Cheddar Ranch Crackers

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You’ve heard me talk about my friend Amber and her kindness.  She is also partly responsible for my jargarita obsession and fascination with strawberry shortcake crumb topping.  Today I am participating in a virtual baby shower for her and her Brit (aka James) as they prepare to welcome their Lil Brit to the world.

Amber, I don’t know what pregnancy or child birth is like.  I didn’t have people want to touch my belly…really people what is up with that?  And I didn’t have people pushing their random advice, old wives tales, or well meaning but completely whackadoo ideas on me for 9 months.

So my gift to you and The Brit is to refrain from becoming That Person.  I will not:

a) wax poetically about the ball of wonder that will be your son;

b) comically try to prepare you for the winds of change that will blow through your world with hurricane force once your bundle of newborn joy arrives;

c) remind you that it is good and wise to take care of yourself (the flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first and then assist your child for a reason, ok);

d) state for the record that I am never more than a text message, email, or phone call away;

e) tell you to trust your instincts, even as a brand new parent (you will know your son better than anyone else does);

f) recommend that you take what suits your style out of the books you read and come up with your own unique flavor of parenting (please refer to item e above);

g) zealously proclaim the magic that is the swaddle;

h) go all zen and say that you to take each day as it comes and just surrender to the easy, the hard, and the crazy.

Nope, not doing any of that.  I’m too busy waving sparkly jazz hands in joy for you, James, and Lil Brit.  This is huge and I am excited beyond words for all that awaits your newly expanded family.

Much Love,

Wendi

PS, I’m also not going to suggest that as Lil Brit gets bigger you have a stash of finger foods to pull out in emergencies to distract, calm, or otherwise avoid nuclear meltdown.  But if you decided to go that route, allow me to give you a grown up spin on one.  There’s no reason Lil Brit should have all the snacking fun!

Cheddar Ranch Crackers

BAH Note:  Now that there is a wee one running around our place, our pantry has new items taking up shelf space.  Like formula, baby food, and goldfish crackers.  Some of these are temporary visitors to our lives.  But others are most likely here to stay a while.  I know there is no avoiding it so I’m just giving in to the reality and making the best of the situation.  Miss Libby can have her goldfish plain while Miss Momma has them Cheddar Ranch style.

  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 ounce Ranch salad dressing mix (dry)
  • 16 ounces oyster crackers
  • 12 ounces plain cheddar fish crackers

Heat your oven to 170 degrees and line a sheet plan with aluminum foil.  Combine the vegetable oil and ranch dressing mix in a large bowl and stir until completely combined.  Add the crackers and mix until completely coated.  Spread in a single layer on the sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

{printable file}

I’m not the only one at this party. Check out what these fine folks have posted in honor of Amber’s virtual baby shower.

Sugarcrafter | Breakfast Tostadas  / My Kitchen Addiction | Baby Texan Cookies / My Baking Addiction | Texas Sheet Cake  / Simple Bites | Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Charred Corn Salsa / Stetted | Queso Mac / Food for My Family | Texas Pepper Barbecue Sauce Dessert For Two | Frito Chocolate Chip Cookies / Confessions of a Cookbook Queen | Coconut Tres Leches Layer Cake / TidyMom | Pizza Bread Sticks / Miss in the Kitchen | Blackberry Milkshakes / Art of Gluten Free Baking | Peach-Pecan Pie, Gluten-Free / Food Babbles | Southern Pecan Pie / Jelly Toast | Peach Iced Tea / Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle | Decorated Elephant Cookies / i am baker | Texas Brownie Cake / The Kitchen Trials | Coca-Cola Cake / Cookies & Cups | Sticky Toffee Pudding Cookies / A Farmgirl’s Dabbles | Peanut Butter Bonbons the Size of Texas / Steph Chows | Fiesta Dip

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Israeli Couscous with Preserved Lemon and Butternut Squash

Cous Cous with Roasted Veg High Res

Here’s one of the secrets about children that nobody tells you…kids are like computers.  No really, hear me out.

You bring one home, set it up, and start to learn how to use it.  You have some stumbles at first as you get your feet wet with the operating system, programs, and apps.  But as days go by your confidence grows and you become more proficient with Baby 0.0.  You settle into a routine and even set up some shortcuts and reoccurring tasks to run automatically.  What’s all the fuss about, you wonder.

Then things get a little buggy. Random little things.  The Nap program stops running for no reason.  Or you forget the password for a Safe Mode reboot after a hard drive shutdown.  No matter how many times you go into the Task Manager and attempt to force close the Pull Momma’s Hair program, it continues to run in the background…taking up valuable parental system resources as you attempt to redirect your child’s attention to less frustrating programs such as The Quiet Game or Go See What Your Father is Doing.

Your child did not come with a Technical Support option so you are left to your own devices…mainly the Google…to troubleshoot.  You’ll find forums and blogs that reassure you that other users are experiencing similar issues.  They won’t have tested and certified solutions but at least you’ll know that you’re not imagining these things.  But you’ll also find sites that insist that every single system failure must be the result of user error since they never experienced any of these problems with their child.  Feel free to ignore those sites.

And then, just when you’ve gotten to the point where you feel confident that you’ve mastered Baby 0.0, a software update automatically downloads and you’ve got an entirely new Operating System on your hands.  Baby 0.0 is gone and no amount of hard drive restores will get it back.  In its place is Toddler 1.0.  You had no warning and no beta testing to get you used to a new OS.

Oh sure, you had heard rumors that a new OS was in the works.  But you figured that you had plenty of time to do some reading on the topic and get ready for what would have to be only minor changes.  Sadly, you were wrong.  And it’s back to square one.

My friends, I’ve been there.  And if it is any consolation, I know I’ll be back there again.  Just as soon as I get to feeling comfortable with the parenting thing, it changes.  And that’s exactly how it is supposed to be.

While I can’t help you unravel the programming language that is your child, I can give you a meal that you can enjoy regardless of how many times you found yourself hitting Ctrl+Alt+Del that day.

Israeli Couscous with Preserved Lemon and Butternut Squash

Adapted from David Lebovitz

BAH Note:  There is something about the distinct tang of preserved meyer lemon that you just can’t get from any other ingredient.  So if you don’t have any in your fridge, do yourself a favor and head over to the Google for a bit of online shopping.  Don’t try and make do with a bit of lemon zest and sea salt…it will only bring bitter disappointment.

  • 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, cubed (I leave the skin on but you can peel it if you like)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 3/4 cup israeli couscous
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 preserved lemon
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins

Heat your oven to 375 degrees and line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.

Toss the squash and onion with the olive oil and roast on the prepared sheet pan for 40 to 60 minutes or until tender.  Transfer the squash and onion to a large bowl and add the raisins.

Boil a large pot of water and cook the couscous, along with the cinnamon stick, for about 10 minutes or until done.  Drain the couscous, discard the cinnamon stick, and add the couscous to the bowl of roasted vegetables.

While the couscous cooks, take your preserved lemon and cut it into quarters.  Using the back of a knife, scoop away the pulp from the rind.  Cut the rind thinly into a fine dice and add it to vegetables.  Take the pulp and press it in a small mesh strainer to extract the liquid.  Add the liquid to the bowl of vegetables.

Stir everything to completely combine and taste for seasoning.  Season to taste with a bit of kosher salt and black pepper.

{printable recipe}

How To Make Grilled Cheese

Perfect Grilled Cheese

It’s funny how if you stop and think about it, you never stop having opportunities to learn.  I am well past my days as a student in the academic sense.  And yet I continue to be a student of life.

In the last year alone I have learned important life skills such as how to change a flat tire, how to snake a drain, and how to reset my garbage disposal.  These are all good things to know and can get you out of a jam from time to time.  So I lump them into category of things I know and hope that I won’t have to use.

But maybe just as important are the things I’ve learned from our Tater Tot, and these I consider to be life lessons with daily applications.  What’s the number one lesson I’ve learned from my child?  It is that I can have a bad moment but still have a good day.  Many of you already know this lesson but for me this is like trying to master a new language.

All my life, if something didn’t go exactly according to plan it threw me off.  A disagreement left me disagreeable for the whole day.  A perceived slight had me fuming and indignant.  I got good at being prickly and stabby. I might say “let’s agree to disagree” but in my head I would be listing the ways that you were wrong and I was right.

And then I began to see how Libby could go from a full on meltdown one minute (or two, or ten) back to happy the next.  Thanks to her developing understanding about wanting everything she sees, she gets upset in the morning when she sees us walking around getting dressed and ready for the day while she is left in her crib.  There are tears.  There are sobs. Sometimes, there is wailing.  And it goes on for what seems like forever (especially at 6:30 in the morning). But eventually she pulls herself together, sits down in the crib, and plays with a toy.  And you would never know that only minutes before this happy, content, singing baby was a shrieking, whirling dervish.

So what does my 10 month old know that I don’t?  Maybe that it is ok to be upset or angry but once you’ve said as much it’s time to let go and move on.  She doesn’t hold a grudge against us because we put her in the crib, won’t let her crawl into the dishwasher, or keep her hands out of the cat food dish.  Granted, I won’t give you an up-arms hug or wet kiss the way Libby does after she’s calmed down but I might not be shooting mental daggers your way either.  Let’s call that progress, shall we?

Grilled Cheese

Adapted from Bon Appetit

BAH Note:  This is more a process than a recipe.  But the two step approach produces perfectly browned toast on the outside with melty cheese goodness on the inside.  No flipping required.  Of all the life lessons of the past year, this one comes in just below not letting a bad moment lead to a bad day.  Can you blame me?

  • Bread
  • Butter
  • Cheese

Heat your oven to 400 degrees and line a sheet pan with foil.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add two slices of bread to the pan and cook until the bottom of the bread is crisp and browned.  Transfer the bread to the sheet pan, toasted side down.  Top one slice of bread with the cheese and place the second slice of bread, toasted side up, on top of the cheese.  Bake for approximately 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Carefully remove from the oven and enjoy.

{printable recipe}

Pimento Cheese

8421576412_62da4af718_bOnce upon a time, not so long ago, my routine went something like this:

  • Get up
  • Go to work
  • Come home
  • Dinner
  • Go to bed

Interspersed, at totally random intervals, were things like:

  • Run errands
  • Meet friends for coffee/drinks/dinner
  • Read a book
  • Take pictures
  • Cook, leisurely
  • Nap

There were also regular reoccurring chores that worked their way into the day as needed:

  • Laundry
  • Dishes
  • Cat box
  • Trash

It was a pretty relaxed schedule where, between me and The Mistah, things got done and we still had bits of time to do with as we wished.  And then we became parents.

Between the little person who was now relying on us for every aspect of her care and the deficit of sleep that The Mistah and I were running, I had to write down reminders to myself of even the most basic things to do during the day:

  • Load dishwasher
  • Run dishwasher
  • Put away dishes
  • Wash bottles
  • Wash formula jug
  • Make formula
  • Fill bottles
  • Sweep
  • Scoop cat box
  • Wash baby clothes
  • Trash
  • Put away clothes
  • Empty diaper genie

Depending on the day in question, some of those things might need to be done more than once….so lather, rinse, repeat as necessary.  And then, once Libby started daycare, we had to fit all that in either before or after the end of the work day.  I have to be honest, it has not been easy to maintain some aspects of our life to the same degree as we did before becoming parents.  I don’t cook like I used to…gone are the days of leisurely preparing meals.  I need to maximize the efficiency of what time I get in the kitchen and get food on the table.  And sadly, the other casualty is the state of the house itself.  We have tumbleweeds of cat hair rolling around the hard wood floors, multiplying like Tribbles; clean clothes mound up and take up residence in our bedroom instead of being folded, hung, and put away; and I swear the house itself has shrunk.  We didn’t use to have a lot of clutter.  But now piles and stacks and heaps have become the norm instead of the exception.

And I’ve decided to stop beating myself up about it.  Because these things are the result of choosing to spend time with Libby.  Yes, I could put her in her crib and spend a weekend afternoon (or a Tuesday night) braising or baking, cleaning and organizing.  But she is only ever going to be this age once.  If I miss out on helping her discover the world around her now, I don’t get a second chance later.  So maybe I choose to use a quiet weeknight after she’s gone to bed to sew her a bib instead of sweeping up tumbleweeds of cat hair.  Don’t get me wrong, a clean, tidy house gives me inner peace.  But seeing her wear her bib like a superhero cape and “fly” gives me way more joy.

So, if you happen to pop in to say hi or we set up a date for you to come over for a leisurely visit, I ask that you kindly turn a blind eye to the state of my house.  I’ll do my best to make things somewhat presentable.  I may even manage to pull together a little something for us to nibble on.  And I will most certainly try and distract you with adorable baby cheeks and squeals.

Pimento Cheese

Adapted from Biscuits and Such

BAH Note: I love Elena’s experience and tradition of hand kneeding the pimento cheese in a ziplock bag.  Seriously, if I had luxury of time these days, I’d give that a try.  And I totally see that becoming one of Libby’s ways to help me in the kitchen and introduce her to cooking.  But right now, time is not on my side so I turn to the food processor.  Whichever way you choose to make this delightful spread is perfectly acceptable.

Serve on crackers, spooned into the cavity of a celery stalk, or eat right from the spoon.  Much like my housekeeping choices these days, there’s no right or wrong, only what works for you.

  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese (go for something with serious bite here)
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons mayo
  • 4 ounces diced pimento, drained (look for this in a jar at the grocery store)

Using the shredding disk of your food processor, shred the cheddar.  Dump the shredded cheese out of the workbowl onto a sheet of parchment, foil, or paper towel and replace the shredding blade with the regular blade.  Return the cheddar to the food processor and add 2 tablespoons mayo and the drained pimento.  Process, adding the additional mayo as necessary, until you reach your desired consistency.

{printable recipe}

Peach Preserves

Peach Preserves

Adapted from Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving

BAH Note: I took this base preserve recipe and made three different batches of preserves.  One was plain peach preserves.  The second was a ginger peach preserve (added ground ginger to taste to the base recipe).  The third was habernero peach preserve (added a few splashes of hot sauce to the base recipe).  No matter if you fancy it up or not, it’s good stuff.

  • 4 cups peach slices (from about 4 pounds peaches)
  • 1 package powdered pectin
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 7 cups sugar

Working in batches, blanch the peaches in boiling water for about one minute.  Remove with a slotted spoon or spider strainer and transfer the peaches to a towel lined board to cool.  Use a pairing knife to remove the skins and then pit and slice the peaches.

Combine the peach slices, pectin, and lemon juice in a dutch oven or large non-reactive pot.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally.  Add the sugar, stirring until it is dissolved, and bring to a rolling boil.  Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Remove from the heat, ladle the jam into heated jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space, and process for 10 minutes.

Let the jars cool for 24 hours before checking the seal and storing the jars. Any jars that have not sealed should be refrigerated or immediately reprocessed using new lids.

Rosemary Beef Tenderloin

Rosemary Beef Tenderloin

Adapted from Saveur

  • 2 pounds beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied
  • 1/2 cup canola oil, divided
  • 3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Combine the rosemary, garlic, a pinch of kosher salt, and half the oil in a small bowl.  Rub the mixture all over the tenderloin, transfer the tenderloin to a platter or piece of foil, and let sit at room temperature for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Heat your oven to 425 degrees.  Melt the butter and remaining oil over medium heat in an ovenproof frying pan.  Add the tenderloin to the pan and brown on all sides.

Transfer the frying pan to the oven and roast until an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the tenderloin registers 125 to 130 degrees for medium rare or 140 degrees for medium.

Remove the tenderloin from the oven, loosely tent the frying pan with foil, and let the meat rest for 20 minutes before serving.