Monday, December 30, 2013

Cranberry Salsa

Okay, so maybe you are an open-minded foodie and not even phased by the idea of cranberries as salsa. But if someone had come up to me five years ago and been like, "Hey, do you want some cranberry salsa?" I would have looked at them like they had just stepped off of Mars. Fortunately, I tasted this without knowing quite what it was. It was with a plate of crackers at a party. It was pretty. So I ate it. And then I loved it. I bet you do too.

It is punchy-ish, with a bit of sweet-ish. It's served with cream cheese, but good by itself as well. You can eat it with crackers (my favorite) or with chips. It's also pretty awesome on a leftover-turkey sandwich.

This is from the same friend who gave me the recipe for cranberry pomegranate relish. She says she can't even claim this salsa recipe anymore because so many people have asked for the recipe and make it for their own parties.

Cranberry Salsa
prep time: 5-10 minutes
Cost: $2.75
cranberries:  (Aldi prices) 1.00, onion: .15, peppers: .15, sugar: .10, cilantro: .15, ginger: .15, lemon: .05, cream cheese: 1.00

1 bag cranberries, rinsed and drained
1/4 C minced green onions
2 jalepeno peppers, cored, seeded, and minced
1/2 C sugar
1/4 C cilantro leaves, minced
2 Tbsp grated ginger
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 8-oz package cream cheese (don't mix this in--you serve it with the salsa)

Now you could just throw all this stuff into a food processor and have at it. But I didn't. I worried that by the time I got my onions and peppers small enough to not be offensive to anyone that I might have mushy cranberries. So I gave the onions, peppers, cilantro and ginger a good chop first (it only took a few minutes and gave me some piece of mind). Then I processed the cranberries in the food processor until they were somewhat chopped. Then I added the other ingredients and processed for a few more pulses until the cranberries are finely chopped but not mushy (we're not making jam here, although I'd bet with a little pectin, you probably could--hmmm) and the other stuff is well incorporated.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (You really must do this; it's not NEARLY as good straight off).

Place your cream cheese on a serving platter (I like to smush it up a bit, but you don't have to). Then dump the salsa over it and serve with crackers or chips.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mock Champagne (with raspberry option)


Sometimes people drink to loosen up (not at Mormon parties--there we play Qwirkle). But sometimes I think people drink just because it's hard to resist such a pretty drink in such a pretty glass.

Well, non-alcoholic-beveraged friends, now you get to join the pretty party. No more standing around with your Dixie cup, looking twelve while everyone else at the party/restaurant celebrates the season with important-looking stemware. Grab yourself a glass and ring in the new year.

This drink is intensely beautiful. It starts out a light amber color with the raspberries floating on top.

As it sits, a little blush starts to seep into the drink from the berries and over time it becomes redder and redder.

(You can see that this drink has been sitting for a while and is now quite red)

Tip: Get your glasses from a second hand store. They usually have a trillion and you can find a fun assortment or pretty ones for cheap. And then it won't matter if you, your kids, or your party-goers break one.

Note: I should tell you that I don't drink and therefore have no idea if this actually tastes anything like champagne. All I know is that it's bubbly and the color is right (before that raspberry color seeps in).

Mock Champagne (with raspberry option)
adapted from here
prep time: 1 minute
serves 20
Cost: $5.50 (this is about $.27/serving--ha! take that alcohol drinkers)
ginger ale: 2.00, grape juice concentrate: 1.50, raspberries: 2.00

2 quarts ginger ale
1 frozen white grape juice concentrate
raspberries (frozen or fresh)

Combine ginger ale and white grape juice concentrate.

Add raspberries if you wish.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Yule Log with Vanilla Sponge Cake, Caramel Cream Filling, and Chocolate Frosting

Yup. Looks like a log. With yuliness.

I've never made a Yule log before. The whole idea of rolling up a cake has just always seemed too fussy and disaster prone for me to want to mess with. But when we got a cookbook called Baking with Kids from the library and there was a Yule log in it, well, after the kids saw it, I didn't have much choice.

And the fact is that I did everything within my power to mess up this dessert and it still came out tasty and log-shaped. By which I mean--if I can do it, so can you.

For this recipe, you're going to make a simple sponge cake. I realized something when I made it--sponge cake--sponge cake is what a Twinkie is supposed to be. Sure, a Twinkie is an Americanized, processed version of the sponge cake, but that's what it's supposed to be. Anyway, I'd never made a sponge cake before. It's an airy, yet dense-ish cake that uses a lot of eggs and is very very simple to make. On it's own, it seemed kind of European--by which I mean not intensely sweet. Don't worry. Because I'm an American, darn it. So I filled it with caramel cream. Which is definitely one of the best concoctions I have ever discovered in my cooking journey and the thing I would ask for in my stocking if a) it wouldn't be a crazy mess and b) it wouldn't cause me to gain 400 pounds. And then we frosted it with Kip's fudge frosting.

Now a few things are important to make this log successful. I'm going to give detailed instructions with the recipe, but let me give you a head's up. First, you need to roll the cake up (unfilled) while it's hot. I know that sounds a little counter-intuitive, but it works. You cover it with parchment paper, you roll it up. And then when it's cool and ready to fill, you unroll it and fill it and it rolls right back up because it's in a shape and it wants to be rolled. However, if you try to roll it when it's cool, well, you simply can't, so don't try.

Second, the caramel cream is not really firm enough to be the filling. I was really mad at Martha Stewart for this for a few minutes, but then I tasted it and sort of forgave her, but let me take a small minute to rant and say that celebrity chefs have NO excuse for turning out ANY recipes that absolutely do not work in every way that they are supposed to work. These chefs have money and staff and just everything. Their recipes should be perfect in every way. So when Martha simply tells me to fill my log, I don't expect it to ooze out the ends of the log. But it did. As a result, I had to plug my log. When you make your cake you need to cut off part of the end so you have two little bits to plug the ends of your log. Or find a different filling (the original book recommended Nutella and that would have been nice too--and easy), but I have to tell you that for all its ooziness, this filling is incredible. Incredible. Still, Martha, shame on you and your fake posed pictures of food that was clearly not made with this recipe.

Third. This recipe calls for an 8x12 jelly roll pan. I didn't have that and used a 9x13 inch pan and it worked fine.

Fourth: Everything has to have time to cool--the cake and the caramel for the filling. So don't try to whip this up in an hour or two. It won't work. You need to start 4 hours ahead of time so things get cool enough.

Yule Log with Vanilla Sponge Cake, Caramel Cream Filling, and Chocolate Frosting
adapted from Baking with Kids (cake) and Martha Stewart (filling)
makes 1 9x13 cake worth of logginess
Prep time: 15 minutes cake, 40 minutes filling, 7 minutes frosting
Cook time: 10 minutes (cake)
Cooling time: 4 hours
Cost: cake: $.80, filling: $2.50
sugar: .10, eggs: .40, butter: .20. flour: .10
cream: 2.00, sugar: .25, sour cream: .25

For the Cake:

1/2 C plus 1 Tbsp sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbsp butter
1 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 400.

Spray an 8x12 inch Swiss roll pan or a 9x13 inch pan with cooking spray. Then lay parchment paper over the bottom (note: if you skip the parchment paper, you will want to murder yourself).

Melt butter and leave it there to cool while you do the rest.

Combine sugar and eggs. Beat for about 5 minutes or until they're lighter in color and a bit thicker.

Add vanilla.

Add flour and baking powder and fold in. I folded it and my cake came out perfectly, but folding does take a while if you want to get the flour lumps out. I was very tempted to beat the flour in and I felt like it would have worked fine. However, try this at your own risk. You don't want to beat the air out of the eggs mixture.

Drizzle butter in and fold it in.

Pour into pan and bake for 9-10 minutes or until you press the cake and it springs back.

Take out of the oven. Let cool for 1 (ONE) minute. Lay a piece of parchment paper on your counter and dump the cake onto that parchment paper. (This will work fine if you put parchment paper in your pan; if not, you're going to want to start stabbing things.)

Peel the top layer of parchment paper off (this will be the parchment that was in the pan while the cake cooked). Now, roll up that cake with the other parchment paper (the new one you dumped it onto; yes, I should have taken pictures; I was just so sure it wasn't going to work, but then it did). Be gentle, but firm. I rolled mine long-ways so I had a long roll. Roll it up, then let it sit seam-side down and cool COMPLETELY.

Do you see how it's been rolled with that parchment paper around it? That will make it easy to unroll when the time comes. 

For the filling: 

Note: you can use Nutella and make your life easier. You can. No one will judge you. This filling is fussy and time consuming. But I cannot emphasize enough how thoroughly awesome it is. This makes too much for the log and you'll have tons leftover with which to sabotage any healthy lifestyle habits you have, so consider that a bonus if you wish. 

1 1/2 C sugar
1/2 C water
1 C cream, warmed
1/4 C sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 C cream, whipped (yes, another C cream--this one you will whip)

Pour water into a pan. Pour sugar into the center of pan in a mound. You can gently nudge the sugar into the water so it soaks it up. Cover pan and let the sugar melt and the water boil. Eventually it will start to darken. Remove the lid and reduce the heat to low. Let the liquid darken until it is amber-colored.

When you reach that point, whisk in the cream. It will bubble and may seize (harden) a bit, but just keep whisking. You'll have beautiful caramel. Let this cool in the refrigerator (I put it in a separate dish; I don't want it to keep cooking in the pan.) until it's cool.

Note: That was a best case scenario. I messed mine up, but it still worked out. If your sugar re-crystalizes, that's annoying (it'll look like clumps of sugar in your pan), but just stir it patiently and smash any big lumps until it melts, turning dark. If it seems to be darkening before all your clumps are melting, take it off the heat, smash the clumps, then put it back on and keep repeating that as necessary. (Yeah, it's a pain.) When I was done, I still had some good lumps, but didn't dare leave it on the heat longer because I thought it might burn. So I just strained out the lumps and all was well. I put in in the fridge and let it cool.

When it's cool, add sour cream and vanilla.

Leave this to sit for 2 hours (yes).

When you're ready, whip the last cup of cream and then fold that into your cooled caramel mixture. It will be awesome and any mean words you said while you were fussing with your caramel you will take back.

For frosting:

Kip's fudge frosting

To assemble:

Okay, so your log is thoroughly cool. Unroll it and peel that parchment paper off.  It will still be sort of rolled up. Cut about 1 1/2 inches off the end (this is the bit of cake you'll use to plug the ends of your log).

Plop in some of your caramel cream filling. When you get enough in that it's threatening to come out the ends, use some bits of the cake you cut off and put them into the ends to sort of plug the ends. It sounds crazy and it was slightly annoying, but I liked that caramel cream enough to get over it. Add more cream until it fills your log.

Put the log seam side down on your dish.

Frost it to look log-like.  I had a pretty little topper and used that. You can use powdered sugar sprinkled on to look like snow, or candles, or figurines, or whatever you want.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Banana Nutella Smoothie (with Spinach)

So every week my children consume several cups of raw, fresh spinach.

How, you ask, do I accomplish such a thing with the pickiest kids on earth? 

Answer: Nutella (and banana and milk). And, yes, apparently I've become one of those people who just throws Nutella into everything willy nilly. You can make a different type of green chocolate smoothie. It's delicious, but by using Nutella, well, everything is just so so easy. 

It's not a perfect solution for encouraging spinach consumption, I admit, but I actually only use a little Nutella (1/2-1 Tbsp per cup or so of spinach); the banana is the main sweetener. In fact, you can make this perfectly delicious without the Nutella or with some peanut butter instead--feel free if you think I'm a big pushover of a parent. But do let me say, in my defense, that each serving (1-2 C spinach) has only 1/2-1 Tbsp Nutella. That's actually just about 9 grams of added, non-natural sugar (yes; the banana also adds some sugar, but I don't count sugars from fruits and I don't think WHO counts them either in their daily sugar recommendations). If I gave my kids a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios (which I regularly do), they would consume that much added sugar in a serving as well. And as far as I can tell there is no raw spinach in Honey Nut Cheerios. So, ha. 

For better or for worse, this is two of my kids very favorite smoothie and I'm just happy to have them eat it. I have to say though that this isn't one of those "hidden veggies" recipes. This smoothie is either very green or brownish-green, so, yeah, you may want to have them try it blind-folded first. We served it to some friends once and they looked at my like I was a crazy loon. But then they liked it and asked for it the next time they came. The end.

Banana Nutella Smoothie (with Spinach)
makes 1 smoothie
Cost: $.75
Nutella (generic): .15, banana: .15, milk: .15, spinach: .30

Note: This recipe is a template. You can use more or less Nutella, more or less spinach.

Note: The banana must be frozen for this to work well. When my bananas get too brown, I peel them and break them into pieces and throw them in the freezer (in a Ziploc bag--I don't just hurl them into the freezer). It's one of the best things I ever started to do. If you don't have frozen banana, you can freeze some quickly by slicing a banana into thin slices and putting them on a cookie sheet in the freezer.

1 frozen banana (must be nice and ripe)
1 C spinach (I usually use more, but try this for starters)
1/2-1 C milk
1 Tbsp Nutella (I use generic)

Put in blender and blend until smooth. If you're only making one serving (like this), you'll probably want a smaller blender. If you've only got a big one, double this recipe.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Really Easy French Toast Casserole

There are plenty of French toast casseroles out there right now--some decadent, some soggy, some fussy, some divine. I was searching for one because one week after church my three-year-old took a loaf of blah white bread that was leftover from the soup kitchen (um, I think--she sort of just showed up with this loaf of bread). And then she proceeded to whack it against things--the floor, the walls, her brother--whatever her little arms could reach. By the time it got home that poor loaf was nothing more than chunks and crumbs, but I'm pretty sure it's a sin to just waste the leftover soup kitchen bread that someone gave to your three-year-old. So I made the easiest French toast casserole ever. And I'm glad I did. Not only was it very easy, but it was also the perfect vehicle for using up leftover nubs of bread. You don't have to run out and buy challah or French bread or anything whatsoever. You just have to take that dry nasty slice that one of your children left on the counter and throw it in a big bowl to dry (or the freezer). You can make it healthier if you usually eat whole grain breads. Or not, if you don't. Also, when served it tastes a LOT like regular French toast. Not fancy or overly sweet, but very French-toasty. And nobody had to stand around by a hot skillet dipping bread in an egg batter for 20 minutes either (yeah, that makes me sound pretty lazy doesn't it?).

We ate ours as a breakfast-for-dinner with syrup and fruit on the side. But the next day. Oh, the next day. The next day I cut it and then pan-fried it in a bit of butter until each side was golden and, dear Hannah, it was completely amazing in every way (better than a donut people).

Really Easy French Toast Casserole
adapted from Taste of Home
makes 1 9x13 inch pan-ful
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 40-50 minutes
Cost: $2.05
bread: .80, eggs: .80, milk: .40, other stuff: .05

Note: You can make this ahead and let it sit in your fridge overnight. This is what the instructions tell you to do. I made it just before dinner and let it sit 5 minutes and then baked it (rebel without a cause, that's what I am). It was not soggy in some spots and dried out in others. However, if you're using a dense type of bread, you're going to need to give it a longer sitting time, so it can soak up and then distribute the milk/egg mixture. My cheap white bread just soaked that egg up. Your nice challah and wheat combo might not. So let it sit until it soaks up most of the egg/milk mixture.

Note: Since it is that pumpkin time of year when we put pumpkin into everything, I subbed out an egg for 1/4 C pumpkin puree. Glad I did--I mean I was going to serve a pan full of white bread to my family and tell them they could put syrup on it. I'm sure some traces of vitamin A didn't hurt.

Note: Ideally your bread will be on the dry side. My mother always had a bowl of drying bread in the kitchen. We usually made bread pudding with it (this recipe is a lot like bread pudding, only with less sugar). However, if your bread isn't dry, no biggie.

1 loaf bread (or enough to GENEROUSLY fill that 9x13 inch pan)
8 eggs (or 7 eggs and 1/4 C pumpkin puree)
3 C milk
4 tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp salt

Set oven for 350.

Grease your pan. Grease it, I say.

Place bread cubes into pan.

In separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and salt (and maybe some pumpkin puree). Pour this over bread.

Refrigerate overnight or for 8 hours.  Remove from fridge 30 minutes before baking (this is the type of step that makes me wonder why do the do-ahead step at all, but I think it works for some people). Alternately, you can skip the whole fridge thing and just wait till your bread has soaked up your egg/milk mixture.

Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes. The original recipe said to cover the pan. I missed that step and was actually happy with the crispy top I got. So, it's up to you--crispy top or not. Remove from oven when knife inserted comes out clean and the center seems set.

Serve with maple syrup or powdered sugar or whatever your poison happens to be.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Nutella Cookies

And now our theme of EASE has spread into cookie land.

It's getting to be that cookie time of year. People will be posting elaborate cream-crispie-delicate-shatters-candy-sprinkles-painted-by-professional-artists-made-of-chipped-gold-and-frosting cookies, and perhaps some other delicacies. Nothing wrong with that. But sometimes this time of year is also really really busy. (Or is it just me.) Sometimes there's an event that calls for a cookie and there aren't cookies lying about. Grocery stores make a killing off of this sort of thing because that's where we go when we need some quick holiday cookies for a dinner, church, or school event and we just don't have time to churn out one more home made creation. We buy either those ultra nasty cookies that come in plastic--the sugar cookies with the frosting and sprinkles. Ugh. (I really can't stand these things, so don't even try to defend them). Or we can get some type of pre-made dough, which is much better tasting, but still a little painfully tube-a-licious.

The following recipe is good for times when you need cookies fast. This can be just because you need cookies fast (because the chocolate crazed demons in your head say so). Or because there's an actual event for which they're necessary like the PTA luncheon.

They take two minutes to mix together. They taste delicious. They are chewy and soft. The Nutella prevents them from being 100% homemade, but then so do chocolate chips really (yeah, I'm making excuses, but if you want to be a Nutella hater, then fine--it'll be a lonely place). Speaking of Nutella-haters, I have always been a fan of Nutella, per se, but not always a fan of recipes that utilize Nutella. They just seem so cheatery--like putting ten gallons of colorful frosting on a cake--well, of course your child is going to pick that one. Nutella is similar--throw it into the title and half the world will pin it even if it's Nutella and Doodoo Casserole (um, please don't pin this under that caption). Also, it's not a whole food (though it can be homemade if you're not in a hurry), and it's just indulgent. It used to be a seasonal item. You could get it around Christmas-time. And it was a little pricey. And came in smallish containers. Not anymore, my friends--for better or for worse. Now you can get it year-round, Sam's carries a bulk version, and there are knock-off versions to be found. This is great for chocolate-crazed demons, but it can be bad for our waistlines and just a little less special special. However, it is still good news for your time-crunched cookies.

These can be served plain and yummy or they can be dressed up with white frosting and sprinkles. Or used as cookie sandwiches.

And then maybe rolled in sprinkles or colored sugars (homemade if you wish) or crushed peppermint sticks. Or miniature figurines of Santa Claus encrusted in pearled sugar and gemstones. But you see that I stumble into crazy territory. Go there if you dare, but know that you don't have to.

Nutella Cookies
adapted from Tasty Kitchen
Prep time: 2 minutes
Cook time:
Cost: $1.30
Nutella (I used the Aldi knock off): 1.00, sugar: .10, flour: .10, egg: .10

1 C Nutella (or a knock off)
1/2 C sugar
1 C flour
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix ingredients together. Shape into 1 inch balls. Press down if you wish. (I didn't and they still worked out.). Bake at 350 for 7-8 minutes (remember chocolate cookies don't always look done; don't burn them.)


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Cheater Tomato Cream Sauce (still a whole food, still awesomeness)

The theme of December is going to be ease. Say it with me now: "Ease." Ah, doesn't that feel good.

Does anyone else look at Pinterest these days and think the whole world has gone insane? I mean, if I see one more list of interesting, magical, and otherwise clinically insane things that one can do with their elves, I'm going to have to die of parental magic-impairment syndrome. That, or be convicted of it in a court of law. Recently, I saw a post about someone who did something like the elf (which at least has the excuse of coming at an over-the-top-magical time of year AND supposedly inducing your children to good works by watching over their wee shoulders). Except that it was with plastic dinosaurs. And not at Christmas. The dinosaurs would do all kinds of crazy things like make messes and get into trouble--whee. It's great to be a dinosaur. This post concluded with some comment about how they (the parents) were doing it to keep their children's imaginations alive. Back in my day, imagination meant that you--the child--took your plastic dinosaurs and played games with them. Now apparently it means that your parents do random things with them in the middle of the night (which include, but are not limited to getting into bowls of goop, which the parents--presumably--will at some point in the day have to clean up--it kind of blows my mind). But I've digressed.

My point is that my kids will obviously have to live through a magic-less childhood. Not only that, but I am also going to tell you how to cheat on dinner.

Here's how you make this sauce. You take your regular spaghetti sauce. And you add a block of cream cheese. You heat it and mix it and let it melt. The end. It tastes delicious. And fancy. And it's an excellent compliment for pasta with bacon, sweet sausage, seafood, or--my favorite--mushrooms (see above). Normal sauce is great and all, but it's just too acidic to go well with quite so many flavors. This can be part of a ten-minute meal, but it doesn't taste like it. I love that in a food.

Cheater Tomato Cream Sauce
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cost: 2.50
tomato sauce: 1.50,  cream cheese: 1.00

1 can regular tomato sauce (or this delicious and easy homemade sauce)
1 8-oz block of cream cheese

Heat, mix, serve, eat.

PRINTABLE RECIPE--whatever--save yourself the paper; your elf probably made it into hundreds of tiny snowflakes anyway. He must be exhausted.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Chicken de la Gaynor

(another night-time picture--please forgive)

Gloria Gaynor (as in "I Will Survive") has just released a new book that is a compilation of essays of people who have survived various struggles. I happen to have written one of those essays. My essay is about seeing my mother a few months before she died of a brain tumor.

So if you're looking for an inspirational read, check it out. It's called We Will Survive. You can find it here.

The publicist for Ms. Gaynor's book asked the contributors if they had any blogs, etc. where they could promote the book. I'd be happy to, I said, but I just have a food blog. Well, lo and behold Gloria Gaynor eats; she even cooks. They sent me this recipe for me to include in the blog. I thought that was pretty cool.

The even better thing was that the recipe was yummy and easy. It can be made whole food style or pantry staples style. It can be made in the oven or in the crock pot. It is very adaptable, as I learned by having not quite the right ingredients for one thing and accidentally forgetting to add something else (that's how dinner rolls around here).

It's a perfect little recipe for putting dinner on the table through the craziness that can be December.

Chicken de la Gaynor
from Gloria Gaynor
serves 6
prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30-40 minutes
Cost: $5.90
chicken: 4.00, cream of chicken soup: .50, mushrooms: .60, sour cream: .50, other: .30

2 lb chicken (Gloria recommends wings; I only had breasts, so that's what I used)
10 oz cream of chicken soup (I made my own chicken white sauce)
3 oz can sliced mushrooms, drained (I had regular mushrooms, which I cooked in a bit of butter)
8 oz sour cream (okay--I managed to get that one right)
1/4 C whole milk
1/4 C cooking sherry (forgot; it was still delicious)

I cut my large chicken breasts into strips. You can just leave it at that and throw them in the oven with salt and pepper, but I like to brown mine in some olive oil or butter first. To do this: Heat olive oil in skillet, add breasts (with salt and pepper), and cook the breasts until they're browned. They don't need to be cooked through. They're going in the oven. (Note: You can totally skip all this browning and throw them in the oven, but I like to do this with chicken breasts because I think it adds more flavor).

Heat oven to 425. Throw breasts in the oven (you know in a pan and stuff).

While the chicken bakes, you're going to pour cream of chicken soup and sour cream in a pan and heat it. Then you'll add the milk, sherry, and mushrooms. When the chicken is just barely cooked through (20-40 minutes depending on how big your chunks of chicken are--I always just cut into the fattest one to check it). Pour soup mixture over chicken, return to oven, and cook fifteen more minutes.

We served it over rice with broccoli on the side and it was delicious. We ate all the chicken and the next day I just had sauce and mushrooms over rice, which was also delicious.

Potential adaptations:

Crock Pot: I have not done this, but I am 99.9% sure it will work. Just throw everything in the crock. Eight hours on low; 4 on high. Done.

Homemade: You'll notice above that I was missing several canned ingredients. It wasn't a problem. For the cream of chicken soup, I made a simple white sauce. Here's how: Melt 2 Tbsp butter. Whisk in 2 Tbsp flour. Cook one minute. Whisk in 1 C milk and 1 tsp chicken granules (one cube bullion). Stir until it just starts to boil and thicken.
-For the mushrooms, just slice and cook in butter until they're lightly browned.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Abundant Earth Works--a post about jewelry, not food

And here we have another post that is not about food.

Soon this is going to be one of those blogs where people just post about boots and hairstyles and stuff. Okay, probably not.

But I did get something really amazingly beautiful for my anniversary in November. I was so happy with it that I wanted to give a little call-out to the shop Abundant Earth Works and the designer Dawn on Etsy. She's not a personal friend or anything. I didn't know her at all until I asked her to do this necklace for me (uh, which was from Kip for our anniversary). I just was so so happy with the necklace she made me. And since it's Black Thursday weekend now seemed like a good time.

I should tell you all that I have a small jewelry addiction. Not the fancy stuff from those corner jewelry stores in the mall. No. I find them a little boring and a lot overpriced. In fact, I noticed last year when I went from store to store looking for an original-looking mother's ring that all the rings from every jewelry store in town looked exactly the same. In fact, everything sort of looked the same. I've always liked jewelry that looked a little different from everybody else's. It doesn't hurt when it has a $20 price tag instead of a $200/2000 price tag either.

In particular I tend to love stones. No, I don't mean diamonds. I'm talking about, you know, rocks. I love them. Nerdy style. Like me and my kids will go to these "shows" put on by the lapidary club and just spend hours looking at rocks. Last year, at one such event, I got a piece of polished chrysocolla for free with another purchase. It was so so beautiful, but I didn't really know what to do with it. It sat on my shelf for quite some time and then I thought maybe I'd try to find someone to wrap it for me. I checked many many shops on Etsy. They would mostly do it for between $30 and usually closer to $50 or $60. That was a little high for me. But Dawn at Abundant Earth Works did it for less than $20. Which is remarkable in and of itself, but she also did a bang up job. I linked to several examples of wrappings that I liked, sent her my stone, and then crossed my fingers and left her to do what she thought best. (I've done this with other Etsy jewelry people before and found that we often just don't see eye to eye, no matter how anal my descriptions are of what I want). What I got was better than anything I could have imagined. I mean, it was just gorgeous. The picture looked better than what I'd pictured and then the actual necklace was even prettier than that. I've never been so happy with a jewelry purchase before--especially one I had asked someone to design (meaning I didn't really know what it would look like at the end).

You don't have to have a random stone hanging around your house either (though if you do, we could totally be friends). She's got plenty of stones on her shop to choose from.

So if you're in the market for something pretty, unique, and not bank-breaking this holiday season, give Dawn a try. She's having a Black Friday sale through Dec. 3rd where she gives at least 15% off (and up to 25% depending on how much you spend). Do it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Green Beans with Pine Nuts and Lemon

(nighttime picture; arg)

I know everybody's all crazy about the green beans with cream of something something something and also cheese. But there are things I like better. Especially on a day when I'm already eating turkey with gravy, potatoes with butter and gravy (and maybe some sour cream mixed in), stuffing with about 12 cups of butter melted therein, that sweet potato casserole that we all know is not a casserole, and PIE. Yes, hopefully lots of pie. As one of my friends said (and a true doctrine of my life as well): If I'm going to have to choose between the beans with cream of something something something and cheese and another piece of pie, well, I'm taking the pie.

But wait, now you don't have to. Because you can now have amazing green beans and eat your pie too. Or maybe eat your pie two. (Ha ha. How clever am I, right? Yeah, don't answer that.)

I got this recipe this summer from Kalyn's Kitchen and it was amazing. Wonderful flavors and even a few indulgent ingredients, but just enough for flavor and texture--nothing that goes overboard and bumps out the pecan pie. Because we wouldn't want that.

Green Beans with Pine Nuts and Lemon
adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen
Makes 4-6 servings
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Cost: $2.40
beans: 1.50, Parmesan: .10, pine nuts: .50, other stuff: .30

Note: It's harder to find perfect green beans in the winter than it is in the summer. Do your best not to get tough, seedy, nasty ones.

1 lb fresh green beans
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic. minced or a light sprinkle of garlic powder
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp Parmesan (I use a bit more than this)
2-4 Tbsp pine nuts

Prepare beans by washing, drying, and chopping off the ends.

Heat oil in a skillet. Add green beans and cook at medium heat. You want them to cook through, but also to get some good color. So after they've cooked through, you might want to turn up the heat.

When they are cooked to the tenderness you enjoy (for me this is not crazy crispy, but definitely not soggy), up the heat a bit, then throw in the garlic powder (or clove, but take care not to let it burn) and stir it in some oil, then mix with the beans. Add the pine nuts and stir fry for a few more minutes.

When it's done, throw the lemon juice and zest into the pan and give a stir. I ALSO ADD SOME SALT.

Remove from heat and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately (this is the toughest part of doing this on Thanksgiving Day). It's still very good if left to sit for a couple minutes, but not as pretty.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cranberry Pomegranate Sweet Relish

So apparently Thanksgiving is coming. It's one of my favorite holidays. Partly because of the food (of course). Partly because it's a time to get together with family and/or friends. Partly because we certainly need a holiday to celebrate thanks. And partly--perhaps largely--because in its way it's a simpler sort of holiday. Since it's just a month away from Christmas businesses and advertisers tend to leave it alone and place their focus on the big Yuletide moneymaker. And although we do have to reserve a little fear those crazed Pinterest posters who would have you gluing together acorns in order to make a basket in order to put your centerpiece of pears and squashes (preferably dipped in crystalized sugars of course). But even those ideas often get bumped out by the next big craft for a homemade Christmas stocking. So, while Christmas commandeering Thanksgiving is one of the frustrating things about this season, it can ironically be one of of the blessings as well. On Thanksgiving you don't have to give a gift; gifts will come next month. On Thanksgiving you can go simple with your decorations--we can go all crazy soon enough. On Thanksgiving you can sleep in and then later when it's time to eat pie, you won't have already maxed out on chocolate Santas (just turkey and stuffing).

Still--in our modern and apparently somewhat luxurious American lives--we sometimes find it hard to resist going big. Each year has to be better (by which I mean more fabulous and intense) than the last. Each child has to (by which we sometimes mean 'deserves to') have this holiday permanently imprinted on his or her tiny brain as yet another epic event of childhood holiday lore.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but the last couple of years, I've felt a little over it. That's not always a good thing for a food blog, but it might be a good thing for our lives. I want to make delicious food, but I want to keep it simple. On the years I host Thanksgiving you won't find any oxtail soups on our table (or any soups at all; there's enough food already don't you think). You won't find cake and pie and pudding. And you certainly won't find nuts glued together into a basket. What I hope you'll find is some of the most basic, traditional recipes done very very well.

Today's recipe is one for cranberries. It allows you to keep it simple. There's no cooking. You can prep it in about ten minutes total. Also, you can totally make this way ahead (like--you could make it today and it would still be good on Thanksgiving--if you can keep from eating it, that is). It has several healthy players in its ingredient list.

Yet in its way, it allows you to go big too. It's beautiful--the fruits slightly indulgent, exotic, and glittering like little Thanksgiving gemstones on your table (who needs a nut basket right?). It's delicious--so so so delicious--I could eat it for every meal. It combines tart and sweet beautifully (with sweet ultimately winning out).  It is a side dish that will seem wonderfully luxuriant.

Also, although cranberries play a big role, it doesn't taste cranberry-y (totally a word, right?). My husband hates cranberries; he's not a big fan of pomegranates either, but he--much to his surprise--liked this. So it's a good recipe for pleasing cranberry lovers and those who don't--all in the same dish.

Note: Though called a relish, I eat it like a fruit salad--just spooned into a bowl. However, with some cream cheese and crackers on the side, it could easily be served as an hors d'oeuvres and serve a more sweet relish-y role.

I need to thank my friend Vanessa for introducing it to me and letting me inhale it at her house. And then giving me the recipe--a family recipe from her husband's side (thank you Stanfills). You know you've married well when you can inherit recipes like this.

So make it. Enjoy the indulgence. And the simplicity.

Cranberry Pomegranate Sweet Relish
a Stanfill family recipe
Makes a big bowl full
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cost: $6.40 (This is only about $.50/serving, but if you wish to cheapen it, cut out the raspberries--I almost forgot them and when I tasted this I still loved it without them)
(holiday sale prices) pomegranate: 1.00, cranberries: 1.00, apples: 1.00, oranges: .25, raspberries: 3.00, sugar: .15

Tip: This video is the best way I've found for removing pomegranates. (Parent warning: He uses the 'h' word once.) You cut along the equator, hold the half pomegranate seed-side down in your hand over a bowl. Then you whack it with a wooden spoon like it's getting the spanking of its life. The seeds will fall into your hand and the bowl and it will take you only about 1 minute. I thought the first time I tried it that I would surely whack my hand, but I've done it a bunch of times now and still haven't. It's completely awesome. Try it.

Note on sugar: This is a very sweet relish. I bet you can reduce the sugar if you wish. I bet you could take it down to 1/2 cup, although you'd be getting a much tarter finished product. I intend to try this next time. That way I really can justify eating this for every meal, right?

Note on fruits: You can leave out the oranges or the raspberries (but not both). Everything else I consider a must.

2 tart apples, fairly large (I recommend Granny Smith)--cored
1 10-oz bag cranberries
1 pomegranate (see tip)--seeds
1-2 oranges--peeled (I used one; they do add some juice to this so be aware of that)
1 10-oz bag raspberries--thawed and drained
1 C sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

Put apples in food processor and pulse for a couple seconds to break them up into big pieces. Add cranberries to food processor. Pulse until you've got smallish, relish-looking chunks. Add the orange and pulse a couple times.

Put in bowl. Add pomegranate seeds, raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Mix to combine.

Let sit for several hours (or preferably overnight).

Eat. I just eat this out of a bowl, but I bet it would be incredible with plain Greek yogurt.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sunday Supper

Different people have different Sunday dinner traditions. There's the classic roast and potatoes with Grandma and company. Or the milder fancy dinner without all the crazy extended family (note: my extended family is not crazy--well, not too much, but they all live far away). And then there are the people who try to keep it simple, so they have a soup night or a breakfast-for-dinner. Kip and I land in a strange and wonderful place in the middle. When we get home from church (at the odd hour of 2:00 pm) we feed our kids a quick lunch and then tuck them away into quiet time while Kip and I eat a nice meal together. People, it's the BEST THING EVER. We started doing this when Mark and Elizabeth were young and picky (now they're older and picky) because I just wanted a meal where I didn't have to listen to people whine about how they didn't like this and didn't like that. But at this point it has evolved into a peaceful, grown-up, even (gasp) slightly romantic thing to do. Kip and I talk. We eat at a clean table. Usually no one spills milk on the floor. (If they do, they clean it up themselves and don't burst into a puddle of tears and whining.)

Then later that night when people get hungry, I usually make popcorn (a tradition I stole from a friend) and smoothies. Sunday dinner (alone and quiet) and then popcorn and smoothies (easy and fun) is one of the few things I enjoy just about every single week. The only slight problem with it is that occasionally by the time I've made a nice meal for me and Kip I'm a little pooped. Oh, I still enjoy it, but it's nice when I have recipes that are easy and awesome. 

So here you go. 

My friend (the same one, incidentally, who has the popcorn tradition) introduced me to this meal. Her friend introduced it to her. He made it every Sunday. And never got bored. Why? Because you can make it with different ingredients and spices every single time and it's still awesome. When I first had it (the pepper, onion, sausage version scooped out with corn chips--oh, man), I had already eaten, but just couldn't stop--it was so good.

Here's what you do:
-You take vegetables and sometimes meat or beans. You cook that up in a skillet and then you throw in a block of cream cheese and a small can of diced tomatoes with juices. You can eat it alone or with chips or rice or probably even on pasta or wrapped into a tortilla. I just can't stress enough how versatile and delicious it is. 

So far I've made three versions: 
1. Chicken, corn, and spinach (plus cream cheese and tomatoes)

2. Onion, red pepper, and sausage (plus cream cheese and tomatoes)

3. Mushroom and spinach (plus cream cheese and tomatoes)

All were incredible. Just incredible (although I did wish for a little meat in my meatless version). The first time I made it I also sauteed some peppers and asparagus for myself (Kip doesn't like those things) and placed them on top of my dish. I'll be darned if I didn't feel like I wasn't sitting down at a fancy restaurant. 

It makes for a perfect leftover meal to use things up you've got. But from scratch it's just as easy. It's a whole food meal that takes 20 minutes. You could mix meats. You could add fresh herbs. You could throw in a handful of beans. You could use Rotel instead of tomatoes to add some heat. It's just really the perfect anything recipe. And if you double it it can feed a crowd.

Here's the template with examples of the real life things I used for my two favorite versions:

Sunday Supper
serves 4
Cook and prep time: 20-30 minutes
Cost: $5.00
cream cheese: 1.00, tomatoes: 1.00, meat: 1.50-2.00, vegetables: 1.00-2.00)

Cheapskate tip: Cream cheese freezes pretty well (if you're going to cook it after you thaw it; it's a little wonky after you thaw it if serving it raw--then you'd probably want to beat it to get the consistency back to normal). I buy a bunch when it's .99 and freeze it. 

olive oil--just a bit
2 C vegetables (1 pepper, 1 onion OR 1 cup corn, 1 C spinach--chopped)
1 C meat (1/4-1/2 pound of sausage OR 1 large chicken breast--diced or shredded)
8 oz cream cheese
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes with juice (I like it especially with Italian seasoned tomatoes)
seasonings as needed or wanted

Heat oil. Add meat if it's raw. Cook. (Take meat out and set aside.) Add vegetables to pan. Cook until they've softened. If using a green like spinach, wait until everything is almost cooked and then throw it in. 

Add meat back to veggies. Add a block of cream cheese (it helps if you chop this into cubes). When it's melted, add the can of tomatoes (juice and all). This will loosen up the cream cheese to make it saucier. Heat.

Taste. Add salt and pepper if needed (it'll depend a little on your meat--sausage is saltier for example).

Then serve. I really like it over rice. I also really like it with some good tortilla chips. But seriously, any type of grain will likely work with it.  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

This month is Secret Recipe Club. I got Cafe Lynnylu. It was lovely--sophisticated (but not excessively difficult) recipes and gorgeous pictures.

I could not decide whether I wanted to make the sweet potato soup or the Lemon Rice Cake. Finally I chose the soup. I'd like to say that it was my nice, healthy attitude that won out, but it was really that I'd neglected to pick up almonds at the store and just couldn't bear to make the lemon cake without them.

I've been looking for a sweet potato soup for a while that wasn't sweet, but savory. This also has a bit of a kick, which I love.

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup
adapted from Cafe Lynnylu
prep and cook time: 45 minutes
Cost: $2.00
onion: .10, sweet potatoes: .65, chicken broth: 1.00 (made from granules), other stuff: .25

Note: I halved this. Also, I used chili sauce instead of chipotle chilies en adobo because I accidentally bought the wrong thing due to a shopping list malfunction. I added a bit of chili powder because the sauce I bought wasn't very spicy. If you've got it, try this with one chipotle chili en adobo instead of the chili sauce.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
salt and pepper
1 1/2 tsp cumin
2 cloves garlic
2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 4 medium)
2 Tbsp chili sauce
1/8-1/4 tsp chili powder
7 C chicken broth
sour cream for garnish (optional)

Heat large pot. Add oil. Add onion, salt, and pepper and cook (5-8 minutes). Add cumin and garlic. Cook for about 1 minute or until fragrant. Add sweet potatoes, pepper sauce, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until sweet potatoes are soft.

Blend with immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender (be careful--this stuff is hot. If using regular blender, place dish towel over top and don't overfill it). Serve with sour cream. Also, I think this would be wicked good with corn bread.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Photo Re-do: Pumpkin Cookies

Once, when this blog was very very young, I posted some recipes for pumpkin cookies--one was a regular cookie; one was a breakfast cookie. They were both delicious. I recently referred a friend to one of the recipes and when I did, I realized that it contained the most repulsive pictures in the universe (well, maybe not quite, but still). Today we'll rectify that a bit. Let us have a pumpkin cookie that looks like something you'd want to eat (because it is).

Here's the link (they're awesome):

And here are some re-do's of the pumpkin breakfast cookies

Without chocolate chips:

And with:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How to Send Apples in Your Kids' Lunches: A Tip

For many years I've sent apple sauce in my kids' lunches. I haven't even done it easy style (those little containers of applesauce from the store). No. I've done it cheapskate style. I've taken a generic jar of applesauce and I pour some into Tupperware containers for my kids' lunches. It's kind of annoying and not a whole food, but it saved time and gave them something healthier than a fruit roll up to nosh on.

So, why, you're asking, don't I just send an apple for Pete's sake. Well, because for a long time my kids would not eat the peels off of anything, so if I sent an apple, a nice, untouched apple would come home. These days my kids will sometimes eat an apple like an apple was meant to be eaten (although they still like it peeled by me if they can fanangle that). But at school they have all of 15 minutes (maybe on a good day) to eat their school lunches. Biting their way around an apple is just too slow.

And don't ask me why, but eating a sliced apple seems much much faster. I'm not even kidding here (though I realize I sound ridiculous). But it's true: eating a sliced apple takes my kids half the time. Also, they don't have to eat the peels if they don't want to.

Yet I could never slice my kids' apples because, yuck, what kid would eat an apple slice that's been sitting in a lunch box oxidizing for the past 3 hours. Not mine, I assure you.

Some moms slice apples with a bit of lemon juice or another type of acid, but my kids always noticed the taste and disapproved (you remember they're the pickiest kids ever, right).

And then, finally, one day Pinterest came to the rescue. If you cut your apple with an apple cutter and then rubber band it, It doesn't oxidize--well, barely at all. Genius. Pure genius. I've been doing it all fall and haven't gotten a complaint yet. (Note: I do put the rubber-banded apples in a baggie, so they don't get the lunch box all a mess.) So I thought I'd pass it along.

See how that front one is cut. You're going to rubberband it up like the back ones.

This is one I left on the counter from 7 am to 2 pm. This is how it looked when I un-banded it. Not bad.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Vegan Pumpkin Pie That Non-Vegans Will Love

So vegans, yeah....whenever you post a vegan recipe, there's that little vegan-y minority of the population that does a little vegan dance (not the funky chicken--that's against the rules). And then there's the rest of the population that snorts milk out of their noses and rolls their eyes and just wishes I would post yet another chocolate chip cookie recipe so that they could eat it while watching dancing with the stars. (Nope--no stereotyping here, people.)

I am, in case you haven't noticed from this blog, NOT  a vegan. I do, in all honesty, like vegetables quite a lot, but I like butter too. And chocolate. 

This recipe caught my eye not for its vegan-y-ness, but because of the 4-ingredient list. Seriously. Four ingredients for one of my favorite desserts. And because of these four ingredients (raw cashews, pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, and maple syrup) only one of them was naughty (maple syrup). This meant I could eat this for breakfast, right? Well...I haven't yet, though I wouldn't feel too horribly guilty if I did (though there really is quite a bit of maple syrup in there, although it's probably better than the sugar levels in Yoplait yogurt). 

I've had this recipe pinned for over a year now. I just didn't get to it last year before I got pumpkined out. And the thing is--it's kind of weird sounding. I mean, you take these raw cashews and then you soak them overnight. And then you puree everything in the blender and then you bake it. Weird, right? I just kept thinking to myself--how could that possibly taste like pumpkin pie--you know, real pumpkin pie--the kind that we non-vegans know. 

But this year on Halloween I finally got to it. Why? Because (confession) I don't really love candy and I wanted something sweet to eat on Halloween night (okay, now I'm even starting to talk like a vegan--a weird one). 

I soaked my cashews and blended it up. I was worried it'd taste weird. I was worried it'd taste all maple-syrup-y (I like maple syrup, but I don't like it when sweets that aren't supposed to taste maple-y taste maple-y--whew, now I'm sounding like a non-vegan again). In fact, I halved the recipe and made it in ramekins because I was worried I'd hate it. 

And then I tasted it nice and raw. (One great thing about vegan recipes is that you can do that without worrying about salmonella.) And--oh man--I could have just eaten it straight out of that blender. It was delicious. Absolutely delicious. If I'd wanted to (and I might...) I could have added some milk and made myself a killer pumpkin smoothie. But I didn't. I faithfully cooked it--the batter was much thicker than a normal batter and didn't bake like a custardy pumpkin pie would have. The vegan pie just kind of got darker and firmer. Also, my instant read thermometer broke (the horror) so I had to figure out when to take the dern things out. I let it cool. And tasted it. And I'll be darned if the whole thing didn't taste like pumpkin pie. It didn't even taste like healthy pie. I couldn't taste nut. I couldn't taste maple. I could just taste pumpkin pie. Now, it was a little different than my staple pie, but no more different than when you go to somebody else's house and try their recipe for pumpkin pie. It was delicious. And kind of sort of, comparatively nutritious. 

Vegan Pumpkin Pie that Non-Vegans Will Love
adapted from Healthy Happy Life
prep time: 7 minute (plus, um, 8-18 hours of cashew soaking)
cook time: 1 hour (plus, um, 3 hours cooling time)
Cost: $6.00 ($1/slice--not bad baby)
pumpkin: 1.00, maple syrup: 2.00, cashews: (I bought mine forever ago and froze them and can't remember--I'm going to guess 3.00 and will check next time I go to the natural foods store)

1 C RAW cashews (which should be about 1 1/4 C after it's soaked)
16 oz (or 1 small can--it's okay if it's 15 oz) pumpkin puree
1 C maple syrup (told you it was a lot: I actually used about 3/4 C and mine was still good)
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
salt to taste, optional

Note on maple syrup: This isn't the corn syrup stuff you buy for a buck. It's got to be the real stuff. I'm sorry, but this is so. To cheapen this pie, you could try subbing sugar for the syrup, but I'm not sure what would happen. Let me know if you give it a go. 

Note: I made mine crust-less. I just wanted a little pumpkin-y treat, not a full on pie. If you want full-on pie, make a vegan or regular crust and par-bake it for 15 minutes before adding the pumpkin filling. 

Soak your cashews. This was new to me. In fact, raw cashews were new to me period and I tasted them and realized they're one of the best things I've ever eaten, but I resisted the urge to just eat them all and I soaked them. You'll soak 1 C cashews in enough water to cover with a bit of salt. Do this for 8-18 hours--just leave it on the counter. When you're ready to make your pie, DRAIN THE CASHEWS. They should be tender. 

Put cashews, pumpkin, maple syrup, and pumpkin pie spice in blender or food processor and blend away. This is going to take a few minutes. You want your mixture nice and creamy, not lumpy bumpy nutty. If you have a really nice blender you'll probably get yours to a velvety smooth stage. I confess that I got mine fairly smooth, but never perfectly smooth, and I worried about that, but all was still right with my pie. When it's smooth taste it and add a bit of salt if you wish. I added 1/4 tsp.

Put this mixture in a greased pie pan (with or without a par-baked crust--see note) and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 350 and continue baking for another 30-40 minutes or until the pie has darkened and firmed up. A toothpick inserted will come out a bit wet, but the batter should have darkened up and the edges should be firm. It will continue to firm and set as it cools. 

Let it cool for at least 3 hours. It's just better. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Scared Silly White Chili

This is the time of year when everyone is posting all those decadent pumpkin recipes, and candy recipes, and caramel recipes. And then come the pies, followed by the cookies and confections. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I like a holiday treat just as much as anyone. And I'm just as guilty as the rest as posting too many treats and not enough other stuff on this site. That said, sometimes it just gets to be too much. Sometimes it's nice to have something that is not candified to look forward to. Especially if it is warm and creamy and good.

This chili is a nice foil for all the sweets consumed on Halloween night. It may also take you to chili cook-off greatness (especially if you call it Scared Silly White Chili; how could you go wrong? You can thank my friend Catherine for the recipe and the name.)

And, as with many white chilis, it's easier for non-chili lovers to embrace with those delicate white beans instead of their firmer-skinned red neighbors (the kidney beans).

It's also a nice throw-it-in-the-pot recipe. I'm sure it would work great in a crock pot as well (I'm thinking 8 hours on low or 4 on high, but haven't tried it.)

Scared Silly White Chili
from Catherine
serves a crowd (probably 16 servings)
prep/cook time: 30-45 minutes
Cost: $10.00 or about $.60/serving
(chicken: 2.00, onion: .15, chicken broth: .35 (if made from granules), corn: 1.00-2.00, beans: 2.00, chilies: .50. sour cream: 1.00, cheese: 2.00)

Note: This makes a booty-load of chili. It's great for a crowd, but you may want to halve it if cooking just for you and yourn (unless you and yourn are chili pigs). It freezes pretty well, but is not as delicious as it was before freezing.

Note: This can be made with yellow corn instead of white and it's still delicious, but I've got to tell you that it's better with white.

1 lb chicken breast
1 onion, chopped
2 cans chicken broth
2 Tbsp lime juice
2 cans shoe peg corn (white corn)
1 bottle green salsa (16-oz.)
4 cans Great Northern white beans
1 can chopped chilies
1 lb sour cream
2 C shredded cheese (mexican or cheddar--I used sharp cheddar)
avocado for topping if desired

Put chicken, chicken broth, chopped onion, and lime juice in a pot. Cook until chicken is tender and fully cooked. Take chicken out and chop it. Put it back in. Drain beans and corn and add to the pot (I also rinse my beans). Add chilies, salsa verde, and sour cream. Heat thoroughly (this takes longer than you think if making the full recipe, just because there's so very much chili). Serve with cheese on top (and maybe avocado slices).


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cheater Caramel Fruit Dip

I love caramel. I love the real stuff that you painstakingly cook on the stove, melting sugar, whisking in butter and cream. I love it. But I don't always make it. I certainly don't whisk it up for an after school snack or to take to a play date with a bunch of young hooligans running around. And I certainly don't do it for a group of boy scouts who (somehow I suspect) would simply not have a proper appreciation for the art of melting sugar and who would just as soon eat burned marshmallows that fell onto the ground as they would lovingly prepared caramel sauce. That said, I wasn't going to send my son to the boy scout campout with burnt marshmallows. My assignment was a fruit salad, but all I had by way of fruit were apples and bananas and I really didn't want to make a run to the store (again--feeling that my efforts to accrue raspberries in October might be wasted on the adorable, yet perfectly clueless group of young boys). Still I wanted to dress our meager fruit offerings up with something. Something loving, something good, something that said, "You might not appreciate meticulously browned sugar, but I think you'll like this." And I did. And they did.

This dip is wonderfully easy, perfect for fall, and a crowd-pleaser. It's not really caramel at all (don't call it caramel to your foody friends; they'll mock you behind they're backs while they slurp oysters together). But there's something about it that tastes caramel-y. As such it's perfect to pair with apples or bananas. Especially at this time of year. I know that it feels a little like cheating. That's because it is a little like cheating. The thing is, sometimes with food it's okay to cheat (Warning: please do not try cheating with actual husbands, teachers, or the IRS; only food. Thank you.) Sometimes you're out of time, out of ingredients, or out of money (this is cheaper than real caramel too). Sometimes you just need something that says, "We're just going to relax and have fun tonight." That's an okay thing to say people; really it is.

And the fact is that this dip is delicious just how it is. So let it be and enjoy it. Call it Brown Sugar Dip if it makes you feel better about things. You can still make real caramel when the mood strikes or when you've got the time or an appreciative audience. But you don't have to tonight.

Cheaper Caramel Fruit Dip
from allrecipes
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cost: $1.35
cream cheese: 1.00, brown sugar: .35

8 oz cream cheese
1 C brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Beat it all together until smooth. If it's still grainy after 1 minute, let it sit for a couple minutes (the grainy bits will melt into the mixture) and then beat it again.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Homemade Greek Yogurt for Dummies (Crock Pot)

I mean, really. It's so easy it will change your life forever.

And it will save you a stinking butt load of money if you like Greek yogurt. For $2 (TWO DOLLARS!) I got no less than 10 cups (TEN CUPS!) Greek yogurt--that's $.20/cup if you're math impaired (don't worry--math unnecessary for this recipe; brains in general unnecessary for this recipe). Twenty cents for creamy, perfect Greek yogurt.

You can eat it with anything. I like it for breakfast with some jam mixed it. My kids like it best blended with jam and put into popsicle molds and frozen. My friend serves it as a dessert. She mixes it with jam and then adds a squirt of whipped cream to the top. But don't think it can only be served sweet. This thick Greek yogurt can be used as a substitute for sour cream and cream cheese. It can be used in savory dips, for ranch dressing, with tacos.

And in case you missed the whole Greek yogurt bandwagon (or were maybe too poor to buy a ticket), Greek yogurt is awesome and loveable because it is a) delicious and creamy, b) higher in protein, lower in sugar (lactose), and lower than sodium than regular yogurt. And did I mention creamy awesomeness? It's also just way versatile--it can really be subbed for a lot of things.

Let me say that making yogurt is not entirely new to me. I even have a yogurt maker (which I may now sell) that has cute little cups with lids. I used it faithfully when we lived in California, but when we moved here, it became cost INeffective. I couldn't find small amounts of plain yogurt and after I'd bought 32 oz of plain yogurt, well then it seemed silly to bother making little cupfuls of yogurt. And my homemade yogurt always came out somewhat runny. This is true of yogurt. Most (if not all) of what we find in the store has been artificially thickened--cornstarch and gluten are both in Dannon. Homemade yogurt tends to be thinner. Real Greek yogurt, on the other hand, is thick because much of the whey has been strained out of it. But because of that, it is often very expensive. Thus, for the last several years I haven't made my yogurt; I've just bought it. Until the fateful day when my friend (the dessert yogurt making one) brought over some yogurt with raspberry jam in it. It was better than ice cream. Oh, yes, it was. Thick, creamy, and beautiful. And it had cost her almost nothing. And it had been stupidly easy. Now that's what I'm talking about. Because many of the other homemade yogurt recipes I knew of (the ones without the handy yogurt-maker) seemed hard. There seemed to be lots of variables that could cause it to fail. Some required you to double boil your milk (I double boil nothing, people, nothing). Some gave detailed instructions for putting it in a cooler or oven and then keeping it consistently warm but not hot. If you got too cool or too hot, you'd wind up with curdled, runny nasties instead of yogurt. Yes, it was all too frightening. I needed fail proof. I needed dummy proof. I needed distracted mom proof. My friend provided that.

She had used a pot to make the yogurt. You can too if you don't have a crock pot. A regular pot works great, but it requires more of your attention. A crock pot, on the other hand, requires only a one-minute attention span and perhaps and IQ of 32 or so.

Now, what do you do? Let me pull back the curtain so you can be amazed.

1. Put 1 gallon whole milk into your crock pot. Put lid on. Heat until 180 degrees. This should take between two and four hours (depending on your crock pot). If you don't have a thermometer (though one is useful), it will be bubbly/foamy all over on top without actually boiling.
2. Remove lid and let cool to 110-115 degrees (if you don't have a thermometer, this will feel warm when you stick your finger in, but not hot--this is the temperature you'd kind of want to get baby formula to--warm, but nothing that would scald a baby's throat).
3. Add 1/2 C PLAIN yogurt and whisk it in. (I add yogurt to a small amount of milk and whisk in order to keep it from lumping up. Then I put that into the big pot of milk and whisk.)
4. Put lid back on.
5. Put crock pot in oven for 6-8 hours. You don't have to heat your oven or leave the oven light on. You don't have to do ANYTHING. The crock pot provides natural insulation, so it doesn't cool too quickly and the oven provides a space to trap the necessary warmth for your yogurt to yogurtify (it should be kept at a fairly stable 110 degrees; it does this naturally in a crock pot in the oven, so don't worry). That said, I would not recommend you put it into a cold oven (not a problem for us in the summer, but in winter it gets chilly around here). If your oven is cold, turn it on for 1 minute BEFORE you put the yogurt in. Then turn it off. Then put the yogurt in. (Ah, now the IQ requirements have moved up to 45). It will need 6-8 hours to yogurtify. It's nice if you can time this overnight. If you do it during the day, you may want to put a little post it note on your oven that says, "Do not turn on." I do this (yes, I do) because if you or someone you love comes in and decides to make cookies and pre-heats the oven before realizing there's yogurt in there, your yogurt will be ruined and you will be sad.
6. When you take it out, you'll have regular yogurt. Reserve 1/2 C of this for your next batch of yogurt and put that 1/2 C in the fridge.

 (It will look like this.)

7. Now: You can eat the rest of the yogurt regular-style if you want (it was actually a little thicker than that which my yogurt maker used to make). But I HIGHLY recommend straining it and making Greek yogurt (because it's awesome, that's why). Get a tea towel. Put it over a colander, and strain your yogurt. You can do this in the sink if you don't want the whey. Or you can strain it over a pan or large pot/bowl if you want the whey (Note: Whey can be used as a milk or buttermilk substitute in some recipes. It works well in muffins and things like that. That said, I throw my whey away most of the time (unless I know I'm making muffins or something soon). Lazy, I know. Straining will take between two and six hours depending on how thick you want your yogurt. I like mine thick. You might give it a stir after 2 hours to get it to strain more quickly.

And you're done. You will have a TON of Greek yogurt. In Evansville, we can currently get milk for $1.69 at Aldi. And then you'll need a bit of plain yogurt as a starter. Greek yogurt from the store occasionally goes on sale for $1.00/6 oz., but is usually much more. The nice brands can cost as much as $5.00(ish) for 16 oz. or so.

Now to answer some questions:

1. Do I need an instant read thermometer? No, but it is helpful; it takes any and all guesswork away from the process. And you will pretty much earn back the cost of your $9 thermometer in the first yogurt making, so it's a reasonable purchase. Still you don't have to have one. You just might need an IQ slightly higher than 32.
2. What will I do with all that yogurt? The sky is the limit. If you make this stuff, you can stop buying yogurt, sour cream, and (in some cases) cream cheese. You can make amazing smoothies and popsicles. You can do tons of stuff with it. 
3. Do I have to use whole milk? Probably not, but I always do. Still, I'm pretty sure you can make it with any type of cow's milk . However, I won't vouch for taste. True Greek yogurt is whole fat. It's only us Americans who've freaked out about that and developed lower fat versions. It is my opinion that skim Greek yogurt isn't really Greek yogurt at all. It is skim, strained yogurt. Eat it if you want. But my other opinion is that fat (without a lot of sugar) is NOT the enemy. I think natural fats are healthy and filling and great.
4. Why do I heat it and then let it cool? I don't have a complete scientific answer for you. All I know is that if you heat it to 180 you wind up with thicker yogurt than if you don't. I imagine you don't have to heat it that much. I know there are even raw yogurt recipes out there. You'll just likely end up with thinner yogurt. Of course, you'll be straining it, so will still end up with thick Greek yogurt--you'll just have a bit less of it because more will have strained out.
5. How do I make it on the stove top? Let's say you don't have a crock pot. You can still make this stove top. It's best to do when you have other jobs to do in the kitchen because it takes a while to heat and needs to be stirred occasionally so you don't want to burn on the bottom. (You can cook it faster, but you'll have to stir frequently or even constantly so it doesn't burn on the bottom.) Also, you'll want to make it in a heavy pot. The time I made it on the stove top, I used a porcelain-covered Dutch oven pot (WITH A LID). You need to do this because when you put it in the oven, it needs a sort of heat-holding pot. Otherwise it will cool too quickly and not set properly. I suppose you could use a normal pot and insulate it with towels or something, but for me the IQ requirements and fail factor get too high with that.
6. Can I make less? Probably. The problem you're going to come up against with this no fail method is that if you only have a little milk/yogurt in your pot, it will cool off faster. If it cools off too fast in your oven, you'll wind up with runny, curdled mess, not yogurt. If you really really want to make less, I recommend putting it in a small cooler instead of an oven. Or you might just have to babysit your oven a bit more and turn it on here or there throughout the setting process to ensure that your yogurt doesn't get too cool. Anyway, I'd really encourage you to make more simply because yogurt lasts a long time, which leads to...
7. How long does it last? I don't know. Ha. Because it's never gone bad on us and we've kept it in the fridge for upwards of two weeks. I imagine it would last a good month, maybe two, but can't promise that. I will try to do a little experiment next time I make yogurt and set some aside and see how long it takes for it to go bad.


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