Caramel puffs (caution! addictive!)

For our recent trip to Oklahoma, my mother-in-law, Denise, made a batch of “Caramel Puffs.” These are basically like caramel corn except you use corn puffs instead of popcorn. So yes, this is basically sugar on air – yum! These didn’t last long with our group; I was lucky to be able to snap a photo before the bowl was emptied. All that crunchy, sweet, and salty goodness.

Caramel Corn Puffs

  • 2 bags Corn Puffs
  • 2 sticks butter/margarine
  • 1/2 c. light Karo syrup
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Butter two large pans. Spread corn puffs evenly on pans.

In a large saucepan, mix butter, syrup and brown sugar. Bring to a boil; boil for 2 mins. stirring constantly. Remove pan from heat. Add 1 tsp baking soda. Mixture will froth up. Pour over corn puffs. Stir to coat.

Bake in 250 degrees for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Spread onto wax paper to cool.

Dinner tonight – Asian burgers with cucumber salad

While in Oklahoma with the extended family, we took turns cooking dinner each night. My sister- and brother-in-law grilled burgers and introduced us to Allegro marinade. This stuff is good! I picked some up as soon as we got home and planned to do an Asian-inspired summer cookout. The Hot and Spicy marinade’s ingredients are basically soy sauce, lime juice, garlic and red pepper – perfect for an Asian burger. Main dish done.

The side dish made me think for a while. There are several recipes for Asian coleslaws, but I wanted something new to try. We picked up some cucumbers at the Farmer’s Market, and my sister gave me a recipe for Sesame Cucumber Salad. Side dish done.

The burgers were spicy and juicy, and the cucumber salad was cold, crisp and tangy. Serious yum. Brett also grilled some mushroom skewers, and we added some kettle-cooked chips because they’re just really good. He pronounced these his favorite cucumbers ever. We enjoyed mixing Asian flavors with American cookout staples for this tasty summer meal.

Productive Saturday

Closets are scary. I open the door, see all the stuff, freak out, then close the door and try to forget what I saw.

The closet in our front bathroom has been bad for a while. Recently, I decided this would be a convenient place to store the vacuum cleaner. But there was no way it would fit in there. So while Hannah napped today, Brett and I tackled the closet.

I got six small buckets and plastic baskets to help with organization – totaled only $8 at Target. We moved some items to better places, threw some out and were left with plenty of room for the vacuum cleaner. Mission accomplished!

Before - top shelves

Before - bottom shelves

After - top shelves

After - bottom shelves



ZF – Chocolate and zucchini

This is a surprising combination, but really good! My Grandma Ava shared that she likes to mix about a cup of grated zucchini in with brownie batter and gets lots of compliments. This makes brownies a health food, right? And talk about easy and affordable – a brownie mix and a zucchini don’t break the clock or the bank.

As strange as it sounds, I found several recipes that combine chocolate and zucchini. Here are a few:

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread – from Paula Deen, ’nuf said

Zucchini Chocolate Rum Cake – intriguing!

Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes – from 101 Cookbooks, cupcakes are always fun

A break from breaking records

Yesterday we broke a record for consecutive days of triple-digit heat – 70 days! Then today we got a break. This afternoon, I heard a weird noise – it was rain! Very short, but we’re thankful for anything after months without. And we didn’t even hit 100. We broke the record then got a break. The forecast is for more high temps for the next weeks, but maybe we’ll get another respite. It’s been a brutal summer.

So I’m posting this picture to remind myself that it occasionally gets cold in Austin. And someday we might have more relief. Though it’s extra-depressing that this picture was taken in February, and our “yard” is greener than it is now.

First day of preschool

Big day for a big girl! The morning started with a serious case of bed head.

Brett made us French toast for breakfast, we addressed the wacky hair and we gathered the supplies. Now on to the front porch for pictures!

I had a cute idea of her standing with a sign, this didn’t play out into reality. The idea of standing still and smiling at the camera didn’t play out into reality. But this is pretty darn close.

When we dropped her off, she was pushing on the classroom door to get in – very enthusiastic! She said goodbye easily (as normal) and we were on our way. Now, what to do with the next five hours… I cleaned, did some laundry and had a lunch date with Brett. According to the schedule, Hannah had playtime, Bible story time, went outside, and had pizza for lunch. Her teachers said that nap time was rough; she was so tired that she just cried and asked for mommy. Hopefully, she’ll get used to the schedule and take advantage of nap time in the future.

The teacher said Hannah had a lot of fun and especially liked playing outside. She also remarked, “She has such a large vocabulary!”

Tonight, Brett asked, “What did you learn about today?” and to our surprise Hannah promptly answered, “Jesus.” I think we’re off to a good start!

ZF – Zucchini salad

Another delicious recipe from my mom, Joyce. I am not a fan of raw zucchini, but this sounds so good I’m definitely going to give it a try.

Raw zucchini salad? You are probably thinking about those oversized zucchini rounds on the grocery store salad bar. Put aside those spongy seedy discs and check this out!

The chef/instructor at a cooking class recently prepared this recipe, and we all became converts. The recipe uses a base of ingredients that I almost always have in my kitchen, and variations are listed below.

Note – This is NOT a way to utilize monster zucchini. They have thick skins, huge seedy areas and a spongy texture, unlike the smaller version.

Shaved Zucchini Salad with Almonds, Lemon and Parmesan

From Chef Paige Vandegrift

  • 2 lbs. small zucchini (preferably weighing 3-4 ounces each), washed and dried, ends trimmed away
  • 3 oz. Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler (or just buy the shaved Parmesan at the store in the deli department – don’t sub with the grated variety)
  • 2 oz. (a generous ½ cup) sliced almonds, lightly toasted
  • 2-4 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2-4 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • ½ C (not packed) Italian Parsley, very coarsely chopped

Using a mandoline slicer (and being very very careful), slice the zucchini thinly lengthwise (less than 1/16th inch thick, if possible). Place in a large bowl with 2/3 of the shaved Parmesan, plus the almonds and the parsley. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle 2 T of lemon juice over. Toss and add more lemon and salt as necessary. Add 2 T of olive oil and toss again. Taste and correct the seasoning. The salad should be a bit on the tangy side.

Divide the salad among serving plates and drizzle each serving with a bit more olive oil. Garnish with additional parsley leaves and the reserved Parmesan.

Serves 6-8.

Greek Option – Use crumbled Feta instead of Parmesan, use walnuts instead of almonds, and use basil instead of parsley

For a saltier salad, add olives and/or capers

ZF – Moroccan vegetable stew

This is from my sister Kristen who blogs at The Uncomplication Project. Great way to use a bunch of veggies!

I’ve made this recipe several times for friends and it has been very well received! The types and quantities of vegetables are adjustable to whatever you might have in the fridge.
Suggested Ingredients:
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 carrot (or a collection of baby carrots)
  • 1 white or yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ⅛  – ¼ teaspoon dried minced garlic
  • 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth (I use a whole can)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 15 oz can stewed tomatoes with juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cumin
  • ¾ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cans chickpeas (or 1 can and about 2 cooked, chopped chicken breasts)

Chop zucchini, carrot, & onion. Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add veggies and cook for about 5 minutes until tender but still firm. Stir in garlic, broth, tomatoes, chickpeas, & spices. Bring to a boil, cover & reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes. Serve over rice or couscous.

ZF – Summer sauté

From the woman who taught me how to cook – today’s recipe is from my mom, Joyce. 

We have a small garden in our backyard, which I have always referred to as being a “supper garden.” Other than freezing pesto and chopped basil, everything in the garden is used fresh.

Over the years I have made endless variations of what I call “Summer Sauté.” I have written down a basic road map, but you should view this more as a springboard than a recipe. I have also included some possible variations, since customization is what this is all about. Use vegetables and quantities to suit what you have and what you like. Zucchini is always at the heart of the sauté, as there’s plenty to use up!

As you can see in the picture, my garden veggies are all quite small. My sauté for today will include zucchini, ichiban eggplant, tomatoes, a jalapeño, two banana peppers, basil, onion, mushrooms, garlic and some Trader Joe’s chicken sausage.

Summer Saute Road Map

Bowl #1 – Use any combination of zucchini, yellow summer squash, ichiban eggplant, green beans, sweet corn, onions, mushrooms, garlic, peppers (green, red, banana, jalapeño) of a quantity to suit you.  I would also add chicken sausage.

Slice or cut the vegetables and sausage into pieces of similar size and thickness. (Just lay the ear of corn onto your cutting board and slice off the kernels) Dice the onion and peppers. Tip – Cut up the eggplant as your pan is pre-heating, since eggplant darkens after it is cut.

Bowl #2 – Dice the tomato. Chiffonade (a fancy word for rolling up a stack of leaves and then slicing thinly across them – better than chopping) some fresh basil and stir it in with the tomato.

Pour 1-2 T olive oil into a large, deep non-stick skillet. Heat to medium high. Add the contents of Bowl #1. Stir lightly, and then let this sit until things start to brown. Stir lightly and let sit again. Repeat as needed. Resist the temptation to add more oil.

When things in the skillet look to be somewhat cooked, add the contents of Bowl #2 and stir this together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer lightly until everything is warmed. Do not overcook so everything is mushy.

Remove from heat and pour into a large serving bowl. Sprinkle optional freshly grated parmesan over the top.

Protein options

Instead of the chicken sausage (yes, it is delicious and you can find many flavors of this at Target, Hy-Vee, Trader Joe’s) you could use:

Chopped rotisserie chicken

Leftover beef or pork

No meat – use canned white beans, or additional cheese

Veggie options:

Leftover veggies should be added when the tomatoes go in, since they just need to be warmed.

Flavor options

Leave out the basil and add chili powder & cumin for a Mexican flair. Top with cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese instead. You could even clean out your fridge by adding the last inch or two from the jar of salsa.

Leave out the jalapeño and yellow banana peppers, and add more of your favorite Italian seasonings.

Go Greek by using oregano as the seasoning, add some sliced olives right before serving, and crumble a little Feta over the top.

Consistency options:

If you opt to add lots of tomatoes and your consistency is soupy, then this is wonderful served over rice, couscous or pasta. Otherwise, it is fine on its own. Nice to have a little crusty bread on the side.

Preschool open house

Hannah starts preschool next week, and Thursday night we got to go to her classroom and meet her teachers. It was a lot of people in one room – ten 2-year-olds plus parents and babies – so it was a little chaotic but good to get an idea of the class. The teachers, Ms. Barbara and Ms. Joanne, seem really nice and have been at the preschool for several years.

Hannah was very excited to be in the room and was walking all around investigating everything. Most of her classmates are older than her and talkative as well. There is another Hannah in the class, so I’m going to have to relabel our items from “Hannah” to “Hannah W.” The other Hannah is in a set of identical twins, so I’m sure she’s already used to name confusion.

Another girl in the class has a peanut allergy, so we will be a nut-free room. This isn’t too big of a deal since Hannah isn’t a super peanut butter fan anyway. But we’ll still be careful about what we send as there can be peanuts in granola bars, snack mixes, etc. I only have to pack a lunch on Mondays since Wednesday is pizza day (we bring $1 and the school orders Papa John’s). I think Hannah will be pretty excited when she figures that out.

There’s the pro-education saying that “School is cool,” and to Hannah that is really the case. Her word for school is “cool.” She had a lot of fun, and I foresee the first day going well. And since the first day is Wednesday, it’s pizza day; she is going to be so happy. :)

ZF – Fruicchini smoothie

Today’s recipe is by my friend Vanessa whose son Finn is only days apart from Hannah. This is a super-toddler-friendly idea, and I can’t wait to try it out!

Today I invented the Fruicchini Smoothie (husband Joel came up with the name). In order to get a bit more than just fruit sugars, I decided to go to my handy-dandy grated zucchini.

This is your basic fruit smoothie, and I throw in whatever fruit we have in the house. Today’s selection was the following:

  • 2 clementines
  • 1/2 bag of frozen smoothie fruit: strawberries, pineapple, mango
  • 1/2 cup orange juice (or enough to make the smoothie thin without being too thin – I don’t actually measure anything when I make smoothies).

To this I added:

  • 1/4 of zucchini grated

Blend until smooth.

This is quite delicious. Finn actually stole Joel’s glass, so Joel didn’t get any. He didn’t seem too heartbroken over that, though. I think you could do this with any fruit combination really – would probably go really well with berries. Well, darn, now Finn has stolen mine, too. Sigh. But at least he’s getting veggies!