Blissfully Delicious

pumpkin bread 2
We had the most beautiful weather yesterday, which led up to a perfect weekend with a lot of outdoor times. The leaves’ colors have been changing everywhere, but I think they still haven’t hit their peak yet, so the best scenery is still yet to come.  We took the kids to a local creamery’s fall harvest yesterday, with lots of delicious sample of homemade food(homemade ice-cream, chocolate milk, apple sauce), music, farm animals, balloons, and all of fun times outside. The kids had such a blast that we had to drag them out of there. After that, we took them to a local park to have a short hike and exploration. One of the things that my hubby and I used to enjoy was our evening walks with our St. Bernard, Charlotte. We managed to keep up that tradition even after our daughter was born: we’d either carry her or put her in a stroller. Unfortunately, we haven’t really been able to re-establish that routine with the addition of our son. It’s a little hard to manage two kids who are trying to run in two different directions with a very large dog who loves to say hello to every walker and dog that we pass. Sunday was definitely a highlight of our weekend, and I hope that the weather continues to stay beautiful for a couple more days.

pumpkin bread
Despite of our awesome Sunday, I had a baking failure on Saturday; and it was pretty discouraging! I haven’t had a baking failure in a very long time; so I was actually pretty bummed. I peeled about 20 pears to make a crisp that turned out to be a total disaster so I felt like I just wasted all that time and good ingredients for something that we couldn’t enjoy. It was so wrong that I didn’t even know how to “fix” it. Thankfully, this happened after I made this pumpkin bread, which was a success. Everyone should bake a pumpkin bread like this in the fall; the kind that has chock-full of really good fall spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, a tad of sweetness, and pumpkin flavors bursting out of each bite. And this bread is just that; it rose beautifully, and has just a perfect level of moistness without it being too mushy. A thick slice of this bread, warmed up or toasted gently, will be perfect with salted butter. It will be a perfect accompaniment to your spiced apple cider or coffee. It’s also relatively “healthier” than your average quick bread, it has a mixture of whole-wheat flour with all purpose flour to give it more robust flavors and some health benefits of more fibers. If you prefer to use all white whole-wheat flour, that would work as well. It also only uses about 1/2 stick of butter for the entire recipe. Not too bad, right? :)

Note:  I’m submitting this pumpkin recipe to our bake-along group “What’s Baking”. The theme is “Pumpkin”, and Carrie will be rounding up everyone’s submission by the end of the month on her blog, Carrie’s Sweet Life.

cheeseburger soup 1I recently went to lunch with a friend of mine who has four kids. She’s one of those old souls that I just secretly admire, she prepares a lot of her meals from scratch, bakes weekly for people at work, makes baby blankets, does a lot of canning, and makes her own homemade jams and vanilla. I asked for some advices on my daughter’s pickiness. She pretty much ate everything that we served her up till about three years old, and at that point, once she started to be able to “talk” clearly, her favorite saying is: “I don’t like it”, without even trying it. It was so refreshing to hear that she says that all kids go through similar stages, and she also says that each one of her four kids has their own favorites and no-favorites as well.

Cheeseburger soup

Soup was actually one of the meals that my daughter loved. We could basically put anything in a soup, and she’d polish that off.  Wherever we went out for meals, we’d just order “soups”, and she’d be a happy camper. Since she stopped liking soup (and 90% of the food that we serve at home), I haven’t really tried a new soup recipe, therefore, haven’t shared a new soup recipe in a while on the blog. My son is also not super crazy with soup.  With the weather being colder, I thought that I’d share this really simple recipe that’s perfect for these rainy fall evenings. This is basically what a potato soup with ground beef (and I added some sausages) and lots of  veggies, which makes it very hearty and comforting. I wouldn’t necessarily say that this tastes like a cheeseburger, but it’s a great versatile soup. Next time, I ‘m thinking to serve them with garlic croutons to add some crunch. Have a great weekend everyone!

rosemary and orange pork chops 2

As much as the fall season screams “baking” like no other season (well maybe because it’s leading up to Christmas, which of course screams cookies), I have been having so much fun with the fall produce that I’ve been cooking more than baking. This past weekend, I took my family to a small local orchard owned by a farmer, who just started his “pick your own” orchard this July. I found out about his farm from another Iowa blogger through Facebook, and I contacted him and asked him what produce he had still available. I picked some green beans, gathered some squashes and sweet potatoes. The kids picked raspberries, pears, and chased  farm cats and kitties.  It was one of the best weekends that we’ve had in a long time. As much I love city living and all of the convenience and entertainment that big city offers, I’m very passionate about supporting our local businesses, especially those who produce the food that we eat. I stopped buying name-brand milk when I moved to Iowa eight years ago, and made sure that I buy from the local dairy farms.

rosemary and orange pork chops One of the things that has also changed since I moved to Iowa is my feeling for pork. I have met and known families who raise hogs, got to know their pork processing  and I have established a different level of respect for those folks. I had mixed feelings about pork chops for the longest time, not only that I felt like I didn’t know what to do with them, I just wasn’t sure about the quality of these meat. As far as cooking them, I want them to be tender, yet cooked all the way, and it’s always a fine balance to make sure that I get both the flavors and texture. I also want some sort of flavors added to enhance the pork, but just enough to make the pork flavors stand out without overpowering it. Bring them is really a nice way to add just enough flavors, and making sure that the chops are juicier and more tender. This is a simple yet impressive recipe, perfect for weeknight supper with or without company. Enjoy!

sweet and sour chixI didn’t really know that a dish called Sweet and Sour Chicken really existed until I started working at a Chinese Restaurant when I was in High School. My parents knew the owner of one of the Chinese restaurants in my hometown, and my mom managed to get me a job for three hours every Friday night to help out with their carry out. It was really fascinating for me to watch all of the craziness of an industrial kitchen, and I loved seeing what everyone ordered. There was this dish called Almond Chicken, that was basically a piece of chicken breast fried in some sort of batter, then drizzled with yellow sauce, and then sprinkled with chopped almond and scallion. I remember thinking to myself how scary that looked. But that was one of their most ordered dish. And then there was the ever popular Sweet and Sour Chicken, which is basically chicken cut up into cubes, fried with batter, and then soaked with thick sweet and sour sauce, with pineapple chunks. This one, the pineapple chunks just didn’t seem like a good match for the chicken. While I love pineapple, I just didn’t think that it was an appropriate pairing, even for my inexperience palette.
sweet and sour chix 2While I never got gathered enough courage to try those two dishes during my short work tenure, I thought that how bad could they really taste when I make them at home? What could have possibly be hidden in that thick sweet and sour sauce? Since I hit a rut with Asian-inspired dishes to cook at home, and wanted to bring some flavor punches to my menu, I decided to give this a try. The chicken chunks were fried to crispy-perfection, and then baked in a sweet and sour sauce made from apple-cider vinegar, sugar, ketchup and seasonings. Easy enough, right? And the result was extra goodness that came from perfectly crispy chicken pieces with beautiful sweet and sour sauce that’s been baked into the chicken, and created a nice glaze over the chickens. Yum! I had to say that I don’t fear this dish anymore, at least not this homemade version :) Have a great weekend everyone!

ssteak 2Welcome to Monday! Did you guys have a good weekend? The temperature had suddenly dropped so much that I actually started wearing my winter coat toward the end of last week. I actually missed my scarf as well, as I felt the cold wind tickling my neck when I was walking into my office. Brrrr, I can almost feel the snow coming!!! Since both kids were in pretty good mood over the weekend, I bundled them up and took them both to a fall harvest festival at a local nursery so they could pick up some pumpkins, ride horses, get their little faces painted on, and enjoy some treats. I wanted to make sure that they get to have some pumpkin fun before the cold weather really hits, and then it may get too cold for any outdoor activities. Thankfully, there was a large portion of the activities that were done indoor, so the kids got to have some fun.

ssteakI also decided to get rid of my leather sofas, so their new owners picked them up on Saturday. It was a little sad time for me, since I had bought these sofas 12 years ago for my first house back in Michigan. These sofas had been with me through thick and think, and I was pretty proud of them when I first got them. They were pretty fancy back then, and they still look relatively good since I have taken good care of them!  I also knew though that it’s time to move on for something else that fits our new lifestyle a little bit better, so I gave them away. My daughter was a little sad when she saw these men hauling the sofas away, so I had to bribe her with some treats and convinced them that we were going to pick up new sofas soon. We ended the weekend with this fantastic beef dish, nestled in next to a heaping mashed potatoes. I loved that this recipe uses shiitake mushrooms, I think it added so much flavors and character to the sauce. I would have liked the gravy to be a tad thicker so that it doesn’t slide off the mashed potatoes as easy, so I may tinker with the proportion of the gravy next time. Other than that, we’re pretty happy with it. Have a great Monday everyone!!