Monday, March 29, 2010

Busy Days and Better Times

Day 88.

Museums and aquariums and festivals. Oh, my! Busy days are ahead for me as we spend the week with my in-laws. Things have gotten better, by the way. There were Mmmms after dinner tonight, and someone else did the dishes. I took some advice and served family-style, and also made sure there were extras on hand in case we ran out of something. It all went well.

Today, we visited the Civil War Naval Museum. Did you know that on teh ships, there were boys as young as ten years old, called powder monkeys, who held the job of transporting gun powder to the cannons between firings? Neither did I. It was a neat trip. I learned a few things.

While we were out, meringues were cooling and drying in my oven. These simple little gems are fabulous. They're pretty sweet, so a few will tame your sweet tooth. They're easy to make. And they're very low cost, requiring only a few egg whites, a little sugar, and a touch of cream of tartar. And they're easy to flavor any way you like.


What You Need:
  • 3 egg whites
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • dash of salt
  • a Tbsp of flavoring (I used a Tbsp of coconut rum for mine. Vanilla extract is another nice one.)
How it's Done:
  1. Bring your egg whites to room temperature.
  2. Beat them on medium-high speed until they're very foamy. Sprinkle the cream of tartar over the egg whites and continue beating until light and fluffy and peaks begin to form.
  3. SLOWLY add in sugar. To make the sugar easier to incorporate, I run it through my food processor for a full minute before using in this recipe. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form.
  4. Slowly add salt and flavoring. Beat again until shiny, sticky, and stiff.
  5. Scoop into a piping bag and pipe into stars on parchment paper.
  6. Bake for 2 hours at 200 degrees. Turn off the oven and let the meringues cool completely before removing.

Menu Plan Monday 3/29 - 4/4

I want to thank you all for your cheerleading, your kind words, your support, your offers to drive down here brandishing pitchforks, and all your comments. Things are better. I had a talk with the Hubs and he was appropriately sheepish. ;) Last night at dinner, he brought in an additional chair, cleared all the dishes, and rushed off to the store to pick up dishwasher soap when he realized we were out.

My in-laws are here all week this week, plus some of next week, so this entire menu plan is subject to change. You'll note I've included fish for Friday this week. :)

Breakfasts planned:
  • waffles
  • eggs, bacon, and toast
  • scones of some sort
  • biscuits, sausage, and eggs
  • oatmeal
Lunches will be leftovers or eaten on the go.

Dinners planned:
  • Hard & soft tacos with salad and fruit
  • Roast chicken, rice, and salad, with homemade bread
  • Steaks on the grill with salad and veggies
  • Spaghetti & meatballs
  • Homemade egg rolls & ??
  • Fish & Chips, cole slaw, and fries
  • Out to Eat
  • ??? Easter Dinner???
Other Things I plan to bake, make, and post here:
  • Strawberry shortcakes
  • Meringue Cookies
  • Shirley Temple Two Ways
  • Fig Newtons from scratch
And something new for the month of April... Food Science Fridays. Each Friday, I'll play with my food and tell you all about it. It'll be fun. :)

For more menu plans, visit orgjunkie.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

I'm Exhausted...

Day 86.

I'm so tired. I apologize for not posting anything yesterday. I intended to post a homemade fig newton recipe, but my in-laws arrived, announced that they couldn't eat my planned beef recipe, owing to being a Friday in Lent (not being Catholic, I do not observe the no meat on Fridays in Lent, so wasn't expecting it), and we went out to eat at Red Lobster instead. I do not like seafood. Or blackened chicken. Red Lobster has NO vegetarian options on their menu (except for a side salad). The non-seafood options are limited to blackened chicken and steak.

Anyway, I didn't get home until after 9 p.m. and didn't feel up to the task of creating homemade fig newtons. I'll make them sometime this week.

And all day today, allllllll day today, we were out shopping. I was out shopping with no money. I hate going shopping without money. And, I had a headache. And no headache medicine.

Then, I came home (around 4 this afternoon), took a couple Motrin and went upstairs to watch a couple episodes of Friends (the ones where Ross and Rachel finally become a thing). An hour later, I felt better, so I came back downstairs and made dinner for four adults and two children. I made, all from scratch, my sweet potato yeast rolls, chicken-fried steak, salad, mashed potatoes, and corn. Plus I made an appetizer (coming up later in this post). And then I served dinner.

And everyone got their food before me. Which is fine. That's what a good hostess does.

But there were no more forks or knives for me to use. So I had to wash a set for myself.

And the only gravy left was the sticky stuff that develops a skin at the bottom of the gravy boat.

And there were no chairs left to sit on. And no one thought to grab me one from another room. So I went and ate in the living room. Alone.

And no one said thank you. And no one complimented my cooking.

And no one has volunteered to put away the leftovers or do the dishes. Guess what I get to do after I finish typing this. While other people read, color, watch television, and play computer games.

What do you do when this happens at your house? It feels rather unappreciative. Mom, if you're reading this, I love you and I thank you for every single meal you ever cooked for me. And every dish you ever washed on my behalf.
Hot Onion Dip

What You Need:
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 2 large onions, peeled and diced
How it's Done:
  1. Combine all ingredients. Pour into an ungreased 8" square baking dish. 
  2. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. 
  3. Serve hot with chips or crackers.  

Thursday, March 25, 2010

When the Creative Juices Flow, I Have to Go with It

Day 84.

My in-laws are arriving from out of state tomorrow for a visit. They're staying at my home. I should be running around, vacuuming, fluffing pillows, laying out towels and wash cloths and otherwise getting things in order for their visit.

But I invented a recipe instead. I couldn't help it. The ideas just kept popping into my brain and demanded to come out my fingertips into a yummy treat.

So, while my towels remain unfolded, and the pillows remain unfluffed, and the carpets remain in need of a vacuuming, I find myself drawn to the kitchen. Aren't you glad?

Apple Cheesecake Bars
(name subject to change. I can't decide what to call these things.)

What You Need:

for the pie crust:
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • dash of salt
  • 2 Tbsp ice water
for the apple filling:
  • 3 cups peeled, cored, and diced apples
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp butter
for the cheesecake layer:
  • 8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
for the topping:
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup chilled butter
How it's Done:
  1. For the crust: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In the bowl of your food processor, combine a cut up stick of butter and 1 1/2 cups of flour. Pulse 15 times. Add the ice water and pulse 5 more times. Pour into an 8x8" square baking dish. Press in the bottom and an inch up the sidess. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 350 degrees.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the apple filling. In a saucepan, combine all apple pie filling ingredients. Cook and stir over medium heat until softened. It should take the 15 minutes that the pie crust takes to bake. Remove from heat and pour into pie crust.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine cheesecake ingredients. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes. Spoon over apple filling.
  4. Combine topping ingredients using a food processor or pastry blender. Sprinkle evenly over top of cheesecake layer.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes, until top is lightly browned.
(Apologies for subpar photography. My daylight is gone.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Another Award! I'm humbled!

Wow! It's such an honor to be recognized with blogging awards. I want to give heartfelt thanks to Heather at Out of the Box Into the Kitchen for nominating me. Heather and I share the same goal: to stop relying on processed foods. Heather, thank you for this recognition. :o)

Here's a link to learn more about the Stiletto Award.

Recipients of the Stilleto Award:


1.Display the Stiletto badge of honor.

2. Brag about it-post a link to the page to highlight what the award is about

3.Say thanks! Include a link to the friend who nominated you.

4. Share the love-nominate 5-10 more blogs. Leave links to their blogs and leave them a comment so they know they won!

5.Do what you do! Keep at it and keep inspiring others!
I nominate the following blogs for the Stiletto Award:
  1. ANDREA @ Andrea the Kitchen Witch. Andrea also strives to eliminate processed foods from her cooking, and has some fabulous recipes to share.  Andrea always has a kind word for a fellow blogger.
  2. MICHELLE @ Girl Gone Granola. Michelle does it all. She cooks. She cares for creatures. She makes wine. Yes, makes wine. Go check her out. Plus, she lives where they sell Aplets & Cotlets. Yum.
  3. BRAE @ I am Not a Volcano. Brae is a smart, witty, funny, creative, strong, sensitive soul who shares herself with the blogging world. Make sure you visit her on Tuesdays for Touchy Topics.
  4. LISA @ Joy in Cooking. Not only does Lisa post some fantastic recipes, she also takes amazing pictures of those recipes.
  5. AMY @ A Foodie Fairytale. I've just recently stumbled upon Amy's blog and it's great. Check out her tasty recipes. They're just my style.
  6. JENN @ Bread + Butter. Jenn's is another blog I've just started following. Check out her Guiness-Battered Fish Sandwich recipe. The photo makes my mouth absolutely water.
  7. JENN (another one!) at Jenn's Food Journey. I always make sure to look for new posts on Jenn's blog. She cooks --ahem-- healthier than I do and her recipes always look delicious.
I'm off to share the good news with my nominees. Happy Cooking, everyone!

Why I Don't Use Canned Soups in my Recipes

One of my favorite ways to relax is to take a good book and read it while soaking in a hot bath. Yesterday, being the food nerd that I am, that good book was a cookbook. I decided to flip through it and look for things to inspire my imagination in the kitchen. Several recipe ideas were born, including a Hot Onion Dip that I look forward to creating and then (if all goes well) sharing with you all. However, I read something in one of the book's little quips that made me think. It said something along the lines of, "If you snub canned soups then you're just a food snob," and went on to describe just how important --vital, even-- canned soups are to today's cooks. Specifically, the author was speaking about such soup gems as condensed cream of mushroom and cream of celery soups. Important? Vital?

I beg to differ. Let's think about what a can of condensed cream soup does for a recipe. It takes the place of sauce ingredients (like a thin gravy) and speeds up prep time. If you're here, on my blog, you realize that good cooking does take time. And while making a sauce from scratch takes a little more time (perhaps five minutes more) than opening a can of cream of mushroom soup and struggling to get the blob of goo out of the can, you are willing to go the extra mile to make a meal more nourishing for your clan.

Want to talk about nutrition? Half a cup of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup has 100 calories, six grams of fat, and --hold on to your blood pressure cuff-- 870 mg of sodium (that's 36% of your recommended daily value, folks)! (source: The Daily Plate) Now, I'm not really worried about fat totals in recipes where I use good fats. Good fats: now that's subjective, isn't it? Everywhere we turn, we're inundated with ideas and "proof" of what's a good fat and what's a bad fat. Here's where I stand. Remember: I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on T.V. This is just what my family does.

Fats I Consider Good:
  • Real butter
  • Extra virgin Olive Oil
  • Coconut Oil
I cook with those three whenever possible. Yes, they're high in saturated fat, but there's none of those nasty chemicals in them and they all have healthy properties. I never, ever use margarine. I do use vegetable oil (even vegetable shortening now and then), but I try to stick to the three fats up above.

...But I digress. Back to the soup. Need another reason to avoid condensed cream soups? Look at the ingredient list. Monosodium glutamate. Soy protein extract. To be fair, the ingredients list does start with mushrooms and fresh cream and vegetable oil. But why add the MSG? What purpose does the soy extract serve?

In the near future, I will showcase a real, homemade cream soup recipe. It won't gel or form a cylindrical blob. And it will taste nothing like anything you can get from a can. But I'll compare the two, side-by-side, and you can judge which you'd rather use in your own cooking.

Meanwhile, tuna casserole. It's one of those stereotypical recipes from my childhood that relied on condensed cream soups and cooked in the microwave. My mother-in-law still makes it with white egg noodles, cheddar cheese, cream of mushroom soup, and tuna. That's it. It all gets thrown into a plastic bowl and nuked for a while, then served. Nothing wrong with a little simplicity, right?

But give this one a shot. It tastes fresh. How often can we say that about Tuna-Noodle Casserole? It tastes fresh. You can taste the tuna in here, as well as the vegetables. Using whole wheat produts, low-fat milk, real butter (in small amounts), and sea salt make it a more nourishing choice. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does.

Real, Modern, Old-Fashioned Tuna-Noodle Casserole

What You Need:
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. dried tarragon
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 cups low-fat milk
  • 3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (to reduce fat, feel free to use low-fat cheese, but I prefer the texture and robust flavor provided by full-fat cheeses)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 2 cans (6 oz. each) tuna (packed in water), drained
  • 1 cup fresh whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 12 oz whole wheat wide egg noodles
How it's Done:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook egg noodles as package directs.
  3. Meanwhile, in a saute pan with high sides, melt 3 Tbsp butter. Add onion and saute 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in the flour, dry mustard, tarragon, salt, and pepper. Cook and stir until all the flour is absorbed by the browned butter.
  5. Slowly stir in the milk. Cook and stir constantly over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese until melted. Add tuna, peas (the sauce with thaw them out, so there's no need to precook them), and green onions. Combine sauce with pasta.
  6. Spray a 2 quart casserole with non-stick cooking spray. Pour noodles with sauce into the casserole.
  7. Melt the remaining 2 Tbsp butter and combine with your bread crumbs. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the casserole.
  8. Bake 30 minutes. Let the dish sit for five minutes before serving.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It Always Feels Like Somebody's Watchin' Me...

Day 82.

I have 42 followers. :o) I like each and every one of you and am thankful for the support. I love that you've found something worthy of watching for on my blog. I wonder though: How did you find me? If you're reading this, and wouldn't mind, will you share with me how you came to read my blog? My curious nature would be so appreciative if you did. :)

Also, I'm open for suggestions. Is there anything you'd like to see here? Any favorite dishes you'd like to learn to make, that I could perhaps write about with step-by-step directions? Any ingredients you'd like to see featured? Let me know. I'm all ears. Or eyes. Both, really.

Meanwhile, how about something light and delicious?

Flavorful Turkey Burgers

  • 1 lb ground turkey breast
  • 3/4 cup Italian-seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
How it's Done:
  1. Heat a skillet (sprayed with non-stick cooking spray) over medium heat.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mash everything together, taking care to fully incorporate all the ingredients throughout the turkey.
  3. Form into patties (this recipe makes about 6 large patties).
  4. "Fry" each patty about 6 minutes per side, or until cooked all the way through. 
  5. Serve on buns with your desired fixin's. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

This Won't Convert the Broccoli Haters in Your Life

Day 81.

Today, my baby learned to ride without training wheels. I ran outside and snapped about a hundred pictures of her tottering along on two wheels. All the while, images flashed through my mind of scraped elbows and battered hands. But she did it. She rode without training wheels today. I am so proud of her.

But each time she reaches a milestone, a part of me wants to cry, "No! Stay little!" She's my baby. When she lost her first tooth, I cried. I didn't let her see me, and I certainly did not break down into hysterics, but I shed a few tears. When she started first grade this year, I spent the first couple of hours of her school day at Starbucks. Not really treating myself. You see, Starbucks is directly across from the school. I sat on the porch with a friend, and we drank coffee and looked at the school. Then, I went home, and sat in the back yard and looked at the school. I missed her. (for the record, these days, I'm okay with her going to school, and I go about my daily business without pining for her in the back yard, although I know when her P.E. class and recess times are, and I listen to the kids squealing outside during those times.)

I'm very proud of all of her accomplishments. She's in the gifted program. She's spelling third grade words with no effort. She's about to take part in a musical production about ancient Rome. She's on the soccer team. She's a terrific kid. And she's growing up. And that's bittersweet.

But she'll always be my baby...

...who doesn't like broccoli.

Your broccoli haters probably won't like this dish, either. But if broccoli's your thing (and it's definitely my thing), you'll love this dish. The broccoli emerges tasting sweet.

Baked Broccoli

  • 1 lb broccoli florets
  • 1 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
How it's Done:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Steam broccoli as usual.
  3. Toss with melted butter and bread crumbs. Spread in an 8x8" square baking dish. Top with cheese.
  4. Drizzle oil over top.
  5. Bake 30 minutes.

Menu Plan Monday 3/22 - 3/28

It's Monday! Time for another menu plan. This week, we have 2 soccer practices, a late club meeting, a dentist appointment, a soccer game, and family coming (my in-laws) from out of state to stay with us. They arrive on Friday and I intend to show their mouths a culinary good time. ;)

Here's my menu plan. Recipes will be posted on the day they're made. Please stop back by for the recipes and pictures! :) For more inspiration, or to list your own menu plan, visit


• Oat bran muffins

English muffins

• Cinnamon Toast and Hard-Boiled Eggs

• Oatmeal

• Granola with Milk and Fruit


• Tuna and White Bean Pasta Salad

• Black Beans & Yellow Rice

• Barbecue Pockets

• Leftovers other days


Meatless Monday: Alton Brown’s Macaroni and Cheese and Baked Broccoli

Tuesday: Turkey Burgers on Homemade Rolls with Oven Fries

Crock Pot Wednesday: Tuna Casserole guaranteed not to include cream of ANTHING soup! And Slow Cooker Brownies for dessert

Thursday: Leftovers

Cookie Friday: Chicken & Dumplings for dinner. Cookie of the week: Fig Newtons!

Saturday: Burgers & Ribs on the Grill, Cole Slaw, Pasta salad, and Beans

Southern Cookin’ Sunday: Chicken & Waffles

See you back throughout the week, and happy cooking!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

English Muffins, At Last!

As promised, here is the recipe for English Muffins. It's from The New Betty Crocker Cookbook and while it's time-consuming, it's pretty easy to do.

  • 2 cups warm milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 4 1/2 tsp (2 packets) active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour (plus a little more for kneading)
  • cornmeal
How it's Done:
  1. Proof your yeast. In your mixing bowl, combine warm milk, sugar, butter, and yeast. Let it sit, undisturbed, for ten minutes. It should double in volume. If it does, proceed. If it does not, throw it out and go get some fresh yeast.
  2. Stir in salt and flour.
  3. Knead 6 to 8 minutes until smooth and elastic.
  4. Coat with oil. Place in a large bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 60 minutes.
  5. Punch down. Turn dough out onto a floured countertop. Cover it and let it rest 10 minutes.
  6. Roll to 1/2" thickness. Using a 4" biscuit cutter (or, ahem, the can that used to hold a whole lot of chickpeas, which you removed both ends from and washed), cut circles.
  7. Lightly moisten each side and dip both sides in cornmeal. Continue until all circles (you should end up with 12) are coated. Cover them and let them double in size in a warm place. This will take about 30 minutes.
  8. Now it's time to cook the muffins. On a dry griddle heated to 325 degrees (or medium), cook a few at a time, turning every 5 minutes, for about 30 minutes. Store the rest of the uncooked muffins in the fridge while you cook a batch.
  9. When you're ready to serve them, split them with a fork, not a knife. Fork-splitting gives them the nooks and crannies.
  10. Be prepared to never want Thomas's again...despite the long hours involved. Yum.

Southern Cookin' Sundays #3

Day 80!

Today, I made another Southern Cookin' Menu. On today's plate: Chicken Fried Chicken (LoL), Lima Beans & Corn, Southern Style Biscuits, and Sweet Potato Pie for dessert!

Here are some recipes...

Chicken Fried Chicken (Why do they call it that? Wouldn't Fried Chicken do it?)

  • 2 1/5 lb chicken (I used boneless, skinless breasts)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • peanut oil for deep frying
How it's Done:
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet with high sides over medium heat.
  2. Meanwhile, combine flour, salt, and pepper in a pie plate. In another pie plate, combine beaten eggs and milk.
  3. Dip chicken in flour, then egg, then flour, then egg, then flour and egg again. THREE dips each dish.
  4. Fry 8 to 10 minutes, then flip chicken and fry another 8 to 10 minutes.
  5. Serve with gravy if desired.

Sweet Potato Pie

  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potato
  • 1 can evaporated (PET) milk
  • pie crust for a single crust pie
How it's Done:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a deep dish pie plate with your crust. Set aside.
  2. In your food processor, combine eggs, butter, vanilla, sugar, cinnamon, and ginger. Add sweet ptoatoes. Process until smooth.
  3. With food processor running, slowly add milk.
  4. Pour into pie crust.
  5. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until almost set. Let pie cool completely before serving.

For a fabulous southern style biscuit recipe, visit Food Network's Alton Brown's recipe here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Key is Experimentation!

Day 79.

Do you know how to come up with something fabulous in the kitchen? Don't be afraid to play with your recipes! I took a standard potato roll recipe and turned it into fabulous sandwich buns. I'm glad I was careful to remember what I put in them, because this recipe was a winner. I wanted a soft, flavorful roll to hold my BBQ Pulled Pork (recipe follows), and I wanted it to be different than your standard sandwich bun. I had some sweet potatoes that needed to be cooked. So I made sweet potato rolls. I wish I could hand you one right now to try. They're soft, and yeasty, and sweet, and salty, and buttery, and perfect.

You must make these. Right away.

Go. Make rolls!

Sweet Potato Sandwich Rolls

  • 1 cup of warm milk (I microwaved it for 1 minute, stirred, then microwaved it another minute and it was perfect. You want it warm to the touch, but not hot)
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk (use the white for something else)
  • 3 Tbsp softened butter
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato (about 2 sweet potatoes)
  • 3 2/3 cups bread flour
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter for finishing (use salted. It leaves wonderful grains of salt on the bread when it "dries".  Don't skip this step.)
How it's Done:
  1. Proof your yeast: In your mixing bowl, combine warm milk, sugar, and yeast. Stir it up and then let it sit undisturbed for ten to twelve minutes. It should get bubbly and double in volume. (If it doesn't, don't proceed, because it means your yeast is dead. Go out and buy new, fresh yeast. Yeast should be used by the expiration date. If you buy it in a jar, use it within 6 months of opening.)
  2. Stir in egg yolk, butter, and salt. Add mashed sweet potato and stir to combine.
  3. Half a cup at a time, stir in your flour. If you're not using a stand mixer, a wooden spoon is the best tool for this job. Your dough will be slightly sticky when all the flour is stirred in.
  4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. You could also use your stand mixer for this job. By hand, it will take about 8 minutes.
  5. Form the dough into a ball. Coat lightly with oil and place in a large mixing bowl. Cover gently and let rise until doubled in size. This will take anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes.
  6. Punch down your dough. Divide it into 10 equal parts. Roll each piece into a rope. Roll cinnamon-roll style, pinching the end seam to seal. Place each on a cookie sheet that's been oiled and dusted with cornmeal. Cover loosely. Let rise again, until doubled, about 45 minutes to an hour.
  7. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake rolls 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned.
  8. Immediately upon removal from oven, brush rolls with melted butter.
  9. Slice horizontally to serve.
Here's what I served inside mine:

...and here's how to make it:

Slow Cooker Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwiches

  • 3 lb boneless pork roast
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 bottle barbecue sauce (I recommend my homemade recipe)
  • cole slaw
  • sandwich rolls
How it's Done:
  1. Sprinkle pork roast with salt and pepper.
  2. In a slow cooker, combine roast and 1/4 cup water.
  3. Cook on HIGH one hour, then on LOW 8 more hours.
  4. Remove roast to a cutting board. Empty slow cooker of all liquid.
  5. Shred roast using two large forks. Return meat to slow cooker.
  6. Add barbecue sauce to slow cooker. Toss meat so that the sauce is well distributed.
  7. Cook on HIGH one to two hours.
  8. Serve barbecue on sandwich rolls with cole slaw on top of meat. The creaminess of the slaw and the spicy tang of the sauce complement each other very nicely.

Friday, March 19, 2010

So THAT'S What Little Debbie Meant it to Taste Like!

Day 78.

It's Cookie Friday! Each Friday in the month of March, I'm duplicating a classic cookie recipe. This week, it's Little Debbie's Oatmeal Cream Pie.

Last week, I created a cookie recipe that was so good that I have held off on posting its recipe, because I just might sell the cookie instead. Sorry, folks. ;) Anyway, that cookie prompted a discussion between my mother and me. She said I could be the next Mrs. Field's. I argued that Mrs. Field's cookies weren't as good as mine, therefore I didn't like the comparison. Well, Mrs. Field's cookies used to be delicious. I bet Mrs. Field got her start in her own kitchen and sold her cookie recipe to be mass produced, and now you can buy them in the cookie aisle and at any convenience store. They no longer taste home baked, though. Mass production makes them lack that home-baked taste.

The same can be said about Famous Amos and other cookie companies. Even Little Debbie. I wonder if Little Debbie oatmeal cream pies were once the brainchild of a fabulous home kitchen cook.

I found a recipe for oatmeal cream pies at honey & jam and I followed the recipe almost exactly. They turned out very well.

Oatmeal Cream Pies (modified from honey & jam)


for the cookies:
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp molasses
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla (make your own! It's easy and so much better than McCormick's!)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (don't use black or dark here)
  • 1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
for the cream filling:
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 7 oz jar marshmallow cream
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp milk
How it's Done:
  1. First, make the cookies. Cream together butter and sugars. Add molasses. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then add the vanilla.
  2. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking soda, cocoa, cinnamon, and oats.
  3. Add dry ingredients to wet, gradually.
  4. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.
  5. Drop dough by heaping tablespoon onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cookies will look undercooked. DO NOT OVERBAKE.
  6. Let cookies cool briefly.
  7. Make  cream filling. Cream together shortening and marshmallow cream. Beat in vanilla extract. Gradullay add in confectioner's sugar and vanilla. Add milk and beat well for one minute.
  8. Place a tablespoon of filling on the flat side of one cookie. Cover with another cookie, flat side facing filling. Continue until all cookies are filled.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Picture Day

Today was Spring Portraits Day at my girls' school. I used to dress them up in their best clothes. No, wait, that's wrong. I used to go out and buy them new outfits for picture day. I'd do up their hair really nicely, and make sure they knew to brush their hair and check their teeth before the camera snapped their images into their places in history.

Then it hit me.

My girls don't have perfect hair. They don't wear fancy dresses. So I don't want pictures of perfectly coiffed children in frilly, pink gowns, with big silky bows in their hair. I want pictures of my little athlete with two ponytails (one purple tie, one blue tie) and a hairband (because she's in that awkward growing-out-the-bangs stage) and the other kid, who's into doing her own hair, can do whatever she pleases (even if her part is crooked). I let them wear what they wanted. Little Kitty wore her Rock Star shirt (it's grey with white sleeves and grafitti on the front) and jeans. Bayberry wore a purple shirt and jeans.

It's who they are.

And it's awesome.

Part of who I am is a frugal cook. The other day, I made straw and hay. It's delicious. Prosciutto gives it a wonderful perfume-y flavor. But is it frugal? Sure, if you get a good deal on prosciutto. But what about for regular days? Can't I do better than that?
So I created this dish. It's very similar to straw and hay. It's more budget-friendly, and it's saltier. But it's more down-to-earth. It's more me.

Cheesy Pasta with Bacon and Peas

  • 1 box tri-color rotini
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 a large onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 slices of bacon, cooked crisp, drained, and crumbled
  • 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
How it's Done:
  1. Boil pasta. 
  2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a saute pan. Add onion and saute for 3 minutes. 
  3. Add milk, salt and pepper, and parmesan cheese. Cook and stir until simmering. Remove from heat and stir in mozzarella. Stir in peas and bacon.
  4. Drain pasta. Toss with sauce. Serve.

I Won! I Won!

Day 77.

Today, the mailman left me a present on my doorstep. It was the package of goodies I won at Michelle's Blog, Girl Gone Granola. She sent me a box of regional goodies that are half gone already. The things she sent are so delicious and new to us and fun! Here's what she sent and what I thought about it:
*Couger Mountain Apple Walnut Cookies. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm..These were so good. They were chewy in the middle, as if slightly underbaked, and tasted like fresh apple cookies. We all enjoyed them, and yes, they're gone.

*Dancing Goats Blend Coffee. I haven't gotten to try this yet, as I'm still getting through my Pike Place blend from Starbucks. Incidentally, Starbucks got its start with its Pike Place shop in Washington!

*Sauerkraut. Homemade! My husband is super excited about this, and my in-laws are coming to visit soon, so I'll be serving brats to go with this!

*Blueberry Jam. More homemade. I love homemade things. I am the only blueberry lover in my home, so I get to keep it All To Myself. Yum! It's going to go so well with my homemade English muffins this weekend.

*Almond Roca. My husband and two daughters devoured this immediately. I didn't even get to taste it. Can you tell we don't buy much candy around here? They loved it.

*Seattle Chocolates Pike place Espresso Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar. Again, candy in our house. It went quickly. We all got to try this and loved it. Yes, my babies consumed espresso-laced dark chocolate. And they were very happy to do it. :)

*Aplets and Cotlets. ...but if they thought I was sharing these, they were mistaken. Admittedly, I was afraid to try them. They look weird. I'm so glad I did. No one's getting one of these. Luckily, I found a recipe for them. I can make them at home. Or, I can order them online. But I can't resist trying my hand at them, and they serving them to folks I know. These are heavenly. HEAVENLY.

So, Michelle, thank you for this wonderful, generous surprise. I love every bit of it. And my family thanks you.

Be on the lookout: As a condition of this giveaway, I agreed to host one of my own. Look for it early this summer, when I'll share some yummies from the good ol' south. And don't forget: I'll be hosting another giveaway to celebrate my 100th day of blogging, on April 10th! Look for details on April 1st.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

This Bread is Easy to Make

This bread is a wonderfully different bread to serve with anything Italian, or any dish. Or by itself. Because it might not make it to the table. Your family might eat it all while you're taking pictures of it. So snap your pictures very, very quickly.

Garlic-Parmesan Focaccia

  • 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • topping: 2 Tbsp olive oil, 2 Tbsp shredded parmesan cheese, and 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • cornmeal for dusting baking sheet
How it's Done:
  1. Proof yeast by combining it with the water and the sugar and letting it sit for ten minutes. Mixture should double in volume.
  2. Add salt, flour, and 1 Tbsp olive oil. Mix until all the flour is incorporated.
  3. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled, or about an hour.
  5. Punch down dough. Divide in half. Form each half into a ball and place on a greased baking sheet which has been dusted lightly with cornmeal. Cover and let rest ten minutes.
  6. Press or roll each ball into an 8" circle. Press your fingertips into the dough to make indentations every couple of inches. Let dough rest, covered, about twenty minutes, or until doubled in size again.
  7. Drizzle each round with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp shredded parmesan and 1 minced garlic clove on each round.
  8. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, until puffed up and browned.
  9. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Vegetable Peek-a-Boo

Day 76.

Do you know a naughty little girl or boy who won't eat vegetables? I know one. He's turning thirty-two years old next month and still has an aversion to things that are good for him. It's hard to set an example for your children when their father turns up his nose at most orange, green, purple, and yellow vegetables. To his credit, he does enjoy peas: the ones that come in a can, anyway.

For Christmas one year, I was given a copy of Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook. You know the one. She hides pureed fruits and vegetables in her recipes. I didn't really like the idea of all that extra work of cooking and pureeing foods ahead of time. And I didn't like the recipes. They weren't my style. So the book went unused.

I took one thing from her, however, and that is that it's good to incorporate "invisible" veggies when possible. This recipe does that with carrots and sweet potatoes.

Hidden Vegetable Beer-Cheese Soup

  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 carrots
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 cups broth
  • 1 bottle of beer (don't use light beer. An amber brew is good for this, or even a stout)
  • 1 tsp each  freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt
  • 3 cups of milk, divided
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella (optional but nice)
How it's Done:
  1. Melt butter in a large stock pot.
  2. Dice onion. Peel carrots and sweet potato and cut into small chunks. Processcarrots and sweet potato in food processor until they are minced very finely.
  3. Add all vegetables to melted butter and saute five minutes.
  4. Pour in 2 cups broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes to cook the vegetables.
  5. Pour in a bottle of beer. Add the salt and pepper. Pour in two cups of milk. Bring to a simmer again.
  6. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together 1 cup of milk and 1/4 cup flour. Whisk until smooth. Slowly pour into the heated soup. Cook and stir until slightly thickened, about two minutes.
  7. Stir in cheese. Remove from heat. Let the soup sit until the cheese is melted. Stir before serving. Really great when served with Garlic-Parmesan Focaccia!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kids are Expensive!

Day 75.

Yesterday, my girls had their 6 month dental visit. $300 in crowns for one kid. The dreaded ORTHODONTIST referral for the other. Thank goodness for dental insurance, because the first kid's teeth would cost over $1,000 without it, and the orthodontist without insurance, well, who wants to think about that nightmare? Not I!

Today, they both brought home tee-shirt order forms for their school's annual field day event. This is not optional. It's the field day uniform. The shirts are $10.00 apiece. Not too expensive, but that's $20.00 for my family. Then, there's picture day. $10 each for class pictures, paid up front. Individual spring protraits will be sent home for our approval (read: sent home to guilt us into paying for them) prior to payment.

Popcorn and pickles are sold each Wednesday. A quarter and fifty cents, respectively. Not a big deal. One of each, once a week, for two kids will cost me $60.00 over the course of a 40-week school year.

My oldest has been invited to participate in the Cup Stacking Championships. It's by invitation only, and she needs a special tee shirt for the event. Six dollars.

This Thursday, the same kid is singing in chorus for some basic training graduates. She has to wear dark pants and a white shirt. She doesn't have any dark pants, so I have to go buy her some.

Both kids came home with literature for selling frozen cookie dough. One catch: you can only sell to family and friends. And all your friends attend the same school and are selling the same product. And your family is across the country, because your parent is in the military. So basically, you can only sell to your parents. The packs of cookie dough were $15 each. You had to sell two to get the smallest prize. The prize? A latex balloon. I didn't buy any cookie dough.

It's almost Earth Day. There will be a school-wide celebration. And they sold tee shirts for it. $7 each. That's fourteen dollars for my family.

Speaking of tee shirts (they seem to be quite popular at our elementary school), you must pay $10 each to have a school tee shirt to wear on spirit days, which are each Friday. That's $20 for my family.

Some Fridays, they sell candy. I could go on about why I disagree with the selling of candy to elementary school students. I'll just say that the candy was $1 each.

Oh, and there are the Smencils. These are scented pencils. One dollar each.

There is always at least one fundraiser active at this elementary school. Surely I can't be the only parent experiencing burnout. Why not just ask each parent to write a monthly check?

At least I know I can save on groceries ($2.00 for a tiny school lunch, by the way, and it doesn't fill my first grader's belly). Here's a recipe that will give you a reprieve from all those "free public education" expenses. :)

Sloppy Cheeseburgers

  • 1 1/2 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 2 Tbsp dill relish
  • 1 Tbsp yellow mustard
  • 1 lb shredded cheddar cheese
  • buns or sliced bread for serving
How it's Done:
  1. Brown ground beef in a large skillet. Drain and return to skillet.
  2. Add onion and saute 2 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and cook and stir until cheese is melted and bubbly.
  3. Serve on buns or bread.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Menu Plan Monday 3/15 - 3/21

This week finds me busy with appointments. Monday, my daughters see the dentist, then Little One has soccer practice. Tuesday, there's a doctor's appointment, and my daughters have a club to attend. Wednesday is my dentist appointment and another soccer practice. Thursday... hmmm... I think Thursday's free so far. And I have a class to attend on Friday. Saturday is the weekly soccer game, of course. And I'm fairly certain a child or two will be spending the night over the weekend. We seem to have become The House where all the kids go. That's cool with me. I like that my kids want to bring their friends over. It makes me feel all warm and cozy, like I've done something right along the way. :o)

Won't you please join me daily for my culinary journey? I promise low-cost, high-taste recipes to shock your tastebuds and please your family, little anecdotes from time to time, and lots of pictures. And just in case that's not enough, hop on over to the weekly menu planning carnival. You'll be sure to find something right up your alley.

Happy Cooking! Here's my plan for the week:

Breakfasts will include oat bran muffins, English muffins (promise to share this recipe this week!), fried egg sandwiches, and oatmeal.

Lunches are on the fly. Lots of leftovers for adults. Packed lunches for kids will include sandwiches, fruit,m veggies, yogurt, and baked goods, with juice to drink.



Tuesday: Sloppy Cheeseburgers (you'll want to see this one. Mmmmm!)

Crock Pot Wednesday: Crock Pot Pulled Pork (maybe on homemade buns)

Thursday: Beer-Cheese Soup and Cheese Toast

Friday: leftovers (Cookie: Oatmeal Cream Pie)

Saturday: Pizza (homemade)

Southern Cooking Sunday: Fried Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Greens, Biscuits, and Sweet Potato Pie

 Planned Baking: Cinnamon Bread, Tortillas

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Day 73.

My mother (right) with her sister and her dog.

First, I would like to wish my mother a very happy birthday. In honor of her birthday, I made this Boston Cream Pie Great Cupcake with French Vanilla cake, vanilla custard filling, and chocolate ganache frosting.My mother was raised in Massachusetts and has fond memories of her very first Boston cream pie, consumed as a child in a Boston cafe. 

Mom, you are my inspiration, and the person I most admire. Sending you my love & wish I was there to celebrate with you!

 I lined the cupacake base with lady fingers, hollowed out the base for the custard filling, and topped it with the cupcake topper.

Then, it was time for Southern Cooking Sunday! This go-round, I made chicken-fried steak, smashed potatoes, green beans with bacon, and finished it off with Mississippi Mud Ice Cream Pie. Incidentally, did you know that today is Pi Day? Pi, being 3.14,a nd today, being 3/14. Celebrate Pi Day, won't you? Bake a pie for Pi Day.

Here are a couple of recipes...

Chicken-Fried Steak

  • 6 round steaks (ask your butcher to run them through the tenderizer, or buy them as cube steaks)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup grease (bacon grease is great for this recipe. Since you're already frying, you might as well go whole hog. pardon the pun)
  • 2 cups or more of milk
How it's Done:
  1. Heat grease in a large, high-sided skillet (medium heat, but reduce to medium low if it starts to smoke).
  2. Combine flour, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a pie plate. Pour eggs into another pie plate.
  3. Dredge steaks in flour. Dip in egg. Repeat two more times, triple-dipping each steak.
  4. Fry in grease for 4 minutes per side.
  5. Move to a 250 degree oven to keep warm while you make the gravy.
  6. Add the rest of your flour (from dredging the steaks) to the hot grease, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until the flour is no longer white.
  7. Add milk. Start with 2 cups and add more later if needed. Cook and stir constantly over medium heat until thickened and smooth. Serve gravy over steaks and mashed potatoes.

Mississippi Mud Ice Cream Pie

  • 1 chocolate graham crust
  • 2 pints coffee ice cream
  • 1 jar chocolate sauce (or make your own!)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • whipped cream
How it's Done:
  1. Pour 1/3 of the chocolate sauce into the crust.
  2. Top with 1/2 of the ice cream and 1/2 of the nuts.
  3. Freeze for 1 hour. Then, repeat layers and freeze another hour.
  4. Top with whipped cream just before serving.

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