Saturday, December 31, 2005

My 2006 culinary New Year's resolutions

Here are a few things I would like to accomplish in my kitchen this year:

1. Make my own pizza dough. I've made lots of pizzas on store-bought pizza shells but I've yet to make my own crust from scratch. I already have a couple of pizza screens (never used).

2. Make something in a tart pan (I have one, never used).

3. Make something in a springform pan (I have one, never used). Maybe a cheesecake, but perhaps a charlotte. I've always wanted to make a charlotte.

4. Smoke something in an electric smoker (I have one, never used).

5. Use my new bread machine (I just got it, never used) at least 6 times, hopefully many more. Can I make pizza dough in a bread machine? That would kill two birds with one stone.

Hmmmm. Maybe I should think of starting another blog - The Small Appliance Junkie, or The Kitchen Gadget Junkie.

6. $100 spending limit on new cookbooks. Seriously, how many cookbooks does one person need? $100 can buy a lot of cookbooks at Ollie's Bargain Outlet. I wrapped up 2005 by ordering a bread machine cookbook and a venison cookbook so there aren't any cookbooks I really 'need' starting the new year.

7. Make homemade marshmallows. I know lots of people have BTDT with the homemade marshmallow thing but it's been on my to-do list forever and this year I'm going to cross it off.

8. Make jam. Canning is a dream of mine and jam seems like a good place to start.

9. Make something with phyllo dough. This has always intimidated me.

10. Even out my categories a bit more. I've leaned pretty heavily on main dish and dessert recipes since starting this blog. I need to try more recipes for appetizers, soups and side dishes.

I'm confident I can do everything on this list, except I suspect number 6 will definitely be a problem.

Friday, December 30, 2005

I almost forgot about this

Sour Cream Banana Bread
The Ugly Binder, copied from the internet, source unknown (recipe from a B&B I think)

1 cup sugar
½ cup oil
2 eggs
1 cup mashed bananas (2 medium)
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour bottom only of a 9x5-inch loaf pan. In large bowl, beat together sugar and oil. Add eggs, bananas, sour cream and vanilla, blend well. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup, level off, Add flour, baking soda and salt, stir until dry ingredients are just moistened. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool completely. Wrap tightly and store in refrigerator. Makes 1 loaf. (I made four mini-loaves this time.)

I've been making this bread for over 5 years. I've tried countless other banana bread recipes but once I tried this one, I've never tried another. When my husband and I first got together, I made this bread countless times for him to pack with his lunch. It freezes beautifully. You don't have to stick to bananas. I've made it with bananas or (canned) pumpkin most often, but I've also made it with grated carrot, and also apples. I just adjust the spices depending on what fruit I use (adding pumpkin pie spice with pumpkin, cinammon with apple, etc). It always turns out great.

I gave this bread to my son's daycare caregivers, for Christmas, along with gift certificates. They loved it and you will too. I wish I could have sliced into it for a better picture but obviously I couldn't, since they were gifts.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Another hit from Weight Watchers

Buttery Herbed Chicken
Weight Watchers Five Ingredient 15 Minute Cookbook Copyright 2005

1 extra-large bag boil-in-bag rice
4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
I just made regular long-grain rice with chicken broth (1 cup rice, 2 cups broth)
2 tablespoons light butter, softened
¼ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound chicken breast tenders

1. Prepare rice according to package directions, using 4 cups of chicken broth instead of water and omitting salt and fat, to make 3 cups hot cooked rice.
2. While rice cooks, combine butter, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper in bow; stir well.
3. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken, and cook 4 minutes on each side or until done.
4. Remove pan from heat; add butter mixture, tossing well to coat chicken. Serve immediately over rice.

Yield: 4 servings Per serving (about 3 oz of chicken and ¾ cup rice) 6 points, 292 calories, 6.9 g fat, 29.3 g protein, 26.5 g carbs, .8g fiber, 76 mg cholesterol, 259 mg sodium

I thought I was crazy for paying ten bucks for this little magazine-style cookbook but I think it was well worth the price. Everything I've made from this book has been really good. This recipe was delicious and so simple. It doesn't look like much but it was very flavorful. Now, it is a Weight Watchers recipe so the sauce was skimpy but if you're not counting points or calories, you could double the amount of sauce you make with this.

Delicious but worth the $$$???

Perciatelli with Meat Sauce and Fontina
Food and Wine Magazine’s Quick From Scratch Pasta Cookbook Copyright 1996,2001,2002,2004

1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 onion, chopped
1 pound ground beef
½ cup red wine
1 ½ cups canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree (one 16-ounce can) my can was only 15-ounces
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 ¼ teaspoons salt that is way too much! I used 1 tsp and it was still very salty with all that cheese
¾ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
½ pound perciatelli I used Dreamfields spaghetti
½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 ounces Fontina cheese, grated
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

1. In a large stainless-steel frying pan, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook until starting to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the ground beef and cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Stir in the wine and simmer until reduced to ¼ cup, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, oregano, and the salt and pepper. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
2. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the perciatelli until just donw, about 15 minutes. Drain and toss with the meat sauce, vinegar, Fontina, Parmesan, and parsley. Serve with additional Parmesan.

This dish was quite good. I tend to love any tomato sauce made with red wine. But while, I liked the taste of the Fontina, it was ridiculously expensive - over $10/pound. And it only came in approximately 8-ounce portions. I think if I made this again, I would substitute whole milk mozzarella or maybe fresh mozarella.

I loved Food & Wine Magazine’s Quick From Scratch One-Dish Meals Cookbook so I picked up the pasta and the chicken versions of this book too. I was fortunate enough to find them in my favorite store in the world, Ollie's Bargain Outlet - cookbook nirvana. Tons of cookbooks, dirt cheap. I even saw The Gourmet Cookbook there for $9.99 after I paid $25 for it. Grrrr.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Now back to 'real' food

Creamy Tomato-Rice Soup
Superfoods: Cook Your Way to Health Copyright 2001

4 cups canned chopped tomatoes, undrained I used a 28-oz can
4 cups water I used a little less since I used less tomatoes
1 ½ cups cooked white rice, divided
1 cup chopped celery
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 ½ tsp. minced garlic I used garlic powder
¼ cup tomato paste
1 tbsp. sugar
¼ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. Mrs. Dash seasoning I used salt - baby steps
1 tbsp. dried parsley

Combine tomatoes, water, ½ cup cooked rice, celery, onion powder, Italian seasoning, minced garlic, tomato paste, sugar, pepper and Mrs. Dash seasoning in a large saucepan or soup pot. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 to 45 minutes. Remove pot from burner, uncover, and let cool 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer soup to food processor or blender and process until smooth (this may need to be done in several batches). I used my immersion blender. Return soup to pan; add remaining rice. Cook soup over medium high heat until hot. Sprinkle with parsley just before serving.

Serves: 6 Per serving: 120 calories, 1 g fat, 26 g carbs, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 3 g protein

It's time to get back to cooking non-sweets, and cooking healthier to make up for my holiday indulgences. Well, not just my holiday indulgences but my level of health has declined greatly since having my son and I really need to shape up.

I've been meaning to start making a new soup every week, to take for lunch, and I finally got around to doing that. I liked this recipe because I had just about everything on hand. It turned out quite spicy which surprised me. I was a bit heavy-handed on the fresh ground pepper or maybe it was the garlic, or something in the Italian seasoning. I really liked the punch but this could really be seasoned any way you'd like to season it.

The texture was nice. Not quite the same as a cream-enriched soup but satisfying. I've always liked my tomato soup made with milk or cream. I wonder if some evaporated skim milk or fat-free half and half would work in this.

I've had this cookbook for quite some time. It was written by the 'America's healthiest mom', Jyl Steinbeck. It has a wonderful variety of recipes yet they're all quite severe - fat-free, low-sodium, low-sugar. This would be an excellent cookbook for anyone who has to eat well for serious health reasons. Otherwise, for anyone just striving to eat healthier, I think some modifications would need to be made to many of the recipes, such as substituting low-fat ingredients for fat-free ingredients.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

All together now!

I think I'm finished. Since so many people are taking tomorrow off, I delivered my cookies to my coworkers today. I took today off because I was so tired and because my son was sick last night, causing me to miss out on most of the precious little sleep I have been getting this week.

Above is one of the trays that I made up for my coworkers. They each get their own. I included fudge drops, Welsh cookies, snickerdoodles, salted peanut cookies, chocolate orange dreams, ricotta cookies, cherry cherry cookies, coconut almond bars, graham cracker chewies, apricot and raspberry cream cheese thumbprints and fruit cake. In a separate box, they received peanut butter fudge and four chip fudge.

As it happens every year, holiday baking started off fun and by the end I was more than ready to put away my measuring cups for another year. I'm never sure if the end justifies the means but I guarantee next year I will be excitied about baking again. My memory is selective. One year, with only a couple of days notice, I was sent to San Juan to work the two weeks prior to Christmas, returning the day before Christmas Eve. I still cranked out seven different recipes when I returned. Two years ago I was due to give birth in two weeks and I still baked and baked and baked some more. It's a sickness.

I'm considering baking some banana bread for my son's daycare providers, to go along with the gift certificates I bought them. I'm just not sure if I have it in me.

Chewy and delicious

Graham Cracker Chewies
The Ugly Binder, copied from the internet, original source cited as the Nantucket Open House Cookbook

1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs beaten

Preheat oven to 350°

Prepare the crust: Mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, butter and flour in a mixing bowl until moist and crumbly. Press the mixture firmly and evenly in the bottom of a 9 inch square baking pan. Bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

Prepare topping: Stir all the ingredients together until blended. Spread the topping over the baked crust and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool completely, then cut into 16 squares.

These are so good. All that brown sugar. Yum. I was a little low on the pecans but I made the recipe anyway. I wasn't running out for more pecans when I was only a few nuts short of a cup (I made two pans.)

A nice, old-fashioned drop cookie

Salted Peanut Cookies
Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook Copyright 1959, 1972

2 eggs
2 c. brown sugar
1 ½ c. melted butter or regular margarine
1 ½ c. chopped salted peanuts
2 ½ c. sifted flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
3 c. rolled oats
1 c. corn flakes

Beat eggs; add sugar and mix well. Stir in butter, then peanuts and mix. Sift together flour, soda, baking powder and salt. Combine with rolled oats and corn flakes. Combine with egg mixture and stir well to mix. Drop by tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheet. Bake in hot oven (400 degrees) 8 to 10 minutes.

Makes 6 dozen.

I'm not sure why this recipe caught my eye. It just seemed like a good, old-fashioned cookie recipe and it is. Crunchy and salty - what's not to like?

The Farm Journal's Country Cookbook hasn't steered my wrong yet.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The jury is still out

Chocolate Orange Dreams
The Great American Cookie Cookbook Copyright 2001

1 Butter Flavor Crisco Stick or 1 cup Butter Flavor Crisco all-vegetable shortening plus additional for greasing
1 cup granulated sugar
1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
2 teaspoons strained fresh orange juice
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (6-ounce package) semi-sweet chocolate chips

½ cup confectioners’ sugar
2 ½ teaspoons strained fresh orange juice
1 ½ teaspoon orange flavor liqueur

1. Heat over to 350 degrees F. Grease baking sheet with shortening. Place sheets of foil on countertop for cooling cookies.
2. For cookies, combine 1 cup shortening, granulated sugar and cream cheese in a large bowl. Beat at medium speed of electric mixture until well-blended. Beat in eggs, orange peel, 2 teaspoons orange juice and salt. Add flour gradually at low speed. Mix until well blended. Add chocolate chips. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet.
3. Bake at 350 degrees F for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly brown around edges. Do not overbake.
4. For glaze (prepare while cookies are baking) combine confectioners’ sugar, 2 ½ teaspoons orange juice and liqueur. Stir until well blended. Brush on cookies immediately upon removing from oven. Cool 2 minutes on baking sheet. Remove cookies to foil to cool completely.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

These are new this year. It's too soon to tell how I feel about them. After a couple of days of baking, my judgement is not that clear. Sometimes I'm not sure how I feel about a new cookie recipe until weeks later, when I pull a frozen leftover out of the freezer.

Two things bother me about this recipe. The first is that there is no baking soda or baking powder is this recipe but they came out okay. Dense, of course, but not in an unpleasant way. They look almost exactly like they do in the picture in the cookbook.

The second thing is that I wish I had not doubled this and used the butter-flavored Crisco in all of these. I wish I had tested a batch with butter.

But so far I'm thinking I'm liking these. I loved the glaze. It hardened. I hate when glazes stay sticky.

Well I think they're cheery

Cherry Cherry Cookies
Silver Spring Presbyterian Church Cookbook ’98 Copyright 1998

1 c. packed brown sugar
¾ c. margarine, softened I used half butter, half butter-flavored Crisco
1 egg
2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
½ c. maraschino cherries, well drained and chopped
½ c. chopped pecans
½ c. flaked coconut

In a large mixing bowl, cream brown sugar, sugar, butter, egg, milk and vanilla. Combine flour, salt, baking soda; gradually add to creamed mixture. Fold in cherries, pecans and coconut. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Yield: 4 dozen

Last year I made these cookies just to use up some extra ingredients I had lying around after baking all my other cookies. I really liked them so I added them to the line up. I almost couldn't find the recipe because I wrote it down as 'Cheery Cherry Cookies'. I searched through the indexes of almost all of my cookbooks to no avail and I finally came across this while looking for something else. I don't understand the double cherries in the title but that's the official name. I don't name 'em, I just bake 'em.

I had no margarine this year so I used half-butter and half butter-flavored Crisco since I bought the Crisco for my next recipe and I was trying to conserve butter since I'm running low. This was my first experience with butter-flavored Crisco and it wasn't so bad, but butter is always better. I like that these cookies stayed round and plump instead of spreading and I was pleased with the texture that resulted from using the Crisco.

These cookies are quite salty but I love the contrast of the salt against the sweet cherries. There's something about the combination of the cherries, coconut and pecans that really reminds me of Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2005

One of my personal favorites

Apricot Cream Cheese Thumbprints
The Ugly Binder, from the internet, Allrecipes I believe

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 (8 ounce) package cream
cheese, softened
2 eggs
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest I zest one lemon - which is probably less than 1.5 teaspoons of zest
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup apricot preserves I use seedless rasperry jam too
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar for

1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the lemon juice and lemon zest. Combine the flour and baking powder; stir into the cream cheese mixture until just combined. Cover, and chill until firm, about 1 hour. I usually chill it overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into balls, and place them 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Using your finger, make an indention in the center of each ball, and fill with 1/2 teaspoon of apricot preserves. I don't use a lot of preserves or jam in mine. I made a small hole with a large wooden spoon handle dipped in flour and I put about 1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon of filling in each cookie.
3. Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are golden. Watch closely - only the bottoms brown - the tops stay pale. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar.

The recipe makes a lot so I usually manage to stash a few in the freezer and I can tell you they freeze great (but don't sprinkle them with powdered sugar before you freeze them). The dough can be made ahead and I bet it would freeze really well too. If you're a lover of raw cookie dough, this stuff beats chocolate chip cookie dough any day of the week.

These aren't show-stoppers but they're one of my favorites. I just love the lemon and cream cheese flavor of these cookies. You can use any preserves or jam that you like, just stay away from the all-fruit spreads as they generally don't handle baking well.

Sometimes simple is best

Snickerdoodles, Snipdoodles, or Schneckenoodles
The Ugly Binder, copy of recipe given to me by a former coworker, original source unknown

1 cup soft butter
1 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cinnamon

Cream the butter well, then cream in the sugar and vanilla. Beat in the eggs. Add the milk and the flour sifted with the salt, soda and cream of tartar. Stir to combine well, easiest down with an electric mixer. Form into rolls about 1 inch in diameter and chill in the refrigerator. Cut off in 1-inch lengths and roll in the palms of hand to form balls. Drop in the mixture of cinnamon and sugar, or dip only one side of the ball in the mixture and bake dipped side up. Place on a buttered cookie sheet or baking pan, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. (These cookies can also be made without chilling the dough. When mixed, dip up with a greased teaspoon, scrape off with the back of another greased teaspoon onto buttered pans, then sprinkle the tops with sugar and cinnamon.) Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until a delicate brown around the edges, about 10 minutes. Loosen from the pans while still warm.

Makes about 40 to 45 cookies.

Snickerdoodles are just a chewy sugar cookies, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. So simple yet so good. I like to make sure that there are a few simple cookies on my cookie trays. I got this recipe from a woman I used to work with, after she brought them in for a cookie swap.

I usually make these by chilling the dough and rolling it into balls and this time I used my new cookie scoop and scooped out the dough as soon as I made it. They look the same as if I had rolled it and this was much easier.

If you bake a lot of cookies, invest in some good-quality cookie scoops. I wish I had done so years sooner. I had a cheap scoop the past couple of years but nothing beats a good quality scoop. I have 2 - one seems to hold 1 tablespoon and the other 2 tablespoons. I used the 1-tablespoon scoop for these. The Pampered Chef one is actually great, same quality and price as the one I picked up at the local Amish store.

Marked for extinction

Coconut Almond Bars
The Great American Cookie Cookbook Copyright 2001

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
½ cup ground almonds
½ teaspoon almond extract

1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup flaked coconut
¾ cup lightly toasted slivered almonds, divided
2 teaspoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all crust ingredients in a small bowl. Beat at low speed of electric mixture, scraping bowl often, until particles are fine, 2 to 3 minutes. Press on bottom of 13x9-inch baking pan. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

Combine sugar, egg, flour, baking powder, salt and vanilla in small bowl. Beat at medium speed of electric mixture, scraping bowl often, until well mixed, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in coconut, ½ cups nuts and milk. Pour over hot crust.* Sprinkle top with remaining ¼ cup nuts. Bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly brown.

*You cannot pour this gooey conconction. Since the crust is only partially baked, spreading it is not really possible either. I sprinkle it evenly over the crust then use a spreader to lightly finesse it over the crust, covering it as completely as I can.

Makes about 36 bars.

I've made these for the past few years but this might be the last year for these. Obviously, they're very good or I wouldn't have made them more than once but they just didn't excite me this year. Of course, I often change my mind later on when my head is clearer. I worked a full day and baked all night yesterday.

I like that I can bake 2 13x9-inch pans of these at once, which is a nice break from scooping and/or rolling balls of cookie dough over and over. I messed these up this year and forgot to add the almond extract to the crust and I added it to the filling instead.

I love the Great American Cookie Cookbook. Many of the recipes appear in other cookbooks and booklets I own, that are put out by the same publisher, but this is the complete collection.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Foolproof fudge

Four Chip Fudge
The Ugly Binder, a recipe from my sister, original source unknown

1 1/2 teaspoons plus 3/4 cup butter (no substitutes), divided
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
3 tablespoons milk
1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1 package (11 1/2 ounces) milk chocolate chips
1 package (10 ounces) peanut butter chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 jar (7 ounces) marshmallow creme
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts

Line a 13 by 9 by 2 inch pan with foil and grease the foil with 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter; set aside. In a large heavy saucepan, melt the remaining butter over low heat. Add the next five ingredients. Cook and stir constantly until smooth. Remove from the heat; stir in the butterscotch chips, marshmallow creme and extracts until well blended. Stir in nuts. Spread into prepared pan. Refrigerate until set. Lift out of pan and remove foil; cut into squares. Store in refrigerator.

Yield about 4 1/2 pounds

This recipe is so easy and foolproof. No candy thermometer necessary but you do need a strong arm to mix this up. I've tried other chocolate fudge recipes and none of them have lived up to this recipe. I really like the blend of flavors here over straight chocolate fudge. The texture of this fudge is different than that of the peanut butter fudge recipe that I posted earlier. This is firmer but not crumbly.

My husband's grandmother loves this fudge. As I've said before, she is super-picky when it comes to fudge so trust me, this is good stuff.

My signature cookie

Welsh Cookies
Silver Spring Presbyterian Church Cookbook ’98 Copyright 1998

1 c. margarine I use 1/2 c. margarine and 1/2 c Crisco because that's what the original recipe I had (that I lost) called for
1 c. sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/8 c. milk
½ lb box of currants I use raisins
3 ¼ cup flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. cream of tartar
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder

Cream shortening – add sugar and cream together well. Add beaten eggs and milk. Sift dry ingredients together and add to above mixture. Stir in currants. Take portions of dough and roll on a slightly floured board about 1/8 inch thick and cut with a cookie cutter. On top of stove – use an ungreased griddle over low to medium heat. Turn when golden brown – when other side is golden brown toss both sides with sugar (while hot). I don't coat them in sugar.

These Welsh cookies (or they're sometimes called cakes) are often seen in the area where I grew up (around Scranton, PA). They're made locally and sold in small sleeves. Each little cookie is fried up on a griddle like a little pancake. I think I've made these every year since I started baking Christmas cookies on my own, as an adult, probably 15 years ago. There are other recipes that held on for several Christmas but over the years I've dropped old recipes and added new recipes (my mother's fruitcake was only added a couple of years ago). This is the only recipe that I've never even considered not making anymore.

I love that these cookies are 'different'. Nutmeg is the only flavoring - no vanilla. The texture is hard for me to describe - maybe somewhere between a dense biscuit and a soft cookie. They're soft but not chewy. I use a combination of margarine and shortening because that's what the original recipe I had called for. Would butter work? I don't know. I'm not willing to experiment.

This recipe seems like a lot of work but the dough is very easy to handle and if you have a large electric griddle, you can cook these up in no time. I suggest only putting a couple of them on the griddle at first, until you get a feel for them. Since I only make them once a year, even I have to start slowly every year. I think a good temp for the griddle is around 325 degrees.

My original recipe came from my mother's copy of her church's cookbook. I lost that and was lucky enough to find this recipe in a church cookbook from this area. I was surprised to see a similar recipe in the old Farm Journal's Country Cookbook I have since I've so rarely seen anything similar in any other cookbooks.

My mother's fruit cake

Fruit and Cheese Bread
The Ugly Binder, originally from one of my mother’s cookbooks, title unknown

1 cup butter or margarine
1 8-oz package of cream cheese
1 ½ c. sugar
4 eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 ¼ c. flour
2 t. baking powder
¼ t. salt
1 c. candied cherries, cut into pieces I use red and green cherries
1 c. candied pineapple, cut into pieces
1 c. nuts
¼ c. flour for dredging

Cream together butter, cream cheese and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda and salt. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Dredge candied fruit and fold into batter. Bake in 2 greased loaf pans at 325 degrees for 60 to 70 minutes. Cool on rack for 10 minutes then remove from pan. Cool completely.

This isn't a very old recipe. I can remember the first time my mother made it, so it's probably been in our family for about 25 years. It's not the star of Christmas but I've always enjoyed it and would miss it if it wasn't there. This isn't what most people think of as a traditional fruitcake - it's really just a pound cake - but it's delicious and it's pretty on a cookie tray. You can vary the recipe several ways, I suppose, although I've never done so. Sometimes I make a batch without nuts - that's about as crazy as I've ever gone with this recipe myself.

I think my mother is glad that I make this now because she doesn't have to and she doesn't enjoy baking as much as I do. The other night, while I was baking this, she was spending the night in a hospital, undergoing tests to see if she had suffered a mini-stroke. Fortunately she seems to be doing okay but a lot more Christmas memories than usual were flooding through my mind as I baked this fruitcake the other night due to this.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Holiday baking begins!

Peanut Butter Fudge
The Ugly Binder – copied from the internet

In 2 qt pot:
3 cups sugar
1 cup milk
Cook over medium heat for about 5-6 minutes, until mixture forms soft ball when you drop ½ tsp. of it in a cup of cold water. (I just use a candy thermometer and it seems to take much longer than 5-6 minutes.)

Remove from heat and add:
1 rounded tablespoon of butter
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
12-oz jar creamy peanut butter
1 7-oz jar marshmallow whip

Stir until all blended with a rubber spatula. Place in a greased 13x9-inch pan. (I use a 9x9-in pan.) Refrigerate until hard. Cut into squares. Cover with plastic wrap before refrigerating. Keeps 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Okay so technically this isn't baking, it's candy making but this is the start of my week of holiday treat making. This recipe came from someone on an internet forum I frequent. I’ve tried a few other peanut butter fudge recipes but once I tried this one, I knew I’d never try another one. This is super simple – the hardest part is waiting for the sugar and milk to reach soft ball stage. I let it get to 238 degrees. My husband’s grandmother loves this fudge and she’s very finicky.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Sneak Preview

Ricotta Cookies
Helping Our Kids Grow Copyright 2000

4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3 eggs
1 c. butter (soft)
2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 15-oz container of Ricotta cheese

4 T. butter (soft)
3 c. 10X sugar
1 T. vanilla

Mix butter, 10X sugar and vanilla. Add milk until spreadable. (I tinted the frosting with green gel food coloring.)

Mix all ingredients well. (I tinted the batter with green gel food coloring.) Place by tablespoon onto cookie sheet (ungreased). (I used my two tablespoon scoop.) Bake at 325 degrees in middle of oven for 9-10 minutes. Cook on rack. Frost when cool. May be topped with coconut, sprinkles or food colored frosting. (I used green frosting and holly sprinkles.)

I don't do my holiday baking until the last week but tomorrow is my son's daycare party so I made a batch of one of my more festive recipes. These are like little cakes - very soft and moist. They're actually great without frosting but just not very attractive.

This recipe is from a church fundraiser cookbook. I think you can find some of the best cookie recipes in this type of cookbook. People usually submit their tried and true family favorites. I have so may cookbooks devoted to cookies and baked goods but I don't recall any of them having a similar recipe.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Oh dear, I actually like deer

Big Game Baked Round Steak
Dressing and Cooking Wild Game Copyright 2000

2 to 3 pounds boneless deer, antelope, elk or moose round steak, 1 inch thick
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
Brown sugar
Dried basil leaves
1 tablespoon butter or margarine, cut into pieces
¼ cup venison or beef stock

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Trim meat; cut into serving-sized pieces. Pound to ½-inch thickness with meat mallet. On a sheet of waxed paper, mix flour, salt and pepper. Dip steaks in flour mixture, turning to coat. In large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter in 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add coated steaks; brown on both sides. Fry in two batches if necessary, adding additional butter and oil. Arrange browned steaks in 12x8-ich baking pan. (I just used my Dutch oven for both the stove-top and oven steps in this recipe.) Sprinkle with onion. Top each steak with 1 teaspoon packed brown sugar and 1 teaspoon catsup. Sprinkle with basil. Dot with 1 tablespoon butter. Add stock to drippings inb skillet. Cook over medium heat for about 1 minute, stirring to loosen any browned bits. Add to baking pan. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for about 45 minutes. Remove foil. If meat appears dry, add a small amount of stock or water to pan. Bake until browned on top, about 15 minutes longer.

6 to 8 servings

I don’t know what has happened to me, but I liked this venison recipe too. I thought the chili might have been a fluke but I didn’t have any problem eating this steak either. It could be the deer, it could also be the butcher. I don’t know, but this venison is very mild tasting. I’m amazed at how lean it is, yet it doesn’t get tough like lean beef tends to do.

The person who asked for diabetic and vegetarian recipes probably ran screaming from the room upon seeing this recipe but hopefully someone out there will enjoy this.

Just hold on, anonymous, hold on

An anonymous commenter asked for more diabetic and vegetarian recipes. I read that and first a vision of all of that venison in our freezer flashed before my eyes, and then I thought of the torrent of the holiday recipes that will soon be hitting these pages.

Well, I hope this reader holds on. After the holidays I do plan on expanding the variety of recipes here. I haven't even made a dent in my cookbook collection yet and I do own several books of diabetic recipes and at least one vegetarian cookbook. Both my husband and I have risk factors for diabetes so believe me, your request won't be ignored.

I thought is was important that I post this because for the next few weeks, this is going to be a very scary place for someone looking for diabetic and vegetarian recipes. But I encourage this commenter, and anyone who hasn't seen something they like yet, to stick around. This blog is only a little over 3 months old and there is still a lot of ground to cover.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Simply scampi

Shrimp Scampi
The New Best Recipe Copyright 2004

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil I used canola oil
2 pounds extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined, if desired I used large shrimp
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon dry vermouth I used some white wine
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
pinch cayenne pepper
salt and ground black pepper

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until shimmering. Swirl to coat the pan bottom. Add half the shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until opaque and just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a medium bowl. Repeat with remaining oil and shrimp.
2. Return the now-empty skillet to medium-low heat. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the pan. When the foaming subsides, add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Off the heat, add the lemon juice and vermouth. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, add the parsley and cayenne, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Return the shrimp and accumulated juices to the skillet. Toss to combine and serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6

I had some shrimp to use up and I wanted to work with what I had on hand so I decided to make a simple shrimp scampi. You would think I could find several recipes but surprisingly this was the only recipe for this dish I could find in my collection. It turned out really well. Sure, I could have thrown ingredients together, willy-nilly, and it would have been good, but the flavors probably would not have been as well-balanced.

This cookbook can be a bit anal and they tend to overanalyze the recipes but this recipe was simple and straightforward. Much simpler than the chicken marsala I made from this book, which took me forever to transcribe.

You Are What You Eat: My Ten Favorite Foods

I was tagged for a meme by Heather at Eating For One. My very first! It's a difficult one too. You Are What You Eat: My Ten Favorite Foods. I'm very much a Libra, always balancing the scales, never able to make a concrete decision on anything. A day of shopping with my sister, another Libra, can be excruciating when the time comes to decide what we're going to eat for lunch. Even if we end up in a food court, we tend to wander around aimlessly for 30 minutes before we can make a decision.

So the best I can do is speak for the moment.

1. Pizza - This was the only thing that immediately popped into my head. I LOVE pizza. From an English muffin or bagel topped with sauce and cheese to gourmet pizza topped with shrimp and feta or other more exotic ingredients, call it 'pizza' and I'm there. I've put together pizzas with pre-made crusts but I've never made my own. It's a dream of mine, but around here Friday is pizza night and with a full-time job, I've just never gotten around to making my own pizza dough since it needs rise time. It's on my to-do list so sometime this year it will happen.

2. Halushki - Also known as cabbage and noodles. I enjoy most of the ethnic foods I grew up on (kielbasi, perogi, stuffed cabbage) but this is my favorite of them all. Unfortunately, cooking cabbage is not something I like to do in my own home so I make sure I enjoy this at the church picnics near my hometown. Almost all of these festivals have halushki on the menu.

3. Steak - Rare to medium rare. Preferably from a good steak house. I may not get to anyplace fancier than TGIF's these days but in my past life, I've had the pleasure of enjoying both Ruth's Chris (in San Juan) and Morton's (in Philly). Both places have wonderful steaks and, seriously, what food doesn't taste great on an expense account?

4. Cream of Wheat - Prepared with milk and loaded with sugar and butter, this is a treat I usually reserve for getting over a stomach bug. It's usually one of the first things I crave. It reminds me of my childhood.

5. Banana ice cream - Good banana ice cream. Straight- no add ins. Bassett's is probably the best but I can't get it in this area. The only good plain banana ice cream I can get is Hershey's and only one little store, a couple towns over sells the small square pints of this.

6. Scallops - Just barely cooked through. Simple broiled is best. With melted butter or tartar sauce if they're fried.

7. Tiramisu - This is not as much of a treat as it was before I started making my own, but I only do that once a year so it's still pretty special. Gotta have the marscapone though. Yes, make it with cream cheese and it's still tasty but it's not the same.

8. Wendy's Single - With just ketchup. This is the only place I order a burger without cheese or other condiments.

9. Cheese - Except goat cheese. I was shocked to discover that I don't like goat cheese but I've had to accept it and go on with my life, sad as that fact made me. There are still so many other cheeses out there to enjoy.

10. Donuts - The pizza of the world of sweets. So many varieties and I love them all. Not overly thrilled about jelly donuts but they'll do in a pinch. Usually a glazed chocolate cake donut is my first choice.

Now, ask me to re-write this list at this very second and I probably could come up with an entire new list (except for the pizza). My tastes change every moment but at the time I came up with this list, these were my favorites.

I think meme rules dictate I must tag several others but I'm so new to this game, that I really don't have anyone to tag. Oh well, memes have to go somewhere to die, I suppose. For now, this is the meme graveyard but I love that Heather tagged me for this. Not only did I enjoy coming up with my list, I followed the trail back and discovered many new blogs to add to my daily reading. Thanks, Heather!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

She likes it! She likes it!

Hunter’s Favorite Chili
Dressing and Cooking Wild Game Copyright 2000

3 pounds big-game burger I had more, probably over 4 pounds
3 medium onions, chopped
3 medium green peppers, chopped
½ cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons bacon fat or vegetable oil
1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes, undrained
2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
2 tablespoons chili powder I added much more
1 teaspoon salt I added a little bit more
1 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
2 cans (15 ½ ounces) kidney beans, undrained I omitted these
1 can (16 ounces) pinto beans, undrained I omitted these
I also added 2 Dove dark chocolate Promises, extra (petite diced) tomatoes and some beef broth

In Dutch over, brown meat over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside. In large skillet, cook and stir onions, green peppers, and celery in bacon fat over medium heat until tender. Add vegetable mixture and all remaining ingredients except beans to meat in Dutch oven. Heat to boiling. There was nothing to boil so I added some leftover petite diced tomatoes from the freezer and some beef broth. Reduce heat; cover. Simmer 1 hour to blend flavors. Stir in beans. Cook, uncovered, 30 minutes longer.

Well, my husband came home with the meat from his second buck today. After being up to my elbows in venison this afternoon, getting it all packed away for the freezer, I decided I needed to get rid of some of this meat right away. I decided to make this chili.

The amazing thing was, I LOVED this chili. I've never had much of taste for venison in the past. You really never know what a deer will taste like. It’s not like Frank Purdue is feeding them an electronically controlled diet and slaughtering them in a standard way. So I think it’s a crapshoot, whether a hunter gets a tasty deer or not. We won this crapshoot. The meat had no strong flavor and although it was lean, it wasn’t tough like lean ground beef can be. That’s just liquid from the broth and tomatoes in the photo, by the way. This wasn’t greasy at all. I had the beans but skipped them since I used more meat and frankly I didn’t need this pot of chili to be any bigger than it already was without the beans. There was plenty leftover as it was.

This cookbook is the only game cookbook I have and it covers a larger variety of game than my husband hunts (thank God). But that means there are only a few venison recipes. I’m going to need more. Many more. Many, many more.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A chicken recipe from the Ugly Binder

Bourbon Chicken
The Ugly Binder (printed off the internet, source site unknown)

4 chicken breasts I used thighs, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce I used low-sodium
2 tablespoons dried minced onion
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/8 cup (6 tablespoons) bourbon
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Combine oil, ginger, soy sauce, onion, sugar, bourbon, Dijon mustard and garlic powder. Mix together and pour mixture over chicken. Marinate overnight, or at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake basting frequently, for 1 1/2 hours or until chicken is well browned and juices run clear. My chicken was cut into rather small pieces so I didn't cook it nearly this long, maybe about 45 minutes. I think cooking it longer would have carmelized the sauce a bit more but I was worried that the chicken would get too dry.

I was desperate for a recipe for chicken thighs, which I bought when hubby asked for the pork to end. And although I do eat and enjoy chicken thighs on the bone (with skin too), when chicken is boneless, I feel the need to remove every impurity from the meat, which in the case of thighs seemed to be about 25 percent of what I started with. I'm just not sure it's worth cooking with them but this turned out to be a tasty way to use up what I already had on hand.

I had a few close calls. I used my last two tablespoons of soy sauce, the last of my dried minced onion, and then the Bourbon I assumed we had wasn't there. Luckily I found a small, airline sized, bottle of honey flavored Wild Turkey in the back of the liquor cupboard which amazingly held just the right amount of bourbon for this recipe.

This is a knockoff of the pseudo-Cajun dish that can be found in most food courts (or has it's day come and gone?). It was simple, tasty and aside from the trimming of the meat, easy to throw together. I didn't find it to be as heavy and sweet as I vaguely recall the food court variety being. I do think thighs work better here.

When I started this blog, I decided I had to be adamant about sticking with recipes from cookbooks or I would be spending all day at work searching the internet for recipes. But I already had a binder filled with recipes clipped from newspapers and magazines, recipes I've printed off the internet or jotted down from a television screen or those that were passed on to me by a friend or family member. This binder is as much a part of my cookbook collection as anything else, and often as neglected as the rest of my cookbook used to be, so I don't consider it cheating to have made this recipe, out of my ugly binder, and not a cookbook proper.

Lisa at Comfort Food recently asked for advice on the best way to organize recipes. Well, I didn't have any advice to offer, as you can see. My ugly binder is a complete mess, although I'm hesitant to fix it because I sort of know where everything is right now. I'll be lost in there if I try to clean it up.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Testing a recipe's forgiveness factor

Cowboy Casserole
101 Things To Do With A Casserole Copyright 2005

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 jalapeƱo peppers, seeded and diced
2 packages (6.5 ounces each) corn bread mix
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 can (14.75 ounces) cream style corn
¾ cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a frying pan, brown beef with onions and peppers until beef is done. I seasoned this with salt and pepper. Drain any excess grease and set aside.

In a bowl, combine corn bread mix, salt, baking soda, corn, milk, and eggs. Spread half the batter over bottom of a greased 9x13 –inch pan. Sprinkle half the cheese over batter. Spoon meat mixture evenly over top. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over meat mixture, and then spread remaining batter over top. Bake, uncovered, 35 minutes, or until corn bread is golden brown and set in the center.

Makes 6-8 servings.

While making this recipe, I thought leaving out the can of creamed corn would be a good test of how to attempt to save a recipe gone wrong. Yeah, that's what happened. I planned on leaving the corn out. Yep. I did it on purpose. Sure.

Um, okay, I didn't mean to leave the corn out. The corn was one of the main reasons I chose to make this casserole. That can of corn was acquired for some unknown reason and never used. It was the oldest canned good in the cupboard and I felt sorry for it. I also had a couple of jalapeƱos in the produce drawer, from a recipe that was removed from the line up when that stomach bug hit our house. All I needed was a couple of packages of cheap cornbread mix and cheese and I was good to go.

I should have realized my mistake earlier than I did. I could see that after spreading half the batter in the bottom of the dish that there wasn't much left to 'spread' over the top. There wasn't much on the bottom either, for that matter. I layered the ingredients, sans creamed corn, and could only the cover the top in cobbler fashion. Then I remembered the creamed corn.

I figured I had three choices. A - I could leave it out. B- I could mix everything together. C- I could attempt to separate the layers of cornbread batter, cheese and (hot) meat. Well I couldn't bring myself to leave it out, even though the resulting dish would have been edible, that can of corn would still be living in my cupboard. I thought about B for a while but decided I would miss the meat center too much. Meat dispersed throughout the cornbread batter just isn't the same. So I did my best to deconstruct the dish and then mixed the can of creamed corn into what I hoped was a good portion of the batter.

And it turned out okay, IMO. This isn't fancy but it's a nice cold weather casserole, inexpensive and easy to prepare. Something my husband would appreciate. It tastes just like cornbread, cheese, ground beef, onions and peppers. Imagine that.

Since I'm physically unable to leave Costco without purchasing a cookbook, I picked up this little number there on my last visit. It was just after the stomach bug episode and I was in the mood for this type of homey food. I think every cream of soup recipe and potluck casserole I've ever heard of is in this one handy book. There are other versions of this book - 101 Things To Do With A Slow Cooker, 101 Things To Do With a Tortilla, 101 Things To Do With BBQ, etc. This is the only one I've examined closely but I think the concept is fun and these could fill a nice gift basket for a college student (especially the 101 Things To Do With Ramen Noodles) or other novice cook, one who likes this homestyle sort of cooking.

Gearing up for Christmas

There will be less action around here as I prepare for the holiday. I'm busy planning for baking and candy making, something I don't start until about a week before Christmas. In an effort to clear space out of the cupboards and freezer and to save money, I'm also trying to cook only foods I already have on hand so some meals will be quite simple (tonight we'll have grilled chicken sandwiches and frozen french fries) and others are past recipes revisted. Last night I treated hubby to Sweet-Sour Meatballs , a recipe from a few weeks back that he really enjoyed. More importantly, I had all the ingredients on hand.

It's hard to keep up the blogging when I'm not receiving a lot of feedback but I'm enjoying it so it will continue. If anyone is reading, just expect content to slow up for a couple of weeks, then expect an onslaught of cookie and candy recipes. I'm going to try to vamp up the template here and by the beginning of the year I'll be back full-throttle. Expect an usual amount of venison recipes - after many, many years my husband seems to have finally got the knack of hunting and he has two deer to consume.

If you're out there, please comment, especially if you've tried any of the recipes. These aren't my own recipes so feel free to leave a comment even if you don't like something. This blog isn't just about the good recipes - if I can save someone from making a sub-par recipe, that's a good thing too, right?

Sorry about the word verification on the commenting but I was getting tired of all the spammed comments.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Salad (practically) out of the pantry

Green Bean Salad
Big Kitchen Instruction Book Copyright 1998

2 (16-ounce) cans cut green beans, drained
1 (16-ounce) can wax beans, drained
1 (16-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 red Bermuda onion, sliced I chopped
½ cup sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup vinegar
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
dash Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Mix beans in a large bowl with onion. Blend remaining ingredients and toss with beans. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours, stirring from time to time.

Makes 10-12 servings.

I was going to make a facetious comment about what an exotic recipe this was, since I've been eating three-bean salad for years - it's everywhere - I've just never made it. But then my husband informed me that he had never had bean salad before, as he went for another serving. I know that he's been eating off the same salad bars as I have for the past several years so I'm not sure how he's managed to miss it.

I'm not too proud to admit I like canned green beans. I know many people abhor canned vegetables but I was raised on them and my son enjoys them too. This has not been a great year for fresh produce, in our area at least, and I like recipes that can be thrown together out of the pantry. This bean salad was better than the jarred or salad bar variety (which almost always comes out of a jar) since this had oil in the dressing. I was a little rough with my beans, shaking the bowl to mix it up occasionally. Some of the beans got a bit smooshed but it was still delicious.

I like this basic cookbook. It was a bargain find, originally meant as a gift for a novice cook that never got given. I've made good use of it, I think.