Category: Food

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

Breakfast. Easy. Anytime.

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I love breakfast.  Anytime.  Anyplace.

I’m also the occasional lazy cook.  <shrug>

I developed this…process over time and it seems to work no matter what I use.

Potatoes

Hash browns are pretty iconic.  They are also pretty interchangeable.  Potatoes are potatoes pretty much any way you prepare them.  For ease and budget reasons, I keep tater tots in my freezer.  Years ago I discovered that if you wanted some really radical hash browns without the work, let some tater tots defrost a bit before you put them in a hot skillet with a little bit of oil or butter.  Smash em and let them brown.  Crispy, crunchy and everything a hash brown aspires to be.

The only thing easier is to put them in the oven.  Hmmm.

Step One

Set your oven to preheat at the temperature on the package of tater tots you are using.  Usually this is 350 degrees, but it could be a bit higher.  Line a baking tray with foil and put the required amount of tater tots on the tray.  Once the oven is hot enough, put the tray into the oven and set your timer for 1/2 of the recommended cooking time.

Bacon

In my house, the breakfast meat of choice is bacon.  I like ham or sausage occasionally, but not enough to hassle with it at home.

Step Two

If you are cooking bacon from a raw state, you might want to put this in before – or with – the potatoes.  Check out this article from AllRecipes for more information.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and get out your broiler pan.  Why a broiler pan?  It allows air flow around the bacon and the dripping falls into the bottom of the pan allowing easier clean up and a lot less mess.  Don’t forget to line the bottom of your broiler pan with foil.  Save yourself work!

Lay the bacon side by side on the pan.  You don’t need to put a lot of room between slices if you have a smaller pan or a lot of bacon, or both.  Try not to overlap the slices.

Put the bacon into the oven for at least 10 but up to 20 minutes.  Watch carefully because it can go from perfect to perfectly inedible in a flash.

NOTE:  You can put the tater tots and bacon into the oven at the same time and temperature, but be mindful that you will need to adjust cooking times for both.  I’d suggest using the 350 degree temp for both which will allow you a bit more time.

Waffles, Pancakes, French Toast

Remember I said to set the timer for 1/2 of the recommended cooking time for the tater tots?  Frozen breakfast breads like waffles, pancakes, etc. can be heated to a perfect state in the oven.

Biscuits may take longer, but any frozen waffle, pancake or french toast strip can be put on the baking tray in that last 10 minutes and reheated.

Step Three

When the timer goes off, put the breakfast bread of choice on the baking tray alongside the tater tots and return to the oven for the remainder of the cooking time for the tots.  Check your bacon – if it is done to your liking, remove it and set it aside to cool.  If not, leave it in the oven for a few minutes more.

Keep an eye on the bread items because they will heat FAST and get crunchy before you know it.  Not a problem if you like your french toast or waffles in that state, but not really great for pancakes.

The last ten minutes are important.  You will want to watch to be sure nothing gets overdone.  This means you may be pulling things out before that 10 minutes are up.

Eggs

While your oven is taking care of the majority of breakfast, you can spend a few minutes cooking your eggs.  Or not.  Your choice.

Finale!

When all the component parts are cooked to your preference, turn off the oven, set the baking tray aside and dish up.  If you used foil to line your pans, most of your clean up is also done.  If you use precooked bacon, the cooking time will be seriously reduced – I usually add it onto the pan along with the waffles.

Notes

You can always precook a batch of waffles, french toast or pancakes and freeze them.  I often buy a large quantity of tater tots to be used for a variety of meals, but you can also buy premade hash brown patties.  I don’t recommend putting the shredded or home style versions in the oven as they are made more for cooking in a pan rather than on a sheet pan.

Ham and sausage are always options.  Try them in the oven and see what happens.  Of course, you could also cook them on the stove top while the rest is in the oven.

You might also find that my timing is off for your oven.  It happens.  The first couple of times you try this – and you know you will – make notes about what you tried and how it worked.

Categories: Food

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

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

Magic Journeys

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I am a relatively new fan of YouTube’s personal content. By that I mean those folks who create content for non-commercial viewers. I got my first taste looking for walk throughs of the Disney parks and discovered Justin Scarred and Randomland. Then, because I love food, I looked to see what else I could find, and came across Magic Journeys – a foodie vlog focusing on foods found in the Disney parks, Knotts Berry Farm and Universal Studios.

A Different World

Food vlogs cover a wide variety of topics and ideas, but Magic Journeys has always aimed to give the viewer an armchair view of the foods, restaurants and possibilities that can be found in the parks.

I love that hosts/presenters Mig Vee and Janell both love to eat and love to share what they discover.  They are honest about their experiences, so the viewer gets an honest opinion.  Mig Vee is not much into fruits and veg, while Janell loves a good salad or fruit plate.  Janell loves (and I mean LOVES) chocolate.  Neither is a fan of old or stale bread.  While neither can be considered a gourmet, both know what they do or don’t like.

I love when they explore the Food Festivals!  These have really taken off in the past couple of years expanding to cover both Florida and Anaheim parks.  The offerings are varied and almost always unusual. 

Not Like Other Food Vlogs

Lots of food vlogs seem to approach the same types of content with an air of expertise that is fine, but just doesn’t do it for me.  Kind of like reading Gourmet magazine when I really just want to skim through Taste of Home.

I do watch some food vlogs that focus on food preparation, but that is not what I look for when I aim to watch Magic Journeys.  I want the experience of walking through the parks, picking up a great snack or sitting down for a nice meal.

Check Them Out – Explore

You can find Magic Journeys by going to YouTube.com and searching for Magic Journeys in the search box.  Don’t forget to subscribe and click the bell to get notification of their newest videos – and don’t forget to click the “LIKE” button if you like what they’ve offered.

Go back and see their earlier work – the Knotts Berry Farm Chicken Dinner vlog is amazing!

Categories: Musings Vlogs

Keeping It Simple

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Sometimes I just want something simple, easy and tasty. 

I love to eat.  Food is fascinating to me – all the flavors, colors, textures.  The combinations seem to be endless. 

Have you ever considered that chicken is chicken no matter where it is prepared?  That pasta with a lovely tomato sauce can easily translate into pizza with a tomato sauce – and not forget the cheese.  That the Sunday Roast, no matter what kind of roast, is the same in the UK, Canada, US and hundreds of other places.  Dumplings…dropped onto gently simmering broth or steamed or pan seared or rolled out and cut.

The irony of food is that no matter how hard we try to gussy it up, at its base it is simple and straightforward.

I went out for lunch with friends recently and was treated to a lovely cheese gnocchi with grilled chicken in the most amazing cheese sauce/broth.  Simple, easy, flavorful.  Wonderful.  The idea came from a soup recipe that evolved into a main dish that was no longer soup, but carried all the great ingredients to new levels.

With all the cookery shows and emphasis on dinner in a box delivered to your door, I think we might have inadvertently lost the idea that good simple food is what most people crave.  Yes, we do enjoy the fancy meals, but not every day.  We don’t always have time to prepare the amazing creations that those fancy meals call for.

I don’t mind left overs and I am not afraid of cooking forward.  Which is why a lot of my cooking is geared toward make ahead meals.  I like to cook a batch of chicken to use during the week or put aside in the freezer.  Same with a roast or ground meats.  I can try new recipes with part of the batch and put the rest aside for later use.  Saves me time and allows me to experiment a bit.

But there are those times when all I really want is a lovely roast chicken and a pot of rice.  Steam some veg on the side (usually broccoli or carrots) and I’m happy.

Summer lends itself to adding fresh tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots or turnips to the table.  If you haven’t tried them in their raw state, I highly recommend it.  The flavors and texture are different.  It doesn’t hurt that it helps the battle with the waistline, too.  Fresh vegetables and fruits are a lovely way to lighten a meal and add great flavor. 

As you contemplate your menus and prepare your shopping lists, think about testing out some little things to see what you like.  Add the new favorites to your list and see what you can add the next time.  Above all, enjoy!

Categories: Food

Recipe Helpers

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Meals and Time

School is rapidly approaching.  Along with the lists of school supplies and clothes needed for the new year is the contemplation of meals.

There are ways to cut down time spent in the kitchen and avoid wasted food in the budget.

Fresh vegetables are a joy in season, but when the weather is cold and you don’t have a farmer’s cellar with vegetables put away for the winter, what do you do?

Make Use of Your Freezer

Take a trip down your grocer’s freezer aisle and see what is in stock in the vegetable section.  You should be able to find the tried and true items like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, mixed vegetables and broccoli, but look for the groupings of vegetables that have been cleaned and prepped for cooking.

PictSweet has a line of vegetables designed to help out the cook.  Peeled, diced (or sliced) and frozen, these bags of tasty morsels lend themselves to quick soups, stews, casseroles, and side dishes.

Birdseye has a line called Steamfresh that is designed to be prepared in the microwave.  They also have a variety of vegetables with different flavor profiles.  There are also lines of veggie made pastas and fries and tots.

NOTE:  All frozen vegetables can be prepared in the microwave.

Next check out the meat case.  Your grocer will no doubt sell large quantities of poultry and ground beef at good prices.  What this means is you can use these items as building blocks for meals that can be prepped ahead of time and tucked away in your freezer.

One of my local grocery chains has a pick 5 for $25 deal going most weeks.  You pick 5 items from a variety of cuts of mean or poultry and pay only $25.  It is a fantastic way to stretch the budget and fill the freezer.

Building Blocks?

Take five or ten pounds of ground beef, a bag of prepped onions, celery and carrots, some salt and pepper and a large skillet or two and a stock pot or dutch oven and brown all the meat with the additions. You don’t want to put it all in one pot, it will need room to cook and brown.  Drain and bag in one pound portions, labeling the bag adding the preparation date.  Tuck it into the freezer.  You now have five or ten separate bags of meat prepped for casseroles, stews, chili, or sloppy joes.

Or you could take five pounds of ground beef, separate it into two two pound portions and one one pound portions add one pound of your favorite sausage mix to each of the two pounds of beef and one half pound of sausage to the one pound of beef, add salt, pepper, garlic, onion and whatever you like in your meatloaf.  Mix, and bag in the size you prefer, label and tuck into your freezer.  You now have either 2 large and 1 small or 5 small meatloaves.  Or you could use a portion to make meat balls.

The chicken or poultry can also be precooked – I like to put a large flat of boneless, skinless chicken breasts into my slow cooker and cook until done.  I can either cut up the cooked chicken or bag individual pieces.  I now have the start to a pot pie or chicken and rice or a base to use for dumplings.

Freezer labels should include the following:

  • Item in the bag – chicken breast meat
  • Date prepared – 07/01/18
  • Seasonings included – salt, pepper, onion, garlic

If you prepare dump meals be sure to include the cooking instructions.

What’s Next?

This is going to take some time, but it will be worth it.  Really!

Now that you have taken that trip through your grocery store and found out what they have in stock, you can put together a list of all the family’s favorite meals.  Take your time.  Think about Taco Tuesdays and Left Over Nights.  Do you have Game Nights or Movie Nights?  Are there some meals your family really love?  Pizza?  Sandwiches?

Collect those ideas and your favorite recipes.

Boredom Killers

Are there particular brands of food you like?  Betty Crocker, Tyson and the like?  Check out their websites for new recipes and coupons.  For example, I love Near East rice pilaf, but during a recent trip to their website I found new products I wanted to try.  I made sure to add them to my shopping list – and bookmark the recipes.

Congratulations!  You now have the foundation of a meal plan that could take you through the school year.

Categories: Food

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