2014 might well be our last year to sleep in on Christmas Day for quite a while. (Last year’s photos are here.) Madeline had been asking to open the gifts under the tree, but she doesn’t yet understand the concept of Christmas Day. This year’s holiday was all about introducing her to the tree, to decorating it with ornaments, to seeing the Nutcracker (a kids version put on by the Rock School), wrapping presents, and now opening them.
With a little help getting started, she’s gotten the hang of ripping off wrapping paper. First came a Hess truck with a space cruiser and a little baby scout ship. The space cruiser emits sound effects upon swerving or diving, making it a big hit with Daddy (and baby).
Madeline looks like a pirate when she says cheese
Next, we have a family of Calico Critters, the Woodbrook Beaver Family.
She looks like she's going to eat her critter...
...but she actually is giving it a kiss.
Then some snow mittens, a detour to the trash (“srash”), and Brio trains!
Clothes. Practical (Daddy says boring) Christmas gifts you will receive the rest of your life.
Off to put wrapping paper in the trash. "Srash? Srash?"
M loves to put things in the trash.
Old school Brio!!!
The Brio love starts early.
And in the biggest box was a Safari Express train set, a perfect finale to Madeline’s Christmas morning.
that snotty nose couldn't be happier
Madeline had a present for Daddy, but she was somewhat reluctant to give it.
rufflebutt demands an inspection of the box contents
rufflebutt goes to read her new books instead
What’s a holiday without coloring on your face?
Some shots with the afternoon sunlight.
cardinal in the window
the stockings, and a rainbow!
an ornament mommy made for daddy out of materials from our wedding
last year's photos decorate this year's tree
the parsley sort of makes it look less creepy -- daddy laughed at mommy for even trying
Some evening shots of the tree.
how the tree looks from M's point of view
Madeline ended her Christmas day by laying her head in Mommy’s lap and falling asleep on the hard wood floor. Mommy was unable to move for the next half hour.
Unorthodox use of medical tape # 152: decreasing the potential space of your turkey brining bag to increase the brine coverage of your turkey.
brining the turkey with some help from medical tape and a binder clip
As is most of my cooking, the brine was concocted with approximate guidelines and inspired by stuff available in the cupboard:
- kosher salt, about 1 cup
- honey, about 1 cup
- sugar, about 1cup
- 1 head of garlic, peeled, crushed and minced
- juice of 1 lemon
- some bay leaves
- varying quantities of clove, nutmeg, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme — I honestly don’t know if these come through with everything else going on
- balsamic vinegar to taste
All of the above were dissolved in 3 qts boiling water and reduced to a simmer for about 10 minutes. I let the brine cool for about 20 minutes, then added about 2 qts warm water to help cool it down more. When mixture felt comfortably warm (not hot enough to cook the bird) we poured it over an 18+lb turkey in the brining bag. It’s now sitting in the fridge in its roasting pan, taped up as shown above.
We shall find on Thursday whether the brine was a good idea or not. Update: turkey was ah. may. zing. And the turkey stew we made from it was the best we’ve had.
Another easy baby-approved meal. Bacon for the win. Quiches and pies are fall favorites around here. (Bacon fat + pie crust = maybe not the healthiest meal, but M needs some more baby fat rolls before I worry about that.)
“Sheesche? Sheesche?” Madeline couldn’t wait long enough for me to snap a photo before demanding a piece to eat. Hence the missing wedge.
- 3/4 lb bacon (lower sodium preferred for baby), cut in 1-inch pieces
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- dash of cayenne pepper
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/3 to 1/2 lb shredded gruyere cheese
- 9-inch pie crust in a pie pan
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Over medium-low heat, fry the bacon until crisp. Drain off fat as needed, leaving 2-3 tablespoons in the pan. Remove bacon and place on paper towels to drain.
- Add onions to the fat in the pan and brown over medium-low heat, about 20-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, pierce holes or slits (use a fork or knife) in the pie crust bottom. Bake the pie crust for 5 minutes and remove from oven.
- In a separate bowl, beat eggs, milk, salt and pepper together until blended.
- Layer ingredients in the pie shell as follows:
- At the bottom, place 3/4 of the cheese and spread evenly.
- Spread a layer of half the bacon, then half the onions, and repeat with the other half of bacon and onions.
- Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
- Pour the egg mixture over all the ingredients to fill the pie pan enough to just cover the top layer of cheese. If needed, add another egg blended with 1/2 cup of milk.
- Bake quiche for 30 minutes or until center is set.
I requested that Anna pay me in cookies for babysitting her two kids, and here’s what I got. These cookies are definitely yum, particularly when executed by a master baker like Anna.
THE NEIMAN MARCUS CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE
An urban myth is a modern folk tale, its origins unknown, its believability enhanced simply by the frequency with which it is repeated. Our signature chocolate chip cookie is the subject of one such myth. If you haven’t heard the story, we’ll put an end to it here. If you have, the recipe below should serve to refute it. Copy it, print it, or pass it along to friends and family. It’s a terrific recipe. And it’s absolutely free.
The $250 Cookie Recipe
A woman and her daughter had just finished a salad at Neiman-Marcus Cafe in Dallas and decided to have a small dessert. Because her family was had such a love for cookies they decided to try the “Neiman-Marcus Cookie.” It was so excellent that the customer asked if NM would share the recipe, and the waitress said with a small frown, “I’m afraid not.” The customer then asked if she could buy the recipe. With a cute smile, the waitress replied, “yes” and said the recipe would cost “two fifty.” The customer requested that it be added to her tab.
Thirty days later, the customer received her credit card statement from Neiman-Marcus and it was $285.00. She had only spent $9.95 for two salads and about $20.00 for a scarf, but noticed that at the bottom of the statement, it said, “Cookie Recipe – $250.00.” The customer was upset and called Neiman’s Accounting Department stating that the waitress said the recipe was “two fifty,” and not $250.00. She asked them to take back the recipe and reduce the bill. The Accounting Department said they were sorry for the inconvenience but that the customer’s bill would remain as charged because they wanted the recipe to be something that was special and not afforded by all.
The woman decided to share the cookie recipe with the world so that no one would ever have to pay $250.00.
Yields about 2 dozen cookies
½ cup (one stick) butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in the work bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds, until the mixture is fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla for 30 seconds longer, until well combined.
In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to the mixer, while beating on slow speed., Beat for about 15 seconds, stir in the chocolate chips and espresso powder, and mix for 15 seconds longer.
Prepare a cookie sheet with about 2 tablespoons of shortening (or use a non-stick spray). Using a 1-ounce scoop, or using a 2 tablespoon measure, drop the cookie dough onto the cookie sheet in dollops about 3 inches apart. Gently press down on the dough with the back of a spoon to spread out into 2-inch circles; there should be room on the sheet of six or eight cookies at a time. Transfer to the oven in batches and bake for about 20 minutes or until the cookies are nicely browned around the edges. Bake for a little longer for crispier cookies.
The Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie.
This recipe is my version of the meatball-egg noodle dish, adapted from recipes from the Fannie Farmer cookbook, The Dirty Dish Club and Food.com. After some initial skepticism, Madeline approved. This one might become a cold-weather staple.
Swedish Meatballs (or, Meatballs with Egg Noodles in a Sour Cream Sauce)
- 12 oz wide egg noodles
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter, divided into 1 tbsp each for the meatballs, sauce and noodles, plus more as needed for the sauce
- 2 tsp chopped fresh parsley, divided into 1 tsp for the meatballs and 1 tsp for the noodles, plus more for optional garnish
- about 1.25 lb ground beef, pork and veal (sold at our grocery store as “meatloaf mix”)
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup minced onion
- 1/4 cup finely shredded carrot
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 cup flour for dredging
- 2 tbsp olive oil for frying
- 1/2 large onion, minced
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/8 tsp ground cloves
- 2.5-3 cups beef or vegetable broth
- 1 cup sour cream
- Meatballs (start the mix several hours ahead or the day before):
- In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, breadcrumbs, egg, onion, carrot, garlic, sugar, salt, pepper, and 1 tsp parsley. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
- Form 1-inch meatballs, dredge them in flour to coat all over, and set aside. I spray my hands with a bit of cooking spray to prevent them from getting too sticky.
- In a large pan, melt 1 tbsp butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Lightly brown the meatballs on all sides and remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the pan. The meatballs do not need to be cooked through at this point. Unless your pan is very large, this step will probably require working in batches.
- With the pan on medium-low heat, add the minced onion to the pan and caramelize the onions, about 20 minutes. You can start the noodles while you are waiting.
- Combine the flour, paprika, onion powder, sugar, ginger, nutmeg, pepper, and cloves in a small bowl and set aside.
- Add 1 tbsp butter to the pain and stir to melt.
- Add the flour mixture to the melted fat and onions and stir quickly to form a roux. If the fat seems too scant for the amount of dry ingredients, add more butter. Continue stirring the roux for 2 minutes.
- Add the broth, stir well, and bring to a bubble.
- Add the meatballs, cover the pan, and reduce the heat, allowing the meatballs to cook through.
- Once the meatballs are cooked, turn the heat very low so that the sauce is not bubbling. (High temperature might cause the sour cream to curdle.) Stir in the sour cream and turn off the heat. Continue stirring to mix well.
- Noodles: Prepare the egg noodles according to their directions. Drain most of the water and return the noodles to their pot. Toss with 1 tbsp butter and 1 tsp parsley.
- Assembly: Place noodles on serving dish. Spoon sauce and meatballs over the noodles. Garnish with a bit of chopped fresh parsley.
With Madeline strapped in her booster seat (so as to stay out of my way), I began to assemble her teepee. She kept squealing “Wow! Eeeee!” as it took shape. Then Daddy inadvertently set her loose and she started playing in it before I was finished with assembly (note the ouch-waiting-to-happen slippage on the wood floor). For our small apartment, I suppose this teepee is an acceptable use of 9 sq ft.
Mama’s primary accomplishment on this cloudy drizzly day:
These are for Madeline’s class party on Friday. Amazing things get done when mommy has the day off! Between the pumpkin puree and the reduced amount of sugar (compared to regular chocolate chip cookies), these treats qualify for nutritious snacks in my book.
The recipe is from Very Best Baking:
Iced Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 15 oz. pumpkin puree
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 12 oz. (2 cups) semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- vanilla glaze:
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 to 1 1/2 tbsp milk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- PREHEAT oven to 375° F. Grease baking sheets.
- COMBINE flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Beat butter and sugar in large mixer bowl until creamy. Beat in pumpkin, eggs and vanilla extract. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto prepared baking sheets.
- BAKE for 15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
- FOR VANILLA GLAZE: COMBINE powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract in small bowl; mix well. Drizzle or spread glaze on cookies.
This recipe is a slight variation of one that my friend Alli makes — so good! I made some for our road trip to Pittsburgh, and Madeline chowed down in her “trough,” as Anittah says.
Zucchini Bread with Chocolate Chips
- 3 cups flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup grated zucchini (about 2 small or 1 large), drained (I leave it to drain in a sieve overnight in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap and weighted with an apple or other round object, and I also blot with towels just before adding to the batter)
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate mini morsels
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Grease a 9″ x 13″ baking pan (I use the butter wrappers — less mess!). Sift together the dry ingredients (the first six) and set aside.
- Beat together the butter, oil and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs.
- Add in the dry mixture 1/2 cup at a time, stirring to blend.
- In a separate bowl, stir together the zucchini, lemon juice, and chocolate morsels. Fold into the batter.
- Pour batter into prepared baking pan. Bake for about an hour or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Last year around this time, Madeline was still nursing every 3 hours, plus a few times overnight. So, all Daddy got was a Photoshop collage Father’s Day card that half-asleep Mommy made at 6am. Oh, and a trip to the spy exhibit at the Franklin Institute.
This year, Mommy planned a bit more. A few weeks before Father’s Day, while Daddy was at work, Mommy bought a tie and some craft supplies. Mommy, Baby, and the coffee table all donned protective gear. After some fabric paint, a bath, and a call to Poison Control (just in case), we had a special gift for Daddy.
interrogating the lens cap
ready to paint!
the result. maybe we should have done a practice run.
So today, for Father’s Day, we had brunch Devon Seafood on Rittenhouse Square. The weather was beautiful, and we dined al fresco both for the view of the park and to diffuse the occasional baby squeal.
Daddy liked his gift very much.
In the afternoon, we went to Washington Square to enjoy more of the sunshine.
Madeline loves to see Henry run around, so three dogs running around looks even more fun!
We didn’t start giving Madeline sweets until her first birthday. (My reservation had less to do with dietary habits and more with fear of taxing her pancreas. No science, just irrational mommy fear.) She’s generally game for a variety of foods although she does have her picky days. She has never turned down these, though. Baked or fried, Madeline loves her vegetable fritters.
fried vegetable fritters with sweet potato and zucchini
- If baking, grease baking sheet and preheat oven to 350 deg F.
- Combine the eggplant, zucchini, onion, and garlic. Stir in the first half-cup of flour and mix well.
- Add the eggs and milk, and stir well. Add the remaining flour and stir until the batter is smooth (aside from the vegetables).
- Season with onion powder, garlic salt and black pepper to your liking; mix well.
- Proceed to (A.) to bake or (B.) to fry.
- The batter consistency varies with the type and quantity of vegetable, so you might want to add another 1/4 cup of flour if your batter seems too runny to stay put on the cookie sheet. Spoon out the batter onto the baking sheet in strips about 1 inch wide. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the strips are golden and the batter is set. When cool, cut the strips into short segments so baby can pick them up and munch.
fritters on the baking sheet, ready for the oven
- Heat your frying fat over medium high (I like to use olive oil with a tbsp of butter for flavor). Spoon out the batter into the oil in fritters 2-3 inches long. Fry them about 5 minutes or until golden brown, and then flip to fry the other side. When both sides are golden, place fried fritters on a paper towel to drain excess fat.
Apparently tomorrow is Cookie Monster’s birthday, and Madeline’s class is having a Cookie Exchange. Mama works long hours these days, so Daddy stepped up to the baking sheet. Mama then felt compelled to contribute something, so stationery it is.
cookies baked by dad, card drawn by mom
Yes, she actually eats these. Mommy is ever in a quest for baby-friendly nutritious finger foods.
quinoa vegetable nuggets for baby
- About 4 cups cooked quinoa (the yield from 2 cups uncooked quinoa), cooled. Prepare the quinoa with broth or water, as you like. I cook it in a rice cooker.
- 1 lb frozen mixed vegetables
- 3 medium-large bananas
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 400 F. On a cookie sheet, bake the bananas until the skins turn black and they are soft. Meanwhile, grease another cookie sheet. When the bananas are done, take them out of the oven to cool. Reduce the oven to 350 F.
- Cook/steam the frozen vegetables. I do this in the microwave using a steamer basket.
- Peel the bananas (carefully!) and dump them into a large mixing bowl. Add the quinoa and vegetables, alternating in small quantities, to combine and distribute evenly. Stir in the lemon juice.
- Roll nuggets in baby-friendly size (about 1-inch diameter) and place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 5-8 minutes or however long it takes for the nuggets to hold their shape. Don’t bake for too long or they will be dry.
These freeze and thaw reasonably well; I pack them in an ice cube tray so that they don’t freeze together.
Lentils, chicken and kale. Time previously spent nursing is now spent cooking baby-friendly food. Here’s hoping she eats it.
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
- 8 oz dried lentils
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth plus 2 cups water (or however you’d like to apportion broth and water for 4 cups total)
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (I buy frozen chicken breasts and keep them on hand for soups and stews such as this)
- 1 lb fresh or frozen kale
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 oz chopped ham (optional)
- 1 tsp lemon juice (optional)
- 1 tsp tarragon (optional)
- In a 4-qt Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat. Brown the onions (about 15 mins). If you have fresh chicken breasts, you can cube them into 1/2-inch pieces while the onions are cooking. Alternatively, you can leave them and proceed as below.
- Reduce heat to medium. Add the garlic and stir 1-2 mins. Add ham (optional) and continue stirring, letting the ham brown a bit. Add the lentils and continue stirring, allowing the lentils to toast a bit.
- Add the broth and/or water. I like to heat them up in the microwave before adding, so that I finish cooking sooner.
- Increase the heat to bring to a boil. Add the chicken breasts and stir. Reduce heat to simmer and cover.
- While the stew is cooking, prepare the kale if it’s raw. I like the bags of washed kale at Trader Joe’s, because I hate washing vegetables. To cook it, I heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high in a large (12″) saucepan or skillet. Add the kale in batches, always stirring to distribute them evenly as they turn dark green. Once all the kale is dark green, add 1/2 cup of water, stir, reduce heat, and cover to let it steam for 5-10 mins.
- As the lentils cook, they’ll absorb the broth/water and the stew will thicken. When the lentils are to your liking, remove the chicken breasts and dice them into baby-friendly (about 1/2-inch) pieces. Return chicken to the stew and add in the kale as well.
- Season with lemon juice, tarragon, salt and pepper to your liking.
I revised the previous incarnation of this dish and much prefer this version, as it is healthier, baby-compatible and still easy to make. It is also a good candidate for a weekend mass food production routine: I actually prepared about 10 chicken breasts in the slow cooker, saved a small part (about 1/10) to make baby food, and then divided the remainder for this dish and for another (chicken tetrazzini).
crockpot creamy chicken and noodles
Crockpot Creamy Chicken and Noodles a la Butz
- 4-5 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2 lbs), cut in 1- to 2-inch cubes
- 12 oz egg noodles
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup heavy cream (Trader Joe’s has cream in a shelf-stable 1-cup package — this might be the most amazing culinary find all year!)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 bunch celery, sliced (or substitute 1 package (16 oz) frozen mixed vegetables)
- adobo seasoning
- Place the chicken in the crockpot and season with adobo seasoning and tarragon. Stir in chopped onion and minced garlic. Cook in the slow cooker for 8 hours on low temperature setting.
- Meanwhile, cook the egg noodles for about 2/3 the time recommended (approximately 4 minutes) and drain. They will continue cooking in the crockpot.
- When the chicken is finished, it should fall apart easily when mashed with a fork. Shred the chicken by stirring with a large fork until it is broken into small pieces.
- Stir in the cream and chicken broth until well-blended. Stir in the noodles. Cook on low heat for about 4 hours, or until the sauce has thickened.
- Stir in the celery (or frozen vegetables) and cook for another hour or until the vegetables are heated.
I got a mess of kale and put this together with ingredients on hand, inspired by a Portuguese recipe. All the other ingredients are shelf-stable or typically on-hand, which makes this dish a great last-minute easy-prep meal.
- kale, 1 bunch, chopped
- clams, 4 cans, drained with juices reserved (approximately 1 cup juice)
- pancetta, 2-4 oz
- onion, one large, chopped
- thyme, fresh from the garden
- garlic, 4-5 cloves, crushed and roughly chopped
- white wine, 1/2 cup
- rotini or similar pasta, 1/2 lb., cooked and drained
- Cook the kale in salted boiling water. Drain the kale and set aside.
- In a large pan, fry the pancetta over medium heat. Pull the pancetta to the side of the pan to drain it. Remove the pancetta, leaving the fat in the pan.
- Increase the heat to medium-high. Fry the chopped onion in the pancetta fat until it is soft, clear and golden at the edges. Turn the heat back to medium. Add the garlic and thyme. Cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in the pancetta and kale.
- Add the wine and clam juice. Stir and deglaze. Continue cooking until the kale is as soft as you like it (about 10-15 minutes).
- Add the pasta, stirring until it is heated evenly.
- Add 3 tbsp butter to the pan. Stir.
- Add the clams and cook while stirring constantly unti the clams are heated. Do not cook the clams for too long or they will become tough.