Monday, May 30, 2011

Erin attempts cutsie-tootsie

I think it's pretty clear that the Lady of the House has cornered the market here at Hot Dinner Happy Home when it comes to artistic flair and creativity. I cook hot dinner. (And, let's be honest, sometimes I cook cold dinner or leftover dinner or takeout dinner.) Unfortunately, however, I can't manage craftsy and cute.

Most of us eat with our eyes. With bake sales, in addition to the deliciousness of the treat, this translates to choosing the item with the most clever tag or the prettiest ribbon. When the Cookies for Kids' Cancer Bake Sale came to town, I was terrified. Quaking in my Wisconsin springtime wellies. Staying up at night worrying that no one would purchase my Ooey Gooey Caramel Chocolate Chunk Bars because their label wasn't appropriately adorned with Ric-Rac. Honestly, it was pathetic.

So, I did the only reasonable thing: I turned to the Lady of the House. She gave me a plethora of fabulous ideas on how to decorate my treats, and I did as well as I could. Lady, I hope I done you proud.

What about you guys? How do you get your treats bake sale ready? I'm definitely going to need ideas for next time!!

Friday, May 27, 2011


I was all set to post about the cutesy-tootsie packaging I used to make my Ooey Gooey Caramel Chocolate Chunk Bars buyer-friendly at last week's Cookies for Kids' Cancer Bake Sale, but then something happened.

I became an auntie.

Jack, the most beautiful, talented, intelligent, and fabulous little boy the world has ever seen, entered my life in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Now that's really all I can think about. I want to hold him and snuggle him and nuzzle his fuzzy little head and kiss his tiny fingers. My appetite for pictures of Jack is completely insatiable. I'm trying to surpress that appetite with malted milk shakes, but it's not working. I WANT MORE JACK.

Instead of going on and on and on about Jack ("You've already done that," you're saying. Sorry. I can't help it!), I'm going to share with you my favorite make-ahead meals from Hot Dinner Happy Home. Because when a new baby enters your life, you bring food. It's just a thing. But please come back on Monday to find out about my bake sale tips!

Sleep-deprived parents will be happy that breakfast is taken care of when they're munching on these Coffee Cake Muffins.

Shepherd's Pie is cozy, delicious, and easy to reheat.

They'll forget Chinese take-out when you bring Cashew Chicken.

Turkey Meatloaf just like Mom used to make. Well, almost.

You know what sounds good when Junior goes to bed (finally)? Chicken Enchiladas.

Also don't forget about these gift ideas from the Lady of the House for the new parents in your life:

  • Wrap food gifts in a tea towel for adorable presentation and convenient clean-up!
  • Sophie the Giraffe. I've seen Lady's little princess playing happily with Sophie for hours. It really is a good gift!
  • Champagne is always welcome.
  • Ding-Dong-Ditch. Drop off a meal and skeedaddle. You'll giggle and the new parents will enjoy a few guest-free minutes.
  • Babies love to snuggle up in Swaddle Designs blankets.
  • Baskets aren't just for Easter anymore. Use one of these gorgeous containers to make your gift extra special. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ooey Gooey Caramel Chocolate Chunk Bars

As the Lady of the House and I mentioned, I baked some treats for Milwaukee's Cookies for Kids' Cancer Bake Sale on Saturday. Since I have a bit of a sweet tooth, I decided to make my favorite over-the-top dessert. (And I was being demure when I said I had "a bit" of a sweet tooth. I'm a dessert-aholic. It can't be helped.)

Anyway, enter Ooey Gooey Caramel Chocolate Chunk Bars. You'll think you've died and gone to heaven,  or at least some kind of very pleasant sugar coma, when you taste these.

Ooey Gooey Caramel Chocolate Chunk Bars
Source: Pillsbury

18.25 oz. package of yellow cake mix (I like to use Pillsbury Golden Butter Cake Mix.)
1/3 cup oil
2 eggs
12 oz. bag chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
3 toffee chocolate bars (such as Heath Bars), chopped
1/2 cup butter
34 vanilla caramels (such as Kraft), unwrapped
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper and grease the parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, oil, and eggs.

Stir in chocolate chips, vanilla chips, and toffee bars. Press half the mixture into the pan and bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine butter, caramels, and sweetened condensed milk in a medium saucepan.

Cook over medium-low head until everything is melted and smooth, stirring occasionally. Slowly pour the mixture over the partially baked crust.

Top with remaining cake mix. (The remaining cake mix probably won't cover everything, so you'll see delicious bits of caramel peaking out. Mmmm...)

Return bars to oven. Bake an additional 25-30 minutes or until the top is set and the edges are deep golden brown. Cool for 20 minutes, then run a knife along any side of your pan that is not covered with parchment paper. (This will make it MUCH easier to remove the bars from the pan when they cool.) Cool for an additional 40 minutes, then refrigerate 1 hour. Cut bars into squares and serve at room temperature. Go back for seconds, thirds, fourths, etc.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bag It, Tag It by Lady of the House

I know Erin has been working her pretty fingers to the bone, preparing for this fabulous bake sale. I am drooling from California, hoping and praying time travel kicks in before she sells every last crumb of home-baked goodness. We chatted this week, by phone, which is unusual, for us. We are the best of friends, and yet, we're the sort that trusts whole-heartledly in the other, and believes with that same strength that life, as it rambles on, can do absolutely no harm or change to our bond. We're not your typical bff, and that's why we love each other so. ANYWAY! We talked about this sale, and if I'm remembering correctly, she had all the recipes and baking worked out, recounting ingredients as if they were old, fond flames. (That girl knows her caramel!) She needed absolutely nothing from me in the baking department, but the conversation turned to housing her beloved baked goods, and she was all ears. I have a bad habit of going into hyper drive, but you're already aware if you've been reading this. So naturally, poor Erin got an ear load about glassine bags, decorative paper, ribbon, washi paper tape, and hand-written labels. You'll just have to pop by the big sale to see her delectable and delectably wrapped goodies.

But in the as gifts, or perhaps more accurately stated: Beautifully wrapped food = gifts.

Sim-mer! I'm not sending you out for parchment paper, or organic muslin, or wooden boxes only Martha Stewart can get her hands on. This is simple, sweet, and sure to please.

For your new neighbor, or your buddy who just moved...
- Grab a pretty bottle of honey, a small wooden spoon or honeycomb, wrap it up in a pretty tea towel. I like to write a note on this one that says, "Here's hoping your new home is a sweet home."

For the bride or groom to be...
- I'm a sucker for celebrating, but a recent engagement is just begging for bubbly. Someone once called to say they'd shoved a bottle of Dom in the snow outside our house. Now, that phone call was hilarious, and drinking the booze even better. But, if you're feeling civilized, wouldn't a chilled bottle of champagne on the doorstep in one of these pretty silver-plated buckets be just divine? If anyone needs practice, feel free to begin at my address! You can ring my bell.

For Mister/Madame Boogers Supreme...
- This is another good one to leave at the door, for obvious reasons. No frills here, you'll only need a handy brown paper bag. Homemade chicken broth--Yes, the real deal that actually heals. Throw in cozy socks, a tabloid or two and her favorite DVD. Look at that! Alllllll, better.

The bottom line? Packaging is powerful. And more than that, your love--appropriately wrapped--is everything! Go for it, you have absolutely nothing to lose.

{ Lady of the House }

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cooking for a Cause

Be it your family around the dinner table, a neighborhood potluck, or a candlelight supper with your sweetie, food draws people together. Hot Dinner Happy Home and many others in the Milwaukee area have been given the opportunity to strengthen our community and bake for a cause this Saturday, May 21. 

We will be baking treats to support Cookies for Kids' Cancer, a wonderful organization that raises funds to support research for new and improved therapies for pediatric cancer. In addition to homemade goodies from Milwaukee area bakers, bloggers, and celebrity chefs, there will be a silent auction with baskets donated by local businesses. If you're in Milwaukee this Saturday, please consider stopping by the Cookies for Kids' Bake Sale & Silent Auction!   

Cookies for Kids' Cancer Bake Sale & Silent Auction – Milwaukee
Date: Saturday, May 21, 2011
Time: 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Location: Best Place At The Historic Pabst Brewery, 901 W. Juneau Ave., Milwaukee
More info:
Cookies for Kids’ Cancer:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Shepherd's Pie

After we returned from our vacation, I was ready to resume cooking dinner for the husband and me. I'd had plenty of restaurant meals and enough Retroburgers to last a lifetime. But since I was back to work, it needed to be a fast and easy meal.

With that requirement in mind, I decided to make a shepherd's pie. It seemed quick, delicious, and cozy given our frighteningly cold spring weather. Plus I had some ground beef in my freezer. Bonus!

Everything was tasting scrumptious as I went along, but the filling seemed awfully soupy. I let it cook a bit longer than required, but to no avail. "Ahh, whatever. It'll still taste good." I said to myself. I plopped the potatoes on top and popped my pie into the oven.

As soon as I started cleaning up the dirty dishes, I realized I'd forgotten to add the peas and corn to the filling. So, that's why it was soupy! After very briefly considering peeling off the potato layer and stirring in the extra veggies, I said again, "Ahh, whatever. It'll still taste good."

And it did.

Shepherd's Pie
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Cookbook
Serves: 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, minced
2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4" thick
1 celery rib, thinly sliced
1 pound lean ground beef
1/4 cup flour
3 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 tablespoons tomato paste
1.5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup beer
1.5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup peas
1 cup corn kernels
Salt and pepper
4 cups of your favorite mashed potatoes*
1/3 cup sour cream

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over medium. Add onion, carrots, and celery and cook until softened, 10 minutes.

Stir in the beef and cook until no longer pink, breaking up large chunks as it cooks. Stir in flour, garlic, and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute longer. Slowly stir in the broth, beer, Worcestershire, and thyme. Bring the mixture to a simmer, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook until thickened, about 20-25 minutes. Stir in the peas and corn. (Don't forget like I did!) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir sour cream into your mashed potatoes. Spread the potatoes into an even layer on top of the filling. Bake in the preheated oven for15 minutes.

In order to brown the top of the potatoes, adjust the rack to the upper third of the oven and turn on the broiler. Broil the shepherd's pie for about 5 minutes, until the top is golden brown, watching it carefully to ensure it doesn't burn.

*I cannot guarantee it, but I may or may not have used potatoes from a box. There's no shame here, people.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Where in the world is HDHH?

It was long, long, LONG overdue, but recently the husband and I skipped town and headed off on vacation. Ah, vacation. Even the word soothes my soul.

The scent of smoked ham at an outdoor festival. Best aromatherapy ever.

We spent time sight-seeing, riding public transit (the husband has a thing for conquering public transit), sleeping in, and eating. Oh, the eating! Long delicious meals, lingering over coffee and discussing life. Pastries enjoyed on the fly as we buzzed between sites. Picnics gathered from the supermarket and savored outdoors. Lots and lots of ice cream cones.
Bulk candy is popular the world over.

One of my favorite parts of vacation, besides the eating, of course, is observing how people in another city do all the same things I do here in Milwaukee, but with a different backdrop. For example, the husband and I spent a lazy afternoon in a sun-drenched park, reading, relaxing, and people-watching. Teenage boys rode their skateboards and took terrifying tumbles (always coming away unscathed as only teenage boys can do). Girlfriends chatted over coffees in takeaway cups. Amorous couples canoodled in the grass. (And if you don't know what canoodling is, you've never seen an amorous couple.) It could have been any park in Milwaukee.
But they don't have potato wedges at my local McDonald's.

Then I got to thinking about this concept in light of Hot Dinner Happy Home. What do people in other cities and countries do to turn their homes into havens? Do they spring clean? Serve up a hearty breakfast? Make sure their families are outfitted for a rainy day? Visit the farmers' market for local produce? I think so.
Proof that farmers' markets are essential no matter where you are.

So, now the only question remaining is where did the husband and I go on our travels? Well, you'll have to visit our Facebook page to find out for sure (and to see more photos!), but I'd love to hear your guesses. Where in the world was Hot Dinner Happy Home?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Take a Picture, It'll Last Longer by Lady of the House

As I stare the big 3-0 in the face, I'm feeling a bit sentimental. Any milestone birthday has a way of prompting us to take stock, be thankful and wonder wide-eyed at the future. Since life trots on, (or gallops, I should say) I'm grateful for the special tokens I've collected that bring to mind happy memories. The tiny purse my dad bought me in Africa as a child, the mug my aunt gave me from which I drink every morning, the hand-me-down Norwegian cheese knife and countless other odds and ends all serve a purpose and yet seem to define me to some degree. The stuff of life, I suppose.

Universally, photographs remain the best way to appreciate time gone by. But if you're anything like me, you've been clicking away at just about everything in sight, and you've got nothing to show for it. I had every intention of logging married life in lovely albums and vintage frames, but I've done a very bad job. No program is as user-friendly as it claims to be, printing is a nightmare, and then there's just getting things organized.

I'm out of excuses now that I've discovered Pinhole Press. I'm smitten with just about everything they offer: simple, clean, perfectly bound photo albums, calendars, note pads, and even holiday cards. Just upload your files and you're on your way. Do you hear that? It's your photos breathing a sigh of relief. Now, your turn!

{ Lady of the House }

(all photos courtesy of Pinhole Press)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Curried Chicken Salad with Yogurt

I really try hard to build my shopping list using the sale flyer at my local market. It helps me feel less guilty about the occasional box of Reece's Peanut Butter Puffs that shows up in my cart. But sometimes I buy a strange combination of food because it happens to be on sale. Take this week for example:

  • Rotisserie chicken was $4.99. Tuesday ONLY. I couldn't pass that up!
  • Plain yogurt. Ok, not sure what I was planning to do with the plain yogurt, but I thought it seemed useful at the time.
  • Lemons were so much cheaper if I bought a 4-pack. I figured I'd use them up somehow.
When it came time to plan dinner, I was a little flummoxed. Note to self: meal plan BEFORE grocery shopping. I'm a real genius sometimes. Anyway, somehow the idea of curried chicken salad popped into my head. It must have been some sort of miracle, because how else are you supposed to get rid of plain yogurt and rotisserie chicken in the same meal?? 

Our easy dinner was so delicious that next time, I might just buy the ingredients on purpose. 

Curried Chicken Salad
Adapted from Gourmet via
Serves: 6

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup plain yogurt
4 teaspoons curry powder
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1.5 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
4 scallions (white and light green part only), very thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 rotisserie chicken, skin and bones removed and meat cut into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups)
2/3 cup sultanas (a.k.a. golden raisins)

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together mayo, yogurt, curry powder, lemon juice, honey, ginger, and scallions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Stir in chicken, sultanas, and pecans.

*If you would like to serve this curried chicken salad in a pita, as I planned to, please remember to cut your pitas in half before toasting them in the oven. Otherwise, they won't cut well, and you'll need to serve chicken salad pita pizzas. (See picture...I really should have cut the pitas first.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Just do it.

Do you ever feel so busy that you don't get anything accomplished because all you can do is think about how busy you are? Which only makes you feel more busy? That's how I've been feeling lately. It's driving me a bit crazy.

Recently my pal, Jill, invited me to make dinner with her, and if you ask me, friendship is way more important than folded laundry or a crumb-free kitchen floor. So I put aside my busyness and headed over to Jill's blue abode for a delicious meal.

I was in charge of bringing an appetizer to munch on while we cooked. Often I find myself stressing out over appetizers. What will coordinate with the main course? What will be classy and delicious? Here's a better question: Who cares? Does it taste good? Then it's an excellent appetizer.

Since I was short on time, I swung by my local market for a hunk of cheese that happened to be on sale. Then I grabbed a box of crackers from my cupboard. Et voila...cheese and crackers. Was this the swankiest appetizer I could have brought? No. (Especially since I showed up with the cheese still in its wrapper and the crackers safely encased in their box.) Was it stress-free and fabulously tasty? Heck yes. 

So next time you're feeling anxious about your passed hors d'oeuvres or the perfect dessert to bring to a dinner party, take a deep breath and remember that the friendship is what counts. No one cares if you bring baked alaska or Sarah Lee poundcake from the freezer section...they care about YOU.

I'll hop off my soapbox now. Have a good day.

P.S. In case you're wondering about the crackers and cheese Jill and I gobbled, here are some lovely photos courtesy of the interweb.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Letter Writers Unite! by Lady of the House

I'm a bit puffed with pride today as I've just become a member of the Letter Writers Alliance. For those of you that don't throw around words like philatelic or hand-canceled, it's an official network of folks dedicated to the art of letter writing formed by two genius and perhaps slightly nostalgic ladies: Kathy Zadrozny and Donovan Beeson of the extra sassy 16 Sparrows. My membership card, as well as the fancy pin I'll be attaching to my lapel, and loads of utterly official looking pages of stationery and envelopes arrived at my door to my extreme delight. I'll be randomly paired up with a pen pal now that I'm a member, and the letters will come rolling in. Lucky, lucky me!

The whole concept started when Kathy was exhibiting her hilarious work at art shows, and people kept coming up to her, relieved and honored to meet someone who was providing letter writers with quirky, intelligent and witty cards to mail. And thus, the Letter Writers Alliance was hatched.

I don't know if I'm more delighted to have discovered a company based on the art of letter writing, or that such a thing is in existence. There are barometers we set, little indicators that restore us. Some find it in a full tank of gas. Others, in the A- they get on a term paper. My 'thing' is a stack of stamped letters, ready to be mailed to the people I hope will be cheered or, best case scenario, surprised to see my messy handwriting just begging the US Postal Service to take me all the way to wherever they may be.

But for those of you that are new to this sort of thing, it's as easy and wonderful as Richard Scarry once put errr drew it...

{ Lady of the House }

Monday, May 2, 2011

Lamb Kabobs

The husband is one quarter Lebanese. When he's been on his best behavior, I try to reward him with some Middle Eastern cooking. Since lamb was on sale at Easter time, it was the perfect opportunity to fire up the grill for kebabs.

Lamb Kabobs
Adapted from Feast from the Mideast
Serves: 6-8

3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2-3 red onions
2.5 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1" cubes
2 red peppers, seeded and sliced (optional)

In a shallow dish, combine lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, bay leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Crumble oregano into the dish by rubbing it between your hands. Halve 1 onion and grate it into the dish. Stir to combine.

Add meat and stir to coat. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight, stirring occasionally.

Preheat grill to medium-high. Meanwhile, cut remaining onion into slices. Remove meat from marinade and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Thread meat onto skewers, alternating with onion and, if desired, red peppers.

Place kabobs on grill and cook about 6 minutes for medium-rare, turning halfway through.  

Serve kabobs with warmed pitas, hummus, and tabbouleh.