Friday, October 30, 2009

Frankenstein marshmallow - because I aim to please

I once referred to a s'mores brownie recipe as a 'Frankenstein recipe'. So, lately I've been getting a lot of hits for Frankenstein marshmallows and Frankenstein graham crackers.

I hate to disappoint so I took a crack at a Frankenstein marshmallow. It wasn't easy since Wilton candy melts are made on the same machinery with peanuts and my white coating needs an oil-based coloring which I couldn't find. I used gel food coloring which was okay but the coating doesn't melt quite as well with it. I used chocolate for the hair, chocolate Twizzlers for the bolts, half a Sixlet for the nose and some icing for the eyes, mouth and scars. I didn't bother with ears.

I made one! I would never ever want to make a bunch of these. I am really not a fan of food that looks cute but doesn't taste that great. This is certainly edible but let's be honest, it's not exactly delicious. I doubt anyone is sitting around craving a Frankenstein marshmallow. My son got a kick out of it but after two small bites, he was done.

So if this is what you're looking for, there it is but there are much better examples out there.

The final result

I don't know if I made it clear but the last cookies that I pictured were from years gone by. After a couple of decorating disasters (sticky frosting) I gave up on the cutout cookies but I'm back in the game now. This year's cookies were a success as far as I'm concerned. The Wilton Cooking Icing set up nicely and tasted fine actually. I was worried that it wouldn't taste good.

I could only find white and orange so I tinted some of the white icing violet, black and gray. I used my Pampered Chef accent decorator bottles for the colors I tinted myself. I did try some Betty Crocker cookie icing (just for the green pumpkin stems). That brand doesn't require the brief microwave heating that the Wilton requires so it was a bit thicker. I think it would have slightly harder to work with but it set up great too.

Both lack the shine of the Toba Garrett Glacé (which is just powdered sugar, corn syrup, milk and flavoring) but the quick and sturdy drying won me over.

The premade icings are expensive (I think $4.99 for the Wilton and $3.45 for the Better Crocker). I used a coupon in Michael's for the Wilton. It says you can ice one dozen 3-inch cookies with one bottle but I only used about 1 1/2 bottles for 2 1/2 dozen cookies. If you've ever struggled with sticky frosted cookies you would probably agree with me that it's worth the money.

I really love this King Arthur recipe for cutout cookies. I've got the cookie making down. I found the right icing. Now I just need to work on my decorating skills. I see many more cutout cookies in my future.

Question of the Day: How many cookie cutter do you own? I have tons. I have one of those huge plastic sets that has a cutter for just about every occasion.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

One last recipe for the week

Ham and Rice Casserole
The guide to Southern Cooking Copyright 2006

2½ cups hot cooked rice
2½ cups ham, diced
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, cooked and drained I picked a corn, green bean, carrot and pea blend
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup soft bread crumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup sliced mushrooms, optional I didn't add these

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. In a bowl, combine rice, ham, and cooked mixed vegetables.
3. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. If you are using the sliced mushrooms, add and sauté until tender and golden brown. Blend in flour; stirring until hot and bubbly. Gradually stir in the milk. Cook the sauce, stirring constantly until mixture is thickened. Stir in cheese until melted, and then add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Stir the sauce into the rice, ham and vegetable mixture. Transfer to a 2 ½ -quart baking dish. Toss bread crumbs with the melted butter; sprinkle over the top of the casserole.
5. Bake for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. If the breadcrumbs aren’t as brown as you like, turn on the broiler for about 2 minutes, just until browned.

I had a few spare minutes last night so here's one last recipe for the week. I have no idea what we're having for dinner tonight. I had something planned that I never got around to making (or even thawing the chicken) so I'm going to have to wing it tonight. It's Trick or Treat night so I want something fast and easy to clean up. McDonald's is sounding awfully tempting.

I should have saved this for tonight. I made it ahead of time and we just heated it up in the microwave. It was a very tasty casserole. I like that it has the veggies right in there. The little one liked it but the older one is just not that fond of cheese. He picked out some of the ham and ate it.

I'm tired. I will be happy when this week is over. To be honest, I will be happier when this year is over. The stress of having two kids, a flu going around and only so many vacation days left for the year is getting to me.

Question of the Day: Which mixed vegetable blend do you like best?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Going to take a short break

Successful cutout cookies:

Very UN-successful cutout cookies:

Last night I came back from the gym and relaxed with the boys for a while. Just as it was time to put the baby to bed and I was going to finish cleaning up, take a shower and go to bed early, I remembered that I was supposed to make cookies for Nick's Halloween party on Friday. My plan was to make the dough, roll it out and cut out the cookies last night, bake them tonight and decorate tomorrow. So I didn't have time to work on a new post for today and since we also have a parade (or swimming lessons if it rains) tonight, I don't know when I will get around to it.

So here I go again. This type of cookie vexes me. I have no problem making the cookies. I used the King Arthur All-Purpose Cutout Cookie recipe again. Since learning the trick of immediately rolling out the dough between sheets of parchment paper I have not feared rolling out cookie dough. You don't need to add flour or anything to the parchment paper. Once you roll, you cut the cookies out right on the parchment and place the parchment with the cookies right on the cookie sheet. Easy peasy.

My next challenge will be to bake them. I figured out my oven problem. A few small bits of foil had ended up on the oven floor near the element. Oven elements and foil do not mix. Hopefully I caught it in time. The oven is still working but I'm not sure how well it's working. Someone reminded me that there might be a Cash for Clunkers type program for appliances so I'm hoping to wait and see if that is really going to happen before replacing my oven. Certainly I won't have a new oven or element by tonight so hopefully there's enough life left in it to make these cookies.

Then on to decorating. As you see up top, I've had success and failure in that department. I'm cooking frosting challenged. I usually end up with a sticky mess. I used Toba Garrett's glace recipe in the top picture with spectacular results (it set up wonderfully) but I've tried it at least twice more with no success (stayed sticky). I used melted almond bark in the second pick. I don't think those cookies left the house. They certainly weren't sticky but the colors were bad and I prefer a glaze or frosting on a cookie.

So this time I bought Wilton's premade cookie frosting but they only had one bottle of orange and several of white left by the time I got to the craft store with my coupon (they had black the week before and curse me for not buying it them). I bought two bottles of white hoping to tint one black and/or purple. We'll see. I'm sure it doesn't taste the greatest but I just want it to be easy to work with and to set up so I can stack them.

I will probably have to deliver the cookies myself since they would probably be crumbs by the time my 5-year-old got to school (or he might start eating them).

Why didn't I just offer to send a bag of candy corn?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Experimenting with cloves

Sloppy Joes
The Complete Family Cook Book Copyright 1969

1 pound lean ground beef
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped green peppers
½ tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon powdered cloves
1 cup catsup
6 hamburger buns

In frying pan cook beef in oil until brown. Add remaining ingredients except buns. Cover; cook slowly for 30 minutes. Spoon ingredients into hamburger buns.

Serves 6.

I made a few different recipes for sloppy joes (also known as barbecue and wimpies) but this one caught my eye due to the cloves. Cloves have pretty much gone out of style except for limited appearances in cakes and on hams. While they were never hugely popular, years ago you saw a pinch of cloves added to savory recipes every now and then compared to just about never now.

This was risky because I despise cinnamon in savory dishes, why would I try cloves? I'm just a risk-taker I guess. Or maybe stupid. What was the verdict? Loved these! Strange. I love cinnamon and hate it in savory dishes. I don't really care for cloves (I probably had the misfortune of biting on a clove at least once in my life) yet I liked them in this savory dish. I think my tastebuds were more accepting of the cloves since they don't have expectations with cloves like they do with cinnamon.

An almost identical recipe was on all-recipes and people were divided on the cloves. I'm sure they're not for everyone and some people may hate the addition here as much as I hate cinnamon added to savory dishes but it worked for me.

Question of the Day: Do you have ground cloves in your spice collection? When did you last use it? For what dish?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Taste of Home Cookbook Cooks Who Care Edition

Vanilla Popcorn
The Taste of Home Cookbook Cooks Who Care Edition Copyright 2009

3 quarts popped popcorn
1 cup sugar
½ cup butter/margarine
¼ cup light corn syrup
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. vanilla

1. Place popcorn in a large bowl; set aside. In a saucepan, combine sugar, butter and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat for 2 minutes; boil and stir until mixture is golden, about 2 minutes.

2. Remove from heat; stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Pour over popcorn and toss to coat. Cool slightly; break apart while warm.

1 cup has 206 calories, 11 g fat, 20mg chol, 209mg sodium, 28g crabs, 1g fiber, 1g protein

This is a new edition of the Taste of Home Cookbook but with a little something extra added. They included stories of people who contribute to the community in some way that uses food. When I was first saw this book, I thought it was just the regular Taste of Home Cookbook with the stories added but I was pleased to see that they added more recipes to this edition and they varied the photography (some recipes that were not photographed in the regular edition are photographed in this one instead of some recipes that were photographed in the regular edition).

I'm a big fan of Taste of Home Cookbooks and this is the granddaddy of them all. There are almost 1,400 recipes and nearly as many photographs. The recipes are tried and true by the users who submit them. I always get the impression that almost every recipe is someone's 'special' recipe, not just some recipe that they threw together once or twice. Taste of Home cookbooks are always organized well and include lots of photos. This particular book is binder style which I love (the pages always lay flat).

It's not unusual for publishers to print special editions of cookbooks (the Betty Crocker pink plaid edition for breast cancer awareness for example). I think these special editions make wonderful gifts. You're not just giving a cookbook, you're sending a message. This particular book would be great for anyone who is generous with their time and talents or who works in a caring profession - not just people who use food to do that. It's under $20 on Amazon (at least as I'm writing this, it is $19.77 and shipping is free over $25). I think that's an affordable gift.

Or, just buy the book for yourself and make even more affordable food gifts from it. I was testing this recipe for Christmas. The way my oven is running I may need to do all candy treats this year. It's the first time I popped popcorn on the stove in years. It was faster and less smelly than microwave popcorn. Cheaper too.

My popcorn didn't look as perfectly coated as the picture in the book but it was delicious. I think nuts, peanuts or almonds would be great added to this too. Sorry I had to share the unfortunate nutritional information with you but they included it so I did too.

This recipe in in the regular edition too. You can also find it along with many more recipes on the Taste of Home website. They have a ton of content on their website, including some great contests. They are giving away 50 slow cookers right now.

Question of the Day: Have you started Christmas shopping yet?

Friday, October 23, 2009

My cookbook sources

This was my collection in 2006. I have another 5-shelf bookcase filled plus a few other piles of books now.

I don't think there are any shortage of places to buy cookbooks, unfortunately. I probably have way too many sources for my own good. Since I didn't have a recipe to post today I thought I'd do a little recap of my favorite places to buy cookbooks. Maybe they're not the best places to buy cookbooks but these are my own personal sources.

These are in no particular order:

Book Clubs
I find book clubs to be a good source for picking up popular cookbooks that have been published recently. You know that ones you aren't going to find easily on the second hand market right away. While you may pay a little more for the books that you have to buy to fulfill your membership commitment (you have to pay a certain amount for those books to count towards your commitment - check the details), but when you average it out with your introduction package it's not a bad deal. They offer sales and free shipping often enough that you can always work out a decent deal on your fulfillment books. Every once and a while they have really good sales.

One thing to note about book clubs is that they're basically all run by the same company. You can join the mystery club and get all cookbooks. You can join the history club and get all cookbooks. You can join any themed club and get all cookbooks. Don't ask me how I know this.

Another thing to note is that they have drifted away from the automatic mailings. They haven't stopped completely but I think after you've met your commitment and have been a member for a while they stop them. You can just mark 'return to sender' on any unopened book and return it to them at no cost if you do get one you don't want. Of course, they give you a chance to respond online so if you're on top of things you shouldn't receive any feature selections. The feature selections are never a good deal.

Also, they give you the option of going paperless so you can do all your business online and your mail won't be clogged with catalogs.

Ollie's Bargain Outlet
Ollie's isn't a national chain but I'm lucky enough to have two within my shopping area. They have cheap books, mostly remains, but every so often a batch of something good gets sent there. I find lots of the Favorite Brand Name books there. Some of my favorite books came from Ollie's.

They also sometimes get great cookware there. I got my bread machine there for $39.99 and it's going strong after several years. I got my favorite cookie sheets there. They have crappy stuff too but you never know when you're going to find something good.

Yard Sales
I don't find a lot of cookbooks at yard sales but when I do, I usually get a great deal. Most people sell books for $1 or less around here.

Flea Market/Farmer's Market
Regular readers know I used to have a guy who sold me old cookbooks cheap, at a local one-day-a-week farmer's market/flea market we have in this area. When gas prices shot up he decided not to have a stall at this market anymore since he had to drive so far to get there. I miss him but his prices were so cheap (mostly $1 or 50 cents, occasionally $2 for big hardcovers) and his selection so interesting that I was getting overrun. I don't visit the market as often anymore but when I do I sometimes find cookbooks at some of the other junk stalls.
Amazon is a great place to find slightly used cookbooks at a much reduced cost from other sellers. If you look up a title, they will list if it's available used (or even new) from other sellers and the condition, prices and shipping fees from various sellers will be listed under that link. I've never had a disappointing transaction that way. Usually if I want a specific book quickly, this is the route I go.


Costco doesn't have a huge selection but they often have a few newly released books at a good price (much less than publisher's price), along with a few 'bargain' books. It's someplace I can satisfy a fix in a pinch without feeling too guilty.

I just rediscovered how many great books they have in their bargain section and they were running a buy 2 get one free on bargain books. They are so close to Costco (which I visit regularly) that this could be a dangerous situation for me.

I also have a local antique market that sells older books where I could satisfy a fix in a pinch. Occasionally I find a book in stores like Ross for Less, Marshall's Tuesday Morning, etc. Once I found Better Homes and Gardens cookbook in the Dollar General for $1. It was a thin hardcover but a good one. Sometimes in local businesses I see books being sold for local charities and I will buy one.

That's all that I can think of right now. This would probably be a good time to ask my readers for other good places to buy cookbooks but I clearly don't need that information!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fooled by the name

Molasses-Glazed Chicken Thighs
Southern Living Annual Recipes 2005

3/4 cup molasses
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon pepper
12 skinned and boned chicken thighs

Combine first 6 ingredients in a shallow dish or large zip-top plastic freezer bag; add chicken thighs. Cover or seal, and chill 8 hours, turning occasionally.

Remove chicken from marinade, discarding marinade.

Grill chicken thighs, covered with grill lid, over medium heat (300° to 350°) 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until done. I broiled them.

Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings

This recipe was supposed to be grilled and last night was actually a great night to grill but Dan was fussy and my husband was cutting the grass so it was easier to broil (and stay in the house). I loved the Spicy Honey-Brushed Chicken Thighs that I broiled a few weeks ago so I was hoping for more good results.

This chicken was definitely delicious and enjoyable but while it sounded a bit 'different' from the title, when it comes down to it, it's just a teriyaki style chicken. I love teriyaki style chicken so I enjoyed this very much but I was expecting some more out-of-the-ordinary. Don't ask me why since it was obvious from the ingredients what I would end up with but it didn't hit me until I tasted it that it wasn't anything different. I expected the molasses flavor to be stronger I suppose.

I was trying to plan next week's menu last night and I was drawing a huge blank. I am down to the dregs of the freezer and frankly I'm over the idea of using up every last item in there right now. Yet even giving myself the freedom to plan anything I wanted wasn't helping. I'm starting to feel like I've cooked it all.

Question of the Day: Do you cook a large variety of dishes or just a few? When did you last try a new recipe?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

These grew on me

Two-Chip Cookies
The guide to Home Cooking Copyright 2007

1 cup flour
¾ cup cornstarch
1 cup butter (two sticks), softened
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (about 4 ounces) salted plain potato chips, finely crushed and packed (use thin-style plain, crushed to pieces slightly larger than grains of kosher salt)
1 cup swirled white and dark chocolate chops, chilled I used regular semi-sweet chips
½ cup powdered sugar

1. Whisk together flour and cornstarch. Set aside.
2. Cream together butter and sugar. Gradually add flour mixture and mix well. Add vanilla and potato chips and mix well. Fold in chocolate chips. Chill 15 to 30 minutes.
3. Scoop out walnut-sized balls of dough with a small ice cream scoop or spoon and drop onto ungreased parchment-covered cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Take a flat-bottomed drinking glass, dip it in the powdered sugar, and gently flatten the cookies slightly with it. (Don’t flatten too much or make them too large as they will be too thin and will crumble easily.)
4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 12 to 14 minutes until edges are faintly golden. Let cool 5 minutes before removing with a spatula to racks. Let cookies cool before removing with a spatula to racks. Let cookies cool before serving and storing.

I made 30 cookies.

I made these Sunday and I first thought they were okay, nothing special. By Tuesday I could have eaten an entire plate of these. My coworkers liked them and my son heaped his usual praises on them. I dare say I might even make these again which is high praise for a cookie recipe.

These are a shortbread type of cookie which usually isn't my favorite but as I said, I warmed up to them quite a bit. I've made potato chip cookies before but this version with chocolate chips was much better. I couldn't use the swirled chips since they are made on machinery with peanuts so I used semi-sweet chocolate chips and no one complained. They are crunchy and light with a nice saltiness (and a bit of chewiness) from the potato chips.

I happened to be next to a Borders so I stopped in last week. I had it in my head that their bargain cookbooks were limited but that is truly not the case. I didn't realize how many more bargain books they had inside (instead of out front). Wow. And they were buy two get one free so I paid six dollars and change for three cookbooks - Home Cooking, Shortcut Cooking and Southern Cooking. You can hardly buy one single cooking magazine in the grocery store for that price anymore. One of my favorite casserole recipes, Chicken-and-Rice Bake, comes from the Southern Cooking version that I had checked out of the library, so I felt good about my choices but there were so many other good books I had to control myself mightily. They are as dangerous as Ollie's Bargain Outlet.

These books don't have photos but they have lots of great recipes and great cooking related tips.

Question of the Day: Which sounds better to you in this recipe - the semi-sweet chocolate chips or the swirled white and dark?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good gravy

Minute Steak With Mushroom Gravy
Southern Living Annual Recipes 2005 Copyright 2004

1 (10 3/4-ounce) can reduced-fat cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 to 1 1/2 pounds cubed sirloin steaks
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 (8-ounce) package sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Whisk together soup and next 3 ingredients until smooth; set aside.

Sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper evenly over steaks. Stir together remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and flour in a shallow dish. Dredge steaks in flour mixture.

Fry steaks in hot oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat 2 minutes on each side. Remove steaks, reserving drippings in skillet. Add mushrooms and thyme, and sauté 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned.

Stir reserved soup mixture into mushroom mixture in skillet; cook 1 minute, stirring to loosen particles from bottom of skillet. Bring to a boil, and return steaks to skillet. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until done.

Yield:Makes 4 to 6 servings

I made this on Sunday for Monday and I wasn't all that excited about it when I made it. It was just one of those rare times when my appetite was low. On Monday night I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It wasn't a 'wow' but it was good and satisfying, especially the gravy. I wish I had made mashed potatoes but I went with crescent rolls.

I appreciate the suggestions I was given when I complained about the instant potatoes last week. I like the idea of making them and freezing them. I love Bob Evans prepared mashed potatoes and the frozen versions but they're more expensive options. If anyone is interested the instant potatoes Costco had were Honest Earth (they were Paradise Valley but they were rebranded). I had the baby reds. Best instant potatoes I ever had.

Question of the Day: Rolls in a can, yay or nay?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pioneer Woman Cooks!

When I was offered a review copy of Ree Drummond's cookbook, Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl, I couldn't have been more excited. As I mentioned last week, her website and her life are both really something to drool over. I was only kidding when I said you would hate her of course. I'd like to think it's natural to be a bit jealous of her (I am!) but if you hate her, you probably have your own issues. She seems quite likable.

This cookbook does a wonderful job of translating her website into book form. The gorgeous step-by-step pictures are there, although those pictures are smaller by necessity. Even for an experienced cook, those step-by-step pictures are helpful. The humor, the stories, the fantastic photography and her beautiful family are all included in this book.

But what about the recipes? She couldn't include them all but I think she did a great job of selecting the best ones from her website. Her recipes are nothing new. I made Grandma Iny's Prune Cake and I can find that recipe in many of the cookbooks I own but what are the chances that I would have ever thought to make it without PW's presentation online (where it first caught my eye) and now in this book? Hmmm, let me do the math. Nada. Zilch. No way. It never would have occurred to me to give this recipe a try but Pioneer Woman does what Paula Deen does - she gets us excited about recipes that have been under our noses all along. Both use humor and personality and while I enjoy Paula Deen, I can relate to Ree Drummond's humor a bit more. And, no offense to Paula Deen but her earlier cookbooks were downright boring. They had the recipes but not a lot of 'Paula Deen'. Her later ones have a bit more personality but I think Pioneer Woman Cooks does a better job of bringing Ree Drummond's personality to life.

I believe every recipe is on her website Many of the recipes are on her website so why buy the book? Well, if you just don't 'do' books anymore, I don't know if I can convince you. If you are a cookbook junkie like me then you HAVE to get this book and I'm sure I don't need to convince you. If you only buy special books, I think this falls into that category. The Internet is great but doesn't feel quite permanent to me. If you've ever posted anything embarrassing, it probably feels permanent but I just don't believe that. I have cookbooks from decades ago and this is the kind of cookbook I'll still enjoy looking at decades from now. It would make a nice gift. It would have been on my Christmas list if I didn't get this copy.

Back to Grandma Iny's Prune Cake. I will just link to Pioneer Woman's version here. I can't do this cake justice, photographically speaking, but here is my version:

Funny, she talks about her husband liking this cake so much yet she failed to tell him about the prunes for so long. My own husband started asking about this cake from the moment I poured the caramel on and for the first time, he complained about my taking my baking to work. He wasn't even satisfied when I said I wasn't going to take all of this cake. I ended up leaving it all home. I have been taking most of my baking to work for years and this recipe is what prompted him to complain that he didn't feel he was getting his fair share! I told him it was Spice Cake, by the way. That is the name of it in some cookbooks, so not a complete lie.

This is a deliciously moist cake. As I was eating it though, I started thinking, isn't this somewhat of a variation of Sticky Toffee Pudding, which is usually made with dates? I've heard people rave about Sticky Toffee Pudding but Prune Cake, not so much. Just goes to show how much presentation plays into food.

Actually do we even have 'prunes' anymore. Or are they 'dried plums'? I got the Sunsweet Gold Label prunes and I swear they were the best prunes (or dried plums) I ever had. So moist and flavorful. Why do prunes get such a bad wrap? They are so good. Now, prune juice is another story but I don't even like apple juice all that much even though I love apples.

Question of the Day: Do you like prunes (dried plums)?

Friday, October 16, 2009

The mac n cheese was boring, my new cookbook is not

Macaroni Cheese Deluxe
Better Homes and Gardens Casserole Cook Book Copyright 1968

1 7-ounce package elbow macaroni
2 cups small curd cream-style cottage cheese
1 cup dairy sour cream
1 slightly beaten egg
¾ teaspoon salt
Dash pepper
8 ounces sharp process American cheese, shredded (2 cups) I used mostly extra sharp cheddar with some American

Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain well. Combine cottage cheese, sour cream, egg, salt and pepper. Add shredded cheese, mixing well; stir in cooked macaroni. Turn into greased 9x9x92-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees F) for 45 minutes.

Serves 6 to 8.

This was from the same cookbook as yesterday's stew but it didn't wow me in the same manner. It was fine but a little flat. Part of the problem might have been those 3-minute macaroni noodles. I love the shape but I'm not impressed with the texture. They seem to be a bit gummy and didn't play well in this recipe.

I just felt like something was missing here. It could have been the cheese. The type and brand of cheese used in a macaroni and cheese recipe can completely transform the recipe. I used extra sharp cheddar and a few slices of American (not the plastic wrapped stuff). I can't get shredded American but I could have bought a chunk of shreddable American at the deli.

It certainly wasn't a complete miss but I was hoping for more.

Okay, I got a real treat in the mail yesterday. A review copy of Pioneer Woman's new cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks. I will post a link to her site if you're not familiar with her but before I do let me stop and thank you for visiting my blog because once you open that link you will probably never come back to this rinky-dink blog.

I will warn you that she's very hard to like. She's funny, she's pretty, she's rich, she's a fabulous photographer, she's a great cook, her recipes are fabulous, she has a beautiful husband and 4 gorgeous kids, she has the most awesome house and property. Trust me, you're going to hate her.

So here's the link and when you're so consumed with jealousy over her great life you can come back here and feel better about yourself.

Pioneer Woman

I intend to work on a full and proper review over the weekend and I will definitely be trying one of her recipes so stay tuned.

Question of the Day: Were you already familiar with Pioneer Woman?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Loved this stew

Sweet-Sour Stew
Better Homes and Gardens Casserole Cook Book Copyright 1968

¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
Dash pepper
2 pounds beef stew meat, cubed
¼ cup shortening
1 cup water
½ cup catsup
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup chopped onion
6 large carrots, cut into ¾-inch pieces

Combine flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a plastic or paper bag. Add meat; shake to coat.

In large skillet brown meat well in hot shortening. Combine water, catsup, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir into browned meat; add onion. Cover and cook over low heat for 45 minutes stirring once or twice. Add carrots; cook 45 minutes more or till meat and carrots are tender.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

This was one of the best stews I've ever had. It suited me perfectly. I love the combination of sweet and sour and this had the perfect balance for me. Carrots are my favorite stew vegetable so I was perfectly happy having them be the star vegetable here.

I think it was a hit because there were no leftovers! Well, there was some gravy which I saved. It was too good to throw away.

There were plenty of mashed potatoes leftover. They were instant, a cheese variety. I don't think it comes through in the picture but they were the oddest shade of orange, or peach maybe. I wish I could find a good instant potato. They are cheap,easy to keep on hand and fast to make. I found the best ones in Costco but they stopped carrying that brand. I think that brand ruined me for instant potatoes since I never used to mind the supermarket brands that much but now they all stink.

I'm still thinking about the stove. I think it will come down to how I feel when the element finally goes out again but I'm leaning towards a new stove right now. I'd love to have one before Christmas so I could do my Christmas baking in a brand new oven. Honestly, with the limitations I have (I can't spend too much, it has to be electric, it has to be 30-inches), I'm not that excited about getting a new range. Anything that would really excite me is just not feasible.

Question of the Day: How's your weather? It's mid-October and we're already hearing the s-word in the forecast (hopefully only in the mountains).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Just not digging the white meat

Honey-Glazed Turkey Breast
The New Holly Clegg Trim & Terrific Cookbook Copyright 2002, 2006

1 (5-pound) turkey breast
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 ½ teaspoons dried rosemary leaves

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line your pan with foil! Trust me.

Remove the skin from the turkey breast and discard; place the breast in a roaster pan. Season with the salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, mix together the honey, mustard and rosemary. Pour half the glaze over the turkey breast, and bake, uncovered for about 2 hours or until the meat thermometer registers 170 to 175 degrees F in the thickest part of the breast. You may need to add a little water to the bottom of the pan.

I was going to keep the skin on but after an hour and half, the skin was pretty much an almost black mess so I removed it. Would that have happened anyway if I had removed the breast first? Would I still have had a blackened mess that I couldn't remove? I just don't know.

During the final 15 minutes of baking, brush the remaining glaze over the turkey breast. Serve.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Per serving: 188 cal, 33g pro, 8g carbs, 1g fat, 0g fiber, 95mg chol, 152mg sodium

I bought this turkey breast on markdown some time ago and it was time to make it. I'm trying to clean out the entire freezer this time. Usually I make it only so far before I start restocking it and then a few things always end up getting thrown out.

As I mentioned yesterday, white meat just isn't doing much for me these days. This glaze was delicious but it doesn't really penetrate into the meat. It does make for an attractive presentation though since the glaze makes the skinless breast look pretty.

I would use this glaze on something else but I don't think I'll be roasting any turkey breasts again any time soon.

I suspect that my oven might be dying again. I've replaced the element twice already. I seem to be able to get 2 years out of an element. Do I replace the element a third time? It's a cheap ($30-$40) and easy fix but the rest of the stove isn't that great. It's the only major appliance that hasn't been replaced yet. It's white (my other appliances are bisque - even the hood is not white). It's got coils and I'm constantly replacing the drip pans since they get yucky looking and cleaning them doesn't help. The knobs are mostly missing or broken. I looked into replacing the knobs but that would be in the range of $60 and not worth it.

So is it time to replace the stove? My hesitance is that as crappy as my stove is, it's probably better made than anything I can afford to replace it with. I mean, it wasn't a great stove in it's day either but it seems that as time goes by, appliances are becoming more and more disposable. I replaced a dishwasher that was 20 years old and only had a broken hose but I wanted something 'new' and that 'new' dishwasher only lasted about 2 years before I was replacing it again.

Question of the Day: What kind of stove do you have? Do you like it?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A definite 'wow' for me

Enchiladas Suizas
Fiesta Southwest Entertaining with Jane Butel Copyright 1987

The Chicken:
3 chicken thighs and legs, or 2 chicken breasts I used the thighs and legs
1 large carrot, cut into thirds
1 celery rib, quartered
1 medium Spanish onion, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
½ teaspoon salt

The Sauce:
2 tablespoons sweet butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups rich chicken stock from cooking the chicken
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
½ cup chopped green chiles (3 to 4 parched and peeled)

The Casserole:
12 corn tortillas
Vegetable oil
The cooked chicken removed from the bones and pulled or shredded
2 cups coarsely grated Monterey Jack and sharp full cream Cheddar, tossed together
1 cup whipping cream
¼ cup finely chopped purple Spanish onion I left it out

1. Place all the chicken ingredients in a large pot, add water to barely cover over the tips of the meat, cover, and simmer until chicken is tender. The bones should wiggle and the meat should be very tender to the touch of a fork.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. (Meanwhile? You need the broth from the chicken, how can you make the sauce while you're still making the chicken.) Melt the butter, add the flour, and stir together until slightly brown. Then slowly stir in the chicken stock, a little at a time, until a rich, thick sauce develops. Stir in the cilantro and the green chiles. Taste and adjust seasonings.
3. Heat about an inch of oil and lightly fry the tortillas. Drain well. Then dip each tortilla in to the sauce, place a strip of the cooked chicken and a sprinkle of the cheeses in the center, and roll, placing them seam side down in a casserole, preferably an authentic Mexican one.
4. When all are rolled, distribute the remaining sauce and cheeses evenly over the tortillas. Pour the cream evenly over the entire casserole. Top with a ribbon of the ¼ cup coarsely chopped onion.
5. Either freeze for up to 3 months, well covered in moisture-proof packaging, or bake immediately in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Serve piping hot.

Note: If frozen, bake 30 to 40 minutes or until bubbling hot.

My original plan was to make my own tortillas using the tortilla press that I picked up for $1 at a yard sale. The press works great but I couldn't find masa anywhere. I should have gone to Wegman's. I tried corn flour but it wasn't working and frankly, I wasn't in the mood to struggle with it, especially when corn tortillas are so inexpensive to buy.

These were different than the spicier enchiladas I've made but oh man were they good. The dark chicken meat added so much flavor. I used really good cheese - Cabot Monterey Jack and their Extra Sharp Cheddar. The cream put this over the top but I think it would still be a good dish without the cream or with a lesser amount.

These were part of an 'Apres Ski' menu so I guess it was assumed that you would burn a lot of calories while skiing before eating these. The menu also included Hot Buttered Rum, Chile meatballs and an apple crisp.

These are a bit too decadent to make on a regular basis but I will make them again someday. I am sure of that.

This is one of my oldest cookbooks, well one that I've owned the longest. I have no idea why I've been ignoring it. I think I might have mentally lumped it in with Diana Kennedy's Mexican cookbooks, which I could find no use for. This book is nothing like that book. While it may have been a challenge to find some of the ingredients in most areas of America when this book was published in the late 80s, now you could find them just about anywhere. There are a lot of recipes in this book that I'm looking forward to trying.

Question of the Day: White or dark meat? Lately I've been choosing dark meat more often. For some reason, I haven't been in the mood for chicken breasts for a while. I think I just needed a break since they were a regular staple for so long.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A guilty pleasure

Spam Fried Rice
Best of the Best from America Cookbook Copyright 2005

1½ cups diced Spam I used a 7-ounce can
Leftover rice, about 4 cups (cooked)
1 egg
1 tablespoon shoyu (soy sauce)
3 stalks green onion

Fry Spam in a bit of oil in a skillet. Turn heat to low and add rice. Mix egg with shoyu and add to the rice and Spam. Add chopped green onions just before serving.

I'll admit it - I love Spam. I don't eat it very often since I'm not sure if the rest of the household will share my Spam love. I prefer the original version. The lower fat and lower sodium versions just aren't the same but they could probably pass in this recipe.

I've had this can of Spam in my cupboard for ages. I just happened to have leftover rice and just enough green onions in the vegetable bin to make this. It was meant to be.

This was a recipe that I made for my lunch. I thoroughly enjoyed it and my younger son liked it a lot too. Maybe I could pass this off for dinner some night.

We didn't eat a lot of Spam proper when I was growing up but the most common lunch meat in our home in my younger days was spiced ham, which I guess is the deli version of Spam. It was a somewhat oval shaped product that I haven't seen in years.

Question of the Day: Have you ever eaten Spam? When was the last time you ate it?

Friday, October 09, 2009

It's National Pork Month!

Georgia Pork
State Fair Prize-Winning Recipes Copyright 1996

1 pound pork tenderloin, cut into bite-size pieces
1 1.25 oz package taco seasoning mix I used homemade
1 cup medium-spicy chunky salsa
½ cup peach preserves
2 cups hot cooked rice
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro I left this out
Nonstick cooking spray

Toss pork with taco seasoning mix in a medium bowl to evenly coat pork. Spray large nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Heat skillet over medium heat and add pork. Cook, stirring frequently, until pork is cooked through (3 to 5 minutes). Stir in salsa and preserves. Cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Serve over hot cooked rice. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Serves 4.

363 calories, 26 g protein, 3 g fat, 893 mg sodium, 63 mg chol, 59 g carbs, 1 g fiber

This was a super simple recipe that I got from a very nice free recipe booklet I requested from somewhere on the internet a while back. I see it here but that page isn't working for me right now. Maybe you'll have better luck or maybe you can find it somewhere else.

I thoroughly enjoyed this. It reminded me of Costco peach-mango salsa. I would definitely make this again. I could see why it won a prize.

Mine didn't look as tasty as the picture in the book which had chunks of fresh peaches which aren't called for in the recipe. I understand trying to make a picture look good but commercial food photography with undercooked food, fake food and taking liberties such as adding or changing ingredients, kind of bugs me sometimes. It especially bothers me in a cookbook since I think you should be looking at pictures of the food as it will look when you follow the recipe, not what it looks like when some food stylist constructs it from Play Doh or just cooks the outside of the food with a torch.

Oh wow, I just read that October is National Pork Month. You can celebrate with this recipe.

Question of the Day: When did you last eat pork? How was it prepared?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Bad mommy

I was waiting at the end of the slide, ready to take a picture thinking Dan would slowly slide to halt at the bottom as he had at the park we visited the day before. Instead he flew right off and landed right on the ground! While I stood there and snapped this picture. Don't worry, he wasn't hurt. It was a really nice park with this very soft carpeting on the ground, with a lot of padding underneath.

More recipes coming soon. I'm still semi-taking a break.

Delicious but...

Spicy Chinese Chicken
The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes Copyright 2001

¾ cup condensed chicken broth
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp packed brown sugar
¼ cup soya sauce, preferably dark
4 green onions, including stems, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced gingerroot
1 serrano chili or 2 Thai chilis I used a jalapeno
1 tsp cracked black peppercorns
3 lbs skinless chicken pieces
3 tbsp cornstarch
Hot cooked rice

1. In a bowl, combine chicken broth, rice vinegar, brown sugar and soya sauce, stirring well to ensure that sugar is dissolved. Add green onions, garlic, gingerroot, chili peppers and pepper.
2. Place chicken in slow cooker stoneware. Pour sauce over chicken. Cover and cook on LOW 5 to 6 hours or on High for 2 ½ to 3 hours, until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a fork.
3. With a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Strain liquid into sauce pan, Whisk in 3 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbsp cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and stir for 3 minutes or until thickened and glossy. Pour over chicken. Serve with hot fluffy rice. I cut the chicken into smaller pieces and I served it with ramen noodles.

I enjoyed this dish but I don't know that I would ever make it again. Some recipes, probably most, belong in this category I suppose. Why wouldn't I make something again if I really liked it? I'm not sure I can answer that. There are just some recipes that I want more of in the future and some that leave me thinking, well that was great but let's move on to the next recipe. Sometimes there is no more of reason than the current state of my appetite or mood.

I'm feeling overwhelmed so my blogging might take a hit. I am really in the mood to try new recipes but there is too much hanging over me to enjoy that right now. Maybe after the 3-day weekend that is coming up I will have a better grip on things. I think I would be happy to just once get all the laundry put away before it starts piling up again.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Random ramblings

If I'm lucky, I might post two new recipes this week but that's about it. I had to concentrate on using up what what I have on hand this week and also keeping things simple. New recipes got pushed to the wayside.

I didn't bake for work this weekend because I baked cupcakes for a picnic on Sunday and I knew there would be leftovers to take to work. I used boxed mix! I really haven't found basic yellow or chocolate cupcake recipes that I'm head of heels in love with yet and I wasn't up for yet another disappointment so I went with the always more-than-servicable (if you ask me) boxed mix. A few months ago I saw they were selling small boxes of cake mix that made only 12 cupcakes which I thought was a great idea but I don't think it caught on. I couldn't find them anywhere. So I had to make two regular boxes of cake mix since I wanted both chocolate and vanilla cupcakes. That's a lot of cupcakes.

I made them Halloween themed to use up some Halloween sprinkles. I have a sprinkle problem. I was storing them in the cupboard but they were getting lost in there so I pulled them all out and put them in another container. I have a lot of sprinkles! I really need to start making more recipes that use sprinkles.

I bought a Taste of Home annual recipe book (in new condition) for 25 cents at a yard sale this weekend. I don't find too many cookbooks at yard sales, never mind really good ones and this one has a lot of great recipes in it. I also got a tortilla press for $1. It's not a great press but it's something I've wanted but knew I probably wouldn't use very much so I can get it out of my system for $1 (or maybe I might decide it's worth investing in a quality press).

I will only be in my 30s for a few more days. *sigh*

Friday, October 02, 2009

Can't go wrong with a stir-fry

Stir-fried Beef with Celery Cabbage
Betty Crocker Great-Tasting Beef Copyright 1991

1 pound beef boneless sirloin or flank steak
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon finely chopped gingerroot
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 pound celery cabbage (also known as Napa cabbage, Chinese cabbage or sui choy)
4 green onions (with tops)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons beef or chicken broth
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
½ teaspoon salt

Trim fat from beef steak; cut steak with grain into 2-inch strips. Cut strips across grain into 1/8-inch slices. Toss beef, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, the gingerroot, 1 teaspoon oil, ½ teaspoon salt and the white pepper in a glass or plastic bowl. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Cut celery cabbage (with leaves) diagonally into ¾-inch slices. Cut onions diagonally into 1-inch pieces. Mix 1 tablespoon cornstarch with the broth.

Heat 12-inch skillet or wok until very hot. Add 2 tablespoons oil; rotate skillet to coat bottom. Add beef; stir-fry 2 minutes or until beef is brown. Stir in soy sauce. Remove beef from skillet.

Heat skillet until very hot. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil; rotate skillet to coat bottom. Add celery cabbage, garlic and ½ teaspoon salt; stir-fry 2 minutes. Stir in cornstarch mixture; cook and stir 15 seconds or until thickened. Add beef and onions; cook and stir 1 minutes.

Makes 5 servings.

Per serving (without noodles or rice): 285 cal, 25 g pro, 5g carbs, 18g fat, 70mg chol, 690 mg sodium, 460mg potassium.

The stir-fries in this little book are so good. The flavor was wonderful but I did find the cabbage to be a bit mushy. I haven't cooked with Napa cabbage very often but I have used it before and I don't recall it being as mushy. It didn't ruin the dish, I just found it a bite weird. Like eating soggy lettuce. I might use finely shredded green cabbage next time.

I've been making more stir-fries than usual since rediscovering the joys of ramen noodles instead of rice. Ramen noodles are a step down, health-wise, but a bit more exciting than rice around here, especially for my older son.

That fact that I can make a stir-fry start to finish after work (with the exception of marinating the meat which I do in the morning before work), is also a huge selling point for me. Although I enjoy cooking on the weekend more as the weather gets cooler, I'd still rather not have to do a lot of cooking on Sunday for the week.

Question of the Day: Noodles or rice?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

So simple yet so good

Maple-Balsamic-Glazed Pork Medallions
Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2008 Copyright 2007

1/4 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine syrup and vinegar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to 1/3 cup (about 3 minutes), stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in mustard.

Cut pork crosswise into 8 pieces. Place each pork piece between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pound to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle pork evenly with salt and pepper. Add pork to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side. Add vinegar mixture; cook 1 minute or until desired degree of doneness, turning pork to coat. Place 2 pork medallions on each of 4 plates; drizzle about 1 tablespoon syrup mixture over each serving.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutritional Information Calories:214 (27% from fat) Fat:6.4g (sat 1.7g,mono 3.3,poly 0.7g) Protein:22.7g Carbohydrate:15.3g Fiber:0.1g Cholesterol:63mg Iron:1.5mg Sodium:409mg Calcium:22mg

This sauce was so simple yet so good but it really does depend on the quality of ingredients. I knew that since I had a balsamic vinegar that I love (a storebrand but it's fantastic), a Dijon that I love (Bookbinder's) and real maple syrup that this probably couldn't lose and I was right. I loved it. I wonder if it would work on chicken as well. I might have to try that sometime. Usually I'm suspicious of recipes that use just a very few ingredients but I thought this really worked well.

My son came home sick yesterday and he really wanted me to stay home with him today but he was feeling so well this morning that I decided to bring in the in-laws and go to work. Even though I explained that time I don't take off now could be spent at home over Christmas vacation, he was still not completely happy so I promised McDonald's tonight. McDonald's on a weeknight! The only other time I remember that happening is after kindergarten orientation when I was too upset to cook. The truth is that I was only going to make cheeseburgers and french fries at home anyway.

Question of the Day: How often do you eat dinner out Monday-Thursday?