Category: Cooking

Holiday Goodies

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I’ve been contemplating some holiday goodies lately.  I don’t do a large scale bake-a-thon because I don’t need to be eating that much sugar. 

Yeah, I know, but it sounds good, right?  🙂

Midnight Bliss Cake

One item has been returning to my mind: the Midnight Bliss Cake that Kraft and Bakers One introduced us to years ago.

Check out the recipe here:  Bakers One Bowl Midnight Bliss Cake.  I like to play with flavors, so I’m contemplating replacing the chocolate bits with Andes Creme De Menthe Baking Chips.

This cake is an easy to prepare show stopper that can be baked in smaller bundt pans to be wrapped and gifted.  It is moist, however, so be thoughtful of the amount of time between creation and gifting.  Wouldn’t want the cake to be stale when first bite is taken.

Cocoa Cinnamon Pound Cake

The cocoa cinnamon pound cake is another easy to do showstopper recipe that I was first introduced to by Hershey.    It has a rich flavor with a touch of cinnamon that is different. 

Check out this recipe from Cooks.com:  Cocoa Cinnamon Pound Cake.  It is also one that can be made in smaller pans for gifting.

I hope you check out these two recipes and enjoy both.  They are great additions to a dessert table, pot luck, holiday fare or for gifting.

Categories: Cooking Food Gifting

Simple Luxuries

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As you no doubt can imagine, I love a good cup of coffee.  I’m a bit particular about it, in fact.  I also enjoy a good cup of hot tea.

Sometimes, however, I want something to go with the beverage.  Something a bit … extravagant.

I love a good scone.  Cookies are nice, cupcakes and doughnuts are fine – sometimes even preferred.  But there are times when I want a good scone.

A few years back I came across a scone mix that was so simple, so easy – and so flavorful – that I thought it couldn’t possibly be good.  I was wrong.

Sticky Fingers Bakeries produces a scone mix in a variety of flavors that ticks so many boxes I don’t mind the $ I pay for them.  You literally add water, shape as you desire and bake.  That is it.

If you can make drop biscuits or drop cookies, this mix is for you.

I just got my order from Amazon and I am debating which to try first: pumpkin cranberry, raspberry white chocolate or peppermint chocolate chip.  They are all new to me.  I love their blueberry, but there is a list of flavors that are sure to appeal to just about anyone.

No, they are not cheap and they are hard to get.  Because they use only the best ingredients, some flavors are not available year round (grab the pumpkin quick) and because they are limited the price point can be a bit high.

But a good scone with a good cup of coffee or tea?

Heaven!

Categories: Cooking Food Musings

Fall Dinner

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Looking for something a little different?  This is an old recipe that I’ve used many times over the years.  It is a slightly different take on dinner that is easy to prepare, works well with a side salad and simple dessert and can easily be used for Company.

Broccoli Beef Squares

Course Main Course
Servings 4 people

Ingredients

  • 2 c Broccoli — Chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 c cheddar cheese — Shredded
  • 1/3 c onion — chopped
  • 4 ounce mushroom pieces
  • 2 c Bisquick® baking mix
  • 1/2 c water
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 1/4 c Parmesan cheese — grated
  • 1 Dash pepper
  • 4 eggs

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Fresh Broccoli – steam until almost tender. Drain.
  3. Brown ground beef; drain. Stir in the onion, mushrooms and 1 1/2 cups of the cheddar.
  4. Mix baking mix, water and the remaining cheddar cheese until soft dough forms; beat vigorously 20 strokes.
  5. Pat dough in greased 13/x/9 pan with floured hands, pressing dough 1/2 inch up sides.
  6. spread meat mixture over dough; sprinkle with broccoli . Mix remaining ingredients, pour over broccoli.
  7. Bake uncovered until golden brown and knife inseerted near center comes out clean – 25-30 minutes

Recipe Notes

1 10 ounce package frozen broccoli, thawed and drained, can be substituted. Do not cook.

Categories: Cooking Food

Pantry Patrol

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Getting the pantry, freezer, fridge and stash under control.

I admit it.  My kitchen is a mess.

No, I don’t mean the unwashed dishes, I mean the mess of a collection of food items that I have no real understanding what I own.

I am a big proponent of a pantry.  A well stocked pantry allows lots of meals to be made without a last minute trip to the store, or in some cases, fast food drive through.  We won’t discuss food delivery.

To clarify:  “Pantry” includes the contents of the fridge, freezer, cabinet and anyplace else you stash food items.

My pantry has gotten a bit out of hand lately <cough> and it is time for me to take a few minutes to determine what I have, what I need and what can be tossed.

I don’t buy a lot of things in bulk, but there are a few items that always hit that list.  Because I like to cook ahead, I look for chicken breasts, ground meats and a roast or two.

If I made my own stock, I would be looking for bone in items – chicken wings, for example – that would be used to make stock or broth.

Pasta is another item that I like to have a variety of.  Dried pasta, that is.  Why?  Pasta dishes are quick, easy and inexpensive. 

Did You Know: Pasta shapes were designed for different sauces.  Some collect sauce either on or in the shape, while others allow for the right amount of sauce to collect on the shape.

I like to have a selection of ‘cream of’ soups on hand, too.  While mushroom may be the ‘go to’ item, I look for chicken, broccoli, celery and pretty much any other cream soup flavor.  I use them in sauces and casseroles to add flavor and enhance creamy textures.

The price range on these soups can be broad, but I have found that, for the most part, store brand and low fat versions work just fine. 

I like to keep evaporated milk on hand, too.  It is a great tool when cooking and a lot cheaper than using bottled milk.  The ratio is 1 to 1 (or 1/2 cup evaporated milk to 1/2 cup water) and even the non fat versions add a richness to the dish that you don’t usually get with just plain milk.

Cheese is a staple in my house.  I love a variety of types and flavors and use them in a variety of dishes.

At the end of the month, if there are left overs hiding in the fridge, they make a fantastic Clean Out The Fridge Mac & Cheese.  🙂

Bread is an item that is totally dependent on my mood.  I either eat a lot of it, or not much.  I like to have a good Toasting bread on hand.  I love a good sourdough, too.  Tortillas (flour and corn) can be great in wraps, tacos, and quesadillas.

If you have never explored the bread aisle or the bakery aisle in your store, you are missing out.

Because I don’t cook for a crowd, I don’t stock a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.  I stock a lot of frozen fruits and vegetables.  I do have fresh tomatoes on hand and I will pick up salad makings when I’m in the mood, but for the sides to main dishes or additives to casseroles, frozen is my choice.  Except for green beans.  I really prefer a canned green bean.  <shrug>

Why frozen over fresh?

I hate waste and I know that it is most likely that I won’t be cooking and eating fresh fast enough to avoid overripe produce.  There is also the uncertainty factor of knowing just how long the fresh produce has been on a truck or in a warehouse before it gets to the store.  Frozen is flash frozen as soon as it is picked – at the peak of its flavor and ripeness – and the cost is lower.

Now, if you have been reading this and thinking about your own kitchen, keep in mind that my situation is a little different in that (a) I don’t have kids and (b) I don’t cook for a lot of people so (c) my needs are different.

At the moment, my slow cooker is busy making dinner and I’m gathering my list to determine what my next shopping trip needs to include.  Chaos averted!

Categories: Cooking Food

Taste Testing

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We are creatures of habit. 

This was brought to my attention several years ago when I purchased my first Kindle.  I discovered that when I walked into a book store, I automatically went to the same sections.  I was looking for works by favorite authors or in favorite genres, ignoring pretty much the rest of the shop.

Believe it or not, the Kindle gave me access to parts of the store I would never have ventured into and, as a result, I discovered authors and genres that I came to enjoy as much, or more, than my tried and trues.

I’m coming to believe that many of us approach our food choices in much the same way.

I’ve been a fan of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country for years.  Both the shows and the magazines, usually include a segment that is the taste test.

Professional and amateur cooks and eaters try a specific food in different brands to determine which is preferred and if it is necessary, or worth, spending $$$ for high end brands.

The results are interesting and the instruction (or back story) of the food is quite educational and helpful.

I recently discovered a BBC production, Eat Well For Less?, that focuses on addressing large food bills by looking at alternatives.  Before you freak out, no they do not always promote the less expensive items.

What I am discovering is that many of us are attracted to what appear to be sales offers, specials, specific brands, and are willing to pay a premium amount for them.  Even when it might not be a good idea.

A recent show had a couple who discovered that their favorite tea, the brand they thought was best, didn’t taste as good as they thought once the fancy label had been removed.  In fact, the one they preferred, tasted better and cost less.

What I find interesting is the thought that because we get into these shopping ruts, we might be doing the exact same thing as the couple with the tea. 

What would happen if we got together with a group of friends and put on a taste test?

Something as simple as an agreement for each couple to split the bill for the test items and have a sample party.

It could be a simple test of a variety of snacks, drinks (soda, coffee, and the like) and such or a broader check of a meal.  When you head off to the store, a selection would be purchased from the higher to lower price points.

The products would have to be blind packaged (put into plain containers with simple labels) and someone could be the designated data keeper.

If nothing else, is would be a great conversation starter. 

If you would like more information on this process, check the links in the text above.  Some, or all, of the programs can be found on YouTube, so you can see what they are up to and how you might construct your own tasting party.

Let me know what happens!

Categories: Cooking Food Musings

Mental Health Days and Why I Craft

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I recently came across a link to an article that got me to thinking about why I craft.  The article:  When A Woman Needed A Mental Health Day Off Work, Her Boss’ Response Shocked Everyone.

There is an old saying that if you do what you love, it isn’t work.  To a point, I would agree.  I’m like several of my friends and acquaintances, I enjoy the day to day processes of running an office.  That doesn’t mean that any of those projects, or jobs, is not work.

I have a passion for food and I love to cook.  Sometimes the act of cooking is more job than hobby, but not always.

I love reading, listening to music and watching film and television.  While I have a better than average knowledge of the behind the scenes functions of most of those activities, I have never had the pleasure of being employed in those industries.

Quilting is a new-ish addition to my life that encompasses my fondness for color, pattern and (believe it or not) geometry.  🙂

I do these things in varying degrees because it relieves stress, allows me to create something out of my own imagination and gives me an outlet to not think about the 9 to 5 day to day grind.

I think it can be looked at as mini-mental health days.

I know people who look at hobbies as stress replacements.  They are not so much into a hobby as a way to relax as a way to do something until they can do something else.  I don’t understand that, either.  🙂

I also know people who have no real understanding of, or use for, hobbies.  There’s work to be done, why waste your time?

I had a parent who worked hard most of his life.  He also spent a good amount of that time doing things he actually liked doing (hence the reminder of doing things you love not being work…)  But there came a time when he was no longer physically able to do the projects he loved.

As he had no hobbies, he was left with nothing to fill his time with.  And he ended up having a lot of time to fill.

My suggestion to you is the lesson I learned watching this parent deal with life.  It is all well and good to have things you love to do, but diversify a bit.  You never know when it will be in your best interest to spend time doing things you never thought you would.

If you are a hiker, what would you do if you broke a leg and couldn’t do that for a while?  If you had issues with your sight, how would you deal with not being able to read printed text?

You get the idea.  Work is a wonderful and productive way to spend time and earn a living.  It provides a great sense of self worth.  But work is not the end all or be all of a life.  It should be a part of the whole.  Find something that you are interested in and give it a try.  Doesn’t matter what.  Once you find a passion for something, you will notice that the world is a bit lighter, perspective a bit brighter and work is less, well, work.

Cast Iron Cookery

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I’ve long been a fan of cooking with cast iron.  The pans heat well retaining an even heat for long periods.  Usable in most, but not all, appliances, the cookware is sturdy and long wearing.  It is one of those things you pass on to your kids.

Unfortunately, for those of us with arthritis, the heavy weight of the cookware can be a negative.

When I bought my new stove a couple of years ago, I purchased a smooth top electric range.  It ticked all the boxes I wanted and needed, but did not allow me to use my cast iron on the stove top.  I gave it away.  🙁

During a recent bout of at home world exploration, I found myself watching a series of British shows which featured local homes.  I was fascinated by the reaction of visitors to the home kitchen.  Most, when they saw a particular appliance, were thrilled.  Said appliance was an AGA cooker.

I was so curious, I looked up the AGA on Google.  Imagine my surprise to learn that this cooker is a cast iron range that is able to use electricity, coal, or gas or a combination. 

I was fascinated to learn the history of this appliance and how it has become the true center of many homes.  Check out AGALiving.com to learn more yourself.  This article is also worth reading:  Is An AGA Cooker Worth The Investment?

These things are not inexpensive, either.  As with the cast iron cookware, it is something to be passed down to the next generation.

I will always suggest the use of cast iron to cook with.  The end results are often high quality, and with a minimum amount of care, the pans become non stick easily and over time. 

I would love to own – or at least have the opportunity to use – an AGA cooker.  From what little I’ve seen and learned, it is an appliance that is a true work horse in the home.

Categories: Cooking Food Musings

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