Posts Tagged ‘Cooking’

Ginger Snaps, Cookie Belly, and a Minor Freak Out

My Cookie Baking Spree

My Cookie Baking Spree

I’ve spent the last 3 days packing up Christmas. There’s a sticky spot of sap on my right hand from taking the ornaments off the tree and I’m sitting here writing this because it seems like a better idea than hefting our now de-ornamented tree out to the curb.

Christmas is my favorite holiday. I like the sparkle and the lights and the hope and joy and songs… it still holds that magic for me that it did when I was a child staring out my window looking for Santa and it gives me the calm peace I always feel after singing Silent Night in a darkened church while holding a lit candle. But this year I had a hard time finding my spirit. My cat Ruby became suddenly ill the second week of December and in a matter of 3 days time went from being perfectly fine to dead. She was only 5. At the same time there was the awful shooting in Newtown, CT that I connected with so deeply as I’m the mom of a 1st grader and a teacher. I felt cracked, sad, disjointed and not fully involved. My Christmas spirit was there but only in hints and whispers and quick moments. At the same time it was a very THANKFUL time. My Man was supposed to be shipping off to parts across the world on December 21 for 6 months away – that trip was cancelled. I can imagine the alternate universe we three would have experienced without him and I know we were blessed and lucky and so fortunate to be the 4 of us. By Christmas Day I did find my joy. The pageant at church, the tour of tacky Christmas lights we took, and my children’s excitement lit my heart and allowed me to be present and happy and glad for the holiday.

I went on a bit of a baking spree this holiday. I made many, many, cookies and I ate many, many, cookies. Which leads me to a phenomenon I call Cookie Belly. I watch what I eat, I exercise regularly, I’m no super fit firm mama, but I’m at a good healthy weight and I think I look pretty all right for an almost 42-year-old. My goal is to stay like this for the rest of my life. My baking did not help that goal. I developed a nice little 5 pound cookie belly from all my sampling and snacking and enjoying. By the end of January I’ll lose that belly – but if anyone who knows me wonders why I’m wearing the same jeans all the time it’s because they are the only ones that fit! My Grandma G’s Ginger Snaps were worth every pound of that Cookie Belly. Here’s the recipe for you to enjoy.

Ginger Snaps

  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  1. Mix together shortening, sugar, molasses and egg. Add dry ingredients and mix well.
  2. Roll into balls and roll in granulated sugar. If you were my grandma you’d make very small balls, if you are me you will make biggish ones.
  3. Bake at 375 F for 8-10 minutes until set when touched lightly. They begin to crack on top and are usually set a minute or two later. They need to be lightly browned on the bottom and not jiggly on top.

If you make these I guarantee you will love them.

The day before Christmas I was getting ready for family to arrive. I began to become a small freak out mess as I got overwhelmed with all the tasks I wanted to get done. My family heard my little tirade about chores and they said to me – no worries and they all chipped in. Buddy picked up toys and organized and put everything in its place. My Man vacuumed the entire house. Little Miss cleaned the bathroom. And my self-induced freak out mess stress just melted away as I felt the love of my family. Christmas morning I opened my present from Little Miss. There was a paper in a box that said on it, “do not go into the hall bathroom”. My sweet 7-year-old explained that I actually could go into the bathroom because I got my present early – she was going to clean the bathroom and she had already done it the day before. She knows me so well – a gift of cleaning is always appreciated – and I also got a hug.

Oh So Good Chocolate Nut Biscotti

As a former teacher I think I have the right to say that teachers love a treat…. especially food! When I worked in a school and the word was put out that there were donuts, or cake, or fruit, or burritos or really anything in the teacher’s lounge you had better get your running shoes on because if you didn’t get there early the gettin’ was gone. At the school my kiddos go to the PTA must have heard the word on teachers liking goodies. The first Friday of each month they put out a spread in the teacher’s lounge to celebrate all the teacher birthday’s for that month. So I do my part – every other month or so I bake.

I sometimes just whip up a box of brownies, but more often than not, I use this opportunity to try a new recipe. Last month I tried Chocolate Nut Biscotti.

I really like Biscotti – it’s especially fun to dip it in coffee – but I’ve never made it. I found this recipe on the inside wrapper of a bar of Ghirardelli baking chocolate and I thought I’d give it a go. Not only was it pretty easy to make (even though there are MANY steps) it was DELISH. So delish that I sent half to my kid’s school and the other half to work with My Man so I wouldn’t gorge on the chocolatey goodness. There’s coffee and lots of butter in the dough and it’s dipped in chocolate. Seriously worth making.

Because the recipe was from a Ghirardelli wrapper, of course it’s going to tell you to use their chocolate, but if you have a favorite brand I’m sure it’ll do too. The recipe makes about 30 biscotti.

Be sure after making these that you store them in the fridge. If you keep them at room temperature the chocolate gets all melty (at least it did in my house).

Ghirardelli Chocolate Nut Biscotti

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 TBS instant coffee
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (I used almonds)
  • 1 bar(4 oz) Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Baking Bar, melted (I think that this is a fancy way of saying semi-sweet. I melted the bar in the microwave)

Coating

  • 2 bars (8 oz) Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Baking Bars
  1. Preheat oven to 325F
  2. Lightly butter and flour a large baking sheet
  3. Stir in eggs, instant coffee, and vanilla in a small bowl until well blended, set aside.
  4. Mix the flour baking powder and salt in a medium bowl, set aside.
  5. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer set on medium speed until light and fluffy
  6. Beat in the egg mixture
  7. Gradually add the flour mixture, beating well after each addition.
  8. Stir in the nuts and chocolate.
  9. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions.
  10. On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into two logs, each 14″ long, 1 1/2″ wide and 1″ thick.
  11. Place the logs 4″ apart on the prepared baking sheet.
  12. Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.
  13. After cooling, cut each log diagonally into 3/4″ thick slices.
  14. Bake for an additional 12 minutes or until slightly dry.

Coating:

  1. Melt chocolate
  2. Dip each of the biscotti halfway into the melted chocolate
  3. Place the biscotti on a wax paper-lined tray.
  4. Refrigerate until the chocolate is firm.

If you give this a try, let me know – I’m always curious to see if y’all like what I do.

Fry Up This Fish!

Rachael ray

My never ending quest for new recipes has led me to Rachel Ray. I am not a fan of her show, her gravelly voice kind of gives me a little of that fingernails on chalk board feeling, and the whole acronym for Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is cute, but not necessary.  I am a fan of her garbage bowl idea, except that if you do that then there is another bowl to wash and then there is her entire marketing a bowl just to use for food scraps and such. Really, do people buy these when any old bowl would work?  I usually have a garbage pile – think paper towel with cooking trash on it…. easy and no bowl to wash.

So, maybe because I’m not a fan of her show I’ve never delved into any of Rachel Ray’s recipes.  When I have watched her on TV (flipping or stuck at the car dealer or what not), what she does cook looks delish (and when she says Yum-O I truly believe it is!), but I’ve never had any follow through to try her recipes myself. Until I did.

I’ve already spoken of my love of trying new recipes and my recent new found love of getting cookbooks from the library… well, a few weeks back I checked out a Rachel Ray cookbook called Rachel Ray’s Look + Cook. I’m a sucker for a book with beautiful photos of food and this one had it. But… in the three weeks I had the book in my possession I only tried one recipe (just because of vacation, requests of old favorites, eating out) The good news is  the one and only recipe I did try was delish and will be a repeat performer in my kitchen. My Man was out of town when I made this dish so only Little Miss, Buddy and I were able to rate it. Little Miss and I gave it an A and Buddy gave it a blech… but really I may just take my most picky eater out of the equation on this one…. I think most of what I make he thinks is blech.

So, here’s the recipe for Chili-Lime Fish Fry

  • 4 tilapia fillets
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  •  1 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 limes
  • 2 TBS chili powder
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 TBS chopped fresh thume leaves or 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup vegetable, canola, or safflower oil.
  1. Season the fish with salt and pepper.
  2. Arrange 3 shallow dishes; place the flour in one, beat the eggs in the second, and put the bread crumbs in the third.
  3. Season the breadcrumbs with 1 TBS grated lime zest, the chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder and thyme.
  4. Coat the fish in the flour, eggs, and seasoned bread crumbs.

Meanwhile…..

  1. Heat the oil in skillet over medium to medium-high heat.
  2. Cook the fish for 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until deeply golden and crispy.
  3. Season with a little extra salt and top the fish with lots of lime juice.

It was very easy and the fish was mouth watering yummy. I’m thinking it’d be good in fish tacos or in a salad or on a sandwich made with a crispy roll and a little tarter sauce or  just by itself.

My cooking tip: use pasta serving bowls for your flour, egg, breadcrumb dippers. They are just the right size!

How I changed the recipe: I didn’t change much in this one. I used dried thyme instead of fresh and dried onions instead of onion powder (which I just did not have).

Get out your frying pan and give it a try. Enjoy!

A Little Bit of Yum for Everyone

I’m OK with the fact that in any meal I make I can’t please all the members of my family. It’s a rare day that each and every person is making lick smacking yummy noises… and so I don’t even try. What I do try is new recipes all the time. I am definitely not the housewife who cooks spaghetti every Monday and tuna casserole every Tuesday. I do have repeat recipes that I throw into my repertoire, but every week I try one or two new things.

The kids and I have been heading to our local library every couple of weeks. They get a bunch of picture books, the latest Boxcar Children chapter book (they are hooked on this series… I’ve been reading it to them and they LOVE it), and a few DVDs. I get a book to read and lately I’ve been getting cookbooks. It’s a super way to try new recipes without investing the money in a book you may or may not like. Last week I checked out Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson. I’ve heard her on NPR and always thought she had a delightful way of speaking of food but I’ve never made any of her recipes…. until now.

Last night I tried Spanish Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes and man was it good. It’s a very easy oven bake recipe that uses just a few ingredients. Here’s what she says to do… and I’ll tell you how I changed it (because of course I can’t follow a recipe exactly!)

  • 2 TBS Olive Oil
  • 12 Chicken Thighs (bone in, with skin)
  • 1 3/4 pounds chorizo sausages, whole if baby ones, or cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks if regular-sized
  • 2 1/4 pounds baby white-skinned potatoes, halved
  • 2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • grated zest of 1 orange
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Put the oil in the bottom of 2 shallow pans, 1 TBS in each. Rub the skin of the chicken in the oil, then turn skin-side up, 6 pieces in each pan.
  2. Divide the sausages and potatoes between the 2 pans. Sprinkle the onion and oregano over, then grate the orange zest over the pans.
  3. Cook for 1 hour, but after 30 minutes, swap the top pan with the bottom pan in the oven and baste the contents with the orange-colored juices.

And that’s it.

But…. I didn’t use 12 chicken thighs… that’s seriously a lot of chicken for a family of 4… I just used one package which had 5. I also used red potatoes as my grocery store didn’t have white, and instead of chorizo sausages I used a pound of smoked sausage. While My Man and I would like the spicy-ness of chorizo, the kiddos may not. I also used just one onion because I’m not a super oniony person.

I’m sure Nigella’s version is superb, but mine was a hit as well. Buddy liked the sausage, Little Miss liked the chicken and potatoes, and My Man and I liked every little bit. In her cookbook she also gives a suggestion for what to do with your leftovers…debone the chicken and chop the entire mess of chicken, potatoes, and sausages up to use  as a filling for quesadillas. And, since quesadillas are my go-to for many a leftover I was all over that. I used a mexican blend shredded cheese to quesadilla it all up and we had it for dinner tonight with salsa. Delish.

Many of my tries are one hit wonders, or one hit disasters, but this particular dish will fall into my rotation and will be made again.

Buddy Asked For a Cake

Buddy turned 5. I’m having a little bit of a hard time with the fact that my baby is definitely not a baby. I’m happy he still will climb in my lap and he grabs my hand when we’re crossing a parking lot…. but some time this summer he became all skinny legs and big boy. I like to see my children growing up. I like to see them doing more for themselves and becoming independent… but sometimes I just miss the baby….

Birthdays are a big deal around here. It is THE day that the birthday person gets to make all the choices. Buddy had been mulling many ideas about what kind of birthday he wanted… superheroes? camouflage? Cars? Cars (as in Lightning McQueen) won out. We were going to have a Cars birthday.

Buddy has a summer birthday. I never had to experience this being a February girl, but I’ve heard that when you are a kid, summer birthdays suck. You don’t get to take a treat in to school. All your friends are busy with camps and vacations and general lolling around and it’s very hard to orchestrate a party. As a mom (who loves birthdays, parties, and cake) I feel it’s my duty to ensure that my boy will not have a sucky birthday. We have only been in our new digs for 3 weeks and while Buddy may have no school friends yet My Man and I know a bunch of people in the area who have kids… so we invited them all to our home for a party.

When Little Miss turned 5 she too had a Cars birthday. Our house was on the market (it feels like the last two years have been about moving or getting ready to move or having just moved) and I couldn’t handle doing the whole party thing at home so I outsourced and we celebrated at a very cool Children’s Museum in Edmond, OK. I’ve done many a shaped cake (don’t worry… all very mommy with crumbs in the frosting) but that year when Little Miss mentioned a cake shaped like Lightning himself,  I just couldn’t do it. Luckily she was so impressed with the birthday venue she was cool with a plain rectangle cake with red frosting and a Lightning McQueen candle.

Buddy was different… and I was different… I was ready to tackle a cake that looked like Lightning himself. First I did some Googling and I found a super website called www.coolest-birthday-cakes.com and then I got stressed out. It looked hard to make this cake. All the photos were of perfection with intricate frosting and fondant and real wheels taken from a toy car. How was I going to do this? Then I found a YouTube video that gave me hope. I watched a step-by-step plan on how to make the cake and I decided I was ready to roll.

I started with The Best Chocolate Cake Ever (which I’ve just posted the recipe for on a page on this site). I made a basic rectangle which I cut into 3rds after it cooled. I planned on stacking all three pieces but it got too high so stacked 2/3rds and  I made a separate little chocolate frosted cake for those who wanted extra chocolate. I “glued” the two pieces together with home-made chocolate frosting. After studying my model,  I made the cuts to create the car shape (ie made a hood and a spoiler on the back).  Once the cuts were made I was able to frost it with butter cream frosting (the recipe on the box of Domino powdered sugar) dyed red.

 I used Oreos for wheels and then the fun part. Fondant! This stuff is great. I just bought the Wilton pre-made at Michaels. It rolls out smooth and is easy to dye different colors. Using this I was able to cut out the shapes of the windows, headlights, Rusteez sign, mouth,  lightning bolts and a big number 5 for the birthday boy.  I added some M&M’s for eyes and voila… Lightning McQueen! The final product was super cute even if the frosting was full of crumbs. 

The birthday boy was happy and his mamma was proud. My baby may be leaving me (his sister did long ago and she’s just a year older than him!) but at least I can throw him a super cool party on the way out the door.

Love = Tzatziki

There are some tastes that my mouth craves. Curry comes to mind, or a soy sauce-wasabi-ginger combo, Cheez Doodles, spicy mustard, green chile, pizza (NY style please) and tzatziki. I love tsatsiki  – it’s the best part of a gyro!

I tried a new recipe that was a thumbs up all around and it combines two of my favorite things – it is a sandwich and it has tzatziki. The recipe comes from the April 2011 issue of Real Simple and it is quick, and easy, and very yummy.

Chicken Pita with Tzatziki                                         Chicken Pita With Tzatziki

serves 4

2 TBS Olive Oil

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless, chicken thighs (I used breasts)

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

kosher salt and black pepper

1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt (I used no fat)

1 cucumber, seeded and grated (about 1 1/4 cups)

1/4 cup fresh mint

1/2 clove garlic, finely chopped

4 flat breads or pocketless pitas, warmed

1 small romaine heart, leaves torn if large

8 cherry tomatoes, quartered

  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with the cayenne, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper. Cook until cooked through, 6-7 minutes per side. Cut into bite size pieces.
  • Meanwhile, mix together the yogurt, cucumber, mint, garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • To the flat breads with the romaine, chicken, tomatoes, and tzatziki

This entire meal takes about 1/2 an hour to make. I served it with fresh fruit on the side.

Cook it up, serve your family, and enjoy the delishousness that is tzatziki!

There is Nothing Better Than a Good Sandwich

The cast of Friends in the first season. Front...

Image via Wikipedia

You know you are a member of my generation if you find yourself relating everyday experiences to Friends episodes. When that show was new I was living in a city, single, and the same age as they were… I thought it was beyond cool when the  merchandiser who worked at the store I did put a little frame around the peep-hole in the door of his apartment. I laughed, I cried, and I could relate to each character as I watched the show every Thursday night. And there are two episodes that come to mind that feature the world’s best meal – the sandwich.

You know the two… there is the one where Ross freaks out because someone eats his sandwich (the only good thing in his life) and the one where the boys are riding along with Phoebe’s cop boyfriend, and when a car backfires Joey dives over Ross (or so Ross thinks) to save him but was really trying to save his sandwich.  Never before, or never since (at least from what I’ve seen) has a sandwich been featured so prominently on a TV show.

I LOVE a good sandwich. There is something just so yummy noise out-loud good about a taste combination that involves bread (I will NEVER give up carbs) and some sort of concoction of ingredients that blend together just perfectly to appeal to the palate.

I’ve got two new sandwich’s for you to try. The first is a recipe my brother sent me  and the other is a taste sensation that I’ve been eating lately that I think is so yum I start thinking about my lunch pretty much right after breakfast.

#1     Bay Shrimp Toast –

Melt a decent amount of butter (1/4 stick), add 2 or 3 pressed cloves of garlic and saute, add Bay Shrimp – those little pre-cooked ones (although when I did this I used medium uncooked shrimp and cooked them myself) and cook lightly. Turn off  heat. To finish add pepper, dry parsley flakes, and a generous squirt of fresh lemon juice.

Take the shrimp mixture and spread it over a sliced baguette, drizzle extra butter from the pan, add a light amount of parmesan and broil until toasted.

#2     My Favorite Sandwich of Late

Take two slices of your favorite bread. On one slice layer some turkey (try Boar’s Head Oven Gold turkey from the deli – sliced thinly), add some thinly sliced tomatoes and then add some thin slices of feta cheese. Sprinkle with dried oregano and top with other piece of bread. Did I mention that I like everything sliced thin?

This is good as-is, or if you want to Panini it up it is just as delish that way as well.

Enjoy trying these and be sure to hulu yourself up a Friends episode to watch while munching away!