Friday, January 29, 2010

AMY & REE: Pizza Dough + Potato-Leek Pizza (week 4)

Now that I'm brave about the yeast, this week's Pioneer Woman cookbook recipe was her homemade pizza dough that later turned into her Potato-Leek Pizza. The dough was super easy, but required some planning, as it has to rise on the counter for about 2 hours. It makes enough for 2 pizzas, so we made a pepperoni one for the girls and an "adult" one from the cookbook, which includes leeks, goat cheese, BACON!, and red potatoes. I've had yummy pizzas with unusual toppings before, including potatoes. In fact, I love pizza so much that I'll eat it with almost anything on it (except pineapple). I have to say, however, that neither Eric or I were in love with this pizza. It was just okay, in my book, and I preferred the girls' pepperoni. Could've been the mood I was in. You give it a shot and let me know what you think.

AMY & REE: Cinnamon Rolls (week 3)

I apologize for this being a week late and, for that matter, that nothing has been posted on this blog for as long. Our family was asked to partake in a "back to the basics" type survivalist regime for a whole week, part of which included no television or computer use. What kind of madness is that, you ask? Don't worry - you'll be reading more about what we learned in the near future.

Anyhow, last Thursday I began making PW's homemade Cinnamon Rolls from scratch. I had never made these delicious treats from scratch before and, to be honest, I'm a bit scared of using yeast. My fears, however, have been conquered by the delicious, gooey goodness that was these rolls.

Many of you, undoubtedly, have made rolls like these before. I was excited to try them for Lucy's little after school pajama party last week, where the kids wore PJs, watched cartoons, and ate breakfast. Before making the recipe I should've noticed that it made 40-50 rolls, but, of course I didn't. Therefore, I ended up with about 5 extra trays in my freezer, which is alright by me. I split the dough in half and rolled it out into this massive rectangular shape before pouring massive amounts of butter and sugar on it. To be honest, I was a bit taken aback by the amount of white flour called for (9 cups!), so I used half whole wheat flour instead. Also, I only poured 1/2 cup melted butter on the dough instead of the 1 cup it called for. Even that was a lot.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of the finished product, but you can see one by clicking on the link to PW's recipe on her blog, highlighted above. Here is one pan of the rolls rising on the counter before I plopped it in the oven. Mine were slightly long and narrow when I sliced them, but puffed up during the baking. No one even noticed that I used less butter, as the wonderful maple icing you pour on top after they're done is delightful. Also, the wheat flour gave them a nice, nutty flavor that was a hit with all the mamas and kiddos alike. Lucky for us, we'll be reaping the benefits of this baking extravaganza for weeks to come.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

AMY & REE: Simple Perfect Enchiladas (week 2)

I actually made these enchiladas for dinner last Friday night, but, after the long weekend, am just getting around to posting about them today. We love Mexican food at this house, and any excuse to make margaritas is good enough for me. So, I embarked upon Pioneer Woman's Simple Perfect Enchiladas, one of the recipes found not only in her new cookbook, but also on her website. They are, as described, simple beef enchiladas using corn tortillas because she claimed flour tortillas often get soggy in the making, which I happen to agree with. I don't think these enchiladas can really be described as perfect, though. Although Eric and I thought they were good, they weren't anything I'd necessarily make again. They did hold up as leftovers, however, and proved to be just as good warmed up in the microwave the next day.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

ARTSY: Vintage Record Bowls

This is seriously the easiest crafty project ever and has become my favorite go-to gift of the past few months. I've seen these around at art fairs, etc. and always wanted to try my hand so I Googled instructions. There are several sets of instructions out there now, including a few YouTube videos as well. We made these at a recycled Christmas crafts girl party I held in November and they were a huge hit with my arty friends and, again, so easy.

First you start with the records. My neighbor gave me two huge boxes of old records that didn't sell at her garage sale last summer, so I already have a great stash, but you can pick them up for around 50cents a piece at any thrift shop. For the holidays, I used lots of old Christmas albums, but it's fun to select a group based on the gift receiver's tastes. And don't worry, I went through the boxes first and pulled out the all the albums worth keeping because I love listening to vinyl.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Find two glass mixing bowls that nest together nicely, and place the smaller one upside down in the oven to preheat as well. Then, center the record on top of the bowl and close the oven door. Check on it, oh, 5 minutes later and it should look something like this:

Please PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE DIRTY OVEN FLOOR, but do notice how the vinyl has softened and is drooping over the sides. At this point, carefully place the larger glass nesting bowl on top to smoosh down the sides. Leave them like this in the oven for about 1 minute. Remove the whole shabang with oven mitts and let sit for about 1 minute on top of the stove to cool. The vinyl will harden quickly and pop easily out of the glass bowl molds, resulting in the cutest things ever:

It's hard to tell from this picture, but the ruffles on each bowl are darling and unique to each bowl. They look like ribbon candy, especially if you're lucky enough to come upon the colored records at the thrift shop. While they are not food safe, they look great on a buffet to toss keys or spare change into or in the bedroom as a jewelry catch-all. I lined them with newspaper and filled them with microwave popcorn, nuts and hot cocoa and handed them out as New Years gifts for my extended family. There are wonderful artists doing more elaborate and cool things with reused records, especially here in Boise, but this is an easy, make-it-yourself gift for all ages.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

AMY & REE: Maple Pecan Scones (week 1)

For those of you with The Pioneer Woman's new cookbook in hand, you'll notice right off that I am not going straight through, making each recipe as listed. Oh no, I'm hand picking the one I want to make/eat each week, and for some reason these Maple Pecan Scones appealed to me. Um, could it be that I didn't learn my lesson when the scale shouted "YOU'VE GAINED GAINED FIVE POUNDS OVER THE HOLIDAYS, LADY!"? I guess my sweet tooth was shocked into overdrive or something, because I decided to make the sweetest, butteriest, melt-in-your-mouth scones ever as my first shot with my new cookbook and my new New Year's Resolution.

It was a challenge for me, though, as this was my first time making scones (I told you, I'm an amateur chef). First off, I don't own a pastry cutter and decided that I should invest in one after trying to use a metal spatula to chop the cold butter into the flour mixture. I should probably also check to make sure I have all ingredients on hand before starting a recipe, but that's not how I roll. Some things slip my mind, like how we'd used all the eggs in the house for breakfast that morning instead. So, I sent Eric on a grocery emergency to pick some up while I chopped and chopped incessantly with that damned metal spatula. Once the egg was mixed in, the dough was crumbly, which PW said it would be. However, I couldn't even get the stuff to stick together long enough to roll it out with my rolling pin. Finally, however, after making several small dough balls and mashing them quickly together I was able to create a sort-of shape that I could cut the large triangular scones from. It turned out that this didn't matter, because they baked to perfect, golden perfection and the amazing maple frosting sauce that I literally smothered them with (see above photo) was too die for. My girlfriend, Kate, and I had one with tea that afternoon and oohed and ahhed. I had to take some to my neighbors so I wouldn't eat the whole pan, they are that good. Next time, though, I think I'll cut them slightly smaller because they turn out to be really rich (could be the 1/2 lb. of butter, no?).

Thursday, January 7, 2010

AMY & REE: A New Year, a New Cookbook

So, I mentioned in a previous foodie post that I loved the movie Julie & Julia. I also enjoyed the original blog, "The Julie/Julia Project" written by writer and food lover Julie Powell, where she documents a year of her life cooking her way through Julia Child's classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, making all 536 recipes in 365 days. I was inspired by Powell's ambition and her contentment in the kitchen. I'm also a bit obsessive and love the challenge of committing to doing something for an entire year. With The Compact complete, I need something new to set my mind to. I have a slew of other traditional New Years Resolutions which are all serious, not that fun, and not likely to last, so I was looking for something intriguing and interesting. Like Powell, I love to cook, but I'm not nearly as adept in the culinary realm as she is so there was no way in hell I was taking on Julia Child.

I am, however, a huge fan of Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman, and have been a fan of her cooking website for several years now. I've made a good many of her recipes in the past and they never fail me, like her sinful Apple Dumplings and her yummy Simple Sesame Noodles. So when she announced her first cookbook was due out this fall, I immediately put it on my Christmas list. And guess what I found under the tree on December 25th?

Damn straight. I was thrilled! And then I thought, wait, Ree is right up my alley. Accessible, down-home cookin' with great pictorial step-by-step directions. Her ingredients are easy to find and don't break the bank. She didn't go to culinary school, she makes a big mess, and feeds her family with love. It doesn't hurt that she's funny, quirky, and a great writer, either. As I read the book cover to cover, I began my plan of attack. Her cookbook contains around 60 recipes, which is perfectly doable in a year. This means I have to make about one a week, which is all I can commit to, considering the chaos that is my life with toddlers as a new SAHM.

In the beginning of the book, she also offers up some "must haves" in her kitchen for us amateur chefs, which included both a cast iron skillet and a dutch oven. I have now excitedly purchased these lovelies in red and am getting used to using them. They are wonderful to cook with, and I can't believe we have lived without them. I can't wait to expand my culinary arsenal and push myself in the kitchen in new ways. So stay tuned, as I'm inviting you all along on this delicious journey with a new weekly column called "AMY & REE." You'll get tales of my attempt to become a better person, or at least a better cook, in 2010. It should be full of follies, treats, laughs, and, undoubtedly, a few extra pounds.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mission Complete: The Compact 2009

Last May I wrote a post on this blog about our family's 2009 New Year's Resolution to live The Compact for an entire year. For those of you who are new readers, you can click on the link above to read more about The Compact but, in a nutshell, it's a philosophy and a lifestyle that combats our increasingly consumerist culture, the one that got us into this nasty recession in the first place. Basically, there is one basic tenant: buy nothing new for an entire year, with the exception of food, medicine, underwear and the like. You must borrow, barter, or get everything used, as a means of reusing, recycling and reserving resources. When purchasing services, The Compact suggests supporting local businesses. Admittedly, I am extremely thrifty and have a keen eye at flea markets, so this concept appealed to that part of my personality. We were already avid recyclers, so that part of The Compact seemed easy enough, too. I had to talk my husband, Eric, into it, as he was a little leery about living an ENTIRE YEAR without purchasing power. As it turned out, a few months into 2009 I was laid off from my job, in which we lost nearly half of our income. At this point, The Compact took on an important role in our financial health, as frugality became key to our survival. All in all, I've never had a New Year's Resolution be SO MUCH FUN. What could've been seen as a struggle or a setback turned out to be so much more refreshing and rewarding than we thought imaginable. Here are a few highlights:

Making new things out of old items really fueled our creative juices. I sewed clothing and library book bags. The girls really got into making objects for their friends' birthdays. We made Christmas gift tags out of old greeting cards and gift containers from old yogurt tubs.

We also began eating at home more and took pleasure in making our meals from scratch with our own hands. The library offered a great resource, as we explored different cookbooks, especially for foodies on a tight budget. Our friends offered their talents as well, sharing their knowledge on canning and gifting us fresh produce from their summer gardens.
As I mentioned earlier, thrifting is a pastime I was already passionate about, but The Compact took it to a whole new level. Before, I would go to garage sales or thrift shops for fun to see what I could find, but this past year I learned how difficult, yet exciting, it is to search for specific objects. Like white Little League baseball pants. Or large flower pots. I also learned to really utilize other local resources, from online forums like craigslist , Ada County Freecycle and the Boise Barter group on Facebook, to local shops that specialize in gently used gear like Play It Again Sports and Kid to Kid.

Our family has always explored fun, free family-friendly activities in our community, but with my new non-paying gig as a stay-at-home-mom, this was imperative. Not only for my mental health, but for our financial health as well. Lucky for all of us, the Treasure Valley offers a plethora of cheap activities to do, especially outdoors. We spent most of our summer exploring the local parks and watering holes with our bright blue picnic basket in tow. The cooler months have offered much of the same, but we've traded our picnic basket for sleds and thermoses.

I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't acknowledge the difficulties we encountered via The Compact. It was a little hard to find quality used adult shoes when Eric or I needed them. We found out the hard way that not everyone appreciates thrifted or handmade gifts for their birthdays or Christmas, which just goes to show how consumer oriented our society has become. I don't mean to be preachy, but it would better us all, and our Earth, to take at least one or two of The Compact's notions to heart. Even something simple like support our local businesses and get a delicious, thick handmade lasagna at Cucina di Paolo instead of The Olive Garden next time you're craving Italian. Or wrap your holiday gifts next year in newspaper and top with these cute creative bows rather than spending a fortune on shiny giftwrap at Walmart. Little steps go a long way in taking care of our environment, our economy, and ourselves. After reflecting on this past year I can't believe how fulfilled we are with less and what a great journey it's been. And like all good and successful New Year's Resolutions, The Compact has become such an ingrained and important part of our daily lives that we aren't giving it up at all. That's not to say I might not succumb to the occasional sale on tank tops at Old Navy or the McDonald's Happy Meal with the new Alvin & The Chipmunks toy that Lucy keeps begging for. We're all human (and young American parents) after all. But the important part is that we are making informed, conscious decisions that we feel, in a small way, will help make us, and our world, a better place.
p.s. We did not buy that little black taxidermied bear at the garage sale pictured above, although Alice would've been thrilled if it lived in her bedroom. And after reading this hilarious post, I wish I'd had $500 to fork over for it.