Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Pumpkin Spice Muffins

This is kind of a picture re-do, although when I went to my original post--one of the first posted to this blog, I realized I had done something I often did in that first year of blogging--I'd tinkered with my go-to recipe to give you both a decadent version of what I usually make and a spare "healthy" version of what I make. I still hope that that is useful to some, but--truly--wouldn't it be nice to have the actual recipe I actually make every time I actually bake pumpkin muffins. Yeah, probably. Some decent pictures wouldn't hurt either.

So, here you go, the recipe I make every time I make pumpkin muffins/bread.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins
Makes 24 muffins
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20-30 minutes
Cost: $4.40 (or about $.18/muffin)
butter: 1.00, sugar: .25, eggs: .40, flour: .25, whole wheat flour: .25, pumpkin: 1.00, chocolate chips: 1.00, other seasonings: .30(ish--kind of guessing there; sorry)

A few notes:
-You can use cheap pumpkin. Usually this works fine, but if your pumpkin puree is very cheap (or homemade), it will have a higher water content and these will taste a little more sponge-y than usual--still great, but not as perfect. For cheap pumpkin, I like Aldi's brand--it does NOT give me spongy texture.
-For the wheat flour--Sometimes I use up to 1 1/2 C (and scale the white flour back accordingly), so that's your call. If I use too much, these get pretty dense.

1 C (2 sticks) butter, softened significantly
1 3/4 C sugar (or even go for 2 C if you're feeling feisty)
4 eggs
2 1/2 C white flour
1 C whole wheat flour (white whole wheat works best)
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 15 oz can pumpkin
1-2 C chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs. Add the whole wheat flour. Add half the pumpkin. Add 1 1/2 C white flour and all remaining dry ingredients (except chocolate chips if you count that as dry). Add remaining pumpkin. Add remaining cup of white flour. Mix in chocolate chips.

Bake at 325 for 20-30 minutes (mine are usually done at around 26 minutes or so) in muffin tins. Test with a toothpick (or the more barbaric butter knife) to make sure the middles are done.

Allow to cool.

Note: This can be made into two loaves if you wish. You'll cook for 50-60 minutes I believe.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fire Roasted Fish Soup

White fish, tomato-y, coconut broth, and a little heat. That warms up my little heart just writing it. Seriously, in the winter, I really tend to crave that combo of acid, heat, creamy. And a little protein doesn't hurt either.

This soup is simple and so so good. It's also something different to do with fish when you're bored of the dill and lemon routine. It's also a great way to eat fish without it being so fishy if you and yourn have trouble with fish.

As a cheapskate, it's a great way to use cheap fish without it tasting cheap (we used tilapia, but I've also use swai, which is super cheap for fish). This dish is also the perfect place for leftover fish. I hate it when we wind up with, like, 1 1/2 fillets of fish. It can't really feed the family again, and it starts to taste fishy as a leftover. Well, let me tell you, this is the PERFECT place for that to go.

Soups like this also strike me as inherently romantic--creamy, hot, sophisticated with a piece of rustic bread torn from the loaf and then dipped into the soup. Tactile. Comforting. Sigh. (Note: This type of soup does not strike Kip as inherently romantic. His idea of romance is more like a nice big steak with a potato and maybe even a fun trip to Golden Corral. Why, yes, we do have to take turns choosing restaurants for our anniversaries--why do you ask?)

Fire Roasted Fish Soup
adapted from Tasty Trix
Serves 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Cost: $3.55
onion: .15, peppers: .30, tomatoes: 1.00, broth: .10, coconut milk: .75, bouillon: .10, fish: 2.00-4.00 (we used less than the recipe calls for and I liked it best that way--thus the $2), other stuff: .15

Note: I only use about half this much fish. I like the soup brothy-er. This is also the perfect place for leftover fish. Just throw it in at the end of cooking.

1 white or yellow onion, diced
1-2 hot peppers (if you're wimpy like me, this can be a jalapeno; if you're brave/crazy you can go super hot with something like a habanero)
1-2 Tbsp peanut oil
16 oz fire roasted tomatoes (or plain old diced tomatoes if you're in a pinch)
1/2 C chicken broth
1/2 can coconut milk (that's 7 ounces)
1/2 tsp chicken bouillon granules
several springs fresh thyme
1 pound white fish (or less; we can make do with much less)
salt and pepper to taste

Roast the peppers until they're charred. You can do this under the broiler if you'd like, but if this is the type of first step that makes you want to run, screaming, to McDonald's, then just give those peppers a hot saute (cut 'em up, put them in a pan, and cook on high or medium high).  Remove some or all of the seeds depending on the type of peppers used and your own wimpiness levels. Now add those onions to some oil and cook them until they soften. Puree the peppers and onion with 1/2 the tomatoes (if your family doesn't like chunky broths, then just puree it all--this is what I did).

In a stock pot, put broth, remaining tomatoes (if you didn't puree them), coconut milk, chicken bouillon granules, and thyme. Bring to a simmer. Add in the pureed mixture bit by bit, tasting as you go if you're worried it'll get too hot from the peppers (if you used wimpy peppers like me, you're fine). Add salt and pepper to taste, and allow to simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Now add your fish and simmer another 10 minutes. Just plop that fish in there raw and it will cook up in the broth without becoming overcooked and gummy as fish can sometimes do.

Serve with a nice rustic bread or a plop of rice right into the soup.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Oatmeal Pancakes (made with leftover oatmeal)

No one's going to judge you for throwing away that leftover oatmeal in your pot (unless, maybe, you had a grandmother who suffered through the Depression). It's so cheap that saving it is not going to make or break you. And, I mean, have you ever seen leftover oatmeal--it looks gross. No one wants to eat it, even if you tell them it will taste just fine after you've warmed it up.


When we were trying to live on $6/day, we didn't waste (usually) anything. I really enjoyed that--the frugality and the feeling that the things under our stewardship got used as well as possible.

Even that isn't quite enough, however, to compel me towards the leftover oatmeal. But this...this recipe is. With this recipe, you are not slogging through gray, slimy-looking oatmeal. With this recipe, you are stepping into a cute little bed and breakfast and being treated to a pretty and delicious meal. Seriously, these pancakes are fabulous. And easy to make. And just as pretty and golden and non-lumpy as any other pancakes (don't let the dough scare you--it will be lumpy). And cheap.

So go on, now you can have your warm, fresh oatmeal and eat your leftovers too.

My kids ate these Pace style with plenty of syrup or a smear of Nutella, but when my son's friends came over later, they just grabbed the leftovers and walked around eating them like pieces of toast.

Oatmeal Pancakes (made with leftover oatmeal)
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
makes about 16-20 pancakes (3-4 inches)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15-20 minutes
Cost: $1.00
oat flour: .15, flour: .10, sugar: 02, butter: .18, milk: .20, honey: .15, eggs: .20

3/4 C oat flour (can be made by blending or food processing regular oats; whole wheat flour may also work)
1 C all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp butter, melted, but not crazy hot
1 1/4 C milk
1 C cooked oatmeal
1 Tbsp honey
2 eggs

Combine dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, melt the butter, heat the leftover oatmeal, then combine those to the other wet ingredients (milk, honey, and eggs)

Add wet to dry. Mix.

Cook on a skillet over medium heat as you would regular pancakes.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

My Three Favorite Green Leafy Salads or Dressings

I guess it is January and all. I keep buying greens at any rate. Which is a good thing except when they jut stare at you from their little bag/clamshell and you wonder what on earth to do with them.

Rainbow Salad: This one's pretty. Also diverse.

Tree House Salad: This one's easy. And a little sweet/crunchy. I'm going to have to say that it's my favorite simple salad because you basically just need romaine, nuts, and goat cheese. It feels super sophisticated and fairly healthy and balanced without having 700 ingredients.

Orange Dressing: My favorite viniagrette.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Flower Cake--an Easy Decorating Idea

We all love Pinterest. In fact, I'm celebrating Pinterest today by putting cute little Pinterest thingies on each image so that it's easy for you to hover over the pictures and then pin them. In this way, I plan to become quickly rich and famous. Thank you.

So, yes, we all love Pinterest. And sometimes we love-hate it. Because sometimes the ideas don't work. Like, not even a little. And because sometimes the ideas might work; but they are crazy. I mean I'm sure that the smiling men and women who hang homemade paper lanterns for parties and then set glowing balloons afloat in the pool, while cutting their long grass into a maze for the children to run through and preparing 70,000 monkey-themed allergen-free party favors (and all this for their child who is turning one or maybe for an un-birthday of some sort, or perhaps it's all just a prank from that ever-clever elf on the shelf) are probably very nice, but also clinically insane and terribly ill human beings. And yet. And yet there's always this little part of us that maybe wants to float glowing things across lakes we don't have for parties we'll never throw. And maybe there's even a tiny part of us that thinks that we should be able to accomplish such a feat. Or at least, perhaps, remember to purchase balloons and blow them up for our own children's birthdays. But then we fail at this. So sometimes Pinterest can make us feel a tiny bit bad. Don't let it.

Instead do something easy. Something dumb easy, but still very beautiful.

This is it. Sure, I recommend a homemade cake. Because I love them. But I will not report you to the Pinterest police if you go on and make a non-homemade cake. If you do make a homemade cake, try this one (chocolate) or this one (white) or this one (coconut).

I got the idea for this from a book called Candy Aisle Crafts that my youngest daughter loves. Naturally for her birthday she picked out a cake  from this book and carried the book around for weeks before her birthday. I was pleased to find that the idea did not require a blow torch or fondant (my nemesis) or any variety of crazy and was actually quite simple. And beautiful. These flowers were easy enough that my 7 and 5-year-olds could help with while I set my 10-year-old to creating stems and leaves.

And this cake. Sure, it's great for a 5-year-old's birthday, but it'd also be perfect for a spring party or baby shower. Frankly, this cake screams baby shower to me--I mean you could even color-theme those flowers blue or pink easy peasy.

Here's what you do.

1. Buy a flower-shaped cookie like this one:

*If you can't find a flower-shaped cookie, use a simple round cookie--something as basic as a Nilla Wafer or basic oatmeal cookie will work.

2. When the frosting is freshly applied, stick those cookies on. (Note: You do not want to frost the cake and leave it as the frosting will sort of set up  and you won't be able to stick things to it as easily, so wait to frost the cake until you've got your decorations and are ready to go.)

3. Next apply M&M's (or really any simple small round candy of your choice) in the center of your cookies. If you haven't found handy-dandy flower cookies like these with a hole in the center, you'll have to apply a little dollop of frosting to the center of your Nilla Wafers to make that candy stick, but this shouldn't kill you.

4. Make the stems/leaves. (Truly, unless you have a 10-year-old making these for you while you do other things, you might want to have them made beforehand, so you can just flop them on your fresh frosting quickly, but if you forget, you'll be fine) For this we used green Air Heads. They worked great as they can be easily cut and then shaped by squishing if any further shaping is necessary. Also, my kids are crazy about them even though I think they're gross. Our book recommended some type of flat sour candy (sour belts I believe), which would have been swell, but I could only find them in rainbow colors. In lieu of candy, you could pipe green frosting or perhaps use green Pull 'N' Peel Twizzlers, which I saw, but worried that they would not adhere to my frosting as well since they're not flat.

5. Put those stems/leaves onto your flowers.

And you're done. I fought a mighty temptation to splatter the top of the cake with more M&M's or to put a big old flower on the top. Or to try some other elaborate and painful decoration. I'm glad I resisted the urge. Simple was better and it turned out beautifully. Also the entire flower-adding process took us only about 15 minutes (that 10-year-old was helpful, though. If you're doing this yourself, give yourself another 10 minutes to cut/shape those Air Heads).

Note: Cutting through the flowers is a wee bit tricky the first day, but on the 2nd day, the knife slides right through both cookie and Air Heads, so if you prepare you cake the day before (many good cake recipes, especially those with oil instead of butter, are actually better the 2nd-day anyway), you won't have to feed enormous slices to your guests.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Alphabet Soup with Tomatoes and Baby Chard

Classic kid food with a sophisticated twist. Or maybe I should say classic grown up food with a child-like twist. Because, you know, I've mentioned that my kids are picky. So if I just served brothy soup with carrots, onions, zucchini, tomatoes, and baby greens, I'd pretty much be eating that 1/2 gallon of soup by myself. But, miraculously, adding tiny pastas in the shape of letters had a somewhat magical effect. Everyone ate it (although Emma had to be coaxed a bit). Everyone didn't quite eat every bite (several children pulled out carrots or greens or whatever offending food they could see), but they still ate their bowl of soup and without complaint, commenting all the while how this was just like Martha (as in the dog in "Martha Speaks"). And, in fact, we ended up having a dinner-table conversation about literary terms such as simile, metaphor, alliteration, and onomatopoeia (which, ironically, is the furthest thing from the "vocal imitation of the sound associated with it" that I can think of), but anyway, it appears that Martha was on to something in eating all that alphabet soup.

It was a lovely dinner. Now, if you haven't eaten alphabet soup except out of a can (like, cough, me until recently), then you're in for a very nice surprise. It's not just blah salty soup with hundred year old alphabet noodles. It's a delicious veggie soup with extra fun thrown in. The broth is chickeny, yet also tomato/Italian-y, and a tiny bit sweet. It's light, but still worthy to be called a meal. And the noodles are cooked in and thus flavored by that broth, so they're great too. We ate it vegetarian, but some chicken or sausage would have rocked too. Also, if you've got fresh basil, that would be amazing.

Alphabet Soup with Tomatoes and Baby Chard
adapted from Give Me Some Oven
makes 6-10 servings
Prep and cook time: 30 minutes
Cost: $3.75
onion: .15, carrots: .40, zucchini: .30, chicken broth: .50 (more if you buy the canned, but I use homemade or the bullion cubes), tomatoes: 1.00, pasta: 1.50, greens: .40

Note: I found my letter pasta at (weirdly) the Asian food store and bought it on a whim. Then it sat in my pantry for months until this idea for a recipe came along. I assume (hope) it'd be with the pasta in a normal store. If you can't find it, orzo will work too.

Another note: This seems way too brothy at first, but as the pasta cooks it thickens. In fact, it thickens quite a bit--sometimes too much. Today for leftovers, it was very thick. I threw in a few glugs of tomato juice (or V8) to loosen it up and that was yummy. (This was added to the pictures above making the broth a little more red than yours will come out if you don't use V8.) So if you find you need it, use some tomato juice or a bit more broth.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 C diced carrots (I chopped mine quite small so my children would sometimes accidentally eat them instead of picking them all out)
1/2 C grated zucchini (celery would also work)
3 cloves garlic
6 C veggie or chicken broth (I used chicken)
1 can (14-oz) diced tomatoes (I used fire roasted and I think Italian would kick butt, but any will do)
1 1/2 C alphabet pasta (orzo will also work, but you know, then your dogs won't start talking when they eat the leftovers)
few pinches oregano
few pinches rosemary
fresh basil (optional)
salt and pepper to taste (I didn't need any, but it depends on your broth)
3-4 C (loosely packed) baby chard (or spinach or baby beet greens)

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add chopped onion and cook for about five minutes. Add carrots and zucchini and cook for another 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute.

Then add broth and diced tomatoes. Cook for a minute or so. Add alphabet pasta and seasonings.

Cook (simmer) for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until your alphabet pasta is nearly done. Then, 2 minutes before serving, add the chard and cook until wilted.



Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Five Leftovers Better Than Restaurant Food

So it's January and maybe you're poor. All that festivising can be a little hard on the wallet. But chances are you probably also have a refrigerator/freezer full of weird odds and ends--a little ham in the freezer from Christmas, some ugly old yams sitting in the pantry, probably with a half-used box of crackers. Then there are the nubs of cheese, a few random veggies, and 1/2 C of dip from New Year's Eve, And there's always that random tub of mashed potatoes that just seems to be there in your fridge (at least if you are us--somehow I never ever make our mashed potatoes match our meal; always too much or too little). So your fridge is kind of stuffed, but you tell yourself you have to go shopping anyway because you're sick to death of those foods already, or maybe you just have no idea what to make with them. And you might maybe need to go shopping, but if you do, it might help to do it with all those pesky leftovers in mind. What, after all, could you make from those things that wouldn't taste like the same old ham dinner or chips with dip. Below are some of my favorite leftover ideas that not only revisit leftover foods, but revise them so it feels like you're eating something entirely new. 

Stone Soup. This is great for using up leftover bits of veggies (cooked or not) and meats (cooked or not). Stone is optional.
What you need: butter (or oil in a pinch) and flour for a roux, then milk or broth or a combination of both for a sauce. Then some random veggies, random meats
What you do: Melt butter. Cook any veggies that need cooking. Add flour (equal to the amount of butter used or a little bit less). Add broth/milk/combo of both and whisk in until simmering and broth thickens just a bit. Then add any cooked veggies or cooked meats. (Any uncooked meats you'll want to cook separately).

Potato Soup. This is my favorite way to use up leftover mashed potatoes.
What you need: a bit of cream cheese, chicken broth, salt and pepper, and a bit of grated cheese (use up those random cheese nubs) for the topping.
What you do: Heat the broth (I'm going to guess a cup for every cup of mashed potatoes, but you can adjust this if you want your soup thinner), add in the mashed potatoes and mix. It'll be a little weird-looking and you'll be like, "This is gonna be gross" but have faith. Now you're going to add a bit of that cream cheese. Add a little if you've just got a little soup and a lot if you've got more. Taste, adjust seasonings, and be prepared to be amazed. Then add those cheese bits to the top. Yum

Stuffed Mushrooms. This is great if you've got random leftover veggies or cheese or even a meat like ham or bacon.
What you'll need: Whole mushrooms with the stems removed, cheese (and I like it even more if you have at least a bit of cream cheese to use as a base to hold it all together, but you don't have to have cream cheese), veggies (optional)--chopped tiny
What to do: Remove stems from mushrooms and put them on a baking sheet. In a bowl, combine cheeses and tiny tiny chopped veggies (again some cream cheese is nice for holding everything together, but not absolutely necessary). Add dollops of the cheesy part to the insides of the mushrooms. Bake at 375 until the mushrooms release some liquid onto the pan (you'll see a little kind of puddle around the mushroom) and are tender.

Fried Rice. Great for veggies, meat, and that cursed leftover rice that can dry out and be weird, but it doesn't matter for this recipe, which can totally resurrect dried out rice. This is also good for those little nubs of ginger or maybe that half of a lemon or lime you've got hanging around. Or some leftover scrambled eggs.
What you'll need: Cooked rice or some type of rice-like grain (barley, quinoa, or farro could totally work here), veggies, meat (optional), oil, and soy sauce.
What to do: Heat oil in a skillet. Cook veggies and meat (if not already cooked)--add some soy sauce to them if cooking. Remove from skillet. Add more oil--several Tbsp. If you've got it, add a little ginger or some onion (powders work too) to the oil. Then add the rice. Put some soy sauce in (enough to color the rice, but taste as you go because if you get it too salty you can't go back). And stir fry that rice in your oil. Plum sauce and oyster sauce are nice additions, but you can make a perfectly respectable fried rice with just oil and soy sauce. Then add in the vegetables and meats. If you've got an egg and want to add it, go for it. Add a bit of lemon or lime juice (or zest) if you wish.

Wraps. This is nice if you've got beans or random bits of grains (couscous, rice, quinoa, farro) lying around, but not a whole lot (cause seriously, what do you do with 1/2 C of leftover farro--chances are you throw it out, but if you've got a few more things it can really kick butt in a wrap). It's also a great place for cheese nubs and random sauces or leftover dips that you've got. A wrap can also be a good home for a few pieces of shrimp of a half a fish fillet or that random leftover chicken leg.
What you need: Some type of tortilla or wrap, cheese or veggies or beans or grain or sour cream or shrimp or fish or meat or sauce or some combination of those things.
What you do. Warm the stuff you're adding to the wrap. I'd encourage you to be sure you have something creamy in the mix--cream cheese or sour cream or a bit of leftover dip or even a bit of ranch or BBQ sauce, but creamy is nice to keep it from being too dry. Anyway, mix up the stuff you plan to shove into this wrap, be sure there's a creamy element to it. Then warm your wrap and add those fillings to it.

An idea for dessert:
-Try a "dump" cookie--make your favorite chocolate chip cookie dough and then dump in whatever random leftover nuts, coconut, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, mints or marshmallows or whatevers you would like. (Be a tiny bit mindful of what might be gross together--like coconut and mint, but otherwise, go nuts.) Bake as you would a chocolate chip cookie.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Pantry Alfredo Sauce

Let's be honest here. I don't truly believe that Alfredo is Alfredo without some cream--usually a lot of cream. Without that, in all honesty, it's really just a white sauce. But this is a very delicious and rich and Alfredo-esquewhite sauce, especially considering we will be using mostly items from our pantry. You can call it diet Alfredo if you want since it uses whole milk instead of actual cream, but then--and I just don't know how to say this politely--you'd kind of be an idiot because this is a whole milk-based cheese sauce with a butter roux. But, you know, whatever makes you and yourn feel good about life.

The real purpose and reason for this recipe is that sometimes you run out of cream. Or milk. Or both. And then you get a hankering for creamy pasta. Wow, life can be really hard sometimes. I mean, wait till our grandchildren hear these stories of deprivation. But I digress. The point is I wanted Alfredo and had no cream. I didn't want to run to the store. And, truly, if one of your New Year's Resolutions involves saving a little money this year, then running to the store every time you want a food is a bad idea. So here you go. Now you can have your Alfredo and eat it too.

This is a super easy recipe that involves shelf-stable foods and takes less than 10 minutes to pull together. Additionally, you get it for less than $2. Hello pasta night. (Note: Butter is often refrigerated, but does not actually need refrigeration--at least in the shortish term. While you probably don't want to leave it out for a year or anything, it'll be good on your counter for several weeks. We leave our butter on the counter all the time so it's easy to butter bread. I'm not truly sure how long it will stay good on the counter, because we go through our counter stick of butter in less than two weeks--usually less than 1 week. But I've never ever in all my 13 years of married life had counter butter go bad.)

Pantry Alfredo Sauce
serves 2-4
Prep and cook time: less than 10 minutes
butter: .25, evaporated milk: .70, cheese: .75, other stuff: .05 (Aldi prices)

1/4 C butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 can whole evaporated milk
1/4-1/2 tsp salt
3/4 C Parmesan cheese (the real stuff, not the powdery kind)
1/4 tsp garlic powder (optional)
the juices from a can of diced tomatoes (optional, but a very very nice touch if I do say so myself)

Melt butter in a pot on medium heat. Whisk in flour. Let cook for 30-60 seconds. Add salt and garlic powder if using and whisk. Whisk in evaporated milk. Keep whisking till it's nice and smooth. Keep stir/whisking every minute or so until it thickens slightly. Now whisk in the cheese (you may want to turn the heat down or take it off the heat entirely here). Stir it for a few minutes until it melts and the entire mixture thickens.

Now I would recommend opening a can of diced tomatoes (we used tomato and basil, but any kind would work.) Pour the liquid from the can into your sauce and whisk it. This makes the sauce a pretty color and just really adds a nice little flavor. Then, I served the remaining tomatoes with my pasta and Alfredo. It was fabulous.



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