Sugar Cookie Extravaganza and it’s Back to School Already?

Wow, I am amazed that this summer break has flown by so quickly. More quickly than when I was working full time and commuting.  Not sure how that is possible, but it certainly feels that way. Where we live school starts August 20th. That’s exactly 2 weeks away! There are times I wish it didn’t start until after Labor Day like when I was a kid, but in exchange we are out for the “summer” earlier than most people in May. Which means if we take a vacation right after school ends, we beat the crowds.

So the last few days have been a flurry of cookie making. Decorated Sugar Cookie making to be exact. Sometimes I wonder why I can’t be like other moms and just buy the cookies, or make plain circle cookies and slather on some pink frosting, shake some rainbow sprinkles on them and call it a day. But NOOOOOO, I become possessed by some Martha Stewart spirit and wind up turning it into a 3 day cookie making extravaganza for my daughter’s Dance Company’s Bake Sale Fundraiser.

I did my research. I followed the rules and directions and I do have to say that I am quite pleased for my first attempt at this decorating style. I was lucky enough to stumble upon this website that offers really great explanations and how to’s. I wanted to have those professional looking cookies that you find at fancy bakeries. I can see now why they always charge $5 a cookie! However, I’m sure after doing this a few times, I would be able to complete the process much faster.

I was pleasantly surprised by all the compliments I received over these Dance Themed Cookies, taste and the decoration. Everyone in the dance company went berserk for them. They sold out on the first day! Being somewhat of a perfectionist, I see all the things I could have done better, all the little spots that didn’t come out exactly perfect. But in the end cookies were eaten and loved by all.


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Here’s the recipe for Rolled Sugar Cookies that was inspired by The Glorious Baker

Ingredients for cookies:

  • 1 Cup Golden Flaxseed Meal
  • 2 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract
  • Parchment paper

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder and set aside.
  2. In a separate bowl combine all the dry ingredients and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  This should take about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the egg, vanilla and almond extracts and beat another minute or so.
  5. Add the flour mixture slowly, mixing after each cup is added.  (Be careful not to add too much at a time.
  6. Blend until all of the flour is incorporated and the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
  7. Take the dough out of the bowl and place it on a piece of parchment paper.
  8. Place the dough in a large plastic (ziplock type) bag or tupperware bowl with a lid and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
  9. Prep an area to roll out the dough. I use a roll out mat, and a little flour.
  10. 15 min before you remove the dough from the refrigerator, preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
  11. Take about half the dough at a time and roll it out until about 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick.
    Carefully stamp each cookie cutter until that piece is full. (If cookie cutter starts to  stick, dip the edges in flour.)
  12. Pick up the scraps and re- roll the dough, continue to stamp cookies until full, then repeat.
  13. Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and place in the freezer for about 5 -10 minutes. This assures that the cookies stay very cold and will help prevent spreading.
  14. Take the other half of the dough and repeat the process until all cookies have been stamped.
  15. If you don’t have enough cookies sheets you should leave the unrolled dough in the fridge until your first batches are completed.

    PRO TIP: Place similar sized cookies on the same cookies sheet. That way all the cookies will cook evenly and you won’t have some cookies under-baked and others to crispy.

  16. Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes depending on the size of the cookie.  Bake until they are just barely beginning to take on a golden tone.  They will continue to bake as long as then are on the pan, so don’t let then get too brown.
  17. Cool for just a minute or so on the pan, then carefully remove cookies from the baking sheet and place on a cooling rack.
  • This recipe yields about 30, 2 1/2 inch cookies or 16, 3 1/2 inch cookies.
  • Once cooled, the cookies can be decorated with frosting, royal icing or rolled fondant.


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::: ROYAL ICING RECIPE :::

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz (3/4 cup) of warm water
  • 5 Tablespoons Meringue Powder
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2.25 lbs. powdered sugar

*** Note; if your meringue powder has no vanilla flavor (vanillin powder) in it, add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to this recipe.

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COOKIE DECORATING TOOLS NEEDED

OPTION 1 – Pastry Bag Method:

  • Piping bags or Candy Melts squeeze bottles
  • Glasses – to stand your icing bags in
  • Clean cloths – a few damp and dry ones nearby
  • Elastic bands or bag clips
  • Piping tips(at least #’s 1-5)
  • Couplers
  • Toothpicks
  • Food gel coloring
  • Parchment Paper (Decorating Bags)

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OPTION 2 – Squeeze Bottle Method :

I used this method and it works great!

  • Candy Melts squeeze bottles for flood fill
  • Decorating Squeeze Bottles with changeable tips
  • Clean cloths – a few damp and dry ones nearby
  • Piping tips(at least #’s 1-5)
  • Couplers
  • Toothpicks
  • Food gel coloring
  • Parchment Paper ( Decorating Bags)
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Left: Flood Fill Icing Bottle ************** Right: Border icing and Final Detail Bottles with Changeable tips

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Directions:

  1. Using Kitchen-aide mixer, pour in the warm water and the meringue powder.
  2. Mix it with the whisk attachment (or by hand) until it is frothy and thickened…about 30 seconds.
  3. Add the cream of tartar and mix for 30 seconds more.
  4. Pour in all the icing sugar at once and place the bowl on the mixer.
  5. Switch to the paddle attachment.
  6. On the LOWEST speed, mix slowly for a full 10 minutes. Icing will get thick and creamy.
  7. You will want this to be thicker at first so you can use this for your borders. (You will add water as needed later for the flood fill.)
  8. In small bowls place some of the white frosting in each one. Tint with food coloring or thin the icing with small amounts of warm water to reach the desired consistency. For the borders, you want it to be stiff and thicker, but still able to squeeze out.
  9. Once your desired colors are mixed, then fill each bottle, or parchment bag.
  10. DECORATE : See below for the how to video’s and ideas.
  11. While the borders are drying, use the same bowls as before to mix your thinner flood fill icing. This needs to be thin enough to “set” itself in about 10 seconds. Add only a few drops of water at a time. If it’s too runny, then you will had to add more powdered sugar and mix again.
  12. Fill pastry bags or candy squeeze bottles with flood will icing
  13. Once your borders are set and dry you can begin filling in all your designs and colors. The possibilities are endless, so watch the videos for inspiration.
  14. In-between uses, cover the bowl of plain white icing with a dampened tea-towel to prevent crusting and drying. You can also cover each bottle with a tip or damp cloth to prevent them from getting hard or clogged.
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In the process of bordering and flood fill. The square cookies can be anything you want. I just wrote out words or drew things with the border icing. This was the only photo I took of the in between process. Next time I will add some step by step photos of each cookie.

 

  PRO TIP: To make sure the icing is at the right consistency for the FLOOD FILL, use the “10 second rule“.  Drag a butter knife through the surface of your royal icing and count to 10.  If the icing surface becomes smooth in anywhere between 5-10 seconds, then your icing is ready to use.  If it takes longer than approximately 10 seconds, the icing is too thick.  Slowly add more water.  If your icing surface smooths over in less than 5-10 seconds, it is too runny.



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Here are some links to some tutorials and decorating ideas that I used to create my cookies.

::: Information ::: Tutorials ::: Pro-Tips :::

The Glorious Baker says:

I also highly recommend the book Cookie Craft.  This is the best and most complete book I’ve found on decorating cookies.  This book has gorgeous photos for inspiration, but also has every bit of information you need, including directions and recipes.  Despite the thousands of cookies I’ve made over the years, I still come back to this book for ideas or to refresh my memory on a particular technique.



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The finished cookies all packaged up in my Snapware Cupcake & Cookie carrier. I LOVE this thing. Not only does the inner tray flip ever so you can hold cookies, cupcakes, and muffins, I also used it to carry sandwich or burger fixin’s with an ice pack under the inner tray to keep it cool. So many great uses. I got mine at Costco, but you can find them on Amazon.com (click photo to go there) and it comes with 3 stacks with the flipping inner trays.

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ADDICTING PEANUT BUTTER DOUBLE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Not many people don’t love a good chocolate chip cookie. Combined with some peanut butter and you have just upped the ante. I made these last week and put some out for a game night we had. My friends kept asking me, ” What did you put in these cookies, they are so addicting.” We would play a round and if someone got up, they would ask that person to bring them another cookie. Eventually the whole Tupperware container of them ended up in the game zone to make for easy reaching. People made sure to take a couple extra at the end of night so they had one for the road.

These cookies are the perfect amount of chewy, with a crisp edge.  The combination of two kinds of chocolate, and a little peanut butter just made them that much more addictive. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’m sure you will want more than a shot of milk to go along with them!

Makes about 2 dozen
Ingredients

  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup organic butter, softened
  • 2 organic eggs
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
  • Using a Kitchen-aid mixer, cream together the butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth
  • Beat in the eggs until light & fluffy
  • Add corn syrup, water, and vanilla and mix until just incorporated
  • Slowly combine the flour, baking soda, and salt into the peanut butter mixture.
  • Pour in the chocolate chips and mix on low until combined
  • Use cookie scoop to drop dough about 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  • Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are golden brown.
  • Place cookies on wire rack to cool for a few minutes before eating.

Summertime Adventures (or Be A Tourist in Your Hometown – Part 2 – South-East Sonoma County)

:::  S U M M E R   I S   H E R E  :::

Are  you sure? I am pretty sure that last month we just celebrated Valentine’s Day right?  It seems like time is somehow stuck in hyper-drive. A month goes by and I have no idea how it happened and what I did with all that time.  Now all of the sudden I have a bored pre-teen that I am apparently supposed to wait on hand and foot as if she were the royal princess of Summer-topia.  I am finding it much more difficult to keep a pre-teen entertained than a 2-7 year old. I am not sure why that is since at this age she doesn’t need 100% supervision; no diapers have to be changed, she needs no naps, we don’t need to pack a huge bag of necessities, toys, stroller or extra clothing. Yet somehow she seems more dependent on me than ever.

It’s been a few years since I was the parent at home during the day in the summer, so I decided we needed some new rules that relate to an 11 year old. So far I have been met with lots of resistance (not surprised), but I am confident that I will prevail as the grand champion.

  • Rule #1: I am not your servant, personal chef, maid, butler, or taxi-cab.
  • Rule #2: You still have to read a book at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Rule #3: You have to help do chores and special projects around the house.
  • Rule #4: You cannot sit and watch TV or movies all day long.
  • Rule #5: You cannot sit and play on your phone or other electronic device all day long.
  • Rule #6: You can stay up late, as long as you get up at a reasonable time the next morning.

Luckily for us one of her best friends lives across the street. This is very helpful when having an only child. They can come and go as they want and they keep each other entertained for the most part.  But even with friends over, they all still get bored, and I have to step in and find something for everyone to do.


::: SUMMER ACTIVITIES :::

If you are looking for some affordable and/or free things to do this summer, I have a few fun and interesting idea’s for you. We have been to all of these places and we just love them!  For fun things to do out west please see my earlier blog post: Be a Tourist in your Hometown

JELLY BELLY FACTORY – Vacaville, CA  – Free factory tours, plus free samples and a free bag of Jelly Bellies for everyone!  I realize this is not in Sonoma County, but it is located only about an hour from Santa Rosa and this makes for a fun day. The tour is about 40 minutes, includes videos and history of the company and on weekdays you can see all the workers in the factory and all the machines going. Weekends the factory workers have off, so it’s a little less exciting, but it is still fun. They also give out free chocolate and fudge samples in the gift shop, plus you can go through the line at the jelly bean sample bar as many times as you want and try all the flavors. They do have a  cafe with all sorts of Jelly Bean shaped food which is ok, but not great.  However if you are coming from Northern Sonoma County and take hwy 116 exit in Petaluma, there is a wonderful place to stop and eat either on the way to the Jelly Belly Factory or on the way back called The Fremont Diner (see next item on this list below).

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THE FREMONT DINER – Carneros Hwy Between Sonoma and Napa (AKA Hwy 121/12) – On your way out to or back from Vacaville, (honestly anytime you want an amazing home cooked, farm fresh, locally grown, organic, free range, utterly fantastic food) stop by this quaint historic landmark for some tasty grub that will knock your socks off. They grow as much of their own food as possible in their gardens, or they get it locally.  You will be treated like family as you sit inside and enjoy the antiques or outside at a picnic table in their “backyard”. Amazing views when you sit outside with gorgeous vineyards on the hills. Once we were treated to a rare double rainbow at sunset as we dined outside.  Check out their seasonal menu (they serve what’s fresh!) however they always have the popular dishes such as the Deviled Eggs, Nashville Fried Chicken, Fremont Burger and Mac-n-cheese. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you happen to have $5 bucks in your pocket, be sure to go inside and have your photos done in the Chicken Coop Photo Booth. You get two strips of 4 poses so you can share with a friend!

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CORNERSTONE SONOMA – (About 5 minutes from Fremont Diner)  Sonoma, CA – It’s hard to describe exactly what Cornerstone is. It’s part art exhibit, part garden, mix in some interactive outdoor experiences, and throw in a cafe and a wine tasting room and there you have it. What is so cool about it is that this kind of art appeals to all ages and types of people,  and the opportunity to wander & experience the outdoor art gardens is completely free. The gardens have separate sections and each one has something different and unique, created by some pretty clever artists. One of my favorites is the metal tunnel, called RISE. It has great acoustics and its fun to sing inside of it. There’s also a wishing tree with iridescent prismatic ribbons that you write a wish on then tie it to the”tree”. The ribbons sway in the breeze making the rainbow colors so vibrant and beautiful. If you are hungry you can stop and grab a bite to eat at the cafe, with indoor and outdoor seating. (Note that we have not eaten here at Park 121 yet.) Or bring a snack ans sit out on the grass in the middle of the gardens. Lots of fun adventures and silly photos are bound to keep any child or adult entertained for hours.

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CLINE CELLARS – Sonoma, CA – Just a hop, skip and a jump from Cornerstone, is Cline Cellars.  Cline Cellars has some beautiful property that makes for a wonderful morning or afternoon walk. They have a small tasting room (free tasting of 5 non-reserve wines), California Missions Museum (also free), gorgeous pond, gardens, and even some beautiful pheasants and other exotic looking birds, they also offer tours of the estate.  This makes Cline Cellars a perfect stop with or with out kids. For those wine snobs out there, Cline Cellars are well known for having Ancient Vines, some of the oldest and most rare grapevines in California that range in age from 80 to 120 years old.  They are also pesticide free and sustain organic practices on all their vineyards.

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JACUZZI WINERY– Sonoma, CA – Only 417 feet from Cline Cellars is this fabulous Italian themed winery. They have a beautiful tasting room, food & gift shop. Here you can also sample glorious house made olive oils and vinegars.  Like Cline Cellars, they offer a complimentary wine tasting of 5 of their non-reserve wines. The grounds are spectacular and you almost feel as if you are on vacation in Italy, and yes they are the ones who invented the “Jacuzzi Spa Tub”. Go ahead and take some photos of yourself while you are here, your friends will be jealous that you are in Tuscany!

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Samosa Pot Pie

If you love indian food, then you should have eaten at least one samosa in your lifetime. I have eaten dozens of these amazing little potato filled dough triangles. They are scrumptious. They have the just the right amount of seasoning and spice, combined with potatoes and peas they are the Indian version of American Pot Pies.

The only bad things about traditional samosas is they are far too small for a main meal, and they are usually deep fried. Well, what if I told you, you can take all the same elements and turn them into a ginormous pot pie that will feed 8-10 people?  You’re welcome.

Samosa Pot Pie

This recipe was inspired by one I saw on a vegetarian website, but as always I modified it to suit my family’s taste and needs.  If you are new to trying Indian cuisine, then this is a great dish to start with. It has a small amount of curry, and is not that spicy (although you can kick it up if you like to sweat while you eat.)  You can also add other veggies to it as you like, and serve it with a mint-cilantro sauce and your favorite chutney. We used Kozlowski Farms Apricot & Mango Roasted Chipotle Sauce. This is sweet with a little kick and can also be used for dips, grilling, and marinades. My husband loved this sauce so much over half the bottle is gone. Or if you want something with a little less heat, you might want to try Kozlowski Farms Mango & Apricot Chutney. 

Apricot & Mango Chipotle Sauce

Since this is a larger size pot pie, it’s perfect for a dinner party or potluck. If you have a large family this will be plenty to fill them up. Personally I prefer to have leftovers. Since my man is vegan, it’s much easier for us to have food prepared at home for him to take to work.  You can also prepare this ahead of time and freeze it. So what are you waiting for, go get your curry on!


:::  Samosa Pot Pie :::   Serves 8-10

Crust

  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbs butter (or vegan margarine)
  • 2 tbs vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1½ tsp dehydrated toasted onion spice *
  • 10-15 tbs of ice water

Filling

  • 7-8 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed ( I cut each potato into 6 cubes)
  • 1 Tbs. mustard powder
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ⅛ tsp. red pepper flakes, optional
  • 3 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 medium to large onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrot, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup frozen spinach
  • 1 to 2 cups water (or vegetable broth)
  • 2 tsp  sugar

For the Crust: Preheat oven to 400°F.

  1. Using your food processor, blend flour, salt, butter and slowly add in oil until clumps form.
  2. Add ice cold water, 1 Tbs. at a time, until dough holds together.
  3. Shape into 2 balls, one slightly larger than the other. 
  4. Roll out larger ball of dough (on floured surface) first to fit bottom & sides of pan
  5. Lay crust in pan and poke fork holes on bottom. Press edges up and make sure they come all the way up to the edge of the pan. I used an 11-inch circular cake pan, so I could have a thicker filling than a regular pie tin.  If you like less filling or just want a smaller pot pie, use 2-3 less potatoes and use a traditional pie tin.

For the Filling:

  1. Stir together mustard, curry, ginger, cumin, turmeric, paprika and red pepper flakes, if using, in bowl; set aside.
  2. Cook potatoes in boiling salted water 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain, return to pot, and mash, leaving small chunks.
  3. While potatoes are cooking, heat oil in skillet over medium heat.
  4. Add onion, carrot, and garlic, and sauté 7 -10 minutes, or until carrot is tender.
  5. Move onion mixture to side of pan, and add mustard seed mixture in center. Toast 30 seconds.
  6. Stir in peas, spinach and water (or broth). Fold onion mixture into potato mixture; stir in sugar.
  7. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Final Assembly:

  1. Scoop filling into pie/cake pan with the bottom crust
  2. Leave edges of crust clean so you can crimp the top and bottom crusts together
  3. Roll out second ball of dough big enough to cover the top of your pot pie 
  4. Cover filling with dough
  5. Using a little water, wet the edges of the bottom crust and start crimping the two crust edges together
  6. Trim away excess dough
  7. Cut X in center to vent steam
  8. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until crust is golden.
  9. Let stand 5 minutes before serving

* Dehydrated Toasted Onion Spice is from the Savory Spice Shop located in downtown Santa Rosa, CA. I bought this spice for the first time a couple months ago and this stuff tastes great on almost everything. One of my favorites was steamed fresh green beans with toasted almond slivers, a little olive oil and a sprinkling of the toasted onion and OMG they were to die for delicious. It really makes a difference using this version versus just granulated onion.  If you don’t have a spice shop near you, you can order this one online from the Savory Spice Shop.

Pad Thai Salad – So good you’ll eat it two days in a row!

Pad Thai Salad, yes you read correctly. I know what you’re thinking, “Pad Thai Salad, that sounds too healthy. Where’s my starch?  You won’t miss the noodles or anything fried with this taste sensation. This recipe was so successful, my family asked to have it again the next night for dinner and trust me, that never happens.

The coolest thing about this is that it’s completely vegan. ( Oooo I said the “v” word…..) So, I take it you happen to be a carnivore? No problem, simply add some grilled chicken, prawns, or beef and voila the meal is fit for any hungry tyrannosaurus rex. But, if you would just try it at least once the way it is below, I promise you, you will not be asking,  “Where’s the beef?” You get all your protein from the beans and tofu.  If you are not fond of tofu, simply just don’t use it, but it helps to create a flavor romance that works great all together.

The beauty of this meal, is that it is chocked full of nutrients, tastes amazing,  is super healthy, and is easily modified to your specific taste. If you don’t like snap peas, use broccoli or cucumbers.   I keep the dressing on the side so leftovers will not become soggy. Also my people seriously sucked down the homemade dressing, so the following night I had to make another batch of the dressing in order to have enough for the second meal.  You could also serve some spring rolls or pot stickers as an appetizer, and use your dressing as a dipping sauce!

Just look at how beautiful this thing is. It’s truly like eating a rainbow.

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Photography copyright of Tika Moon Photography.
This recipe was adapted from http://www.eatingbirdfood.com/2014/02/kale-cabbage-pad-thai-salad/

Pad Thai Salad

My bowl made enough for three people, two dinners each.  My husband however is a quantity eater, so I think that this would be enough for 6 – 8 people depending on how hungry they are and if you served an appetizer with it..
Ingredients
  • 1/2 to 3/4  head of green cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 large bunch of kale, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 container of extra firm tofu, cubed
  • 1 large heirloom tomato, cubed
  • 2 carrots, shredded or about a cup of pre-shredded carrots
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 cup snap peas – cut in half
  • 1/2 cup of celery – chopped
  • 1.5 cups of cooked chickpeas (pre-soaked and cooked) or 1 can of chickpeas
Light Pad Thai Dressing
  • 1/3 cup chopped peanuts
  • Juice of 2 limes (about 4-5 Tablespoons)
  • 3 Tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (or low-sodium Tamari)
  • 1 Tablespoons water
  • 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon Agave
  • 1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha (or more depending on your tastes)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger – or ginger paste
  • 2 teaspoon garlic
 Instructions
Salad:
  1. Prepare all your veggies. Make sure they are chopped into similar sized pieces placing them in separate temporary prep bowls.
  2. Add the kale and the cabbage and mix together first in a large bowl.
  3. Take each of your veggies and place on top of the cabbage & kale mix, in a pie wedge shape, alternating colors.
  4. Add the cilantro and celery in the center.
  5. Present to your guests, family this way and they will be very impressed.
  6. Mix the salad at the table, and you are ready to serve.
Dressing:
  1. Combine all dressing ingredients into a small bowl and whisk with fork until smooth. The peanuts seem to float to the top, so right before serving, mix again.
  2. Place in a serving bowl (or gravy boat) and let each person scoop their dressing to their liking.
  3. Enjoy the yummiest salad ever!

This year I started making my own beans from scratch. They seriously just taste so much better. You do have to plan ahead, soak the beans overnight and then the chickpeas take about 2 hours to cook. I promise you it is so worth it. I made extra, and then used the rest in some minestrone soup  the next day.

Thanks for eating with me! I will try and figure out how to make a link to print the recipe, so it can be neat, tidy and fit all on one page.  If you know how to do that and are kind enough to share, I would love to know the secret.

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So Many Recipes, So Little Time

Back in January this year, my life drastically changed. The decision was made for me; I was laid off from my full time Accounting Manager position due to budgetary cutbacks.  So what’s a creative person to do with all this sudden time on their hands?  1. Organize  2.  Be the best “Soccer Mom” or in my case “Dance Mom” I can be   3. Surf the internet  4. Catch up on 4 years of TV shows I missed   5. Start watching “Downton Abbey” and  6. Go back to cooking real, fresh homemade meals, the kind that take all day to prepare and days to plan, why? Because I can.

I have always loved reading and researching recipes.  Clipping them out of a magazine, printing them from online, hand copying  family or friends ingredients and instructions, because it was just so good I had to take the time to scrawl it on some scratch paper.  What always ends up is a pile of papers, in no particular order just sitting in a binder calling me, whispering sweetly to me, “Tikaaaaa…. Tika, TIKA! Come create me.” Then my regular life takes over and I just stick to the basic meals I know.  When you only have 20-30 minutes to get some food on the table for your clan, you tend to choose what you know and what’s easy.  Let’s face it I have stuck my fair share of microwave frozen meals the speedy machine to cook up a super fast meal.

For the past few years I have started to adopt the thinking that we need to eat freshly made, unprocessed foods like our grandparents and great grandparents used to eat. While I have a huge challenge in that regard, because my husband is a vegan.  I grew up with a mother who cooked home homestyle comfort food and I still crave things like meatloaf, pot roast, roasted chicken and spaghetti & meatballs.  I do like to use some vegetarian mock meat options when cooking to substitute for the real thing. When cooked properly, they taste great and work well in most recipes. Out of respect for my husbands beliefs we eat mostly vegetarian at home, only cooking fish once in a while for my daughter and myself.  But after 4 years of dedicating a lot of time to my past employer, I realize that when I did have time to cook  (when I was not too exhausted from a 1-2 hour commute each way), I would choose one of about 10 standard meals we all liked.

  1. Spaghetti & Meatless Meatballs
  2. Taco/Burrito Night
  3. Falafels
  4. Chinese Chicken-less Salad
  5. Make your own Pizza night
  6. Stir Fry
  7. Tortilla Soup/ Chili
  8. Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes
  9. Coconut Pineapple Curry
  10. Baked Potatoes with all the fixin’s

To be honest, we really like all the choices above.  And there were days when I would have more time, or get more creative with things like Vegan Shepherds Pie,  Lasagna with Tofu Ricotta,  Enchiladas,  Roasted Vegetable Bruschetta, or Caramelized Onions & Mushrooms Tartlets.  But one can only have so much of the same thing and when your brain is drained, it is very hard to be inventive. I have already tried several new recipes since my recent friendship with unemployment began and my family and I have been loving it.

I have recently decided that I really want to start to get away from canned goods. I realized most of what I bought in cans was beans and corn.  Well, it turns out with a little foresight, homemade beans are pretty dang easy and they taste 100 times better then what comes in a can. Also YOU choose what goes in your food, no extra sodium or chemicals lining the walls of a can leaching into your food.  I really try to buy organic when possible, call me a chemical snob, but I truly think that most organic foods simply just taste better.  Here is a link on how to make your own beans from scratch.  It’s so easy a monkey could do it!  Here is a link from Simple Bites on to how to make beans from dried: http://www.simplebites.net/a-simple-guide-to-cooking-dried-beans 

This new blog is only the tip of the iceberg for me. I want to share my creativeness, ideas, fabulous finds with all of you, especially for the extremely busy, working or stay at home moms, dads, college student, who just need a little inspiration or push in the right direction.  I have so many recipes that I will try out for you and give you advice or my take on. Also when I discover a restaurant or store, I love to share the experience with my friends, especially when they go above and beyond what is expected.

I have always (seriously always – at least as long as computers have been around) wanted to have a blog. I feel that I have a lot of different skills, talents, and information to share. Some I learned on my own and some if it researched, explored or learned from a friend. If you choose to take this journey with me,  we can learn all about the so many wonderful things our modern world has to offer.

So raise a glass or high five someone in the room with you, and lets get going on my biggest adventure yet. As they say, “When one door close, another door opens!”