Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Company's comin!

My best friend is coming to see me this weekend.  I'm hosting a thirtyone party for her, because she sells thirtyone, and then she can write off a trip to see me. Its terribly exciting!  I'm trying to figure out a menu for while she's here. Have to be careful, though because she can't eat beef or garlic.

Here's what I have so far.

Breakfast Friday: breakfast casserole, some sort of fruit.
Lunch Friday:
Dinner Friday:
Breakfast Saturday: something cold, or left over breakfast casserole
Lunch Saturday: something simple
Party Snacks: veggies/dip, cheese ball, ricotta pie minis
Dinner Saturday: out?
Breakfast Sunday:
Lunch Sunday: Perfect roast chicken with roast veggies, green beans and salad.
Dinner Sunday: grilled cheese and tomato soup with apples.

Now here's the other thing. I don't want to spend all the time she's here in the kitchen.  So prepare ahead ideas would be great.

What are your suggestions?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Family Project

I've had this idea rolling around in my head for a while, maybe a couple years.  I'd like to put together a cook book for my extended family, on my mom's side.  I think I'd finally like to get this project started.

I don't know why, but family memories are tied and intermingled so strongly with food memory that it is nearly impossible to separate the two.  That's probably why I spend so much time in the kitchen. Family equals love in my memory, and family also equals food... Therefore, I make food for people I love.

The food I remember was rich, simple but filling. And there was always plenty of it.  As a kid, I didn't have much to do with the preparation of anything that went on the table, at least not at any of my aunts' houses. My mom and her sisters would shoo us out of the kitchen while they were cooking.  What do I remember? Chicken n dumplings, fried chicken, creamed corn, sausage gravy over biscuits, cold green bean salad, warm coconut cake (and I don't like coconut!), fruit salad, meatloaf, home canned green beans with bacon, grill outs, cobbler, baked pineapple, broccoli salad, macaroni and cheese.  There are foods that appear regularly at family events like Christmas and wedding showers.  I want to gather them up and bind them together so that my generation, the grandkids and great grandkids, will have this collective memory to look back over.  So that even as our family gets larger, and the generations have less and less contact with each other, we will still be able to recall the times we were all together, the blessings that come from family, and the love that we share around the table.

If you are descended from Clarence and LaGrada, from Ohio county, KY, I'd love for you to share your recipes and your memories with me.

Pepper Cheesecake

I have to tell you a secret.  I like to bake sweet stuff.  Cookies and cake and pies and cobblers (Not all for home consumption- we like to share the wealth!)  Give me a dessert, and I'll make it!  I'm not quite so strong or diverse in the appetizer department. I think a lot of women (and those men that cook, too) have this same weakness.  Take a look at the buffet table next time you go to a potluck or holiday gathering.  At a potluck, you'll find a variety of casseroles, perhaps some ham on rolls, a plate of deviled eggs, a plate (or several) of veggies and dip, depending on the occasion, you might find a bag of Taco Bell, or a bucket of KFC, and a whole table filled with assorted desserts.  This is the problem with potlucks and parties that request you "just bring something, you know, a dessert or an appetizer."  Appetizers are supposed to whet our appetites for the main course; they also provide extra filling in your stomach so that you aren't tempted to overdo it with dessert.  Therefore, at least in my mind, fewer appetizers = more desserts.  And too many desserts = tummy ache, a la the Good Ship Lollypop; also = weight gain.
So I've decided that I need to branch out more and find some good appetizer type dishes to bring to the gatherings that are coming up.

Here's the first new dish in my repertoire.  Several people told me how good it was, but I still think it needs tweaking:

Pepper Cheesecake
1 block cream cheese, softened
4 oz hot pepper jelly
1 egg
5 oz shredded sharp cheddar
2 cloves of garlic, minced

Blend everything together with a mixer, or by hand.  Pour batter into a greased 6" spring form pan. Bake at 350*F for 30-35 min. Spread a little jelly over the top before serving, if desired.

I did a couple things differently from this recipe. First off, I added a couple of tablespoons of my last batch of ricotta cheese.  

Secondly, the pepper jelly I made this year was not so hot.  It tastes good, just lacks the spiciness you would hope for.I think the scotch bonnets I bought were not actually scotch bonnets, but a milder pepper.

So I put in the 1/2 cup of pepper jelly, and then I added a hand full of thai peppers.  You know, the tiny ones.  Mostly, I removed the seeds and membranes before chopping; there were about 5 that I chopped up and threw in the bowl with the seeds and membranes.

It needed to be used. Thirdly, I didn't have a 6" spring form, so I just used an old glass dish that I have, probably 6"x4". Maybe smaller on the 6" side.  It worked just fine.

Now, when I put this out at the party, I put a note next to it that it was spicy.  There were kids there, and I didn't want anyone to start a fire in their mouth. But I think the note caused it to be largely avoided. At least until the end of the party.  Then the hostess came into the kitchen, famished from not having eaten in several hours, and raved about it.  She made all her family come in and try it too. I had very little left to bring home.

Just a note, though, when you're working with hot peppers, wear gloves.  Simply washing your hands afterward (even 4 or 5 times) does not get the capsaicin oils off your hands.  This means that if you do anything like touch your face or put your contacts in, you will burn what you touch.  Think of it as really concentrated pepper spray. Trust me.

What's cooking in your kitchen?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mom's Oatmeal Cookies

     I love fall. The leaves are changing, the temperatures are dropping, soup is in the pot in my kitchen, and I feel like baking! Well, truth be told, I almost always feel like baking.  But at least when the temperatures are dropping, I don't feel guilty about heating up my house...

This weekend, I had a couple of gatherings to go to... pre-Halloween type things.  I had great plans for a costume for the one on Saturday, but couldn't get my act together in time to actually make it.  I did get my act together to make cookies and spicy cheese spread, though! I'll let you know about the cheese spread in my next post.  This one is about the cookies.

In general, I have to say that I'm not a huge fan of oatmeal cookies.  Don't know why.  Maybe because they are frequently too hard or too nutmeg-y or too cement-y or the raisins are dried and gross.  So usually, I'm not even going to bother with making them.  But recently I had a hankering for my Mom's oatmeal cookies.  Now these cookies are what all oatmeal cookies should strive to be.  These are soft and chewy, there's no nutmeg in them, and even if you use old, really dry raisins, they come out soft.  And the recipe makes A TON.  Seriously.  It came from the "large batch cooking" section of the Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery that Mom has had on her shelf ever since I can remember.  The book says the recipe yields 5 dozen, but they must be making giant cookies to get that few.  I halved the recipe last weekend and got 4.5 dozen!

So here's the recipe:

                                                     Refrigerator Oatmeal Cookies

3/4 cup granulated sugar                                                4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar                     2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups margarine, melted                                          2 tsp.ground cinnamon
4 eggs, beaten                                                                 1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups quick-cooking oats                                               1 cup chopped nuts
                                                                                         2 cups seedless raisins

If you're going to only chill for a few minutes, preheat your oven to 350*F now.
Mix sugars and margarine. I used butter because I like it better. Mom sometimes uses a mixture of butter and shortening. 
Creamed butter and sugar

Add eggs and oats. I like to make sure my eggs have been incorporated before I add the oats.


Mix in the oats!
 Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
Dry ingredients
Stir in flour mixture.

 Add nuts and raisins and mix well.
All in, and chill!
 Pack into 2 loaf pans (9 x 5 x 3 in.) lined with wax paper.  Chill thoroughly.   When ready to bake, turn out of pans and remove wax paper.  Slice 1/4 in, thick; put on ungreased cookie sheets. Or, leave the dough in the bowl you mixed it in. Cover, and chill for 15 minutes or so. Scoop out heaping spoonfuls of the dough and plop them on ungreased baking sheets.  

Scoop up spoonfuls
 Bake at 350 degrees for 10 min.  Makes 5-10 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the slice or spoonful.
Plop the spoonfuls on the cookie sheet. You can probably fit 12-15 on a sheet.
Now, I don't use nuts because I'm not a fan of nuts in cookies.  Its a texture thing- I want my cookies to be chewy and not hard. But I use half again the amount of raisins, which, if you're halving the recipe is 1.5 cups (half the recipe being 1 cup, half again being 1.5 cups) or if you're making the whole recipe is 3 cups of raisins.  You could probably throw some dried cranberries in as part of that amount, but I haven't tried it that way yet. 

You can also pack the dough like it says and  wrap up well and FREEZE it, which will make for easier cookie-ing at a later date.  In fact, I think I'm going to do this this weekend to freeze for the holidays.

These turn out beautifully, and are pretty easy to make. And they have healthy stuff in them, like oatmeal, raisins, and nuts (just forget about the stuff like butter or the more than 4 cups of sugar!) I hope you make these and like them as much as I do!

What's cooking in your kitchen?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pumpkin Guts!

Happy Halloween!

If you've already carved your pumpkin, I hope you didn't throw out the seeds, because they make a very delicious snack.  In fact, if you did throw out the seeds, go find another pumpkin- just a little one will work fine, and cut it up so you can do this!

You will need
seeds from 1 pumpkin (or two or three or however many you want to do)
Worcestershire sauce
garlic powder
onion powder
season salt

Gut your pumpkin.  Get out all the glop and gloop. 

gloop and glop

Separate the seeds from the slimy stringy stuff.

slimy stringy stuff

Rinse the seeds off and pat them dry or let them air dry on some paper towels (or a regular kitchen towel if that's what you want!)

Rinsed pumpkin seeds (hull and all!)
Turn your oven on to 400*F.
Put the seeds back in a bowl.  Shake the bottle of Worcestershire sauce over them a few times.  If you're measuring, maybe a couple of teaspoons, but not more than a tablespoon.  Shake your onion, garlic, and season salt over similarly.  Not more than a teaspoon of any of them, but especially go easy on the season salt, since the Worcestershire is already salty. 

Mix the seeds and the sauce and seasonings with a spoon or your fingers.  Spread them out in a single layer on a greased cookie sheet.  If you want particularly easy clean up, line your sheet with foil and then spray it.

Put the pan in the oven. Stir every 5 minutes or so. Don't let the seeds burn, they will not taste as good.

We like to put these in our Chex Mix.  We also like to eat them straight off the pan. One reason I like roasted pumpkin seeds so much is because the seasoning choices are just about endless.  You could go with just salt and garlic, or spice it up with some cayenne, use some fresh herbs and olive oil... just be creative and enjoy!

What's cooking in your kitchen?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Channeling an earlier age

Today, I had a good friend over. We haven't had a chance to catch up over the past month. So this morning, I baked a coffee cake, and we sat down and talked for several hours.

I think we (society in general?) have lost some of the soul warmth that comes from having a friend over and cooking for them. So often we say, "Let's go have lunch", and we meet at some restaurant where a stranger serves us different meals. Its another form of self involvement and not allowing people to get close.  But to have someone into your home (whether it's Donna Reed clean or not!), into your personal space; to consider and select a meal or a morsel that will be enjoyed by and comforting to a person you love. Shared feelings, shared experience, shared laughter, shared tears, shared love, shared food.   Part of it is solace, and part of it is the cement that binds friendships together.  Even if it is just coffee cake.

Blueberry Coffee Cake:

1/4 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup +2 Tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
4 oz  cream cheese, cut into cubes (optional)

1/2 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp butter, room temperature

Turn your oven on to 375*F.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Set them aside for a few minutes.
Cream your butter and sugar together until they're light and fluffy.

Add the egg and beat it in, too.  Start beating in the flour mixture and milk, alternating until its all beaten in and is a nice sticky batter. Add in the vanilla, and fold in the blueberries, gently.  Your batter is going to turn a light bluish purple from the berries. Fold the cream cheese into the batter too. Spread the batter into a greased 9 inch square or circular pan.

Mix the toppings dry ingredients together, then cut in the butter until it looks sandy.  Sprinkle it over the top of the batter.  It might clump.  If it does, that's okay!

Put it in the oven.  Let it bake for 45-60 minutes, until it starts to smell good and a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean. Put some coffee on while its baking.  You're kitchen is going to smell wonderful!
Let it cool for a few minutes- hot gooey blueberries are sort of like hot lava if you eat them straight from the oven!

Enjoy with friends.

Make something yummy for someone you love today!

What's cooking in your kitchen?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tuesday Chili and Wednesday Chowder

I meant to post Tuesday and Wednesday separately, but I got a tad behind this week, so you're in for a bargain if you're reading...
Its two! Two! Two recipes in one (blog)!

 Tuesday and Wednesday were grey and windy here, chilly. 
When the weather cools off like this, I crave soup.  Warm, full of veggies, hearty, and filling. Plus, they make the house smell wonderful while they cook slowly.  I usually like to serve soups with corn bread.  Pretty sure it's because that's how Mom did it while I was growing up.  But since I had the artisan bread dough left, I simply pulled out a hunk each day and baked it instead.

Both of these soups are easy.  The chili I dump in the crockpot to let simmer all day, and the chowder comes together in a pot on the stove with little effort. So without further ado:

That's a purple bell pepper up front- not an eggplant!
1 can of chili beans
2 cans of black, kidney, or pinto beans
1 can of tomatoes with chiles (like Rotel)
2 cans of tomatoes (I used one can and one fresh tomato with a can of tomato sauce)
3/4 lb ground beef
1 lg onion
1 green or red pepper
salt and pepper
chili powder
cayenne pepper
1/2 of 1 small can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (optional- will make HOT)

Put your beef in a skillet with the chopped onion and chopped pepper.
I used a purple bell pepper and a serano, for a little different flavor. They were on hand, and needed to be used.
Inside of a purple bell pepper.  Who knew?!
Add some minced garlic- one or two cloves is fine, or if you have the jar of pre-minced garlic like I do, just scoop out a spoonful.  I have a homemade taco/fajita seasoning that I add at this point- just a teaspoon or two.  If you don't have anything like this, use a little chili powder and a little cumin. 
Homemade taco seasoning!

While the beef/onion/pepper combo is getting nice and brown,
All in the pot to cook!
open your cans and pour them out into the crockpot.  Mine is a 6 quart.  I think a 5 quart will work as well, but I'm not sure about a 4 quart.  If you're going to add the chipotles in adobo, now is the time.  Let me tell you, if you do this, the adobo sauce really kicks the flavor up a notch or three, but you will amp up the spice factor at the same time. A Lot. Don't just empty the can, you'll need to chop up the chipotles inside. Seeds add even more heat, so keep them at your own risk!
Add about a tablespoon of chili, 2 teaspoons of cumin, 1 teaspoon of oregano, and start with 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne.   You can adjust this seasoning mix to your own personal taste.

Drain the beef- or don't if you like.  Dump it into your crockpot.  Give it a stir.  Turn your crockpot on low for 6-8 hours, or high for 4-5 hours.
You should smell this in your house!

Potato Corn Chowder:

This is one of my favorite soups from when I was a kid.  Its so creamy and smoky with bacon.  Its usually the second soup I make every fall (after chili!).  One of the great things is that you can save yourself a bunch of time by using all frozen veggies. Don't use pre-cooked bacon though. Trust me, it just doesn't work.

3 cups chopped potato
2 cans of corn (or 1 box of frozen corn- tells you how old this recipe is- do they even make boxed frozen veggies anymore?)
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp parsley flakes
1/2 lb bacon, fried crispy and crumbled or rough chopped
1 1/2 c milk
2 Tbsp flour
1 small box of "pastureized processed cheese food product"

Okay, so let me get this out of the way first.  This has "plastic" cheese in it.  I know its not a "whole" food. Actually,  its not real food, but just a food product.  I DON'T make a habit of using it, in fact, I think this is the only recipe I buy it for. Probably, you can make a cheese sauce (toasting a little flour and butter, adding some milk, and then some shredded cheese) and use that instead.  If you do this, and it works, let me know.  You'll definitely deserve a kitchen salute.  But this is a flavor of my childhood, and so I choose to use the Velveeta when I make this, approximately twice a year.  

Put your corn (with canning liquid), potatoes, onion, salt, pepper, and parsley in a dutch oven type pot. Add enough water to cover (but not drown!).  Bring it to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are soft.
All that steam means the taters are cookin'! It also means you can't really tell what this picture is!

While all that's cooking, crisp your bacon.  But don't burn it. Because then you'll have to use the extra package you bought for breakfast on the weekend.  And that would be very sad.

I tried to do the bacon in the oven, instead of the stove (messy) or microwave (hard to clean up). But it burned.
 Add the bacon and milk and continue to cook for a few minutes on a medium low heat. Maybe 5, maybe 10, just don't scorch your milk!   Now, in a small bowl or measuring cup, mix some of the liquid from the pot with the flour.  Use a fork and break up the lumps.   Once its smooth, add it to the pot.  This will help thicken the soup. Cook a few more minutes. While its cooking, cube up your velveeta.  Maybe 10 minutes before you want to serve it, dump the velveeta in the pot.
This is what it looks like while the velveeta is melting.
Stir it until its melted through. Fresh parsley makes a nice garnish, but its not strictly necessary...

I love this with hot fresh bread, or hot corn bread, or no bread at all. Dip yourself a bowl and keep warm!

What's cooking in your kitchen?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Monday Made Up: Lasagna Pizza

The funny thing about trying new things in the kitchen is that you have to decide what to do with your finished product. Eat it? Give it away? Incorporate it into something else?  After all, there's only so many jars of apple butter that you can eat (well, maybe.  I do like my apple butter!)

In my case, I have this artisan bread dough and the ricotta I made on Saturday.  I could just make several loaves of bread.  We like bread here at my house, and the loaf only makes 4 or 5 slices.  The ricotta cheese is really really fantastic by itself, or with some fruit.  But I also like ricotta in lasagna, and I've heard that the artisan bread dough makes fabulous pizza crust.  Also, you should know that I have a half jar of spaghetti sauce in my fridge right now, as well as a block of mozarella.  Almost the makings of pizza (no pepperoni) or lasagna (no noodles in the pantry).   Which is where my brain took off.  Why not combine the best of both?!

Now, one thing I didn't have on hand was Italian sausage.  I did, however, have some meatballs in my freezer, ready for use, and I thought, "Perhaps these will work!"

So here's the directions for my concoction:

rising dough

 Turn your oven on to 450* F.  Take out a lump of the artisan dough in the fridge. Follow regular directions for shaping. Let rise for 20 min or so on the pan you plan to bake on. Or follow the directions for whatever pizza dough you're using.

shredded cheese
In the meantime, shred up 2/3 of a block of mozarella cheese (16 oz)
Defrost your meatballs and cut them in half, or if you would prefer Italian sausage, go ahead and fry it up.

Mix about a cup of ricotta cheese with 2 eggs, or 1 egg and 1 egg white (because I had an eggwhite leftover), plus several tablespoons of dried or fresh parsley and several tablespoons of parmesan cheese. And maybe some minced garlic and oregano or basil. And a few dashes of salt.
ricotta cheese mixture
Stretch the dough out to the shape you want it, rectangular-ish, or circle-ish. I suppose you could even do triangular-ish if you so desired, but I think that might make the pieces strangely shaped.

Spread some spaghetti sauce over the dough. Or use whatever pizza sauce you like. Top the sauce with your meatballs, or cooked sausage.  Take a spoon and dollop the ricotta cheese in big piles on top of the meat.  Use the back of the spoon to spread it out over the top. Sprinkle the grated mozzarella evenly over the top of everything.  Pop it in the oven for 20 minutes or so.
sauce and meatballs
dollops of ricotta on top
shredded mozzarella over all

First Slice
Now, we liked this, and I think it captured the essence of lasagna for me.  But I also thought it was missing something- some... oomph.  Perhaps it was because of the meatballs.  They're great with spaghetti, or on subs, but not spicy enough for pizza.  Or it could have been because I was using jarred sauce rather than homemade.  But the texture and creaminess of the ricotta paired well with the flavors I expected on the pizza (and were even enjoyable with the way it actually tasted!) I think I will try it again with Italian sausage, and hope that provides the balance that the pizza part of this dish needs. 

What are you creating today?