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Nov. 28th, 2015

Pumpkin Rolls

Our family does holidays pot-luck style, and this year an email went around for everyone to tell what they wanted to bring. Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, green beans, multiple desserts... everything filled up quickly, and as I looked over the list I realized the only thing missing was bread. Well, if I'm going to bring bread, I'm at least going to make something pretty!

Last year for Halloween I made these pumpkin shaped dinner rolls from Beyond Kimchee. The rolls have a little bit of pumpkin mixed in for color, and are a little sweet. I remember they were tasty, but they definitely did not come out as cute or recognizable as I'd hoped. (these are the nicest ones on top) ~

Pumkin rolls

I decided to make pumpkins again, but debated if I should shape them the same way. I searched for pictures of pumpkin rolls, and the best ones I saw wrapped the dough with kitchen string. I also saw a tempting technique of wrapping & knotting a coil of dough to make the shape. But in the end I decided that I hadn't cut the slits deep enough last time, and wanted to try cutting them again.

The first step is mixing the dough and then letting it rise an hour. I actually had a little trouble with this because the dough started traveling up the beaters and wouldn't stay down. I've had it happen once or twice before, and it even gets past the beaters up inside the mixer! (A Google search says the speed might not have been high enough, or maybe it was the wrong attachment, or maybe no one knows why.) At this point it was mostly mixed anyway, so I just did a little hand kneading.

Dough traveling up beaters

Next you divide the dough in half, then cut each half into 16 pieces (the recipe said 15, but 16 makes more sense to me!). Roll each piece into a ball, flatten a little, then use a knife or kitchen scissors to cut 8 deep slits around the sides (almost to the center) and let rise another 45 minutes.

Pumpkin rolls, before

And then it's time to bake them, then add a pecan half for a stem at the end. My rolls turned out so much better this year with the deeper cuts!

Pumpkin rolls

After the first pan, I learned that I needed to reshape the rolls a little before baking. If one 'petal' was sticking out further than the others, or if the whole thing was shaped more like an oval, that should be pushed in a little to make a nice circular shape. Surprisingly, they don't magically turn into circles as they bake, haha.

I also found the recipe a little hard to follow. There is a step-by-step with pictures first, then a written recipe at the bottom. But some details are only in the top section and some only in the bottom, so you constantly have to scroll back & forth (past all of the pictures). If I make these again I'll definitely take a few progress shots and write up my own version. Otherwise the recipe is great!

Nov. 17th, 2015

Cooking With Tamarind Paste

Pad Thai is my favorite Thai dish, and I can make a mean plate of it at home using pre-made Pad Thai sauce. A few times I've tried to make my own sauce, usually following an Americanized recipe with no tamarind paste, but the results were never quite as good. Recently I was working on a low-calorie version and decided it was time to figure out how to use tamarind after all!

Tamarind Block

You will usually find tamarind paste in a big block like this. The tamarind pods are all ground up, so even if it is labeled as "seedless", expect it to be full of tough fibers and the occasional seed.

To use it, break off about 2 times what you need for your recipe and cover it with hot water (I microwave it for 30 seconds) to soften. If the block is very hard, let it sit 15 minutes, or just a few minutes if it already seems pretty soft.

Tamarind softened, not strained

Now you will need a strainer and something to scrape it with (I use a table knife). Put a small piece of tamarind (1 tsp?) on the strainer and press and scrape the tamarind back and forth. Turn the strainer over and you will see nice, soft paste has pushed through. Scrape the smooth paste off the back of the strainer and you can put it right in your measuring spoon. Once you feel like you've scraped all you can, dump out the hard fibers and get another chunk.

Smooth, strained tamarind paste

This process does take a little while, but by using tamarind I was able to make my best Pad Thai sauce by far. It is definitely worth the extra steps! You can store the leftover block wrapped with plastic wrap or a Ziplock bag in your pantry for a year or two, so it's easy to keep on hand.

Note ~ Sometimes you can find pre-strained paste in a jar, though I've heard it can often be watered down & not as tasty. I wasn't able to find any at my international market, so I haven't tried it myself. Jars of paste and tamarind juice should be stored in the fridge and don't keep as long.

Now I'm eager to find some more recipes using this tasty ingredient. Have you cooked with tamarind before?


Nov. 12th, 2015

Meatball Sub Cups

Last time I shared my first failed attempt at these yummy Meatball Sub Cups. The second try went much better, though I tried garnishing with cheese only and it rolled right off the frozen meatballs (gotta have the sauce!). By the third batch I'd worked out the kinks, and everyone agreed these are delicious!

Meatball Sub Cups (garnished)

Meatball Sub Cups

1 can crescent roll dough
4 oz. cream cheese, 1/3 less fat (Neufchatel cheese)
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
24 frozen meatballs (no need to thaw)
1/4 cup spaghetti sauce
More Italian seasoning, mozzarella, and sauce for garnish

1) Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter a mini muffin tin (or use cooking spray) & set aside.

2) Break the crescent roll dough up in to triangles, then cut/snip each triangle into thirds. (Just estimate! You can always snip off a little bit if one is larger and add to a smaller piece.)

Meatball Sub Cups, 1

Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of each muffin cup.

Meatball Sub Cups, 2

3) Microwave the cream cheese for 1 minute to soften. Stir in the Italian seasoning and mozzarella. Fill each cup with 1 tsp. of the mixture (You will have a little leftover. I like to divide it between any cups that seem lower.)

Meatball Sub Cups, 3

4) Top the cheese mixture with 1/2 tsp. of spaghetti sauce and press a meatball down into each cup.

5) If you want to skip the garnish, the finished meatballs will look like these ~

Meatball Sub Cups (ungarnished)

Or you can top each with a small dab of sauce, a couple strands of shredded cheese, and a dash of Italian seasoning ~

Meatball Sub Cups (garnished)

Bake 15-18 minutes, until golden brown. Remove the cups from the tin while warm (they tend to stick when cool).

Tip ~ You can freeze the other half of the cream cheese


Nov. 9th, 2015

Meatball Sub Cups - Fail

Do you ever have those times when you're trying a new recipe, and your gut is telling you something's not right? I'm not usually one to follow a recipe to-the-letter, but a few months ago I made these Meatball Sub Cupcakes and decided to trust the directions, in spite of a few nagging doubts.

First, the recipe said to use regular sized muffin tins. The pictures show the bread hugging the sides of the meatball, and I was guessing the dough wasn't going to rise *that* much....

Meatball cups, fail!

Then it said to pour 2 Tablespoons of sauce over the top of each. That might not sound like a lot, but it was enough to drown these little cups. (Once again, in the recipe picture it looks like a dainty dab of sauce, maybe 1/4 tsp.)

Meatball cups, fail!

Nailed it! You really should take a look at the pretty recipe pictures to see what they were supposed to look like, haha.

I've made these cups a few times since then, switching to mini muffin tins and tweaking the recipe as I would normally do. Next time I'll post my new updated recipe, but first I wanted to share these disastrous pictures for us to giggle over.


Nov. 5th, 2015

Halloween Costumes, 2015

For Halloween this year my 2-year-old wanted to dress as Daniel Tiger (from PBS) and my 5-year-old wanted to dress like a pickle!

Trick or Treating "15, 4

I worked on Pandora's costume first. She chose her costume early, so I was able to pick up a matching red jacket at a consignment sale & removed a logo from its chest. Then I found these cute tiger ears and tail cheap on Amazon (the picture is totally wrong), and after giving up trying to find orange pants in a store, I bought a pair on eBay.

Unfortunately the brownish ears/tail and the bright sherbert orange pants totally clashed!

Costume leggings, before

I had an old pack of brown fabric dye and used a tiny bit to turn the pants into more of a rusty orange. The color change isn't very accurate here, but you get the idea! Then I cut some rounded stripes out of dark brown felt & glued them on with white school glue so we can remove them and use them as normal pants after Halloween.

Costume leggings, after

Next up was the shoes! I always keep my kinds in velcro shoes, so I didn't really want to spend a lot on lace-up costume shoes she'd only wear for a few hours. Then I remembered this pair of red shoes a parent from Orson's school handed down to us... she kept forgetting to bring them, and by the time she did, the dog had chewed up one! I wasn't really sure why she bothered after that, but we'd been using them for dirty outdoor play. In the end they ended up being the perfect base for Daniel Tiger sneakers!

Daniel Tiger shoes, 1

First I cut some tongues to size out of red felt & hot glued them on (and chopped off the 'Toms' tag) ~

Daniel Tiger shoes, 2

Then I covered the fronts in white felt. I glued the line across the top first, then folded it down and trimmed & glued it along the bottom edge ~

Daniel Tiger shoes, 3

Daniel's laces are lines rather than X's, so that made things easy. I bought a cheap pair of shoe laces and tied them in bows at the end. Then I chopped them off wider than the tongue, folded the ends under, and glued them down ~

Daniel Tiger shoes, 4

Next I needed to do a little painting. See how grungy the bottom edge looks against the white toes?

Daniel Tiger shoes, 5

I used some craft paint to paint over the bottom edge, then watered down some red paint & went over any of the exposed shoe to brighten the red a little too. The white toes ended up getting a little pilly after the first wear, so I ended up painting over the white felt too, for a little protection. I swear I took a photo of the finished shoes, but never found one, so you'll have to admire them from afar ~

Dancy party, costume Daniel Tiger

Now Orson's costume gave us some problems! First he said he wanted to be a monster or a pickle, then he decided on a "monster pickle"! Once again I could find no green pants in a store, so I finally found a matching sweat shirt and sweat pants online. Then we took him to the costume shop to find a monster mask, and he really wanted a Hulk mask, which was the perfect green monster in his mind. We said we couldn't buy that one or else everyone would think he was the Hulk though, and after that he was pretty sulky about the whole thing and said he just wanted to be a pickle.

Meanwhile I had already ordered a sweat suit which, even with a few green dots, was going to look nothing like a pickle! I was feeling like a pretty rotten mom until I found this giant inflatable pickle, which I thought would help things a little ~

And then, right before heading to the craft store for some green felt, I had a great idea for a pickle hat. My sewing machine has been out of commission for a few years, but I knew I could hot glue this one! For the hat I just measured how big I wanted the opening for the face, and how far above and below I wanted it to fall, as well as the width. I drew it out on some fleece with a Sharpie, cut it out and the fit was just right! Orson insisted there needed to be a stem, which was a good call. I stuffed the top of the hat with two plastic grocery bags, then I cut out two sizes of circles from some bright green felt and used school glue again to attach them all over.

Here he is with the inflatable pickle, which we ended up ditching after a few houses, of course. With the hat we really didn't need him though! ~

Trick or Treating "15, 3

Both kids loved their costumes, and I was pretty pleased they picked something other than the normal Elsa and superhero. (Pandora loves Elsa, but I saw a *lot* of them this year!) And of course they had a great time Trick or Treat-ing!

Trick or Treating "15, 1


Oct. 30th, 2015

Creamy Chicken & Bacon Crescent Blooms

One day I was eager to make something in our muffin tins, so I grabbed some crescent roll dough and made the filling from these yummy pastry pockets. There are a lot of different ways to arrange the dough, but I decided to drape squares of the dough in each cup & ended up with a very easy & pretty shape that reminded me of flowers. These 'chicken blooms' have quickly become a family favorite!

Chicken & Bacon Crescent Blooms, 1

Creamy Chicken & Bacon Crescent Blooms

1 can crescent rolls
4 oz. Philadelphia cream cheese, Chive & onion flavor
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup cooked crumbled bacon (or Real bacon bits), plus more for garnish

1)Unroll the crescent roll dough and separate into 4 rectangles. Cut each rectangle in half to create two squares. (You may want to press the diagonal seams together a bit.)

Chicken & Bacon Crescent Blooms, 2

2) Drape one square into each cup and press into the bottom and sides.

Chicken & Bacon Crescent Blooms, 3

3) In a microwave safe bowl, warm the cream cheese in the microwave for 1 minute to soften. Stir in the chicken, mozzarella cheese, and crumbled bacon. Fill each cup with 2 Tbsp. of filling (I like to measure 1/4 cup and then divide that between 2 cups to make it even easier!) Sprinkle a few bacon crumbles on the top of the mixture.

Chicken & Bacon Crescent Blooms, 4

4) Bake 350 F for 12-15 minutes until the edges are golden brown. Makes 8 blooms.

Chicken & Bacon Crescent Blooms, 5


Oct. 23rd, 2015

Japanese Stuffed Rice Balls (Onigiri), Step by Step

Japanese Stuffed Rice Balls

Sushi rice is not just for making sushi! Another great way to use it is making rice balls (onigiri), either plain or with yummy fillings. I recently tried stuffing them with fillings a few times and was surprised how easily they come together, and my family *loved* them. (Well, ignore the 2 year old. She won't eat anything.)

First you'll need to make a batch of sushi rice ~ Bring 3/4 cups sushi rice and 1 cup water to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit covered another 10 minutes. This will make 2 cups of cooked rice, enough for about 7-8 balls. Meanwhile you can prepare your fillings.

Rice balls, 1

When that is ready, lay out a piece of plastic wrap and measure 1/4 cup of rice, packed lightly. Dump it out on the wrap and press down in the center to indent. Fill the indention with 1 tsp. of filling (a rounded tsp. is fine!). You can toss the filling with sauce, or if you'd like to add it separately, spoon in about 1/4 tsp. of sauce. (Or you can skip the fillings entirely and just sprinkle the rice with a little salt.)

Rice balls, 2

Cup the rice in your hand, push the filling down a little, and then close your fingers around it as if you were holding a ball. This nicely wraps the rice around the sides and over the top of the filling!

Rice balls, 3

Gather the plastic wrap around the ball tightly, and use one hand to squeeze it into a ball shape while holding the top closed with the other hand. As the ball is packed tighter you'll probably need to let air out and make the top tighter.

Rice balls, 4

When you feel like you've got a nice, tight ball, fold the wrap back and admire your creation! The spot where you gathered the wrap together will probably be uneven, so press it down smooth with the wrap or a wet finger. I usually consider this the bottom of the ball and flip it over to put on a plate. This may sound complicated, but once you get the hang of it, each ball only takes about 2 minutes.

Rice balls, 5

Now, what can you fill them with? Any small amount of finely chopped meat and/or veggies work well, and it's a great way to use up leftovers! Here is a list of Japan's favorite fillings, but don't be afraid to raid your fridge and get creative. The rice mellows the flavor a lot, so strong flavors work the best.

Japanese Stuffed Rice Balls, Step by Step

The other night we ended up with tons of leftover salmon. That never happens! I knew it would be a great time to make rice balls.

Left side - First I made some teriyaki chicken balls that my son had enjoyed before. I finely chopped/minced some cooked chicken and tossed it with a little store bought teriyaki sauce (Soy Vay brand).

Middle - Next I mixed up a sweet & savory miso sauce for the salmon. I used 2 Tbsp. miso (awase, a mix of red & white), 2 Tbsp. mirin, 1 Tbsp. sugar, & 1/2 Tbsp. sesame oil. I didn't toss the salmon with the sauce since I wanted to use it two ways, so I just spooned in a little of each. I sprinkled these with black sesame seeds to keep them separate from the first balls.

Right - You can also mix the rice with the ingredients instead of using it as a filling, and it gives the rice lovely specks of color. For the last balls I used some more of the salmon and sprinkled in a little furikake for seasoning.

You can eat the balls right away, or they work well in a lunchbox since you can eat them hot or cold. After forming the ball you can wrap them right in the plastic wrap to store them. They are still tasty the next day, but rice dries out in the fridge after a few days. If you'd like to keep them longer than that, stick them in the freezer and thaw/re-heat before eating. The rice will be nice and fresh!

Japanese Stuffed Rice Balls, Step by Step

By the way, traditionally the Japanese use a triangle shape instead of a ball. You can make a triangle by following the above directions, but instead of packing it into a ball shape, flatten it out a little and press it into a triangle with your hands.

Oct. 16th, 2015

Miso Ramen Shirataki (201 calories)

Here is a diet version of our yummy Japanese Miso Ramen made with no-calorie Shirataki noodles. I cut out the egg and sausage & topped it with chicken and turkey bacon instead. The noodles are also mixed with shredded cabbage and mushrooms so it ends up being a giant bowl of noodley soup for a fraction of the calories.

Miso Ramen Shirataki

(For those of you counting calories, I've added the amount for each ingredient so you can easily make tweaks without having to re-calculate everything. Anything marked with an asterisk* may vary based on what you buy, so you may want to compare your label.)

Miso Ramen Shirataki

2 Tbsp. awase miso (60*, or sub with red/akai miso)
1.5 Tbsp. Hoisin sauce (45*)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic (0)
1 Tbsp. soy sauce (10)
1 tsp. grated ginger (1)
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes (0)

3 cups water (0)
2 tsp. chicken bouillon (10)
1 Tbsp. sesame seeds (52)
4 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced (25)
1 cup shredded savoy cabbage (19)
1 pack shirataki noodles, rinsed several times (0)

2 oz. cooked, chopped chicken (68)
1/4 cup corn kernels (38)
1 green onion, sliced thinly (5)
2 slices diced, cooked turkey bacon (70*)

1) In a large pot, add the miso, Hoisin sauce, garlic, soy sauce, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Warm over medium heat until the miso has melted & is well mixed.

2) Add the water, bouillon, sesame seeds, mushrooms, savoy, and shirataki. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.

3) Meanwhile, warm the chicken, corn, or bacon, if necessary. Pour the soup into 2 bowls and garnish with the chicken, corn, green onion, and turkey bacon. Serves 2.

Calories - 201 for 1/2

Oct. 9th, 2015

5:2 Update - Week 38, Month 9

This is the last weight loss update I'm going to leave for a while. I'm still exercising and doing the 5:2 diet (2 days a week), but after losing 30+ pounds, progress is a lot slower. I'm at the point now where I'm only loosing a pound or two every month, so there's no point in giving updates that often! I'll probably wait until the year mark to update again.

As you can guess, I lost about a pound this month and 1/2 inch off my waist. (Which is probably good considering how many festivals & fairs & events we had this month!) Perhaps I'd have better results if I switched things up a bit, trying a different diet or exercise plan, but I'm content as long as the numbers are going down, even if it is super slow! I still want to lose more, but I'm also pretty happy where I am now... I don't even mind wearing a swimsuit, or going clothes shopping anymore! :)

By the way, a couple of our friends recently started the Whole 30 diet, eating more natural & cutting out a lot of sugars & carbs for 30 days, and they lost a *ton* of weight during that month (like 30 lbs. each I think)! I don't think I could give up diet sodas (and all of the other stuff) for that long, but I wanted to mention it in case it sounds like something that would work for you.

Oct. 6th, 2015

Recipe Trials

Here are a few more pictures that I've pulled out of the archives of recipes that weren't quite finalized or worthy enough for their own post.

Thai Style Stir Fry

For a while I was trying different Thai style stir-fry combinations. I would always use some chicken, medium rice noodles, a sliced onion, garlic, egg, and some kind of veggie (french cut green beans here). Then the sauce would be a few tablespoons of oyster sauce with a little brown sugar, soy sauce, and fish sauce. They always turned out tasty!

Chicken Mein Fun

I love getting Mein Fun at Chinese restaurants, filled with chicken and shrimp and all kinds of meat. I worked for a while recreating my own Chicken Mein Fun at home. I turned out well, but maybe a little dry (I'd probably need to drown it in oil to taste like the restaurant version!). One day I need to test it out again & get the recipe up here.

Sometime I get overly excited about trying a new ingredient, but can't decide on a recipe, so I decide to make mini batches from a few recipes. It actually works out really well, because then I'm not left with a giant portion if the recipe is a flop! One day I grabbed a Spaghetti Squash and made...

Spaghetti Squash Au Gratin

Spaghetti Squash Au Gratin

Spaghetti Squash Chow Mein

Spaghetti Squash Chow Mein

Spaghetti Squash Bacon Alfredo

Spaghetti Squash with this yummy fake alfredo sauce (from pureed cauliflower) and some bacon.

And then I totally forgot to take pictures of the Spaghetti Squash Hashbrowns before we ate them! All of the recipes turned out pretty good, better than we expected, but they weren't amazing. I'll probably revisit the spaghetti squash for a diet meal one day, but I don't think it will be a regular side dish for us any time soon. (Btw, I love winter squashes, but not summer squashes. This was a lot closer to yellow squash than butternut.)

We've found that there are so many vegetables that you might not like other ways, but they are absolutely delicious roasted. Our kids will devour roasted kale and Brussels sprouts & ignore the cheesy chicken & noodles on their plate. When one of my friends was raving about roasted beets, saying she makes some every week to toss on salads & such, I had to give them a try.

Raw Beets

The color was soooo gorgeous (this is before roasting), but the finished product ended up tasting like dirt. I haven't had beets any other way, but I'm not sure that I want to try them again!

Roasted Purple Yam

I also roasted some purple yams at the same time. The color ranged from purple to a purple & white mix, but it all got a little brown after roasting. I didn't like them as much as a normal sweet potato, but it would be a nice way to mix in a little color.

Speaking of roasting, I often try to make 'chips' out of things, with varying success. One day I tried to make banana chips, because I never know when my kids are going to eat bananas or not & often have to throw out bad ones. Big fail!

Banana Chips Fail

They cooked at a low temperature, and at first I had to pull them out of the oven early to make dinner. They were still chewy, so I put them in for the rest of the time and they came out burn to a crisp! Later I tried another batch and still was never able to get them past the too-chewy point, so now I've got a dehydrator on my Christmas list!

Loco Moco

On to something a little nicer! I made this tasty Japanese-Hawaiian dish called Loco Moco from Just One Cookbook. The recipe turned out well, but the hamburger steak was basically the same as the Japanese style steak we'd cooked before from her site (kind of a Worcestershire sauce instead of a brown gravy). Serving it with the egg on top was a fun addition, but with so many different things to cook for this recipe, it was not really worth it to add another pan & another step. It was nice having rice on the side though!

Hawaiian Breakfast Rice

And another Hawaiian style dish, Hawaiian Fried Breakfast Rice from Our Best Bites. This one also turned out yummy, but if we make it again we'll change the ratios to have a little less rice & a little more of the fillers.

I've still got quite a few more of these pics stored away, but I think that is enough for now!


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