Samoas, The Easy Way…

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Give me a brown vest with some patches and call me a Girl Scout!!!  These semi-homemade Samoas are so good and fairly simple there’s really not much to love about them.  Last year I made Samoa cookies completely from scratch, baked the shortbread, made caramel, the whole nine yards.  They were spectacular, but time consuming and labor intensive.  So I decided to check Pinterest to see what people were using for a semi-homemade version, I had no clue how many “recipes” would pop up.  Some were pretty good, others were a total stretch.  So I went through ones that had pictures fairly close to the real deal, combined the parts that I liked from each and came up with mine.

The one thing I noticed for a lot of them was the use of the microwave to melt the caramels, but they all complained that after you did it several times (if you don’t work quick enough the stuff gets too difficult to work with) it would taste a little off and be very dry.  I’m a huge fan of double boilers, it’s how I normally do my chocolate so I went that route with the caramels.

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For the Recipe:

30 caramel squares (I used the Kraft brand)

2 tbsp. heavy cream

2 cups sweetened and shredded coconut **

1 package Keebler Fudge Stripes

Using a double boiler melt the caramel squares.  When they are about halfway melted add the heavy cream and mix well.  While you are doing this, toast your coconut in a 350 degree oven.  Be sure to keep your eye on this, it will go from looking like it’s not doing anything to burnt in a matter of seconds.  Once the caramel is melted put a layer of just caramel on each cookie, I find this layer helps the caramel/coconut layer stick much better.

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To make it a little easier for myself, I had a cooling rack out so I could place the cookies once they had their little layer of caramel.  After you finish that layer you can add the coconut to the caramel and mix well.  This layer can be a tad sticky, I used a little knife and my fingers to make this step go a little easier.  I tried not to handle the cookies too much while doing this step because they have that chocolate bottom which will start to melt and get all goopy when being held by warm hands too long.  After you get them all covered in the caramel/coconut mixture you can finish them off with their chocolate stripes to make them look like a true Samoa cookie, but since they had those chocolate strips on them (you just cover them with caramel) I didn’t want to, seemed like too much chocolate for me (I know, too much chocolate?).  If you want to, just melt some chocolate and drizzle little lines on top.

On a side note:  I didn’t have shredded sweetened coconut on hand, I had unsweetened coconut flakes.  I was way too lazy to go to the store so I improvised and it worked wonderfully.  I chopped the flakes into little pieces and sprinkled with about 2 tbsp. of sugar before toasting in the oven.  Worked like a charm!!

Enjoy!!

The Ideal of Perfection…

When I was pregnant with my twins I was excited, scared and at times, disbelief.  I couldn’t believe I was going to have two children at once!!  We had been trying to have a baby for many years so it was almost as if it had been decided that we needed to catch up in one pregnancy.  Once the initial shock wore off my focus turned to anything and everything I could learn about keeping these two inside me for as long as possible.  Everyone seemed to come out of the woodwork with stories of their auntie, cousin, neighbor from twenty years ago, that had twins born weighing 2 pounds, or how their babies had to be hospitalized for months due to complications.  FYI, that’s not exactly what a newly pregnant woman with twins wants or needs to hear…

Even my doctor gave me the talk about how it was very common in twin pregnancies for one of the twins to not make it, and that many people don’t even know they were pregnant with twins because by the time they test for pregnancy the second one is gone.  Well, when you do IVF you are tested as soon as it is humanly possible to know you are pregnant, which is nice, but on the other hand, I had that knowledge with me while I waited to see my regular obgyn at 8 weeks.  Those were some looooong weeks.  I tried in my head to make myself believe it was ok if one didn’t make it, sort of like preparing myself for the worst.  Yes I know that is an awful thing, but in reality, I just didn’t want to have the major breakdown I knew I would have if I did get that news.  Thankfully, I did not.

As my pregnancy progressed I had every test known to man done to ensure they were healthy babies.  We were “flagged” for a few conditions due to their size, which I still to this day think is a system that needs to be adjusted.  My two babies were being scaled in comparison to one baby, and to me that doesn’t make sense.  In the end, all the tests came back indicating two very healthy babies, sigh of relief.

Bed rest came at almost 28 weeks.  First in the hospital, then, after much discussion, released to finish at home.  Every other day I trekked to the hospital for ultrasounds, non stress tests and blood work.  Finally it was time to pick their birth day, we were at 37 weeks!!!  The first day up was my birthday, I wanted them to have their own birthday so that was a no.  Next day my doctor was post call and wouldn’t be available, and I wanted her to be there so that was a no.  So the next day it was, and that’s how their birthday was decided.

155065_1634222528207_1664215_nthis was a few hours before the birth of the twinadoes

The day of their birth I was quite calm.  My hubs thought I would have a meltdown of some sort, but no, no meltdown.  When the time came I walked myself to the operating room, hopped up on the bed and waited for everything to happen.  Not even all the horror stories of everyone’s C-sections gone bad could unnerve me.  Of course it helped that I knew everyone there, my friend was my anesthesiologist and I was more than ready for these two to vacate the premises.

Thing 1 was the first to be born, all four and a half pounds of him.  He was so tiny but so perfect.  Thing 2 was a little more stubborn and not making it easy for them to get her out, but when she finally did I stared into the eyes of my mini me and was instantly in love.  They checked them both over and the only thing they noted was that Thing 2 looked to have been bruised on her hand during delivery.  I really didn’t give it much thought, I mean there was a lot of tugging and pulling so it didn’t surprise me.

We were out of the hospital in record time, comfortably at home where I really wanted to be.  During the few days after their birth I kept an eye on her “bruise”, within a few days it had gone from what truly did look like a bruise to a full on angry, swelled and shocking hemangioma.  I was mortified, what in the heck happened?  My baby girl was no longer perfect, was all I could think.  How could this happen?  Why her?

We ended up at Children’s Hospital where we were given all the information (like I hadn’t already done my own research, desperately searching every resource available to reassure myself that this was fixable) and what our options were.  After that first visit to the hospital my mindset sure changed.  I had a quick and very strong slap back to reality.  My daughter’s little hemangioma was NOTHING compared to what these other kids were facing, in fact, their parents probably would have given everything to be sitting in my shoes dealing with this little issue.  Their children were dealing with life altering, sometimes life ending REAL problems.  I felt ashamed of myself for even thinking that my beautiful baby girl wasn’t perfect simply because she had this swelled up purple mass on her little hand.  Shame on me.

For the first three years of Thing 2’s life she was on a mediation originally intended for children with heart ailments, but found to have amazing results on hemangiomas.  The swelling went down within weeks and her angry purple and red hand toned down in color.  After much discussion with the best doctor ever, we all agreed to wait until Thing 2 was a little older to deal with the cosmetic side of her little hand.  Dr. BoatHouse said we would know, that she would start noticing it a lot more and making comments about it.  He said it would probably come after she gets around more kids, like in a preschool setting, that it would become a topic of conversation for curious little 3 y/o’s.  And he was correct.  My baby girl started asking more about her “sparkles” and why other kids didn’t have them.  Then came the words… she wanted them gone.  Right then and there the decision was made, time to take care of her sparkles.

She was a rock star the first laser treatment.  It’s a very quick procedure, but one that needs for her little self to be anesthetized to keep her still.  That in itself can be a little traumatic, my little girl was in a new environment and things were happening to her that had never before.  I had explained everything that would happen to her using 3 y/o language so she would understand as best as possible.  This time, she was an old pro.  She knew exactly what was going to happen, had her dinosaur for protection (she sternly told everyone that nobody was to laser her dinosaur’s stripe down his back), and made sure to show Dr. BoatHouse where he missed last time.  His face was priceless during his schooling… My girl never shed a tear this time.  We huddled around her while they administered the strawberry scented “dinosaur air” and as soon as her eyes rolled to the back of her head we gave her kisses to her head and told her we would see her in a few.

The only difference this time was she was angry as all get out when she woke up.  She wanted to go home NOW!!!  So we got our girl dressed and promptly left.

Over the next few weeks we will see the true results of this treatment.  Of course we are hoping that this will be the last one, but if it’s not, we will repeat.

I am very thankful that we are able to provide these treatments to Thing 2.  I know kids can be cruel when they find any difference in a peer, if I can prevent this, I will.  Even with that said, to me my baby girl is 100 percent perfect.  I know it seems almost hypocritical to say that she is perfect to me, yet I sign her up for these treatments to remove the sign of her “imperfection” but after careful consideration it’s what is best for her.  Had this been on her back or somewhere that really wouldn’t be seen we would probably have gone the other direction and just let nature take care of it.  But it was on her hand, the entire back of her hand encroaching on her wrist, seen everyday.

Almost four years later I still think about those early days of being so distraught over my “imperfect” baby.  Of thinking how I could hide her hand in pictures or dress her in a manner that hid that angry intruder on her tiny hand.  I’m so grateful that I got over that, I didn’t hide it, in pictures or in everyday life.  That hemangioma was part of my girl, and I loved every part of her.  I’m not sad to see her sparkles go, I’m happy that she wants to see them go.  I’m happy that I can help her feel comfortable in her own skin.  So you can take all my contradictions with these feelings and do what you will, honestly I don’t care.  What I care about is sitting about 5 feet from me happily munching on some broccoli next to her broccoli hating older, by two minutes, brother.

Spring Rolls

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Who doesn’t love spring rolls?  I mean, what’s not to love?  And don’t get all healthy on me and go on and on about them being fried…isn’t there a nice tofu blog you could be reading?  They are so versatile, you can use shrimp, pork ,chicken or only vegetables, something for everyone to like.  And did I mention how easy they are to make?  Well they are.

For the Recipe:

1 1/2 tbsp. canola oil

1/2 lb. ground pork

1/2 tsp. white pepper

1/2 tsp. black pepper

4 tsp. soy sauce (divided, 2 tsp. for the pork and 2 tsp. for when you fry the vegetables)

1 tsp. salt (divided, 1/2 tsp. for the pork and 1 tsp. for when you fry the vegetables)

1 tsp. grated ginger

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2 c. cabbage, sliced thin

1 1/2 c. shredded carrots (I used my julienne peeler for this)

8 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes then chopped into small pieces

80 g. bean thread noodles, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes then cut into 2″ pieces

2-3 tbsp. water, if needed when frying vegetables

18 8″ spring roll wrappers

1 egg, whisk well in a bowl

Put the canola oil (or whatever oil you choose to use) into a wok.  Put the pork, both peppers, soy sauce, salt and ginger in a bowl and mix well.  Heat the oil in the wok (or whatever pan you have), add in the pork and cook until almost done, breaking up the pork into small pieces as it cooks.  Add in the cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, bean thread noodles, reserved soy sauce and reserved salt.  If your noodles stick to the bottom of the pan too much add a little water to loosen them.  Cook until the vegetable are just cooked.  Taste for seasoning.  Add more salt, pepper to suit your taste.

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Remove from heat and let the mixture cool.

Once the mixture has cooled you can roll the spring rolls.  The spring rolls can be a tad pesky to unpeel, take your time and don’t pull too hard or you will rip them.  Once you get one off place it so it so a pointed side is facing you.

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Place 1/4 c. of the filling on the sheet, spread in a line so it’s not just one clump of filling.  Roll the spring roll, tightly.  Once you get about 3/4 of the way to the end fold in the sides, put some of the egg on the side opposite of you to keep the spring roll closed, and continue to roll until the end.  Repeat until all the filling is used.  From here you can either fry them, freeze them, or refrigerate them (no more than a few hours otherwise freeze) until you are ready to use.  If you refrigerate be sure to cover with a very lightly damp towel to keep them from drying out.

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To fry, heat your oil to 350 degrees in a heavy bottom pot.  Do not overcrowd the pot or the temperature will reduce too much leaving you with greasy spring rolls.  With the correct temperature they should be nice and brown within 3-4 minutes.  Place on either some paper towels or a rack to let the oil drain.  Serve with a sweet chili sauce.

This will normally yield 18 spring rolls.

 

 

 

Homemade Lox (Gravlox)

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So technically I guess you could say I made gravlax since I added the dill, but you could easily omit that.  I did not add juniper berries or any of the other ingredients you might add to gravlax so that’s why I call this lox.

When I was growing up my dad would buy lox from his favorite seafood shop, being a kid I never even looked at the cost.  All I knew was they sure tasted good.  Once I became an adult and started paying for everything myself I quickly became aware of the cost of everything.  Lox are no cheap my friends… today at the store I checked the price so I could post an up to date cost, $14.99 for four ounces was the cheapest they had.  My jaw dropped!  My homemade lox were nowhere near that price.

For some reason I really thought making lox was a lot more complicated than it really was.  No special tools needed, just some salt, sugar and of course some salmon.  My local store had Atlantic salmon for $12.99/lb. and Sockeye salmon for $11.99/lb.  I went for the Atlantic, but Sockeye would work just as well.  In fact, I’m going back for some Sockeye today.  The salt, sugar and dill that I used added maybe another $1.50 to the total cost of making the lox.  My lox are a bargain compared to the store bought, and did I mention mine taste out of this world?  Well now I’m telling you… it tasted out of this world!!!

 

For the Recipe:

2 lbs. salmon, center cut preferred

1/4 c. kosher salt

1/4 c. smoked salt DSC_1660(I used alderwood smoked sea salt)

slightly less than 1/2 c. sugar

1 tbsp. dill (optional)

First, check your salmon for any bones, and remove if you find any.  Mix together the salts (if you don’t have smoked salt you can easily use all kosher salt) and sugar.  Use a pan/baking dish large enough to hold the salmon.  Place a piece of plastic wrap large enough to wrap around the salmon.  Sprinkle a little of the salt/sugar mixture on top of the plastic wrap laying in the baking dish.  Place the salmon on top of that, skin side down.  Generously cover the salmon with the remaining salt/sugar mix, including the skin side and sides.  Finish wrapping the salmon in the plastic wrap, leaving two sides slightly open to allow the liquid to escape.

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Next, weigh down the salmon using whatever you have.  I used a smaller baking sheet with a heavy pot on top of that.

Liquid will drain off of the salmon so you will want to drain that.  After 24 hours my salmon had released quite a bit of liquid, but by the 3rd and 4th day the liquid had significantly reduced to almost nothing.  On the fourth day I checked the salmon, the liquid ceased and the color had changed, it was done!!  So in total I let this piece sit a little over 3 days, even though I say 4 days I didn’t actually make the lox until late on the first day.  Hope that makes sense…

Remove the plastic wrap and lightly rinse off to remove excess salt/sugar.

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Pat dry, then lay on a flat surface and thinly slice.  Easy peasy and now you have lox!!

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Enjoy!

 

Homemade Enchilada Sauce

In my entire life I’ve purchased two cans of enchilada sauce, both expired before I could use them.  For some reason every time I would see them I would push them aside thinking I’d use them next time.  Last night I made chicken enchiladas and decided to make my own sauce, I mean it doesn’t exactly seem like a difficult sauce to make.   was correct, it was super easy and quite honestly, super delicious.

On top of how easy it was to make it’s a very forgiving recipe that still works with substitutions as well as being customizable.  It’s all about what works for your taste.

For the Recipe:

4 dried New Mexico chiles

1 large onion, quartered

3 cloves of garlic

1 28 oz. can tomatoes, I’ve also used fresh and it works great

2 tsp. dried oregano

1 tbsp. dried cumin, cumin is a very strong flavor, I would start with less than 1 tbsp. then add more during the “tasting”, if needed

1 tbsp. salt, start with 2 tsp. then add more during the “tasting” if needed.

1 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, adjust to suit your taste

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Deseed the dried chiles, and dry roast them in a pan.  They will soften up as they get warm, however, don’t walk away when you do this as they can burn quite quickly.  Flip them over so all sides are roasted.  Then drop them into two cups of hot water to soften, let sit for about 10 minutes.  Add all ingredients (including the chiles AND the water they were soaking in) into a blender and blend until it has reached a nice sauce consistency, no chunks.  Next, pour into a large sauce pan and cook down until it has reduced by about 1/4.  You will want to taste it about halfway through the cooking to check for salt and cumin.  The canned tomatoes used can vary in saltiness which is why I suggest adding only half in the beginning.  Once it has reduced by roughly 1/4 it will be thicker and ready for use.  This makes quite a bit of sauce so you can always reduce the recipe or do as I do and freeze half for later.

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Enjoy!

 

 

Meal Planning

I’ve mentioned before that I am not a meal planner.  Grocery list?  What’s that?  Sure I’ll jot down a few items on a piece of paper so I don’t forget while at the store throwing in stuff I probably don’t need.  When the refrigerator starts looking empty, the freezer has nothing good, and the pantry (now a closet) lacks some of my go to items I head to the store and just start tossing stuff that looks good into my cart.  Not very efficient, but that’s just how I roll.  This week that is changing, no really it is.  After going to a few stores this week and ending up with tons of food with no real plan of attack for using them combined with my annoyance of throwing out some beautiful lamb shanks last night after they went bad I’m ready to try some kind of order to this madness.

Here’s my plan, I’m going to take stock in all the meat I have in both the freezer and refrigerator.  Then I’ll do the same with the vegetables and other food items that can be used.  Then there will be the straggler items like the tofu, wonton wrappers etc… that are also in there that will hopefully give me some inspiration.  Just for fun I might take a picture of some of the food, post it to the RHOS Facebook page and see if anyone can give me some ideas.

Next up, my brainstorming phase.  I’ll get out some paper and a pen and jot down my ideas so I don’t forget them.  Each meal will have a list of ingredients needed, if by chance there is something that needs to be purchased I’ll make a separate list (aka a grocery list).  So I actually have the needed items when I make each meal I’ll keep all the ingredients for that meal together.  Maybe I’m crazy, but I think this sounds brilliant.

The end goal is to have a cleared out fridge but not from tossing everything out.  My family wastes way too much food and it’s really beginning to bother me.  Yes, I know I should have been on this bandwagon a long time ago but it honestly never worked.  I probably still won’t be a grocery list making, weekly meal planning, slow cooker using, ten dollar meal making kind of gal, but at least I won’t be wasting as much food as I have in the past.

My progress and success or (and I hope this isn’t the case) failure will definitely be shared.

Halloween Cupcakes

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Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.  It’s like once October hits the holidays start, and the giddy Real Housewife comes out.  This year we are in the apartment so I won’t go all crazy with the decorations so I guess I’ll make up for it with baking.  These cupcakes were actually a lot of fun to make, yes the webs are a tad tedious but it’s like therapy to me.

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The spider webs are the most time consuming part of the cupcakes.  To make them I melted some white chocolate, put it in a plastic bag (I didn’t have any pastry bags), you could also use one of those small squeeze bottles, then make the webs on parchment paper.  If you are not comfortable doing them free hand you can use this easy template.  For free hand make them 2 1/2″ in diameter for the average cupcake.

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To make the little spiders I melted some chocolate.  Then using a little bad I put a small dot a little smaller than a pea (not those big English ones…) on a sheet of parchment paper.  After letting it cool slightly I used the little stick like sprinkles as legs.  Let them harden and voila, you have little spiders.

For the Frosting:

1/2 c. butter, room temperature

3/4 c. cocoa powder

3 c. powdered sugar

1/3 c. milk

1 tsp. vanilla

In a stand mixer cream the butter and cocoa powder.  Slowly add the powdered sugar and milk, alternating between the two until you have completely added them.  Lastly, add the vanilla.  Give it a good whip after all ingredients have been added to make sure it’s nice and fluffy.  To frost the cupcakes, I again used a bag and used a spiraling motion starting on the outer edge of the cupcake.  You can of course choose whatever method you prefer.

The cupcakes were chocolate, I used this recipe, but you could use your favorite one.

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Some of the cupcakes I simply sprinkled sprinkles to make them festive.  There are so many varieties you can use, little candy bones, skeletons and of course just the sugar sprinkles.  I used the this set for these cupcakes.