Learning to cook … one kid at a time

Soft Pretzels January 23, 2012

Yes – I have posted a recipe for soft pretzels before

It is the recipe I grew up making with my mom – the smell of which brings back sweet childhood memories of shaping our pretzels into letters & smelling the rising yeast as the snow fell outside

Fiona was sick (for the first time poor girl) this week so Ren & I were experiencing some mad cabin fever

The kind of cabin fever that has you skip the “fast and easy” recipe in favor of the more involved kind

Since these pretzels achieve their crispy, brown crust from a quick boil in water & baking soda, this recipe comes from Mr. Kitchen Science himself: 

Alton Brown

1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt

In your stand mixing bowl combine water, sugar & kosher salt

Sprinkle the yeast on top and let stand for 5 minutes, to form a ‘sponge’

Measure out the flour & melt butter

Add flour & butter to the sponge and, using your dough hook, mix on low speed until combined

Increase speed to medium and knead until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl – 4 to 5 minutes

Remove dough from bowl & wash bowl

After drying the bowl, coat the inside of the bowl with vegetable oil and place dough inside

Cover with plastic wrap and let sit, in a warm spot, until dough doubles in size (about an hour)

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly grease with vegetable oil

Pre-heat oven to 450˚

Bring 10 cups water and baking soda to a rolling boil on the stove

Once dough has risen, split into 8 equal pieces and let your helper roll into “snakes”

Make a pretzel shape by crossing each “snake,” twisting and doubling back over the ‘loop’ end

Place pretzels on oiled parchment paper

Drop pretzels, one at a time, into boiling water

Boil for 30 seconds

Remove with a slotted spatula (a fish spatula worked great for me!)

Return the pretzels to the baking sheets lined with oiled parchment

Brush each pretzel with the egg yolk & water mixture

Sprinkle with pretzel (or kosher like I did) salt

Bake at 450˚ for 12-14 minutes until dark, golden brown

Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving

Ren approved!


Pizza & “Monkey” Ice Cream January 21, 2012

Filed under: Dessert!,For Helpers!,Recipes — gastromami @ 12:37 pm

Ren & I are going through a rough mommy/toddler patch but at least, for now, we can still bond over cooking together!

For starters we had his favorite pizza:


Trader Joe’s herb pizza dough, pesto, sliced tomatoes, goat cheese, topped with arugula tossed in balsamic vinegar & olive oil

and we finished with some homemade “Monkey Ice Cream”

Chocolate Frozen Yogurt with Caramelized Bananas from Food & Wine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large ripe bananas, cut into 1-inch rounds

(I used 3 small-ish bananas)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons 2 percent milk
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2/3 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups nonfat Greek yogurt
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

(I also added 1 ounce walnuts, finely chopped)

Peel bananas and slice into 1″ rounds

Melt butter in a nonstick saute pan

Place bananas in a single layer and sprinkle with the light brown sugar

Saute over medium heat until caramelized (about 8 minutes)

Remove the pan from heat and add rum, swirl around pan to dissolve the sugar

Place 2/3 of the bananas in a mini food processor with 3 tablespoons milk

Mix until smooth

Chop remaining bananas and put in freezer until ready to use

Whisk together the cocoa, sugar, vanilla, salt & 1/2 cup milk

Mix in yogurt until smooth

Mix in banana puree

Pour ice cream base into ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions

When the ice cream is almost frozen, add the walnuts and chocolate

Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until solid (at least 2 hours)


Ren approved!


Grapefruit Pound Cake January 16, 2012

Filed under: Dessert!,For Helpers! — gastromami @ 6:47 pm

My family placed bets on how many pieces of cake I am going to eat tonight

(Update:  I’m up to 2 … ok 2 1/2)  (now it’s 3 1/2)

If I were to think about my mom’s favorite meal it would be breakfast. 

If I were to think about my mom at breakfast I would think 3 things: 

blueberry pancakes, Red River  & grapefruit – the woman loves grapefruit

I really want to talk to my mom right now but instead I’m housing this cake I found in Cooking Light

I’m not really a huge pound cake fan but the cream cheese gives this an oh, so cheesecake, but not cheesecake, taste that is just fabulous

(Looking online I saw a woman who made it with lemon – I think next time I may do half & half (lemon & grapefruit) on the zest for a bigger “oomph!”

Baking spray with flour
2 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
5/8 teaspoon salt, divided
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened
6 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
2 large eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons grated grapefruit rind (or 1T lemon rind, 1T grapefruit)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

Pre-heat oven to 325˚

Coat a tube pan with cooking spray

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder & 1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir to combine

i.e. keep your toddler busy

Cream butter, cream cheese & sugar

Add eggs, one at a time

Add oil, zest & vanilla

Mix to combine

Alternately add dd flour mixture and milk to batter, beginning and ending with flour

Spoon batter into pan and bake at 325˚

** The recipe says to bake for 70 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean – our cake was done after 55 minutes so keep an eye on it! **

Cool the cake in pan for 15 minutes

Turn out on a wire rack and cool completely

In a small saucepan bring 1/2 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice to a boil

Boil until reduced to 3 tablespoons (about 4 minutes)

Cool slightly (if you are in PA that may or may not involved placing outside for a mere 2 minutes!)

Stir in powdered sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt

Wisk until smooth and drizzle over cake

(I had a 2 year old demanding “dessert now!” so I forgot to take a picture of the cake before we dug in!”

After all the excitement in making the cake and wanting it “now!” (his new thing) …

Ren wouldn’t even try the cake – I think he wanted loads of frosting and I failed to deliver!

(notice the boxes?  yet another symptom of my mother’s influence … spring cleaning in January!)

I, on the other hand, am up to 4 1/2 pieces … my husband knows me all too well!



Pumpkin Scones: Take 1 November 5, 2011

Filed under: Dessert!,For Helpers!,Recipes — gastromami @ 10:21 am

I seriously love me some pumpkin scones, bread, soup, pie, lattes ANYTHING!

I really do love a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks

I’ve actually made my own and they were good – but not as good as Starbucks

See, I used to spend a lot of money without thinking about it:

I loved to shop, to eat out (still do!), to order a $12 martini followed by a $38 entrée and then follow-up with a night on the town

Now?  I scour eBay for the latest deals in order to dress my kids (still in style however!)

and I am more apt to whip up dinner here than eat out every few nights

(but, as the wife of a chef, I do get my fair share of fine-dining in, no worries!)

For the most part though, after having kids, I did give up those “no kids” extras:

Smoothies on the go

Take-out once a week

“Wash & Fold” when it just became too much to haul to the laundromat

A stop at TJ Maxx “just to see what was there”


Coffee from the coffee shop for morning, noon and, sometimes, night

But now?  Since I live in a city where there is a Starbucks on EVERY corner (or at least every few blocks) and I walk past at least 5 on my way to Reny’s restaurant, & my favorite drink is back on the menu, I allow myself an indulgence every other day  once in a while

But I have learned my lesson on one thing:

Don’t buy food from Starbucks

Sure, it looks scrumptiously delicious sitting there in that case, right at eye level

Those muffins with their cinnamony, crumbly topping, the cake pops with the perfect amount of sprinkles and the scones – oh, those pumpkin scones glistening with yummy glaze … They.  Are.  Gross.

Ok, not gross, but not good either

I do have to admit that, after leaving the gym (when I usually indulge!) it is hard to pass up those treats – especially the pumpkin bread & pumpkin scones – but I have done it for the sake of my taste buds

I also know that I can recreate those yummy treats at home, for half the price and 10x the satisfaction

This recipe is not perfected (I actually made some interesting additions but more on that later) but this was a great start, adapted from Sweet Pea’s Kitchen

For the Scones:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup canned or fresh pumpkin puree
3 tablespoons half-and-half, milk or buttermilk
1 large egg

For the Spiced Glaze:

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pinch ground ginger
1 pinch ground cloves

(I skipped the powdered sugar glaze but you can follow the link to Sweet Pea’s Kitchen for her complete recipe!)

Pre-heat the oven to 425˚

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper

In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients

Add the cold butter and mix with your hands until crumbly

Mix together the wet ingredients (eggs, milk, pumpkin)

Fold the wet ingredients into the dry – be careful not to overwork your dough!

Using a half-cup measuring cup or your hands – “plop” onto the parchment paper (like you would for drop biscuits!)

Bake at 425˚ for 14-16 minutes until lightly browned

While the muffins are baking:

Mix ingredients for the spice glaze

When the scones are finished baking, drizzle the glaze over top



Cinnamon Breakfast Bites September 7, 2011

Filed under: 'Nack! (Snacks!),Dessert!,For Helpers! — gastromami @ 2:34 pm


First off …. a GastroMami FYI

I know that the “tool doesn’t make the artist” but in the restaurant world we do say “how good a steak is depends on the sharpness of your knife”

and here I’m going to say,

My good camera is broken so all pictures are being taken with my very-handy-love to have with me-waterproof camera and, although sufficient for my needs, it doesn’t always produce the best shots, especially in our windowless kitchen!



Although I don’t ever want him to become a chef (I’d love to have him around for holidays!) it is one of our favorite things to do together when Fiona is sleeping!

Last week I had totally forgotten that we had a playdate scheduled and our cupboards still looked like we were on vacation.  I found this recipe on Lovin’ from the Oven and it was perfect since we had everything on hand!

The best part of this recipe – Ren, seriously, did almost everything “all by self,” as he likes to say

Honestly, I was amazed but hey, with his father, I shouldn’t have been surprised!

1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup crisp rice cereal, coarsely crushed
2 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1/2 cup milk

3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, melted

(with little fingers doing the dipping – we had to modify the original recipe in response to spillage!)

Put the rice cereal in a plastic baggie and let your little helper crush away!

In a bowl mix the flour, crushed cereal, 2 T sugar, baking powder & salt

Let your helper mix in the butter, with their hands, until the mixture is crumbly

Slowly add the milk

Mix until just moistened

Roll into balls

While your helper is rolling the batter into balls, melt 1/4 (or 1/2) cup butter and mix together 3/4 cup sugar & 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Dip balls into butter & then sugar/cinnamon & place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper

(we were out of parchment paper so I lightly greased a cookie sheet – but, due to the stickiness of the melted sugar I would use parchment!!)

Bake at 425˚ for 15 minutes

Ren (and friends!) approved!


Baked Pasta with Summer Squash August 31, 2011

Filed under: "Fast Food",For Helpers! — gastromami @ 12:19 pm


I’m pretty much in love with blogging from my phone – it may not look “pretty” but by the time the kids are sleeping, the dishes are washed, the toys are picked up, a load of laundry is shuffled, the camera is found, the cord is located, pictures are uploaded and I’m logged into WordPress, one of the kids is back up wanting to be nursed!

By blogging on my phone I can BLOG WHILE NURSING!! (yep, currently it’s Fiona)

So, as long as I know the recipe off the top of my head I’m ready to go!

I found a recipe for Summer Squash Baked Ziti in my most recent issue of Cooking Light and, since my mom sent us back to Philly with a harvest from their garden it seemed like a perfect dinner! My sister-in-law Stephanie was talking about Baked Ziti as being her “go-to meal” but to be honest, I’ve never even thought of making it myself. It was so incredibly easy, yummy & hearty – and healthy with the addition of fresh veggies, that variations will definitely be making it into my dinner rotation!!

Pre-heat oven to 350˚

Cook 4 oz of pasta (such as rotini, penne or ziti)


Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat

Add 3 cups summer squash (I used a combination of yellow squash & zucchini) and sauté for 5 minutes


Add 2 cups of tomatoes (chopped or cherry) and 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Sauté 3 minutes

Season with dried oregano, salt & pepper, to taste


In a separate bowl mix:
1/2 cup light ricotta cheese
1 eggs, lightly scrambled
Crushed red pepper, to taste
Salt & pepper, to taste


In a large bowl mix:
Cooked pasta
Sautéed veggies
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped


Mix and add in ricotta cheese mixture


Transfer to an 8×8 baking dish and let your helper top with extra shredded mozzarella

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes until the pasta bubbles and cheese is browned


Ren approved!!


Nutty Maple Granola June 30, 2011

Filed under: 'Nack! (Snacks!),For Helpers! — gastromami @ 3:35 pm

As part of my “heal my brain” strategy, I am trying to incorporate as many good fats as I can into my diet.

This means that, although I usually balk at the high price of nuts, I had to have some almonds, walnuts and pistachios on hand at all times.

(Fine with Ren, he’s an almond-freak!)

While I am perfectly content to eat them by the handfuls, I couldn’t resist this recipe from Eco.Logical.Mom that popped up on my Facebook newsfeed.

It had 3 things going for it:

I had almost all the ingredients in my cupboard

It looked yummy

Ren could eat the “dough” and I didn’t have to worry about it

Preheat the oven to 300˚

Roughly chop:

1/2 cup unsalted almonds

1/2 cup unsalted walnuts

1/2 cup unsalted pecans

Put it a large bowl and add:

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup quinoa flakes
1/2 cup flaxseed meal (or wheat germ)
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup maple syrup
4 oz apple sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins


Spread on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray

And bake at 300˚

until golden (about 45 minutes)

Ren approved

(yep – we wear snowman pj’s around here when it’s 90˚ out!)