Maple Chai French Toast Bake

My family loves French toast. But I don’t love all the messy dipping, attempting to get the soaked bread to the griddle without creating a lake of egg and milk on the counter, and how making French toast inevitably means that I start eating when everyone else is already finished with their meal.

That’s where this recipe, created for Martin’s Supermarkets, comes in. All the prep is done the night before, there’s no dipping, no lakes on the counter, and best of all, everyone can sit down to eat AT THE SAME TIME. Here’s the recipe: Maple Chai French Toast Bake.

Maple Chai French Toast Bake

Maple Chai French Toast Bake

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Weekly Meal Plan #98

My highlight this week is based on a low. I was sick most of this week, which meant that I really did not feel like cooking or doing most of anything at all. And while one of the nights I did just break down and order a pizza (no shame in that), I did manage to at least put some food on the table for my family the rest of the week. Maybe not my most delectable and outstanding meals to date, but it was food. And we ate it together. That’s a win. Having homemade bread in the cabinet is a bonus. Having fresh fruit on the counter is helpful. Having a stocked pantry is a necessity. Having a sister-in-law who gives you a loaf of brioche bread in exchange for your extra zucchini is a blessing (thanks Katie!).

~ Theresa

To see how we plan our meals, click here. The Fam needs to eat. Make it good!

Katie’s plan:

  • Minestrone pasta soup, cheese straws, honeydew, spice cake
  • Pita pizzas, steamed carrots, fresh fruit
  • Mini quiche tarts, toasted bagels
  • Macaroni and cheese, baked beans, cornbread, applesauce
  • Southwest Vegetarian Burgers with brioche buns, grapes
  • Italian subs on homemade sourdough sub buns
  • Taco salad, garlic-herb soft pretzels, grapes
  • Other things to make this week: softbatch chocolate chip cookies, oven-baked chai French toast with berries, brioche loaves, mini pitas, ice cream cake

Theresa’s plan:

  • leftovers
  • Pork chops milanese, baked potatoes and fixings, crinkle cut carrots, cantaloupe
  • Brioche toast, Scrambled eggs super, leftover vegetables, pears
  • Rotini pasta, bread, spinach salad with feta cheese crumbles, bell peppers and pickling cucumbers from the garden, grapes
  • Sandwich night (Ham, Turkey, Fried eggs), leftover veggies, leftover fruits
  • Pizza ordered in, pears and spinach salad
  • leftovers and BLTs
  • Other things to make this week: Yogurt, Oatmeal sandwich bread, Zucchini spice cake with homemade funfetti rainbow sprinkle frosting
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How to Make Homemade Calzones

Give me a combination of bread and cheese I’m pretty much set. Include more pizza-related toppings and I’ll be happy forever. (Maybe a slight exaggeration, but really, not that much.)

When I was in college, one of the dining halls had a pizza bar where you could make your own pizza, and I was delighted when I realized that I could ask them to fold it in half at the end to make it a calzone. That one simple change up made all the difference to have my ordinary pizza into something special. Getting tired of your same old pizza? Try this recipe on for size! And if you have dip-happy children, maybe they’ll enjoy being able to dunk their calzone in the warm marinara sauce!

Tip: you can add other pizza toppings into your calzones based on your family’s preferences, but be sure not to have them get too wet, lest the toppings ooze out the sides or make the dough too soggy.

~ Theresa

What you need:

calzones_01

Ingredients

  • 2 ¾ c. bread flour
  • ¼ c. cornmeal
  • 2 t. instant yeast*
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • ¼ t. black pepper
  • 1 c. lukewarm water (about 105F)
  • 1 c. ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz. Italian sausage, browned
  • 5 oz. frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
  • 1 c. shredded mozzarella
  • 1 c. parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • Marinara sauce for dipping

*Instant Yeast is different than Active Dry Yeast. While it doesn’t necessarily make your dough rise faster (I wish!), the main difference is that the yeast does not need to be dissolved in water before incorporating it into the recipe.

Equipment

  • stand mixer fitted with a dough hook
  • large mixing bowl, clean kitchen towel or proof cover
  • skillet for browning sausage
  • large baking sheet
  • parchment paper
  • fork
  • rolling pin
  • pastry brush

Time: 2-2 1/2 hours, including rising time

Freezeable: I have not tried this yet, but think that it should be possible to form the calzones and prebake them slightly and freeze them. If you give it a shot, let me know how it goes! I know you’d be able to freeze the dough after the first rise. Frozen pizza dough balls are great to have around.

Serves: Makes 4 (very) large or 8 medium calzones

Multiplying the recipe: I would mix the dough in separate batches.

Homemade Calzones:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, cornmeal, yeast, salt, and pepper. While mixing on low, add the lukewarm water and olive oil. Increase the speed of the mixer and knead with the dough hook for 3-5 minutes. Spread about one tablespoon of flour on the counter (just enough to keep the dough from sticking) and knead by hand a few turns until you have formed a smooth round ball of dough. Place in a greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise for 1-2 hours, until doubled in size.

Brown the Italian sausage. Mix together the cooked sausage, spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. When the dough has risen, turn out onto a lightly floured counter and divide into 4 to 8 pieces, depending on how large you want your calzones. Add the filing on one side of the circle. Wet the edge of the dough with water and fold it in half. Press the edges together to seal. Use a fork to stamp the edges. Line them up on the prepare pan. Bake for 25 minutes. Brush the tops of the calzones with an egg wash and return them to the oven for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until crust is lightly browned.

Serve with warm marinara sauce for dipping.

calzones_plated

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Baked Meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs has always seemed like a restaurant-quality meal to me. (Probably because I can’t recall my mother ever making meatballs, so it’s something I liked to order at restaurants when given the chance.) I always thought it must be a hard thing, making meatballs. I avoided it for years after I had a family, assuming it would be challenging. Which meant I didn’t eat spaghetti and meatballs, because have you tried the store-bought ones? Not good.

Well, I’m happy to admit that I was wrong about how difficult homemade meatballs were. I now frequently enjoy spaghetti and meatballs with my family, and am happy to report that my older daughter loves this meal. I’m going to tell you all about my favorite tricks and methods for making meatballs a snap.

First, a confession: I hate handling raw meat. Actually, hate isn’t a strong enough word. So my first trick with this recipe is to measure all the non-meat ingredients into an enormous bowl, then put on a pair of disposable latex food service gloves (sold in the grocery store with the cleaning supplies) when it’s time to add the meat. I already have all the ingredients in the bowl, my lined pan ready to go – so I try to do all the mixing, shaping, and such in one go while I have the gloves on, because then all the mess stays off of me.

I also like to use a small spring-action ice cream scoop (the same one I use to portion mini muffins!) to ensure that all my meatballs will be roughly the same size. This also helps me not to overwork the dough, as I simply scoop, pop it out, roll gently, and place on the tray.

Last tip: I don’t make these meatballs that often…but when I do, I make a huge batch. (This past time, I bought over five pounds of meat to make into meatballs!) I typically do a double batch at a time – any more is just too much to work with at once – and place them on lined trays and freeze until solid. Then I package them up into quart bags of 16 apiece and freeze until needed. The meatballs last for several months, and I got all the work – and the handling of the raw meat – done with in one fell swoop. Not bad for an hour’s work, when you have 12 dozen meatballs to show for it!

~Katie

What you need:

baked meatballs

baked meatballs

Ingredients

For the meatballs:

  • 1 lb. uncooked ground beef
  • 1 c. dried breadcrumbs (store-bought)
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T. minced shallot, optional
  • 1/2 T. dried parsley
  • 1/4 c. grated Parmesan
  • 3/4 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. dried oregano
  • 1/2 t. thyme
  • 1/2 t. sweet paprika
  • 1/8 t. cayenne
  • 1/8 t. freshly ground black pepper

Remaining ingredients:

  • 1 lb. spaghetti, cooked and drained
  • 4-6 c. marinara sauce

Equipment

  • large bowl
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • sheet pan and liner

 

Time: 20 minutes prep, 15-25 minutes baking time (longer if frozen).

Freezeable: Yes.

Serves: Makes 24-28 meatballs.

Multiplying the recipe: This recipe is easily multiplied. Doubling works well, but don’t triple it – that makes it too hard to avoid over-working the meat.

Baked Meatballs:

Put all the ingredients in a large bowl, putting the meat in last. Carefully combine all the ingredients, being cautious not to over-work the meat (this leads to tough meatballs). Form the mixture into ping pong ball-sized balls and roll between your palms to smooth them out. Place on a lined baking sheet. If using immediately, place in a 350F oven for 15-20 minutes.

If freezing, place unbaked meatballs on lined baking sheet and freeze for 2 hours,  until firm. Transfer meatballs to a storage container (I prefer quart freezer bags, which hold about 16 meatballs, perfect for my family). Label and freeze until ready to use. To bake, place frozen meatballs on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes. Optionally (though preferred!), add the meatballs to hot marinara sauce and simmer 10-15 minutes, if using for spaghetti and meatballs or meatball subs.

Stove top marinara

Stove top marinara

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Weekly Meal Plan #97

My highlight this week was, between tons of evening activities and loads of weekend events, having leftovers so plentiful that I barely needed to cook.

~Katie

To see how we plan our meals, click here. The Fam needs to eat. Make it good!

Katie’s plan:

  • Labor Day dinner with family
  • Chicken and rice soup, snake bite sandwiches, pears
  • Sandwiches on bagels with fixings, chips, pears
  • Spaghetti meatball pie, plain spaghetti, peas, applesauce
  • Chese, crackers, and summer sausage with fresh fruit
  • Dinner with family
  • Slow cooker chili verde, cheesy cornbread, applesauce
  • Other things to make this week: cinnamon rolls, pumpkin streusel muffins, cinnamon bun scones
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Lego Birthday Party Ideas

Lego bricks are definitely an obsession in my house. My oldest, my son, has loved them ever since he got his first set, and his sisters really enjoy playing them with him. But it went a bit more over the top after the release of The Lego Movie a few years ago. What started off as an obsession over Lego toys morphed into a full-blown adoration of all things Lego.

Theresa and I have both thrown Lego parties for our kids – at least twice each! So we have a variety of ideas, depending on what flavor of Lego party you’re throwing. We have had, between us, Lego, The Lego Movie, and Lego Star Wars. Incorporating the different themed toys, the movie, and the video games allows you to change things up a bit and inject more of your child’s own tastes and favorites into the party.

~Katie

Cake and dessert ideas:

  • Brownies cut in the shape of Lego bricks, frosted, and topped with m&m’s for studs
  • Square Lego brick cupcakes, frosted, and topped with m&m’s for studs
  • Square or rectangular Lego brick cake, topped with cupcakes cut in half for studs

Food ideas:

  • Pepperoni pizza or French bread pizza, cut in Lego brick shapes and with the pepperoni arranged as studs
  • Cheese and cracker Lego bricks (Club crackers or Saltines both make good bricks), summer sausage
  • Vegetable platter with Ranch dip or hummus
  • Melon “bricks” with fruit dip
  • Jell-o Lego molds

Invites:

  • Make a cute border of Lego bricks around the edge as a “frame”
  • Use clipart of your child’s favorite character as a minifig

Decor:

  • Cut out squares of different construction paper and draw studs on them; use them as wall decorations
  • Buy or make a Lego brick garland out of string or yarn and foam
  • Have your family get creative with Lego and Duplo sets and use the built models as decoration!
  • Decorate yellow plates, cups, and/or balloons with Lego minifig faces using a Sharpie

Activities:

  • Obviously, set out a big bin of Legos and have a designated table where guests can make their own creations (preferably far from the refreshments!)
  • Watch The Lego Movie
  • Play any of the Lego video games (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Marvel, Batman…)
  • Have a competition to see who can build the coolest rocket, race car, motorcycle, castle, boat, whatever! Provide a small Lego-themed prize for the winner.

Favors:

Lego candy molds

Lego candy molds

  • Homemade Lego candies (buy a Lego candy mold and use candy melts)
  • Small Lego sets or minifigs
  • Lego hard candies (like smarties, but Lego brick-shaped)
  • Any Lego merchandise (pins, keychains, stickers, fake tattoos, etc.)
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Weekly Meal Plan #96

I was trying to simplify food prep this week, which had become cumbersome since the kids started school a few weeks ago. Preparing entirely separate meals for their lunches and for our family dinners was creating both a surplus of food and a deficit of my time for other things. So I intentionally planned family meals that I thought they’d eat leftover the next day, usually warmed up and packed in a thermos. We had some hits and we had some misses – but fortunately, I’ve managed to find a go-to backup lunch plan in case they don’t like the dinner I planned to pack for lunch the next day: bagels spread with cream cheese. No matter what, my kids always agree that that’s an acceptable substitute. Phew.

~Katie

To see how we plan our meals, click here. The Fam needs to eat. Make it good!

Katie’s plan:

  • Pork chops and brats, buns and fixings, corn on the cob, chips, pesto-potato rolls, mango
  • Four-bean chili mole with fixings, pesto-potato rolls, tortilla chips, grapes, peach shortbread
  • Chicken and rice soup, rosemary no-knead bread, sliced cheese, grapes
  • Spicy southwestern chicken, macaroni and cheese, green beans, watermelon
  • Leftovers
  • Snake sandwiches, veggie tray, hummus and pita chips, cheese, crackers, and summer sausage, sliced apples and dip
  • Other things to make this week: yogurt, lemon-blueberry pancakes, sourdough whole wheat bread, lunch box apple dip, cinnamon-cream cheese “sushi” rolls, peach fruit leather, berry banana smoothies
  • School lunches:
    • Egg casserole, bread or bagel with cream cheese, steamed baby carrots, dried apricots
    • Beany cheesy burritos, sour cream or salsa and tortilla chips, raisins or grapes, black olives
    • French toast sticks with syrup, pears, corn cut off the cob, chai-spiced almonds
    • Chicken and rice soup, rosemary no-knead bread, apple with dip or applesauce
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Vegetarian Mexican Casserole

I love casseroles, but my children are just starting to appreciate them. And often, when I can get one of my children to eat a dish, my other kids won’t touch it. This one is an exception. The combination of beans, corn, tomatoes, and veggies with tortilla chips and cheese is a winner. Winner, winner, super-easy vegetarian dinner.

~Katie

What you need:

Ingredients

  • 3 c. crumbled tortilla chips, divided
  • 2 15 oz. cans beans, rinsed and drained (black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, and chickpeas all work well)
  • 1 lb. corn, preferably fresh or frozen
  • 8 oz. tomato sauce
  • 1 c. salsa
  • 1 c. chopped red onion
  • 1 bell pepper, any color, chopped
  • 1/4 c. fresh cilantro leaves (or 2 T. dried)
  • 1 T. minced garlic
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 c. Mexican cheese blend (half Monterey Jack, half Cheddar preferred)
  • Garnishes (optional):
    • 2 c. diced fresh tomatoes
    • 1 c. sour cream
    • 1/2 c. chopped cilantro leaves
    • 1 c. guacamole

Equipment

  • 9″x13″ casserole dish
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • cutting board and knife
  • large bowl and spoon

Time: 15 minutes prep + 30 minutes baking.

Freezeable: No.

Serves: 8-12.

Multiplying the recipe: Yes. Use two casserole dishes and extend the baking time by ten minutes.

Vegetarian Mexican Casserole:

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 13″x9″ baking dish. Scatter half the tortilla chips over the bottom in an even layer.

Combine the remaining ingredients, excepting the cheese blend, in a large bowl. Layer half the mixture evenly over the tortilla chips. Top evenly with half the cheese. Repeat the bean and cheese layers, and then finish with the remaining tortilla chips.

Bake for 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Pass garnishes at the table.

Variations:

  • Add 1 lb. shredded cooked chicken.
  • For additional spice, add chopped jalapeno, chili or cayenne powder, crushed red peppers, hot sauce, or chipotle seasoning.
Vegetarian Mexican Casserole

Vegetarian Mexican Casserole

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How to Make Animal Crackers at Home!

I am a sucker for recipes that convince me that I can make a snack or go-to item that you would typically grab off of a store shelf ready-made right in my own kitchen. That’s why several years ago I was lured by Katie and King Arthur Flour (two very convincing counterparts in my culinary endeavors) to experiment with an animal cracker recipe. It’s a family favorite now, but when I first looked at the recipe, I was skeptical. Why? I was a relatively early baker, and here’s what I saw:

Oat flour. I didn’t have oat flour. In fact, I still don’t keep oat flour on hand. So instead, I just use rolled oats that I grind up in my food processor until they are mealy. Below is a side by side comparison of one of the crackers with oat flour vs. pulsed oats.

L: oat flour, R: pulsed oats

L: oat flour, R: pulsed oats

Princess flavoring. Hubba-whaaa? No joke, it’s an actual thing. At first we thought it was only made by King Arthur Flour and would be cost-preventative to trying the recipe, but we found it at a local candy and baking shop for much cheaper. While I was thinking about just using vanilla, this strange-sounding ingredient is what lifts the recipe from just “small cookie things” to “these taste like animal crackers.” Also, once it is mixed into the batter I basically want to just eat the entire bowl with a spoon…

Princess Emulsion

Princess Emulsion

And last but not least…

Animal-shaped cookie cutters! This may seem obvious, but I did have to go buy some because all of my cookie cutters were much too big for your standard “animal cracker.” And if I wanted to pull off “these are just as good (if not better!) than store-bought” with my kids, they were going to expect pint-sized lions, bears, zebras, and giraffes. Also, if they’re not shaped like animals, then… they’re not animal crackers! Luckily, the Michael’s by me had a small set of Noah’s Ark cookie cutters that has been perfect. Plus, I love to use just the small teddy bear cutter with graham cracker dough and make homemade Teddy Grahams. 🙂

~ Theresa

Animal Cookie Cutters

Animal Cookie Cutters

What you need:

AnimalCrackers_01

Ingredients

  • 12 T. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 3 T. honey
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. Princess Cake and Cookie Emulsion
  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
  • 1 c. rolled oats

Equipment

  • food processor
  • electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment
  • wax paper
  • 2 baking sheets lined with parchment
  • rolling pin
  • small cookie cutters, preferably about 1″-2″ long
  • flour duster, optional
  • cooling racks

Time: 2 hours, plus 1 hour of chilling time for the dough

Freezeable: Yes.

Serves: Makes 5-6 dozen animal crackers

Multiplying the recipe: It would double easily, but one batch already makes a large number since you are cutting them so small.

Homemade Animal Crackers:

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the rolled oats until they are finely ground and mealy. Set aside.

In the bowl of the stand mixer, combine the butter, sugar, honey, salt, baking soda, and Princess emulsion. Whisk together the flour and ground oats, and then add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Combine well.

Divide the dough in half between two pieces of wax paper. Shape each half into a round disc and wrap it in the wax paper. Refrigerate it for about one hour.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the chilled dough from the fridge and roll it out between two sheets of wax paper, sprinkling it with flour as necessary to keep it from sticking. Roll the dough to about 1/4″ thick, and then cut it into shapes. Place the cut animal shapes on the prepared trays. As a tray is filled, place it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. After it has chilled, bake for 8-10 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Let them cool on the tray for 2-3 minutes, and then remove to the cooking racks to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough, re-rolling scraps as necessary. If dough gets too over-worked or warm, place it in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes before rolling it out again.

Store in a well-sealed container at room temperature.

Animal Crackers

Animal Crackers

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Weekly Meal Plan #95

I was able this week to prep either all or part of many of our dinners ahead of time. With my youngest in preschool, it’s much easier for me to prep dinner first thing in the morning, stick it in the fridge, and then – in the case of many casseroles, sheet pan dinners, and bakes – simply put it in the oven at the right time. I felt like a boss when I didn’t have to focus all my attention on meal prep during some of my precious few after-school hours with my kids.

~Katie

To see how we plan our meals, click here. The Fam needs to eat. Make it good!

Katie’s plan:

  • Lasagna, pesto breadsticks, salad with homemade vinaigrette, grapes and cantaloupe
  • Cashew chicken, baked rice, pineapple
  • Spaghetti and meatballs with marinara sauce, cantaloupe, pumpkin sheet cake
  • Sheet pan meal (smoked sausage, potatoes, green beans, and carrots), cantaloupe
  • Sandwiches, chips, yellow pepper strips and black olives, grapes and plums
  • Egg casserole, English muffins, grapes and plums
  • Pizza, peas and carrots, apple slices with peanut butter
  • Other things to make this week: lasagna rolls, animal crackers, marinara sauce, meatballs (12 dozen), pie crusts (6), popcorn, monkey muffins, sun tea, instant oatmeal packets, monster cookie snack mix
  • School lunches:
    • Sandwich skewers (peanut butter & jelly or ham), pickles or red peppers, yogurt-covered raisins, Texas sheet cake
    • Pasta or lasagna rolls, ants on a log (with cream cheese), cantaloupe balls
    • Bagels with cream cheese, black olives, dried strawberries
    • Spaghetti and meatballs, applesauce, cashews
    • Rice, smoked sausage, and carrots (in a thermos), mandarin oranges

Theresa’s plan:

  • BBQ pan-fried chicken thighs, bowtie pasta, Daddio’s Dinner Rolls, fresh peaches
  • Spaghetti and homemade meatballs with home-canned marinara sauce, bread, green and wax beans (from the garden), grapes
  • Taco Tuesday (on an actual Tuesday even) with Slow Cooker Chicken, steamed jasmine rice, tortillas, frozen corn off the cob, shredded cheese, home-canned salsa, sour cream, sliced bell peppers from the garden; Fruit Salad
  • Leftovers
  • Grilled chicken, mashed red potatoes, steamed carrots from the garden, sliced pears, zucchini muffins
  • Wraps, leftover mashed potatoes, home-canned peaches, snap peas and cucumbers from the garden
  • Fast-rise Pizza, raw carrots from the garden, watermelon
  • Macaroni and cheese, grilled chicken, snap peas and cucumbers, corn, watermelon
  • Other things to make this week: Monkey bread, mini- and regular banana muffins, Animal Crackers, pie crusts for the freezer, extra meatballs for the freezer, Vermont Whole Wheat Honey Oatmeal Bread, Pecan Berry granola bars (gluten free), lemonade, Iced Tea, Yogurt
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