Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fall Apple Cake

Where has fall gone? More importantly, where has time gone? The leaves have almost completely fallen off of the trees and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Time has flown since September and summer seems like a far off notion. Lately my thoughts have been filled with apple cider, pumpkin pie, and warm cinnamon confections. Even though winter is trying to rear his head early this year (We had snow!! I almost fell down the steps...) I'm determined to make fall last.

This cake is a perfect way to savor the fruits of fall. A lightly spiced cake studded with crunchy pecans and soft baked apples, all cloaked in an amazing brown sugar glaze. (Wow that sounded poetic)
No process pictures here today, just enjoy a picture of the final product. Which, by the way, I'm devouring as I type this.

Recipe from Lick the Bowl Good

Apple Cake, slightly changed from original
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped apples, I left mine unpeeled
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
Brown Sugar Glaze:
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350* and grease an 8 or 9 inch baking pan. Either round or square will work.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl beat the eggs until light and foamy then beat in the oil and vanilla. Gently stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Dump in the apples and pecans and lightly stir. Scrape into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes or until lightly browned. Place the pan onto a rack to cool.
Immediately after the cake comes out of the oven, make the sauce. I made mine in the microwave and it turned out fine. Combine everthing in a glass 2 cup measure and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir and then heat in 15 second increments, stirring in between, until the brown sugar dissolves. My microwave is not very powerful so check often!
Pour the glaze all over the hot cake and let it soak in. If you want to be like me, immediately cut a slice and devour. If not, let cool completely and then devour.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Picture for you.

I realised I did not share a picture of my finished and cut Crock Pot soap. Here it is. I renamed it North Woods Cedar  because cedar is what it primarily smells like. Though in a good way. Reminds me of when I went to New Hampshire all the balsam trees there.

I was testing out my new light reflectors. A bit of a challenge when the sun isn't out to provide light!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Crock Pot Soap, part two.

Now that you've read up on soapmaking, here's how I made my soap!
I found my recipe online but checked it in a lye calulator to make sure it was accurate.
Note: do not use an online recipe without first running it through a lye calulator. Do not substitute oils in a recipe without using a lye calculator.

My preferred calculators are
Soap Calc and the one from Majestic Mountain Sage.
Once you've completed your recipe, time to get down to business! Gather up your gear.
This includes: oils and fats, lye, water (distilled is preferred), fragrance, a container to mix the lye solution, a container to weigh the lye in, a bowl to weigh the oils in, lye mixing spatula/ spoon, oil/soap spatula, accurate scale (which at least measures in ounces, I use grams) stick blender, crock pot, and molds. If you want to do a swirl you need additional containers. It sounds like a lot, but a lot of these things I found free or cheap from thrift stores and from family who were getting rid of some things.
With hot process, you can use almost anything for a mold. I used a Pringles can and an old cardboard butter box. No need to line them. (Though my soap stuck like a beast to the chip can)

I apologize in advance for the lack of prep pictures but I did not want to get too distracted while handling the lye and make a mistake.

Step One:
Prepare all of your supplies in your soaping area and don your protective gear. I wear long pants, long sleeves, and heavy gloves for washing dishes. My gloves like to slip so I put bands around them.
I think I paid a dollar for them.

I would also recomment eye protection/goggles and a face mask if you are sensitive to fumes. I like to protect my work counter with a plastic tablecloth as well, just in case the lye spills.

Step Two: Take your designated oil-weighing bowl and weigh your liquid oils. Add them to the slow cooker. Be sure to scrape out the bowl really well (I had the cooker off at this point, warm would be okay too).

Step Three: Measure or weigh out your water. I weigh since I like to use a mixture of ice cubes and regular water. Note that water is the only thing that you can use fluid measures for!
Step Four: Place your lye bowl on the scale (don't forget to zero/tare the scale!!) and measure out the lye.  Then, slowly pour the lye into the water, stirring constantly. Always pour lye into water, not the other way around or it may cause a very serious reaction. I like to think "the snow falls on the lake."

Step Five: Stir until the mixture becomes clear and all the lye has dissolved, then set aside to cool a bit.

Step Six: In your oil bowl, measure out all of your hard fats. At this point you can add them to the slow cooker to melt or melt them in the microwave. I let them melt in the cooker but that took a long time and I would use the microwave next time. Once melted (if using the microwave) add the the cooker. Here are my oils melting


Step Seven: Slowly pour the lye water solution into the oils. You'll start to see the oils become more opaque. This is the lye reacting with the oils. This is good. Now we get to blend!

Step Eight: I first like to stir with my blender, without it running, just to distribute everything evenly. Stir around a few times and then, with the blender completely submerged, mix with the blender on. I like to run it about 10 to 15 seconds then stir, then move to a new part, then blend again. Doing this prevents the stick blender from heating up to much and lets me see what my soap batter is doing. We're looking for the batter to achieve "trace" which is when you can see trails left on the top of the soap. Trace can be light- like a thin sauce, or it can be thick- like pudding. I blended to about a medium trace, mostly because the lighting in my kitchen is not good and I could not see a light trace.
This is about the consistency of cooked pudding before it has been cooled. See the lines left by the blender?

Once trace has been achieved, you can begin cooking! If you were doing CP soap, this is where your would scent it and the soap put into the mold. In HP, the soap is not scented until after it cooks. Cooking the soap is speeding up the saponification process for us.

Step Nine: Put the lid on the cooker and turn it to low. I use low because I didn't want my mixture to heat up too quickly. Note:There is actually not much of a temperature difference between the "low" and "high" settings on a slow cooker. The difference is how quickly the cooker reaches its maximum temperature. Low takes longer while high is faster.

Step Ten: After about 30 minutes you'll notice the soap starting to "cook", or turning translucent at the edges. This is a good sign. Sometimes there will be beaded liquid on top. This didn't happen to me but if it does, it is simply just the glycerin being produced. Put the lid back on and continue to cook.

Here is my soap psumani

You can choose to stir up your soap if you wish or let the "psunami" contine. I did not stir. Cover and let cook some more. Eventually, after another 30 to 60 minutes, the soap will look like Vaseline and be clear-ish and shiny. Mine had the consistancy of mashed potatoes. At this point, do stir the soap. If you see any light or white colored bits left, the soap is not done cooking and needs to go longer. It all depends on your cooker and recipe. Once it all looks clear, then your are good to go to the next step!

Step Eleven: It is okay to turn the cooker off at this point. Now you can add your fragrance and any colorant, if using. I used about an ounce (weight) of  Sage Sweetgrass and Cedar fragrance from Sweet Cakes for my 2 pound recipe. I also added about a half cup of ground oatmeal to the whole batch then removed about 2 cups and colored it with a bit of turmeric for a yellow swirl.

Step Twelve: Once all of your additives have been stirred in, scoop your soap into your desired molds. Try to work quickly before everything  cools down. Once the molds are filled, set aside and let cool and harden. I let mine rest overnight.
Soap in the molds

Step Thirteen: Once your soap has cooled, take it out of the mold and cut into your desired thickness. I didn't measure my bars so they don't look as nice as they could. Also, I had a heck of a time peeling of the Pringles can; my soap kept wanting to stick. Your mileage may vary. Once cut you can either use right away or, if you want longer lasting soap, let them dry on a rack. I have some that I am using now and the rest are drying in a cardboard box lid. When drying, be sure to turn the soap every few days.

Step Fourteen: Do all those dishes!! It actually isn't too difficult since the residue in the cooker is soap. Because of this, I have no problem with using it to cook in. Actually, I made dinner in it the next day! As long as it's washed out well, there is no problem. However, I would not use my stickblender for food. It comes in contact with raw (with the lye still active) soap and has too many small nooks on the bottom for me to feel comfortable using them for food. I also have separate dishes, bowls, and spatulas for soap making.

My recipe bubbles really well and isn't drying to the skin! I do hope you'll reasearch soap making and give it a try!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Adventures with the Crock Pot

I had originally planned on sharing an awesome chicken braise recipe today but then I decided to share something a little different.

Crock Pot Soap.

I recently started making soap after a good friend of mine agreed to teach me. She soaps with the Cold Process (CP) method and she creates amazing soaps. After some careful bribery, she showed me how and I've been hooked ever since. It's so much fun to choose what scents I want to use and the I love the satisfaction of knowing I've made something from scratch.
Soap making seems to be a lost art, I think because of they many myths that surround it
A few common misconceptions about home soap making are:
        Lye is dangerous- Yes, when handled incorrectly, lye can be very harmful to one's health. If handled correctly and if a person takes all necessary precautions, lye can be used safely.
       Lye doesn't have to be used to make soap-    No lye=no soap. If soap is made correctly then there should be no excess lye. Lye combines with fats/oils to create soap; it is a chemical reaction, like hydrogen and oxygen to make water.
        There's lard/oil/fat in your soap and I don't want to wash with fats- See above. Lye reacts with these oils to create soap and glycerin (a natural byproduct), nothing more.
       I prefer *brand name commercial soap*- I did too until I used homemade soap. It's the only soap I can wash with without breaking out in dry patches and itching. Plus, after doing some research, I found out what was in commercial soaps: detergents with synthetic chemicals to enhance lather. Not exactly what I want to be washing with. Commercial soaps are often stripped of the natual glycerin, which is then sold for profit to other companies for use in other applications.

Please note that I encourage all readers to read up on safe soap making procedures before attempting to make soap. Also, it is important to wear protective clothing when handling lye and making soap.

Also, note that there any many different website that can provide a much more in depth look at soap making than I have here.
Since soap making can be so in-depth, check back tomorrow for Part Two of Crock Pot Soap. In the meantime, I highly recommend that the beginner soapmaker check out these helpful links.  HP tutorial Very in-depth and thorough explaination on how to make CP soap. There is a link at the bottom for a very excellent HP tutorial as well  an excellent soap making community.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sweet Treats to Share

Last week I mentioned how I have a full college schedule and often get home late. One of my classes is a Low Incidence Disability Support class on Tuesdays from 5pm to 8pm. Paying attention is often difficult because around 7 o'clock my stomach starts grumbling. I decided last week that I wanted to bring in some snacks for the rest of my table after we all discussed how we'd love to order a pizza and put it in the middle of the table. (No desks, just a few round tables) I decided chocolate chip cookies would be perfect and I even had a recipe I'd been itching to try out. The Cooks Illustrated Best Chocolate Chip Cookies are my current favorite but I've read some good things about Alton Brown's "The Chewy" and decided to give those a whirl. Unfortunately, the natural light was really bad that day, I think it was storming, so the photos are limited. I need to get a light box or something.

I didn't change the recipe at all so I won't write it all out here.

Here's the dough all mixed up. It was really soft. I think I would add more flour next time because the cookies turned out flat. (See below) Very good to eat though, I love raw cookie dough.

The cookies baked at 350 for 12 minutes though the recipe called for 15. I'm glad I checked them because they would have burned.

Surprisingly, even though they were really brown, they were still quite chewy and delicious. The flavor is not as deep and "caramelly" as the Cooks Illustrated and I'll probably stick with that recipe. Sadly, the class ended of being cancelled for the week but that meant I could eat them all myself! Oh and I gave a few to DB.

DB liked them. Mostly because...well...they're cookies and how could he turn them down? He also loves cookie dough. I let him lick the bowl.

He was giving me the evil eye because I took his picture. Yeah...we're kind of strange sometimes.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fall Friday

Whew. What a busy month September has been so far. College classes started at the beginning of the month and I also was hired at a new part-time job! Balancing a full time class schedule with work has been a learning process and I feel bad that my blog is being neglected.
Most days of the week I do not get home until after 8pm which makes it hard to find to cook (Thank you DB for cooking and helping out with household-y things these past few weeks!!!) and on the odd day I do have time, I  forget to take a picture of whatever I made. Thankfully, I have some recipes stocked up and photographed and I just have to get them from computer to here.

I admit I made this recipe a few weeks ago but happliy enough the weather took another cool turn so I think it's fitting that I share it with you now- Homemade Beef Stew. This was a really easy recipe and totally customizable to your personal tastes. The original recipe was for a slow cooker but I used a dutch oven on the stovetop instead. Serve this with buttered biscuits.

Homemade Beef Stew
adapted from Down to Earth

2 Tbsp oil
2 pounds of stew meat cut into cubes. I used chuck
2 tsp paprika
1 large onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped into rounds
4 medium-ish potatoes, I like a lot of potatoes
1 sweet potato, diced
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup water
bay leaf and a sprinkle of dried thyme. Rosemary would also be good.

Pat the meat dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large dutch oven. Get it really smokin' hot then toss the meat in there. Let it sit a minute then stir it around. When the meat is well seared, remove it to a plate and set aside. Add a teeny bit more oil to the pot if it needs it and toss in the veggies. Get them nice and brown then add the beef back in. At this point the bottom of the pot should have a lot of brown crusty stuff of the bottom. This is your delicious-ness. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute to get rid of the raw flour taste. Next, pour in the water, be sure to scrape up all of the brown bits from the bottom. Bring this to a boil, then turn down the heat and add the bay leaf and thyme. Cover and simmer on low until the potatoes are tender. While it's cooking, get to work on the biscuits! Stew need biscuits!
Veggies all chopped up.

The finished stew. This amount of flour does not make it super thick like a canned beef stew. More like a thick sauce. I prefer it this way because I like to mush up all of the veggies with the gravy. Sounds gross but I love it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Quick, Easy Pork Chops

Wow. Where has time gone. It seems just yesterday that the month of August was just beginning and now it's almost at a close. Time has flown this summer. I've moved out of my parents house, had my sanity tried, learned how to grocery shop, learned that a dishwasher is a precious commodity, become an expert at making grocery lists, attempted to adjust my cooking for 2 instead of 4+ (not always successfully!) and  now it's back to school tomorrow. What?!
Instead of juggling cooking for two and various household chores, I'll be juggling books and schedules and homework papers. I'm not sure where dinner will fit in between going to class (ew, class at 5pm til 8pm!) and homework but I suppose it'll work out somehow.
I've been testing out recipes to find ones that will work with both my and DB's schedules. His schedule, unfortunately, tends to run opposite mine; he sleeps during the day and works at night, which leaves little time for an elaborate dinner.

These pork chops from Simple and Delicious fit my criteria perfectly. Easy, fast, tasty, and everything on hand. Done and done. DB pronounced them "Awesome" and I have a feeling they will be on the menu in the future.

Sadly, I only have a (very bad) picture of the finished dish, but it's so quick and simple to prepare, the pictures wouldn't show much.

4 bone-in pork loin chops (the loin chops at my grocery were way too thin so I bought boneless country style chops and pounded them to an even thickness)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1/4 cup sliced onion  (I used 1/2 an onion, sliced)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, brown chops in oil. Remove and keep warm.
In the same skillet, saute onion until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Add the Worcestershire sauce, honey and mustard to the skillet; stirring to loosen browned bits from pan. Bring to a boil. Return chops to the pan. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender.

Served with quick microwaved snow peas and carrots. I hope you find this dish as delicious as DB and I did.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Project Lasagna

Wow. I just finished one of my biggest cooking projects ever. Homemade lasagne. Completely homemade lasagne. Well, almost. I did not make the sauce from scratch, though I'm thankful I didn't because this lasagne was intensive enough.

It all started when I remembered a recipe for homemade ricotta. "I should definitely make this!" I thought. Once I finished that I that (delicious) endeavor, I looked around and saw a recipe for 1,000 layer lasagna. Must. Make. This. And what an undertaking that was. It was the most intense lasagne I've ever made. Actually I think that was the first lasagna I've ever made. And it's the best.

First comes the making of the ricotta:

Heat 3 cups of milk, one cup of cream, and a pinch of salt in a large saucepan until it reaches 190* or, if you do not have a thermometer, until it's almost simmering and there are lots of bubbles around the edges.
Take the pan off of the burner and stir (not too much!) in 3 Tablespoons lemon juice. Let this mixture sit for about 5 minutes  (note: this resulted in ricotta that was more the texture of marscapone. I think if the mixture sits longer it will "curd" up more and be grainy-er) then pour it into a cheesecloth lined colander. I used a thin dish towel instead.

I tied it to the faucet to drain better since my colander is not very perforated.

Drain the ricotta for about an hour and then scoop into a container or eat warm.
I seasoned the ricotta for my lasagna with dried basil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. (Not pictured)

For the lasagna:
Prepare yourself because this is going to be a long process. I think it took me about 2 hours, and that was with the meat sauce (jarred, and I added cooked ground beef to it) and ricotta prepared ahead of time. Maybe do some yoga and soothing chants.

Make the pasta dough.

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons water

Mix together the flour and the salt in a large bowl. Crack in the eggs and add the water. Mix with your hands or a spoon until it forms a dough. Turn it out onto the counter and knead until  the dough is smooth and supple feeling. To see a video on how to knead dough look here. Cover the dough with a dishtowel, overturned bowl, or whatever and let it chill out for an hour. This lets the gluten relax and makes it much easier to roll out.
Now at this point I referred to 101 Cookbooks for directions on rolling:

"Thin out your pasta using a pasta machine. Start by cutting the big sheets into 2-inch(ish) wide ribbons. This means making 2 cuts along the sheets. This should yield you about 12 2-foot strips. Run them through the pasta machine. I go to the 8 setting, one shy of the very thinnest setting. The sheets should almost be translucent. Cut the strips into manageable rectangles roughly 4-inches in length."
My pasta roller only has six settings and at 5 they were almost translucent. Your mileage may vary. I found it much easier to roll as I layered the lasagna.
Spoon some sauce into the bottom of your dish (I used 8x8in baking pan. My sauce was just jarred sauce thinned out with water and had ground beef added. The water helps the pasts cook) and put a layer of pasta on top. Spoon some more sauce on top, then a pasta layer, etc. My layers went something like this from bottom of pan to top:

sauce and mozzerella cheese
sauce and mozzerella cheese.

Or something like that; there were a lot of layers. One assembled, bake this monster at 375* for about 35 minutes then let it cool for 10 minutes.

Slice it up and devour 2 pieces because you deserve it!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Zucchini Wednesday

Have you ever had something you originally thought was bad turn out to be something good? That happened to me last week. I made a recipe that I was super excited to share but then I got a phone call. My apartment needed some repairs so DB and I had to by out by Monday for a week. Okay, fine, but between rushing to pack an overnight bag, driving to my parents house (Thanks Mom!) and various other distractions, I didn't have time to think about posting. Fast forward to today, to dinner. I had a zucchini recipe I wanted to try and luckily my parents had all the ingredients in the fridge. So instead of sharing one zucchini recipe, I get to share two! Great way to get rid of all that zucchini taking over your garden!

This first recipe was very impromptu; I needed to get rid of my perishable food and wanted something that DB would eat. It turned out really well :-)

Zucchini Bolognese, heavily adapted from Simple and Delicious
The recipe was mostly used for inspiration, I hardly followed it.

First, get your water boiling then add the pasta. I used penne.
While the water is coming to a boil and then while the pasta is cooking, chop up one onion and one zucchini. I quartered the zucchini.

Saute these in about 2 tablespoons oil until crisp tender then pour in spaghetti sauce (I used about half a jar)
Season the sauce to your liking and then let simmer.

I really like Francesco Rinaldi spaghetti sauces. They have the right amount of seasoning without being overpowering and are nicely chunky too. The tomato flavor is good and not overcooked like some sauces tend to taste. I like to add a few pinches of dried basil to my sauce and also a tiny bit of Lucini balsamic vinegar. I abosolutely LOVE this stuff. It's expensive but definitely worth it. It makes the sauce taste fresh but also more "home cooked". Just adds a brightness that is so, so good. But feel free to doctor your sauce however you like, or make a sauce as outlined in the original recipe.

Anyway, the pasta should be done by this time so go ahead and drain it and then top with the sauce. Feed to whatever hungry humans are lurking in your house.

Recipe #2- Crescent Zucchini Pie, from Taste of Home, adapted slightly because of what I had on hand and my inability to read thoroughly
This recipe is my favorite of the two and I will definitely make it again with a few changes. I would prebake the crust for a few minutes before filling because it got a bit soggy and I would not add a splash of milk (I thought the filling looked dry. Do not worry though because the zucchini leaks liquid as it cooks). Also, the recipe did not specify how thin the zucchini should be sliced and I would have like it to be thinner. I'll use a mandoline next time.

  • 1 tube (8 ounces) refrigerated crescent rolls I used garlic flavor- definitely recommend!
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 cups sliced zucchini-
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cubed  - whoops, forgot this but didn't miss it
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese I used cheddar
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oreganoI substituted the parsley, basil, and oregano for a few shakes of Italian Seasoning Blend.
Press the crescent dough into a deep dish pie pan and spread with the mustard. Saute the zucchini and onion in the butter until tender. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, cheese, seasonings, and the zucchini mixture and stir to combine. Pour into the crust and bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes, then slice and serve.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Watermelon Limeade

Since the month of August has shown its head I've been seeing more and more recipes featuring watermelon. Watermelon tonics, watermelon jam, watermelon sundaes- you name it, watermelon has probably been mixed with it. I came across the Watermelon Limeade in a Simple and Delicious magazine I stole from my mother. I had set aside a recipe for Watermelon Lemonade from Smitten Kitchen 2 years ago and that's what I had originally planned on making. But the Limeade edged out the competition because it require no squeezing of citrus or making of simple syrup (Yes, I am allowed to be lazy!)
Here's how to make it!

Hack up a watermelon, preferably one that has been chilling out in your fridge for the last 2 weeks.

Cube it into medium sized pieces. Mine were a little large. Measure our 4 cups. (Handy Tip: place your cutting board inside a rimmed baking sheet to avoid juice running all over the counter)

Dump the 4 cups of melon into your blender or food processor and grind it up into pulpy delicious-ness!
Pour this grody looking mess into a fine mesh strainer and let the juice strain out. Help it along with a spoon if you want.

Here's the strained juice. Isn't it pretty?

Pour it into your juice container.
Then measure out 3/4 cup of limeade concentrate. Mine was half frozen and had a totally funky texture. Gooey...

After you're done marveling over the funky juice, pour it into the juice container. If you want to make a bubbly version, add 2 1/2 cups of carbonated water right before serving or just add it by the glass.

And there you have it, Watermelon Limeade. The version here is not bubbly because DB had yet to arrive with my carbonated water....sigh. Still, I love how pretty this is!

(Recipe from) Watermelon Spritzer by  Taste of Home/ Simple and Delicious

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Breakfast Time!

Mornings have always been a challange for me. I hate waking up early and any communication between myself and another person usually just sounds like grunting. Sadly, I'm not of the coffee drinkers camp so waking up is slightly more of a challenge. Since I'm usually half asleep, making a complicated breakfast isn't really in my best interest. Enter the old stand-by: Cereal. Just add milk and, BOOM, done! Only one dish to clean and there are plenty of varieties to choose from.

Unfortunately, I never realised how expensive cereal was. I eat about one box in a week-and-a-half and with my favorite cereal averaging $4 a (small) box, I wanted to find an alternative. I like granola-type cereals (such as Kashi Berry Crisp, yum) so I thought giving homemade granola a whirl. Result? Crunchy cereal with healthy dried fruits and no unhealthy additives. It's simple and so easy to customize for individual tastes.

Granola with Dried Fruit
adapted from King Arthur Flour

I tweaked this recipe a lot. First, I halved the recipe because it makes 18 cups of granola and I didn't want that much. Second, I didn't add a lot of the ingredients called for since I didn't have them on hand. I left out the coconut, wheat germ (subbed a small amt. of wheat flour), almonds, and sunflower seeds. Lastly, I used half Orange Blossom honey and half corn syrup instead of pure maple syrup. It added a nice floral element to the granola without overpowering it.

3 1/3 cups quick rolled oats
1/3 cups wheat flour (this helped make crunchy clumps)
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup orange blossom honey
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2  cups total of raisins and dried apricots, apricots chopped
1 cup Rice Crispies

In a large bowl, mix together the oats, wheat flour, and chopped pecans.
Make sure you use humongous pecans like I did (Terri Lynn has the best nuts...hahahaha)

In a measuring cup, measure out the oil, honey and corn syrup, then add the salt and vanilla to this mixture and stir. Pour over the oats and mix until well coated.

Spread onto a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 250 degrees for about 90 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Once the granola has finished baking pour into a large bowl, chop up the fruits and stir them in along with the Rice Crispies (I would have added these at the beginning, stirring them in with the oats, but I forgot).                                                                     

Voila! Granola!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Listen to Your Recipes

I had originally planned to do a posting today on my favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies. But that all changed when my mom gave me a big bag of ripe red cherries over the weekend.

Don't they look simply delicious?

After eating as many as I could, I started thinking about other ways to use them up. Then I remembered a recipe posted by Smitten Kitchen- Cherry Browned Butter Bars. Perfect. (and I had everything needed to make them in the house!)
Here's the recipe! (Link to Smitten Kitchen's recipe with pictures)

7 Tbsp butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 Tbsp all purpose flour
Pinch of salt

1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 stick butter
1 pound sweet cherries, pitted

Make crust: Preheat over to 375°F. Line the bottom and the sides of an 8x8 inch pan with parchement paper. (Please please please do not skip this step! I did because my pan is non stick but see what happened below!)
Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Using a rubber spatula, mix in the sugar and the vanilla. Add the flour and salt and stir. Plop it into the pan, and press the dough evenly across the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust until golden, about 18 minutes. Transfer crust to rack and cool in pan.

Make the filling: Cook butter in heavy small saucepan  over medium heat until deep nutty brown (do not burn!!), swirling the pan and watching carefully, about six minutes. Immediately pour browned butter into glass measuring cup to cool slightly.
Whisk sugar, eggs, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add flour and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk browned butter into sugar-egg mixture; whisk until well blended.
Arrange pitted cherries, or the berries of your choice, in bottom of cooled crust. Carefully pour browned butter mixture evenly over the fruit. Bake bars until filling is puffed and golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes (it only took 35 minutes, and they were a little too brown) Cool bars completely in pan on rack.
Use the parchment paper overhang to carefully remove cooled bars from pan and place them on a cutting board and cut them into squares with a very sharp knife.

Now, mine turned out a little bit browned but the topping isn't overcooked at all. Just please please please line your pan with parchment! I didn't because I thought that the nonstick coating would be enough. It wasn't. The crust stuck horribly and I had to chisel it out. I think the dark pan also made the crust cook and darken more than a lighter pan would. What I managed to chip off tasted delicious though and I will just eat these bars out of the pan and follow the directions next time!

Here's the (delicious) carnage.

I definitely encourage you to try these and don't limit yourself to just cherries! I think blackberries or blueberries would also be wonderful.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Two Recipe Thursday

I try to limit trips to the grocery store to about once a week. Even though I can walk the 10 blocks easily, lugging back bags of food isn't appealing to me. Plus, it's a tiny store and doesn't always have what I need which then results in me having to take the car to Wally World aka "giant headache".

 As a result, I have to get creative in my cooking. I don't always have everything a recipe calls for and have to substitute. Today the DB (dearest boyfriend) requested Spam and rice for dinner. I used to scorn Spam until I tried it. Alas, no rice to be found. Okay then, he wanted beenies and weenies (hot dogs and baked beans). Oh wait, no hot dogs. (And hello sodium overload! I prefer something a bit more well rounded)

After flinging the cupboard doors open repeatedly, hoping something new would appear, I remembered a recipe I saw a few days ago. Spicy black bean burgers. Hmmm. Healthy and flavorful served on a bun. But could I convince the DB that bean burgers are just as good as a hunk of meat? Worth a shot.

This recipe was discovered on Iowa Girl Eats, who got the original recipe from Eat Live Run. My adapted version is below.
3 cups cooked black beans (I had no canned so I prepared from dry using the recipe on the bag)
2 Tbsp chopped dried hot peppers reconstiuted in hot water
2 cloves garlic
2 T tomato sauce
1/2 cup homemade breadcrumbs
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp smoked chipotle paprika seasoning (you could sub chili powder and cayenne)
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup corn
Sunflower oil  (for frying burgers)

Grate the garlic cloves into your mixing bowl and add the peppers. Add 1 1/2 cups of the beans and mash with a fork until very smooth. Add the cumin, paprika seasoning, and salt and stir again to combine. Stir in the breadcrumbs, tomato sauce, and corn. Form into patties. I refrigerated mine for a few minutes so they could firm up.

Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Fry the patties for about 4 minutes per side, or until they get nice and crusty. Serve on burger buns with chipotle mayo. (mayo and ketchup with chipotle seasoning mixed in. Easy.)
Conclusion? I loved these. They get a really nice crispy crust from cooking that is addictive and reminds me of the fried veggies at the county fair. The beans are really creamy and the peppers and spices give everything a nice kick. 8.5 out of 10.
I was nervous about testing these out of the DB since he's definitely a meat and potatoes kind of guy but he devoured 2 burgers and declared that I should make them again. He also gave them a 8.5 out of 10

Now me being the way I am had to avoid the store at all costs so I made homemade burger buns to serve these on. They're quite simple and don't squish down and get soggy like store bought.

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp yeast
¼ cup water
1 cup warm milk
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
3 to 4 1/2 cups Flour

Mix the sugar, yeast, water, milk, oil and salt together in a mixing bowl. Add the flour a little bit at a time until a dough forms. Remove from the bowl and knead on the counter until smooth and elastic. (See here how to knead bread dough.) Return to the bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled. Once the dough has doubled, dump it back out onto the counter and divide into 12 pieces or so. Roll into balls (they are a bit bigger than golf balls) and place on a grease baking sheet. Cover again and let rise until doubled. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until nice and browned.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Food Fail

Ever find a recipe that sounds amazing, has great reviews, and all the ingredients happen to be in the pantry? That happened to me last night. Before I moved my mom gave me some venison out of the freezer and I had been looking for a way to cook it for a while. After some time spent Googling and recipe searching, I found a recipe that sounded perfect and BONUS! I had all the ingredients stocked. Venison roast with apples and onions in the slow cooker, what could be easier and more delicious? A lot apparently.

Now I'm not completely blaming the recipe for how this turned out but it was certainly a disappointment. The apples cooked down and thickened the juices to a nice sauce (really good on egg noodles!) and the onions added good flavor as well. Sadly they couldn't distract me from the awful taste of the venison. I've had venison before. I usually like venison. But this hunk of deer was the gamey-est I've ever had. It tasted like musty, bad liver. Blech, my mouth hurts just thinking about it. Sadly, now my fridge is crammed with a Crock-Pot of venison that I refuse to eat, but am too stubborn to just throw away. Anyone want to lend me their dog?

For reference, here is the recipe. Sorry, I didn't deem it worthy enought for a picture.
 I plan to try this again with a well marbled pork roast and will report back with how that turns out.

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 pounds boneless venison roast, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 large apple, cored and quartered
2 small onions, sliced
4 cloves crushed garlic
1 cube beef bouillon dissolved in 1 cup hot water

Pour the olive oil into the bottom of the slow cooker and place the meat on top. Arrange the apples, onions and garlic around the meat and then pour the broth over top. Cook on low 7-8 hours (mine went about 6 because that's when I had planned to eat, it was fairly tender and not dried out after this time). Remove meat onto cutting board and let rest 15 minutes, then slice against the grain. Serve over egg noodles or mashed potatoes with the juice.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A quick. easy dinner

One of my favorite types of dinners are those that come together quickly without relying on a lot of prepared and "convenience" items. I never really cared for Hamburger Helper and the like and so thinking up of quick meals can be a challenge. There used to be a store in my hometown that catered to this issue: Super Suppers. Basically a food bar, you prepare a set menu of meals there to take home and freeze. While the concept is intriguing, the cost is more than most can handle and therefor not economical for some. I was privileged enough to attend a private fundraising session a few years ago and though I don't remember much I do remember one item: The Bread Braid
This meal is one of my favorites. It's easy, versatile and best of all it can be prepared quickly, with no fuss, and be on the table in about 45 minutes.

Bread Braid
Start with one loafs worth of bread dough (I used homemade part-white part-wheat *recipe below* today, but have also used store bought frozen with excellent results.)

If using homemade bread dough, roll out after the first rise. If using frozen, thaw before using and no need to rise
Put the dough onto a sheet pan and roll out or use your hands to press it into a large rectangle. I roll it the complete length and leave some space width wise. Don't spread the dough too thin, it will rip and the braid will leak. (This was a large recipe of dough so it almost filled the pan and was still fairly thick)

Next, add your fillings down the middle. I used 3/4 of a kielbasa sausage, 1 chopped green pepper, 1/4 of an onion, 1/4 cup spaghetti sauce, and Monterey Jack cheese to cover.

(cheese not pictured)

Once all of your toppings are laid out, snip the edges of the dough into strips on both sides and then criss-cross them to braid

(forgot to take a pic of this step, thank you Google)


Once your dough is braided, let it rise until it gets slightly puffy, maybe 30 minutes or so. Then bake it at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until well browned. Don't worry if it leaks, mine usually do and they turn out fine. Let cool a few minutes before cutting into slices. Serve.

Don't limit yourself to just kielbasa for the filling. Other great variations to try:

Ham and chedder
Chicken and broccoli with alfredo
Chicken with onions and barbeque sauce
Buffalo Chicken with ranch
Cheesesteak with fried onions and provelone
Corned beef with sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing.

The possibilities are endless! They freeze great too. Just fill, braid and wrap in plastic wrap. Be sure to let thaw on the sheet pan before baking.

And for reference, here is the bread recipe I used:

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/2 cups flour (I used 2 1/2 white and 1 wheat)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Awesome Beef Chili

I have a secret to admit...

I had a resolution (okay yes, it was a bit after New Years but better late than never) to start a blog and am failing at it. It's not for a lack of material, I'm cooking almost every day, with recipes I'd love to share with the world. Getting the food from the table to the internet is the hard part. How does one best motivate themselves to share the love of food with the world? Though I tried it before, I'm going to try again. I want to be able to share recipes that other can make and love as much as I do.

 With that, I have a quick recipe to share. Beef Chili. The LB (lovely boyfriend) came home from work and asked if I could make him chili for dinner. Who am I to say no. No problem that it's 85 degress and the only air conditioner is in the bedroom. Despite the sweating and eating something so hearty on a hot summer day, this recipe is definitely a keeper. The chili is meaty, spicy, more like a chunky soup and completely different from the ground beef chili that I'm used to.

Beef Chili
-adapted from Cook's Country February/March 2008-
There are a few things I changed from this recipe. I left out the chipotle chilies in adobo since the tiny grocery store didn't stock them. I didn't puree the tomatoes, simply because I (a) didn't have a food processor and (b) I was too lazy and didn't want to do extra dishes. Oh and I left out the added oregano since I didn't have any. Honestly, you wouldn't even notice.

1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes (petite diced would probably be good too if you choose not to puree them)
4 slices bacon, chopped fine
1 (3 1/2 to 4 pound) chuck roast, cut into 1 inch pieces (I use prepacked stew meat)
1 onion, chopped
1 jalepeno, minced
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp smoked paprika chipotle seasoning (this was my substitute for the chiles in adobo, if using chiles- mince 2 tsp)
1 1/2 tsp cumin
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups water
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp cornmeal

Cook the bacon in a Dutch oven until crispy. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate. Then drain the grease into a heat proof bowl. Put the pot back on the stove (Not on heat!)

Pat the beef cubes dry with paper towels and season with pepper. Heat 1 Tablespoon of the reserved oil in the pot until almost smoking the brown half the beef until nicely seared. Remove to another heatproof bowl and then add 1 more Tablespoon of the bacon fat to the pit. Sear the remaining meat and place in bowl.

Add 1 more Tablespoon bacon fat to the pot (if not enough fat, use oil) and saute the onion and jalapeno until softened. Once onion and jalapeno are soft, add in the chili powder, paprika seasoning, cumin and garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in the water, tomatoes(and chipotle chiles if using), bacon, beef, and sugar. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 1 hour then skim the fat, if any, (Mine had hardly any fat on top so I did not skim it) then simmer another 30 minutes or until the beef is tender.

Ladle 1 cup of the broth into a bowl and stir in the cornmeal. Microwave 45 seconds to 1 minute, until the mixture is thick then stir this into the chili. Simmer the chili until it thickens slightly. Serve with cornbread.

I think I may have to ditch my ground beef chili recipe from now on.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How to Make Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup...

...when there is no chicken to be found in the house.

A few afternoons ago I had a massive craving for chicken noodle soup. The weather has just been awful lately with rain and snow and cold and I hate it. I figured some good old-fashioned chicken noodle soup (and a good book) was in order. Problem was, that upon investigating, I found that we were out of chicken.
What to do? Just make "Noodle Soup" instead. 

I chopped up 2 carrots and an onion, cooked them on medium heat in a soup pot with about 2 teaspoons of oil. Once they softened up a bit, I poured in about 4 cups of water. To that I added one spoonful of chicken base (or I suppose you could use bouillon cubes too). Then I let that come to a boil, and added a few handfulls of thin egg noodles, the ones that are toothpick sized and some dried parsley. I let the noodles cook until tender, ladled a bowlfull and curled up with a good book.

What do you like to eat when the weather gets nasty?

Monday, April 4, 2011

What I did with the dough

Now that you've learned how to make lovely fresh bread dough, here is an idea to put it to good use!

Roll out the dough into a large rectangle, bigger then you would for a loaf.

Soften one stick of butter and spread it evenly over the dough.
Then mix up your filling:
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt

I always want to eat a spoonful.

Then sprinkle the sugar evenly over the dough. Don't worry if some of it doesn't stick, just leave it on. This is what makes the cinnamon rolls so deliciously gooey.
Roll up the dough from the long end towards you, trying to keep the filling from falling out. This is kind of tricky so be sure to roll tightly and tuck the dough under itself.

Once the dough is all rolled up, butter a pan. (I used  one rectangle and one square cake pan. Use whatever you have) Cut the dough into individual rolls. Mine were about 1 1/2 inches. You can make them smaller or bigger, it doesn't matter.
Plop those into the pan, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled.

I smeared a little extra butter on top. Yum

Once the rolls have risen, bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. While they are baking whip up a quick glaze. I don't have an exact recipe but mine was about a tablespoon of butter, 1 cup of powdered sugar, a splash of milk, and a pinch of salt. Whisk until it's smooth and drizzle over the hot rolls.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

How to Make Bread Dough

I love baking bread. I was never really taught by anyone but myself since my mother tends to kill things with yeast in them (sorry Mom!). I just learned by doing it, reading bread baking books, and searching on the internet. Once you've gotten the hang of making bread, it's the easiest thing to do. I hate eating store bought "Wonder-bread" anymore. That's not real bread. Try this and I promise you won't be disappointed.

The most basic bread is just flour, water, salt, and yeast. This recipe adds dry milk, butter, and an egg (though I was out so I ommitted it). When you make bread, don't feel like you have to adhere to any strict recipe. Add some whole wheat flour, use less salt, add some sugar, it does not matter. Bake it in a loaf pan, free form, heck even a cast iron pan- I promise, your bread will live. Just know the technique and soon you can have homemade bread on your table.

First, gather your ingredients.

Flour, salt, powdered milk, butter, sugar, yeast, egg (not pictured), water (not pictured)

Mix together the flour salt, powdered milk, sugar, and yeast in a large sized bowl. Melt the butter and let it cool slightly. Beat the egg and add it, along with the water and butter to the flour.

Stir with a wooden spoon until mostly combined.

It's around this point where I dump everything out onto the counter and knead it to combine the rest of the way. I've seen online people asking how to knead bread. It's quite simple. As long as you're kind of pushing and pulling the dough around, it'll work. This is how I do it:

Knead the dough. It'll be quite tacky and almost sticky but try not to add a lot of flour. This will make the dough dry. Instead just keep on kneading it and the formation of gluten from kneading will make it less sticky.
You can tell when the dough has been kneaded enough when it becomes smooth and doesn't stick.

See how the top is smooth and not craggy looking?

Then, I usually take the bowl that I mixed the dough in, wash it quick, and use it to rise the dough in. Spray it with a bit of non-stick spray and plop the dough ball in and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature or if your house is cold and drafty, warm up the oven for a few minutes, turn it off, and put the bowl on the rack. Let it rise about an hour or until it doubles. Either that or you can gently press it with a finger, it the indent stays or fills in very slowly, then it is ready.

Once the dough has risen, dump it out onto a lightly floured counter. Press it gently with your hands to deflate.

Here is where you have many options. You can shape the dough and freeze it for later. Oil a plastic baggie and plop it in there.
To make a loaf shape, pat and lightly stretch the dough into a rectangle no wider than the width of the loaf pan. Then you roll it up into a cylinder, pinching the seam. Put it into an oiled loaf pan.

Roll pretty tightly

Or, if you prefer, you can make dinner rolls or hamburger buns. Pull off a piece of dough about the size of a walnut (larger for buns) and roll into a ball. Repeat.

Once your dough is shaped, let it rise again then bake it at 350 degrees. It'll take about 30-35 minutes for a loaf, less for buns and rolls. Make sure they are nicely browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Here are the complete measurements:

4 3/4 cups white flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup powdered milk
3 1/4 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 egg, beaten
3 1/4 Tablespoons butter, melted then cooled
1 1/2 cups water, room temperature

Stay tuned for what I did with my dough!