Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Winter Warming Up

Upon looking up a printable first grade world geography map via Google, evidently, I clicked on a site that infected our PC with something like 39 viruses. Beautiful! I mean, I hate the old bear anyway, but it is as old as our marriage, and the only thing that we have hooked up to a printer. It is also the way I get a lot of blogging done, in tiny pieces during snippets of time I find during the day while all three children happen to be simultaneously busy on a worksheet. Please let me reiterate how certain I am that homeschooling is not for me- not because I want to complain but because I lack presence of mind in regard to anything that is not present. That is to say, I forget that I hate or love or am badly effected or well effected by pretty much everything unless I am in the current state of being affected or effected (as the case may be). When I love George and am happy with George, which I am lucky to say is most of the time, I can't imagine why I am ever unhappy with George. But when I am mad at George, I just have no idea how we have ever gotten along and am profoundly afraid that our relationship will never be the same and that we have deep issues- all of this over him growing a beard (seriously, that was our last knock down drag out). When I am eating peanut M&M's by the handful and delighting in their delicious flawlessness, I think to myself that they are pretty much a staple food for all people everywhere and ponder how we can get them to the remote parts of the earth. But when I am doubled over in pain only a few hours later with a condition that George and I affectionately refer to as "the peanut hurt," I curse peanuts with all of their butters and confections and salty roasted savagery. So this digression is for me, and for you that you might remind me next time you hear me contemplate the continuation of our homeschool experiment (or see me eating a peanut product- or dairy product for that matter), our family is not a homeschool family. But to those who are, I applaud you. Seriously. Because whoa! So anyway, that was a random opening tangent that was originally meant to explain that, yet again, the post didn't post when I scheduled it and took me a few days to figure it out. I will go ahead and confess that I don't actually have the last two up, just picked out. And I'm only able to use the computer when George is home, which is never lately, but I'll get it up. I swear I'm not grumpy. I'm afraid this sounds like I am. I'm just rowdy tonight. So, here's the rest of the post that I wrote a long long time ago and scheduled to post, but then edited last week and thought I posted but apparently did not. I feel like a grandma. I have no idea where my computer literacy went!

Now that all the snow has melted, I feel sane again! It had really just been the last two weeks that have felt very much like Narnia under rule of the White Witch. It's not so bad as all that, but I am excited about the thaw. I don't think I realized quite how low I had been until it came and the kids went out to play and the sun shone and I felt so happy! I'm so looking forward to tulips and berries and sandals and even tomatoes. Okay, so I'm getting way ahead of myself, but it's coming! It probably doesn't make sense then to share a soup recipe. But it will get cold again, I'm sure. And anyway, who says forty degrees isn't cold? I do. I felt like 45 was warm yesterday! I went out in short sleeves without a jacket! Well, when it gets cold again, you'll have been to the grocery and be all set to make this with your favorite yummy grilled cheese.

This comes to us from that[favorite cooking magazine]-which-must-not-be-named. You know the one ;) I first had it when my friend Ami made it for me, who had (tragically) only ever had Campbell's tomato up to that point; and, after I raved about it and insisted she give me the recipe (and was it hard?), remarked, "it's one of those recipes where I feel like every surface in my kitchen is a mess after I make it." And it really is an all in experience the first few times you make it- as with all recipes from these fellows. But, after a half dozen times or so, you'll find a rhythm. I also learned from Ami that this doubles and freezes quite well. Clever girl, that one.

Tomato Soup - serves 4, but doubles and freezes well

2 28 oz. cans of whole tomatoes, drained (juice reserved) and seeded
1 1/2 T dark brown sugar
4T unsalted butter
4 large shallots, minced
1T tomato paste
pinch of ground allspice
2T all purpose flour
1 3/4c. chicken broth
1/2c. heavy cream
2T brandy or sherry (optional)
table salt
cayenne pepper

- adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and hear oven to 450.
- line jelly-roll pan or rimmed cookie sheet with foil. spread tomatoes in a single layer on foil and sprinkle evenly with brown sugar. bake until liquid is evaporated and tomatoes begin to color, about 30 minutes. let tomatoes cool slightly, then peel them off foil, transfer to small bow and set aside.
- heat butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until foaming; add shallots, tomato paste, and allspice. reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, 7-10 minutes. add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly combined (about 30 seconds- I know, it took longer to read that!). gradually add chicken stock, whisking constantly. stir in tomatoes and juice and cover. increase heat to medium and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors (about 10 minutes).
-strain mixture into medium bowl. rinse out saucepan. transfer tomatoes and solids in strainer to blender or food processor. add 1 cup strained liquid and puree until smooth. place pureed mixture and remaining strained liquid in saucepan. add cream and heat over low until hot (about 3 minutes). off heat, stir in brandy or sherry and season to taste with salt and cayenne. serve immediately.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Stovetop Popcorn Tutorial

Here is an excerpt from an old post I wrote back in the fall of '09 about popping popcorn. I never got around to publishing it, but, as part of the (never ending) twelve days of recipes, I wanted to finally get it up.

I feel sad for people who eat only microwave popcorn. I used to be such a person. Then, last year when we were borrowing everything for our house, we were given a microwave that won't pop microwave popcorn. Seriously, it won't. We tried everything. As you can imagine, it doesn't do anything very well. The person who gave it to us gave it to us on the condition that we wouldn't give it back to him when we were finished with it! Anyway, I may not have told y'all before, but I am a huge fan of popcorn. I could eat it daily. Our favorite fall lunch is apples, cheese, and popcorn. We had just been to Eckert's to pick apples last fall when we moved in. We had to figure something out! So over the past year, I have become a pro at buying the cheap-o bag of popcorn from the bottom shelf at the grocery store and popping it over the stove. I thought I'd share a couple of helpful hints in case you'd like to try making it yourself. Not only do you save money, it really does taste better.

First of all, the popcorn bag should tell you what to do. But there are a few pitfalls to avoid that the popcorn bag doesn't warn you about. When I make popcorn, I used my four quart stock pot. This is a good quantity of popcorn for the family to share (but you may need to make a second batch if people are hungry!). It also has two handles which makes for easy shaking. The depth and width are a nice proportion too. Whatever you choose, you will want to be sure it has a lid. Okay, so on to actually making the popcorn. I hope these instructions will be helpful regardless of your pan size. First of all, do not skimp on the oil. Homemade popcorn has a tendency to be very chewy, and the reason is oil skimping. Don't drown your kernels in oil, but be sure to cover the bottom of the pan with an actual depth of oil. We are not coating it to bake a cake (gross, who would use oil for that?!), we are actually cooking the popcorn in the oil. But we are also not deep frying tater tots today. So, more than a coating, but not so much oil that the kernels will be completely immersed. Heat the oil somewhere between medium and medium high. If you get the oil too hot, the kernels will pop too fast and you will get tiny, hard pieces. If you do not get it hot enough, they won't pop. Start with just a few kernels in the pan with the lid on to keep the heat in, and when those pop, add enough popcorn to just cover the bottom of the pan with maybe just a little bit of overlap. If you add too many, you will have an oil skimping situation. If you add too few, you'll be sorry because you'll want more popcorn. Trust me. Once the kernels are in the pan, you want to do the shaking the pan over the heat thing. This coats the kernels in oil and keeps the bottom popcorn from scorching once the popping begins. I usually leave the lid a little off so there is a small hole for steam to escape through. I am not sure how necessary this is, but it works for me. Once the pan is pretty full and the popping slows, I remove it from the heat completely to let if finish popping off heat. Then I add salt and melted butter if I wish. I usually pour the popcorn in the bowl and put the butter in the hot pan to melt- you know, just to avoid having something else to wash. The residual heat in the pan is enough to melt the butter pretty rapidly, so there is no need to use the stove anymore. It will even brown the butter if you don't pay attention.

So, there it is- a lot of details, and perhaps not a proper recipe, but definitely something you should try. If you become a fan, let me know and I'll pick you up a bag of yummy, locally grown, multicolored popping kernels at the Farmer's Market when it starts back this spring. It's really cool to see how the different colors have varying textures and flavors. George thinks it's funny that a person can get so excited about popcorn, but I have always thought it was funny how excited he gets over ice cream. To each his own, right? Fried corn- hot tortilla chips at a Mexican restaurant, cornmeal pancakes fresh off the griddle, or homemade popcorn with a sprinkling of salt and a drizzle of butter- Mmmmm, that's about as good as it gets. Although, I did have corn flavored ice cream at Entree once, and that was pretty delicious- maybe where George's and Abby's tastes collide into a perfect food? Nope, I'd still go with stovetop popped corn and an ice cold Coca Cola. Yum!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Ina Knows Chocolate

Once again, it didn't post. Sorry. I haven't been online much this week. We've been up to our ears in Valentine crafts! Pictures of those coming soon!


And we're back to Ina. (Can y'all tell I've been cooking from my Barefoot collection lately?) Ina says she doesn't much care for chocolate, but she sure does know what to do to make it taste especially good! Lately, I have been making her brownies instead of boxes. Oddly, I always swore boxes were better than any recipe I had ever tried, but these are the first that seem to beat boxes in my book. I know I am losing credibility here. My sister was shocked when I said that I always prefer boxes. But seriously, there are some good box mixes that have a moist, dark flavor that you can't get with most recipes which have cloyingly sweet flavor and are either too goopy (like Hershey's syrup! Bleh!) or way too cakey. Yuck! I will say, my frugal friends, that boxes are definitely the way to go if you are pinching pennies for your family, but if you need something to make special for Valentine's Day or want to bake a special gift batch for friends or teachers, this is a five star recipe, worth the hefty expense. I have already been asked to share it several times. So, (not that you couldn't just click on over to foodnetwork.com) here it is:

Outrageous Brownies

1 lb. unsalted butter
1 lb. plus 12oz. semisweet chocolate chips
6 oz. unsweetened chocolate
6 eggs
3T instant coffee granules
2T vanilla
2 1/4 c. sugar
1 1/4 c. flour, divided
1T baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3 c. chopped walnuts (pecans for me OR chocolate chunks! eh?)

- melt butter, 1 pound chocolate chips, and unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. allow to cool slightly. in a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.
- in another bowl, combine 1c. flour, baking powder, and salt and add to chocolate mixture. toss the nuts in the last 1/4c. flour and then stir them into the batter. pour into a buttered and floured 12 x 18 x 1 baking sheet.
- bake for 20 minutes at 350 then rap the sheet against the oven rack to force any air bubbles out and bake 15 more minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. do not overbake. allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut into squares.

Now, I can't say that I like cake box mixes, but I used to be somewhat partial to grocery store cakes. It was a weird phase I went through to compensate for not having them as a kid- guess my mom figured no one would want one like I do now. Anyway, I got over that whole thing and have tried a LOT of chocolate cake recipes since then. For a while, I settled on a divine dark chocolate cupcake recipe until I realized that no one else liked it. Bummer. This is my problem. I like dark chocolate. I don't like a lot of super sweet in a hot chocolate or a mocha or a brownie or a chocolate cake. But some people do. So when I settle on a recipe, it's usually because it's dark enough for me and still sweet enough for kids and mothers-in-law. This cake fits that description. I made it for August's birthday and everyone liked it so much, I made it again for Elspeth's birthday the next week. She actually requested it- changed her order from "pink cake" to "August's cake."

Don't be too hasty with your judgement. When I first made it, I wasn't that impressed with either the cake or the frosting, but something about the marriage of the two is perfection. So, if you are a taster, like me, stay the course, assemble the cake, ice the cake, cut the cake, taste the cake. You won't be disappointed.

Beatty's Chocolate Cake

1 3/4 c. all purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 c. sugar
3/4 c. good cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 c. buttermilk, shaken
1/2 c. vegetable oil
2 eggs at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. freshly brewed coffee

- preheat oven to 350. butter 2 8" cake pans and line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the lined cake pans.
- sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together into the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low to combine.
- in another bowl, combine buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. with the mixer on low, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. with the mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- pour the batter into the prepared pans and baked 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
- place one layer, flat side up, on a cake pedestal and spread a layer of frosting over the top. then place the second layer, rounded side up, on top of the frosted bottom layer and spread frosting over the top and sides.

Beatty's Chocolate Frosting

6oz. good, semisweet chocolate
1/2 lb. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg yolk at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4c. powdered sugar
1T instant coffee powder

- chop chocolate and place in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water. stir just until melted, then set aside to cool to room temperature.
- in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter at medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about three minutes. add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for three minutes. turn the mixer to low, gradually add the powdered sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. dissolve the coffee powder in 2tsp. of the hottest tap water. add chocolate and coffee to mixing bowl and mix until blended. don't whip. spread immediately on cooled cake.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Food From Friends

Oops! I just realized these aren't posting. I think I forgot to hit "publish post." Sorry!

I know that a lot of the recipes I post are available in other places online. I really like having everything all in one place. My sister and I both love to be able to search my blog from the grocery store so that we have a list of ingredients even when we didn't plan ahead. Well, she's slightly more organized than I am, so maybe she just searches my blog while she makes her list at home. But anyway, if you are annoyed with my lack of originality, sorry. I am taking some time for this post to put down some recipes that have been handed to me by people I know. Perhaps they could be found somewhere online easily, but these are recipes that came to me by way of friends and not from Foodnetwork.com or what have you.

At Christmas, which is when I really crave this next recipe, we call this Santa's Mix, but it can (and should) be made year round. I had a good friend at Auburn who was named Susanna but, because of the inordinate amount of Susannas in her high school class, had been nicknamed "Sanna." Everyone always thought we were calling her "Santa" at first, and just going with that now, espcially at Christmas, is easier than explaining the whole thing (yet, I felt it was worth explaining today). She originally had another name for the mix that was one of those tacky, outdated, meant to be funny/cute names, so I prefer to just call it her mix. Every year she would come home from Thanksgiving break with at least two gallon Ziploc bags full of this. And we always ate it all up in the three weeks before Christmas. It has to be the best studying snack ever! I baked a lot this Christmas, but the "Santa Mix" was the most raved about item of all, and it was the easiest (not to mention, completely no bake). My aunt says it should come with a warning, and, if you could have seen how much I consumed over the course of the day this past Saturday, you would certainly agree! It's so simple, yet so delightfully delicious.

Sanna's Mix

4c. Crispix (or Rice Chex)
2c. Cheerios
2c. Golden Grahams
2c. broken up pretzel sticks
1c. peanuts
24 oz. white chocolate almond bark
1c. M&Ms
- melt white chocolate bark in microwave according to package directions
- toss cereal, peanuts, pretzels, and M&Ms in a large bowl, then pour melted chocolate over and mix well
- spread on wax paper and let dry (Sanna's notes originally said for one hour. I found it takes more like 10 minutes, but maybe I just don't get the bark hot enough. She also says to wait and sprinkle the M&M's after you have spread everything out to dry, but I find that they didn't stick this way. She lived in Florida- not a dry wintery Iowa- so maybe you should take the humidity of your location into consideration)
- break into pieces and enjoy!

This next one is another one that is better at the holidays. I'm not even sure you can get fresh cranberries still, but she says you can use frozen. I've actually been sitting on this recipe for over a year now. The teacher I worked with last year brought me a piece of this cake one day and I fell in love with it. When I asked her for the recipe, she ran a copy of the card she had it written down on, and it turned out it had been given to her by Elspeth's teacher. I like both of those ladies a lot, and I hope you'll enjoy their cake recipe! I like it with coffee in the morning, but it's great any time!

Cranberry Cake

3c. sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2c. melted butter
2T almond extract
3c. flour
1 bag fresh (or frozen!) cranberries

-cream sugar and eggs. blend in melted butter. blend in almond extract. blend in flour. stir in cranberries.
- pour batter into a greased 10x13 glass baking dish. bake at 350 for one hour (but check 5-10 minutes early, can burn quickly)

This is another recipe for a delicious treat to have with coffee. My mother-in-law makes this every Christmas. I should clarify. Usually when I say "my mother-in-law," I mean George's mom. In this case, I mean George's step-mom. Still, to me, they are both a mother-in-law. And the "step" thing seems kind of vulgar. The kids don't call her their "step" grandmother. I mean, it makes sense for George because she's not his mom. I don't know. It's a weird situation. I want to be sensitive to everyone. George's mom has done a lot, and she deserves a special honor for that. On the other hand, we absolutely love his step-mom and are so grateful for her! Does anyone else have thoughts on this? Maybe you can mull it over while you bake.

Cinnamon Bread

1/2 c. oil
2 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 c. buttermilk
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
4 c. flour
cinnamon mixture (2 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 3/4 c. sugar)

- mix first seven ingredients and pour half of batter into 2 lightly greased 5x9 bread pans. sprinkle cinnamon mixture over batter in pans and pour the rest of the batter over top. swirl with a knife. bake at 350 for one hour.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Go-go Bananas!

So I said that I was finished worrying about cutesy titles, but then what did I do? I sat around thinking of more cutesy titles. Kill me now! I am such a freak! "Quick Treats For Playing" was going to be my "six geese a-laying" one, recipes for whipping out quickly with kids who are itching for something to do, but I kept wanting to post more than what I had. I'll come back to it, I imagine, but the self-induced pressure was really stressing me out. Anyway, I snapped out of it this weekend. August had a fever and that had me home bound. I am always home bound, but usually I am trying to be a first grade and fourth grade teacher. The weekends are lovely! And since we had college Bible study on Friday night, I went into the weekend with a clean house. So the weekend was given over to those projects that I put off because they are small and tedious and more or less a pain in the butt. Really, in the chaos that is my mind, most things fall into that category- only they are somehow HUGE too. But, as you probably know, once you start doing those things, you feel so silly that you put them off for so long. This weekend, I finally got around to making two recipes I had been meaning to make for a while (a new chili one because my old chili recipe is getting on my nerves and a banana pancake one), polished the silver vase for my mother-in-law's Valentine gift, got all my Valentine's gifts together and ready to mail (after a few odds and ends get taken care of), appliqued a cupcake on a shirt I made for Elspeth, cut off and hemmed up some of August's old pants to make shorts for my nephew, cleaned out the girls' drawers and closet, and finished the twelve days of recipes! Hurray! I have them scheduled to post one a day for the next six days. I went bananas!

In honor of me going bananas and getting all of those monkeys off my back (ba-dum-pum!), I give you... banana recipes!

Banana Crunch Muffins- it is, of course, one of Ina's. It's from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. And it's pretty much my favorite muffin recipe ever.

3 c. all purpose flour
2 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
3/4 c. whole milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. mashed ripe bananas (2 bananas)
1 c. medium-diced ripe bananas (1 banana)
1 c. small-diced walnuts (I always replace walnuts with pecans)
1 c. granola
1 c. sweetened shredded coconut

- preheat oven to 350 and line 18 muffin cups with paper liners.
- sift flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. add the melted butter and blend. combine the eggs, milk, vanilla, and mashed bananas and add them to the flour and butter mixture. scrape the bowl and blend well. don't overmix.
- fold the diced bananas, pecans, granola, and coconut into the batter. spoon the batter into the paper liners, filling each one to the top. bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

Banana Sour Cream Pancakes- another from Ina. These are the ones I made this weekend. I tried these with Nutella, but they really are so much better with syrup. For banana and chocolate love, try the next recipe. This barely yielded enough for my family- only about 8 good sized pancakes- so you may want to make a second batch or try doubling it.

1 1/2 c. flour
3T sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 c. sour cream
3/4 c. plus 1T milk
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 ripe bananas diced, plus extra for serving

- sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together.
- in another bowl, whisk together sour cream, milk, eggs, and vanilla.
- pour wet over dry and stir, just until combined.
- pour batter (I used 1/3c. scoops) onto a heated (medium) and buttered nonstick skillet and place 1-2T of the diced bananas in the center. cook 2-3 minutes, flip and cook one minute more.
- serve with butter and maple syrup.

Chocolate-Banana Filled Crepes- this one is a Paula Deen recipe. You must admit that she knows what she's doing when it comes to decadence. These are certainly decadent. St. Louis definitely had some pleasant things about it. And we surely do miss our friends and family there. The other things we miss are our favorite St. Louis area restaurants: Liluma, Miso (well, we really only ate there once so we can't very well miss it. still, it deserves to be mentioned), Canyon Cafe, Senor Pique (best fish tacos ever!!!!), and City Coffeehouse and Creperie. We can always be on the hunt for good Mexican food or sushi, but if there's no creperie, then there's just no creperie. So I decided to figure out how to make crepes. They are exactly the same, but they are close enough when you just gotta have some. You'll also be surprised how easy they are. If you are intimidated of confused though, here is a link to the video of Paula making them herself.

1 c. flour
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 to 2 c. milk
1T butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla

toppings- (must have all)
1 jar of Nutella
sliced bananas
whipped cream
powdered sugar (okay, this is optional, I guess, but you'll have it out to make your whipped cream anyway, so just go ahead)

-sift flour and salt together into a bowl. make a well and add egg and egg yolk. slowly pour in the milk and after about half is poured in, stir in the melted butter and vanilla. add the remaining milk (the batter should be the consistency of light cream), then cover and let stand for 20 minutes at room temperature.
- heat a well greased 6 inch skillet. add 1/4 c. batter. tip skillet from side to side until batter covers bottom of pan. cook until bottom is golden brown. turn and cook a few seconds longer (total cooking time is like 60 seconds) and remove to plate.
- smear crepe with Nutella and layer sliced bananas. fold and top with whipped cream and a sprinkling of powdered sugar.


"Not Yo' Mama's" Banana Pudding- please believe me when I tell you that I had a hard time typing that. Even I have a limit to how silly I'll get with a title. But we already knew that Paula had no shame. And why should she? When she comes up with a recipe like this, she can call it whatever she wants as long as she shares the it with the rest of us!

2 bags Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies
6 to 8 bananas, sliced
2c. milk
1 5oz. box instant French vanilla pudding
8oz. cream cheese, softened
14oz. sweetened condensed milk
12oz. whipped cream

- line the bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish with Chessmen cookies and layer bananas on top.
- in a bowl, combine pudding and milk and blend well with an electric mixer.
- in another bowl, combine cream cheese and condensed milk and mix until smooth.
- add cream cheese mixture to pudding mixture and blend well. pour this mixture over the Chessmen and bananas. top with a layer of the remaining Chessmen. cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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