My latest “thing”: homemade granola bars

It’s sadly been so long since SOMEbody (anybody!) posted anything to this blog. :-( I guess it must be because our lives were too full of good things/people/activities to have time to blog! :-) Maybe someday we’ll go back and post about Thanksgiving or Christmas 2013 (lots of fun memories)… or maybe we’ll just keep chugging forward.

Onto the more mundane things of life… like the latest “thing I’m into”  (BTW, we sisters seem to have a lot of these, so I was trying to find one good word for it, but couldn’t — obsession is too strong, interest too blah, infatuation/fascination too heart/head-y, fad and trend too fashion-related when it’s food — any suggestions?)

So, in the midst of all the “healthy new year” resolutions and ads out there, I was reading some article about minimizing our processed foods. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years (and making slooooow progress, but some progress). In addition, the Web site was talking about how all those “healthy granola bars” are not that healthy, so today last week (it’s taking me a while to finish this post!) I got inspired to make some homemade granola bars.

I looked online and decided to try out both of these recipes:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/homemade-granola-bars-recipe/index.html

http://www.inspiredtaste.net/21462/soft-and-chewy-granola-bars-recipe/

I stocked up on some nice dried fruits (apricots, dates, raisins, cranberries, plus the dried mangoes and blueberries I already had at home) to let my kids customize their granola bars. What did they pick? Raisins and chocolate chips. :-/ And of course since I was planning to do a side-by-side comparison of the recipes, I had to make TWO batches with just raisins and chocolate chips. Sigh. Next time I’ll add some of the other yummy fruits. :-)

granola1 2 pans

So here are the two finished batches side by side. To be fair to Ina, her recipe called for an 8×12 pan, but I tried it and it looked too big for the mixture. I had already used the 9×9 for the other recipe, so the only pan I had left was an 8×8.  In the 8×8, Ina’s bars were too dense and thick.  But I think it might also largely be because her recipe requires you to put them back in the oven once in the pan and bake for 25 min.  We did a taste test (and shared some with friends, after all, these are fresh for only a week and how many granola bars can one eat in a week? or so I thought…). They were BOTH good, but everyone had a preference for the inspiredtaste recipe (the one in front in this next picture).

granola1 finished

I thought it would take us a LONG time to eat 36 granola bars, and granted we did give away about 10, but we started running low this week, so I decided to try another couple of batches, and using only one recipe version this time. The first batch: almond, pumpkin seed, dates, dried blueberries, and mini chocolate chips.

granola2 before

The second: peanut butter, peanuts, and mini chocolate chips.

granola2 beforePB

I was wondering how it would work with “whole half peanuts” (can one say “whole half” or is that an oxymoron?), I thought it would look prettier :-) with whole halves, so I decided to go for it.  In retrospect, I think next time I’ll chop them up a bit more. They made the granola bars crumble a lot (see final picture below). Maybe I should’ve waited for them to come to room temperature, but I was anxious to try them out so I cut them right out of the fridge.

The finished products on this week’s homemade granola bar menu:granola2 finished2

Here’s how they cut, you can see the PB one is very crumbly. As I said, it’s in part because I didn’t chop up the peanuts, but it might also be because of the consistency of the bar due to the creamy PB. But it’s a case of “it tastes much better than it looks.” Both are really yummy, I like the consistency of the pumpkin seeds in the granola bar, and the dates/blueberries are way better than raisins (in my opinion, will have to ask the kids when they get home from school).granola2 pans

Look like this new obsession fad “thing” will give me lots of opportunities for delicious experimenting!!

Thanksgiving Day Play-by-play

Happy Turkey Day everyone!

Christine here – as suggested by Judy, let’s try this “live-blogging” thing! Here’s a run down of some of the prep, cooking, and fun that’s going on in our houses today…

(Forgive the less-than-perfect photos, we’re going for quickness here!)

7:47 am- C: Woke up early and went down to the garage to flip the bird (haha). This year we were lucky to have an extra fridge (thanks Judy!) in the garage that we could use for the turkey and brine (all alone…). I like how this picture looks a bit omnious, hehehe.

lonely turkey

9:07am- D: Wish I had a renovated kitchen!!  My counter is under there somewhere… Not enough space!

2013-11-28 09.07.13

10:04 am- C: Made some curry chicken salad for lunch, seems funny to be cooking something that won’t be used for Thanksgiving dinner whatsoever.

curry chicken salad

10:52 am- C: Started the cranberry sauce so that it has time to cool and gel before dinner tonight. Love how festive and bright cranberries look :)

cranberry sauce

11:00 am- C: Snapped a shot of Diana’s guava chiffon mini cupcakes fresh out of the oven, so cute!

guava chiffon mini cupcakes

12:15ish pm- C: Finished up the turkey stock for the gravy (ugh, blurry cell-phone pic!). In case you’re wondering, yes, that is a turkey neck!

turkey stock

12:51am- D: Christine is oiling down the bird and giving it a massage.  Guess it runs in the family!

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12:54am- D:  Stopped for a lunch break.  It’s nice having lil sis around.  :)

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12:58am- D: Aromatics getting stuffed into the bird.

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1:06pm- D: Caped crusader?  Breast plate of armor?  Burn guard?  Maybe all of the above?  :)

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1:07 pm- D: Note to selves: 25.68lbs is the capacity of this oven.

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1:41pm- D: Bird is already browning… gotta put the cape on!!

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Whew, you may now call him Superturkey.2013-11-28 13.42.21

Kitchen and Craft Room remodel pictures, finally!

Okay, it’s a bit anti-climactic at this point since we’ve been living in the house for about 3 months now, but some friends afar have asked for pictures of the remodel.  I wasn’t sure how to best do “before and after” pictures since we moved 3 rooms around (kitchen moved to where the dining room was, dining table moved to where the kids’ craft area was, kids craft/project area + my laptop moved to the old kitchen location). I could sit around and weigh the options, but in the end, I decided it was best to just start posting pictures. :-)

First is our new kitchen — ooooh, ahhhh….  (Confession: Even after only 3 months I had to move a ton of our junk stuff just outside the picture so it would look all nice and clean, but of course you knew that, right? haha)

DR corner after

We are LOVING the island, having all that extra counter space for prep and eating, plus the extra sink on it. I had initially wanted NO seating at the island, but the kitchen designer pushed back and said it’s something we would really enjoy, and we decided to take her expert advice, and she was right!  We are also loving the huge gas rangetop and the second dishwasher (soooooo useful when you are counting on your kids to empty the dishwasher).  Lots to love, I am so grateful.

Here’s a before and after of this particular space: (I hate those “before and after” makeover pictures where it seriously looks like they told the person to look as terrible and depressed as possible in the before picture. Sadly, I didn’t have to do anything extra to make the space look this cluttered, just ordinary life, but I do recognize that this unfairly makes the before even worse and the after even better.  Oh well)

DR corner BandA

The dining area didn’t change much (other than get moved to a new location), but the kids’ craft/project area did!  Here are two sets of before and afters.  The first is what their craft area used to look like compared to now.  The second is how the space changed from old kitchen to new craft/project area.

Art Area BandAOf course it will never look this tidy — it’s a craft/project area, so it’s always messy! :-)

Kitchen View BandAThere were a lot of subtle things we had to do with walls, doors, and windows to make this all happen.  Come to think of it, I think almost every door and window in these spaces had to be moved/replaced!

Here’s a comparison of the view into this space as you walk through the front door…

Entry View BandA

We also expanded the laundry/pantry area just a little bit and reconfigured the doors.  The new door is in the middle dividing the laundry/cleaning supplies from the second fridge and pantry cabinets.

Laundry Pantry BandA

We also expanded the kids’ bedroom and added a nice cubby area for shoes/jackets/backpacks, etc.  I’ll have to post those pictures another time.  In the meantime, we’ve started having friends and family over to start “using” the new space, and it’s been working out great for us!  It’s been an inconvenient and sometimes painful 6 months, but we love the changes. (much like pregnancy and childbirth)  As we enter into the major “celebrations and gatherings” season of the year, we look forward to really putting the new spaces to the test!

Move Over Ciceros!

Last week I made the best pizza ever.  The secret?  Instead of using a pizza dough recipe, I used a focaccia recipe for the crust.  The previous pizza I made (see Oct 28 post) was way too doughy.  This one, however, was crispy and extremely flavorful.  One late night, I was struck hard with savory carb cravings and had to exercise great restraint to not gobble up the last remaining piece, which I had promised to save for a friend.  I am proud to say that I prevailed and didn’t succumb!  Much to the culinary delight of my friend :-)

Focaccia Pizza

Wings and Things

This is what I get for not officially following our blog (although I thought I was!).

For about a month now, I’ve been expecting notifications for your posts and when I never got any, I figured everyone was super busy! Then yesterday on a whim I decided to check in and saw there were all these posts that I hadn’t read!

Silly me.

Anyway, it was fun catching up on all that you guys have been up to :). As for me…recently I’ve been trying to cook more and have been trying some new recipes. I’ve been on a bit of a chicken wing craze and one of the things that I’ve really been wanting to try is Korean fried chicken (a la Bon Chon), but still haven’t gotten around to it. I was talking to my coworker about my fried chicken wing research and he shared a recipe that he had been wanting to try for a while by Andrew Zimmern. While they weren’t fried, they sounded pretty good and easy since they were a “one-pot” dish. I ended up making them that very night, go figure!

Andrew Zimmern’s One-pot Sticky Chicken Wings

Here’s how they turned out!Image

That glazed look gets me every time!

The recipe was super easy, but unfortunately I think they ended up looking a little better than they tasted. Not that they were bad (I made a big batch and ate them all!), but they weren’t quite as good as I was hoping. If I ever make them again, here’s what I would do differently:

  1. Use less soy sauce, or use low-sodium soy sauce. The wings were really flavorful, but a bit too salty to me (probably due to the type of soy sauce I was using).
  2. Don’t over reduce the sauce (this probably contributed to the saltiness too). While cooking, the sauce didn’t look like it was thickening much as it was reducing, so I continued to cook off more and more liquid and was ultimately left with very little sauce. Note to self: taste the sauce as it reduces!

Along with the wings, I cooked some roasted vegetables using a new method. Usually when I roast vegetables, I cut squash and some root vegetables in big chunks and cook them spaced out on a roasting pan. This time, I used a recipe that I found for “The Best Roasted Vegetables Ever” (how could I not try them?), which required cutting all the vegetables into small cubes and mixing them all together in a baking dish.

The Wednesday Chef’s Best Roasted Vegetables Ever

Here’s what they looked like before going in the oven – so colorful and healthful too! I followed the recipe pretty closely, except I added 1 sweet potato in lieu of a regular potato.

Image

I forgot to take an after shot, but they still looked pretty nice and colorful after roasting. They tasted good too! It was definitely different because the vegetable flavors mixed more and when eating them, you’re likely to eat several types of veggies with each bite. I think I’ll still roast vegetables the typical way when I’m looking for something quick, but this way would be fun to change things up every now and then!

That’s all for the kitchen chronicles for now :D

A’s Wizard of Oz Costume: One Dress, Two Ways

one dress two ways

So, for months, A was planning a veeeery nice and easy (for me) costume. She was going to be a gymnast! (nothin’ for me to do, woo hoo!)  Then, literally 10 days before Halloween, she was talking to one of her friends about Halloween plans and found out that her friend was going to be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.  A had just read The Wizard of Oz in the spring (the whole entire original book, I haven’t even done that), so she was very familiar with the story, and she started thinking how fun it would be to be Glinda to her friend’s Dorothy, and her friend thought it would be fun too. So… “easy Halloween costume plans” went out the door, replaced by a new list of multiple pieces that needed to be purchased and created in less than 10 days.

For some reason, the thought never occurred to me to search online for a kids’ Glinda costume and buy it!  I literally just checked online right now and learned that I probably could have bought one for about $25-$50.  But it would have looked like this and it wouldn’t have been as nice as what we ended up with in the end. (Whew, always a relief to realize later — after finding out what your other options could have been — that you would have made the same decision!)

storebought Glinda

Not sure why it NEVER occurred to me to go online and look into buying the costume!  I actually do think it’s a great idea… IF you can buy what you want at a reasonable price.  Maybe it’s because we can’t often find what we want.  (hello? Magic 8 Ball costume? Cookie Jar costume?)  Maybe I always assume it’ll be really expensive and I don’t want to spend so much money on a once-a-year costume… Which is usually pretty bad logic on my part because I always end up spending a decent amount of money on the raw materials to create the costume anyway, not to mention all the TIME I spend on them.  But that’s me, I often manage to find the most complicated way to achieve what I want. :-) Which brings me to the 3rd and 4th reason why I like to make their Halloween costumes: you get a more personalize look, and it’s fun for me!  (ok, I’ll admit it)

Anyways, back to the assumption that I was going to make the costume… We started thinking about the dress, and we went to A’s closet to see what we could come up with as a base. We had a couple of options, but ended up deciding to use her flowergirl dress from this summer.  I offered to dye the dress pink (thinking about the Glinda from the movie), but she hadn’t been tainted by the images from the movie yet (she had only read the book), so she didn’t mind being a white Glinda. Plus she was aghast at the idea of dying her beloved flowergirl dress (not that she will likely wear it again).  We did look at pictures of Glinda from the movie for ideas, and later that week we also watched the movie to get into character, haha.

Glinda the Good Witch of the North 2

We decided we needed to work on…

  1. dress — modify it to look less flowergirl
  2. crown — THIS would really shout “Glinda”, you’re definitely not a flowergirl with that ridiculously tall crown
  3. wand — not the dinky handheld ones, but one more like a staff
  4. petticoat — at her request, to make the dress puffier
  5. necklace — a last minute addition I decided to do the night before
  6. evil flying monkey accessories (haha, me and my big mouth, I offered)
  7. large pink bubble to surround her (yes, she wanted this, but I had to draw the line somewhere, plus I’m not THAT talented)

We modified the dress by taking off the flower, adding some silver glittery tulle to the waist area, and I created big puffy sleeves a la Glinda in the movie. I made a tall wand using wood parts that I spray-painted silver and decorated with glitter glue. I knew I had to get the crown right so I made some practice templates to try the size, shape, and height. I learned that taller is better, but make sure it’s not too loose or else Glinda gets a bonus nose shield. :-/

Sample crowns

I have to say, one of the pieces I was most proud of was the petticoat because I managed to make it using only 4 items, in just a few minutes, and it was so cheap!  (The fabric was fortuitously on sale.)  I used a fat embroidery needle and yarn to baste and gather the folded tulle on the rough open end and white duct tape to hold down the gather AND to make the waste area not itchy.  Added more yarn for the tie, and voila, done.  Easy.  And for around $4, can’t beat that.

petticoat

Back to me and my big mouth…  When A and her friend were talking about the movie, they mentioned that they each had a little stuffed monkey and they could pretend that they were the evil witch’s flying monkeys.  I offered on the spot to sew wings for the monkeys.  Later on I realized that Glinda wouldn’t ever really be around the monkeys, but it was too late, the girls wanted the monkeys with wings.  I have to admit it was pretty fun.  I was wondering how to best attach the wings to the stuffies without permanently hot gluing them on, then I realized that making them little vests and hot gluing the wings to the vests would be the best idea.  And then when I looked up the images online, I saw that they had hats, so of course I had to make little hats too.  And embellish the vests and hats, of course. ;-)

Evil Monkeys(I think right after my camera, the next most important tool in my house would be the hot glue gun!!)

These got done with just enough time to pack everything up and get over to school for their annual Halloween Carnival.  Dorothy and Glinda (and the monkeys) looked so cute!

Glinda and Dorothy

Whew!  This year’s costume plans went from “yay, just put on a leotard and be a gymnast!” to a multi-piece outfit, but it was worth it in the end.  A looked Glinda-riffically beautiful (it was so rewarding when several of her friends came over oooohing and aaaahing over her costume) — and most importantly, she definitely did NOT look like a flowergirl, which I’d call a success!  Nonetheless, I’m relieved Halloween 2013 is over. :-)

For Halloween, K was a…

This is not just any ole’ 8 Ball, not just any ole’ Magic 8 Ball, but one that combines low-tech paper mache with high tech!  We had an iPad attached to her costume which played a randomized slideshow of the Magic 8 Ball answers. I created a digital “Magic 8 Ball” template in Photoshop and K and I populated it with about 19 different fun or funny phrases that we came up with (including the obligatory YES, NO, MAYBE, and ASK AGAIN LATER).  Here are some of my favorites…

4 in one

It was definitely a very unique costume!  I especially loved the basic, low tech look with the high tech element of surprise.  There was a lot of interest in it at the school Halloween Carnival. :-)

We also had a lot of fun testing it out (I think I literally lost my voice from laughing so hard), and apparently it’s a TRUE Magic 8 Ball!  Here’s what we learned when I asked it a bunch of questions…

Q: Do I need to take a shower?     A: I DOUBT IT

Q: Does K like mushrooms?     A: NO

Q: Is God Real?     A: YES

Wow… Magical… ;-)