Friday, November 25, 2011

I've Washed My Cookie Jar, and Vow to Keep It Full

I have decided to devote time this month to baking cookies.  It 's almost hard for me to say.  I am not a baker of cakes and cookies.  It is fussy work, all that measuring and such.  It's not that I'm not a good baker, I just avoid doing it.  I have a conventional stove, much to my distress as I THOUGHT it was convection (at least that's what the wretched salesman told us before we bought the dang thing and hauled it all the way home).  That means, it only bakes well right on the center rack, so it takes a coons age to bake a batch of cookies.  Oh, that and I usually burn myself handling cookie racks.
I think if you don't stretch and grow past your comfort zone, you miss out on so much in life that is good. You would have never discovered certain things just staying in your safe way of living.  Maybe I am missing out on something by avoiding baking cookies, as it seems to be a popular thing to do.  Also, my daycare bunch is getting a little older, and they are starting to notice that Nanny Tina never has any goodies like that.  My Nilla Wafers, and graham crackers are getting old for them.  
Since I always make my own gifts at Christmas time, I have decided this year to have that be cookies.  I don't eat cookies, I'm diabetic, but I sure do appreciate the plates of cookies and fudge etc...that friends give our family.  It is such a commitment in time to bake those different varieties of cookies, and hey, it takes the pressure off of me!  I will be baking and freezing to keep them fresh until time to assemble my gift platters. 
I have rehomed all the dried fruits that have been living in my saddle shaped cookie jar, and have it washed and ready for use. This cookie jar was the one my mother used as I was growing up. I think my auntie Letha had one just like it as well.  I swear even when it's clean it still smells like Winter's Gingersnaps, and Snickerdoodles (my personal favorite as a child). The horn was broken off and glued back on years ago, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.
My dear sister Nancy used to let me help her bake, and I have treasured memories of standing on a chair, looking at the cool pictures in the Betty Crocker Cookie Book, and helping her make cookies to fill that old cookie jar. She has passed on, but I still have those memories, and my childhood cookie jar to remind me how wonderful and sweet she was.
So I invite you to join in my quest for the true meaning of baking!  I'm kind of easing into this, and I have posted my Snowflake recipe before, but I started my Christmas baking with this recipe.  It is kind of "fake baking", in that it is made from a mix, and only has a few ingredients and none of them really need measured (my kind of cooking for sure!).  My mother gave me a new recipe for a similar recipe, so I'll post it here also.  It only has three ingredients.  :o)

Lemon Snowflakes

1 lemon cake mix (best without pudding in it)
1 egg
2 1/2 C whipped cream or cool whip
some powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350*F, and spray cookie sheets with butter cooking spray. 
Combine the first three ingredients and drop by spoonfuls into some powdered sugar.  After coating with powdered sugar, place on greased cookie sheets.  I can fit a dozen on each of my airbake sheets.  Bake until slightly browned.  About 10-12 minutes.  Cool on a rack.

I am so out the door to buy some spice cake and pumpkin to try these today! Thanks Mom!

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Spice Cake Mix
Canned pumpkin (smaller size can make sure it's not pie filling but just plain pumpkin)

Preheat oven to 350*F, and spray cookie sheets with butter spray.  Mix all ingredients, and drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheets.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Cool on racks. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Salads for the Brown Bag

With my husband commuting to work, and working out of town every week, we make lots of cold lunches.  On days when he is in his office, I can send leftover foods, as he has access to a microwave oven.  On the days when he is in the oilfields, he has to have foods that are good cold.  There are no cafe`s or mini marts in the remote areas where he goes.  I have to have salads and deli type foods on hand to send with him. 
Being Polish, my husband loves kraut, so I am making this salad to send with him.  It is a very old fashioned one, and often served at branding or picnic meals as it stands the heat well, and has no mayo. 

Kraut Salad

2 C sugar
1 t caraway seed
1 t salt
1  quart/jar sauerkraut drained and rinsed
1 red pepper chopped
1 green pepper chopped
1/2 onion chopped or grated

In a saucepan, heat sugar celery seed and salt over medium high heat until it boils.  Boil for 2 minutes and then remove from heat.  The sugar will melt, and make it's own liquid.  Cool before adding it to remaining ingredients.  Best if refridgerated overnight, or at least a couple hours. (Can't be made with splenda, it gets bitter when you cook it too long)

This carrot salad is an old time favorite also.  You can keep this in the refridgerator for up to two or three weeks.  I haven't made it in a long time, so it will be a welcome substitute for the same old same old.

Copper Penny Salad

2 # peeled and sliced carrots
1 large green pepper seeded and chopped
1 onion grated
1 small can Campbells Tomato Soup
1/4 C olive oil
1/2 C sugar or splenda
1/2 C red wine vinegar
1 t Worchestershire
1 t stone ground mustard
1/2 t dried thyme
salt and white pepper to taste

Cook carrots in water to cover and a pinch of salt until tender crisp.  Drain and rinse.  In a large bowl combine cooked carrots with green pepper and onion.  In the same saucepan now empty, combine remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Stir until thoroughly combined.  Pour soup over vegetables and refridgerate for at least 24 hours. 

Don likes potato salad, so I often make my mother's salad

Mother's Potato Salad

6-8 potatoes, peeled and diced
4 eggs
1/2 onion grated
2 whole dill pickles diced finely
3 T yellow mustard
3/4 C mayonnaise
salt and white pepper to taste
dust top of finished salad with sweet paprika

Cover peeled and diced potatoes with cold water, and nestle in eggs in the top of the pan.  They will get hard boiled while the potatoes cook. Cover and bring to a boil.  Potatoes are done when the fall easily when stabbed with a fork.  Drain and remove boiled eggs to a bowl of cold water. 
In a large bowl mix cooled, peeled and crumbled eggs with drained potatoes and remaining ingredients.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and top with a dusting of paprika. 
My mother always uses white pepper in cold salads.  It makes a prettier dish without the black flakes of pepper. 

I don't make jello often, but this old fashioned jello is so tasty,  I remember eating this when I was little.  It was originally made with red hot candies, but I am not able to find them anymore.  I use hot tamale candies instead.
Red Hot Apple Salad

1 C hot tamale candies chopped
1 C boiling water
1 3 oz package of sugar free cherry jello
1 C unsweetened applesauce
pinch of cayenne pepper

Add candies to boiling water and stir until they dissolve.  You may need to nuke them for a minute to get all to melt.  Strain out any unmelted bits if you like. Stir in gelatin until it dissolves, and then add applesauce.  Pour into a square baking dish, and chill until set. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Only Joy in Baking: Pie

My husband loves pie.  I love to make pie.  It's a marriage made in heaven! 
Seriously, I have enjoyed making pie since I was very small.  I gave my very first 4-H demonstration as a first year 4-Her on how to make good pie crust.  I have mad skills making pie. 
My pie making has evolved over time.  At first it was the basic Crisco pie crust recipe. I would calculate the amount of water the shortening would displace and measure the shortening in water to equal one cup.  My mother was very smart, and in making it more like science and less like fussy measuring, it became fun for me.  I used only ice water, and my grandmother's pastry cutter to make my crust, because that was the way Mom did it.  These pies were mostly filled with store bought filling. 
I am not a fan of store bought filling.  It seemed that the contents of one can were not near enough to make a sufficient pie.  Also, the goop to fruit ratio was in the wrong proportion, favoring the goop and not the fruit.
Once I was out on my own, I started making pie filling from scratch.  I found it is easy to do.  If I use canned fruit like cherries or blueberries or saskatoons (I have a tree in my yard),  I make cooked filling.  It is the same method I use to make gravy for savory dishes:  Fruit and liquid, sugar, spices, and a couple big spoons of either corn starch or flour to thicken it.  I like to add a splash of brandy, or other flavored liquor at the end after the fire is off.  Remember, always cool your filling before putting it in the pie, otherwise your bottom crust will be soggy. 
Fresh fruit pies are easier still.  Peeled and sliced fruit goes in a big bowl with a cup of sugar (or splenda) spices, and a couple big spoons of flour or cornstarch.  Once it is piled up in the pie, I dot it with pieces of butter to make a custardy like thickener when it cooks with the fruit juice, and flour. 

Experts will tell you that you should cook your pie filling, so that when you bake it, you don't end up with hollow spaces from where the fruit cooks down in the oven.  When I bake pie, I put absolutely as much raw filling in it as I can get.  I get no complaints about hollows!
I have experimented with different pie crust recipes, and like the ones with vinegar in them, or my mother in laws one that has a gillion different ingredients.  I mostly just use the old Crisco recipe. I have it committed to memory, and don't have to fiddle with finding a recipe.  There are just two things to remember when making crust:  don't cut the shortening in too well, or you will lose out on all that flakiness, and always use really cold water and cold hands.  It helps to chill the dough, but I am not patient enough for that, so it honestly never happens here.  I still have good pie crust.
I still use my grandma's old pastry cutter.  It does the job, and I don't have to wash the food processor!

Two Crust Pie
2 C flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 C lard or shortening
6 T cold water

I often use storebought pie crust anymore.  It is a good product, and encourages frequency of pie baking, as I don't have a huge mess on the cupboard. That makes Don very happy!
When picking ingredients to make pie, use your imagination!  I had a fruit bowl full of apples and some ripe pears right at their prime.  I also always have dried fruit of all kinds in my pantry that I can use.  I chose dried cherries to add to my pie, but I could have used chopped apricots, or even cranberries, and they would have been delicious. 

Apple Pear Dried Cherry Pie

6 MacIntosh apples peeled and sliced
4 Bartlett pears peeled and sliced
2 C dried cherries
2 T lemon juice
1 C sugar or splenda (to taste,  mix it all up, and then adjust sugar)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
splash of brandy or apple juice
2 heaping T flour or cornstarch

To peel pears, scald them for 30 seconds in boiling water, and then plunge them in a cold water bath to cool.  After all the fruit is peeled, add remaining ingredients and mix well.  Taste, and add more sweetener if necessary.  Pile filling in pie crust as high as you can get it, tucking fruit in here or there where there is a spot for it.  Top with 2 T cut up butter.  Put on top crust and moisten bottom crust with cold water.  Pinch to seal.  Poke top with a fork to make vent holes.  I used to get in trouble if I decorated the top crust like my mother did.  She considered it her signature.  Too bad, Mom, I do it like you did still!  Bake at 425*F until filling is hot and bubbly and crust is browned, about 1 hour.  I always place a baking sheet below the pie to avoid cleaning my oven from overflow.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Turbo Cooking: Meatball Mixture

I like to "turbo cook".  I like to buy bulk items, like a five pound package of ground beef, or a whole pork loin, and make several entrees out of it.  Yesterday, I thawed out a huge package of ground beef I bought this summer when it was on sale.  Out of it, I made a meatball mixture.  Out of this general recipe, I can add ingredients and make several different meals.
My batch of meatball mixture made enough meatballs to fill a jelly roll sized pan for cooking, and extra to make stuffed peppers.  I cooked off all the meatballs, and now that they are cooled, I can put them on a baking sheet, and freeze them, and then pop them in a zip lock bag and they will be seperate instead of frozen in a big lump.  I can pull out just enough for a meatball sub sandwich, or enough to make sweet and sour meatball dinner, or spaghetti and meatballs for a quick supper meal.
I use only grated onion in my meatballs, and I get this using the largest holes on the box grater.  You could certainly just waz up wedges of the onion in the food processor until you have a watery pulp.  It seems to make a moister more delicate meatball than chopped onion.
I usually don't measure when I make meatballs.  The meat is sometimes drier than others, and it is about getting the correct texture of a sticky "dough" that has enough bread crumbs in it to hold together and keep it's shape.  I may start with only 1 cup of breadcrumbs, and gently mix, and then add more breadcrumbs to make it the right consistency.  If you get your meatballs too dry, just add more Worchestershire, or a little beef stock, or more tomato paste. 

Meatball Mother Recipe

5# ground beef
small can of tomato paste, or 1/4 C catsup
3 T Worchestershire sauce
1 yellow onion, grated
2 T minced garlic
2 eggs
about 2 C Italian bread crumbs
1 tsp adobo seasoning
salt and pepper, or I use Mrs. Dash

Mix all ingredients until you achieve a sticky "dough" that will hold it's shape.  Fashion into golf ball sized meatballs, and  place in a greased pan.  Drizzle with more Worchestershire sauce, and 2 C red wine.  You can also top with v-8 or tomato juice.  You only want the liquid to come up no more than 1/3 of the way on the meatballs.  Cover with foil, and bake at 400*F for one hour.

I had about two pounds of meatball mixture left over, after filling a jelly roll sized pan with meatballs.  I can do several things with it: 
Creamy Cabbage Rolls:  I can add raw rice, and more tomato paste, and some marjoram, thyme and red pepper flakes.  I can roll this mixture up in blanched cabbage and cover it  with a can of evaporated milk mixed with a package of onion soup mix and parmesan cheese to top it.  It goes in the oven covered in foil, and bakes at 400*F for one hour. 
Salisbury Steak:  I can form the meat into oblong patties and fry it in the skillet.  This would get topped with a beef and mushroom gravy for Salisbury steak.
Oat Meatloaf with Waterchestnuts:  I can add another can of paste, a C of rolled oats, and a drained can of waterchestnuts that I have chopped to make a great meatloaf. Bake in the oven at 400*F for one hour.
Stuffed Peppers:  Last night, I chose to make stuffed peppers.  I shaved a small bit off the bottom of cleaned whole peppers that I took the tops off of, and filled them with the meatball mix.  After the peppers were full, I added 1/2 inch water to the bottom of the pan.  Cover with foil, and bake at 400*F for one hour.  There are many ways to top these.  I kept the lids intact, with the seed part removed, so I just cooked them with the tops on.  I could have topped them with buttered breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, or I could have placed a piece of good swiss cheese over them the last few minutes of baking. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Burgundy Beef Ribs

I have no stamina for shopping any more.  I used to be able to go all day, and still have energy left to burn when I got home.  Now, we go to one or two stores, and I'm done for. 
It didn't help that we went out to lunch yesterday before we went shopping.  We ate at our favorite Chinese place.  They have a buffet at lunch time, so it is a quick lunch with awesome food.  Only problem is, I ate carbs, and was so sleepy by the time we left, I lost my passion for shopping.  I only got half my shopping done for the next couple weeks. 
I'll have to finish up sometime this weekend, which will be tricky, as we are teaching horsemanship at the college.
I like to sit down with the sale circulars on Wednesday, and make my menu and list for shopping.  I have done this for so many years, it is a quick bit of work to get it done, usually.  Sometimes I struggle to come up with ideas for something different, but if I browse through a couple cookbooks, I can usually find something. 
I sometimes make a special trip to another grocery store to pick up good buys on things, but I mostly shop at the Safeway down the street.  I did some cost studies on a typical grocery list a couple years ago, and although I could get items cheaper by traveling to Riverton to buy them, the savings was lost in time and travel. 
At Thanksgiving time, there are some incredible specials, so I made an exception yesterday, and went to another grocery store to get a few things.  They had frozen turkey breasts on sale for $1.89.  We buy a lot of rotisserie turkey at our grocery store, to make sandwiches, and to make stock from the bones.  These frozen ones are significantly cheaper, so I bought as many as I could.  No one wants to cook a whole turkey often, but it is no problem to just cook these breast portions.  They also had leg/thigh portions for cheaper.  They make wonderful turkey enchiladas, and the bones yeild a lot of stock for every day cooking. 
Along with the turkey, they had boneless beef ribs on special sale.  We brought home a family sized package, and I made this dish for supper.  It made way more than we could eat, but it is so tender from long cooking, and I will be able to use the leftovers for more meals. 
I love the flavor of meat cooked in wine.  Luckily, my favorite brand of wine, Bogle is on sale this week, too!  I picked a full bodied Merlot to use for this dish.  Any good red wine that you like to drink would work, too. 

Burgundy Beef Ribs

1/2-1 C flour
1 tsp grill seasoning, or salt and pepper to taste
2 # boneless beef ribs
2 onions sliced thinly
1 bag frozen pearl onions
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1 T minced garlic
2 T Worchestershire sauce
2 1/2 C beef stock
3 C wine
2 T dredging flour
Frozen peas

Dredge ribs in flour mixed with grill seasoning.  In a large deep sided skillet, or dutch oven brown ribs well in oil.  Set aside.  Add sliced onions and brown.  In a measuring cup, mix 1 C beef stock with 2 heaping T of the dredging flour.  Whisk until smooth.  Add to pan to deglaze, and scrape up bits.  Add remaining beef stock, and wine.  Heat to boiling, and adjust liquid to make a medium bodied gravy.  Add pear onions, and herbs and garlic.  Carefully slide the browned ribs back into the pot, and cover and move to the oven.  Bake at 350*F for three hours.  Adjust seasoning before serving, as this will change in flavor and salt level during the long cooking. 
I served this with some homemade style pasta.  I placed a half a bag of frozen peas in the colander, and poured the cooked pasta and water over it.  The boiling water is just right for defrosting and warming up the peas without making them taste starchy and lose their color from overcooking.  Top the pasta and peas with the wine gravy, and a couple falling apart tender ribs. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hot Hamburger Remix: Lowfat Oven Baked Turkey Burgers and Gravy!

My husband is the King of Gravy.  When he picks a place to eat out, his main criteria is that they have gravy.   In trying to eat a healthier diet, we have had to remix some of his favorite foods to fit what is acceptable in fat content and calories. 
This is a super easy recipe for a wonderful comfort food supper.  We wrapped some small firm Yukon Gold potatoes in foil, and roasted them in the oven along with the Turkey Burgers and Gravy.  We could have also boiled a head of cauliflower, and mashed it with some hot chicken broth and salt and pepper to make a low carb substitute for mashed potatoes. 
My husband always has the option to have it "Diner Style",  on a couple pieces of bread. 
Along with the hot hamburgers and baked potatoes, we had a big green salad of romaine lettuce, tomatoes and some avocado.  I think this will be an often requested recipe in the future (which makes me happy, as Turkey Burgers haven't been received well in the past).  Cooking these burgers along with the lowfat gravy makes them come out moist and more flavorful.

Lowfat Oven Baked Turkey Burgers and Gravy

In a 9x13 baking pan, pry apart frozen raw turkey burgers and layer overlapping.  I put the whole bag into the microwave on defrost until they would come apart.  
In a medium size mixing bowl,  combine the following:
1 box/quart of chicken stock.
2 heaping T corn starch
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper, or Mrs. Dash to taste
Whisk together and pour over burgers.  Top with thinly sliced onions and bake at 375*F for one hour and fifteen minutes.  The burgers come out moist and delicious.

Leftovers reheat beautifully, or you can crumble leftover burgers, and add stew vegetables to burger and gravy,  to make a great second meal turkey stew.