Monday, January 31, 2011

Churros by My Son

As I write this, I am listening to my son, The Musician play the cello. He has had it for 4 days. He is playing Bach. Yup, Bach. He has been playing the violin for four years and thought he'd like to take up another string instrument. The cello is a different clef and a different arm/hand position, but that hasn't stopped him. Sometimes I am amazed at how much talent that boys has.  He can pick up anything and play it.

He also likes to think of himself as an accomplished cook, but I think of him more as a cook in training. Things don't always turn out exactly like recipes suggest.  Last week, he came home with a Spanish assignment 50/50...a report on churros with an accompanying recipe. He asked pretty please if he could make them. I figured if I stood right there and supervised everything, it would be okay. And it was. He did a fabulous job and the churros were pronounced "as good as Costco's," which in my kids' estimation is pretty darn good.
Churros are really easy.  From start to finish took no longer than 30 minutes.  The dough is piped through a large star tip into hot oil, then the lovelies are rolled in cinnamon and sugar.  

Churros (from my son's Spanish paper)
1 cup water
2 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp oil
1 cup flour
1 quart oil for frying
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon
Mix the cinnamon and 1/2 cup of sugar in a shallow plate and set aside.  Put the oil in a deep fryer or skillet and heat to 375 degrees.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine water 2 1/2 Tbsp sugar, salt and 2 Tbsp oil.  Bring to a boil and remove from heat.  Stir in flour until mixture forms a ball.  Pipe strips of dough into hot oil using a pastry bag with a large star tip.  Fry until golden.  Drain on paper towels.  Roll in cinnamon and sugar while still warm.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Your Recipe, My Kitchen: Apple Strudel Muffins

I started bookmarking and copying down recipes from other blogs right from the very beginning of my own blogging experience.  The plethora of good cooks and good recipes never ceases.  I found the recipe for Apple Strudel Muffins on Parenting the Tiniest of Miracles blog through the Ultimate Recipe Swap hosted by Life as Mom in April of 2009.  Yup, this recipe has waited a long time to be made.  And am I ever glad I finally did.  It was a huge hit and made a wonderful breakfast.
These muffins are FULL of apples.  They are moist and sweet and delicious.  They are going on to my regular rotation of muffins.  Once again, I am so glad I made myself start cooking and baking from my huge list of bookmarked recipes.

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
6-8 medium apples, peeled, cored and chopped fine
1/3 cup brown  sugar
1 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   Grease a regular sized 12 muffin pan.  Cream butter and sugar.  Add the eggs and vanilla.  Combine the dry ingredients and add.  Stir in the apples. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tin.   Mix the topping ingredients in a bowl with a pastry blender until crumbly.  Sprinkle evenly on top of all the muffins.  Bake for 18-20 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes before removing from pan.  Cool on a rack.

Now it's your turn.  Link up any of the recipes you have made recently using other blogs for inspiration or recipes.  Remember to link back to this blog, give credit to the original author and have fun!

Friday, January 28, 2011

ConAgra and FoodBuzz and Me

Note to self, "Never say never.  It always comes around to laugh in your face."  I said I would never make a video blog.  Nerves, lack of self esteem, being incredibly shy;  these are among the excuses I made for myself.  Even when I signed up for an opportunity to make a video using ConAgra foods via Foodbuzz, I didn't think I would be chosen, so I felt secure in my two dimensional written blog.  Well. No. More.

Last week, I received an email from Foodbuzz telling me that I would be receiving a box of goodies including a Flip HD video camera and then I was to make a video of me making a Game Day recipe or two using the foods in the box. This week,I received two cans of Rotel tomatoes with chiles, a jar of Peter Pan peanut butter, a can of Hunts diced tomatoes and a can of PAM original cooking spray.(Thank you ConAgra and Foodbuzz)  I put on my thinking cap and started biting my nails.

Actually, the coming up with the recipes part of my assignment wasn't hard at all.  The foods I received are all part of my everyday pantry.  I learned about Queso from my brother who lives in Texas.  Rotel just lends itself to cheese dishes so well.  I took it a step further and came up with a SouthWestern Torte.  With the Peter Pan peanut butter, I wanted to make something quick and easy, so it became a Peanut Butter Cheese Ball.  Both dishes would be great additions to a Game Day spread.

So without further ado, here are two videos featuring yours truly's video blogging debut.

Peanut Butter Cheese Ball
1/2 cup creamy Peter Pan peanut butter
1 8 ounce brick cream cheese
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup chocolate bits (any flavor)
1/2-3/4 cup chopped peanuts
Cream the peanut butter, cream cheese and vanilla with a mixer.  Gradually add the powdered sugar.  Stir in the chocolate.  Place mixture on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a ball.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Unwrap, roll in chopped peanuts and serve with graham crackers or apple slices.  Refrigerate leftovers.

SouthWestern Torte
4 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp salt
1 can Rotel original style, drained
1 pound cheese, grated (Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, Colby, you choose)
PAM cooking spray
In a large bowl, whisk eggs until frothy.  Add the flour, salt and sour cream and blend well.  Add the Rotel tomatoes and then the cheese.  Prepare a 7X11 pan with PAM and then pour mixture into pan.  Bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for 30-35 minutes.  Let cool slightly.  Cut into squares and serve warm.  Refrigerate leftovers.

(I would also just like to say for the record, Thanks ConAgra and Foodbuzz for pushing me out of my comfort zone and for all of the treats)

(And this post is in lieu of Saturday Stories this week....)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Peanut Butter Mini Cups with Molten Chocolate

 Sometimes just a little fiddling with a basic recipe ends in something extraordinary.  These little beauties are made with a basic peanut butter cookie recipe.  They are along the same lines of those yummy cookies with the Hershey kiss, only better.  Fancier.
The original recipe these are taken from called for molding the cookie dough around the volcanoes.  Not feeling very artistic, but wanting a similar effect, I put them in the mini muffin tin and then gently pushed the edges down over the filling.  The results were prettier than anything I could have formed freehand.  By the way, the filling stays soft, even after it's cooled.  

Peanut Butter Mini Cups with Molten Chocolate (taken from Chocolate-Packed Jam Filled Butter-Rich No-Holds-Barred Cookie Book)
The Filling: 
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
Melt the chips in a microwave safe bowl, a minute at a time until smooth.  Combine with the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla.  Stir well.  Set aside.

The Cookie: 
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
Mix the dry ingredients in a small bowl.  In a larger mixing bowl,  cream the butter, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar.  Add the vanilla and egg.  Add the dry ingredients.  Place a teaspoon sized ball of dough into each muffin tin.  Press them down to form a cup.  Fill each cup with chocolate filling.  Push the edges of the cookie down over the filling.  Bake12-15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ham and Cheese Bread

Continuing along with Martha Day's Complete Baking, here is a ham and cheese quick bread that is so hearty, it could be a meal all in itself.  She calls it Parma Ham and Parmesan Bread, but because I used Romano cheese and regular deli honey ham, I don't think I can get away with that.  I served it for breakfast after putting a slice of Cheddar cheese on each slice and throwing it under the broiler for a few minutes.  The ham flavor really came through.  The bread texture is that of a buttermilk biscuit.
This bread is a freestyle loaf.  I am sure you could put it into a loaf pan, but the baking time would go up a bit because the loaf would be thicker.  I liked the idea of slapping it down on a baking sheet and molding it into a loaf.  It seems more homey.  
Can you see all of that ham?  The parsley was mostly for looks, but I think it added a nice touch. You could always change out the herb to something a bit stronger.  In fact, a little bit of onion powder would have been yummy and Swiss cheese instead of the Romano/Parmesan would also have been nice.  

Ham and Cheese Bread (adapted from Martha Day's Complete Baking)
1 pound all purpose flour (can use 1/2 whole wheat)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 ounces ham, chopped
1 ounce freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 Tbsp freshly chopped parsley
2 Tbsp dijon mustard (it called for Meaux mustard, but this is Smalltown, AZ, Meaux)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk 
milk for glaze, along with extra cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees (200 C or gas 6). Flour a baking sheet.  Place flour in a bowl with baking powder, salt, pepper, ham, cheese and parsley.  Combine mustard and buttermilk and pour over the flour mixture.  Stir quickly to form a soft dough.  Put a little more flour on the counter and knead briefly.  Transfer to the baking sheet and form into an oval loaf.  Brush with milk and sprinkle with extra cheese.  Bake 25-30 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped underneath.  Cool before cutting.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cookbook Review: Brunch

Gale Gand's Brunch!: 100 Fantastic Recipes for the Weekend's Best Meal

What I appreciated about Gale Gand's Brunch cookbook are the wonderful menus she put at the end of the book. Not only are there lots of interesting recipes in her book, but she included ideas for pulling them all together for the host/hostess. Regardless of how I eventually choose to put menus together, I love all the added suggestions I can get.

One of the great things about brunch (the meal) is that it totally encompasses two meals. You can get away with serving pancakes and gazpacho or donuts with macaroni & cheese. I often get so caught up in the mainstream ideas of what foods are proper for what meals, that I lose the creativity that brunch allows. Is there a such thing as “dinfast?” How about “lunner?”

Okay, back to this book. Brunch starts out with great drinks; fancy ones for kids and adults. She includes coffees, teas, cocoas, smoothies, juices and “acceptable” alcoholic drinks. (As a non-drinker, I have often wondered why champagne is okay in the morning, but wine isn't...aren't they almost the same thing? What about a Bloody Mary versus a Cosmopolitan?)

Back to the book....again. After the drinks, comes egg dishes which including a couple variations after each one. For instance, Ms. Gand included a basic strata recipe followed by five options: bacon-cheddar-mushroom-tomato, chicken-corn-chile-broccoli-jack, veggie-bleu cheese, ham-swiss-asparagus, and fontina-spinach-roasted garlic-salami. What great choices!! She did the same thing for her omelets, fritatta, crepes and quiche.

The rest of the breakfast half of Brunch includes pancakes, waffles, muffins and other basic breakfast fare. Thrown in for good measure are some not-so-normal items like Pineapple noodle kugel, Blackberry bread pudding, Spiced apple-raisin turnovers, Peanut butter and jelly turnovers and Goat cheese cake with slow-cooking quince. I didn't quite know how to think of Fried quail eggs on eggnog French toast. There is definitely something for all palates.

I think now is about the time to tell you I think lunch is pretty boring. The last part of Brunch didn't catch my attention as much as the first. Perhaps Ms. Gand knew that would be the case for most people as she only included one chapter of “lunchy” foods. Tuna salad, potato salad, gazpacho. The only thing that kept me turning the pages until the end of the book were the gorgeous photos. They are most definitely worth looking at.

I received no compensation for this review and all opinions are mine alone.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Your Recipe, My Kitchen: Chicken Gnocchi Soup Copycat

For my birthday, my mother-in-law gave me a gift card to the Olive Garden.  It was a wonderful present because 1. it represented two dates for me and my husband, 2. it wasn't something I was going to have to find a place to store and 3. it was an opportunity to go out and eat....for free.  Remembering that I live in Small Town, AZ, with limited restaurants and that my in-laws live in a Seattle suburb, there were few options for gift cards.

The second time we went, I just had soup.  I chose their Chicken Gnocchi variety.  Served with their bread sticks, it made a wonderful lunch.  So good was it, in fact, that I wanted to make it at home a few days later.   I did a few searches and ended up at, a site that has changed a bit over the years and is now in a blog form.  So two birds were killed with one stone.  I got my soup and I got another edition of "Your Recipe, My Kitchen."

Stephanie's version says it makes 8 servings, but I knew by reading it that it wouldn't be enough for my family, so I doubled it.  Sort of.  I used homemade gnocchi instead of store bought (at $3.49 a package I would have had to spend roughly $12 on that alone).  I used a single chicken breast I had in the freezer and then used a large can of chicken.  I used one quart of half and half, because I had it and then added canned milk for the doubled amount.  I had Swiss chard on hand, not spinach.  So, there were definitely some changes.  The results however, were wonderful.  Two thumbs up from the pickiest of eaters.  Served with homemade bread sticks, it was everything I had hoped it would be.

Olive Garden's Chicken Gnocchi Soup (from
1 cup chicken breasts, diced and cooked (can use canned chicken or turkey)
4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 quart half and half (can use evaporated milk)
1 14 ounce can chicken broth (I added five when I doubled it, so you may want at least 1 more can)
1/2 cup celery, sliced
1/4 cup flour
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup carrots, shredded (mine were coarsely shredded)
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup fresh spinach, coarsely chopped (the Swiss chard was great, so that's another possibility)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (my addition)
16 ounce package gnocchi
In a large stockpot, saute the onion, celery and garlic in the butter and olive oil.  When the onion is clear, add the flour and form a roux.  Stir and cook a minute.  Add the half and half .  Meanwhile in another pan, cook the gnocchi.  (I cooked mine in the chicken broth, but it was about triple the called for amount). Add the carrots and chicken to the stockpot.  Stir often and when it gets thicker, add the chicken broth, gnocchi, spinach and seasonings.  Cover and heat through.  (Mine simmered a bit while I waited for my breadsticks to finish up.  Just keep stirring it if you let it simmer.)

Okay, friends, now it's your turn.  What have you made lately from other blogs?
Remember to link back here, give the original recipe author credit and link to a post not your homepage.  

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday Stories: Demon in the Night

When I was a little girl, we lived on Westover Air Force Base. It doesn't exist anymore as a military base, but at the time, it was a thriving place. The Vietnam Conflict was in full swing and Westover was home to a large number of B-52s, many of which were sent over to Asia to participate in the war.

For any of you who aren't familiar with military bases, they are like little cities. They have a hospital, a grocery store, a department store, a movie theater, a gym and often a gas station. There is also housing for single people, visiting people and families. The family housing is divided into areas. The enlisted families live in one area, the lower ranking officers in another and the big-wigs in a more exclusive place.

At the time of our living on this particular base, we lived amongst the lower ranking officers. We had a nice little three bedroom home that was part of a duplex. All of the homes backed up to a common area where kids could play safely surrounded by homes. Our place had a white picket fence around a side yard where I had a sandbox. I also remember a great climbing tree that was either in our yard or just beyond in the commons. Although I was a preschooler, I spent plenty of time in that tree. In fact, there was never another tree in my life that was so much fun.

I had a bedroom adjacent to my parents' room. There was a living/dining room next and then a third, smaller bedroom down a short hallway. Our kitchen was a galley type with a small eating area by the backdoor. My mom had a very small drop leaf table that she set up there for breakfasts.

In my room, I had a ¾ sized bed with the head against an outside wall, a dresser, a little table and chair set, a large toy box and a mirror. The mirror was hung on an inside wall opposite the only window. I spent lots of time in front of the mirror, playing dress up, chatting to myself, preening, but after a while, I wouldn't look at it at night. In fact, for a short while, Mom would have to rush into my room because I would start screaming about the devil being in the mirror. Mom would come into the room, look around, reassure me that everything was okay and then leave the room again, shaking her head, wondering what on earth had caused my outburst. This happened regularly over a period of time. Then I stopped having my panicked episodes and forgot all about it.

But there was a change. I stayed away from mirrors unless there was a wall opposite it. I remember rushing through rooms where Mom had hung antique mirrors, avoiding looking in that direction if I was alone. I shut the door and opened the shower curtain if I were looking in the bathroom mirror. Everywhere we moved, I unconsciously avoided mirrors and I made sure every window was covered at night. I didn't even notice that I did it until we moved to Arizona when I was a teenager. Our new house had a ridiculously huge picture window across the front of our living room. The house was a split level, so the living room was raised off the ground level. I used to joke with my parents that we had to shut the window or else we would be on stage for the rest of the neighborhood. Faithfully, I would shut that window as soon as the sun went down.

Fast forward a few decades. I was married and had a home of my own. I had no mirrors on any walls except those required in bathrooms. Every window had thick blinds as well as curtains. My parents were visiting and watching me go through my routine of shutting all of the blinds when Mom told me the rest of the story. Apparently a week or so after my screaming outbursts ended, back when I was three or four years old, she read in the base paper about a Peeping Tom who had been caught looking into windows in our neighborhood. There was a picture of a black man who had been arrested. She then realized that he had been looking in my window and his face had reflected in my mirror. Sitting in my bed, facing the mirror, I had been able to see just his dark face watching me, terrorizing me.

All these years later, even knowing the why behind my behavior, I haven't changed. Even writing this creeps me out a little. It makes me wonder, too. With a degree in psychology, I know how Peeping Toms often progress toward physical acts of violence. I wonder if the man who so affected my life without touching me went on to reform or if, without help, he ended up hurting more people, affecting other little girls in unspeakable ways. I think I am glad I don't know.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Vegetable Soup

When I find the fridge dangerously full of vegetables, with the choice between using them and throwing them out leaning closer and closer to the trash, I make soup.  This week, I had sweet potatoes coming out of my ears, some chayote that were puzzling me and leftover vegetables like roasted fingerlings, carrots and green beans.   To make a vegetable soup, it doesn't matter how many or which kinds of vegetables are holding up in your refrigerator.  Throw them into a pot with broth and a starch like rice or pasta and you have a great dinner or lunch in the making.

I used my enamel covered Dutch oven for this soup.  I put some beef bones into it and roasted them for a few hours; until they were nice and brown.  Then I added some boiling water to the pot (putting cold water into the hot pan would have been disastrous) with some onion peels, celery tops and other weird things I keep in my freezer to make broth.  After another two hours or so, I strained out the solids and the bones and started putting in the things I actually wanted to eat.  In went the chopped sweet potatoes, chopped onions, chayute, leftover potatoes and anything else I found in my fridge.  I let them cook, covered for another hour.  In went some orzo for 10 minutes. Then, we ate.  It was delicious.

If I hadn't had soup bones in the freezer, I could have started with a chicken or pork chops or ham.  I could have added some beans or lentils or even chunks of meat.  The possibilities are pretty much limited by your imagination or the contents of your vegetable bin.

Vegetable Soup
2 pounds soup bones
1 onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
3-5 carrots, peeled and sliced
1-2 bay leaves
potatoes or sweet potatoes (1/2 per person being served)
1 can green beans or corn or peas
any leftover vegetables you may want to use
1-2 quarts water
2 tsp salt or to taste
1 1/2 cups rice or pasta

Roast the bones in the oven at 400 degrees for two hours.  Remove and add to stockpot.  Add water, onion, celery and carrots to the pot.  Cover and simmer for 2 hours.  Remove the bones from the pot and add other vegetables.  Cook for another half hour.  Add the rice and pasta.  Cook only another 15 minutes for pasta, 30 minutes for rice.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bread Sticks

When I made the recipe coming up for the next Your Recipe, My Kitchen, I had to have bread sticks.  I didn't realize I needed bread sticks, though, until I was in the homestretch for fixing the meal.  I had to have them within an hour.  Luckily, this recipe fit the requirements.  Five minutes to mix, ten minutes to rise, twenty minutes for a second rise and twenty more minutes to bake = delicious, soft, herby bread sticks.
I doubled the recipe to feed my family, so that is definitely an option if you need more than nine bread sticks.

Herbed Bread Sticks (adapted from Taste of Home)
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp yeast
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup water warm water
2 Tbsp oil
1 1/2 tsp honey or agave syrup
2 Tbsp butter, melted
Parmesan cheese, shredded
Italian seasoning
Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, yeast and salt.  Combine the water, oil and honey and add to the flour mixture.  Mix in the remaining flour to make a soft dough.  Knead five minutes.  Cover and let rise ten minutes.  Roll into a 9X9 square.  Cut into nine strips, twist and lay on a greased cookie sheet.  Brush with butter, sprinkle with cheese and Italian seasoning and salt and let rise another 20 minutes (covered loosely).   Bake 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cookbook Review: The Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook

Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook: Breakfast, Brunch & Beyond from New York's Favorite Neighborhood Restaurant

I have decided after reading the Fat Witch Bakery cookbook, Tate's Bakery cookbook and now the Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook that I need to visit New York City again, just to check out all of the amazing bakeries. I have yet to be disappointed in the creative, delicious recipes I have found in these books.

The Clinton St. Baking Company was started by husband and wife team DeDe Lahman and Neil Kleinberg. Neil is the chief baker who has developed their recipes. They serve breakfast all day long, plus soups and sandwiches in the afternoon. From the beginning, their mission has been, “to offer the best baked goods in the city, using the freshest ingredients, hand mixed in small batches.”

Their breakfast sandwiches are built on buttermilk biscuits. Years before the Clinton St. Baking Company even opened its doors, Neil spent weeks trying to perfect the biscuits he now uses. They sell biscuit sandwiches with eggs, bacon and a tomato jam that sounds amazing. Other items on their menu include whole wheat biscuits, muffins of all sorts, scones, pancakes, waffles and enough egg dishes to satisfy anyone seeking a hearty breakfast. All of these recipes are in the book.

Lunch dishes include Maple Butternut Soup, Turkey Chili, Tomato Zucchini Bisque, Fish Po'Boys, burgers, grilled goat cheese sandwiches. On the side you can get onion rings, potato pancakes and these wonderful sounding hashbrowns that are made from twice cooked potatoes. (I am already planning to include those on my menu next week).

Rounding out their menu (and cookbook) are the desserts. From a decadent black and white cake to homey fruit pies and cookies, they serve a delightful assortment of goodies. I am particularly excited to try their brookies, a combination brownie/cookie creation that I am sure my family will love.

I really enjoy reading “bakery” cookbooks. I get all of the great recipes that are putting that particular place on the map. I also get to file that place away in my mind. You know, just in case I win the lottery that I never play and get to travel at my leisure. I think a country-wide tour of bakeries would be a dream!

These are my opinions and I received no compensation for them

Monday, January 17, 2011

Blueberry Buckle

 This recipe is another old family favorite.   When I was a little girl and we lived in Massachusetts, my mom got this recipe from a good friend of hers.   Because I lived with my husband and kids in the Northwest for 18 years, we had plenty of opportunity to use this recipe. We eat it for breakfast, but it is definitely sweet enough to be a dessert.
 There is nothing like Northwest berries...of all kinds.  One summer, though, was an extra special berry year.  My sister-in-law got us hooked up with a gal who owned a couple acres of blueberry bushes that had not been taken care of in years.  This was in the years before we had any children, so the Good guy, his sister, a few friends and I went with our six foot ladders out to this overgrown, wild field.  We made our way into the middle of each bush and set up our ladders.  We literally sat on the top of the ladders with out buckets and filled them with grape size blueberries.  In a short time, we each had picked twenty pounds of blueberries.  Each!  I made so many blueberry pies, muffins and these buckles that year.  I got so spoiled.  Any time I wanted to have something with blueberries, all I had to do was go to my freezer.  We went back one more year and then after that, the owner of the field sold the property and it was developed into houses.
 Blueberry Buckle: (makes a 9 inch round or 8X8 square)
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen (but not thawed)
Cream butter and sugar.  Add egg and mix. Combine dry ingredients in a smaller bowl and add alternately with the milk.  Fold in the blueberries.  (batter will be very thick) Spread evenly in greased pan.   Sprinkle with topping and bake 50 minutes at 325 degrees.

Topping: 1/4 cup butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1 tsp cinnamon mixed together with a pastry blender or fork until crumbly.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Stories:Retiring the Diva

I was an only child for a long time.  That meant that I spent most of my time in the company of adults.  It also meant that I got a lot of attention.  As a result, I thought I was good at everything.    Among all of the talents I believed I had, singing was up at the top of the list.  I came from a musical family where someone was always either singing, whistling or playing some sort of music on the stereo.   Dad could play the harmonica, the guitar and the accordion.   Mom played the baritone.  Both sang in choirs.  Music was just something we did.

When it was my turn to share something for show and tell in 1st grade, it was only natural that I chose to sing.  I still remember standing up in front of the class belting out, "In 1814 we took a little trip, along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.' " I don't know what Miss Duell, my teacher thought about that, but I was sure I was destined for greatness.

My best friend that year was my neighbor, Marv.  He and I spent all of our free time together.  When we weren't fighting, we were singing.  There was a split rail fence between our houses.  We'd sit on it during the summer and have singing contests.  Then we would argue about who had won and start fighting.  It was a real love-hate relationship.  Often we would rope our mothers into judging our singing.  Those unlucky women would have to sit through our serenades and then come up with nice ways to say that neither of us was better than the other.

That all came to an end, though, when Marv got a tape recorder.  He arranged for us to speak into a tape and sing into the tape and then listen to the tape.   I had never heard my voice before.  In fact, it had never occurred to me that the voice I heard wasn't the same as the one that everyone else heard.  I mean, how weird is that???  So we talked, I think we had to introduce ourselves and say why we were the better singer.  Then we sang.  I cannot remember what.  Then we listened.

I don't know what Marv thought.  Perhaps he had been recording and listening to himself for years.  Perhaps he was prepared for the stranger's voice that was his own.  I was not.  All of my dreams of taking the stage were dashed.  I sounded so completely different that I stopped singing in public, basically for good.  

It's not that I had a terrible voice.   That wasn't the problem at all.  I just couldn't handle the fact that I couldn't hear what everyone else did.  All of my self assurance dissolved.   Although I still love to sing at home or in choir at church, the Diva retired on that fateful day when I was six.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

 Over the Christmas holidays, my sister in law celebrated a birthday.  I told her to pick out whatever meal she  wanted for that night's celebration.  She chose this cake for dessert.  It is one my mom started making when I was a little girl.  I have so many memories of her bringing a frozen cake out of the freezer for dessert.  I loved eating the cake and frosting when they were almost thawed, but still cold and firm.  This was the only way I would ever eat anything made with a banana.  Somehow the thick frosting and spices covered the banana flavor enough for this banana hater.
 It's delicious fresh, too.  Spicy and incredibly moist, topped with a thick layer of cream cheese frosting this is one of the best ways of using up over-ripe bananas.  For a 9X13 pan, I used six bananas.  It is a really thick cake.

Banana Cake: (9X9 size)
1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
3 well mashed bananas
Cream the butter and brown sugar.  Add the eggs, vanilla and sour cream.  Combine the dry ingredients and add.  Add the bananas last.  Pour into a greased 9 X 9 pan and bake 325 degrees for 40 minutes or until done.  (The center of this cake always sinks just a bit when it's's okay). Frost.  Keep cake in the refrigerator.  You may freeze this cake.  Put waxed paper over the frosting and then wrap the entire pan in foil.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 8 ounce brick cream cheese
2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
Beat the butter and cream cheese until well combined.  Beat in the vanilla and powdered sugar.  Spread on a completely cooled cake.

Panini all'Olio

If it weren't right there in my blog title, I might feel like I had to tell you once in a while that I am rather excited to get a good deal.  Well, I got a gift certificate to Ross for Christmas.  It's one of my favorite places to shop.  So, there I was, pushing my cart through the store, looking for deals I couldn't pass by.  I always head for the cookbook section.  I found a copy of Martha Day's Baking for $7.99.  I fell in love with the photos.  (Photos are what I consider my biggest blog problem).  I put the book in my basket and continued on.  Then, I found in the clearance section a copy of Martha Day's Complete Baking for $3.49.  When I flipped through the pages, I discovered that they were, in fact, the same book under a different name.  Guess which one I bought.

Anyway, after digging out my kitchen scale and looking all over the internet to decipher British ingredient lingo, I have decided to bake my way through the luscious bread section of the book.   140 pages of breads.  I am so excited.  Granted, some of the breads are pretty similar after a while, there are enough to keep me busy.

This week's bread comes from Italy.  It uses olive oil  inside and out.  What attracted me most, however, was the technique of snipping the rolls right before baking to make a rosette.  Regardless of whether or not you make these rolls, you have to admit, they are pretty.
Italian Panini all'Olio (from Complete Baking)
1 pound bread flour
2 tsp salt
1/2 ounce yeast
8 ounces lukewarm water
4 Tbsp olive oil (plus more for brushing)
Sift the flour and salt together.  In a small bowl, combine the yeast and water and let the yeast work.  When it's bubbly add it to the flour along with the olive oil.  Using a mixer, mix the ingredients to a dough.  Knead for 8-10 minutes (by hand or 4-5 minutes by mixer).  Cover and let rise for 1 hour.  Punch down and divide into 12 rolls.  Brush each one with olive oil and let them rise, covered another 30 minutes.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and snip the tops of the rolls with scissors, forming pentagons in the center and a bigger flower around the edges.  Bake 20-30 minutes.

The rolls were pretty dense.  The flavor was good and they would be great served with soup.  

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cookbook Review: Some That Didn't Make the Cut

I have found some wonderful cookbooks to review so far, but amongst all of the good ones have been some real stinkers.  I hesitate to write negative reviews, however.  I am not usually one to bad mouth anyone, whether I know them or not.  Having an inkling of the tremendous amount of work that goes into writing a cookbook, I hate to bash anyone's effort.  There have been a few cookbooks, though, that have been not been my cup of tea.
Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking

Mario Batoli completely disappointed me with Molto Gusto. The premise of this book was to share menu items from his newest restaurant, “Otto” located in New York City. First of all, the picture on the cover is one of Mario smiling while holding a pizza peel, on which is a burned pizza. It just went downhill from there for me. The entire cookbook lacked the imaginative recipes I have come to expect from Mr. Batali.

Eat Cheap but Eat Well

Eat Cheap but Eat Well by Charles Mattocks finally convinced me that I may never find a frugal cookbook that has tasty recipes in it.  This is the last in a series of my attempts to do so.  I am pretty sure that any book with a $ or the word "Cheap"  in title is not going to give me the kind of food I want to serve my family.   I know that seems like a hasty generalization, but truly I have looked.  For some reason, an investment in a well stocked spice/herb cabinet doesn't appear to dawn on the authors of frugal cookbooks.

Double Delicious!: Good, Simple Food for Busy, Complicated Lives
Jessica Seinfeld's Double Delicious: Good, Simple Food for Busy Complicated Lives was a very strange book.  She add's pureed spinach to her brownies.  There is pureed butternut squash in her Thousand Island dressing.   I never quite understood  how the hidden veggies fit in with her cookbook title.   I felt like I was reading The Sneaky Chef, who at least is not sneaky when it comes to what her books are about.

Finally, I can just about guarantee that you won't be seeing any recent Food Networks stars' cookbooks.  I own some of the older books written by Ina Garten, Giada De Laurentis and Michael Chiarello.  Those books contain some wonderfully imaginative and delicious recipes.   Their more recent works, however, gave me the impression that the Network wants them to churn out book after book for revenue's sake alone.  

So, there are the short reviews for my "un-recommendations."  I totally realize that there may be many of you who disagree with my opinions.  I am not looking to start any arguments. 

Note: All opinions expressed are mine alone.  I received no compensation for this post.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Red Beans and Rice

My father was stationed in Alabama for a short while when I was a little girl.  Those few months had a huge influence on the way Mom cooked.  One of the dishes added to her repertoire was Red Beans and Rice.  Mom loved the frugality of the meal.  Dad enjoyed the smoky flavor of the beans.  I was the lone holdout.  I did nothing but grumble every time a plate full of the offending legumes were placed before me.

Then I grew up.    I don't know if my taste buds matured or if the cheapness of the meal appealed so much that my sub-consciously frugal self started liking the beans.  Either way, I actually love them now.  They are so adaptable to any herbs and spices you want to add to the batch.

Because I live at a high altitude (5000+ ft), I boil my beans for 20 minutes and then let them soak in that water for an hour before draining them and putting them in the crockpot.  I am too impatient or maybe too scatterbrained to soak beans overnight.  When I lived at lower elevations, I would just put the beans straight into the crockpot and let them cook all day.  They need that added cooking at the higher altitude.  I learned that the hard way, of course.  After 12+ hours of cooking in a crockpot, they were still crunchy.  UGH.

Red Beans and Rice
2 cups dry red beans
2 stalks celery, diced
1 onion, diced
1 bell pepper (I like to use red ones for the color)
4 cups water
1 ham bone with meat still attached
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp Cajun seasoning like Slap Ya Mama or 1/2 tsp just plain Tabasco sauce to taste
In a dutch oven, cover the beans with 2-3 inches of water.  Cover and boil rapidly for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the beans soak in the hot water for an hour.  Drain the water and rinse.   Put the beans in a crockpot and add the remaining ingredients.  Cook on high for 6 hours or so, testing the beans with a fork to see if they are done.  Remove the bone from the beans.  Pull the meat off the ham bone and cut into small chunks and return the meat to the beans.  Serve over plain cooked rice.

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