Homemade Pizza Lunch Kit

My daughter is always asking for Lunchables and Revolution lunch kits, so I created a homemade version of an assemble-your-own pizza kit.

Jenna started asking for Lunchables last year after seeing some of her classmates bring them for lunch. Not wanting to give her pre-packaged, highly-processed foods, I never gave in to the request. This year, she spotted the Revolution Foods brand of pre-made lunch kits at the grocery store and asked if we could try them. After reading the ingredients, which admittedly are better than Lunchables, I decided to buy a couple of kits even though I still wasn’t entirely comfortable with the pre-package food concept.

My daughter tried the first one at home over the weekend, mostly because I was curious about the contents of the box and how easily she would be able to assemble the pizza on her own. (more…)

A Tour of Tastings in Napa Valley

A Tour of Tastings of the Non-Wine Variety in Napa Valley We recently returned from a trip to Napa Valley and, while we certainly enjoyed the wine, the highlight of our trip was definitely the food. Here are a few ideas for tastings in Napa Valley of the non-wine variety:

Gourmet Food Tour

I learned about the Gourmet Food Tour (1) of downtown Napa through a website called Peek, a travel tour site featuring off-the-beaten path tours and activities in major cities in the U.S. and Europe, including Napa. We didn’t take the tour, but now that I’ve discovered I love the food as much as the wine in Napa, it’s definitely on my list for next time.

Wine and Cheese Pairings

Many of the wineries feature food and wine pairings as part of their tastings. Two of my favorites are the St. Supery Cheese and Wine Pairing Class (5) (great if you want to understand how different food flavors influence the taste of wine) and Domaine Carneros (2) (perfect if you want a light snack while sampling the sparkling wine and enjoying the amazing views from their patio).

Napa Valley Distillery

If you enjoy hand-crafted cocktails as much as wine, Napa Valley Distillery (3) is a must-see destination on your itinerary. I like to go just for the display of tiny bottles. It’s located inside of the Oxbow Public Market, which is worth the stop just for the selection of gourmet food, drinks and home decor accessories all under one roof. The distillery features an extensive collection of bitters, spirits and syrups, all of which can be sampled in their shop for free or you can attend a Craft Spirit Tastings.

Gourmet Grocery Stores

There is no shortage of places to stock up on gourmet foods in Napa Valley. In addition to assembling your picnic fare, many of these offer samples of locally produced culinary treats, including oils, vinegars, cheeses and tapenades. We visited Oakville Market (4) and Dean and Deluca (6).

Olive Oils

The Napa region is filled with olive oil shops and at one point my husband and I joked that we had purchased more olive oil than wine during our trip. In addition to oils, many of these shops also feature flavored balsamic vinegars and tapenades, all of which can be sampled for free. We visited Olivier (7) and St. Helena Olive Oil Co (8), but there is also Lucero Olive Oil and several others.

Culinary Institute of America

One of our favorite stops during our trip was the CIA (9). For food enthusiasts, the school offers a variety of tours, tastings and demonstrations, mostly during the weekend. If your visit falls during the week as ours did, you can still visit the large gift shop, Ghiradelhi Chocolate tasting center or one of the school’s restaurants. We stopped at the cafe and enjoyed a basket of organic cherry tomatoes direct from their garden.

Making Fresh Pasta with Children

Cooking with Jason and Jenna is something I wish I did more often. They’re getting older, but I don’t always recognize how much they can handle these days – especially Jenna who loves to help out in the kitchen. This weekend was a serious reminder of just how much that little girl can do.

Making Fresh Pasta with Kids

On Friday night, I made a batch of pasta and saved some dough so that Jenna could make her own noodles the next day. I thought it would mostly be for fun and didn’t really think we’d end up with an edible batch. But the fettuccine noodles for lunch, shown above, were almost entirely Jenna’s creation.

The dough was already prepared, a step I’ll likely do in advance next time too since I used a semolina pasta recipe, which is a little hard to knead. Once I showed her how to flatten a piece of the dough and guide it through the KitchenAid attachment, she worked through the entire batch. My only role was adjusting the levels during the flattening step and turning off the power between each piece.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve made fresh pasta, but now that I have a helper, I’ll be making it more often!

Making Fresh Pasta with Kids

All-Natural Gradient Cake

Make a gradient cake using fondant with all-natural dyes.

Jenna has requested a “Cinderella Camping” themed birthday party this year. That one loves to challenge her mama with theme mash-ups. Last year’s Hello Kitty Rainbow Flower party seems easy in comparison to this year’s combo. Luckily, I enjoy a good challenge.

In preparation for the upcoming festivities, I decided to experiment with natural food dyes to see if I could achieve a good ‘Cinderella blue.’ And while I clearly need more practice working with fondant, I was pretty happy with the colors resulting from my experimentation this weekend.

Make a gradient cake using fondant with all-natural food coloring

I used this recipe for marshmallow fondant. Dye-free marshmallows are surprisingly hard to come by, but I’ve discovered that Walmart brand marshmallows don’t contain the artificial blue dye found in most other brands. For the coloring, I used this all-natural blue food dye. The results are more muted than artificial dyes, but work well for the Cinderella palette I was going for.

Make a gradient cake using fondant with all-natural food coloring

Fresh Starts

starting the new year

After a week of vacation followed by a week of sickness, we’re almost back to normal around here. We spent the weekend removing the last traces of Christmas from our home, and it’s wonderful to have the house back to a (somewhat) clean slate. Removing decorations, however, makes the house seem a bit empty, so I added a few new plants yesterday – something I do at the start of nearly every year (thanks to my blog, I can now identify trends in my behavior). Another January trend I’ve noticed is a focus on food and healthy eating. I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions, but last year I set a bit of a resolution to cook more and eat better. I don’t think I can claim success on my 2013 efforts, so I’m giving myself a do-over this year.

Happy New Year!

Christmas S’mores

candy cane christmas s'mores: 3 ways

For our recent home tour, I set up a Christmas-themed s’mores and hot chocolate bar in our backyard. The set-up was just for display – we didn’t make any s’mores as part of the tour. The idea of candy cane s’mores, however, stayed with me well after the weekend was over. Yesterday, I decided to test out my theory that s’mores, combined with a bit of peppermint, would yield a pretty awesome treat. My recipe included graham crackers and marshmallows (broiled in the oven for a couple of minutes) topped with a small piece of peppermint bark. It was pretty amazing.

We used Williams-Sonoma peppermint bark, but you could also use crushed candy canes and chocolate or pieces of a Hershey’s candy cane bar.

Here are a few photos of the s’mores and hot chocolate station in our backyard:

make christmas s'mores

Candy Bar S’mores

candy bar s'mores

We had A TON of candy leftover from Halloween. This was our first Halloween in our new house, and we had no idea that only one group of kids would ring our doorbell for candy. Two weeks later and we still have bags of candy in our cupboards. So when I was assembling a s’mores bar for a party we had this weekend, an idea hit me: candybar s’mores! The mini Hershey’s bars are obviously perfect for this, but I also added peanut butter cups, Crunch bars and Kit Kats.

I completely failed to take any pictures at our party, but here are a few pre-party shots of the set-up. I think the Reese’s peanut butter cups were the party favorite. We’ll definitely be trying this again … especially since we still haven’t eaten all of our candy.

candy bar s'mores

Farm-to-Table Dining

outstanding in the field

Last night I returned from my ‘culinary adventure’ with my close friend Tara. Over the course of 5 days, we visited Napa, San Francisco and the Santa Cruz area, eating and drinking quite a bit along the way. My favorite meal was a farm-to-table style dinner at the Everett Family Farm organized by Outstanding in the Field.

Here are a few scenes from our evening touring the farm and enjoying an amazing dinner prepared by local chef, Santos Majano.

The Farm

outstanding in the field

The Dinner

outstanding in the field dinner

Watermelon Peach Sorbet

watermelon sorbet

I tried my Kitchenaid ice cream maker for the first time last week, and I have a feeling we’re going to be enjoying lots of ice cream this summer. My first batch was vanilla ice cream and then I moved on to sorbet. My favorite was definitely the sorbet, which I made with a mix of watermelon and peach. Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 small watermelon, cubed
  • 2 large peaches, chopped

I started by mixing the sugar, water and lime over medium heat until the sugar was completely dissolved. I pureed the watermelon and peaches together in a blender. I removed the water mixture from the heat and let it cool slightly, then I added the fruit mixture. I placed this in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Next, I blended and froze the mixture using a Kitchenaid ice cream attachment and placed in the freezer for a couple of hours before eating.

The Summer List

ice cream and summerSchools ends this week, which means the summer season is about to begin. This summer feels different than ones in the past. When the kids were younger, they spent most of their time at home, so the transition from spring to summer went by nearly unnoticed. This year, Jason attended kindergarten and Jenna was in pre-K, so they are about to experience their first “summer break.”

I want to start things off right, so in my usual planning ways, I decided to make a list of activities I definitely don’t want to forget. I also asked everyone in the family to come up with their own lists, which resulted in varying degrees of success. The conversation with Jason, for example, ended with him asking to visit the Louvre.

Here’s what made my list:
  • Make homemade ice cream: As of this weekend, I can check this one off my list. Although now that I know how easy it is, I’ll be making more and more!
  • Attend a concert in the park: The Fort Worth Botanical Garden hosts a series with the FW Symphony. Last year we attended a Beatles performance, but this year, we’ve got our sights on the Star Wars Laser Show.
  • Have an outdoor movie night: This will likely also be an “epic” Star Wars event, to use an adjective my son has recently learned.
  • Go to a (good) farmer’s market: We have a nearby farmer’s market that we’ve visited a few times. The produce selection is always so-so and the highlight is a Dallas bakery that makes the rounds to the markets-in-the-suburbs. There is something wrong about visiting the farmer’s market and only walking away with cookies and a loaf of bread, no?
  • Help Jenna publish her first book: Jenna has been asking a lot of questions about how books are “colored” and has even mentioned wanted to make her own “real book,” so I’m hoping to publish a collection of her drawings this summer.

Anyone else making a list of summer not-to-miss activities?

Summer Trip: Napa

I’ve been in full-on vacation planning mode the past few days. In less than two weeks, I’m heading out on what has been dubbed a ‘wine and culinary adventure’ with my great friend, Tara. The trip includes stops in Napa, San Francisco and Santa Cruz, but planning the Napa portion has been my focus this week. I can’t wait! Here are a few spots on our itinerary:

travelplanning: napa itinerary

The French Laundry / Oakville Grocery / Silver Oak / Kara’s Cupcakes / Hotel Yountville / Cakebread

Best-Ever Pound Cake

pound cake recipe

It was a bit of a whirlwind week for us, and I was disappointed that, aside from making Valentine’s for J+J’s school parties, we didn’t have a chance to celebrate Valentine’s Day. In fact, I don’t even remember what we had for Valentine’s Day dinner, but I do recall very distinctly that I had wanted to bake a cake or cookies and never found the time. So on Friday night, I decided it was never too late for cake, not even a heart-shaped cake. And on Saturday morning, we had the best-ever pound cake made from this recipe that I shared a few weeks ago when we made cake pops. Happy Belated Valentine’s Day!