to make, don't let it get lost! Find whoever cooks it now and have them write it down or teach you how to make it!

The main dish was french fried shrimp, cited in my trusty family cookbook as the birthday favorite of my Uncle Matt who was killed in Iraq in 2009. For dessert we had a delicious chocolate pie made from the recipe of a dear family friend named Beverly who was a home economics teacher. A cookbook of her favorite recipes was made after she passed away from ovarian cancer in 2008. I have featured a couple of other recipes from her before; broccoli salad and pineapple boats. The plan was to enjoy the food with a glass of red wine as a dear priest friend of ours, Fr. Will, who passed away after a battle with cancer this September, was known to enjoy one glass of red wine with a meal every day. However with my husband on some medications from a recent medical procedure and me nursing the new baby, we decided that alcohol was not the best idea at the moment. Another time!

 Using food and other traditions to remember loved ones is a wonderful thing, however as I was thinking about writing this post I felt compelled to mention that this is not what we are doing when we celebrate the Eucharist at mass. We are not just eating some bread and drinking some wine while we think about what Jesus did for us a long time ago. The Eucharist truly is Jesus; body, blood, soul, and divinity, and in the mass we are truly present at his sacrifice. By participating in this, the Church and her people in heaven and earth are in communion, connected with each other in the most special of ways. Fr. Will was my pastor at the Catholic church on campus when I was in college; the type of place where people are always coming and going. He liked to remind us that no matter where we are, we are all connected in the Eucharist. A beautiful thing to think about whether someone we love has moved away, or has left this earth before us. As Fr. Will would say, "See you in the Eucharist!"




Uncle Matt's French Fried Shrimp

2 lbs (or more) large raw shrimp, shelled and de-veined, but leave the tails on. (I bought raw shrimp that were already shelled, de-veined, and had the tails off. No tails means no handy handle for dipping, but you also don't have to be as careful when breading. Of course if you buy raw shrimp with the shells on they will cost less, but then you have to do the dirty work yourself.)
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups dry bread crumbs ( I used panko as that it what I had in the cupboard)
Oil for frying - peanut oil is best ( I used canola since that's what I had)

Stir together the flour, salt, and pepper.
Heat oil to 375 in a deep-fat fryer or kettle.
Coat shrimp with the flour mixture (do not coat the tails), then dip in the beaten eggs, then coat the shrimp with bread crumbs (do not coat the tails).
Fry  in the deep fat fryer or kettle until golden brown (about 2-3 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp).

Serve with cocktail sauce ( or try what my husband did and serve with buffalo sauce!)


Beverly's Chocolate Layered Pudding Dessert


8 oz Oreo cookies, crushed (I like to put them in plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin, a food processor would work too)
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 stick melted butter
4 oz softened cream cheese
1/4 cup powdered sugar
8 oz whipped topping
1 small pkg instant chocolate pudding prepared with 1 1/2 cups milk

Reserve 3 cookies for topping.
Combine butter, crushed cookies and sugar. Pat into 9 inch pie pan.
Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, and half the whipped topping. Mix until smooth. Spread over cookie crumbs.
Pour pudding over the cream cheese layer. Top with remaining whipped topping and reserved crushed cookies. Chill for at least three hours.

This post is linked up on the Catholic Bloggers Network 2014 Link Up Blitz and the Equipping Catholic Families 2014 Saints Linkup! Check it out!



Sunday, November 2, 2014

Halloween 2014: Dalmations, Ladybugs, and Candy Corn

Happy November! The newest addition to our family, Rosemary, arrived on September 29th, so naturally blogging took a back seat last month. Isn't she beautiful?!

 Halloween was couple days ago and we had a lot of fun! We had snow here in Michigan, but thankfully the local mall offers an indoor trick-or-treating experience.

I'm a firm believer in homemade costumes. They are so much fun and inspire creativity in the whole family. The possibilities are endless even if you don't know how to sew, and believe me, I sure don't!

This year Sam wanted to be Marshall from the show Paw Patrol. Marshall is a fire fighting dalmatian pup. Rosemary was a ladybug. Yes I went against everything I just said and she is wearing a store bought costume. Taking care of a brand new baby just didn't leave with the time or energy to work on a homemade infant costume, please forgive me. Here they are together. Pardon the blurriness, now that I have two I'm learning how hard it is to get everyone to stand still for pictures!

Everyone loved Sam's Marshall costume, even if they'd never heard of Paw Patrol. I loved how it turned out too, and it was pretty easy to make! Sam even helped with some of it. 

  • Supplies:
  • White shirt and pants
  • White felt
  • black fabric paint
  • red felt
  • fire hat
  • construction paper
  • ribbon
  • glue
  • scissors
  • two pop bottles
  • red duct tape
  • black and white face paint


Take the white clothes and paint black spots on them with the fabric paint. Cut out ear shapes and paint spots on them as well. Let them dry. Tape the ears to the inside of the fire hat. We got our hat for free at a local restaurant called Firehouse Subs!

My mom sewed the vest out of red felt, but you could buy a firefighter vest at the store.

My husband made the collar out of construction paper, gluing the red background and orange and yellow fire shapes onto some white foam to make it more sturdy. Attach it to a ribbon and that part is all done.

Marshall carries a water pack on his back. My husband and Sam made it by wrapping two pop bottles with red duct tape. They even made the straps with the duct tape as well. 

Paint the face white with black spots and there you have Marshall! Of course it doesn't have to be specifically Marshall, it could just be a fire station dog as well.

________________________

For Sam's preschool treat I handed out candy corn with this cute free printable I found that uses the three colors in one candy corn to help explain the Trinity. Sam will probably be going to public school for kindergarten next year, so I have to get in stuff like this for school when I can!

Of course the day after Halloween is the wonderful feast of All Saints Day! We used some of my past projects to help celebrate, like getting to eat a piece of candy for each match made while playing the Saints Matching Game, and reading our Saints, Saints, Who Do You See? book. We also listened to "When the Saints Go Marching In," and during prayer time remembered to thank God for having the communion of saints there to help us and asked Him to help us, our family and friends, and all other people to become saints.