Pear Croustade

Yes, C-R-O-U-S-T-A-D-E
Language of Origin:French
Definition: a crisp shell (as of toast or puff pastry) in which to serve food

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Girl never ceases to amaze me. If it had been me that had been eliminated from a spelling bee on the word “croustade”, I never would have wanted to hear that word again, much less EAT one. But Girl, well, she never wants to pass up an opportunity to learn about something new, so she actually asked me to make her a croustade after her experience.

I found this recipe on Epicurious that looked pretty simple and tasty. It was VERY easy and quite yummy. All of us liked this a lot, even Boy, who does not normally like fruit desserts. It was great when it was still warm, with some ice cream.

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Before baking.

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After baking.

Why I Spent My Morning Bathing a Cat…

1. Girl’s cat has very long hair. Long hair that gets tangled. And matted. And greasy. Cat grooming costs $150. And involves a 20-minute car ride with a cat that HATES car rides.

2. THIS is our current “entertainment center”.
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No, really!

3. I had something more like THIS in mind. But something like that costs as much as my first car. No, really!

So, since every penny that crosses my palm for the foreseeable future is already spoken for, I decided that I could bear to wash a cat to enable myself to get rid of all of those ugly cords (or at least hide them). It really wasn’t THAT bad. She quit making the “I am in fear for my mortal soul” noises after the first couple of minutes and I only have a couple of scratches on one wrist. I did worry that the checker at Costco thought I was a “cutter” when she saw them today, but, of course not! I’m perfectly normal: I’m not a cutter, I’m just a cat bather! Oh, wait…

The great thing is that we got this photo:
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This is what she normally looks like:
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Chicken Reggiano (Parmigiano Crusted)

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2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
pinch of salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg, lightly beaten (or 2 egg whites, if you’re trying to be virtuous)
1 and 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup olive or canola oil

Place the egg, flour and cheese into 3 separate small, shallow bowls. Cut each chicken breast into two pieces. Gently pound each piece of chicken with the flat side of a mallet until it is a uniform thickness. Sprinkle salt lightly over each of the (now 4) pieces. One at a time, dredge each piece of chicken in the flour until lightly coated, then in the egg until it’s covered and then, lastly, into the cheese, patting the cheese gently into the chicken until thoroughly coated. Set aside on a plate.

Heat the oil in a large, flat-bottomed pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add the chicken breasts and cook until completely browned. Turn over and cook on the other side until cheese has crusted and chicken is cooked through. BEWARE: This chicken has a tendency to stick pretty badly to the bottom of the pan. Make sure that you have a good layer of oil and that the pan is hot enough. Be patient as you try to turn it: the cheese will stick when it first starts to cook and melt, but as it crusts over and gets more done, it will start to release.

I served this over a bed of sauteed spinach, with some buttered, herbed (mixed in Italian seasoning) brown rice on the side.

This was a BIG hit with all of us and will definitely earn a place in the regular rotation.

Customizable Muffins

Customizable Muffins

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1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 egg
1 1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp. McCormick Vanilla Butter & Nut extract
1 scoop ground flax seed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix all dry ingredients (flours, sugar, baking powder, flax seed, salt) together. Stir all wet ingredients (egg, milk, oil, extract) together. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and blend until just barely combined. Add your choice of ingredients (see list below). Pour into paper or foil-lined muffins tins and bake for about 20 minutes. This only makes 12 muffins, but it doubles easily.

Possible Stir-in Ingredients:

Chopped Banana
Chopped Apple
Chopped Nuts: Pecans, Almonds, Cashews (maybe even pine nuts?)
Chopped Dried Fruit: Raisins, Apricots, Cherries, or Cranberries (soaked beforehand in a little water to soften them, if you have time)
Poppy seeds
Grated citrus peel
Cinnamon
Blueberries or cranberries (fresh or frozen, thawed)
Peanut butter
Chocolate Chips (regular or mini-sized) or mini M & Ms
Granola
Shredded Coconut
Jelly or Jam (fill cup halfway with batter, spoon in a dollop of jam and then cover with more batter for a jam filling, or put a dollop on the very top of the batter before baking)

This batch didn’t turn out particularly picturesque, but they were quite tasty. Usually when I make these with kids, I give each kid a smallish mixing bowl with some batter in it and let them add their own ingredients before pouring their completed batter into the muffin cups. But when I made these with Boy and Girl and 2/3 of their cousins today (boy cousin C was sick today and couldn’t come), the kids had expressed some interest in making more than just one combination of ingredients and I had some cute heart-shaped disposable foil muffin cups that I wanted to use up, so I poured a bit of batter in each foil cup and then let the kids stir it together before baking. Funny thing is, they forgot about different flavors and make each of theirs the same (each kid made 4 muffins), so if I do this again, I will go back to the original method. I highly recommend coming up with some way (Post-Its, sticker labels) to mark which tins belong to which child if you are making these with a group of kiddos.

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A word on ingredients and practicality:
You’ll need to strike your own balance on ingredient prep for these muffins. It’s a pain to drag EVERYTHING out of your pantry and fridge to set it up for the kids to browse through (I usually put each ingredient in a small bowl with a soup spoon to pour it into the batter with), BUT I do find that they are more likely to add more of the healthy ingredients if there are more there for them to choose from. If there are only 1 or 2 ingredients, they’ll have a tendency to just use banana and chocolate chips, but if there’s a smorgasbord, I find that the kids are more likely to try a greater variety of combinations (and probably end up with a healthier muffin). Know your audience and prepare accordingly. Don’t spend 10 minutes grating orange peel if you know that no one will use it.

Some yummy combo suggestions:
Peanut butter and banana
Peanut butter and jelly (natch)
Lemon peel and poppy seed
Orange peel and cranberries
Blueberry and banana
Blueberry and lemon peel
Peanut butter and chocolate chip
Banana and Nuts
Apple, Cinnamon and Nuts

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Cousin J and Boy

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Cousin A and Girl

Pistachio French Macaroons (Macarons)

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Yum. These are definitely going to be among my favorite flavors. The pistachio extract was a bit of a pain to find and took a while to be delivered, but it’s definitely essential. I ordered two different kinds to compare and contrast. They are similar in flavor, but the one from Jacksonville Mercantile is clear and the one from Spices, Etc. is yellow-ish in color, so if you’re going to be baking something that is NOT going to end up being colored green, that might matter to you.

Sometime soon, I will type up my adapted version of this recipe, but it’s getting late tonight. I started out with the basic Martha Stewart recipe, but I used pistachios instead of almonds. Unless you’re lucky enough to find pistachio meal, you’ll need to grind the pistachios in the food processor yourself (be sure to start with UNROASTED and UNSALTED ones, and BEWARE: they’re not easy to find). Grind them with the powdered sugar, so that you don’t end up with pistachio butter. In both the meringues and the buttercream, use half vanilla extract and half pistachio extract (the pistachio extract is VERY strong, so I think it would be too much on its own, at the full recipe amount). I added a few drops (about 4?) of Leaf Green gel food coloring to both the meringues and the filling. I used Americolor brand, but any brand of gel will do. I prefer the gel because it’s very concentrated. You don’t need to use as much and it doesn’t mess with the consistency of your final product. I did find that the tops of the meringues browned a bit and it wasn’t quite as obvious, from the top, that they were supposed to be green, rather than just toasted, but they still looked green on the sides and the insides. I am going to try another batch soon, without the food coloring, because one of my guinea pig taste-testers has an allergy to the Yellow #5 dye that is an ingredient in the green dye.

These were YUUUUUUUUUUUUUMMY!

Chai French Macaroons (macarons) with Matcha Green Tea Filling

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For this version, I used the original basic recipe, but bumped up the level of Chai spice to 1 tsp. and added some Matcha Green Tea (about 1/2 Tbsp.) to the meringue buttercream. The Chai flavor was EXCELLENT, but the green tea flavor really wasn’t noticeable. It gave the filling a beautiful green color, but didn’t have much of a green tea flavor. If I make these again, I will bump up the amount of tea in the filling. The Chai flavor may be too strong for this combination. The Chai meringues might be better with plain vanilla flavoring. The Matcha filling might be better with plain vanilla cookies, too. Obviously, I’m going to keep experimenting with these for while – I’m not sick of them yet! Many thanks to my friend Jennifer and her family, to my parents and to Boy’s 4th grade class for being my taste-tester guinea pigs.

Pork Medallions with Creamy Mustard Sauce

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Yum. I’ve made these pork medallions before, but decided to try them with this mustard sauce, this time. Some penne with pesto and asparagus on the side. A HUGE hit with everyone. For the pork, I used half regular breadcrumbs and half panko and mixed in a bit of Baby Bam seasoning. I also salted the medallions a tiny bit before breading. For the cream sauce, I used chicken stock instead of wine and half-and-half instead of whipping cream. I also omitted the basil and dill, since we would already be having so much basil in the pesto. Dee-lish.

Chai French Macaroons (macarons) with Chocolate Ganache Filling

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All in all, not a raging success, but not awful, either. I only added 3/4 tsp. of my Chai Spice Seasoning Blend and it needed MORE, plus the very strong flavor of the ganache overwhelmed the delicate spiciness of the cookies. Back to the drawing board. Something potentially very special coming tomorrow.

Spelling Bee and Super Tuesday

The regional spelling bee was tonight for Girl (next level up after winning the bee at her school). She ended up placing 3rd (out of about 35 kids from 3 counties). The competition was pretty stiff, but we are VERY proud of her performance. She was confident and composed, but the word “croustade” just got the better of her (yes, ironic, I know, given my recent fondness for French pastry – suffice to say you will not see me making any “croustades” any time soon). She can spell tchotchke and waterzooi and azimuth and witloof and cynosure and hemerocallis all day long, though. 🙂 In the final rounds, any word in the dictionary is fair game and there’s just not really any (practical) way to study for that. The young lady that ended up winning was absolutely deserving. She was obviously quite prepared.

The bee itself was very interesting: a varied selection of Americana. Pretty much any culture that you can imagine was represented, from a super-cute little boy in Chuck Taylors and a shirt with electric guitars on it to a young girl in a Muslim hijab and everything in between (Girl was in Chuck Taylors, a hoodie and a cool Threadless tee). The children were amazingly supportive of one another. There was one girl that was giving a “thumbs up” to her competitors when they got their words right and was consoling children as they were eliminated. Very inspiring. She was very sweet; I regret not finding out her name or getting her contact info. She seems like the kind of girl that would make a great friend/playmate for Girl. The fact that this event was happening on “Super Tuesday” wasn’t lost on me. I hope that this positive atmosphere of encouragement and peaceful co-existence will be something that the adults in charge of our country can also accomplish. Whatever your leanings, (Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat), you’ve got to be proud of the fact that we have a man of color and a female as viable candidates…just to know that we are open-minded enough to support things that would have been impossible just a few generations ago…it gives me hope.