Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lemon Granita

We've had the most delightful summer--warm days, cool nights, sunshine. Naturally summer decided to go out with a hot, miserable, muggy bang. Oh well. Time for iced desserts. One super hot day I was craving icy lemon. This did the trick.

I had never made a granita before and I'd expected them to come out with bigger chunks of ice (a la Snoopy Snow Cone Machine). Nope. With this you get tiny, velvety ice crystals that could rock any nice dinner party (should the parties you hold not involve sticky people and otter pops). But you don't have to save it for a dinner party because it's cheap and easy and it could also rock any 7-Up slushy cravings you've got (though you might have to skip the dainty serving dishes and super size it).

When Giada made this, she recommended a spoonful of lightly sweet ricotta on top. I didn't have ricotta, but liked the idea of a creamy contrast. I drizzled a little cream on mine and loved it (though it does get freezy, which you might find weird, but didn't bother me).

Also, this is super easy, but it isn't super quick. Sorry. It takes a good 3-4 hours of freezing time. The good news is that it keeps forever. I thought it would turn into an icy lump after a day or two, but it keeps its slushy-like consistency for at least a week and maybe longer.

Lemon Granita
adapted from The Food Network
serves 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Freeze time: 4 hours
Cost: $.90
sugar: .15, lemons: .75 (cheaper if you use store-bought lemon juice)

1 C water
3/4 C sugar
2/3 C lemon juice
drizzle cream--optional

Combine water and sugar in saucepan. Stir until sugar dissolves. Whisk in lemon juice (if using fresh-squeezed juice, strain it well).

Pour into an 8x8 inch dish and put in freezer. (Note: I put mine in the fridge to cool it down first. The liquid was hot and I didn't want to melt any of my freezer stuff.)

Every 30 minutes or so, scrape through it with a fork until it is completely made up of ice crystals.

Serve with a drizzle of cream or a handful of raspberries if you wish.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Ice Cream Cake--A Decorating Idea

Remember this ice cream cake? It's delicious, but the top is a plain expanse of white. Someone boring and old like me would likely just add candles or maybe sprinkles (or M&M's anyone?). But not my kids. Thanks to my sister, they like to add Airheads to theirs. But they don't just flop rectangular Airheads on. They heat them, shape them, and then they place them. Airheads, in fact, have become requisite to the making of an ice cream cake in our family.

It's true that these cake decorations, made by actual real-life children, will probably not make Martha Stewart Living's cover page. But they will make your children happy. And that is what birthday's are about.

(and they're still pretty cute)

Here's what you do:

1. Remove the Airhead from its package.
2. Heat an airhead for 6-10 seconds in the microwave. You'll be surprised how fast they heat up. You don't want them melted. Just warm. In fact, if you found yourself with no microwave, you could probably (maybe) put it in your pocket for a few minutes and get the desired effect (public service announcement: put it in your pocket before removing wrapping; thank you).
3. Shape it quickly into whatever you want. It's going to cool and harden, so you don't have to be a whirlwind sculptor or anything, but you can't take all the time in the world here.
4. Set it on wax paper.
5. Add to cake when you're ready.

(flowers, butterflies, and a pond)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Guest Blogger: Squash Soup

For my European readers, I've got a European guest blogger today. Her name is Ella Moss and I hope it's helpful. She starts off with an admonition not to throw away food. How could I resist? For all you American's, know that a pound is about $1.72.

Food waste accounts for 13.9% of our overall waste, second only to paper (28.4%). It’s therefore imperative that we find a way to stop throwing away food. Buying local produce, such as organic vegetables, is healthier, better for the environment and better for the local economy. Buy these in small batches several times a week, rather than doing one large weekly shop so that they stay fresh and you don’t have to throw them away.
If you’re looking to overhaul your diet in order to make it more eco-friendly without spending a huge amount of cash, this guide has advice on how to do this, including where you should buy your food and how you can cut down on waste.

The following recipe utilises vegetables you can find at your local market and can feed the whole family. It’s suitable for vegetarians as well as tasty. The whole batch costs under £5 and could last at least four or five meals – more if you keep adding stock. Also, because of the high water content, it will freeze well and last even longer. Put half in a large Tupperware container and pop in the freezer to eat at a later date when your cupboards are bare instead of opting for a takeaway.

Squash Soup:
·         1 butternut squash (£1.30)
·         3 sweet potato (£1.25)
·         1 red onion (18p)
·         2 cloves garlic (30p for whole bulb)
·         1L Vegetable stock (50p for pack)
·         50g Butter (20p)
·         Sage (75p for whole pot of dried sage)
·         Double cream (optional) (85p for whole pot)

1 – Chop the onions finely and brown with the butter in a frying pan. Grate the garlic to make a pulp and add when the onions are almost cooked. This works better if you keep the heat medium to low, rather than high, as this will slowly soften them without the butter or garlic burning and adding a bitter taste to the soup. Take this off the heat and add the sage to gently cook it with the residual heat. Put this to one side.
2 – Bring the vegetable stock to a boil in a large, deep saucepan.
3 – Chop the squash and sweet potato into small chunks and add to the boiling stock. Boil for 20 minutes until both are soft and easy to break up with a fork.
4 – Add the onions, garlic and sage to the stock and squash and stir together.
5 – If you have a blender, this is where you can blend the mixture together to make a thick soup. Of course, this is optional. If you like chunky soup, blending isn’t mandatory. Blend to the consistency you prefer.
6 – Add salt and pepper to taste – if it needs it.
7 – Serve with a swirl of double cream or crème fraiche for a healthier option.  Why not try baking some homemade crusty bread to accompany it?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Easy Cheesy Bean Dip

There is nothing I love quite so much as a stupid easy recipe. Except a stupid easy recipe that is also super delicious.

Lately I've tried several bean dips--they're super cheap and a quick dinner or fun party food. They've all been decent, but none has been worthy of this blog. This one is. It's just delicious. I must admit that the beans in this dip are sort of a vehicle for cheese. I'm okay with that.

This recipe can be made in the crock pot. But if you lack four hours of foresight as I always seem to, you can throw it in the oven for 20-30 minutes and you're good.

Easy Cheesy Bean Dip
adapted from Recipes that Crock
serves 10-ish
Prep time: 5-10 minutes
Cook time: 20-30 minutes in oven; 4 hours in crock pot
Cost: $5.00 (or $.50/serving)
cream cheese: 1.00, sour cream: .70, beans: .50, seasonings: .20, cheese: 1.50, chips: 1.00

8 oz cream cheese--softened
1 C sour cream or Greek yogurt
16 oz can refried beans
2 Tbsp taco seasoning
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
8 oz shredded sharp cheddar--divided
tortilla chips

Blend everything, but cheese and tortilla chips.

Spoon half cream cheese/bean mixture into 9x13 inch pan. Layer with half the cheese.

Add remaining cream cheese/bean mixture. Add remaining cheese.

Bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbling at edges. Or cook in crock pot on low for four hours.

Eat with tortilla chips. (And maybe a veggie thereby if you're one of those righteous types.)


Friday, August 15, 2014

Sour Patch Grapes

You ready for a dumb easy recipe that will change every bag of horrible grapes forever?

Surely I'm not the only person who occasionally ends up with a whole 2-pound bag of crappy grapes. And what do you do with them? I don't feel like grapes work well in smoothies, you can't make sweet bread out of them, I suppose you could juice them if you have a juicer, but many people don't and the juice is okay, but comes out kind of thin and sometimes chalky tasting if your grapes are particularly awful. So you either do the cheapskate thing and eat the nasty things. Or you do the non-cheapskate thing and throw them away. Neither is highly appealing to me.

But now... now I have the perfect solution for you. I recently got some awful grapes. Two whole bags--four pounds total. My kids wouldn't touch them. Every grape came home from the school lunches. And then I read about these candied grapes on Pinterest (good old Pinterest). The writer claimed they tasted just like sour patch candies. Also, they were dumb easy. And cheap. And super beautiful. In fact, I thought they would be perfect for a baby shower or party (you could coat them in pink or blue pretty easily).

I'm not going to pretend that these things are super healthy. They're not. But they're healthier than, say, cookies. Or fruit snacks. Or Sour Patch candies. Which is what they most remind me of. They are more along the lines of dessert that has some nutritional value. I can live with that.

I can especially live with that when my kids come home from school and snarf down an entire bunch of grapes they would not touch one day before. These babies really are a lot like candy--in flavor and even a bit in texture. If you are a lover of sour candy, you MUST try these grapes.

Here's what you do:

You coat grapes in dry Jello powder.

Now I know what you're thinking: Jello is Satan's dessert. Oh, wait, maybe that's what I was thinking. But you may be thinking it too, since it is true. Jello by itself is the most disgusting dessert I can think of. Why not just harvest boogers and sweeten them--that is how I feel about Jello. But in this recipe it worked PERFECTLY. They sweet and soured the grapes and the gelatin gave the grapes a little coating that kind of set (which you wouldn't get if you just rolled damp grapes in sugar). Jello is also cheap.

I tried three kinds--Tropical Fusion (Jello brand), Watermelon (Jolly Rancher brand--no, I didn't know that existed either, but if we've got it in Evansville, you probably have it too), Green Apple (Jolly Rancher brand). My favorite was watermelon, followed by Green Apple, but my kids loved them all and consumed them before I could get a cute picture so I had to make them again.

tropical fusion far left, green apple back, watermelon front

Sour Patch Grapes
Makes 2 pounds
Prep time: 5 minutes
Set time: 1 hour
Cost: $2.64
grapes: $2 (Aldi prices), Jello: .64

Note: I made less than this and just saved the rest of my Jello powder by folding up the bag tight.

2 lb grapes
1 package flavored (and sugared) Jello

Remove grapes from stems. Rinse and let strain in a strainer. You do not want your grapes dripping, but you do not want them completely dry either. A damp grape is perfect.

Put Jello powder onto a plate or stretch of waxed paper. Put grapes on the plate (if you're doing 2 pounds, you're going to have to do this in batches) and shake the plate so the grapes roll around and get coated.

Let the grapes sit for an hour (you can eat them right after you make them, but if they set they're better and the texture is amazing and surprisingly candy-like).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Cheesecake Bottom Chocolate Cake--SRC

This month for Secret Recipe Club, I had Grandma Loy's Kitchen. It wasn't hard to pick a recipe. When I saw the chocolate ripple cake, I knew that was the one. Sometimes life is just like that. Now Grandma Loy had warned that her ripple didn't ripple in her recipe. Instead it sank to the bottom of her cake making a sort of cheesecake layer on the bottom. I was hoping mine would ripple, but was totally cool with it if it didn't because I thought that cheesecake layer on the bottom looked delish.

Well, it didn't ripple.

But it is delish. The cake is light and chocolate-y. In some ways the texture is a lot like a cake mix cake. For some people that light, moist cake box texture is a huge selling point, though I know there are others thinking, "I'm not reading food blogs so I can make something that tastes like a boxed cake." So let me emphasize that the flavor is so much more delicious than a boxed cake (which always tastes like fake chocolate to me). Light, chocolate, simple cake. And then that cheesecake-ish layer on the bottom almost gave it a tres leches sort of flavor. Top it with a frosting of your choice and you're in business (we used chocolate of course, though I think a rich vanilla might have been even better). This cake with its cheesecake bum could also totally rock a berry sauce instead of (or in addition to) the frosting. It could even be a sort of upside down cake. The cheesecake layer doesn't stick at all, so you could easily flip this baby over, drizzle some raspberry sauce over it and go nuts. 

And if you're still pining for the ripple that wasn't, know this: The only change I made to the original rippling recipe is that I used butter instead of shortening (Grandma Loy used butter too). Thus, the original recipe was either a fluke or shortening is how you'd get a ripple. However, I would never use shortening in a cake recipe not for a million years even if you paid me (unless you paid me more than $5 in which case I could probably be persuaded to make you a nasty shortening cake). But I wouldn't do it for a ripple, not when you get your tasty cheesecake bottom and a buttery chocolate cake as a consolation prize.

Cheesecake Bottom Chocolate Cake
adapted from Grandma Loy's Kitchen
Makes 1 9x13 or 2 layers
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Cook time: 40-45 minutes (for 9x13, probably less for layers)
Cost: $3.95 (or about $.15/small piece)
butter: .50, sugar: .15, eggs: .10, flour: .20, cocoa: .35, buttermilk: .75 (or .25 if you make your own buttermilk from milk and vinegar), cream cheese: 1.00, butter: .15, sweetened condensed milk: 1.00, egg: .10, other stuff: .15

For the Cake:

1/2 C (1 stick) butter (I melt mine; I believe this makes for moister cake)
1 1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 2/3 C all-purpose flour
2/3 C cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 C buttermilk

For the cheesecake: 

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp butter softened
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract

Grease 1 9x13 inch pan. Preheat oven to 350.

In a large mixing bowl, melt butter. Add sugars and beat. Add eggs and vanilla and beat.

In a smaller bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add part of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Beat. Then add about 1/2 the buttermilk to the batter. Beat. Add more dry ingredients. Beat. Add the rest of the buttermilk. Beat. Add any remaining dry ingredients. Beat. (Note: This is the textbook way to add dry ingredients and milk to a batter. But sometimes I'm lazy and plop things all in. I do think it's better when you alternate though.)

Pour your batter into your greased pan.

Now make your cheesecake part. Beat cream cheese, butter, and cornstarch. To this gradually add in your sweetened condensed milk, beating all the while. Then beat in egg and vanilla.

Pour this over your chocolate cake batter as evenly as possible. It will look like this:

Bake this at 350 for about 40 minutes. (Mine took 45.)

Remove from oven. If you're making a layer cake, let layers cool 10 minutes, then turn them out on racks to cool completely. If you've gone the lazy road like me and make a 9x13, then just let it sit there.

When it's cook, frost it with Kip's Fudge Frosting or Vanilla Butter Frosting or any other frosting that floats your boat. Truth be told, I think this cake could stand alone without frosting (gasp)--yes, I do.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Triple Choc Cookies

Back to school means cookies, right? At least if you're a good mom like myself. Or maybe if you're a good mom you'll have some carrot sticks and celery waiting, but whatever.

I have another triple chocolate cookie recipe posted on this site. It's intensely chocolate-y and very decadent. It's also a wee bit fussy and pricier than your average cookie (due to the 16 ounces of chocolate you melt into them and all). Evenso I consider it pretty perfect and have actually avoided recipes like the one today because when I wanted a triple chocolate cookie, I wanted a triple chocolate cookie. However, this summer when my daughter and her friend had a baking day, she picked this cookie to be on the menu. And I'm really glad she did. It was surprisingly delicious--the white and semi sweet chips balancing each other out, the edges just a bit crispy with a chewy soft center (perfect cookie consistency in my book). And all that for a simple, affordable cookie recipe. It's perfect for a quick after school treat idea. It is not as intensely chocolate-y as my other recipe (for better or for worse--chocoholics will probably prefer the other recipe, while people looking for a slightly souped up chocolate chip cookie will probably prefer this one). But whether you're a chocoholic or not, this is a good, quick way to get your fix (um, also for better or for worse). 

Triple Choc Cookies
adapted from Baking with Kids
Makes 2 dozen cookies
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10-12 minutes/batch
Cost: $2.45 (or about $.10/cookie)
butter: .50, sugar: .10, brown sugar: .15, egg: .10, cocoa: .10, chocolate chips: .75, white chocolate chips: .75

9 Tbsp butter, softened (yes, that is an annoying amount; I'd guess the world wouldn't stop if you skipped the last tablespoon, but I make no guarantees)
1/2 C sugar
2/3 C brown sugar
1 egg
1 2/3 C flour
2 1/2 Tbsp cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
2/3 C semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 C white chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees. 

Beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg. Add dry ingredients (if your cocoa is chunky, you might want to sift it, but I don't). 

Add chocolate and white chocolate chips. 

Roll cookies into balls and place them a couple inches apart on the cookie sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes (yes, broad range--I like them at about 12 minutes, but if you like a crispier cookie, cook longer). 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Caramel Buttermilk Syrup

So I gave you my nice healthy whole wheat and zucchini pancakes. And I mean, sure, you could eat them with some wholesome topping--some fruit sauce or pure maple syrup or maybe a bit of lightly sweetened Greek yogurt. Ooooorrrr.... You could top them with this intensely decadent, slightly wicked caramel buttermilk syrup. You could also top ice cream with this (for reals), but we needn't discuss that right now because we're pretending that this is something acceptable for a breakfast food.

The idea of buttermilk syrup was kind of gross to me at first--if you've ever had a swig of actual buttermilk, you will understand this. It's an acidic, sour tasting milk. But don't worry, in this recipe it's combined with a stick of butter and a couple cups of sugar. Also, you add baking soda, which combines with that acidic milk and works its science-y magic and makes it so there's not a hint of sour anywhere near this syrup.

Also, in order to justify my unwholesome breakfast habits, let me point out that surely this (in some form of moderation should you be able to manage that) surely isn't any worse than pancakes smeared with butter and topped with cheap syrup. So enjoy.

Caramel Buttermilk Syrup
adapted from Creations by Kara
Makes: a few cups
Cook time: 10-ish minutes
Cost: $1.30
buttermilk: .40, sugar: .10, brown sugar: .25, butter: .50, other stuff: .05

Note: Often I substitute milk and vinegar for buttermilk. I'm guessing that will NOT work in this so I don't recommend you try it.
-You know what else I discovered won't work: Lowfat buttermilk. Sorry, guys, but the full fat does better.

Note: Be sure to start the buttermilk off in a cool pan. Once I added it to an already hot pan because I'd been distracted while making this and the pan heated up before I got my ingredients in it. The buttermilk curdled, so start it off cool and heat it from there.

1 1/2 C buttermilk
1 C sugar
1 C brown sugar
1/2 C (1 stick) butter
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla

In a large saucepan, bring buttermilk, sugars, and butter to a boil over medium heat. When it's boiling, take it off the heat and whisk in the baking soda. it's going to bubble up like crazy, so be sure you have not used a tiny saucepan. Whisk in vanilla (don't forget--it adds a lot).

As this cools the bubbles go away. (Though you don't have to wait for it to cool to serve it--just stir it up and get a nice ladle full.)

According to the original blogger, this will keep for several months in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, we have not be able to put this theory to the test as ours is often gone in two days.



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