Wednesday, July 29, 2015

California Roll Pasta Salad

Ahh, pasta salad. Its the perfect thing to have in your fridge during these hot summer days. Make it ahead of time, (in the evening when its cooler), and it will be ready to go when you're hungry but don't want to cook because of the heat. I love throwing some into a small container to take with me for lunch at the park.

My go-to pasta salad has been a summer seafood pasta salad; noodles mixed with cherry tomatoes, tri-color bell peppers, imitation crab, and Italian dressing. Say what you want, but I love imitation crab in pasta salad! One day when I was thinking about this my thoughts wandered over to California rolls. When I was pregnant it was some of the only sushi I could eat since most places use imitation crab which is not raw. I wondered, could I put the flavors of a California roll into a pasta salad? It turned out I could, and it was delicious! Creamy avocado dressing, crunchy vegetables, and soft imitation crab all rounded out with the flavors of sesame and soy, it was a pasta salad like none I had ever tried before.  I think this cool and refreshing take could be my new go-to pasta salad!

California Roll Pasta Salad
This is the type of recipe I don't really measure for, so amounts are approximations. Do whatever you think will taste good! I used a store bought avacado ranch dressing, but the soy sauce really helps to mellow any ranch flavor out. 

1 box short noodles like penne or rotini ( I used a veggie infused pasta made with zucchini and spinach)
Avacado ranch dressing (or other avacado based dressing.)
1 large cucumber
2 handfuls baby carrots, or one large carrot
1 -2 packages flake style imitation crab
soy sauce
sesame seeds

1. Cook the pasta, drain, and let chill in the fridge.
2. Seed and dice the cucumber and dice the carrots.
3. Add the vegetables, imitation crab, and approximately 1/2 bottle of the avocado dressing to the cold pasta. Add a few splashes of soy sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds and mix.
4. Return to the fridge to let it chill and have the flavors meld more, or enjoy it right away! You could even chop and sprinkle some nori on top if you felt so inclined.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Gooseberry Bars

Move over lemon bars, there's a new kind of fruit bar in town! (Don't worry lemon bars, I still love you too.)

Let me introduce you to flavorful, tart and sweet gooseberry bars! Until last year the only thing I knew about gooseberries was that my Uncle Matt got one stuck in his nose when he was a kid at his grandmother's house.

Matt: Grandma, I think I have a gooseberry up my nose.
Grandma: What do you mean you think you have a a gooseberry up your nose!? You know darn well you have a gooseberry up your nose!

Well, several years back I got my dad a gooseberry bush for his abundant backyard garden. It didn't really produce anything. He bought a few more to go with it. Some berries grew, but a deer ate them. The gooseberry bushes became quite the ordeal over years! Sorry Dad! Well, finally last year it became all worth it as the bushes have now been covered in delicious gooseberries for the past two summers. They are excellent for jam, pie, and of course the bars.

Gooseberry Curd
I'm not sure how I would describe the flavor of a gooseberry, it's kind of like describing how beef tastes to someone who has never had it before. Beef tastes like beef, gooseberries taste like gooseberries. They are quite tart, but also have a great flavor. If you like sweets made with lemons or rhubarb, I think you would also be a big gooseberry fan.

In fact, I based this recipe off of one I found for rhubarb bars, which, by the way, are also quite excellent.

The first step in making the bars is making one of my favorite things, curd. Yummy, creamy, luscious fruit curd. Yes, making desserts with fruit curd is amazing, but I'm often tempted to just eat it all with a spoon before I get around to doing anything else with it. If you use your gooseberries right away, you should have a light greenish-yellow colored curd. I waited a while after I picked them and some of my gooseberries started to ripen, so I ended up with an orangey-peachy color. They do get a little sweeter as they ripen, but they have a better flavor green. Then all you need to do is pour the curd onto a shortbread crust, bake, and cool.

 You will notice that  gooseberries have a little brown "stem" on each of them. I think it is what is leftover of the flower. These need to be taken off before you cook with them, which can be kind of a pain and take a while, but if you have some good company to have a conversation with or a good movie to watch it's not so bad. I just used a pair of nail scissors to snip each one off.

Gooseberry Bars

To prepare the gooseberries:

Combine 2 cups of cleaned gooseberries in a saucepan with 1/3 cup of water and 1/4 cup of sugar. Let it cook down until berries are soft and given off a lot of liquid. (Think of the first stage of making jam.)

For the curd:

6 egg yolks
3/4 cup of sugar
a pinch of salt
3 1/2  Tbsp butter, cut into small chunks
2 cups prepared gooseberries

In a double boiler whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and salt.
Add in the gooseberries and continue whisking.
Remove from heat, and the butter pieces one at a time, whisking as you go.

You can stop here and use the curd on cake, scones, biscuits, or just a spoon. Continue with the crust if you want to make bars.

For the crust: 

1 stick of butter - room temperature
1 cup of flour
1/4 cup of sugar
a pinch of salt

Mix ingredients in a bowl until it resembles course crumbs. Press into an 8 x 8 baking dish and let rest for 15 minutes.

Putting it all together

Bake the crust at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
Remove the crust and pour on your gooseberry curd. Bake for another 10 minutes. Remove the bars from the oven and let them cool before serving.

Make sure you have some sort of party or gathering to bring them to so you don't eat them all yourself! (Or if you want them all to yourself, make sure you hide them!)

Bonus - bars are much harder to stick up your nose than just a gooseberry itself. (Though I wouldn't put it past some kids to give it a try!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Three Recipes for the Feast of St. Kateri

 The feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be named a saint, was on July 14th. She lost her parents to small pox when she was child, and her face ended up scarred from the disease herself. When she was older, she learned about Christianity from visiting missionaries and converted. Persecuted by her tribe for becoming a Christian, she made the 200 mile journey to a village where she would be safe. She liked to make crosses out of branches and leave them in the woods to remind her to stop and pray. She was very devoted to the Eucharist. She fell ill and died when she was only 24. When she died, all the scars disappeared from her face. She is the patron of the environment and people persecuted for their faith. Learn more about St. Kateri here.

For her feast day this year I tried making a couple more authentic Native American dishes, and also a a sweet treat. Sharing a meal together is a great time to talk and learn more about St. Kateri and how we can follow her example to lead a holy life. For the authentic dishes I started with something as simple as, "St. Kateri might have eaten something like this for lunch after mass!"

The two more authentic dishes are a summer three sisters soup, and fry bread. Kateri was a Mohawk. While there was some hunting and gathering, they were largely agricultural. The bulk of their diet was made up of the three main crops they grew; corn, squash, and beans. These crops were so important to their livelihood they referred to them as "the three sisters."  They planted them strategically in the same field so each crop helped the others grow better. There is probably a great analogy in there somewhere if I took the time to think of it. There is at least a great science and history lesson in there for those of you who homeschool! (or even if you don't!)

All the Mohawk corn soup recipes I came across were very hearty, using hominy and winter squash. I just felt that it was too heavy for the middle of the summer, so I put together a version using summer vegetables, replacing the hominy with sweet corn, and  the winter squash with summer squash and zucchini. It was also the first time I made anything with my own homemade vegetable stock, yum!

The other authentic recipe I tried was fry bread. A couple years ago I experimented with a corn version, since cornbread was a big part of the native american diet. This year I followed a recipe I found to the letter. Not only was it simple, but it was delicious. I think it is a great way to make bread for a meal quickly, and without having to turn on the oven, which is nice in the summer! I just wish that I could try some fry bread made be someone who really knows what they're doing so I could know if I'm getting it right. But even if mine wasn't perfect, it sure was tasty!

For the sweet treat I knew I wanted to make turtles, as Kateri was part of the turtle tribe. At the famous Cross in the Woods here in Michigan, there is a statue of St. Kateri with turtles all around the base. The only issue with turtles was I knew my son wouldn't eat pecans or any other nut I used to make them, so I went a little crazy and used my recipe for peanut butter playdough as the base instead. Now that was a good idea! I basically ended up making a homemade caramel Reese's cup, No could tell me that there is anything wrong with that sentence! I had never thought of pairing peanut butter playdough with chocolate like that before, now I think I'll be doing it every chance I get!

Summer Three Sisters Soup
Very simple to put together - nutritious too! Use vegetable stock to make it a vegetarian dish.

Vegetable or chicken stock
Fresh, frozen, or canned sweet corn
1 can kidney beans
1 zucchini, diced
1 summer squash, diced
salt and pepper

Combine ingredients in a pot and simmer until hot. I told you it was simple!

Indian Fry Bread (recipe from
Simple and fast, fry bread was essential for Native American peoples being forced to move from place to place. Though delicious on its own, today many people top it with things like honey or cinnamon sugar, and even use it to make pizza and tacos!

1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 cups flour
1 cup warm water

 Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. 
Add warm water in small amounts and knead until soft but not sticky. 
Adjust the flour or water as needed, Cover aand let stand 15 to 20 minutes. 
Pull of large egg sized balls of dough, turn out into fairly thin rounds. 
Fryrounds in hot oil until bubbles appear on the dough, turn over and fry on the other side until golden brown. 

Peanut Butter Turtles
Your own homemade Reese's candy, with a little caramel added. I used dark chocolate. After melting the caramel I was worried it would  be impossible to clean the bowl I used, but a simple soak in hot soapy water did the trick beautifully!

Peanut Butter Playdough  - mix a little honey into some peanut butter and add dry milk powder until it reached a playdough consistency.
Chocolate chips

Grab balls of peanut butter playdough and mold into turtle like shapes.

In separate bowls, melt the caramel and chocolate chips in the microwave. Drizzle a little caramel over each turtle, followed by the chocolate. Put in the refridgerator or freezer to allow the caramel and chocolate to set up.

I recommend serving them at room temperature due the stickiness of the caramel. Serving them too cold may make the caramel too hard to eat.

"Who can tell me what is most pleasing to God that I may do it?" - St. Kateri Tekakwitha

St. Kateri, pray for us!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Mediterranean Tuna Salad

A few days ago when I got lucky enough to have the house to myself for a little while, I whipped up this different take on tuna salad for lunch. It has a lot of things in it that I love that no one else in the house loves; tomatoes, olives, onions, even the tuna! A nice little me-time treat that is a refreshing change from your typical tuna salad. Using olive oil instead of mayo and mustard and adding lots of veggies make it lighter and fresher. Very appropriate for summer time. If I get a tuna sub from Subway or something, I usually order it this way because I like it so much. Make it in a big batch for the whole family, or use one small can of tuna and keep it just to yourself like I do!

Mediterranean Tuna Salad

Sorry, no measurements on this one! Mix all ingredients to taste. 

Canned tuna
Chopped black olives
Chopped tomatoes
Chopped red onions
Olive oil
Dried or fresh basil
garlic powder

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Why I Won't Teach My Children To Pray for Their Future Spouse

   At least not before they've met them anyway.

   I've seen and heard many things over the years about praying for the person you will marry someday.  As beautiful of a thought that praying for your future spouse is, as well intentioned as this practice is, as important as it is to look for good, holy qualities in a potential spouse, when I've seen these things it has always worried me. Teaching and promoting that we should pray about who we are going to marry can go down a dangerous road, because the truth is that God does not call everyone to marriage.

   There are many beautiful vocations in life; priesthood, religious life, serving God in some way as a single person, and yes, marriage. If a person has it in their head that it is inevitable that they will get married, that their future husband or wife is out there somewhere waiting for them, they may miss out on the special thing that God is calling them to. If they find themselves at a certain point in their life still unmarried with no serious contenders for a spouse, this could lead to anger, depression, and a questioning if God is really there for them. "I've been praying for my future spouse my whole life God, why aren't I married yet!?" Perhaps the answer is that you are meant to be a bride of Christ, but you just haven't been listening. 

 So rather than praying for future husbands and wives who we may or may not meet, I submit that we should pray to have open hearts and minds ready to listen to God's will, and to have the strength to be willing to do whatever it is that God asks of us. For many, that may be marriage. For others, God may take us down a different path. Each vocation has a special and unique gift to offer to the world and to God. If all people were open to what God was calling them to, just imagine what a wonderful place this world would be!

Prayer to Know One's Vocation (Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus)

Lord, my God and my loving Father
You have made me to know you, to love you, and to serve you,
and thereby to find and fulfill myself.
I know that you are in all things,
and that every path can lead me to you
But of them all, there is one especially
By which you want me to come to you. 
Since I will do what you want of me,
I pray you, send your holy spirit to me: into my mind,
to show me what you want of me; into my heart,
to give me the determination to do it,
 and do it with all my love, with all my mind,
 and with all my strength right to the end. Amen.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Girly Hip Hop Cake 2

When we started doing birthday parties at the dance studio, all the girls wanted ballet cakes. Check out girly ballet cakes one, two, and three! With the second hip hop cake in a row, is this the start of a new trend? Coming up with the designs for a hip hop cake can be a little more challenging as you can't fall back on ballet slippers and tutus if you don't want to make a whole dancer, but so far they are turning out great! The simple boom box I added this time really popped and was super cute! I also did a more simplified dancer's silhouette than last time. Outlining all the little details of hair, clothes, and shoes in life like silhouette can be a bit tedious. As I wasn't sure of the birthday girl's color scheme when I made this one, I repeated my neon colors on a chocolate background from the last hip hop cake since it went over so well. See the first girly hip hop cake here.

Though I've mentioned them in past cake decorating posts before, here are a few tips: 1. Freeze the cake before frosting. This will reduce crumbs.  2. Draw your design in the frosting with a toothpick (I actually used an unbent paper clip this time) before you draw it in frosting. You can get a feel of how everything is supposed to fit, and if you make a mistake, you can just smooth it out with your frosting spatula and start again. 3. For a fun cake board, cover with wrapping paper, and then wax paper. 

For my border I just used my largest star tip and did fat stars in alternating colors. Due to only having one of each decorating tip that I needed, I decorated with one color at time, so you just kind of have to eyeball how much space to leave for the other colors on the border. On the last color you just make the star as big or as small as it needs to be to fill the remaining space, and it usually works out!

Happy Birthday Makenzi! I hope your birthday was dance-tastic!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Saint Gianna Molla: A Working Catholic Mom

The feast day of St. Gianna Molla was yesterday, April 28th, so I'm slightly late in posting. I feel I've been missing a lot of things lately. State testing at school and the dance studio's annual recital are all happening around the same time, so things are crazy. Waking up early for testing, staying up late for rehearsals; when I get home all I want to do is sleep! But of course I've got a husband and two kids at home to take care of and spend time with. This challenging situation does tie into today's post though!

St. Gianna lived from 1922 to 1965 in Italy and was a wife, mother, and pediatrician. She is best known for sacrificing her life so her baby could live when medical complications arose during her pregnancy with her 4th child. Her beautiful, selfless, and loving act has made her a patron for the pro-life movement in a world that often promotes death and selfishness. However, there is another reason that St. Gianna is a wonderful saint for our times. St. Gianna was a working mother.

In U.S. society in general, stay-at home parents often feel misunderstood and judged. People can treat them like the life they chose is somehow less important, oppressive; a waste of talents and intellect. Of course being a stay at home parent is none of these things. (I say "parent" instead of "mom" because my husband is currently a proud stay at home dad!) It is a beautiful vocation and a choice that should be celebrated, not maligned. However, I think it is important to realize that there is another side of the coin.

As a working mom who runs in a more conservative Catholic circle, I am often the one who feels out of place, like I'm not good enough, like I've chosen the lesser path. While I am blessed that none of my friends have done anything to make me feel this way, the comparisons and jealousy that sometimes come from myself can often make the mommy guilt run high. And trust me, the people who go out of their way to make working mothers feel inadequate are out there. While I haven't personally met one face to face, I have met them online. A while back I joined a facebook group of Catholic women who were supposed to  be sharing cooking and housekeeping tips. While most of the women were fine, I did run into someone who felt that it was her duty as a Christian to ask working mothers how they could be so selfish to abandon their families to work, and asserted that the only acceptable to reason for a mother to work was if her husband passed away. Needless to say, that was not a group I felt I could stay in.

Due to situations like this, working mothers who run in more conservative circles often feel they need to justify their decision by explaining that they need to work due to their family's financial situation. While there are many families that are in this situation, it is not necessary to be in this situation to make it okay for a mother work. God does call some women to a career outside the house. And is it really fair to make a woman reveal her family's personal financial information to justify herself? Trust me, working Catholic mothers, all working mothers, struggle with the guilt that comes from trying to balance family and work life enough on our own, we don't need anyone else's help in that area!

So a word of encouragement working Catholic moms - being a working mother is not a sin, you do not need to take it to the confessional!  Remember that godly women come in all shapes and sizes, including working mothers like St. Gianna. And St. Gianna didn't have just any job, she had a demanding career as a physician! You can serve God both at home and in your career. When things get tough, when the work/home balance is out of whack, when the mommy guilt runs high, ask for her intercession. I plan on putting her picture up in my home office along with other saints, like St. Josemaria Escriva, who taught about serving God through our daily work. I also recommend that among the many wonderful Catholic family blogs out there written by stay at home and/or homeschooling moms, to add blogs like The Working Catholic Mom and 8 Kids and a Business to your list of blogs to follow.  And to those stay at home moms, please, instead of tearing these women down, lift them up. Befriend them, welcome them, plan some get togethers and play dates at times when they can join you, help them when work gets crazy by offering to babysit, pick kids up, or even to help with housework and meals. Reassure them that working in and of itself does not make them a bad mother. Give them prayers and words of love and encouragement, trust me, we need it! 

A couple other saints that were working Catholic moms:

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton - Mother of 5, teacher, and founder of the first Catholic school in the United States.  (Also going in my office, I am a teacher after all!)

Bl. Zelie Martin - Mother of 9, (including St. Therese of Liseux), had a successful lacemaking business.

If you know any other saints who were working Catholic moms, or have any advice about how to balance work and motherhood, please put it in the comments!

St. Gianna, St. Elizabeth, and Bl. Zelie, pray for us!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Two Easter Desserts

This Easter I got to host my first big holiday meal! We usually go over to other people's houses for holidays, often several different places in one day, so I was excited to stay at home and play hostess! I roasted a leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary, and thyme, and it just turned out gorgeous. Sadly, I didn't get any pictures of it, maybe next year! The big star of the show, and what I personally enjoy making the most, was the desserts. I went with some of my personal favorite flavors with the blueberry lemonies, (a brownie-like bar flavored with lemon and mixed with blueberries), and an "everyone will like it" crowd pleaser of dirt pudding made to look impressive by using a trifle dish. The white chocolate strawberry "carrots" growing out of it along with the candy eggs and flower decorations gave it a nice spring garden theme that went well with our Easter celebration.

Blueberry Lemonies
If you are a lemon lover like myself, adding these bars to your repertoire is a must. Everyone who tried them loved them and I already have requests to make them again, including from me to myself. It is really the glaze that makes it, adding a punch of fresh lemon flavor. And yes, fresh lemons are a must. The blueberries add a pop of vibrant color and flavor. I used berried that I picked at a local farm over the summer and froze. I promise, it will be love at first bite!

3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp lemon extract
1 3/4 cup flour
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
For the glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
zest of one lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line an 8x8 pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Set aside. 
2. In a large microwave safe bowl, melt the white chocolate and butter, about 1 minute on high power. 
3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in a little of the white chocolate/butter mixture, and then gradually add the eggs into the big bowl with the rest of the while chocolate/butter mixture, whisking as you go. This is called tempering, and will keep the eggs from becoming scrambled.
4. Add the sugar, lemon juice, and extract. Stir until combined. 
5. Add the flour and stir until combined. 
6. In a separate bowl, mix the blueberries with a little flour. This will keep them from sinking. Fold them gently into the batter.  
7. Put batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for about 27 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out of the center clean. While the bars bake, make the glaze. 
8. To make the glaze, mix the powdered sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest together. 
9. When the bars come our of the oven, pour the glaze over the top. Use a spatula to spread if necessary. Let the bars cool in the pan for 2-3 hours before slicing so the glaze can set up. 

Dirt Pudding Trifle

Making a trifle is great for any special occasion. It's super easy and super impressive all at the same time! Just pick whatever things you want to layer; cake, fruit, cream, etc, and voila! It's done! I got this trifle dish at my local supermarket for less than seven dollars. My son loves chocolate, so I decided to go with a dirt pudding trifle, complete with gummy worms and strawberry "carrots!" Adding the elements of homemade brownies and fresh whipped cream made this dirt pudding the best I've ever tasted. Here is what I used for my layers:

Instant Chocolate Pudding
Gummy Worms
Whipped Cream
Crushed Oreo Cookies
White chocolate (colored orange) covered strawberries
Frosting (colored green)
Candy eggs

Layer and enjoy!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Meatless Meal Roundup

It's that time of year again, when all the restaurants start advertising seafood specials. Welcome to Lent! If you're looking for some new ideas to go meatless on Fridays this Lent, you've come to a good place. I've pulled together the meatless meals I've featured in the past to make them easy to find. I hope you find something that you and your family can enjoy!

 St. Joseph's Pasta with Breadcrumbs

 Cranberry Bean Succotash over Tilapia

 St. David's Potato-Leek Soup

 JPII's Potato Pierogies

Uncle Matt's French Fried Shrimp

 Summer Seafood Pasta Salad

Monday, March 2, 2015

Whole Wheat Spinach Parsnip Muffins

Wow, just looking at the title of this recipe makes me feel like some sort of hippy dippy granola chick. I swear I'm not!(Even though I do really like granola!)  This post could also be titled, "How To Get Your Kids To Eat Spinach and Like It."

My family loves parsnips. We grill them and put them in stews and pot roast. So when I saw Alton Brown make parsnip muffins on his show Good Eats, I was intrigued. We made the parsnip muffins, and they were very good. While I was searching for the parsnip muffin recipe, I came across a recipe for spinach muffins. We made those and they turned out well too. Through this whole muffin experiment process I learned that my son, who is probably one of the pickiest eaters on the face of the planet, will eat almost anything if you put it into muffin. And he doesn't just eat it, he goes crazy for it!

So I thought, "Hey, why not really boost the veggie servings by combining the two muffins together?" Well, they turned out great too! The parsnips give the muffins a nice nutty flavor. If you know what parsnips taste like, you'll notice the flavor, but the grated veggie just melts into the muffin batter, so there are no chunks or crunchy bits in the muffin, something that can be a little kid deterrent. If someone doesn't know what parsnips taste like they'll just say, "Mmmm! Delicious! I wonder what the secret ingredient is?"

The spinach flavor is barely noticeable due to  the addition of  sweet banana and aromatic cinnamon. Though of course it does make the muffins a striking green color. This could motivate a child to eat it or turn them off to it depending on the child. I think that most kids would think its pretty cool though, especially for something like St. Patrick's Day. What a great way to have some green food without using food coloring! My son helps me make them, so he knows all about the vegetables "hidden" in these muffins, but feel free to keep it a secret if  you need to!
Whole Wheat Spinach Parsnip Muffins
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup milk
6 oz fresh baby spinach
1 banana
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large or 2 smaller parsnips, finely grated. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin tins with paper liners.

Whisk dry ingredients together in a bowl: flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.  Set aside,

In a blender, place oil, milk, and spinach. Blend until smooth. Add banana (in pieces) and vanilla. Blend until smooth. 

Pour spinach puree into the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Fold in grated parsnips. 

Fill muffin cups about 2/3 full (I like to use an ice cream scoop for this job), and bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick/skewer/fork inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let cool and enjoy!