Category: Food

new dinner foods in January

I’ve gotten into such a rut with the foods I cook for dinner. I feel like I make the same things over and over — for two good reasons. First, one of my kids is an especially picky eater, so sticking to foods that we all love results in a more pleasant meal time. And second, when one child is practicing her trumpet, one child is reading aloud, and one wobbly child is either hanging onto my legs or climbing the step stool, it’s just easier to cook something that I can make on auto-pilot without having to consult a recipe 13 times.

But as much as we love chili and chicken fajitas and baked macaroni and cheese, I’ve been getting pretty bored with eating — and cooking! — the same things all the time. So one of my goals for January was to make something new for dinner. And I did. Five times!

new foods we ate in January 2014

Here are the links to the recipes and image sources:

The kids have been very good sports about trying all of these new things! I talk about it as an experiment that we’re all doing together, and I always ask for feedback. The crispy southwest chicken wraps were our favorite, but all of them are foods I would make again.

I’m planning to cook more new things in February, but I have no idea what they will be, so I’d love to hear your recommendations for kid-friendly dinner foods.

my monthly menu planning calendar

monthly menu planning calendar - printable

When late afternoon rolls around, do you already know what you’re going to cook for dinner, or do you look at what’s in your fridge and try to figure out what you can make with what you have on hand?

I applaud those of you who can throw things together and come up with a great meal, but not surprisingly, I’m one of those people who likes to have it all planned out. Otherwise, I’m sure I’d be missing some key ingredient I wish I had picked up at the grocery store, or I’d want to use chicken breasts that should have been thawing in the fridge for a day. I’ve been planning my meals in advance ever since I got married, but I didn’t get organized with menu planning until about a year and a half ago.

There are lots of menu planning systems out there, ranging from very basic to wildly complicated. I like to keep things simple, so I just use a blank calendar. You could hang it on your fridge, but I like to keep mine in a notebook. I use a small binder that holds 5-1/2 x 8-1/2″ sheets, because it takes up less room on my desk. I print out the calendar pages, cut them in half (there are two on a sheet), punch holes in them, and stick them in my binder.

monthly menu planning calendar - printable

I added two little Post-it tabs to the edge of my calendars to mark the sections, because I’m using a second set of calendar pages as my editorial calendar for this blog. I’m taking a more organized approach to blogging this year, so I’m hoping to post more often in 2014.

monthly menu planning calendar with post-it tabs

Before I shop for groceries (ideally once a week), I sit down with my menu planning calendar, my binder of favorite recipes, and the sale flyer for our local grocery store. I pencil in what we’re having for dinner for the next 5-7 days, then develop my shopping list based on my menu plan. I’ve gotten into a terrible cooking rut, so the menus aren’t nearly as varied as I would like, but that’s a topic for another day!

The calendar is one I designed myself, and you can download the 2014 calendar as a free PDF. I like to have only five rows of squares on each calendar page, so there are three instances where the first or last day of the month is on the previous or next month’s calendar page. My calendar, my rules.

Of course, the printable calendar can be used for anything, not just planning meals, so hopefully some of you will find it helpful.

my summer list 2013

my summer list 2013

A few days ago I found a list on my iPhone of things I would love to do this summer. I apparently wrote it in early June and then forgot all about it! The list is far from complete, but it feels too late now to add more things, so here it is.

>  make popsicles
>  make peach jam
>  eat a fresh tomato
>  make ice cream
>  read books
>  freeze corn

Ha! I must have been hungry when I wrote the list! So far I’ve done half of the things on my list — and there’s still plenty of time to make popsicles, peach jam, and ice cream. Summer really is the best season for eating, isn’t it?

I’ve seen a ton of popsicle recipes on Pinterest this summer, and I’ve pinned the yummiest-looking ones to my POPSICLES board. Do you have any favorite popsicle recipes to share? My mouth is watering already!

chocolate dipped pretzels for Valentine’s Day

white chocolate dipped pretzels

I love tiny things. Make something smaller than usual, and it’s instantly more interesting. I think that’s part of the reason I’ve been making so many chocolate-dipped pretzels recently. Mini pretzels + mini heart sprinkles + chocolate = adorable little Valentine’s treats.

mini heart sprinkles

I found these itsy bitsy heart sprinkles in a bulk package at my local grocery store, but Wilton also sells them as “micro heart sprinkles.”

Just melt your chocolate in a double boiler (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips and white candy melts), then dip your pretzels in the chocolate. Sprinkle with the tiny hearts and place on waxed paper to harden. These would make a pretty little gift for a friend, neighbor, your child’s teacher, or anyone else you love or appreciate! Most of mine disappeared during the Super Bowl party we hosted on Sunday evening, so I’ll need to make more soon.

chocolate dipped pretzels

P.S. Is it just me, or do you think the pretzels with milk chocolate look like little masked bandits?! Or maybe like they’re ready to attend a Valentine’s masquerade ball!

peppermint popcorn

Peppermint Popcorn

Did you know that there is a National Popcorn Day? And did you know that it’s today, January 19? Popcorn is a snack worth celebrating, so I decided to make a batch of peppermint popcorn for an afternoon snack, inspired by this recipe from Our Best Bites.


white chocolate chips
semi-sweet milk chocolate chips
candy canes

Peppermint Popcorn

How I put it all together:

It’s best to use salt-free, butter-free popcorn for this sweet treat, so I popped the popcorn in the microwave in a brown paper bag. Just put the popcorn in the bag without any oil or anything, fold over the top of the bag, and microwave it until it stops popping. (Read more about making your own popcorn in the microwave.) For this recipe, I popped 1/8 cup of popcorn kernels, and I had twice as much as I needed.


Line an 8×8″ baking pan with aluminum foil and spray lightly with oil. Put a bunch of white chocolate chips in the pan and place it in a warm oven. When the chips have melted, remove the baking pan from the oven and spread out the melted chips with a knife. Sprinkle with two thirds of the crushed candy canes, then add a layer of popcorn. Push the popcorn down into the melted white chocolate.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler. (I use a metal bowl set into a small kettle.) Spoon the melted chocolate chips over the popcorn and sprinkle with the remaining candy cane pieces. Place it in the refrigerator to cool. Enjoy!

Peppermint Popcorn

sprint to the finish

While I was making pizza one Sunday evening last February, I wished I knew how many pizzas I had made in my life. I was already up to five for the year, so I decided to keep track of how many homemade pizzas I made during 2012. I really had no idea what the total would be, but now that 2013 has begun, I have the answer.


Up until a few days ago, the homemade pizza tally for 2012 was at 25, but while our house was filled with a dozen people during the New Years holiday weekend, I made three more pizzas for dinner one evening.

2012 homemade pizza tally: #26

2012 homemade pizza tally: #27

2012 homemade pizza tally: #28

I have to admit that I’ll be glad to stop taking pictures of all of my pizzas. Cheese, sauce, and dough just aren’t that photogenic. Speaking of dough, a number of you have asked for my pizza dough recipe. I promise to post it in 2013!

25 pizzas so far

2012 homemade pizza tally: #25

Fifty weeks of 2012 have come and gone, and I’m still averaging one homemade pizza every two weeks. Unfortunately, my pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome persists, even though our little guy arrived almost two weeks ago, but it didn’t stop me from kneading pizza dough on Sunday evening. After supper we popped popcorn and enjoyed our annual screening of The Polar Express. Actually, I slept through a lot of it while a little five-and-a-half-pound bundle slept in my arms. He sure is a cute excuse for sleeping through our family movie night…

pizza #24: an uncomfortable dinner

2012 homemade pizza tally: #24

Hi, friends. I’ve missed you! Last time I wrote, we were still without electricity due to Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately our power was restored at the end of day #6 and life returned to normal.

Well, mostly.

Pizza #24 will be one of the last pizzas I make this year, partially because 2013 is on the horizon, but mostly because several weeks ago I suddenly developed a lovely case of pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s about as fun as it sounds, so I’m eager to trade the numbness, tingling, and pain in my hands for a soft, snuggly little boy.

Meanwhile, I wanted to have homemade pizza for supper one evening last week while the kids were off school and my sister was visiting, so I mixed and kneaded the pizza dough in spite of my discomfort. I’ve put lots of projects on hold due to the carpal tunnel, but I guess homemade pizza was just too hard to resist.

the 23rd pizza

2012 homemade pizza tally: 23

Question: What makes this pizza different from the first 22 pizzas I made this year?
Answer: It wasn’t baked on my pizza pan.

Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, we’ve been without electricity at our house for five days now, so I baked pizza #23 at my mother-in-law’s house this evening. I’m thankful that her power came back on a couple days ago — and I’m thankful for the utility crews who are working like crazy out there. Living without electricity is a tremendous hassle, but I have so SO much to be thankful for.

s’mores bars

s'mores bar

Sometimes I’m really glad for leftovers — especially when the leftovers are sweet and gooey. I baked a pan of s’mores bars for an annual fall fest some friends of ours hosted this weekend, and I was secretly glad to be able to bring a few back home with us.

The recipe is from Bakergirl’s blog, and I discovered it via Pinterest a couple weeks ago. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, since I couldn’t fit all 15 sheets of graham crackers on my pan, but these s’mores bars were super easy to make… and super delicious to eat! It’s hard to go wrong with graham crackers, butter, brown sugar, marshmallows, and two kinds of chocolate.

s'mores bar

P.S. You can find other yummy-looking foods I’ve pinned on my Pinterest board called “yum.”

two more pizzas

2012 homemade pizza tally - 21 and 22

A friend emailed yesterday to ask how I make my pizza. What recipe do I use? What kind of pan do I bake it on? I feel like I could make pizza in my sleep, so responding to her questions was easy… until I realized that I have no idea how much flour I use.  Since then, I’ve made pizza twice (yes, two evenings in a row!), so I’ve had two chances to figure out approximately how much flour goes into my pizza dough. Answer: a half cup of whole wheat and up to two cups of white flour.

I’m hoping to post my recipe and process for making homemade pizza soon, so stay tuned! Because according to the resident 6-year-old in this house, my homemade pizza is better than Domino’s pizza. Way better.

Bless his little cheese-loving heart.

the 20th pizza

homemade pizza #20

Leftover pizza is making an appearance on the dinner menu this evening at the Swartley Cafe. There isn’t much left, and of course the section with bacon is totally gone, but this is what pizza #20 looked like before we devoured most of it on Sunday evening.

In 2012, I’m keeping track of how many homemade pizzas I’ve made. It’s a rather delicious project.

pizza number 19

2012 homemade pizza tally: 19

This year I’m keeping track of how many pizzas I’ve made, and I’m up to 19 by now. The pizza we ate last evening isn’t going to win any prizes for its appearance, but that lonely pepperoni makes me smile. The cheese-lover in our family wanted to TRY a pepperoni on his part of the pizza, but ended up picking it off and giving it to me. No complaints here!

the 18th pizza of the year

2012 homemade pizza tally: 18

When I told you earlier that the pizza dough was rising, I didn’t know that it would turn out to be some of the best pizza dough I ever made. I made it the same way I always do, but something magical must have happened while it was rising, because as soon as I punched it down, I could tell that it was better than usual. The dough felt extra sturdy and stretchy, and it was just extra nice to work with.

A reader emailed me this week to ask how I get my crust nice and brown without burning the cheese. In case you’re curious too, I’ll tell you what I told her. I just spread out the dough in the pan, put all the toppings on, and bake it at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. Works every time!

patchwork pizza

2012 homemade pizza tally:17

By the time I added all of the different toppings, the pizza we enjoyed for supper tonight looked a bit like an edible quilt. I don’t plan to add so many custom toppings every time, but it was fun to designate one quadrant for each person this evening.

Northeast: cheese
Southeast: mushrooms and green pepper
Southwest: mushrooms, green pepper, bacon
Northwest: mushrooms, green pepper, pepperoni (that’s mine!)

back-to-school pizza

2012 homemade pizza tally: 16

A brand new school year begins tomorrow morning, and as it often does, Sunday evening found our family gathered around the table eating homemade pizza. As he was chowing down on a slice of cheese pizza, our newly-minted six year old suddenly said, “Wait! You didn’t take a picture of the pizza!” I had already snapped a photo when he wasn’t looking, but I love that he remembered my project of documenting all of my homemade pizzas this year.

2012 homemade pizza tally: 15

2012 homemade pizza tally: 15

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been neglecting as much as I reasonably can in favor of two main pursuits — watching the Olympics and designing a brand new look for my blog. It’s undergoing a major renovation, and I can’t wait to show you the new layout when it’s ready!

Meanwhile I’ve been trying to keep up with the essentials like laundry, soccer games, shopping for maternity clothes, and eating homemade pizza. The kids were away at “Cousin Camp” on Sunday evening, so I made a slightly smaller pizza for just Tim and me. One half had pineapple; the other did not.

A few years ago, I almost made Hawaiian pizza for Tim for our second date. (My favorite must be everyone’s favorite, right?) Thank goodness I asked what toppings he liked!

I’m curious. What pizza toppings are your favorites? Which ones would you pick off if they crossed the line onto your side of the pizza?

pizza number 14

Our summer weekends have been filled with so many things that I hadn’t made pizza since the first weekend in June! Last evening we enjoyed pizza #14 before settling in to watch more Olympics… which, of course, is what I’m doing right now. Go Team USA!

basil hummus

My four little basil plants are growing like crazy! I recently found a recipe for basil hummus, which sounded great, so this evening I cut a bunch of basil and mixed up a batch for dinner. My mouth was watering just looking at the ingredients.

I chopped up the basil and garbanzo beans in the food processor…

…then added the rest of the ingredients (plus three cloves of garlic!) and kept processing it ’til it was thick and creamy. I spread the hummus on a small slice of homemade Italian bread, and of course it tasted just as delicious as it smelled. Next time I wouldn’t use quite as much garlic, as it almost overpowered the basil.

I served the hummus and bread for supper with homemade broccoli cheese soup (slightly modified from this recipe). It was a perfect meal for a rainy summer evening.

Do you have any great recipes that feature fresh basil? (Besides the obvious pesto, which I’ve actually never made.) I’d love to hear your suggestions!

summer kickoff party 2012

The first day of summer is just around the corner, so we were delighted to have a bunch of friends join us on the patio last evening for our now-annual summer kickoff party.

Let’s take a closer look at those toppings on the ice cream sundae bar, shall we?

We served just one kind of ice cream (vanilla) with ten topping options: sprinkles, mini marshmallows, gummi bears, peanuts, mini M&Ms, crushed Oreos, peanut butter chips, chocolate syrup, caramel sauce, and whipped cream. I’m not sad that we have leftovers.

The kids outnumbered the adults 15 to 11, and they entertained themselves with five beach balls, one stomp rocket, and loads of glow bracelets. Michaels sells glow bracelets in tubes of 15 for $1, so I love to hand them out generously at parties like this.

The first official day of summer isn’t until tomorrow, but it feels like it’s already here. Welcome to summer!

I made mozzarella cheese

On Sunday afternoon, I made mozzarella cheese.

I started with whole milk, citric acid, rennet, and salt — and ended up with 14 ounces of delicious mozzarella cheese. I followed the instructions step by step, and it actually worked! I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was (and still am). It was art, it was science, it was magic.

I’ve been wanting to make mozzarella cheese for years, so six months ago, I finally added a cheese-making kit to my Christmas wish list. The kit has been waiting patiently in my pantry ever since the holidays. So why didn’t I make cheese sooner? Well, I thought it would take a long time. I thought it would be more complicated. I thought I would become frustrated. I thought it seemed mysterious. I thought it wouldn’t turn out.

And you know what? It did take longer than the instructions said it should. It was a little frustrating when the curd didn’t develop properly. It was certainly more complicated than buying fresh mozzarella at the store. And I still think the process is rather mysterious. But it was actually pretty easy. And it turned out just fine.

I made cheese.

And now I can’t wait to make more. Last night I did some online research to see how I can get the curd to separate from the whey better, and I’m eager to tweak the process a bit.

The photos I hurriedly snapped with my iPhone along the way aren’t great, but dinner last evening definitely was.

I made the mozzarella cheese, grew the basil, baked the bread, and bought the tomatoes at a local produce stand. And I’m still a little surprised that I made cheese.

pizza number 13

Sunday night is movie night at our house. After eating homemade pizza, I pop some popcorn and get drinks ready while the kids change into their pajamas. Magen gathers up a basket full of stuffed animals and we all head to the basement for a kid flick. It’s a nice little routine.

But that’s not how it happened this past Sunday.

Just as the pizza was coming out of the oven, a thunderstorm was brewing and the wind was really picking up. The kids were already in the basement, so Tim and I took the pizza downstairs to eat while we watched the movie… and the kids never realized they should be scared.

This is the award-winning photo I snapped in the basement just before we dug in. (It’s hard to be creative when you’re hungry!)

picnic sandwiches for four

When you’re me, this is what it looks like to pack a picnic lunch for an afternoon at a local state park.

Not pictured: carrots, cucumber, cheese, watermelon, pretzel sticks, chocolate chip cookies.

Also not pictured: wet, muddy clothes and two tired parents!

pizza number twelve

I told you so!

As we were polishing off a whole pizza for supper on Saturday, I knew I wanted to make pizza again soon. So I waited three whole days before making another pizza. It was exactly the same as all the other pizzas I’ve been making… except that I forgot to grease the pizza pan. Oops! We ate quickly so we could enjoy a little fishing excursion after supper, so I even managed to capture a bit of pizza-cutting action.

pizza number 11

Pizza #11 was extra delicious since I added extra cheese, but I was just as excited about those deviled eggs up there in the corner. I made a bunch of deviled eggs yesterday afternoon for a lunch event we went to today, and I made half a dozen extra for us to enjoy with our supper last evening. My parents were here, so with six of us around the table, there were no leftover eggs or pizza. I may need to make pizza again very soon…

Also, that brown section is for Hayden. No green peppers, no mushrooms — just cheese!

pizza number 10

We ate this pizza for supper last Sunday, but looking at pictures of it now makes me wish that homemade pizza were on the menu for this evening!

homemade english muffins

Two Fridays ago I stopped by the library on my way home from work and checked out a copy of “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.” I became familiar with this book a couple years ago when I discovered that a group of people on the internet were systematically working their way through each recipe in the book. I didn’t join them, but their commitment to a long-term baking project intrigued me.

So the day after I brought the book home, I opened it to page 157 and got to work on my very first batch of english muffins. As you may recall, english muffins were one of the items on my list of foods that I want to make from scratch, just to prove that a regular person can make them at home.

I think I subconsciously expected that I would be able to replicate Thomas’ Original English Muffins, but mine were nothing like those delicious flat, chewy muffins with their trademark nooks and crannies. My english muffins were tall, dense, and somewhat crumbly like a biscuit. And there wasn’t a nook or cranny in sight.

But I learned a few things along the way. I learned that english muffins are first baked on a griddle and then finished off in the oven. I learned that I’m capable of making english muffins that taste good (even without nooks and crannies). And I learned that the recipe in “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” yields six english muffins and a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction.

P.S. I debated whether to capitalize the letter ‘e’ in the word ‘english.’ As a rule-follower, I knew I should use a capital letter, but it looked awkward. And then I thought about french fries, which are not French fries. Problem solved.

foods I want to make from scratch

I don’t make my own ketchup or churn my own butter, but for the most part, I make my food from scratch. There are a variety of reasons for that — taste, nutrition, cost, personal enjoyment, and just overall control. But as much as I pride myself on being a DIYer in the kitchen, there are also plenty of foods (or ingredients) that I buy ready-made — for reasons of taste, cost, convenience, and personal sanity!

Over the last ten years, I’ve developed a mental list of foods I want to try to make from scratch that I normally buy. Why? Because I can. I mostly just want to understand the process, remove some of the mystique, and prove to myself that a real person can make these things at home.

Some of them I have already made with varying degrees of success:

The only one of those I was really satisfied with was the pita. The others will need a lot of practice and tweaking!

But there are still several more I would like to try:

  • mozzarella cheese
  • fortune cookies
  • angel food cake (I’ve always used a boxed mix!)

Do you regularly make any of the items from either part of the list? If so, I’d love to hear your advice. I’m sure you have some!

pizza number nine

See that little dark spot on the pizza crust? That’s basil. After stretching out the dough, I add a thin layer of tomato sauce, then sprinkle it with salt, pepper, oregano, and a dried basil leaf or two that I crush between the palms of my hands. I guess I got a little carried away this time. There were six of us around the table on Sunday evening, so there are no leftovers this week!

green peppers and mushrooms

Mmm. My mouth is watering as I look at these toppings peeking out from under a generous layer of mozzarella cheese. I made this pizza about a week and a half ago, bringing my total number of homemade pizzas baked in 2012 to eight.