Family Dinners

 Most of my married life, my family has sat at the table for dinner. That’s what our families did when we were young and we don’t know any other way. We believe that a meal together is strengthening and family building.

 

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The family devouring a meal together is just one element of the sit down. It’s a time for conversation, laughing and catching up on everyone’s day. 
It’s a family connection and relationship builder. If there’s a problem, it’s spoken and another member may solve it. If you learned a new joke, share it with the family for a hearty laugh! 

 

 

 

 

Would you believe many young families don’t eat meals together? When do they talk, laugh, share or problem solve? I firmly believe that you need to use this precious time to build your family to be as strong as you want it to be. I think all our meals together helped raise our sons into thoughtful people and hopefully they will eat their meals at the table, together with their families someday.

 

 

 

 

 Years ago Dylan brought his phone to the table and I felt that it violated our personal time. After saying no, it never was an issue. He respected my wishes and I’m really grateful for that. If I had given in to it, dinner time would never be the same again. I know that many families won’t see cell phones or iPods at the tables as an issue. If your family freely uses them at the sit down meal, I have one question to ask, do you all still talk to each other? Chances are the answer is no and that blame lies on the device…it’s invading your family connection time.

 

 

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My husband and sons at Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

 

As most of my readers know, our sons are out of the house living their own lives and having dinner on their own. Now Tom and I feel like we paid our dues and this means our dinner time can change the way we like. This winter has been drafty and cold and we long for eating our food in warmth. Many nights we eat dinner with tv stands in our livingroom, just a few feet from our cranking stove. We’re happy to relax and talk over a movie or show on Hulu.

 

 

 


I don’t feel guilty for abandoning our tradition because it continues when the boys and Lexie are home. We eat dinners at our dining room table and celebrate birthdays and eat cake and ice cream with Branden’s funny stories. They are special times and I wish that for your family. It’s these moments that make my husband and I truly happy, catching up with our kids and enjoying their company. Whenever we are all together or have family or friend guests, there we will eat, at the table. A place to connect, share and laugh.

 

 

 

 Do you think mealtime together forms a strong unified family? Do you have a no cell phone policy at the dinner table?

 

 

All My Best,

Heart and Soul ❤

Cats in Charge?

 

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Taken from Lingvistov.com

 

 

 

Sometimes I feel like my cats are taking over….a feline revolt of sorts. Imagine furry friends marching all over the counter tops, jumping on the high point of the fridge and racing to and fro between rooms. They’re in our face looking for food, snuggling up just to acquire a treat. Proudly prancing around the kitchen, these sneaky kitties paw open cupboard doors and peek inside.

 
They secretly wait until we fall asleep and when snoring starts, Smokey springs into action! While our older cat Katie stands guard in the kitchen doorway (really doing nothing but she feels like a team player), the sleek black cat operates risky business. He jumps on the counter as soft as he can, for this has to be done in a clandestine way. This determined cat peers over the trash can , one paw strategically pokes at the trash cover and another jab will do it. Score, it lands on the floor!

 


Crash! It’s not too secretive or hush- hush now! I roll over in bed in confusion. What now? Smokey! Trudging down the stairs I hope that it’s not a false alarm for its 12:00 am, an hour I should be sleeping in a steadfast snooze.

 

 

After cleaning up trash on the floor and tying the bag to go outside, I giggle when washing my hands. They are truly taking over, affecting our everyday occurrences.  Our life is an unfolding story with our rowdy cats starring as the main characters. They call the shots and make the story happen, they are in charge. Even so, we couldn’t be happier here with our quirky kitties.

 

All My Best,

Heart and Soul ❤

Scrapbook Cookbook

 

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About ten years ago I revamped my recipe collection in a big way. First I threw out my dilapidated recipe box and hauled out recipes that I never used. Second, I found a cute whimsical Susan Branch cookbook kit with scrap booking pages and stickers. The book was cheap enough but cheaply made too, as I found out this year.

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Like many housewives who cook everyday, my recipe book started to show wear and tear. Then one day after making a delicious meal for my family, the books’ binding fell apart.  I busily shoved it on my little shelf in the kitchen and soon forget it’s desecration. Every time I reached for my recipe collection, the broken book with pages falling out reminded me that I had been doing this awhile and my book couldn’t keep up.

 

Last week, on an energetic whim, I set my mind to repairing and giving new life to my book. I searched our file cabinet and found a 1 ½ inch binder that one of the boys had used for school. I recycled it at the end of that year and put it in my stash of “ maybe I’ll use that someday.” I’m grateful for that because sometimes I throw things out in an organization fit.

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Next I found plastic page protectors to slip all the handwritten and computer copied recipes in. I highly recommend this step because we all know cooking can be messy and can stain and alter our nice cards.

 

What I especially love about the Susan Branch cookbook kit was that it supplied folders with heading for extra recipes. What I’ve always done is displayed my favorites, family favorites,my mom’s recipes,  Tom’s mom and dad’s and meme’s staunch winners on the pages and others can rest in the folders.

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I bought the cookbook scrapbooking kit on Amazon but you could do it yourself, if you have the supplies needed. You would need a 1 ½ inch binder, scrapbook pages, stickers, recipe cards, pouches for the miscellaneous recipes and page protectors. If you do buy the scrapbook kit, try to find one with a sturdy binder or buy the binder separately.

 

Now I can’t wait to cook and use my cookbook, that I gave new life to. It’s the little things that make me happy in the kitchen.

 

Good luck scrapbooking and happy cooking!

 

All My Best,

 

Heart and Soul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baking Tips

 

 

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I have never been formerly taught the art of cooking and baking. As a young woman, it never interested me and I only associated it with tireless house wives who considered it a chore. In seventh and eighth grade I had Home Economics classes and that was my first true introduction to it all. We made simple dishes, no bake cookies and rice krispies bars and I have a fleeting memory of cooking pudding on the stove.

 

 

 

 

My present baking knowledge is from observation of others and from trial and error by myself. I guess it’s true what some people say, that no matter how old you are, life is full of learning opportunities. Recently I wrote a post highlighting my friend Michelle’s exciting career as a baking instructor at King Arthur Flour. I asked her to share some useful baking tips for others and I ended up thoroughly surprised that I didn’t know some of the tricks.

 

 

 

Michelle informed me that most people’s mistakes with baking is using too much flour. People are always asking her why their bread comes out like bricks and pizzas like hard frisbees.  The key is using less flour. While many experts will tell you to measure in cups, King Arthur Flour encourages bakers to weigh the flour. A cup of King Arthur Flour weighs 4- 4 ¼  ounces.  By weighing flour and not using volume, you’ll be accurate with the amounts.

 

 

 

Another tip Michelle shares is when measuring flour, don’t pack it in the cup. ( if you are still using cups and not weighing) Instead, sprinkle the flour in loosely and level with a knife at the top. When I think of this, I think of the act of packing brown sugar in a cup. You want to do just the opposite because if you pack it, you have too much flour.

 

 

 

I have the King Arthur Baking cookbook and I noticed when browsing recipes, a commonality is the note of avoiding over mixing. I already knew this tip from blueberry muffin recipes. Michelle says to be careful not to overmix cookies, cakes, and muffins. If you mix the batter too much, there will be too much gluten. If you want tender baked goods, DO NOT OVERMIX!

 

 

 

 

A hint for amateur pie crust bakers, keep your butter cold when adding to your flour mixture. Also Michelle reminds us that using melted butter instead of softened makes a negative difference. For example,  when baking cookies make sure you leave out the butter overnight so it softens. Melting the butter will change the consistency. When you cream the butter and sugar you are supposed to put air bubbles in. If you use melted butter instead, it’s very hard to get the air in it. I didn’t know this, amazing fact!

 

 

 

 


Now that we learned some valuable baking tips…let’s get out there and bake! Use these techniques and see how much better your cakes, cookies and breads are! Share these tips with your family and friends and always have fun in your kitchen!

 

 

This weekend I’m baking a chocolate cheesecake for my son’s girlfriend’s birthday and old fashioned whoopie pies shaped like footballs for the Super Bowl. Go New England Patriots!

 

 

 

This is a heartfelt thank you to Michelle for her gift of time for the interview and her kindness.

 

All My Best,

Heart and Soul

 

 

 

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My Vanilla Twinkie cake with marshmallow fluff inside

King Arthur Flour Baking Classes

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Meet my friend, Michelle Kupiec. I first met her a few years ago through my good friend, Laurie Burridge. Ever since we get together a few times a year for lunch. We used to go Black Friday shopping together at Wal-Mart but have graduated to a shopping day.  I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter what we do, it’s always great conversation and really fun! We are just busy working moms and wives with no airs about us, just working hard and loving our families.

 

 

Michelle has a pretty cool job at King Arthur Flour Company in Norwich, Vermont. She’s a baking instructor/ purchaser, which means that she instructs cooking classes and purchases all the supplies for the class. Michelle’s one of about a dozen instructors. If you love baking, then doesn’t it sound like your dream job?

 

 

Michelle started at the company working on the baking hotline and did this line of work for a year. Did you know that King Arthur Flour hosts a hotline? People call with their baking questions to converse with an employee, who can help them figure out what went wrong with their project. Michelle says that she enjoyed it because it was detective work to figure out what went wrong with peoples’ baking projects. One common mishap is using too much flour. Adding too much changes the consistency of cakes,cookies and breads.

 

 

 

We were all laughing hysterically when Michelle shared her favorite caller stories. One outrageous baker called with a bread emergency! Her loaf of bread was exploding and popping out of the oven! Laurie kept us in stitches, reminding us of the bread scene in the Lucy show. The woman told Michelle that she used a pound of yeast, when an average recipe calls for a teaspoon. Another caller asked where you can buy scalded milk for a recipe. This sounds like an entertaining job!

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I just watched this clip on YouTube and can’t stop laughing! Welcome to my world, yeast and I do not get along!

Presently Michelle teaches different classes from making pizzas ( one of her favorites) to breads. Baguette classes and Bread101 are popular choices and because of that, Michelle suggests to sign up early. She also instructs a Pizza From the Hearth class, where you can learn how to bake a pizza in a wood fired oven.

 

 

 

Classes consist of 12 to 16 people with one instructor and assistant. King Arthur hosts children classes, children and adult classes ( for instance a mom, dad or grandparent could bring a child) and adult children and parents are welcome to sign up as well. This sounds like a good Mother’s Day experience or just a special day with someone close to you.

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Michelle reminisces of her favorite classes, the ones with kids because they’re funny and cute. Many times the little ones wear their apron from home, such a great idea for fun and learning! Holiday classes are also popular and fun. My friend’s favorite aspect of the job is making people happy while finishing the class. It’s rewarding to her and I can see how this would be!

 

 

 

King Arthur Flour classes range from 3-4 hours for a day event. Some are long class workshops, some four and five days a week, 9 am to 5 pm. Classes on cookies, cakes, breads, pizzas and pastries all tempt the baker inside you. If you’re interested, you can sign up online at Kingarthurflour.com under the learn tab. A monthly calendar shows the class variety and times and if any there are any openings.

 

 

 

The classes start with all the participants in front, watching the instructor demonstrate. Then each person bakes the piece with guidance from the teacher and assistant. Not only do they learn a new baking skill or hone on one, they get to go home with your creation.

 

 

 

King Arthur Flour originated in 1790, the days of George Washington. The company started out near Boston Harbor, importing the product from England. Soon after, colonist farmers started growing wheat in the colonies and the flour was made here. Eventually the company made its home in Norwich, Vermont ( just a hop from Hanover, NH). The company is completely owned by its employees!

 

 

In the last 20 years or so, the flour has been available in all 50 states. Michelle says a new classroom facility is open in Burlington, Washington. This is a sure sign of progress and popularity.

 

 

 

King Arthur Flour’s facility hosts a store, cafe, classrooms for the classes and kitchen area. I visited the store last year with my mom. It’s fun to browse at different kitchen tools while instructors are creating goodies before your eyes. Within the facility is a cafe as well, where you can buy a coffee and danish or sandwich for lunch. From the tables in the cafe, sprawling windows invite you into the kitchen where the bakers are baking bread.

 

 

 

If you wish to call King Arthur’s baker’s hotline, call 855-371-2253. Monday-Friday: 7am-9pm Saturday & Sunday: 8am-5pm. You can also email them with questions by visiting the website, kingarthurflour.com and click on the contact us tab. For delicious recipes and baking help, see their blog at blog.kingarthurflour.com.

 


I have the cookbook as well, that’s jam packed with delicious and unique recipes.
Thank you ever so much for your time and great ideas, Michelle!

All My Best,

Heart and Soul

Petrified of Pie Baking

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My less than perfect cherry pie with a lattice crust and a cherry blowout.

If anything intimidates me in the kitchen, it’s pie baking. It all starts from mixing the dough perfectly to the rolling step and lastly fitting the crust over the pie. Because of these fears, most of the time I’ve stayed away from pies and baked cakes and cookies instead.

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My first pie baked when I was 24 years old!

I remember that first pie I crafted. I was 24 and living in our apartment in a tight kitchen place but got this desire to bake an apple pie. I got the recipe from Theo, my mother in law and away I worked. Truthfully it came out magnificent for my first one and received compliments and an empty plate from Tom. The crust came out perfect the first time but it wouldn’t last.

Here is the apple pie recipe Theo shared with me. It makes a delicious pie, using honey!

1/3 cup honey

2 Tbsp sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon, I use 1 Tbsp cinnamon. It depends on your preference

2 Tbsp corn starch

dash salt

6-8 medium cooking apples (7 1/2 cups)

1 beaten egg for brushing over crust

coarse sugar to sprinkle atop crust

Place aluminum foil or pie guard around crust for first 30 minutes and remove after that.

Peel and slice apples. Add sugar and honey and spices. Coat with corn starch. Mix all together and place in prepared pie crust. Preheat oven to 425 F. Bake for 15 minutes and then lower to 350 F. Continue baking 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and apples are soft.

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My cherry pie from Thanksgiving. The edges need some work but the pie was really tasty!

For years I’ve played the struggle game, mixing and measuring, holding my breath so it wouldn’t fall apart. No matter what I’ve tried it doesn’t come out right. Now 23 years have flown by and I think I got it right. I’m not stating it’s perfect but pretty darn good!

 

 
Back in November my mom shared a pie recipe that she had. I was skeptical…every time I’m optimistic about crafting the crust, it becomes a horror show! Yet, I managed  to bake a nice pie…with the best pie crust I’ve ever made!

Here is the recipe and believe it or not, it has vinegar as an ingredient!
2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. vinegar
½ cup ice water
¾ cup Crisco shortening

Mix flour together with salt and sugar. Add Crisco and work in dough, until crumbly. You can use a pastry blender or two knives. Add vinegar to ½ cup of ice water. Sprinkle a little at a time, moisten and gather dough together. Form two balls in bowl. Roll out on floured surface.

My next challenge is making the crust look halfway decent on the pie. The edges can be difficult but I’m going to practice and see how it goes. There are many decorative edges you can craft, from using a corkscrew, fork, pinching the crust and using the back of a spoon to make different designs.

Do you have trouble with your pie crust? Do you have any little pie crust secrets to share with me?

All My Best,

Heart and Soul

Empty Nest Leftovers

 

 

 

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I never liked leftovers as a child or young adult. My mindset was that tasting more than once couldn’t be topped. I always thought why would I want the same dish the next day? Things have changed now that I’m a middle aged adult. Tastes and preferences change and that’s good, so leftovers won’t end up in the trash.

 

 

 

 

The last few months my husband and I are finding a new life, an empty nest with both our sons out of the house ( except for vacation breaks and summers). It’s been a challenge to try to cut down from cooking for four to two people. I tried it for a few weeks and didn’t seem to make enough for us. So since I have cooking for four embedded in my brain I’ve used it to my advantage! The leftovers serves as the meal next day. Either I take them to school for my lunch or we have them for dinner the next night.

 

 

 

 

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Who hasn’t taken a leftover meal and changed it or made it better by adding ingredients? The key to optimal flavor and variety is doctoring it up! Here are some suggestions that I’ve tried:

 

  • Take macaroni and cheese and add hamburger, diced fresh basil and garlic or add chopped up bacon instead
  • Crockpot chicken can have new life with a teriyaki sauce and served with a stirfry
  • Leftover beef can be enhanced with mushrooms and gravy and serve over egg noodles
  • Lasagna or  spaghetti can be doctored up by adding more sauce ( so it’s not dry) and another layer of cheese
  • Leftover fish or shrimp could go in a fish stew ( I’ve never made that)
  • Crockpot tenderloin pork can be pulled apart for barbecue sandwiches or bulkies. Just add barbecue sauce
  • Leftover hamburger can be used for Shepherd’s pie, Sloppy Joe’s, taco

 

 

 

 

Whatever is leftover, look at your refrigerator for ideas. Maybe fresh broccoli or carrots could be added. Any kind of cheese from extra sharp cheddar and Parmesan can spruce a meal up. You could add sliced peppers, onions, mushrooms and garlic. Use leftovers for a rice meal, just cook fresh rice pilaf and add vegetables. Leftover mashed and roasted potatoes can be paired with chicken, beef or pork and complete a meal with fresh veggies.

 

 

There are endless possibilities if you tap into your creative side. After all, a cook takes simple ingredients and magically transform them into an appetizing dish! We are enjoying our second day meal and it’s easy to do!

 

 

Happy cooking with those leftovers!

All My Best,
Heart and Soul ❤