At-Home S’mores (aka Breaking the S’mores Commandment)

August 23, 2012 in Family, Food by Beth Woolsey

S’mores are only for campfires.

It’s a rule everyone knows.

After all, if we had s’mores every day, they wouldn’t be special, right?

Right.

God thinks so, too. That’s why “thou shalt not roast s’mores except around the campfire” is one of the ten (or so) commandments, somewhere after “dude, you gotta quit coveting your brother’s Pokemon cards or else do an extra job to earn the money to buy some for yourself.” (Psst… that last one is also known as the You Git What You Git and You Don’t Throw a Fit commandment, or, alternatively, the Get Off Your Whiny Hiney, Kiddo, and Fix Your Problem commandment. It’s almost like God was a parent, you guys.)

So. S’mores are only for campfires. The Bible says so.

And that’s why I’m going to ask you to keep this post on the down-low, folks. Shhhhh! ‘Cause we just got back from camping (and whining and tenting), and I still had a hankering for s’mores.

Did you know you can make s’mores at home? Like, right in your kitchen? By the heat of your stove?

YOU CAN!

I mean … shhhhh … you can.

Of course, I first discovered home-bound s’mores-making when I was 16 and my mom wasn’t home to tell me that roasting marshmallows over the open stove flame is poor form. And probably dangerous. And generally a bad idea. So, in a fit of brilliance, I stuck a marshmallow on a fork and roasted away. And ate. And roasted again. And ate. And roasted again. Mmm!

Maybe you already know all about at-home s’mores. But just in case you’re missing this important life skill, I feel it’s my duty to lead you astray. You are, after all, my kind of people. I owe you. And I pay my debts in junk food.

And so, here you go.

At-home S’mores:
The Instructions 

1. Secretly buy miscellaneous chocolate candy at the store, and stuff it way down deep in your purse with the matchbox cars and used Kleenex and empty lip gloss cadavers. Your goal? That no one will find them. Maybe, if you’re really lucky, not even you.

2. At home, assemble the s’mores fixin’s.

3. Glance over at your extra-grody stove top, realize that it’s no place for taking bloggy pictures, and feel overcome with the certainty that you’ll never have it all together. Ever. Sigh in frustration and add a few piratey ARGHs for maximum expression of self-directed angst.

4. Now choose to reject shame. Again. Because, by golly, this is life with children. It’s messy. And full of burnt noodles.

5. Do your pride a solid and semi-wash that stove top. Not, like, thoroughly or anything extreme. Who has the time? But, even though almost no one will notice, your heart and your Marine father will be glad you did. That, for today, is enough.

6. Move on. Sheesh, Beth.

7. After you put chocolate on the graham cracker, zap it in the microwave for 30 seconds or ’til just melty.

8. Enlist a herd of small children and neighborhood teenagers to burn sugar onto roast marshmallows over the stove burner. **

**FYI, my firefighter friends do not approve this message.

9. Assemble drippy, melty, semi-burnt, perfect, delicious s’mores.

And eat ’em.

Yum!

10. Wonder how in the world you’ve gained back 16 of the 40 pounds you once lost. Gosh. Life is full of mysteries, isn’t it?

Enjoy breaking the s’mores rules, friends!

xoxo,
B

P.S. This is Cai, while camping, one s’more in. He had at least 4 more that night.

When he finished, there were graham crackers in his ears and marshmallow on his spine, is what I’m saying.

P.P.S. And then he passed out.

Which makes me wonder why Sugar Comas aren’t a recommended sleep aid.

……….

If you have a favorite s’mores recipe, do share it in the comments! My friend Molly puts her marshmallows in Oreo cookies (genius!) and my friend Eric substitutes the graham crackers for snickerdoodles and roasts the entire concoction over the flame to caramelize the cinnamon sugar (I gained 12 pounds right there – a pound for every bite – and it was worth it).

What’s your s’mores suggestion?

………

Bunny Cake (UPDATED: Football Cake, too!)

April 6, 2012 in Food by Beth Woolsey

On Easter Sunday, for as long as I can remember, our family serves two things:

  1. a risen Savior
  2. bunny cake

And woe betide the person who tries to separate us from either.

Earlier this week on the Five Kids Facebook page, just in time to make your Easter grocery shopping list, I let you in on my fancy-schmancy but easy-peasy Corncakes with Mascarpone Icing recipe. They’re delicious. They’re elegant. They’re impressive. They’re perfect for company.

Today, I’m going to show you how to make my mama’s bunny cake. It’s also easy-peasy. But it’s not fancy-schmancy. Or elegant.

It’s just really, really fun.

And perfect for kids.

Just in case you, gosh darn it, were hoping to make something (anything??) awesome for Easter but ran outta time, here it is. A go-to fix. ‘Cause if you have a cake mix stuffed somewhere in your cupboard and the ingredients to throw together icing (or a tub of fudge frosting hidden under your bed… yum!), you can pull this off. And don’t we all need to just be able to pull stuff off sometimes?

Yes! Yes, we do.

And so, without further ado, I give you…

……….

Bunny Cake

Here’s what you need:

  • one round cake, cooked and cooled (or two rounds for smaller, more adorable bunnies)
  • icing in 2 colors, by which I mean mostly one color and approximately 2 Tbsp of a second color (FYI, I made vanilla icing first, reserved 2 Tbsp., and then turned the rest into chocolate)
  • some kind of candy for eyeballs and a nose – chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, jelly beans, smarties, M&M’s, etc. – your options are endless

That’s it. Three things.

And here’s what you do:

Take your round cake…

… and cut it in half.

Frost one side…

… keeping one eye open, as always, for icing pilferers …

… because those guys are sneaky!

And then squash your cake halves together.

You’ve just, essentially, made half of a layer cake. (So why not just make a layer cake and cut that in half? I don’t know, but that is NOT how it’s done.)

Next, stand that cake upright on your cake platter or plate so you have a half-circle rising up off of it like a rainbow.

Ta Da!

Now, frost that sucker all over.

I like to pull my frosting knife up off of the icing to make little waves, as though my bunny is an elementary boy who got at his mama’s hair gel and spiked his hair in an ill-advised effort to be cool. It just makes me happy.

Finally, take your second color of icing and frost some ears and a tail on that bunny. Throw on some candy as eyes and a nose (these are mini marshmallows and chocolate chips, but only because I didn’t have any jelly beans on hand), scatter some more candy around for decoration, and, Voila!, …

… bunny cake!

Usually delicious. Always fun. Never unappreciated. … A perfect Mama Trinity!

Here’s wishing you and yours a very Happy Easter.

xoxo,
Beth

P.S.

The End

……….

UPDATED: 31 January 2014

This can be an American Football or Superbowl Cake, too! 
Who knew??

I saw this at the grocery store today:

photo (91)

I’m TOTALLY making it for the Seahawks/Broncos Superbowl game this Sunday.

It’s exactly the same as Bunny Cake except smooth chocolate frosting and white laces instead of ears and a tail.

Maybe I’ll put a tail on it anyway. That’s always my favorite part.

P.S. Go ‘Hawks!

French fries are made out of French: A Recipe

April 4, 2012 in Food, Funny by Beth Woolsey

Cai, who’s 5, tells our friend Mike that French fries are made out of French. He says this in his Duh Voice as though we grown-ups should know this already and shouldn’t waste his valuable time asking rhetorical questions.

What do you think these French fries are made from, Cai?

Um, from French, Mike. It’s right there in the name. French fries.

Cai also thinks that he will not really melt into a puddle of goo if he continues to refuse my kisses even though I’ve explained and explained that Mommy Kisses have a special, protective enzyme without which there are no anti-goo-puddle guarantees. So, clearly, Cai doesn’t know everything.

That’s OK, though. Cai’s just a guy, muddling through the playground of life in zip-up jammies and snow boots and trying to figure out how to get more than his share of the fries. You know; like the rest of us.

(video from 2010 courtesy of my Abby: daughter and videographer extraordinaire)

Today, gentle reader, I’m going to show you how to make crack. And, by crack, I mean Garlic Oven Fries that are totally worth stealing from your brother. Now, let me just say that oven fries are made out of potatoes and not ovens. I’m telling you this explicitly so we avoid confusion and disappointment.

I know you probably already know how to make oven fries because they’re easy peasy. But there was a time, back in the day, when I had to call my mom on a phone with a cord and ask her how to bake a potato. And then my mom, who never laughs at anyone because she’s not a Meany McMocking Meanpants like her daughter, giggled. A lot. And those olden days phones with their fancy, curly cords had excellent sound quality that never crackled or broke up the sound bites, so I heard her quite clearly. In case you’re like the person I once was – a little light on the culinary skills – I’m gonna save you a touch of embarrassment and spare your mama from having an obligatory cackle at your expense.

I give and I give.

……….

Garlic Oven Fries:
not a waste of time and WAY cheaper than crack 

Ingredients:

  • 5 medium French (or potatoes – you pick) (also, I make double batches because my family is enormous – I only use 5 potatoes if I want to tease them)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 ½ tsp. garlic salt
  • ½ tsp. dried parsley (or fresh parsley or anything green that ordinarily wigs out small children – I do this as often as possible because it’s pretty and it desensitizes my kids to green stuff so they don’t throw fits when they see it at church potlucks or Aunt Dolly’s house – works like a charm!)

Directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 450F.

2. Cut your potatoes…

…into uniform pieces that are vaguely, you know, French fry sized. I know; I’m a master of excellent instructions. It’s practically my spiritual gift.

For example, here’s a tip. Totally free! To cut potatoes into similar-sized pieces, use a knife…

and a cutting board.

It works every time.

3. Dump the potatoes and all the other ingredients into a bowl…

… and mix. I prefer to use my grandmother’s ancient pyrex bowl and a wooden spoon I bought at a discount store and burned on the edge of a skillet sometime around 1997. Old things and scarred things suit me. Oven fries might work if you use new, shiny things to mix them, but I can’t tell you for sure.

4. Lay your greasy potatoes flat on a pan…

… and then throw them in your screaming hot oven.

Leave them there for 17 minutes… or until ’til they’re golden brown when flipped, which is really the goal.

5. Flip ’em all golden side up…

… and cook another 15-17 minutes until the other side of the fries follow the trend.

And that’s it!

Cut, grease, season, bake, EAT.

Oh, yeah!

6. EAT!

I hope you love ’em as much as I do… which is with lots and lots and lots of bite marks.

Beth

The Boring Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 450F.
  2. Cut your potatoes to look like fries.
  3. Dump 2T. olive oil, 1½ tsp. garlic salt, and ½ tsp. dried parsley in a bowl with the potatoes and mix it all together.
  4. Spread ’em (on a pan). Bake 17 minutes. Flip. Bake 17ish minutes again. DO NOT REMOVE THEM ‘TIL THEY’RE VERY GOLDEN BROWN.
  5. Make bite marks all over ’em. Mmm!
……….

P.S. You can find all of the Five Kids recipes here. Because who doesn’t want to find recipes at a site named PutDownTheUrinalCake, am I right??

Guys?

Hey, guys?

Come back…

Five Ingredient Fried Rice

January 30, 2012 in Family, Food, Funny by Beth Woolsey

If there’s something more difficult to scrape off the bottom of my sock than cooked rice, I don’t know what it is.

Really. I don’t know. Pretty please, don’t tell me. It’s probably something way more disgusting than rice, and I’ve probably had it stuck to my sock at one point or another, and I probably have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I’ve probably blocked it from my memory. Please, as a favor to a mom of five, let it stay blocked.

Rice is one of the Top Five Messiest Foods to Feed Children. It’s listed right under spaghetti sauce in a white shirt and right above giant popsicles on a hot day.

There’s just no way to feed five children rice without accepting that my home will pay the ultimate price in the form of a massive rice infestation. I don’t want to give ideas to all the terrorists who read mom blogs, but if they ever figure out how to attach a biological weapon to a grain of rice, the world is screwed. Because those grains are an epidemic in and of themselves. I find them in hair, on clothes (often days after serving it), on toys, of course on my table and floors, and – the WORST – squished onto the bottom of my socks. They stay around forever, creating mini-hazards wherever children are found.

We serve rice at our house a lot. A lot, a lot. Alotalotalotalot. Because I do things that make sense.

I blame growing up in Asia for my ongoing devotion to rice. And, the truth is, frying rice makes me feel powerful. Taking the same grain that fed the ancient, mysterious world and mastering it so that I’m able to nourish my family? That’s power. And love. And it soothes the mommy in me.

Also, frying rice in oil, soy salt and sugar makes it better than crack. Not that I’ve ever done crack. Which kind of proves my point. Because I’ve mainlined fried rice thousands of times.

I took the pictures below weeks ago so I could continue my cooking tutorials (aka cheaterpants easy ways to make foods that otherwise seem difficult). But Zakary, of Raising Colorado fame, posted her first vlog (video blog) this week, and, you guys, she totally highlights the extraordinary need for another fried rice recipe in this world and the lengths to which a desperate mom will go to get it.

I realized that I’d better finish this post STAT. For Zakary. For moms everywhere.

I’m practically saving the world.

……….

Five Ingredient Fried Rice

I’m telling you that this is five ingredient fried rice, and I’m only sort of lying.

To make fried rice, you need five basic ingredients.

  • 6 cups cooked rice, any type
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 1/3 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce (I call it soy salt, ’cause I like to call a spade a spade)
  • an onion

And then, you can add anything else you want. For this recipe, I added 2 cups of diced ham, ginger and sesame oil.

But you can add frozen or fresh veggies, scrambled eggs (if they don’t make you yarf – you know who you are), lunch meat, garlic, coriander, cumin… you know, whatever you have sitting around in your spice cupboard or fridge that sounds yummy.

The beauty of fried rice is the fact that, in Asia, it’s a leftovers dish. Kind of like stews and soups. You take what you have on hand, you throw it all together, and you hope to God it turns out well. Also kind of like life.

Directions:

Dice your onion. I don’t care how you dice your onion. I think I’m supposed to care, though, so here’s how I dice my onion:

I cut it in half. I peel each half. I slice each half into strips.

Then I cut across the strips like this.

It’s he fastest way I can dice an onion, and that’s important to me because I’m an onion blubberer.

In a large skillet – or a wok, if you must – using 2 Tablespoons of oil over medium high heat which seems WAY too hot, but isn’t-isn’t, fry your diced onions until they turn dark brown and sorta charred.

You’re not really caramelizing onions (which is a slow release of sugars). You’re more cooking the sin right out of them and helping them find Jesus. If they’re not getting singed in the process, it’s probably not working right. (No offense, Jesus.)

Next, add your “other chunky stuff” to the skillet. In my case, that’s ham.

And then cook the hell out of it, too. Charred, black spots here and there? That’s how you know it’s working.

This really bears no reflection on my theology.

It probably bears a lot of reflection on how I think theology shouldn’t be, but we can talk about that later.

Let’s take one second to discuss rice. I always use leftover rice. Whether yours is leftover or fresh, the cooked rice you’re using should be soft. As you may know, if you store leftover rice in your fridge, it gets hard and gross. Don’t use hard, gross rice; frying it that way will make hard, gross fried rice. Making leftover rice soft again, though, is easy peasy. In a microwave-safe bowl, dump your rice and 2 Tbsp. water; cover with a plate and microwave on high for 3 minutes. As the rice steams, it reconstitutes the grains, making them soft, and, well, edible. Edible is definitely the goal.

To your rice (or to your skillet – again with me not caring), add 1/3 c. brown sugar and 1/4 c. soy salt.

And then add “other non-chunky stuff” (i.e. spices and sauces) to your rice or skillet. In my case, that’s 1 tsp. ginger and 2 tsp. sesame oil.

Dump all that stuff in the other stuff.

Sentences like that are the reason I’m not writing a cookbook. Know thyself, yes?

But really, everything should be in your skillet now, which is still on medium high, even if that makes you uncomfortable. You want to fry the rice while constantly stirring it, not steam it. And if you can’t stir constantly because that’s the dumbest direction EVER to give moms of little kids… as though you’re not going to have to stop to wipe someone’s butt or lecture a child about slamming his brother’s ear in the door… well, then, you’ll get little, yummy, crispy bits in the rice, and, I’ll be honest, the imperfect parts are my favorite.

Keep frying and stirring until any liquid is fully absorbed by the rice, creating a nice coating. This usually takes 5 minutes or so.

Then serve it hot. With a side of veggies if you have guilty-mama syndrome.

Try to keep grubby kid mitts out of the rice until it’s eating time. Kids are very, very sneaky, so good luck.

Now, I can’t claim that this fried rice recipe is authentically Asian in any way other than the fact that I use, you know, rice. But that’s the beauty of fried rice, really. It’s a creative endeavor that lends itself to improvisation. And that’s why it works for my family. There’s no one right way.

For an authentic, Indonesian twist, though, and one that I love, put an egg on it. The fried rice “special” always came with a fried egg draped over the rice. Almost like putting a bird on it, except, you know, not.

Enjoy!

……….

Five Ingredient Fried Rice:
the short, boring directions

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups cooked rice, any type
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 1/3 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce (I call it soy salt, ’cause I like to call a spade a spade)
  • a diced onion
  • whatever else you want – ham, diced lunchmeat, scrambled eggs, garlic, coriander, cumin, chicken, fresh or frozen veggies, etc.

Directions:

  • In 2 Tbsp oil, over medium high heat, fry onions in a large skillet or wok. Let them get dark brown and charred-ish.
  • Add other chunky ingredients (i.e. ham) and fry ’til there’s also some golden brown char here, too.
  • Make sure your cooked rice is soft.
  • Dump in everything else and continue frying and stirring on medium high ’til everything is combined, coated, and absorbed.
  • Serve hot.
  • Put a bird fried egg on it.

Enjoy!

5-Ingredient Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

January 7, 2012 in Family, Food by Beth Woolsey

Sometimes as a mama, I need to feel like I’m nourishing my family.

I mean, I realize that I do nourish them, and, when I actually get it right, that includes lots of various parts; their bellies, their brains, and their hearts.

But sometimes I need to feel it. Deep down in my bones, I need to know I’ve done more than keep my family alive for one more day.

Enter: Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

Because there’s nothing quite as soothing as watching equal parts ancient Chinese medicine and heartfelt Mama magic trickle down my kids’ scratchy throats on a cold winter’s night while they wipe their runny noses and gooey mouths on their sleeves. It’s parenting perfection, for just one second, in a bowl.

And God knows I need all the perfect seconds I can get.

Last winter, when I was bedstricken with pneumonia and feeling a) like a pathetic loser of an uninvolved mama, b) totally left out of every family activity, and c) like I was on VACATION… and ohmygosh PNEUMONIA is the BEST… and HOW DO I GET PUT ON BED REST AT LEAST ONCE EVERY YEAR??, my friend Laurie brought over a vat of her Most Excellent chicken noodle soup AND she gave me the recipe.

Since then, I’ve made 100,000 variations of Laurie’s Most Excellent soup. Not to improve on it, of course; it’s just that the recipes that work for my family are those that lend themselves to improvisation. This is one! The truth is, if you have chicken, noodles, seasoning and water, you can make this recipe, too.

Enjoy!

………

5-Ingredient Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

Here’s what you need:

  • one whole cooked chicken – I use a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store because it’s cheap, it’s cooked, and it’s already packed with flavor
  • one 12-ounce package of pasta, any type
  • garlic salt
  • dried basil or other herb(s) of your choice
  • one onion or any other veggies you have on hand

And here’s what you do:

Step One: Get out a cutting board, a big pot, a plate and your ingredients.

Like a bird with shiny things, fixate on the shininess of your pot and take a few self-portraits of your reflection. Trust me on this step. You’ll laugh at your dorky self later, and we mamas know that a) taking ourselves less seriously, and b) laughter are worth a couple of incriminating pictures.

Step Two: Cut your onion from stem to stern.

Or, better yet, enlist slave labor to do the cutting for you.

Then cut it from stem to stern again, so you have 4 onion parts that are still intact and not falling apart. Throw them in the pot.

FYI, if you screw up cutting them this way and they do fall apart? It doesn’t matter. The big, stuck-together chunks just make it easier to fish ’em out of the broth later.

Also, add any other veggies, in big chunks, at this point. I like adding carrots and celery, but I’ll add anything I have on hand; sweet potatoes, green beans, broccoli bits, the fingers of teenagers who didn’t watch what they were cutting, etc.

Step Three: Debone your chicken.

Now, like most things with cooking, there’s a right way to do this and a wrong way to do this. And, I suspect, if you’ve been hanging out here long, you know that a) I’m about to do this the wrong way, and b) if you want to do it the right way, you know how to Google Martha Stewart and find out.

I’ve watched people do this with a nice, sharp knife. But I use my hands which is quick, dirty, imperfect, and practical; just like my life.

You know that moment at the OB/GYN when it’s time to ignore everything your mama taught you about crossing your legs and being a lady?

That same moment has come for the chicken, except now you’re the doctor, and it’s your job to get her talking about her crazy kids so she’ll unclench and spread ’em.

Then pull off everything that easily comes off.

Yeah – this is where the OB/GYN analogy breaks down. Because even though I’ve wondered if being dismembered would be less uncomfortable than my special time with the doctor, I’ve never had to leave the Lady Office without my legs, my wings or my breasts.

Next time I think it’s just too hard to be a mama and I can’t go on, I’m going to look at that picture and remember that it’s harder to be a chicken.

Moving on.

After the legs and the wings are off, separate the top middle of the chicken.

And pull off the breasts. I know of no way to make that sound less horrific. My apologies to the chicken.

Into the pot, dump all the bones, skin, and bits you think are yucky and don’t want to touch anymore.

And shred the pretty meat that’s left.

I always set the drumsticks aside because I have a kid who loves drumsticks and gets a bad case of hero-worship when I hand him sticks of meat. And I’ve learned to never, ever give up an easy chance to be a hero.

Step Four: Add a gallon (that’s 16 cups) of water to the pot. I never measure. I just add a lot of water, and it seems to work out. And also add 2 Tablespoons of garlic salt and 2 Tablespoons of dried basil and/or other herbs. As far as I can tell, you can’t over-herb the broth, so this is a great time to be ingrediently creative. If you catch yourself chanting, “double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble” while tossing in an eye of newt… well, you might want to think about being done.

Let the broth simmer on medium for 2 hours. Or 30 minutes if, like me, you SO didn’t plan 2 hours ahead of mealtime. The broth does get better with time, though, so you choose.

While the broth is boiling, try to keep Meat Snatchers away from the chicken. They are very stealthy and move very quickly; I was, frankly, surprised to even catch one on film.

Step Five: Strain the broth into a bowl or pot and NOT into your sink. (I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve ALMOST tossed that strainer into the sink and had a narrow miss! Don’t be like me!)

I strain my broth by pulling out the chunks…

and then pouring it through a paper-towel-lined strainer into another pot. (Normal people use cheesecloth instead of paper towels, but I guarantee that cheesecloth didn’t make my shopping list.)

Straining through cloth pulls out all of the little bits and makes the broth gorgeous and clear. This part of the step is totally unnecessary, so feel free to avoid it.

Step Six: Return your clear broth to the pot. Taste it. Salt as needed. Bring it back to a boil. Cook your pasta in the broth according to package directions.

I usually use orzo pasta because that’s what Laurie does, but my kids like little stars, so I used stelline here. Alphabet pasta would rock!

Step Seven: As soon as the pasta has cooked, add the chicken meat to the pot and serve it up. 

And enjoy your mama accolades!

Well, you know. Maybe not actual accolades. But this is pretty good in my mama book:

……….

5-Ingredient Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup
Directions: The Short Version 

Ingredients:

  • one whole cooked chicken – I use a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store
  • one 12-ounce package of pasta, any type
  • garlic salt
  • dried basil or other herb(s) of your choice
  • one onion or any other veggies you have on hand

Directions:

  • Debone a roasted chicken. Separate bones, skin and meat. Shred and reserve meat.
  • To 16 cups of water in a large pot, add:
    • chicken bones and skin
    • vegetables in large chunks
    • 2 Tablespoons of garlic salt
    • 2 Tablespoons of dried basil or other herb(s) of your choice. I’ve used oregano, marjoram, sage, thyme, paprika (awesome for color!), and parsley.
  • Bring broth to a boil. Simmer 2 hours. (Or 30 minutes if you can’t stand it. The longer the simmer, the more the flavor.)
  • Discard veggies, chicken bones and chicken skin. Strain broth through cheese cloth (or through paper towels if you’re a cheaterpants like me.)
  • Bring broth back to a boil and cook pasta in it according to package directions.
  • Add reserved meat to broth and pasta. Salt as needed.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Variations:

  • For an Asian twist, consider using ginger as your herb and topping the soup with diced green onions.
  • For a Mexican twist, add a taco seasoning packet as your herb.

Balls of Meat (aka, Meatballs)

December 28, 2011 in Family, Food by Beth Woolsey

My son is a carnivore. Ian’s ideal meal is meat wrapped in meat with a side of meat.

Ian, in fact, had a brief flirtation with a life of meat-centered crime when he stole BBQ ribs from my friend, Leanne. It’s probably not entirely his fault. I mean, he did ask if he could have some, and Leanne, who was making the ribs for her extended family get-together later that day, had the audacity to say no. I know. It’s hard to believe I’m friends with a woman who can look an 8-year-old boy in a face like this


and still say no.

Leanne has a heart of stone.

So, really, the boy had no choice but to turn to deceit and trickery to meat his needs. (Get it? Meat his needs? Ha! And my sincere apologies.)

And the next thing Leanne knew, there was a stack of clean bones in her bathroom sink and a sticky-sweet, BBQ-sauce-covered boy-child playing ecstatically in another room.

Leanne: Ian? Did you eat some of the ribs?
Ian, eyes wide, face pale (except for splotches of sauce) : Nope.
Leanne: Are you sure, Ian?
Ian: Yep. I’m sure.
Leanne: Let’s go look at the bathroom sink.
Ian, suspiciously: Ooookaaaayyyy.
Leanne, pointing to the pile of bones that spontaneously grew in her sink: What are these, Ian?
Ian: Uuuummmm. I don’t know.
Leanne: You? The King of Meat? You don’t know?
Ian: Noooooo… well, maybe bones?
Leanne: Yes, Ian. Bones. And how do you think they got here?
Ian: Uuuummmm. I don’t know.
Leanne: Maybe you can think about it. And while you think about it, you can look in the mirror at that brown stuff on your face. And while you look at that, you can consider the fact that kids who steal and then lie about it don’t get to have any of the chicken nuggets I’m making for lunch, whereas kids who come clean and tell the truth DO get chicken nuggets.

Leanne has big, huge, chicken-nugget guns, y’all, and she’s not afraid to use them. I love her to infinity.

It’s three years later, and Ian’s experiments with living on the dark side have been few and far between. I think we’ve convinced him that he has no giftedness when it comes to life as a criminal, but when he’s in doubt, I use “Bones in the Bathroom Sink” as Exhibit A.

Last week, I told you about my easy-peasy recipe for FAST homemade cinnamon rolls that even a mama of five rambunctious kiddos can make from start to finish in 1.25 hours. And I’ll tell you a secret… I felt very vulnerable in its posting.

See, I used to cook like I meant it. I was creative. I perfected and honed my kitchen skills. I planned ahead. I selected recipes and – get this – I shopped for groceries with a list. In other words, I made cinnamon rolls that took HOURS.

These days, I only have time for 1) easy, 2) quick, and 3) delicious. And, quite frankly, I pat myself on the back for the fact that delicious still makes it into the Top Three. I regularly spend my food preparation time pretending I’m a Top Chef assembling a brilliant meal with only the surprise ingredients placed in front of me. It makes me feel like I’m cooking this way intentionally, as opposed to pathetically.

After I posted my cheaterpants recipe for cinnamon rolls, though, you guys made me feel OH-SO-much better with your lovely responses. And reader Kristen J. commented on the Five Kids Facebook page: “Ooh, hey, if you have any other easy, quick, and for bonus points, cheap recipes, I’d love to read about them!”

Dear Kristen,

Almost everything I make is easy, quick and cheap. You just opened yourself up to a whole world of recipes.

Since you asked – and because I’m busy making my son’s meat-eating dreams come true this Christmas break – I’m writing today about Balls of Meat.

You have yourself to blame. (And thanks!)

Beth

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Balls of Meat

Oh, sure. Some of you call them meatballs. But “Balls of Meat” is far more entertaining when you’re a 14-year-old boy trapped inside of a 38-year-old woman’s body.

Hey. I am who I am.

Now, here are my problems with looking up recipes on the internet: 1) They’re complicated. 2) They’re long. And 3) there’s inevitably at least one ingredient I don’t have on hand. Red pepper flakes? Fresh parsley? Meh. Toss that recipe right out.

These days, I use recipes that allow for improvisation, delay (“I said to stop hitting your brother, so now really is timeout time, mister; just because I’m cooking doesn’t mean you don’t get one.”), and a wide margin for error. Clearly, I’m using the word “recipe” loosely. The good news is, you can, too!

Here’s what you need for 24 large balls of meat:

  • 2 lbs. ground lean meat – use any kind or combination of meats. I used beef and pork above. I prefer turkey. I’ve also used breakfast sausage which is DEEEEElicious. If it’s ground-up meat, you’re all set. (If it’s preseasoned, like breakfast sausage, decrease your salt below.)
  • 2 cups of some kind of bread or grain – you can use bread, cooked rice, uncooked oats… or leftover cornbread, garlic bread, croutons, pancakes, waffles, etc. (I freeze any leftover bread-type thing for just this reason. I know; I’m cheaper than cheap.)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup of hard-ish cheese, shredded – any type you like. I’ve used Parmesan, cheddar, jack, mozzarella, Mizithra, and Romano, all with great results
  • 2 cups spaghetti sauce (you can substitute 1 cup of milk if you don’t have spaghetti sauce; I use the sauce because I’m a big believer in using lots of flavor in my balls of meat), which is a neat trick because it totally infuses the “simmering in sauce” flavor without, you know, taking the time to actually simmer them in sauce.
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic salt (or plain salt if no one’s looking)
  • Optional: other stuff. Seasonings, fresh herbs, diced onion… really, the options are endless. See “variations” at the bottom or invent your own.

Step One: If you’re using bread, tear it into tiny bits. (FYI, standardish store-bought bread as your grain, then 4 bread slices = 2 cups.) If you’re looking for a way to involve your kids, have them tear the bread into tiny bits. I station my dog under the table for this step, as bread inevitably flies everywhere. Honestly, some days I don’t know how our floors would survive without the dog’s tongue to mop it.

If you’re using cooked rice or uncooked oats, you can leave them alone. Or, if you’re looking for extra work, you can grind them into tinier bits in a food processor. Sometimes, I just need to work my feelings out with the aggressive “OBLITERATE” button on that machine. It’s WAY cheaper than therapy, and I would know.

Step Two: Dump everything in a bowl.

Yep. Ignore that picture and put everything in. Except the eggshells. Because that would be gross.

Step Three: REMOVE YOUR RINGS. (I almost always forget. And then… ew!)

Step Four: Spray two muffin tins with oil spray. I always forget to do this step, too, and then I’m left with meat-and-egg-infected hands and I have to wash them an extra time. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I make meatballs, I always forget.

Step Five: Gently combine everything with your hands.

Step Five, Part B: Carefully choose a victim to threaten with your brains-covered hands. This is an opportunity, folks, to run a family drill in case of the zombie apocalypse. You do NOT want to screw this up.

For example, if you choose the wrong person, you will get no reaction at all, almost as if this guy has known you for 18 years and has seen all of your gross tricks already.

And that would be a sad, unsatisfying waste of time.

No, you want to pick someone young (but not too young) and impressionable (but not too impressionable).

Twelve-year-old boy-child? Perfect.

Step Six: With those two muffin tins that you totally remembered to spray with oil before you stuck your hands in raw meat, shape 24 balls of meat and drop ’em into the muffin cups.

This is my FAVORITE tip! No more frying meatballs on the stove and then baking in the oven. Nope! Muffin tins + a screaming hot oven = a nice crust on the balls with a fully cooked, moist center. Perfection without splattered grease or a mama slaving over a dangerous cooktop? Yes, please!

Step Seven: Steal meat from the rest of the balls…

… to fill that one remaining muffin cup that always, no matter how well I think I’m portioning, is left over.

Step Eight: Bake at 425 degrees for 18 minutes (mine take 17-20 minutes) until a nice, golden brown crust forms.

Step Nine: Eat ’em hot over pasta, on rice, in a Hoagie roll, over spinach salad, with or without sauce, or straight out of the pan.

Mmmm!

……….

Balls of Meat:
The Quick Directions

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. ground lean meat of your choice
  • 2 cups of bread or grain in small pieces
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup of hard-ish cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups spaghetti sauce (or substitute 1 cup of milk)
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic salt
  • Optional: other stuff

Directions:

  • Combine all 6 ingredients ’til the mix resembles zombie food.
  • Divide evenly (ha!) into 2 greased muffin tins (24 balls).
  • Bake at 425 degrees for 18 minutes.
  • Try not to burn your mouth on the pan.

Variations:

The possibilities with this recipe are endless! Consider using ground chicken, cheddar cheese and substituting 1 1/2 cups applesauce and some diced apple chunks in place of the spaghetti sauce. Add a tiny dash of cinnamon, and you have Apple Cheddar Chicken Meatballs. Over egg pasta or with a salad? YUM. (Thanks to Victoria S. on Facebook for the apple idea!)

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P.S. If you enjoy recipe posts, please do let me know. I’m considering whether to make these a regular (weekly?) part of the blog, and your feedback is important to me. And THANK YOU for all of the feedback you provide through comments, on Facebook and via e-mail. Your encouragement means the world to me.

UPDATED: Easy-Peasy FAST Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

December 21, 2011 in Family, Food by Beth Woolsey

Easy-Peasy FAST Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
(or – Cinnamon Rolls That Are Actually Possible to Make When You Have Five Kids)
**updated with directions for freezing and baking from frozen — see below**

Homemade cinnamon rolls are one of our Christmas morning traditions. They also take hours and hours to make. Once upon a less-than-five-kids time, that was dandy, even blissful. An afternoon in a freshly scrubbed kitchen working with dough? Yes, please! But these days I’m lucky if I can grab an hour, and I’m even luckier if I can find a clean work surface.

That’s why I buckled down and found the world’s fastest way to make homemade yeast-dough cinnamon rolls. Because if I can keep a tradition alive with a little modification, then, by golly, that’s what I’m gonna do.

This recipe, which I concisely titled Easy-Peasy FAST Homemade Cinnamon Rolls – (I know; I’m the Queen of Brevity) – takes 1 hour and 15 minutes from gathering ingredients to serving my kids piping hot rolls. And, by kids, I mean mostly Greg and me. But whatever.

Christmas 2013 UPDATE: Many thanks to reader Christin McIntyre who has made this recipe EVEN FASTER. Thanks to Christin, I now combine Steps 2-4 of this recipe. That’s right. You can just dump all of these things STRAIGHT INTO the mixer, in order of ingredients, without doing the separate water/honey/yeast/waiting steps. Just make sure your bowl is warm(ish – I rinse mine in hot water first), dump everything together and mix it all up; then follow directions from Step 5 on. IT WORKS JUST FINE. 

Here’s what you’ll need for the dough:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 Tbsp honey or sugar
  • 1 Tbsp active dry yeast (yeah – that’s a lot – guess why it rises so fast?)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 5 cups flour

Dough, Step One: Remove Spiderman from the mixing bowl.

You want to know who this sort of thing doesn’t happen to? The Pioneer Woman. That’s who. She does not find Spiderman stickers in her mixer. That’s one of one hundred reasons why I love her, and one of one thousand why I stopped trying to be like her. When Step One of making cinnamon rolls = “remove Spiderman from the mixing bowl,” it’s time to face the music. This isn’t that blog. This will never be that blog. And here’s a link to the Pioneer Woman’s GORGEOUS cinnamon roll instructions if you need to stop reading now. Do what you need to do; I understand. I really do.

Dough, Step Two: Drizzle 1 tablespoon of honey into 2 cups of warm water.

Yes, I know I’m supposed to tell you what warm water means. Most people do it by degrees, but, honest to God, I’ve never used a water temperature thermometer while baking. I’m more of a “Hail, Mary” baker myself. There’s just no time in an hour and 15 minutes to be precisely measuring water temperature, folks. But I won’t leave you high and dry. Here’s how you figure out if the water’s warm-enough-but-not-too-warm: if you would stick a baby in it, it’s good.

Now stir together honey and water ’til the honey is dissolved. I’d show you a picture of how to stir, but I’m on a timeline, folks.

Dough, Step Three: Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of active dry yeast on top of your honey water and let it sit there for 5 minutes ’til it gets foamy on top, like this:

It also gets pretty stinky. Bring a kid over to smell it. When they go “EW!” you’re probably about done. Even if the yeast isn’t all dissolved and foamy, I pretend I’m done ’cause 5 minutes is all I’m willing to invest in this step. That’s 3 minutes longer than I gave myself to go to the bathroom today, so I feel pretty good about it.

Dough, Step Four: Into your Spiderman-free mixer equipped with a bread hook*, dump 5 cups of all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 2 tablespoon of softened butter and 1 tablespoon of vanilla.

(*Note: If you’re absent a mixer and a bread hook, you can bypass steps 4 and 5 in favor of dumping everything into a giant bowl and mixing it together with your Spiderman-free hands. It’s WAY messier, and WAY more fun. Don’t let the absence of overly-involved kitchen equipment deter you.)

Dough, Step Five: With your mixer turned on low, add the yeast and honey-water mixture to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl.

You guys, please listen closely: This is not an approved ingredient-mixing method, and I’m quite certain that it’s terribly WRONG. I’ve never heard of starting with the dry ingredients and adding the liquid, and better bakers than me can probably tell us exactly why.

But here’s the thing: I used to create giant nuclear cloud plumes of flour in my kitchen when I started with the liquid and added the dry by the cupful. We ran family emergency baking preparedness drills, and my kids learned to hide under the kitchen table and never look directly at the mushroom cloud. It was a dark and scary time.

We do everything else in our house backwards, so I’m not sure why baking should be any different. Starting with all of the flour in the mixer and damping it down with liquid – kind of like spraying a dusty road with water in the summer time – not only saves me mess and hassle, it significantly cuts down on TIME. What can I say? I’m a sucker for easy time-savers.

Dough, Step Six: Knead the dough. I’m almost positive you’re supposed to do this on a well-floured surface with your hands, but I let my mixer do the work. I just keep that bread hook going ’til everything’s combined, sticky, and pulls like this:

Dough, Step Seven: Dump the dough into a buttered bowl, stick a kitchen towel on top of it and let it rise in the warmest part of the kitchen (for me, that’s on top of two or more wrestling children, but I’ve found that neither the dough nor the bowl hold up well in that environment, so now I stick it on top of my stove) for 20 minutes.

Dough, Step Eight: Roll into a giant rectangle on a well-floured surface.

I roll it to the full size of my cutting board, which is about as big as a bed pillow. While you’re doing that, try not to think about how much you’d like for it to BE a bed pillow. Then try not to fantasize about getting more sleep in your life. Then try not to think about thousands of nights of lost sleep and how desperately you need a nap. Then try to not think about all those people who tell you to “sleep when the baby sleeps” (HA!) and the horrific things you’d like to do to them. And good luck with all that, because even though this is the easiest dough I’ve ever rolled out, the rest of this step’s a doozy.

Congratulations! The dough is done! Now it’s time to fill it, roll it, and bake it.

Here’s what you’ll need for the filling:

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) of softened butter
  • 2 handfuls of brown sugar (if you can borrow someone with huge hands, it makes this recipe 10x yummier)
  • a sprinkling of cinnamon

Filling, Step One: Using your hands, smear that stick of softened butter all over the rolled-out dough.

Filling, Step Two: Using your hands, spread at least two handfuls of brown sugar all over the dough, thusly:

Filling, Step Three: Sprinkle cinnamon all over the brown sugar. Then sprinkle some more. Mmmmm.

Rolling, Step One: Starting with the long side, loosely roll up your dough ’til you have a long, skinny tube.

(Psst… It’s OK if the roll is uneven; I just cut off those uneven ends and toss ’em in a bowl – I chop them into pieces later, add more butter and sugar, and bake them as Monkey Bread. But that’s a message for another time.)

Rolling, Step Two: Cut the long tube o’ dough into four equal pieces, and then cut those four pieces into three pieces each. 4 x 3 = 12 total.

Baking, Step One: Place your rolls in a 9×13 buttered baking dish and cover with a kitchen towel.

Let rise for 10 minutes while preheating your oven to 400 degrees F.

Baking, Step Two: AND THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP… stop everything while the most adorable, blond neighbor children come a-knocking on the back door with plates of freshly decorated, personalized, gingerbread people.

If you miss this step, the cinnamon rolls will be ruined.

But, seriously – how cute are these?

That rather wide lady on the left is yours truly. The guy with the stunning glasses is Greg. And I’ll bet you can tell who’s on the right due to the very fine handwriting (someone has a serious cake-decorating future, I tell you). They were the sweetest!

Baking, Step Three: Bake your pan of rolls at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes ’til golden brown and bubbling.

Baking, Step Four: Flip the rolls out of the pan upside down onto a cutting board so the sugar drips delightfully through the rolls… and sneak a hot one before your kids can catch you. My kids think that a dozen rolls looks like this:

It’s kind of like a baker’s dozen (13), except it’s a mama’s dozen (11). What they don’t know can’t hurt ’em, eh?

I swear it took longer to read this post than it will to make the rolls.

Coat these babies with icing… if they last that long… otherwise, just eat ’em while they’re hot, and…

Merry Christmas!
Beth

……….

Easy-peasy FAST Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
Ingredients and Directions: The Concise, Boring Version

Dough:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 5 cups flour

Dough Directions:

  1. Dissolve honey in water. New, improved 2013 directions: Pour warm water and honey into mixing bowl. Stir.
  2. Sprinkle yeast on top of honey-water and let sit for 5 minutes ’til yeast is foaming. Sprinkle yeast on the honey water. No need to wait ’til the yeast foams.
  3. Dump remaining ingredients in a mixer. Add wet ingredients. Mix with a dough hook ’til everything is combined and sticky.
  4. Dump (dumping’s really key to this recipe) sticky dough into buttered bowl. Cover. Let rise 20 minutes.
  5. Roll dough with a rolling pin into a huge rectangle on a well-floured surface.

Filling:

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) of softened butter
  • 2 handfuls of brown sugar or lots more
  • a sprinkling of cinnamon

Filling and Baking Directions:

  • Spread softened butter, then brown sugar, then cinnamon on your rectangle of dough
  • Cut into 12 equal pieces and put them into a buttered 9×13 pan
  • Cover and let rise for 10 minutes
  • Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes ’til golden and bubbling
  • Flip rolls upside down, out of the pan, onto a cutting board
  • Ice them or just eat ’em hot!

……….

NOW UPDATED with FREEZER DIRECTIONS: Did you know you can make these ahead of time and freeze them? You can!

Simply make these through the step that reads “cut into 12 equal pieces and put them into a buttered 9×13 pan.” Next, cover and FREEZE. That’s less than an hour of work time.

To bake, pop your FROZEN 9×13 pan of rolls into a COLD oven. Turn the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Allow oven to preheat with frozen rolls in the oven… this accomplishes both thawing and the second rise. Once the oven is heated to 400 degrees, set your timer for 20 minutes and bake as directed. VOILA!

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