Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sausage and Bean Stew

Things that I can prep or cook ahead of time are an absolute MUST for keeping my sanity.  Which I think is why I am such a fan of crock-pot cooking and one-dish meals.  During the school year, just about everything that we eat is a casserole, stirfry, soup or stew.  Lately Sunday has been our cooking day - we get everything for the week prepped, cook the things we can, and then we are good to go for the rest of the week. 

This Suausage and Bean Stew is one of those meals - easy to make, easy to enjoy.

Sausage and Bean Stew

1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves minced garlic
4 slices bacon
1 lb chicken sausage (any flavor - we used roasted red pepper)
2 cans navy beans
1 can red kidney beans
2 C. frozen sweet corn
1Tbsp. dried parsley
1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper
2/3 C. water (use the water from rinsing out the cans of beans)

If the sausage is not fully cooked, then brown before using.  Cook the bacon until crispy and cut into pieces, set aside.  Cut the sausage links in half, and then in 1/4 inch slices.  Dump all ingredients (except bacon) into a crock pot and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.  Add bacon with about 10 -20 minutes left.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Birthday Cake

My husband is addicted to Skittles.  He keeps a giant jar of them in his desk at work.  He keeps a giant jar of them above the refridgerator.  The external motivator that we used to potty train our daughters was Skittles (aka "Daddy Treats").  Skittles are, to him, the perfect snack, ending to every meal, and solution to any sort of hunger twang or bad taste in the mouth.  With one exception - he picks out all the yellow ones. 

Yes.  You read that right.  I am married to a man who buys gigantic bags of Skittles, opens them, and picks out every. single. yellow skittle and tosses it before he fills up his Skittles jars.

So for his birthday, I decided to make him a "Skittle" themed cake.

This is very similar to the cake that I made last year for my girls' birthday...but that was before I started this blog.  Maybe I'll post a pick at some point, it was a caterpillar, and pretty cute (if I do say so myself).  But the best thing about this Skittles cake is the fuity frosting.  Yup.  That's right.  White cake, fruity frosting.  Delicious.

I used the "White Cake" recipe in the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook.  I will post the recipe at some point, too.  But not now.  Now I want to focus on the frosting.  Very, very easy.  And very, very good.  It pairs perfectly with the cake.  A spot-on combination that I would urge you to try:

Jello-Cream-Cheese Frosting

Beat 4 oz. of softened cream cheese (use the real, full-fat stuff) until smooth.  Add 1 tsp. vanilla and 1/8 c. granulated sugar, and 1 box of your favorite flavor of jello and beat until smooth.  Add 1-1/2 C. heavy whipping cream all at once and beat until stiff peaks (start on low or it will splatter everywhere).  For vibrant color, add some food coloring.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dried Tomatoes

What do you do when you have about eight pounds of tomatoes that you need to use quickly...before they die in the bag that your grandmother-in-law brought them over in??

I made dried tomatoes.  Just like Sun-dried Tomatoes that you can buy all fancy-like at the store.  Except mine were dried in an oven, not with the sun.  It was a good thing I decided to go the oven route - the day I did this the sun decided to hide behind giant rain clouds.

Cut the tomatoes in half (mine were "plum" tomatoes, so they were small, you may want to cut in fourths or eighths if your tomatoes are large).  Dump into a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil, stir to coat. 

Arrange in a single layer on cookie sheets/jelly roll pans (you'll want it to have and edge).  Bake at 250 until dried out and shriveled, around 6 hours or so.  Enjoy in chili, stew, pasta, etc.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Punched-up Pasta

When my husband and I cook, we try to add in some "healthy extras" whenever we can.  For the sake of our girls (who hesitate to eat anything green), and for the sake of our own health as well.  Sometimes it is as simple as sprinkling some ground flax seed on our oatmeal or adding a few tablespoons of wheat germ in with the flour when making brownies or cookies.

And sometimes it is as simple as this pasta.

We started with the "Piccolini" pasta made by Barilla:

It's this cute little pasta - just the right size for little mouths (my daughters', not mine).  And - bonus - they have some that is made with veggies cooked into  the pasta, so it has a serving of veggies right from the start.

Then, we browned some very lean (93/7) ground beef with about half an onion and a green bell pepper (both diced small) and a big spoonful of  minced garlic.  Add that to your favorite bottled pasta sauce (we like Target's Archer Farms brand), and then stir in a half a can of pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling, just the pumpkin), about 2 cups of frozen corn, and a can of diced tomatoes.  Add about a 1/2 tsp. or so of Italian seasoning and let simmer for just a couple minutes to get everything cooked/heated through. 

Mix it all together and --- voila a quick and healthy dinner.  Serve with cottage cheese on the side and you've got all your food groups covered!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tatertot Casserole - Mexican-ish Chicken

I'm always looking for a new spin on an old favorite.  Especially when that new spin makes that old favorite a little more healthy.

Here we've revamped the traditional tatertot casserole. 

Usually, this casserole involves ground beef, cream of mushroom soup, and canned green beans.  Maybe some other stuff, too.  Topped with tatertots.

Here's our version:

Combine all the below in your favorite casserole dish (or an 8x8 or 9x9 square pan):
Use about a pound of shredded chicken - we used some leftover rotissere chicken. 

Add a can of mashed beans. Any bean will probably do.  We used Great Northern, but black beans would have been my preferred bean to use.  My second choice would have been kidney.  But we had the GN beans on hand, so that was what we used.  Add a dash of milk to make them a bit creamier with a soupier texture.

1 finely diced red bell pepper.

1 finely diced green bell pepper.

1 can diced green chiles.

1 can diced tomatoes (or 1 - 2 large fresh tomatoes)

1 packet of taco seasoning (I use 3 Tbsp. homemade taco seasoning instead.)

Sprinkle with 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese.

Top with tatertots. 

Bake at 400 for about 30 minutes.  (45 if prepared ahead of time and refridgerated.) Crank the heat to 450 for the last 5 minutes to crisp up the tots.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Quick Hint: Too Much Cake

We have a small family.  As much as we love cake, sometimes we can't eat it all before it starts to go stale.  I've devised a plan for this - a plan that is working out pretty well for us so far.

When making a batch of cupcakes that will be just for the family, I'll use some of the batter to make one layer of a 6-inch cake.  Once it has cooled, I'll wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and freeze.

If I'm making a cake that will be just for the family, sometimes I will make three 6-inch layers instead of two 8- or 9-inch layers.  I'll use two of those 6-inch layers to make the initial cake, and freeze the other one (wrapped tightly in plastic wrap). 

When making frosting, I'll sometimes make up an extra batch and freeze it. 

Then...when the mood for strikes, but the desire to bake just isn't quite there, I'll grab a couple of those frozen cake layers and some frosting and viola - almost instant dessert!

For fun...mix and match cake layers - like this one that is one layer of white cake, and one of chocolate.

**Just a note: One leftover, 15 oz buttertub (washed, of course) packed full of frosting and frozen is perfect for a two-layer, 6-inch cake.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Margherita-ish Pizza

We had some extra fresh basil on hand that we didn't know what to do with.  We also had a couple of fresh tomatoes from our small, container/patio garden.  Our solution was a Margherita-ish Pizza.

This was a weekday, after-school meal, so we didn't have a lot of time.  That's my excuse for not making a crust from scratch.  My brother is an awesome pizza-maker.  He has a fabulous recipe for an outstanding crust that he has shared with me.  But I was lazy busy so used a store-bought crust instead.  It was still pretty good.

Here's what we did:

In a food processor, I pureed some canned tomatoes with some italian seasoning, garlic powder and cracked black pepper.  We spread about 4 oz. of this concoction over the crust, then layered with sliced fresh tomatoes, basil leaves (roughly chopped), and thinly sliced mozzarella cheese.  Then I sprinkled on a little bit more basil, a dash of olive oil and some kosher salt (making sure that the crust got salt on it).

Bake directly on the rack at 450 for about 12 minutes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Quick Hint: Homemade Taco Seasoning

I'm a big fan of meat flavored with taco seasoning.  Ground beef, chicken, turkey, and pork.  Shredded beef, chicken, turkey, and pork.  Beans. - any variety. 

I'm not, however, a big fan of store-bought, packaged taco seasoning.  I don't care for the fake-y flavor and the incredible amount of sodium.  Ick. 

So, I make my own.  The recipe below is for the equivalent to one packet.  It makes about 3-1/2 Tbsp. of seasoning.  When I make it, I usually multiply everything by 8 or so and then store it in a large container (I have repurposed a container that once held coffee creamer) to use whenever I need it.  I've found that making as much ahead of time as possible is so much more convenient in the long run.

Taco Seasoning

4 tsp. dried minced onion
3 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. corn starch
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. black pepper

Mix it all together.  When ready to use, mix 3-1/2 Tbsp with 1/4 cup water and add to 1 lb. of meat.  Stir in and simmer until liquid evaporates and meat is seasoned.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pudding Poke Cake

When I told my husband my plans for this dessert, he was not looking forward to it.  He thought - a cake without buttercream frosting?  Why bother?

Why bother?? Because this is SO MUCH EASIER!  Because (when we made it) it was 95 degrees outside!  Because it is DELICIOUS!

And after trying a piece (and then another)...he agreed.  It was worth the trouble (which was not much), and it was a nice change of pace.

My mom has made this cake for years, and I'm guessing that it is a recipe that is all over the place, although my mom is the only person (other than me) that I know who has made it (or at least who has made it and had me try it or told me about it...maybe everyone makes this cake and I'm just out of the loop).

So easy: start with your favorite white or yellow cake.  I used the white cake recipe from the red & white checkered Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  That's my favorite...but a white or yellow cake mix works, too.

(I actually made this in early August, right before moving.  All my cake pans were packed except these - so I made it in two 8-inch sorta-round pans.  I would usually make it in a 9x13 pan.)

After the cake is completely cooled, poke holes all over the cake with the end of a wooden spoon.  Make sure the holes go all the way to the bottom of the pan.  I dipped the end of the spoon in flour so that the crumbs wouldn't stick to it.

Now, quick whip up a regular-sized box of chocolate (or your preferred flavor) instant pudding.  Don't let it sit as it sets up quickly, and pour over cake, taking care to fill all the holes, then cover the top and spread to frost.

Chill for about an hour to make sure that the pudding is set, and then enjoy!  Store any leftovers in the fridge.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Butterfly Burgers

Some days my girls' will eat anything I put in front of them.  Some days they won't touch a thing on their plate - even if they gobbled it down a few days before.  Cooking for two two-and-half-year-olds can be challenging, to say the least.  It would be stressful if I let it bother me.  Instead, I usually just cook whatever I want and if they eat it...great.  If not...well, that's their problem.

I'm not that hard-hearted, though.  I do make lots of attempts to make things that I think...that I hope...they will eat and enjoy.  The difficult thing is, however, that they are so incredibly inconsistent.  If they always hated bananas, well, that would be easy.  But they pick and choose when they don't like something.  Love it one day, hate it the next.  Even worse...one loves it on Monday and the other hates it, but they'll flip it for Wednesday.  Again...if I let it bother me, it would be stressful.

These Butterfly Burgers, however, they both loved.  And they both loved them when we first had them, then...they both  loved them for leftovers.  Score!!

Butterfly (or any shape) Burgers

Mix together:
1 lb. ground turkey
1 can. mashed white beans (great northern, navy, cannolini, baby butter, etc)
dash worchestershire sauce
dash olive oil
1 egg white

Pick your favorite cookie cutter.  Place the cookie cutter on the broiler pan, and fill with the meat/bean mixture, packing it tightly.  (If you do it on a seperate surface and try to transfer to the broiler pan, there's a good chance it will fall apart.  I found it much easier to just do it on the pan.)  Depending on the size of your cookie cutter, you'll probably get somewhere around 6 - 8 burgers.

Broil until no longer pink in the center and lightly browned on the outside.

I "decorated" just with ketchup, but it would be fun to decorate with cheese cut into shapes, or mustard, pickles, etc. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Snickerdoodle Bars

The start of the school year is synonomous with the start of fall.  Even if fall doesn't really start at the same time that school does (it was 97 degrees earlier this week...which translated to around 105 or so in my husband's upstairs, west-facing, non-airconditioned classroom), it still brings on the first hints of the fall-type feeling that I love so much.

The transitional seasons are my favorite.  In March, spring is my favorite season...but in September, Fall totally takes the cake.  I think that I might love these seasons so much because they were fairly non-existant where I grew up (New Mexico).  In New Mexico, it seemed like you moved directly from Summer to Winter and then back again.  I remember driving around one Fall my first year of college, when I saw my first real, live, brilliantly red maple tree.  It was magnificent.

These bars taste a bit like Fall to me, which is why I felt compelled to make them at the start of the season.  My husband thinks that I'm crazy that my baking is a tad seasonal.  Some things that I make can be made year-round.  But some things belong to a season, and it just doesn't feel right making them outside of it. These bars, for example.  Or my Harvest Bars, which will likely make an appearance around October (harvest time, duh).

The recipe originally came from The Brown Eyed Baker, but I've made some every so slight changes to the recipe below.

Snickerdoodle Bars

Bars -
2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 cups packed brown sugar
1-1/2 sticks butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Topping -
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Set aside.

With and electric mixer, beat together the butter for about 30 seconds on medium.  Add the brown sugar and beat until fluffy and well-mixed (around 2 minutes).  Add the eggs, beating after each addition (about 30 seconds), add the vanilla.  Beat until everything is well combined - scrape the bottom of the bowl to make sure that everything is incorporated.  

Adjust mixer speed to low, and slowly add the dry ingredients until just combined (don't overmix).

Spread evenly in the prepared pan.  This is a thicker batter, so spreading it isn't the easiest thing in the world - an offset spatula or stiff table knife works best.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon for the topping, and sprinkle evenly over the batter.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes.  Cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Quick Hint: Eating Light

Ever have those days where you just can't bear a heavy, calorie-laden meal?  Maybe it is the summer's heat, or the fact that you've eaten out four times this particular week.  Whatever it is...sometimes lighter is just better.  And in this world of super-sized portions and everything drenched in butter, I find that, for me and family, quite often we prefer the simple, lighter dishes.

Not that you would necessarily know it to read this blog.  But quite often, particularly during the summer months, this is how we eat:

This whole meal was right around 250 calories, it was satisfying, filling, and just what we needed.

(What's on the plate: about 1/3 cup brown rice lightly buttered with Brummel and Brown spread then a little salt and pepper; about 1/3 cup boiled green beans, yellow zucchini sauteed - using cooking spray - with red and green bell peppers and canned tomatoes; and a small tilapia fillet, lightly brushed with olive oil, seasoned with kosher salt and cracked pepper, then wrapped in foil and grilled.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Quick Hint: Buttermilk

I used to hate it when a favored recipe called for buttermilk.  Who wants to buy a big, ol' container of buttermilk when all you need is a cup?  The rest inevitably would always go to waste. 

Sure, there is always the "sour milk" substitution - to substitute for one cup buttermilk, add one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to your measuring cup, then fill up to one cup with milk.

But sour milk isn't a pure substitute.  And when the recipe is really a favorite, you want the real thing.  Or, at least, I do.  However, in a Taste of Home magazine a few months ago, I saw this tip that I couldn't wait to try.  And once tried, I knew I had to share.

There is such a thing as powdered buttermilk.  How awesome is that?  It works great! Just add the powder to your dry ingredients, then replace the "buttermilk" in the recipe with the equivalent amount of water.  Easy peasy.  You keep it in the fridge, and it lasts a long time.

Who knew?!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Andean Gumbo

We had a small grilling disaster.  Not a big disaster, no one was injured and the only casualty were the potatoes.  We had plenty of other food, so their loss was not really felt.  It wasn't the type of disaster one would normally imagine.  There was no smoke or charred mess.  Instead, the potatoes were woefully underdone.  Almost crunchy.  Not suitable for the intended meal, but my husband and I were determined to find some sort of use for them.

Digging through the fridge and freezer, we found that we had some Andouille sausage, some non-descript white fish, probably Tilapia, and a variety of other veggies and spices.  We decided to do some experimenting and came up with this - Andean Gumbo.  (Because potatoes orginally came from the Andes mountains.  We could have gone with the name "Irish Gumbo," but we wanted something slightly more obscure - and historically accurate - than that.  That's just the kind of dorks that we are.)

We started with a basic recipe for Seafood and Okra Gumbo from an old Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library cookbook "Soups" that I bought a loooong time ago.  Perhaps as long ago as high school.   This is my ultimate, go-to book for soups.  Everything I have tried from the book is amazing.  So we were pretty sure that we wouldn't be led astray.

And we weren't.  The soup turned out delicious.  One caveat - I burned the onions in step one and was too lazy to start over.  So...everything after that took on the color of the char on the onions and gave the soup and ugly, muddy color.  This is yet again one of those soups that tasted far better than it looked.  Since I don't like to get caught up on looks, I'm OK with that.  All-in-all, it was a great experiment, and we can add another meal into our rotation.  (Which isn't really a rotation, as usually I'm trying so many new things that I rarely make the same thing more than a couple of times a year.  Something that is kind of a bummer when it is really good.)

Andean Gumbo

1/3 C. vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
4 C. stock or broth (we used some home-made chicken stock that we had in the freezer)
1 can diced tomatoes
6 small white fish fillets (tilapia, cod, etc)
1 small package frozen okra
5-6 cooked Andoille sausages
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. cayenne (or more, if you like it hotter)
about 4 or 5 medium potatoes, mostly cooked, diced.

1. In a large soup pot, warm oil over medium heat and saute the onion and garic until translucent (don't let them burn like I did and make your soup ugly).  Reduce heat to low and add flour, stirring occasionally until golden brown (this is your roux, or thickener).
2. Whisking constantly, stir in the stock.  Then add everything else but the fish and let simmer for about 35 minutes.  Add the fish and continue to cook until fish is done, about 10-15 minutes.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Lemon Cake with Raspberry Filling

In about a week I'm moving to a new house across town. One of the things that I will miss the most about this house is my raspberry patch.  I got these raspberries from some unwanted volunteers that came up from my grandma's patch the spring after we moved into this house.  Our untouched-for-over-100-years soil here has been good to the raspberries and they have flourished.  I'm trying to figure out if I can sneak a few out and onto my new property, or if that would be unethical. 

This year I was very much looking forward  to these raspberries and brainstormed all the ways that I could use them.  As soon as I had enough - and it didn't take long, I only needed about a pint - I decided on this lemon cake with raspberry filling.  I got the inspiration from I am Baker, but decided to put my own spin on it.

I started with this lemon cake recipe from marthastewart.com, except I skipped the lemon syrup over the top part.  This makes a very light, moist cake with a nice, strong - but not too tart or overpowering - lemony flavor.

I made the cake in two 9-inch layers. I really need to invest in some 8-inch cake pans, I think it would have turned out better.  Then I cut each layer in half, so I had four thin layers.

For the filling, I made one package of raspberry jello according to package directions.  However, I didn't want the texture all jello-y, so about an hour and a half into the chilling process I mixed in about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of applesauce to make the jello, well, less jello-y and more sauce-y.

After jello and cake were both appropriately chilled/cooled, I got to the assembly.  On a cake stand, I put one layer of cake, then a thin layer of the jello - being carefull not to get to within a 1/2-inch of the outer edge so it wouldn't smoosh through when I stacked the other other layers.  Next came a layer of cake.  Then a layer of Jello.  Then I covered the jello with about a pint of raspberries.  Then a little bit more jello.

Next came a layer of cake, then jello, then the final layer of cake.  I frosted it with some Cool Whip.  I put a very thick layer on, then used a pattern that I cut out of some cardboard from a cereal box to "comb" the side of the cake to make the design.

This cake was gooooood.  Good enough to make me think about digging up half my raspberry bushes and hauling them to the new house, despite the August heat...and the potential ethics of the situation.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rhubarb Dessert

You can't truly appreciate summer in Iowa unless you are appreciating it with some sort of rhubarb dessert.  This delicious, tangy vegetable (yes, rhubarb is a vegetable, I just looked it up) wasn't really available growing up in New Mexico - I suppose you could probably have gotten some poor quality rhubarb that was ripened on methane gas as it rode 1,000 miles to the grocer's shelves...but that just doesn't compare to rhubarb straight from the garden.  One of the things I would look forward to every summer with our annual trip to Grandma and Grandpa's farm was the guarantee of some sort of rhubarb dessert.

 This particular dessert is absolutely delicious.  A flaky shortbread crust, covered in a gooey layer of tangy-sweet rhubarb.  Practically perfect in every way.  Except maybe looks.  I don't think this one will win any beauty contests.  But don't let that discourage you, underneath that rough exterior lies a great deal of inner beauty.

Rhubarb Dessert (yes, it is really just simply called "Rhubarb Dessert")
Recipe comes from the kitchen of Barb Petersen (my mother-in-law)

1 C flour
5 Tbs. powdered sugar
1 stick butter, melted

Spray an 8-1/2 x 11 inch pan with cooking spray (spray very well, or it will stick).  Mix together ingredients with a fork or pastry cutter.  Put dollops into pan and press down to cover the bottom with your fingers.

Bake 15 mins at 350.

2 eggs, beaten well
1-1/2 C. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 C. flour
3-1/2 C. rhubarb (cut into about 1/2 inch cubes)

Mix together the sugar, salt and flour.  Add to eggs and mix well.  Add rhubarb and toss until coated.  Spoon over hot crust.

Bake at 350 for 35 minutes or until lightly browned and topping is set.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Loaded Baked Potato & Grilled Veggies

A few nights ago we fired up the grill and had a delicious meal of grilled fish; red peppers, zucchini, and yellow summer squash right on the grill; and potatoes with onions and green peppers cooked in foil.  It was an incedibly refreshing supper.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about.  I'm here to talk about what we did with the leftovers.  We didn't have any fish leftover (my 2-year-olds ate 2 fillets each! Who knew?!).  For lunch we fried up the potatoes and added some chili powder, cumin and cilantro and threw in a few eggs.  Great - but here's where it goes from great to...?...super great?

I should start by saying that this was all my husband's doing, I didn't have any part in this except the photos and the eating (and now the writing).  I should say that because he'd want me to.  And, of course, because it's true.

Anyway, in a skillet he mixed the leftover red bell peppers, zucchini, and yellow squash (cut into bite-sized pieces), a can of petite cut diced tomatoes, a half a can of tomato sauce, and about half a cup of red wine.  He cooked these together for somewhere around 5 - 8 minutes.  Then we put them on top of our baked potatoes and it was fantastic.

We are trying to go meatless with a few more of our meals, and this was a great way to do it...quite filling and it tasted great.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lemon Drizzle Cake with Blueberry Sauce

Elegant sounding, isn't it?  "Lemon Drizzle Cake with Blueberry Sauce."  Saying that makes me feel a bit like Julia Child.  Fortunately, however, this cake was easy.  Not nearly as elegant as it sounds.  This cake is light, breezy (as much as a cake can be breezy, I suppose), fruity...perfect for a summer's evening.  The tangy tartness of the "drizzle" pairs fantastically with the fruity sweetness of the blueberries. 

Formal or informal, this cake could go either way.  I highly encourage you to make this for your next summer get together.  Or, if get-togethers aren't your thing...make this for your next summer supper.

Lemon Drizzle Cake with Blueberry Sauce
*adapted from a book called "Gorgeous Cakes" (no author listed, and not able to be found on amazon.com)

1 3/4 C. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 C. sugar
4 eggs
2/3 C. sour cream
grated zest of 1 large lemon
juice from 1 large lemon (about 1/4 cup)
2/3 C. vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350, grease an 8-inch round pan (preferable one with a removable bottom), and line the bottom of the pan with waxed or parchment paper.

Sift the flour and baking powder together, then add the sugar and stir until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, lemon rind, lemon juice and oil.  Add to the dry ingredients and mix well until everything is smooth and evenly combined.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45 - 60 minutes - until top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.  As soon as it comes out of the oven, poke holes all over the top with a skewer or toothpick and immediately brush syrup (recipe below) over the top.  Let cake cool completely in the pan.  Serve with chilled blueberry sauce (recipe below).

Lemon Syrup
Mix 1/4 C. powdered sugar with 3 Tbsp. lemon juice in a small pan.  Keep stirring over low heat until it begins to bubble and turns syrupy.  Brush over cake.

Blueberry Sauce
Puree 1 pint of blueberries in a food processor or blender until mostly smooth (some skins will still be there).  In a medium saucepan, mix together 1/2 cup sugar with 1 tsp. cornstarch.  Add pureed blueberries.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Boil and stir for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat, and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Quick Hint: Beat the Heat

Ahhhh.  The long, lazy days of summer.  This is what we've waited for all winter, right?  Relaxing on the front porch swing.  Running barefoot through the grass.  Stopping, for just a minute, to smell the roses, or daylilies, or hydrangeas, or whatever happens to be growing in your yard, the yard down the street, or perhaps the nearby park.

But...summer also brings the heat.  Great - if you are at the pool, lake or beach.  Not so great if you are wanting to whip up a batch of brownies, strawberry shortcake, or homemade bread.

Here's my solution - you really can have your heat and bake a cake, too!

A couple years ago my in-laws gave my husband and me a roaster oven for Christmas.  This thing is fantastic.  And the perfect solution for freshly baked summer-time treats that won't heat up the whole house or make your AC work double-time.

Not only does the thing roast meats (duh), but it also doubles as an oven.  Fantastic for putting out in the mudroom and baking...whatever.  I haven't tried cookies, but cakes, bars and bread - all turned out great.  Last fall I took my roaster to work and cooked up a fresh-from-the-oven apple crisp for our Friday "Lunch Club".

This evening we set it up in our mudroom and closed the door to keep the heat out of the house:

Don't have a mudroom?  A basement would work.  Or a garage.  Or even a back porch.  All you need is an outlet.  And, of course, a roaster oven.

*Credit where it is due: I learned this hint from my Grandparent-in-laws.  A couple summers ago I brought an apple crisp over to their house for dessert...and we baked it in an antique roaster oven in their basement.  This was the event that made my husband and I want the roaster oven in the first place.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Leftover Beef and Barley Soup

I've been remiss.  I've been neglecting my blog.  I've been grading papers.  I've been moving from a closet (as a teacher who traveled to a different room each period with a closet as home-base) to a real room...a real room in the corner of a basement with a leaky air-conditioner and no windows...but a real room none-the-less.  I've been attending graduation, and graduation parties.  I've been celebrating the end of the school year with a week long trip to the breathtaking mountains of Montana - with my husband, but without my kids.

And now I am back.  It is summer and I have eight glorious weeks before I go back to real life.  I have eight weeks to spend with my wonderful family (my husband is a teacher too...how's that for luck?!), piddling around in the yard, tending to my make-shift garden of old kitty-litter containers filled with tomato, pepper and zucchini plants - and a trash can full of potato plants, and best of all...exploring with new recipes.  I'm reading a book right now - I'll share it with you when I'm finished - that is slowly (or quickly...depending, I guess, on your sense of time) changing the way I'm thinking about food, eating, health and nutrition.  I may need to change the title of the blog (I probably should anyway...before I started this I made WAY more sweets than I do now). 

I have some good summer-y recipes to share with you...but I'll get to those a little later this week.  Right now you have to have this recipe for Beef and Barley Soup.   I wanted to get this posted when I made it...back in May when the temperatures were still in the low sixties.  But, for whatever reason, I didn't.  So you get it now.  Crank up the air conditioner (or take a trip to the movies - the theaters are always freezing!), and get yourself in the mood for some soup.  Whenever we make a roast, I always buy one that I know is way to big for our family to eat - and then use the leftovers to make this soup.  As with most soups, it is really a "throw-together" sort of deal.  All values are approximate.  Adjust it to your taste, or what you have in your fridge.

Leftover Beef and Barley Soup

Carrots, diced (about 2 whole, peeled carrots; or about half of a small bag of baby carrots)
Onion, diced (1/2 - 1 medium onion)
Celery, diced (2-3 stalks)

** Saute these in olive oil with about 2 tsp. minced garlic, 1/2 tsp. dried thyme, 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, and 1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper.  Saute just until tender (or onions start to turn translucent).

Roast beef, cooked and diced (at least 7 ounces, but add as much as you like)
Barley, cooked according to packed directions (use 1 C. dry barley -- for better flavor cook in a stock/water mixture mixed with some dried onion flakes)
4 C. Beef stock
6 C. Water
tops of the celery stalks
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. rosemary
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. garlic
1/4. tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp. kosher salt.

** Simmer on low for 30 - 40 minutes.

1/2 bag frozen peas in the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Violet Jelly

It is nice knowing creative people.  Creative people who know neat things.  Take Heather, for example, who not only knew about an amazing method for delicious, quick and easy homemade bread, but also knew that these pretty little weeds all over my lawn can be brewed up tea-style and made into a right-tasty jelly.

Wait...what?  Weed Jelly?  Yup.  Although the slightly more precise name "Violet Jelly" sounds a tad more appealing.  My husband looked at me as though I'd lost my mind when he caught me picking these blossoms and I informed him of my plan.  I wouldn't be surprised if you looked in the mirror now and had that same look on your face.

This jelly is a beautiful slighlty pink, slightly purple (dare I say...violet?) color.  It is intensely sweet and flowery tasting.  I'll be honest...it probably isn't the best jam/jelly that I've made.  But it is darn good.  And pretty.  And weirdly cool in an "I-used-to-be-completely-obsessed-with-Laura-Ingalls-Wilder-and-am-still-sorta-weird-and-"grandma-y"-when-it-comes-to-this-kind-of-stuff" kind of way.

Definately worth the time and effort, in my opinion.  Plus, it gives me something to do while the girls are running around the yard. 

In sort of a spin-off of "One man's trash is another man's treasure"... how about we now all say "One man's weed is another man's jelly"?

Violet Jelly

2-4 C. Violet blossoms
2 C. boiling water
1/4 C. bottled lemon juice
1 package fruit pectin
4 C. sugar

1.) Pour boiling water over violet blossoms and let steep for up to 24 hours.
2.) Strain out blossoms (I let it sit in the strainer for several more hours)
3.) In a very large sauce pan, mix the violet juice/tea, lemon juice, and pectin.  Bring to a rolling boil.
4.) Add the sugar all at once and stir.  Return to a rolling boil and let boil for one minute.
5.) Remove from heat and ladle into prepared jars.
6.) Process using the boiling-water method for 10 minutes.  (Or you can freeze whatever you aren't going to use right away).