How To Train Your Dragon Day

My kiddos are really weird about movies.  They have a few they like to watch (over and over and over) but have a very hard time watching something new.  The most successful method we have to get them to watch a new movie is to sit down and watch it ourselves. About a year ago, my partner and I put on How To Train Your Dragon, which I had never seen and which he loves.  The kids, predictably, didn’t want to watch and spent the first ten minutes in the hallway, “peeking” at it.  Then they were coaxed over to the sofa to watch with us.  Again, not unexpectedly, they loved it and were eager to watch it again, over and over.  They were excited for both sequels and even went so far as to join us at an actual movie theater (a rare occurrence) to watch the third.

As we were planning our summer, the kids came up with the idea of “How To Train Your Dragon Day.”  The first rainy day of the summer, we would watch all three movies, in a row, complete with dragon snacks.  I admit, I maybe thought of the dragon snacks- google is a wonderful thing.

A few days ago, our time had come.  It was a dark, pouring, gray day.  It was time for How To Train Your Dragon Day.  Now, I will freely admit two things:  one, none of these snacks are even remotely good for you.  They are stomachache inducing, heartburn causing, leave you feeling slightly sick to your stomach-ing snacks.  Two, only one of these snacks was our own idea which struck us in the grocery store while we were looking for- but couldn’t find- cheese balls.  By the way, cheese balls?  Super hard to find around me.  Who knew?  Also hard to find?  Bugles.

At any rate, I give you our dragon snacks.

First we needed dragon food.  And what do the dragons eat?  Fish!

For the savory side, we used a combination of goldfish crackers (plain, cheddar, pretzel) . HipstamaticPhoto-585589048.636815

On the sweeter side, we used fudge brownie goldfish crackers and Swedish fish.

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We decided we needed dragon fireballs.  That consisted of cheese balls (so hard to find here!) with red and orange m&ms and (our own idea because we saw them at the grocery store) pretzel bites covered in orange cheese sauce.  (I have to say, the cheese sauce was pretty salty and gross, but the kids liked it!)

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So the first round of snacks were a hit.

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Another savory snack that works with this theme is bugles.  You can call them dragon claws and serve them as is.  My kids don’t like them (yes, there’s some junk food that even my kids won’t eat!) so we didn’t serve them this time.

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For the second round, I made viking helmets.  Both were from sweet items and both simply required some assembly.

One kind of helmet was made from oreo cookies and bugles- a weird combo to be sure.  To assemble, I melted a little bit of white chocolate and used a toothpick to get it on the bottom edges of the bugle.  HipstamaticPhoto-585590112.798194

Then I pressed it into the oreo, sort of between the cookies.

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Repeat on the other side and viola, you have a viking helmet.

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Sort of.

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The second viking helmet was made up of cupcakes, brownie bites, and white chocolate.

I used mini-cupcakes but in retrospect, regular would have been better.  I had to scrape off the frosting from the cupcake, saving it on the side of the plate.  Then I experimented with the brownie bites (mine came frosted which I used like glue to keep it on the cupcake)- I used one as is and another cut in half.

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Place one brownie bite on top of the cupcake.  Then add white chocolate viking horns, using frosting and gentle pressure to get them to stick.

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I made the white chocolate horns by melting some white chocolate wafers in the microwave (heat at 50% power for 30 seconds, stir, and heat an additional 30 seconds at 50% power if needed).  I poured the white chocolate out onto parchment paper and spread it out to make a thin layer.  After it hardened up a bit, but while it was still somewhat pliable, I used a knife to cut horn shapes out.  I let it harden a bit more and then separated the shapes from the layer.

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Freehand means that they weren’t uniform.  Not even close.

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But they still seemed to work!

Happy How To Train Your Dragon Day!

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Ugly but Tasty

(I know, I know, two posts in two days?!  The excitement!)

Yesterday, January 27, was National Chocolate Cake Day.  I wasn’t feeling all that well so couldn’t celebrate this holiday appropriately.  But today?  Today we made a cake.

I used Ina Garten‘s cake and frosting recipe.  It was all going well.

My helper was fascinated.

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We measured and mixed and preheated the ovens.  We poured and leveled the batter into pans.

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This is where perhaps I went wrong.  I decided that rather than two cakes (which is what Ina did), I wanted to do three.  Keep that in mind, because I think that’s why it ended up… ugly.

While they baked, we did some clean-up.

It is important to lick all spoons and bowls shirtless.  Easier clean up later.

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The cakes cooled and we made the frosting.

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We talked about what to put in between the layers and agreed on the chocolate spread I’d just bought the day before, in a fit of homesick for Israel-ness.

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(When we lived there, my friend Heather and I couldn’t believe that parents gave this to the kids for breakfast, spread on toast.  It’s really just chocolate frosting.)

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Looks okay, right?  Yeah, well the next two cakes were really hard to take out of the pan so that they started crumbling at the edges as I took them out and frosted them.

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So, in the end, we had an ugly, crumbling, lopsided cake…..

That was really, really delicious.

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I mean dark, chocolaty, sweet, dense but moist.  My husband cut into it and said, “Your cakes are so much better than box cakes. I can tell just looking at it.”  My kids ate it and declared, through chocolate-stained teeth, “Mumma, you make the best cake.”

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Go forth and celebrate National Chocolate Cake Day.  Even if you’re a few days late.  It’s the kind of holiday I can absolutely get behind.

 

 

Photo Dump

Oh you guys.  I have been so remiss in posting.  I mean REALLY remiss.  Like…months and months and months.

I have zero excuses.  None.  Not a one.  Life is busy.  (So is everyone’s.)  Life is hectic.  (So is everyone’s).  I have two kids under the age of 6. (lots of people do!)  Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Nonetheless, I am cooking.  Perhaps not anything I can brag about or post about or photograph, but I’m cooking.  (Obviously I am cooking, how else would we be eating?)

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The kids and I often make cookies.  This was in July but still… cookies….

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An excellent summer meal.

See all that above?  That was all written about two months ago.  That is to say, LAST YEAR.

Yeah….  This whole life thing is getting in the way of me cooking, photographing, documenting, writing and keeping up with this blog.  Which makes me sad.  Sad, sad, sad.  I’ve always loved writing here and the fact that I can’t squeeze it in makes me feel like a piece of me is missing or changing or becoming less…. vibrant.

So, nothing to do for that except keep trying.  So here I am.  Trying.

New Year’s Eve I made beef wellington to celebrate a year’s end and a new year beginning.

My husband’s birthday is close to New Year’s and the kids and I had fun making him a lego cake.

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There’s a long weekend in January and the husband and I managed to get away for an overnight to Vermont where we had one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten, at Junction, which is at The Essex.

See?  We’ve been eating well.

My kids have been growing well, too.  My oldest is now in actual school and so I’ve been making lunches every day and you know what?  I actually HATE it.  I would’ve thought that I would like making lunches but, nope, not at all.  I rejoice every Friday when it’s pizza and jello/pudding day and she wants to buy lunch.

We spend some time being silly, though.  Always time for that.

Mostly, however, I am trying to appreciate what I have.  My kids are great, my jobs are good and fulfilling, we eat well and laugh often.

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I will try, however, to get some recipes up here.  In the jam-packed, full afternoons, evenings and weekends, I will try to pause and take the time to document so I can write later.  Thanks for checking in once in a while here, and not giving up on me!

Kitchen Basics: Hard-Boiled Eggs

Pretty quiet around here just now- it’s mid to late summer and I’m working hard to keep my mind in the moment– it is STILL summer, despite the feeling that it is almost over.  I’m trying to work out as often as I can, to hang with the kids (my oldest is in a day camp this week  and it’s breaking both our hearts!), and to be in the pool as much as possible.

All that said, I am also trying to see friends as often as I can.  The other night, for example, I heading to a friend’s house to drink wine, eat snacks and gossip.  I brought an easy and always appreciated snack, deviled eggs.  Some people like to get super fancy with their eggs and add mushrooms, bacon, chives, etc.  I keep mine super simple and traditional- nothing but the filling and a sprinkle of paprika.  Yum.

Deviled eggs were one of the first things I ever consciously saw made without a recipe (My grandmother almost always cooked without a recipe but I didn’t realize it at the time.).  It was summer, when my cousins and I were staying with my grandmother.  We were probably around 11 or so.  It was afternoon and we had spent the morning in the pool, watching stand up comedy on television and giggling.  Emily decided that she wanted deviled eggs.  Melanie agreed that this was a good idea.  I had never had a deviled egg but I almost never say no to food.

Off to the kitchen we went and I watched as Emily and Melanie made hard boiled eggs, peeled them, scooped out the yolk and mixed it into a bright yellow filling, no measurements, no recipe.  They used spoons to fill the eggs, added a sprinkle of paprika and then handed one to me.

I bit into it and my life was altered.  Slightly spicy and tart, creamy and cool- it was the perfect snack.  We made them many times over that summer and I’ve since bonded with The Hippo over them (It’s her southern heritage showing through).

The problem with deviled eggs is the hard boiling of eggs.  I can never, for the life of me, ever recall how long you’re supposed to boil the eggs.  Then there’s the peeling.  I am horrid at peeling hard boiled eggs.  I don’t have the patience, I get very frustrated and I usually end up ripping away most of the egg white.  When I peel them, the hard boiled eggs tend to look like someone was gnawing on them.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_18So, to the internet I went, in search of a way to make the eggs easier to peel and the amount of time needed to cook them.  If you do a search like this, you’ll see (as I did) that there are a number of ways to achieve the perfect hard boiled egg.

I tried the thumb tack method.  Basically, you prick the round end of the egg with a thumb tack or safety pin or something so that you break the air bubble that’s in there.  This makes the eggs easier to peel after they’re boiled.  And don’t leave the thumb tack in while you boil them.  This method worked for me!

Emily and Melanie’s Deviled Eggs

Ingredients

Eggs (Remember that one egg makes two deviled eggs and plan accordingly)- I usually use a whole dozen

yellow (not dijon, not brown, nothing fancy) mustard– about two to four tablespoons

mayonnaise– about two to four tablespoons

salt, pepper and paprika to taste

*Note about measurements:  I never measure.  I use a few spoonfuls or squirts and then taste.  I’m guess at the tablespoon measurement above based on how it looks.  You’ll have to taste as you go and start by adding less than you think you need– always easier to add more than to take away what’s already in there.

Directions 

Prick your eggs with a thumb tack.  Do this on the fatter, rounder end.  Place them in a saucepan and cover with enough cold water to cover the eggs by about an inch.  Put them on the stove to boil, over high heat.  Once the water is good and boiling (big bubbles, lots of steam), boil the eggs for one minute.  Then take them off the heat and cover the pot.  Let them stand for ten minutes (off the heat but covered).My HipstaPrint 973334217After ten minutes has passed, pour out all the water and shake the pan around, causing the eggs to smash against each other and crack.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_13Now fill your pan up with cold water and ice cubes.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_6Wait five minutes and then drain out the water and any leftover ice.  You are now ready to peel.  The method that worked well for me was to sort of roll the egg around on the counter, cracking the entire shell in kind of a spiderweb way.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_12Then peel the eggshell off.  Doing it near and under running water can help get all the little bits of shell off.  I found that with this thumb tack method, the shells slipped off more easily and in bigger pieces.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_5(Yes, one short of a dozen.  The husband always requires a hard boiled egg for him to eat plain.)  Next get a bowl ready and slice your eggs in half.  I find that if you do it lengthwise, there’s slightly more stability when you put them on a plate than if you do it the other way.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_4Scoop out the beautifully yellow yolk and dump into your bowl.  Set the egg white aside.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_11My HipstaPrint 973334217_17Once all the yolks are in the bowl, add the mustard and mayo.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_16Mix all together.  I use a fork but you could certainly use a whisk or a hand mixer.  It seems like the perfect use for The Hippo’s army fork.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_3Now taste it and add salt, pepper and maybe more mayo or mustard, depending.  Want it more spicy?  Up the mustard.  Want it more creamy?  Mayo it is.  Once it tastes as you want it to taste, get out a ziploc bag.  Scoop that filling into the bag.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_9Get as much of the air out as possible and sort of squish that filling into one corner.  Then ziploc it.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_2Snip off just the smallest bit of the corner.  Mazel tov, you’ve just made a piping bag.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_15Place all your egg whites on a plate or platter that you plan to serve from- as long as it will fit into the fridge, you should be set.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_10Use the piping bag to fill each egg white with the yellow-y goodness.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_8About halfway through, I always think there won’t be enough filling.  There always is.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_1Garnish with a bit of paprika.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_7Try not to eat them all since you are supposed to be sharing, right?

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Middle Eastern Night

One of my favorite nights of the summer comes when my friend C. and I get together to cook.  We did it three years ago to celebrate Julia Child’s 100 birthday.  We did it last year and focused on Italian food and Lidia Bastianich .  This year, because I was given a great cookbook and she was given a beautiful tagine, we focused on Middle Eastern food.

The menu was:  stuffed grape leaves, a number of Israeli salads (roasted eggplant dip, Israeli salad, cabbage salad, corn salad, taboulegh, hummus), marinated grilled lamb with tzatziki, a chicken tagine, couscous with a lemon vinegrette, ptitim (pearl or Israeli couscous) and pita.  For dessert we had baklava and a Cake of Kohevet (Chocolate Nut Cake).  My HipstaPrint 987039433_39C. made the tagine and I’m hoping to get her over here to blog it out for you.  Meanwhile, I’ll toss you a few photos of it:

My HipstaPrint 987039433_92 My HipstaPrint 987039433_60She also made an amazing lamb chop.  Amazing.  She plated them as well, in a very professional manner.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_62 My HipstaPrint 987039433_83 My HipstaPrint 987039433_8 My HipstaPrint 987039433_71The salads all came from either my memory of working in Israel or from the Ballabosta cookbook I was given in April.  I feel a bit uncomfortable providing those here since I feel like it’s somehow a copyright violation but I encourage you to check out the cookbook.  It’s really fantastic.  And I’ll provide you with some photos of the salads.

First up is the eggplant salad that I’ve blogged about before as well as the traditional Israeli salad.

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My HipstaPrint 987039433_23My HipstaPrint 987039433_58From the cookbook I made a traditional corn salad:

My HipstaPrint 987039433_47 My HipstaPrint 987039433_68 My HipstaPrint 987039433_56 My HipstaPrint 987039433_77I also made traditional taboulegh.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_64The last recipe from the cookbook was for a cabbage salad.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_87 My HipstaPrint 987039433_12 My HipstaPrint 987039433_33Plus the couscous (small and large- I apparently forgot to photograph the large):

My HipstaPrint 987039433_50Oh, and I threw together humus, because why not?

My HipstaPrint 987039433_73The second couple that joined us brought homemade stuffed grape leaves and baklava.  So good, both of them.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_19 My HipstaPrint 987039433_81What I can give you the recipe for, however, is the amazing cake I made.  It is a cake of Kohevet and it was, once again, delicious.  Whenever I make one of her cakes, there is always a moment in which I doubt her.  I push through and she has never failed me.

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A reminder that when I work from her recipes, this is what I have:

My HipstaPrint 987039433_59So, this cake is in three stages.  The base dough, the filling and the topping.  Ingredients are organized accordingly.

Kohevet’s Chocolate Cake With Nuts

For the dough:

1 1/3 cup of flour

1/3 cup of sugar

100 grams (a touch more than 7 tablespoons) of salted butter (I used unsalted but added a pinch of salt to the dough)

1 egg yolk

Special equipment:  springform cake pan

For the filling:

200 grams (about 7 ounces) bittersweet chocolate

100 grams (a bit more than 7 tablespoons) butter (I used unsalted)

1/4 cup cold water

1 packet of plain gelatin (you won’t use all of it, maybe a teaspoon or so)

4 eggs separated

2 tablespoons brandy (I only used one)

2 teaspoons of instant coffee powder

1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts, pecans and almonds)

2 tablespoons sugar

For topping:

2 cups heavy/whipping cream

2 tablespoons of confectioners sugar

Directions:

Make the dough.  Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius (356 Fahrenheit).  In a medium bowl, mix together the flour sugar, butter and egg yolk.  It helps if the butter is soft and cut into small pieces.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_26I mixed in the butter with a fork, a pastry cutter and then my hands.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_3I then added the egg yolk.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_24It will be a dough that sticks together if you press it- kind of like a shortbread.  Grease your springform pan.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_57Press 2/3 of the dough into the pan to form the bottom.  If the dough isn’t stiff enough, add another spoon or two of flour and then press it into the sides of the pan to form the crust.  I didn’t need to so you’ll have to eyeball it yourself.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_67Bake for 15-20 minutes or until it is a golden brown.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_44Set aside to cool.  Meanwhile, in a double boiler, heat the chocolate and butter.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_34While it is melting, combine the gelatin and the cold water in a small bowl.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_76When the chocolate and butter are melted, smooth and combined,

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add the water/gelatin and cook for about two minutes.  Then take it off the heat.

In another bowl, mix the egg yolks, brandy and instant coffee powder.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_1Once it is combined, add a few spoonfuls of the warm chocolate mixture and whisk.  You’re bringing the eggs up to temperature so that you don’t scramble them.  Once it’s up to temperature, add the rest of the chocolate and whisk until combined.

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Add the nuts and stir.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_9In (yet another) bowl, whip the egg whites and sugar, until they reach stiff peaks.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_18Fold the egg whites into the chocolate nut mixture by hand, so that it becomes mousse-like.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_28Take the ring of the springform pan off the base.  If you can, remove the base cake from the base of the pan.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_70Place it on the cake plate you plan to use for serving.  Pour the chocolate mixture into the base.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_91Cover and put it in the fridge.  Let it set for an hour or two.  About an hour before you want to serve it, whip the cream with the sugar until it is a lovely whipped cream consistency.  Spread it over the cake. My HipstaPrint 987039433_85

 

My HipstaPrint 987039433_10If you want to be fancy, you can grate some chocolate over the top of the cake just before you serve it.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_52This cake was so good.  It was just sweet enough with a hit of salt from the dough at the bottom.  One bite and I was back in Kohevet’s kitchen in Israel, at her table, on a Saturday afternoon, eating cake and laughing.

At The Last Minute…..

….I pulled together a pretty quick and easy Halloween dinner.  (it’s become something of a tradition around here.  Click here to see past meals.)

This year I browsed the internet and found some pretty easy ideas from a number of places.  Without further ado, here we go!

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Halloween Pumpkins

Ingredients:

Sweet potatoes, butter, salt

Directions:

Wash your sweet potatoes.  Prick them all over with a fork and place them in a baking dish.  Bake in the oven at 400 degrees until a fork inserted into them goes through easily (about an hour). Take them out and let them cool.  I sliced mine open lengthwise to help speed that up.  Once they’ve cooled, scoop out the insides and mash in a bowl with some butter and salt.  IMG_7133Using your hands, form small, pumpkin shapes out of the sweet potato.

IMG_7134Add something green (I used broccoli stems) as a stem.  Step back and look how cute…

IMG_7135Jack O Lanterns

Ingredients

White rice, orange or carrot juice, olives or nori, salt, cheddar cheese

Directions:

Combine the rice (I used abrorio because it was the only white rice I had.  Apparently we’ve become a quinoa and brown rice family) with the correct amount of liquid in a pan or rice cooker.  I used one cup of rice and two cups of liquid.  Some of the liquid should be the carrot juice (I used carrot orange because I couldn’t bear to spend $7 on a gallon of carrot juice when I knew we wouldn’t use it and the small bottles were a carrot orange mix.  I think all carrot would be brighter.)– if you don’t mind the taste of carrots, go for all carrot juice for the liquid.  Cook the rice and then set it aside to cool.

IMG_7124I mixed in about a half a cup of shredded cheddar cheese with mine, along with some salt  While it’s cooling, cut face shapes out of your olives or your nori.

IMG_7128With damp hands, form pumpkin balls out of the rice.  Then place your face shapes on top. Add a green something for a stem– again, I used broccoli stems.

IMG_7132Creepy Forrest

Ingredients

Broccoli

Directions

Wash your broccoli and slice into tree sizes.

IMG_7125Cook any way you like (I generally steam or boil) until crisp tender– that is, still bright green and crispy.  I stood mine up in some of the extra rice and convinced the kids that they were giants eating tiny trees.  Hey, whatever works, right?

IMG_7136Mummy Dogs

Ingredients:

crescent roll dough or puff pastry

hot dogs

mustard

Directions

Roll out your dough so that it is thin (not so thin that you see through it but somewhere between a 1/4 and 1/8 inch).

IMG_7120Slice it into ribbons.

IMG_7121Prick your hot dog a few times.  Wrap the dough ribbons around the hot dog, making sure to connect them to each other at the ends.  Set aside one square or roll.

IMG_7122Repeat until all hot dogs are covered, placing them on a baking sheet once wrapped.

IMG_7123Use the leftover pieces that you set aside to make the hat/head bandages.

IMG_7126Bake according to dough package directions (mine was 350 degrees, about 8-10 minutes).  Let them cool and then add eyes using a dab of mustard.  I used a toothpick to place my eyes.

IMG_7138Happy Halloween!!!

 

Homemade Comfort

Rough times here, long story, nothing that impacts me personally but impacting my work life and, as a result, I’ve been working looooong hours.  So last Saturday, in a few hours of at home time, I decided to make chicken tacos which always feel like a comfort food to me.

I took it a step further and made my own tortillas.  I can not recommend this more.  They were easy, didn’t take much time and were so delicious.  Soft, flaky, thick- just the kind of comfort carb I crave when things are hard.  So, when times are tough, pull together the simple ingredients and make yourself some tortillas to serve with soup, chicken or even solo.  Yum.

Flour Tortillas

Ingredients

2 cups white flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup water

3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

Directions

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl.

photo 1Combine the water and oil in a measuring cup.  Don’t bother trying to mix it- we all know oil and water don’t mix…

photo 2Pour the liquid into the flour and stir.  You’ll have a kind of shaggy dough.

photo 3Once it’s mostly combined, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it until it’s smooth- maybe 12 times or so- adding flour or water as needed to make a soft, smooth dough.

photo 4Let it rest for about ten minutes.  Then shape it into a sort of log shape.

photo 1Divide it into eight pieces.  I did this by cutting it in half and then cutting each half in half.  Then I divided those in half… you get the idea.

photo 2photo 3Flatten and using a rolling pin, roll each piece into about 7- 8 inch circles.  I suck at this.

photo 4I can’t ever make true circles and if I were going to make tortillas on a regular basis I might think about investing in a tortilla press.  For now I’ll just go with the imperfect shape.

Heat a frying pan over medium high heat.  Spray with nonstick cooking spray or lightly oil it.  Once the pan is hot, throw in one tortilla.

photo 5Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the underside starts to brown and blister.  Then flip and cook another minute.

photo 2Keep them warm in a low oven until you are ready to serve them.  Fill with cheese, beans, meat, veggies, whatever.  Or eat plain. They are really good. Y’know, if you like carbs.

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