I hope you will allow me the beauty of indulging in my endless brag book of photos of my children. There is nothing like the freshness of a new year, a new opportunity to do better, a new opportunity to be better, new teachers, new friends, and the same old sappy mom who won’t stop taking your picture. Ah, some things just will never change!
Emily is all tutus, ballet shoes, and anything purple, pink, or sparkly. She is wildly dramatic, has the sweetest little voice in the world, and is fiercely independent. She plays pretend for hours with her Little People and in her little doll house.
This year she was off for her last year of preschool. My heart just aches when I think that next year my little baby will be going off to kindergarten. I am savoring this last year together more than I can say.
Ethan & Emily started on two different days this year and so we had two fun-filled celebrations for each of them. I have never cooked so much in my life, but they each got to request their favorite main dish and a favorite dessert to celebrate their big day at school. I look forward to having one giant celebration next year to celebrate them both at once, but I might have to make an investment into another celebration plate to make that happen!
Emily’s celebration request was a taco bar and chocolate cupcakes with pink icing. I have a feeling you are going to really love this celebration dinner because it is thrifty and absolutely delicious!
This taco meat is the best taco meat in the world- truly! The mixture of tomato sauce and chicken broth take away the beefy taste and give it just the right hint of flavoring. Since my kids can’t handle the heavy spices, we modified the chili powder to 1 teaspoon and skipped the cayenne pepper.
Beef Tacos (Courtesy of The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced (I use a tablespoon of the bottled minced garlic)
2 tablespoons chili powder (adjust to your personal taste)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound (90 percent lean) ground beef (or use a higher fat beef and rinse the meat)
1/2 cup smooth canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
8 taco shells
Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened, about five minutes. Stir in the garlic, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant about thirty seconds. Stir in the ground beef and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until no longer pink, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, broth, vinegar, and sugar until thickened, about ten minutes. Season with salt to taste. Divide the filling evenly among the taco shells and serve passing any desired accompaniments separately.
Make-Ahead Version: The filling can be fully prepared, cooled, covered tightly and refrigerated for up to three days. Reheat over medium-low heat, adding additional water to adjust the consistency.
These cupcakes. These cupcakes. No words. The cake is moist and gets its beautiful texture from a few pantry ingredients and a little boiling water. The batter looks like a watery-looking mess and turns out to be the most delicious cupcake I have ever made in my life! The cake was moist and flavorful. Use a batter bowl or a ladle to scoop the watery batter into the lined cupcake pan.
Moist Chocolate Cupcakes (Courtesy of The Farm Chicks)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill muffin pans with 24 cupcake liners. Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. (I recommend a batter bowl to easily pour the batter into the cupcake liners). Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat with a mixer for about two minutes, occasionally scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the boiling water, and beat, just until blended. (Don’t be alarmed – the batter appears watery). Evenly ladle (or pour) the batter into the liners. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the center of the cupcakes springs back when lightly touched. Cool and frost.
I am not a fan of heavy frostings, in fact, I don’t even really like buttercream frosting. That being said, this frosting is my favorite frosting in the world. It is light, delicious, and reminds me a little of marshmallow fluff. It is not a decorator frosting, but decorating isn’t important if the frosting tastes like heaven. For the perfect little swirls on top of your cupcakes, you can use a Ziploc bag and cut the corner to pipe the frosting on top or use a 2D tip that is gathering dust in your baking supplies and hasn’t been used since that last batch of Snickerdoodle Cupcakes. Get ready for a good old-fashioned mind-blowing frosting perfect for the frosting-haters.
PS- Be sure to break out your stand mixer for this or be like me and forget to do it and update your Facebook profile, tweet a bit, watch a You Tube video, secure a new freelance job, and do this all while simultaneously beating the crud out of those egg whites. Yeah, that really happened.
No Cook 7 Minute Frosting (Courtesy of Food.com)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup boiling water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 unbeaten egg whites
Mix sugar, cream of tartar, vanilla and egg whites. Add boiling water. Beat on high til mixture forms peaks (like meringue) approx 5-7 minutes.
My sweet boy was ready to head off to second grade. I know many of you have read my site for many years. I still can’t believe that I have been doing this since he was only a year old. For many of you, this kid has been growing up right before your very eyes!
This year it is all Pokemon and Bakugan and, more recently, a lot of the magical Harry Potter. We started the tradition of reading the series together at night before he goes to bed. When he bursts through the door he begs for another chapter. One of the naughtiest thing he does is hide books under his pillow to indulge until the wee hours of the night. He reminds me so much of my bookworm self.
Ethan’s celebration feast was my homemade spaghetti and meatballs, homemade bread sticks, with the new family favorite…peanut butter balls.
Homemade Spaghetti & Meatballs
For Sauce (sauce recipe adapted from AllRecipes Dinner Tonight Cookbook):
3/4 cup chopped onion (we omitted because we don’t like onions)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 (28 ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
For Meatballs (this recipe will make enough for a double batch, half to eat and half to freeze):
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 1/2 cups grated Romano (or Parmesan)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Italian turkey sausages (remove the casings)
1 pound ground beef
To make sauce: Saute onion and garlic in 1/4 cup olive oil until onion is translucent. Stir in tomatoes, salt, and sugar. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer one hour and thirty minutes. Stir in tomato paste, basil, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and meatballs and simmer thirty more minutes. Gently break apart the tomatoes with the back of your wooden spoon. Five to ten minutes before serving, add in your meatballs and then serve over a big bowl of your favorite pasta.
To make meatballs: In a medium bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, eggs, milk, ketchup, Romano cheese, and the salt and pepper. Add the turkey & ground beef, then gently stir to combine. Make your meatballs the standard size and put them on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for ten to fifteen minutes. When done cooking, drop in the baked meatballs for a few minutes. This will be just as delicious with a lot less mess and fewer calories.
I add a 1/4 cup of extra flour to make sure the dough is sticky, but not too sticky. I cover the whole cookie sheet with plastic wrap and pop it in my fridge until our dinner hour. About a half hour before our dinner, I pull it out of the fridge and let it rest on the counter while our oven preheated.
Homemade Bread Sticks (Courtesy of Chocolate on My Cranium)
2 TBSP sugar and 1 TBSP yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water
3 cups flour and 1/2 tsp. salt. Mix and knead for 5 minutes with your stand mixer (using the dough hook)
Let rest for 10 minutes. Melt 1/2 cube (4 TBSP) of butter in a bowl in the microwave and pour into a 11×17 pan (jelly roll pan). Place dough into pan then lift and turn over so that both sides of the dough are covered in the melted butter. Press dough into pan. Sprinkle with desired seasonings (I love the Italian Cheese Blend cheeses and a sprinkle of garlic salt all over). Let rest 15 minutes. Cut into strips with pizza cutter. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Recut with a pizza cutter and serve.
Our dessert was courtesy of last week’s notebook at The Southern Plate. I halved the recipe just to see if my kids would love these. The results were delicious and satisfying. The oats combined with the peanut butter and the dried milk create a dense stick-to-your ribs treat perfect for after-school or as a yummy snack before bed. My husband said they reminded him of cookie dough. I will definitely be making these again!
In fact, the bread sticks and chocolate cupcakes were both featured in our notebooks (and were notebook experiments) which is why notebook day is my favorite day of the week. We have gained so many family traditions and meal ideas from it. I love experimenting and being inspired daily by bloggers. You all are wonderful!
After all of that, I collapsed into a puddle of endless dishes combined with a puddle of pure exhaustion. It didn’t matter though because I am so proud that we have these moments to cherish forever!
Do you have any special traditions for celebrating the back-to-school season? I would love to hear them!