Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pan de Muertos - Bread of the Dead
Elements of an alter: marigold leaves, cut paper for banners and bread

UPDATE 11/1/13: Today I made my pan de muertos the same as always, but added an orange glaze, as they do in some parts of Mexico. Wow! It is soooo good! Super simple: 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup orange juice boiled together for 2 minutes. When the loaf comes out of the oven, brush the glaze all over and sprinkle sugar over all. (also please note: I have clarified the baking times in the recipe below. For 2 medium loaves, it should take about 30 minutes; for 1 large loaf, it might take about 40. Watch it carefully and when you tap it and it sounds hollow, it's done!)

Today is foggy and cold, and feeling very much like November.

I've been thinking about the Pan de Muertos, which is so popular across Mexico and parts of the U.S. during Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities November 1st and 2nd. This holiday pre-dates the arrival of Christianity in Mexico and was celebrated by the Aztecs. It is called mihcailhuitl in the Aztec language, Nahuatl.

Far from being a somber and mournful occasion, Day of the Dead is a celebration of life and the lives of those who have gone before us. It is an invitation to the spirits of our beloved deceased to come for a visit, to stay and rest awhile and to hear our prayers for and stories about them, to know that they are not forgotten.

Prevalent in these celebrations is the bread of the dead. I make some every year and it is simply delicious, sweet with a slight taste of anise. While the bread can be shaped into animals or angels (for instance), we make the round loaf decorated with dough bones.

My little Dia de los Muertos alter, on my mantle, has reminders of those I have loved who have left the earth. To name a few: a red rose and ceramic bird for one friend, a Maria doll and jar of mole for another (see here for that story), a tiny glass ring box from one grandma, one of the whisks my other grandma used. And this year, I have added a tube of red lipstick to honor my beautiful aunt who died just a few weeks ago. We will enjoy the bread with happy memories of them in mind.

Here is the recipe, from the Mexican state of Puebla, via Karen Hursh Graber. I have used it for years:

Pan de Muertos
makes 1 large bread or 2 medium

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon of anise seeds
2 packets yeast
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup butter
4 eggs
3 - 4 1/2 cups flour

Mix the first five dry ingredients in a large bowl.

In a small pan, heat milk, water and butter, just until butter is melted. Add this liquid mixture to the dry mixture and beat well.

Mix in eggs and 1 1/2 cup flour; beat well. Add some flour, little by little, until the dough holds together and can be poured out onto a floured surface. Knead for 5-10 minutes or until the dough is pliable and elastic.

Put the dough in a greased bowl and let rise until doubled. Punch dough down. Pull off a small part of the dough and reserve. Shape the remainder into a ball. With the reserved dough, form some bone shapes and place these on top of the dough ball.

Let rise another hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes for 2 medium loaves or about 40 minutes for one large loaf. After baking, sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and colored sugar.*

* I prefer to use coarse sugar.

Miquiztlaxcalli--Nahuatl (language of the Aztecs) for pan de muertos

If you are interested in learning more, here is an excellent and lovely explanation of  Dia de los Muertos  from Dia de Muertos  And, while my little alter is humble, there are truly some magnificent ones being built right now. If you would like to make your own alter, here is a great resource: Day of the Dead Alters  Of course, there are many helpful online resources.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Right Ingredients - caprese salad

from the Caprese kit

Last Saturday, my sister brought over a paper bag with what she called a "Caprese kit" inside:  fresh tomatoes and basil from her garden, fresh mozzerella from the local cheese shop and a crusty baguette from a local bakery.

Wow! The depth of the rich tomato and peppery basil combined with cool, mild, fresh mozzerella and crispy, lightly salted bread to make a memorable lunch. I drizzled on very good olive oil and sprinkled sea salt and fresh crushed pepper. Sublime! This is an exercise in using the best ingredients to create a very simple meal. A loaf of white bread, store-bought tomatoes, shredded pizza-topping mozzerella, dried basil, any old olive oil. Well, change out any of these ingredients and you've lost the whole experience.

Reminds me of a quote by Mark Twain:

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Cheerio Treats

When my son was little, he loved Cheerios. He loved them so much my sister called him Christian-oat-e-os. When he was still a toddler, we were invited to a family potluck. While looking for a dessert to take, I came upon this recipe--was it on the Cheerios box? Or the Marshmallows package? It's too long ago to remember. But I took these treats to the potluck and they were a smash hit!

Through the years we have made Cheerio Treats: for school parties, potlucks, picnics, and just for fun. They always disappear quickly. So, a few weeks ago, it was fitting when my son told me about a group of seniors getting together for a graduation picnic: He asked if I would make Cheerio Treats. How could I refuse?

Here is the very simple recipe, which I not only know by heart, but have in my heart:

Cheerio Treats
Makes about 18 treats

3 tablespoons butter
1 (10 ounce) bag marshmallows
1/2 cup peanut butter
5 1/2 cups Cheerios
1 cup M & Ms

Line an 8x8 or 9x9 pan with aluminum foil. Spray foil with cooking spray.

In a large pan, melt butter and stir in marshmallows. When marshmallows are nearly melted, stir in peanut butter. Remove from heat and stir in Cheerios. When Cheerios are integrated, stir in M & Ms and quickly turn into prepared pan. Press into pan with a spatula or with fingers which have been sprayed with a little cooking spray.

Wait until cooled, or as long as you can. Remove from pan, using the aluminum foil's edges. Carefully peel away the foil and, with a very sharp knife, cut into nine pieces. I like to slice each piece diagonally.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Beet and Goat Cheese Salad

When I was a little girl, each summer my mom canned quart after quart of pickled beets. I loved them and once sat down at the kitchen table in that hot, steamy kitchen and ate a whole quart of them before she could get them canned. When I went to school, the cafeteria offered something called Harvard Beets. When I bit into one, I found it disgusting. These beets weren't pickled at all--just boiled to death, diced and doused with butter (or more likely margarine). After discovering Harvard Beets, I avoided any beet other than my mom's.

But, as a grown-up, I discovered roasted beets--a whole different thing. Roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper, they retain their jeweled colors and the flavor is unbelievable! Next to my mom's pickled beets, these are the best.

So, I love this salad. While I've had it in restaurants, I like my version: crispy, crunchy, sweet walnuts, smooth goat cheese, roasted red and golden beets, on a bed of fresh spring greens with a simple vinaigrette. Yum! Here's how I do it:

Roasted Beets
3 large or 4 medium or small red beets
3 large or 4 medium or small golden beets
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut off beet greens, leaving about an inch at the top and do not cut off any straggly root or peel the beets. This will ensure that the color doesn't drain out of the beets while cooking. Scrub beets and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Wrap the red beets and golden beets separately into foil packets. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake for anywhere from 20 minutes (for new, small beets) to 1 hour (for larger beets). Check with a fork to make certain they are tender but not mushy. Peel, dice and place into separate containers and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Sweetened Walnuts
3/4 cup walnut pieces
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place all three ingredients into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Strain walnuts and spread on a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Cool and store in a container for up to 1 week.

Red Wine Vinaigrette
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup good olive oil (first cold pressed)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients in a jar with tight fitting lid and shake until mixed. Taste on a piece of lettuce and adjust ingredients as you like.

To compose the salad:
This can make up to 4 main-course salads

box or large bag of spring greens
goat cheese (4 ounces)
Roasted beets
Sweetened walnuts

Put spring greens into a bowl and toss with a bit of vinaigrette. Then, place a bed of the greens on each plate. Sprinkle each with cheese, beets, and walnuts. Serve with extra vinaigrette. With a crusty baguette, this makes a fine meal!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Vegas, Baby!

Entrance to the Bucchanal Buffet, "One Epic Feast"

My son, C, and I just got back from spending a few days in Las Vegas. We decided to get away for some warm weather, sun and something completely different. He will graduate from high school in a few weeks and it seemed like a good time to spend some uninterrupted time with him. We had so much fun! (Can anyone tell me how to stop tearing up every time I drive by the high school?) 

We drove to Vegas and did pretty much everything on the cheap (as best we could there, anyway). However, one of our splurges was a room at Caesar's Palace, through expedia. C wanted to stay there because "The Hangover" took place there and, being an 18 year old guy, it is one of his favorite movies (One of the characters asks the registration desk, "Did Caesar really stay here?") Lucky us, we got upgraded to a gorgeous room on the 35th floor with a view of the Strip, the Bellagio Fountains and the mountains. Our room had a jetted tub, two TVs, over 600 square feet and total luxury. Right now I am so jealous of my past self :)

Our other splurge was breakfast one morning there at The Bucchanal Buffet. We arrived at 8 a.m. and there wasn't much of a line, although their queues are notorious. It is such a pretty place with light streaming in from the pool area and a clever use of glass throughout, such as chandeliers made of wine glasses. And the food presentation is gorgeous. Most buffets we've been to in Las Vegas (or anywhere for that matter) are big piles of food in stainless steel pans. It tastes okay, but nothing special. But the Bucchanal takes breakfast to another level. C and I are both breakfast lovers so we enjoyed the experience immensely.

Since I somehow missed the "Oh that is so pretty, I need to get a picture of it" gene, I found some pics at which help to describe the experience. 

Viva Las Vegas!

Such pretty decor

Which kind of juice would you prefer?
Look at these nibbles! Beautifully presented
Maybe you would like a crepe?
Cute mini quiches
For breakfast? Why not? And a great presentation.
How about some infused honey for that croissant?

Yes, indeed. There was plenty of Asian food.

Pretty yogurt and berries

A dainty little madame croquette

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Chili Mac

Rats. It is snowing here this morning, and while we need the moisture, it is a winter snow--small, icy flakes pushed hard by cold wind and made just plain mean. I much prefer the spring snows we get in Colorado--big, fat flakes, hitting your face like wet kisses. Typically, these snows occur at or slightly above freezing so the flakes don't last once they hit the ground.

While the calendar says it is spring, this kind of day sends me right to the kitchen to cook something toasty and to warm up our house. Today, I think it will be my special Chili Mac, with skillet corn bread (I will post this recipe later) and carrot and celery sticks. This recipe makes a lot, and will reheat beautifully for meals later in the week.

Note: The chili mac can be made spicier with the addition of hot sauce. I love El Pato's Hot Sauce, which is available in my grocery store's Latin American section. Typically I use only about 1/2 can because Dan gets an itchy scalp if food is too hot :) You can add more if your family can take it, or none at all. (See picture of the can below.)

Chili-Mac8-10 servings

1 pound ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano--preferrably Mexican-style
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (28 ounce) can tomato sauce
El Pato Hot Tomato Sauce (optional--see note above)
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can beef broth
2 (16 ounce each) cans beans--your choice: pinto, black, kidney, etc., drained and rinsed
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 pound cellentani or elbow macaroni (Barilla is the very best!)
Shredded cheddar, sour cream, chopped green onion for garnish, if desired

In a large pot, brown beef, onion and garlic about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add spices and stir for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, hot tomato sauce, and beef broth. Fill broth can with water and add that as well. Stir in beans and brown sugar. Lower heat and simmer with lid askew for about 30 minutes.

While chili is simmering, fill another large pot with cold water; when boiling add salt and pasta of your choice. Cook according to package instructions. Drain and stir in a little olive oil.

When pasta is cooked and chili is done, serve the chili over the pasta and garnish, if desired. And, yes, I do! This dish tastes great with the addition of the garnishes.

I usually serve the chili over the mac for the first meal and then add the leftovers together and refrigerate. It is simple to scoop out and reheat a bowl anytime you want one!

Add as little or as much as you like!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Oh those naughty leprechauns!

St. Patrick’s Day is one of my family’s favorite holidays; after all  Dan and I both have Irish roots. When our kiddos were little, the leprechauns came every St. Paddy’s Day eve to play tricks and leave candy gold coins. One year, the leprechauns put all the chairs on top of the kitchen table. Another year, the kids found their underwear hanging from the chandelier above our table. Always, the leprechauns dyed the milk green. I remember my kids just shaking their heads and saying, "Oh, those naughty leprechauns...."

My kiddos are now 18 and 16. Last year, I was thinking the leprechaun pranks finally might be too childish, when my oldest asked nonchalantly, "So, are the leprechauns coming again this year?" And, so, they did.

I happened upon some great leprechaun tricks on pinterest and have included them in this post. Such clever people out there! And, you can search for treasure hunt ideas and for food ideas, too. (Love the glasses of Sprite with green ice cubes!) There are some great ideas for leprechaun traps, too. See my favorite at the bottom of this post! Good luck and happy leprechaun hunting!

Éirinn go Brách!

Leprechaun Tricks

A Differentiated Kindergarten

Coolest Family on the Block
Green water trick (make all the faucets dispense green water - pesky leprechauns! The secret is nothing more than a few coloring tablets secretly hidden in the screen of the faucet. The tablets are called Fizzy Tablets or True Color Tablets. You can find them on-line or occasionally at a department store.Don't use Easter egg dye tablets because they stain!)
The Muddy Princess

Happy Home Fairy

Happy Home Fairy

And, here's my favorite for a leprechaun trap! What fun this would be to make:

Recipe by Photo