Thursday, February 28, 2013

Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls

Browsing Pinterest, I came across a recipe for homemade cinnamon rolls. Trin was sitting next to me as I clicked on this luscious looking pastry. Excitedly, she informed,  "you should print that recipe and make it."  Not having all the ingredients on hand, I told her we'd buy them next grocery run and make them in the future.

The next week, she inquired about my plans.  I hadn't remembered to put them on the menu so I said we'd wait another week.

BEFORE the grocery trip, she mentioned them again.  I got the impression she really wanted these rolls. Since her birthday was on Mon, I offered them up as her birthday breakfast.  Ecstatic could be used to describe her reaction.

Unfortunately, I did not plan appropriately.  Sunday is the day we are gone all day and getting home at 9:30 pm to start the process of homemade rolls just wasn't on my top 10 list of things to do.

Since we had already made plans to have a "week long" celebration due to slower mail delivery out here (hence her gifts not arriving until AFTER her birthday), Daddy asked Trinity if having Cinnamon rolls on Tue, as part of her extended birthday plans, would be ok.  She graciously agreed.

Phew.  The pressure was off.

Ok, ok, now to the main attraction.  You don't really care about how I came about finding these tasty morsels and how I was supposed to make them Mon, but really made them on Tue.  You just want the recipe.  So, without further ado....

The First String Players Roster:  This is definitely a first string line up
I doubled all of this to make 2 pans. One pan with pecans and one without -- birthday girl preference.  I personally liked the batch WITH the pecans. Gave it a nutty, more robust flavor to help balance the sweet.

4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 C warm milk
3 eggs
2 tsp + 1/2 C sugar, divided
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/2 C butter

3/4 C brown sugar
1/2 C sugar
1 Tbls ground cinnamon
1/3 C chopped pecans
1/2 C raisins (I omitted this b/c no one in our family prefers cin rolls will raisins -- especially not the birthday girl)
1 C melted butter

Caramel Icing:
1/2 C butter
1 C brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 C heavy whipping cream
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 C powdered sugar

First the rolls:
Mix 2tsp of sugar, warm milk, and yeast in a mixing bowl.  Let stand for five minutes.

<This was a fun process to watch. Birthday girl thought it was kind of icky looking.>
The yeast begins to ferment and 'rise" as it sits in the milk and sugar

Since this was my first attempt, I did not think to do all of this in my Kitchen Aid mixer -- next time, I will.
In a different bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, and salt until well combined.
Birthday girl mixing in the sugar to the beaten eggs

Add egg mixture to yeast mixture and whisk to combine.

Add 1 C of flour and mix until smooth.
At this point, pour in the melted butter and mix well.

Continue adding the remaining flour - 1/2 C at a time - until a stiff dough results.
This is why I'll use my kitchen aid mixer in the future - it gets very stiff - my hand got really tired.
Move the dough to a greased bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Let sit in a warm a spot to rise and double in size.  Took about an hour.
As cool as our house stays, I put the dough in a 200 degree
preheated, then turned off, oven with the door ajar

While the dough rises, start the filling.
Combine the sugars and cinnamon.  Chop the pecans.  Melt the butter. (you may want to wait till you are about ready to use the butter so it doesn't begin to solidify.)

Once the dough has risen, lightly flour a large cutting board.  Punch down dough and roll out to approx 12x16 in.  (Since I doubled mine - first I cut it in half and did this twice)
The dough - doubled in size

Spread the meted butter over the dough (this was messy - you may want to make a 'lip' around the dough to help keep the butter from flowing off over the edges onto the countertop)
Next sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture atop the butter; followed by the pecans (if you choose) and raisins (if you choose).  I didn't get a picture of this step b/c it was so messy and oozing everywhere.  Had to move fast.
Starting on a long side, roll up the dough into a cylinder, pinching the edges and seams closed -- the filling will smooze it's way out so don't forget this part.
Cut the cylinder in half, then cut 5 rolls from each side for a total of 10.  Ours were pretty big, so next time I may make more rolls.
Butter a 9x13 baking dish and place the rolls in the dish - leaving a little room around each roll for additional rising.  Let the rolls rise for another hour or so and place in fridge.  (ours sat out the rest of the day and were fine -- big, but fine)
Place in fridge if plan to make in the morning or bake immediately after the second rising.
Remove from refrigerator and bring to room temperature before placing in oven.  (I will admit, I didn't do this.  It's cool enough in our house in the morning that I didn't think it would do much to let them warm up. ;-)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees (that was all the time my rolls "warmed up").
Bake for 20-25 minutes until rolls are golden brown.
Look at that ooey, gooey goodness

Meanwhile, start the caramel. This stuff was to die for.

Melt butter in saucepan over low heat.  Add the brown sugar and salt - stir until combined.
Continue cooking for 5 mintes or until sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly.  Add the heavy whipping cream and stir to combine.  This will make the sugar/butter mixture suddenly creamy and dreamy.


Remove from heat, add vanilla and stir.
Finally start adding the powdered sugar, stirring until nice and smooth.

The finished product - everyone was hungry so I didn't take pics along the way.  Sorry.

As rolls finish baking, remove from oven and pour caramel over immediately. Allow to cool slightly and serve warm.

The finished, FINISHED product!

As a side note -- re-heat the next day for about 45 seconds in the microwave -- mmmm.... perfection with a cup of morning coffee.

Our eldest suggested we make the dough and try different fillings and toppings in the future.  What toppings would you suggest we attempt?  I'll try them and let you know how it turns out.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Schedules - friend or foe?

I'll admit, I have a love/hate relationship with schedules.

On the one hand they work so well.  We put all our babies on feeding/sleeping schedules and they slept through the night by 8 weeks old and have continued to be happy, well adjusted, smart, well rested children ever since.

Yet, I also prickle at them.  I want spontaneity, surprise, freedom.  What can I really accomplish in a half hours time when I try to follow a strict routine anyway?


That's what I've discovered really works for our family.  We do need structure - God is NOT the God of chaos.  His creation is all about design - order if you will.

However, His creation is also full of variety.  Hence, our lives should reflect a bit of that too.

I don't have to have the exact same menu each week, the same precise order of events.  But, I do need a plan.

Just an example of an average menu
In our house, a menu is pivotal.  We live a good 30 miles from the nearest real grocery store; a 'fly by the seat of my pants' approach to meals is just not going to cut it.  Hence, I write out a menu for the week with each meal represented.  I think the kids like this. It gives them a heads up as to what's on deck for their nutrition each day.

A written schedule of chores has also made life run more smoothly.  I tried the approach of every 1/2 hour being mapped out.  For our family, that was too restrictive.  If something didn't get done, we felt behind. Stress and anxiety prevailed.

Our chores schedule - posted on a wall for all to see

Our current schedule is broken down into two components.   A daily chores/activities section with approximate times the tasks should be accomplished.

 >Walk the dog after breakfast, sweep the floor after lunch, start school by 9 am - you get the idea.< 

The second sheet lists the days of the week and more elaborate chores that should be accomplished before dinner on that given day.

All the children and I have to do is look at the wall, see what's expected for that day, and make sure it gets accomplished.  It's freed me up from recalling what task has or hasn't been completed for the week as well as the constant nagging of the children to complete xyz. It's also given the kiddos more ownership over their responsibilities.

In summary:   Overall, I would consider a schedule to be my friend, but if I let it become my master - controlling every move I make, it quickly turns into my foe.  Balancing that line between chaos and robotic, using the faculties God has given me, is where I aspire to land.

What sort of schedules work for you?  Or are you strictly an 'as the mood strikes' sorta person?  I'd love to hear what works for others.  I'm always trying to tweak ours and find new ways to oil the wheels of life.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Listening - fully

As I read a blog post from "Hands Free Mama", my heart ached.  How often do I really listen to my kids?  I fear that more often than I'd like to admit, I "half listen" as I continue typing, reading, chopping, folding, whatever task has the other half of my attention.
Our Southwest family vacation - The Grand Canyon

Not saying that I NEVER listen to them, but do I take the time when they desire it, when it's not on MY agenda, but theirs; to fully listen and give them my complete and full attention?  Sure, I sporadically do just that, but maybe not as often as I should.

Determined to stop - I prayed, tears welling up in my eyes.  "God, help me be ever present for my kids, as you are ever present for me.  Don't allow me to 'sorta' listen, smile and nod as if I'm listening; but cause my heart to stop my actions, look them in the eyes and REALLY listen; TRULY hear what they are saying.  Change my heart, oh God, so my undivided attention portrays the unconditional love I have for them because of the unconditional love you have given me."

Knowing my habits and my weaknesses, I decided to make a plan.  HOW would I accomplish this imperative goal of listening and knowing my children in a real and concrete manner?

One easy solution, that I've instituted in the past but let slip away, is to close the laptop lid when one of our children begins talking to me.  Not opening it again until THEY have decided the conversation - or monologue - is finished.

Another antic I can employ, invite them to talk to me as I cook, fold laundry. Tasks that do not require my mental energy and allow me to look them in the face - at least part of the time - while we converse.

Pause a movie to answer their questions.  What an opportunity to hear what's on their hearts and minds; to discover how the images on the screen are shaping their values, their thought processes.  What does it matter if the 1/2 hour program lasts over an hour?  Think of all I can learn and of the message I'll be sending to their little hearts.  "I'm more important to mommy than this movie."  Contrary, what do they think when I tell them to "shush" so I can hear the dialogue on the screen.  CRINGE!!!!

At bedtime, instead of hurriedly rushing through the nighttime ritual, what if I asked them more questions, sat at the end of their beds and let them share their hearts - their worries, their proud moments, their failings - allowed them to ask "one more question" before lights out?  What a loud proclamation of my love.

I'm dedicated to really knowing my children while they are still under my wing.  When they fly out on their own, I want them to CHOOSE to return; to share their hearts; to continue wanting to talk to their mom.

I don't want their days to be spent counting down till they can "leave the next" or worse "fly the coop" to be on their own.  I want leaving to be a growth of independence, not a means to escape a place they felt unknown/unheard.

Happily skipping off together - I don't want them to flee home but leave to become all God created them to be because it's the right time.
Sounds obvious - if only I make it a priority.  Our "simple" living should make such changes even easier.  Won't you come along side me?  Make some changes yourself to truly listen to those you love.  Help me stay true to my commitment to listen - fully.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Flat Allison

A school assignment for a friend's daughter, became an adventure for us.

The project required mailing something to a friend or family member that lived far away.  Our family came to mind since we recently moved across country.

Pretty cool they thought of us.

Arriving in the mail, a form letter form the little girl's teacher.  The class, studying geography, wanted to learn about various areas. So... in the spirit of "Flat Stanley", they all made paper dolls resembling themselves and sent them out.

"Flat Allison" arrived at our house.

Just a typical split rail fence.
As common as chain link fences in Cincinnati
Our task - should we choose to accept it - was to take her around and send something back that exemplifies the area in which we live.

UUGH was my first response. We have HOMEWORK. But... not wanting to disappoint or cause our friend's daughter to receive a bad grade, we started taking this little paper doll on our walks and trips.

It became fun. I found I wanted to take pictures of this little doll EVERYWHERE!!  After all, I love the mountains where we live and they truly are the epitome of the "west" feel we have been so drawn to.

Not to mention, we live in Centennial, a town of 270 people -- a high estimate, given the fact most of the houses here are "summer vacation spots".  What a unique opportunity to share a bit about our simple, quaint, town we are now calling home.

The sign signifying when you enter Centennial with it's current population.
In the background, down the little valley, you can see the "town"

What started out as an "obligation" for a friend, became a neat way to see and share our new surroundings.

Suburbs here look nothing like suburbs in Cincinnati.

Our post office looks a bit like something from an old western movie.
The small post office w/limited hours
- not to mention NO door to door delivery

 We have a "Mercantile" store, the "Old Corral" hotel and restaurant, as well as "The Trading Post" saloon and restaurant.  Yep, I said saloon.

The Mercantile
selling gifts, local made wares, and some necessities

The Old Corral Hotel
I just love that it looks like the old west
Did I also mention we have ONE small corner store/cafe that houses the only 2 gas pumps in town?

I told you it was a "Saloon" 
It really does look a bit like we took a step back in time.

My hope is the class enjoys seeing a very different way of life - a simple, mountainous region with a whole lot of open land.......

 "where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day."
Yes, these are REAL buffalo on a nearby ranch

Just some of the beautiful mountain views in our neighborhood

I'd venture to say that "Flat Allison" had a good time viewing life from a simpler perspective.  Where there is no hussle and bussle, no traffic jams, no convenience stores, and no fast food restaurants.  Just clean, open, beauty where hard work, friendly people, and lots of God's creatures call home.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lemon - er - Orange Monkey Bread

Viewing the menu for the day, I realized I needed to get the Rhode's frozen rolls out to thaw and rise.  Lemon Monkey Bread was on deck for dessert tonight.

I set them on the stove to thaw, glancing at the recipe, only to see how many I needed to put in the pan.

A short while later, something provoked me to actually READ the recipe for this monkey bread.

Glad I did.

I not only needed to cut the rolls in half once thawed, but while still cold, I also needed to prep them.

Melted butter, sugar and lemon zest needed to be drizzled over them BEFORE they were left to double in size throughout the day.

Very good.  I started my quest to get these little buggers ready to bake.

Knife in hand, I cut each roll in half then assembled them into the pan - ready for the next step.

24 rolls cut and assembled
Who doesn't love melted butter?
Little hands make for big help

Melting 6 Tbls. of butter, we (the collective we, as Selah is now  my official kitchen helper whenever I start to cook) drizzled this over the tops of all the now-cut rolls.

If you'll recall, I did not purchase lemons this week - hence my 3rd string result w/lemon parmesan broccoli.  I scavenged to the bottom of our fruit basket in the hopes I had missed the lone lemon somewhere.  No luck.

>>You see - when I planned lemon monkey bread, I had not fully re-read the recipe and though it only required lemon juice.  I reasoned the jar stuff in the fridge would suffice for such a "glaze".  Boy was I mistaken.<<

Upon re-reading the recipe - I needed the zest of the lemon in the sugar mixture that would be absorbed in the essence of the rolls as they "rose" throughout the day.  Hmmmm... I didn't think jar lemon juice would quite fit the bill.

Improvising - which I tend to do pretty well - I decided we would have Orange Monkey Bread instead.  I like those orange "rolls" from pillsbury - surely this will be even better.

So, zesting one orange, I combined the zest with 1 cup sugar.
Orange zest from one orange added to 1 cup sugar - so colorful
Next, Selah and I sprinkled half of this mixture over the butter drenched rolls, covering the whole pan with a towel upon completion, to allow it to rise and double in size.

I think her favorite part was licking her fingers when we were done.  It was sugar, after all. Couldn't let it go to waste.
Covered and left to rise - I did peek a couple times - not a good idea necessarily.
Once the rolls had done their thing throughout the day, we sprinkled the rest of the sugar/orange zest mixture atop them and stuck them in the oven to bake.  20-30 minutes at 350 degrees did the trick.

Done rising and 2nd half of sugar/orange zest added - looks yummy.
Toward the end of their baking time, a glaze was made.  That orange I zested was cut in half and the juice squeezed out.  Mixed with powdered sugar, 1 cup, a beautiful, fragrant deliciousness was formed.
This looks like it would be yummy on just about any baked good.

Upon removing the rolls from the oven, we generously poured the glaze over the top.

Just out of the oven
Yummy orange glaze
Voila - our Orange Monkey Bread was ready for the eating.  YUM! YUM!  Even with the alterations, this recipe was a HIT!

Next time, I'll try to remember the lemon and we'll try THAT version to compare.

The finished product - I won't say  how much we ate in one meal

Here's the line up for your Monkey Bread Roster
(adapted from a Pinterest recipe from Creations by Kara)

24 Rhode's frozen dinner rolls - thawed but still cold(I doubled the recipe since we feed a small army)
1 cup sugar
zest from 1 lemon (or orange) - (not doubled here by choice)
>you could do 2, but last time we had too much zest in something, no one liked it, so I went light<
6 Tbls butter - melted
1 Cup Powdered sugar
2 Tbsp lemon (orange) juice

Cut rolls in half and assemble in greased 9x13 pan. (in hindsight, I didn't use a big enough pan -- apparently I should have done 12 in one pan, 12 in the other)  OOPS!
Drizzle with melted butter
Mix lemon/orange zest and sugar in small bowl. Sprinkle HALF of this mixture over rolls.  Cover and let raise till doubled.
Sprinkle remaining sugar/lemon or orange mixture over the raised dough.
Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.
Remove from pan. (I skipped this part - who wants more dishes?)
Combine glaze ingredients - drizzle over rolls while still warm. 
Serve and enjoy.

Go ahead and give this recipe a whirl. If you find some tasty substitutions that are yumilicious, please check back and let me know. I'd love to test it out on my family.  They are lovin' this new six shootin' and cookin' mama.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Broccoli - lemon parmesan style

Last up, the easiest of the trio - Lemon Parmesan Broccoli.  Now don't get me wrong, just because I have this vegetable listed as the 3rd string, don't be fooled into thinking it's not a tantalizing dish, unworthy of your time.  You would be sadly mistaken.

The 3rd string players are less involved, but you still want to be sure they are all present or the final product is a bit lack luster - as we found this particular night.

 Lemon Parmesan Broccoli 
(Tonight's showing was definitely in line with 3rd string.  
Had I planned appropriately, as I did the first time I prepared this dish, I would not have had to type that sentence.)
Be sure to have on hand:
5  C raw broccoli
2 Tbs olive oil (I almost always use EVOO)
2 garlic cloves minced (or pre-minced jar garlic if that's what you have on hand)
1/2 tsp grated lemon rind (I didn't have this today and it made a huge difference -- use a LEMON)
1 tsp fresh lemon juice (I used the "bottle" variety and it wasn't nearly as flavorful and yummy - if you MUST go this route - use a bit more)
3 Tbls grated/shaved Parm cheese

Having as many of the players as I could for this preparation, I began.

Chopping up the broccoli into bite sized pieces - I discarded the stalks and tossed the heads into a large pot to steam for 4 minutes.

The broccoli getting ready to be steamed 4 minutes
While this was taking place, I put the olive oil in a skillet to warm over medium-high heat.   Once heated, I added the garlic and cooked for about 2 minutes - just until the garlic was fragrant.

Being multi-talented, I took the broccoli, now done steaming, and put it in a large bowl to await it's coating of oil and garlic.

The heated oil mixture done, I poured it over the steamed broccoli then added the lemon juice, and salt tossing to coat it all. (I would have also added the grated rind zest had I planned better.)

To complete this dish, I added the parmesan cheese and tossed it lightly to blend. 
The finished product

Now the whole meal was complete.

I cut into the roast - pink juicy goodness awaited.  The first bite of risotto soared well above my expectations.  The lemon parmesan broccoli, although not as bright as my initial preparation of the dish, was still a cut above the typical "steamed broccoli" that we were so accustomed to eating.

I'm thinking risotto - of various preparations - will become a staple in our menu planning.  Roasts are no longer daunting and fresh broccoli has multiple facets for us to enjoy.

Hope you found these recipes helpful and maybe, just maybe, I was able to break you out of whatever "box" you tend to cook in.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Creamy Dreamy Risotto

Once the roast was safely in the oven, I began working on the risotto.

To be sure you know what you'll need to prepare this divine dish, here are the ingredients to complete the 2nd String Players roster.

Butternut Squash Risotto
 (In my humble opinion, this was by far the "star" of the meal, but, by definition it is a "side dish" so it is relegated to 2nd string status)

What you need to get started:

1/2 whole butternut squash (I used the whole thing) - peeled, seeded, and diced
3 Tbs butter
1Tbs Olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
black pepper to taste
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 onion - diced
1 1/2 C arborio rice
6 Cups Vegetable or chicken broth (I used a combination b/c I needed 1 container of veg broth for soup on Wed)
1/8 tsp tumeric
1/4 C Heavy Cream (this says optional, but I would NOT leave this out)
1/2 C parmeson cheese shavings or shredded
parsley (I didn't have fresh, so I just used dried)

First things first. I had to cook the butternut squash.  That crazy little gourd that kept finding it's way into my grocery cart.

Although not a difficult task, it was made more complicated by the fact my good chef knives are packed and stored somewhere in Illinois and due to the fact I only have a small potato peeler to peel said squash.  

(Remedied - I found a bigger vegetable peeler at SafeWay while in town yesterday.)

I began.  First, I chopped the top and bottom off the squash; commenced removing the peel from the gourd; cut it in half - top to bottom; Cut it in half again - length wise; Scooped out the seeds; Finally cut the halves into strips and diced them.  

Upon completing this task, I put 1 Tbls of butter and olive oil in a large skillet to melt.  Added the squash and sprinkled it with salt, pepper, and a bit of chili powder.

The squash beginning to cook on the stove
This is where I always err on timing. The recipe said "cook for  several minutes until squash is deep golden brown, but not falling apart".  I did that - but mine was still quite firm.  I kept cooking and turning until it was soft and my fork inserted into the pieces slid in smoothly.  It took a good 1/2 hour. That is NOT several minutes in my book.

This portion FINALLY done, I transferred the squash to a plate. Isn't it pretty?

The cooked squash, awaiting it's final destination

While this was in process, I added the broth to a pan and began heating it up.  Keeping it warm  until it was needed.

Next I added the remaining 2 TBS of butter to the same skillet - melting it over med-low heat.  Once melted I added the onions. Cooking 2-3 minutes until translucent.  At this point, I added the Arborio rice and cooked it in JUST the butter and onion for 1 minute.

The risotto cooking in the butter and onion alone.
Can you believe this is the last picture I took of this wonderful dish?
We were so hungry, we ate it all up BEFORE my mind thought to snap a
pic of the luscious goodness.

Here's where I tried to follow the recipe but ended up needing to turn the heat from low to slightly hotter than medium in order to get my risotto to cook through.  I added 1 cup at a time of the warmed broth.  Stirring it in to the rice, allowing the broth to be absorbed before adding yet another cup of broth.  

I continued this process until approximately 5-6 cups of broth were integrated.  This is key to making creamy, not sticky risotto.  Add a cup to a cup and a half of liquid and stir till the rice absorbs it. Add more and continue - over and over again, until the rice is tender with just a hint of bite left to it.  If you add too much too fast and don't stir it regularly, your rice will... get... sticky... and... clumpy!  Not quite the creamy dreaminess it SHOULD be.

This is what takes so long in making risotto, but it's SOOOO worth it.  Oh yeah, while doing this, add a bit of salt and pepper to give balanced flavor to your finished product.

Once I was happy w/the tenderness of the rice, I added the cooked squash and the turmeric, stirring to combine.  

Remember I mentioned my squash was still a bit firm? Well, this is the part where I discovered I probably should have cooked it even longer.  I didn't think the large chunks of butternut squash equated to creamy dreaminess.

I improvised. Grabbing my masher, I began pressing the squash into the pan to give it a smoother texture.  This seemed to do the trick.  

Still a little chunky, but in a smooth way, I added the heavy cream and parmesan cheese, stirring gently just until is was nicely combined.

Finally I dashed in dried parsley until I saw specks of green throughout the dish.

My first bite - heavenly.  My second - the same.  I will admit, I think I had 3 helpings of this savory, satisfying, superb, squash.  Not to tell tales, but I believe most everyone had seconds or thirds of this new favorite side.  No left overs on this one - much to my sadness.

Next up is the 3rd string players - Lemon Parmesan Broccoli.  Check back tomorrow to discover how to make this simple, yet tasty vegetable.  It makes my usual steamed frozen broccoli look pitiful.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pot Roast Success

My usual manner of making a roast consisted of using the crock pot - tossing in potatoes, onion, and carrots along with a liquid of some sort; Italian dressing, broth, water - you get the idea - setting it on low for the whole day.  This was how my mom did it, I liked it, and it was EASY.   Year in, year out this is how I made "pot roast".

Doug would graciously eat this meal, but I believe he'd admit it was not his favorite.  Up till now, my little brain just wouldn't step out of my "crock pot pot roast" box.

In our simple mountain home, I've found I have time to venture into the realm of cooking new and more elaborate meals.  I made the decision, with a little hinting from Doug, to branch out with my roast.   After all, that was about all we had left of our "half cow" we purchased a year or so back.

Side note:  I'm happy to announce this is my SECOND non-crock pot roast to date and we've only been here 2 months.

Tonights menu consisted of herb crusted roast, accompanied by lemon parmesan broccoli (a "win" recipe from a previous week's menu), and butternut squash risotto.

I have to partially admit here, that making the roast came about due to my reading of The Pioneer Woman's blog and seeing her recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto.  It made my mouth water.  I just HAD to find a menu plan that would work with it.

My quest began.

Did I mention I bought a butternut squash on a whim right after seeing her recipe?  Even though I ended up using that first squash in a different recipe - my heart was set on having this risotto.  I'm sure Doug kept wondering why a butternut squash kept making it's way into our grocery cart each week.

I digress.  First up, the main attraction. The roast.  Here's the First String Players list of ingredients for this succulent Herb Crusted Roast

The Players:

First String - The roast

To complete this, you will need:
A 4lb roast - beef
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 med. garlic cloves (I used minced garlic from a jar)
1/4 C Dijon Mustard (I used a combo mustard/horse radish mixture I had on hand b/c I had forgotten to pick up horseradish at the store)
2 Tbs reduced-calorie mayo
1 1/2 tsp horse radish (again, I just added a bit more of the mustard/horseradish mixture I had above)
1/4 C parsley
2Tbs thyme
2Tbs dill

Once the players were huddled together, my cooking commenced.  I knew the roast would take a while to cook, so I started early.  You might remember the day I napped while the girls were still awake?  This was THAT day.

I salted and peppered the whole roast and placed it in my roasting pan - bone down as described in the recipe. Preheating the oven to 375 degrees, I then proceeded to make the "mustard mixture" to coat the roast.  Combining the garlic, mustard, mayo and horseradish (in my case the mustard/horseradish combo), I created a paste or thick sauce of sorts.  In another dish, I combined the spices plus one Tbls of the paste I had just completed.

Now - time to coat the roast with the mustard paste. This was easiest accomplished by scooping it on to the meat, then spreading it around with my hands.  The girls might have said, "ooooo, your hands are dirty" at this point in the preparation.

Pop it in the oven until the center temp reaches 110 degrees.  I'd say this took approximately 45 minutes.  Next, I took the spice combo and poured it evenly over the roast, patting it down with my hands to make it "stick".  Then, I placed it back in the oven till the internal temp reached 140 degrees. If you like your meat more well done, you may want to let the internal temp rise a bit more.  Ours was just about perfect for the varying degrees of doneness our family prefers.  Pink, but hot in the center.
The first round in the oven - roast w/the mustard mixture.
Still not accustomed to taking pics of food as I prep and cook it.
This is the ONLY shot of the roast I thought to take.

One important note - once your roast has heated to the temperature you desire, take it out of the oven, cover it with foil and allow it to "rest" for 20-30 minutes before cutting into it. This will keep the meat moist and prevent all the juices from "running" out all over your pan or serving platter.

When I finally cut into the roast - it was juicy, pink, hot and delicious.  The mustard and herb covering made a slightly crispy, flavorful crust to enjoy with the tender, mouth watering morsels of meat.

To get the recipe and hear our story of the risotto - check back tomorrow. I can promise, you won't be disappointed in the creamy, dreaminess of this delectable dish.  (Look at that, I'm  happily using alliteration.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Shhhh, Mommy's sleeping

Having not slept well the night prior and planning to watch a movie later with my hubby, I decided to take a nap.  I would need to start cooking DURING the girls' nap, so if I had any hopes of a little shut eye, it had to be while they were still awake.

I knew the likelihood of really sleeping would be slim.  Hoping for the best, I corralled the littles and told them, "Mommy is going to take a short nap. Sissy will get you ready for bed at 2:00.  Until then, play in here." I said, pointing to the living room.  "IF you go to your room or toy room, please be quiet as you go down the hall!  OK?"  Nods all around.

If you recall - the ONLY path from the living room, kitchen, and schoolroom to the bedrooms and toy room is one hallway - the first room off this hallway is our master bedroom.  The location in which I'd be snoozing.
The three little munchkins

Optimistically, I crawled into our bed and turned on the electric blanket.  I rolled over, put a small pillow over my head to keep out some of the noises, and dozed off.

It wasn't too long that I did in fact hear the littles' giggles and laughs.  Sounding like they were still in the living room, I managed to slumber on.

A short time later, the sound of a cute little herd of elephants mingled with the chatter of a barrel of monkeys grew in intensity.  I opened my eyes, trying to decide if I should "remind" them of my request or just let it go.  The clattering got louder and louder till suddenly there was a "shhhh... mommy's sleeping".  The decibel level of their collective chatter immediately dropped and all I could hear was "whisper, whisper, whisper."

UNTIL...... they got PAST our door and further down the hallway to the toy room and bedroom doors - which is a total of say..... 4 steps away- at which time the loudness meter rose greatly.

As you can tell they are ALWAYS quiet as a mouse.  NOT!

Having to concede that they were in fact following the rules I had set forth, I smiled - kinda, pulled the pillow tighter over my head, and attempted to find my way back to dreamland.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Animals and affection

When I was a kid I LOVED animals.  I wanted our cats and dogs and hamsters and birds and bunnies, and..... to let me hold them, pet them, love on them -- at my whim.

Unfortunately, most of them did NOT like my whims.

As I aged, I still liked animals, A LOT. I still wanted them to WANT to sit in my lap and be pet. But... I had "matured".  I didn't chase them near as much as I did as a youngster - although, I'm pretty sure I still grabbed a cat a time or two and plopped it in my lap -- forcing it to accept my affections.

Then..... I had children.  Pets were, well, pets. I liked them ok, but... could care less if I pet them much.

I'd pat their heads or give their bellies a quick rub if they were nearby, but I didn't have that need to "nurture" them any longer.  My motherly instincts were being met by 6 less furry critters.

Silas - curled up, happily napping - as he often does in my lap
Why oh why, then, do our current pets seem to WANT me to give them all sorts of affection?  As soon as I sit on our bed, the cat makes his way onto my lap and curls up all content like. The dog -  he may be 85 pounds, but for some reason he thinks he's a lap dog and sprawls out on the couch in MY lap.

Apollos "roaching" on the couch -
   a new found pleasure he didn't have before moving to the mountains
Too bad we don't realize when we are young - just leave the animals alone and they'll flock to you for all the love you can muster.  No, it doesn't happen till our touch quotients are brimming.             Finally these furry bundles seem to NEED us to give them the attention we now bestow on our human babies and companions.

Funny how life works.  It IS nice to have them seek out my affection --once in a while.  They are cute; not to mention soft and furry; plus, they never talk back or get sassy or roll their eyes at me.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cat and Mouse

Living in the mountains, one can expect mice - especially in a semi-uninhabited house. When we came in November, we actually found a dead one and lots of "evidence" of he and his friends.  We cleaned house and hadn't seen signs of the furry little critters since officially moving in, Dec. 30.

That was until.....

Charity and Selah come running in to tell us, "Silas has a mouse."  Doug and I jaunt back to the bedroom where said incident was occurring to find the cat happily taking a bath and occasionally looking around.  Hmmm....   The girls then say, "maybe it was his catnip toy?"

Returning to our coffee, we dismiss the "mouse comments."

A short while later, they return excitedly to tell us of Silas' catnip toy that moves by itself and goes 'oink, oink, oink'.  Accompanied by a cute little sideways bounce, bounce, bounce demonstration by Selah.

Looking at each other with a bit of concern, Doug and I press for more information.  "What do you mean..... it moves on it's own?  What does it look like?"

The girls, full of animation and gaining the attention of their siblings, respond, "It's that white mouse toy, you know, the one that moves and squeaks."

"But..... he doesn't have a catnip toy that moves on it's own." Doug and I moan.

"Yes, he does, see?" Charity squeals as we head down the hallway toward the cats "hunting spot".

As we get near the hallway, Silas appears and Charity scoops down to get his "catnip toy" and show it to us.

I shriek - "NO, GET AWAY!  It's a REAL mouse."  The tail hanging from Silas' mouth confirms this.

The cat, non-plussed by our antics, but not sure why Charity tried to take his toy, drops the mouse, who scampers away.  AACK!  Lots of squealing and commotion.  The cat - not sure how this turn of events came about - is frantically trying to find his beloved toy.

A bit alarmed that it scampered into the clothes closet, I bemoan, "where did it go?"  I then lift a stuffed animal that was sitting in the midst of the floor only to find..... THE MOUSE!

Silas, ever so grateful, grabs him back up in his mouth while shrieking erupts from the rest of the gang in the hallway.  Which now consists of our entire family, including Apollos, who ran up to see what could cause such ruckus.

Daddy steps in front of the line and makes a "wall" to try to keep the mouse from escaping in case Silas drops him again.  On cue - as it seems - Silas does just that.  The mouse, now quite dazed and frazzled, lumbers his way to the corner of the hall.

In typical cat fashion, Silas "plays" with the tiny, scared mouse by batting and taunting him in his safe haven.  We all stand and watch - camera in hand - to document this exciting event.

Boredom setting in, the cat "ups the anty" and pushes the little mouse out of hiding.  As the poor, tired, scared mouse attempts his get-away, he runs smack under daddy's foot, which deliberately comes down with a  - CRUNCH - right on top of Silas' new toy.

From amidst the crowd of on-lookers moans and groans and ughs are heard.  Daddy lifts his foot to display the lifeless lump.

Silas tilts his head in wonder - "what happened, it's not moving, where's the fun in that?" is what I'm sure he'd say if he could talk.

And so, once disposed of, our morning mouse hunt is over and we all return (with lots of chatter and discussion and replays) to our "typical" morning routine.