Friday, December 31, 2010

"Plain" Pancakes

We eat a lot of pancakes. My kids would eat them at least 5 days a week and sometimes we do! I love to try new pancake recipes -- looking for the perfect one! I have found that a minimum of 3 teaspoons of baking powder is required for fluffiness and butter is needed for good flavor. This pancake recipe is my current favorite. It produces light, fluffy pancakes that brown easily without burning. It takes a few extra steps, but it's worth it.

This recipe is from my new favorite cookbook The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham. I don't often buy cookbooks because I can usually find what I want on the internet for free, but this book is a keeper.

I suggest doubling this if you want any leftovers at all.

"Plain" Pancakes
2 eggs
5 Tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
1 1/4 cups flour
1 Tablespoon sugar (or sucanat)
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

Put butter and milk in a small saucepan and warm on low until butter is melted.  Allow to cool. Beat eggs in a bowl. Mix milk/butter mixture in to eggs once it is cool enough -- you don't want to cook the eggs! Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in large bowl. Add wet ingredients. Stir just until combined. Cook on hot griddle or in a frying pan.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Goals for 2011

I can't believe it's been another year! I remember sitting down last year to write out my goals for the year. I'm pretty certain I failed miserably at most of them, but that's OK. It was an odd year for me.

This year I'm keeping it pretty simple. I know what I want to improve and it's just time to do it, already.

Goal 1: Get more sleep -- I am tired all the time because I am not going to be early enough. I need to carve more "me" time in to the middle of my day so that I'm not trying to fit in way too late at night.

Goal 2: Get more active -- I am also tired all the time because I do not get out and move enough. I just bought a bike and my dad bought one for my husband and a baby seat for our 2 year old so we are all set to go. In fact, we've spent a lot of time riding bikes over the past week and it's been great!

Goal 3: Get closer to God -- I'm already signed up for a women's Bible study at our church that starts in a week. I'm really excited to get involved and meet new people. It has the added bonus of forcing me OUT of the house one night a week.

Goal 4: Get this blog organized -- I've been working on this for over a year, but I am stuck on a name that has an available domain. I want to focus more on homemaking the "old fashioned" way and cooking from scratch. It's really the domain situation that is hanging me up!

That's it! Four totally "doable" goals for this year! I'm ready to go... bring on 2011!

What goals do you have for this year? Do you have any suggestions to help me with mine?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Favorite Christmas Gift

My 4 year old daughter, Ella,  is one of the most strong-willed and independent people I have ever met. I spend much of my time trying to figure out how to stay one step ahead of her. Don't get me wrong -- she is also sweet, funny, creative and beguiling, but she definitely keeps me on my toes.

I would really like to homeschool my children, but my daughter has refused every single attempt I've made at any type of "school"ish activity. I really wanted her to learn her letters this school year. That's it. Just recognize the letter and put the correct name to it. Every time I attempted to engage in her a fun activity to learn letters, she refused to cooperate. I gave up on "A" sometime back in September.

Imagine my sheer delight and utter surprise when she drew me this picture at breakfast Christmas morning:

I cried I was so happy! I hate to admit it, but I think I have the PBS show "SuperWhy" to thank for this because I certainly have not been working with her.

I'm not much of a "keeper" -- I tend to throw things out quickly, but this piece of paper is going in a frame. Someday when Ella tells me she can't do it, I'll show her this and tell her, "oh yes you can!"

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sausage Breakfast Casserole

After perusing numerous breakfast casseroles for Christmas morning, I put together this recipe. Every single family member loved it!

You can double this recipe and bake in a 9 x 13 pan for more servings.

Sausage Breakfast Casserole
5 eggs
1 cup milk
Dash of salt
1/2 pound breakfast sausage
1/4 cup onion, diced
4 white mushrooms, sliced
1 cup cubed day old bread
1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese

In a frying pan, cook sausage until no longer pink. Remove from pan and put sausage in to a large bowl. Cook onion and mushrooms in the frying pan, adding butter or oil as needed, until onions are just starting to turn brown (about 10-15 minutes). Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, milk and salt in the bowl with the cooked sausage. Add bread and cheddar cheese and vegetables when cooked. Pour mixture in to a 2 quart casserole. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove casserole from refrigerator 30 minutes prior to cooking. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until a knife inserted in casserole comes out clean.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Chocolate Waffles

I had a hard time choosing between these waffles or a casserole for Christmas morning. The casserole won for sake of ease, but I made these waffles the next day. I really love them, but they definitely need a good topping. I just served it with male syrup, which was just OK. Chocolate whipped cream or strawberries (or both) would be excellent on these.

Because these are brown, it's easy to hide whole wheat flour and sucanat in these waffles. I'd sub in 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and use all sucanat for the sugar. 

I have a large square Belgian waffle maker and this recipe made 3 full batches plus one single - 13 Eggo sized waffles. We had plenty of leftovers!

Chocolate Waffles
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 cup milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

In a small sauce pan, melt chocolate chips and butter. Allow to cool.

In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk together.

In a small bowl mix together eggs, milk and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and stir until smooth. Add in chocolate and mix to combine.

Bake in waffle iron according to manufacturer's directions.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How to Have a Stress Free Visit with Santa

As the parent of small children, going to see Santa is a nightmare. You're never quite sure how long the wait will be or how your child will react once they finally get up to see the jolly old elf. I find it so nerve wracking, that my 2 year old who is on his 3rd Christmas has never been to see Santa!

A few years ago a friend of mine mentioned that growing up Santa always came to her house on Christmas Eve. As an adult she now realizes that her mother actually hired a Santa to make the visit. This year she followed in her mother's footsteps and hired a Santa to come to her house. This, my friends, is the absolutely best idea ever. No waiting in line forever. If your kid freaks out, he can sit back and watch for a while and then try again and there is no pressure to hurry up.

The amazing thing is that a visit to your house from Santa costs about the same as pictures with the mall Santa. If even that is out of your budget, get together with other families and have everyone pitch in. Ask around to see if anyone knows of a Santa or even ask the Santa at the mall for a card. I've read two stories in the paper this week about different Santas for hire. I'm sure there is still time to find one for your Christmas festivities this week!

Off My Needles: Santa Hat Ornament

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Last Minute Treats: Sweet Cereal Party Mix

This recipe takes all of about 7 minutes to throw together and my family can't get enough of it. It is also very flexible. Use up whatever you have in the cupboards! I've eaten this several times with Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal in it and it was excellent. But you can use any combination of cereal you want. I used 5 cups of Cheerios, 2 cups Rice Chex and 3 cups Corn Chex. I also used peanuts and subbed in some white almond bark because I only had 1.5 bags of white chocolate chips. See? Totally flexible!

Sweet Cereal Party Mix
10 cups cereal
2 cups nuts
10 oz bag of pretzels
1 big bag of M&Ms (mine were from Halloween! Oh well!)
2 12 oz bags of white chocolate chips (or white almond bark)
3 Tablespoons coconut oil (veggie/canola is fine)

In a very large bowl (I used a roasting pan) mix together all ingredients except white chocolate and oil.

Over a double boiler or in a microwave (stir every 30 seconds), melt chocolate and oil. Pour chocolate over cereal mixture and mix well to coat. Allow to cool until set. Break apart as desired to eat. Enjoy!

Adapted from Pennies on A Platter

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Last Minute Treats: Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

This sugar cookie is as easy as it is delicious! How can you beat a recipe that lets you dump in the ingredients and mix? The only tiny hang up is that it does need to chill for a good 8 hours. After that, it can sit in the fridge for a day or so until you are ready to make cookies. Make a batch today for a fun activity later this week.

A quick way to get your butter "softened" is to slice it up once you get it out of the fridge. Let it sit while you put all the other ingredients in the mixer bowl.  Add the butter last and you'll be good to go. The cream cheese is usually soft enough right out of the fridge, but get it and let it sit while you assemble the other ingredients, too.

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter (two sticks), softened
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg yolk
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour

Mix together sugar, salt, extracts, egg yolk, butter and cream cheese. Stir in flour until combined.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap or wax paper and chill for 8 hours or overnight.

Roll out dough and cut in to shapes. Bake at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Slow Cooker Chex Mix

Chex Mix was a holiday tradition in my home growing up. My mom would fill this gigantic plastic bin (probably around 5 gallons) FULL of Chex Mix. So when I discovered that you could cook Chex Mix in the slow cooker, I had to try it!

I just bought a 5 quart slow cooker and it is perfect for a full batch. But for the past few years I used my smaller Crock Pot (maybe 3 or 4 quarts) and it worked just fine. It was just harder to stir. If you make consecutive batches (like I do), your cooking time will be cut down because the slow cooker is already hot so just keep a closer eye on it (stirring every 30 minutes or so).

I did cut the butter down from the original recipe and I don't notice any difference. But if you want more, just add two more tablespoons.

This is the original flavor, but I've made several different varieties of Chex Mix in the slow cooker. My favorite was the Buffalo Mix flavor and the Snickerdoodle Mix is great, too. I just saw a recipe for Garlic and Chili on the back of one of the boxes. Can't wait to try that one out! I think you could have an entire party with all the different options!

Slow Cooker Chex Mix

4 Tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoons Lawry's seasoned salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire (Lea & Perrins does not contain MSG)
3 cups each, Corn Chex, Rice Chex, Wheat Chex
1 cup Cheerios
1 cup mixed nuts
1 cup bite size pretzels

Turn slow cooker on to high and put in butter, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and Worcetshire sauce. Once the butter is melted, stir seasonings together and turn slow cooker to low. Add in Chex, Cheerios, nuts, and pretzels. Stir well to coat. Put top on the slow cooker and cook for 2-3 hours, stirring every 45 minutes or so.

Adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking and General Mills Chex Party Mix.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Big Cupcake

I never really paid much attention to the super giant cupcake cakes. They are cute, but a $30 pan to make one thing? Not that cute. Then my neighbor found a the Big Top Cupcake pan at work for $5 so I had her pick me one up.

This cake was for my son's 2nd birthday. I figure this is the last year I'll have any say over a theme and I wanted to use the pan so I made him a big cupcake. Unfortunately, I was so concerned about the cake being done in the middle, that I way over baked it. I used this recipe from Annie's Eats for yellow cake and chocolate frosting. The frosting was divine! I'm sure the cake is just fine if you don't kill it!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Off My Needles: Tree Ornament

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pumpkin Cheesecake

I made this cheesecake for Thanksgiving. In fact, I made it a week or two prior to Thanksgiving day and froze it. I let it thaw for 24 hours before serving and it was perfect. It was so good that we all agreed it would be making appearances at Thanksgiving every year.

I do not own a springform pan, but I was ready to buy one until I started reading up on cheesecakes. Apparently the problem with a springform is that if you bake the cheesecake in a water bath, it can leak in to your cake. I certainly didn't want that happening! Instead, I baked the cake in a 9 inch round cake pan with a pan of water on the rack below. The first few pieces coming out of the pan weren't pretty, but the rest were just fine.

I also found that it was pretty important to have all the ingredients at room temperature in order to get a nicely combined filling. 

Pumpkin Cheesecake
1 1/2  cups  gingersnap cookie crumbs (about 30 cookies processed in the food processor)
1/2  cup  finely chopped pecans
6  tablespoons  unsalted butter, melted
1/4  cup  sucanat (or white sugar)

3  8-oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup sucanat (or 1/2  cup packed light brown sugar and 1/4  cup  white sugar)
2  large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1  cup  pumpkin puree (homemade or canned)
1/2  cup  sour cream, at room temperature
2  teaspoons  vanilla extract
1 1/2  tablespoons  all-purpose flour
2  teaspoons  pumpkin-pie spice

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 inch cake pan. Stir together all crust ingredients. Press into bottom and up sides of pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool on a rack.

With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese and sucanat until light. Beat in eggs and yolks, 1 at a time. Beat in pumpkin, sour cream and vanilla. Reduce speed to low; beat in flour and spice. Pour into crust.

Place cheesecake on center rack of oven. Fill a separate pan with 2 inches of hot water and place on the oven rack below the cheesecake. Bake until cake is set around edges but still slightly jiggly when lightly shaken (cheesecake will firm as it cools), 55 to 65 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Cover and chill for at least 10 hours or up to 2 days. Can be frozen and thawed.

Original recipe from All You.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Three Cheese Garden Pizza

This is my new found favorite pizza! I had it at a Pampered Chef party last month and have made it twice since.

Three Cheese Garden Pizza
1 pizza dough
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced
2 roma/plum tomatoes, sliced
1 oz grated Parmesan cheese
4 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
1-2 teaspoons Italian seasonings

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Roll or press out dough on to a lightly oiled cookie sheet, pizza pan or preferably a pizza stone. Sprinkle garlic over dough. Bake for 8 minutes. Put toppings on pizza and then cover with cheese. Sprinkle Italian seasoning on top. Bake until cheese is melted and crust is browned.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Off My Needles: Cable Chapeau

This is Debbie Stoller's Cabled Chapeau in Caron Wool on size 8 needles. It knit up SUPER quick! I really love it and knit it at my niece's request for her birthday. I hope she loves it, too!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Our oldest turns 11 today. 11! Time is flying. We'll be celebrating with her in person later this month with a rockin' tie dye party! Can't wait!

Happy Birthday, Sweetheart!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Broccoli Casserole

Growing up, one of our holiday dishes was my mom's broccoli casserole. The casserole only made an appearance once a year at our Thanksgiving meal. I assumed my mom avoided it because it was difficult to make. Then she sent me the recipe: frozen broccoli, a can of this, a can of that and Velveeta cheese. Nope, not bad at all! Of course, I don't really do "canned" anything so I "fixed" it.

I decided to leave in the Velveeta cheese. After thirty plus years of eating this casserole, I have definite opinions as to how it should taste and part of that expectation is Velveeta cheese. But, I will probably play around with it later and try out cheddar cheese and brown rice to make it even healthier.

Mom's Broccoli Casserole
1 small onion, diced
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons four
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup milk
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 cup evaporated milk (or 6 Tablespoons dried milk and 1/3 cup water)
1/2 lb Velveeta cheese, diced
1 cup cooked rice
2, 10 oz bags of frozen chopped broccoli
Cracker crumbs (about 1-2 cups, usually Ritz-type)

Melt 3 Tablespoons of butter in a large pot. Add onion and cook until translucent. Whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in milk and then stock, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Stir in melted butter and evaporated milk. Add in Velveeta cheese and stir until melted. Stir in rice and broccoli. Stir to combine.

(If making prior to cooking, put in to a gallon bag and freeze. Thaw before proceeding.)

Put mixture in to a 2 quart baking dish. Top with cracker crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Five Ways to Refresh Leftovers

Today is Friday. My culinary ambitions tend to wan towards the end of the week (my husband does a lot of the cooking on weekends) and I'm always happy when I have enough leftovers on Friday to suffice as dinner. The problem is that I'm not a big fan of leftovers. My husband and kids have no problem eating leftovers, but I just can't really get in to them. I have found that if I "refresh" the leftovers, however, I enjoy eating them.

1. Make a fun bread: I don't usually have the time to make anything other than our "normal" bread for dinner. But when we have leftovers, I have time to try my hand out some fancy options. For me, fresh bread makes any meal wonderful! My kids love garlic knots or bread sticks made out of pizza dough. I really love this Green Olive and Rosemary Focaccia. Garlic bread is another option that I often skip on busy weeknights (just mix up butter, olive, minced garlic and oregano; spread on bread loaf or slices and bake for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees). Homemade pretzels would be really fun, too! You could also make biscuits or cornbread or muffins.

2. Make an appetizer: I love appetizers! But I never have the time to make anything except cut up veggies and dip for meals. With leftovers for our main course, though, I have lots of time to make Crock Pot Spinach Dip or this Jalapeno Popper Dip -- both recipes are on my "to make" list! A cheese ball or simple cheese and crackers add a nice new touch to a leftover dinner. Potato skins are another appetizer that is too time consuming for dinner, but are perfect for leftovers.

3. Make a "fancy" salad: We often eat tossed salads with our meals which consist of shredded lettuce, carrots, cucumber and dressing. It's just an easy way to get some raw veggies in to our diets. But I LOVE to make nice big salads. Leftovers allow me the time to make one! This Greek Spinach Orzo Salad is amazing. You could also reuse some leftover steak to make a steak salad and leftover chicken can be added to pretty much any salad, but I really love it on Caesar salad. Taco salad is another leftover favorite -- I toss all kinds of stuff in to it!

4.Re-purpose and Reuse: Leftover meats can be reused many, many ways. Pot pies are great for leftover meats and veggies. Put anything in to pie dough and it's good! Just cut up pie dough in to small rounds, stuff with leftovers, and bake. Stir fries or fried rice are perfect for leftovers. Throw in whatever veggies or meat you have, add some soy sauce and a little brown sugar if you like, and you have a brand-new dinner. Omelets make nice, hearty dinners (if you like breakfast for dinner) and you can stuff all kinds of leftovers in them.

5. Just freeze it: When all else fails, I just throw the leftovers in the freezer for later. Sometimes a good idea will hit me later on. I tend to freeze when I have either way too much (I'm tired of it) or way too little (just not enough to do anything with it) leftover. Somehow the leftovers aren't so bad a month later when I re-use them for something else.

How do you like to use up leftovers?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Planning Ahead for The Holidays

November and December are for us, like many people, crazy busy. In addition to the holidays and all their celebrations (concerts, parties, cook exchanges galore!),  we also have SIX family birthdays from November 14th until December 17th. My sister has announced that no one is allowed to have a baby or marry anyone with a birthday between November 1st and February 28th (we have four more birthdays in January and February).  I'm already feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all!

The key for me to stay organized and not have a melt down (I don't do well under pressure) is to plan ahead, cook ahead and FREEZE! I am planning to get as much cooking done as I can in the next few weeks and to freeze everything until I need it. 

My mom and sister and I sat down two weeks ago to plan and divide Thanksgiving. By mid-October we had our menu. I am responsible for Pumpkin Cheesecake, Sweet Potato Pudding, and Pull Apart Rolls.  I am planning to make the cheesecake entirely, cook and mash the potatoes and get the rolls right to the point before they bake and freeze all of it. All I should have to do on Thanksgiving is finish up the sweet potatoes and bake the rolls.

I'm also planning to make a few batches of cookie dough in the next few weeks and freeze those to bake in December. I find it overwhelming to make the dough and bake cookies on the same day. I'll make the dough now and then bake when the mood strikes. I'm planning to freeze Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies and Gingerbread Butterscotch cookies.

I always want to make a big batch of cinnamon rolls to eat on Christmas morning, but every year I don't have the time or energy to make them the night before. So I'm planning to make a few batches and freeze. All I'll have to do is thaw the night before and pop them in the oven when we get up.

I'm planning a small get together for my son's 2nd birthday and I will bake and freeze some cupcakes for that. We'll be on the road for my mom's birthday and I'll do brownies (or whatever she wants) for our daughter's birthday when we celebrate with her around Christmas.

Phew. I'm hoping that all the planning and prepping will save me some stressed out moments later this month!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chicken Spaghetti Revamp

I can't remember exactly when I first ran across The Prairie Woman's Chicken Spaghetti recipe, but it quickly became one of my favorites despite the fact that it has few "issues" for the way I cook. First off, it calls for canned soup, which I don't use. Second, it calls for pimientos and I never have those things in my pantry. Third, if I'm going to cook an expensive whole organic chicken in water, there is no way I'm using the resulting broth to cook spaghetti (even though I'm sure it's very, very good)! So I revamped the recipe in to a homemade wonder of goodness.

When I made this the other night I used really good all natural white cheddar cheese. We just recently finished up all the Kraft cheese in the freezer and this was my first foray using "good" cheese. Wow. What a difference it makes! I've read that when it comes to cheese it is better to splurge on good cheese and just use less when cooking. I can officially tell that advice is spot on. The white cheddar does, however, make the dish less visually pleasing, but it tastes superb! Just put a nice big green salad next to the spaghetti.

I usually double the recipe and make two casseroles -- one for dinner and one to freeze.

Chicken Spaghetti Revamp
3 cups dry spaghetti, broken in to 2 inch pieces
2 cups cooked chicken
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup milk
6 Tablespoons butter
6 Tablespoons flour
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup finely diced bell pepper (I like red)
1 teaspoon Lawry's Seasoned salt
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups grated white cheddar cheese, separated

In a large heavy oven proof pot (like a dutch oven) cook spaghetti in salted water just until al dente. DO NOT OVERCOOK. Drain pasta and set aside. In pot, melt butter over medium high heat. Saute onion and peppers until onion is just turning translucent, about 5 minutes. Whisk in flour and cook for 1-2 minutes. Slowly whisk in 1 cup chicken stock and then the milk. Keep whisking to avoid lumps. Allow to cook and thicken for about 5 minutes. Add remaining 1 cup stock or to desired consistency (you don't want it thin, but not super thick like gravy either). Stir in chicken, spaghetti, Lawry's, cayenne pepper, 1 cup cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees until warm and bubbly, about 20-30 minutes.

Monday, November 1, 2010

An Alternative to Canned Tomatoes

Ever since the news over BPA surfaced a few years ago, I've been doing my best to limit our exposure to it. I would say that in general, it's been pretty easy to find replacements for items that contained BPA (except store receipts!). The one item that I've had the most difficult time replacing: canned tomatoes.

In general, I've never bought many canned vegetables. I prefer frozen. But my pantry was always stocked with diced, crushed, sauced and pasted tomatoes. I rarely bought pasta sauce -- I just made it from the cans. As it turns out, the acid in tomatoes causes the BPA to leach in to the tomatoes even more than in other canned veggies. Apparently, it also affects the taste of the tomatoes, which I didn't really notice until I started making my sauces from actual, real tomatoes. What a difference! I did my best to freeze fresh tomatoes at the end of summer, but it won't be enough to last us a year. I started buying organic jarred pasta sauce, but it has a bit more sodium in it than I like. I feel like I am forever on a hunt to find an alternative to canned tomatoes.

A few weeks ago I discovered Pomi tomatoes, from Italy, that come in a box. Ah ha! According to the article I read, however, they were only available on-line. With shipping, a 26 oz box would cost around $5! Yeah. So I wrote those off. Until one day a few weeks ago when I was hunting through the pasta sauce aisle at Wal-Mart and lo behold there they were -- boxed Pomi tomatoes! They still aren't cheap at just over $3 a box, but that is certainly a better price. I saw them a few days later at Whole Foods as well (for a little closer to $4/box).

I haven't tried them out yet so I can't vouch for the taste, but those boxes of tomatoes made my day! I make a lot of recipes that call for canned tomatoes and I was way stressing out about the canned stuff. They still cost more than I am accustomed to paying for tomatoes, but I am learning that paying more usually means better quality and taste.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How to Make Homemade Pizza, Part 4: The Baking

Read about pizza dough, pizza sauce, and pizza toppings, too!

For the better part of my pizza making career I've been baking my pizzas on a jelly roll pan with a Silpat underneath. It worked just fine, but the crust was inconsistent. Sometimes I'd get a nice crispy crust, but sometimes I wouldn't.

Then I read on Tammy's Recipes how she makes pizza and it made a huge improvement on my crust. I started buttering a round pizza pan, which helped the crust not to stick and to brown up. Instead of pre-heating my oven while I made the pizza, I first made the pizza and then let it sit while the oven heated up. This let the crust rise a bit and created a nice fluffy pizza crust. This is definitely the method I recommend if you don't have a pizza stone.

About a month ago I gave in a purchased a pizza stone and pizza peel and they have revolutionized my homemade pizza. Seriously. There is nothing that crisps up pizza crust and makes your homemade pizza taste like it came from a pizzeria like a pizza stone. I made some for my dad and he couldn't believe it wasn't take out. I'm still perfecting this method, but I can tell you that you have to use corn meal on the peel and you have to use a lot of it!

To bake a pizza on a stone, you pre-heat the stone right in your oven. I bake all my pizzas on 500 degrees. If your oven goes hotter, then bake as high as it goes. Regardless of what you are baking on, pre-heat the oven to get it HOT. Back to the stone -- You make your pizza on the peel and slide it off the peel on to the stone (the tricky part!). Pizzas will bake on stones twice as fast as in a pan. I love, love, love my stone and I wish I had gotten one sooner!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to Make Homemade Pizza, Part 3: The Toppings

The first two parts of this series can be found here (dough) and here (sauce).

The key to pizza toppings is not what you put on, but how you put it on. In general, I put down dough, sauce, cheese and then the toppings go on top of the cheese.  Maybe this makes sense to you, but for years, I put the toppings on top of the sauce and the cheese on top of the toppings. My husband, however, set me straight. I have found, however, that chicken does better underneath the cheese (it dries out if it's on top). On top of the cheese you can sprinkle some Italian seasonings or a touch of olive oil.

Pizza isn't pizza without cheese. I can think of pizzas without sauce and pizzas without toppings, but I can't think of a pizza without cheese. I used to only put mozzarella cheese on my pizzas until one day when I was short on mozzarella. I filled in with some cheddar and Parmesan and they added whole new depth of flavor to our pie. Now I use a combination of all three or I throw on whatever I have on hand. But I always use a little mozzarella as a base and then add to that.

If, like me, you buy cheese in bulk, keep it in the freezer. Cheese loses its moisture as it ages and dry cheese does not get you a nice, gooey, stringy, cheesy topping.  I try to remember to pull the cheese out of the freezer before I need it, but you can toss it on the pizza frozen.

As far as toppings for the pizza, the sky is the limit!  Around here the favorite with the kiddos is good old pepperoni. I buy the large slices of all natural pepperoni at Whole Foods. My husband likes meat and lots of it on his pizza. Being from New York, his favorite is meatball. I take homemade meatballs and slice them thin. I have to admit -- it's delicious!  One of my all time favorite pizzas is tomato, feta cheese and banana peppers. Really, it's delicious and it was the favorite in my sorority house in college. I will often rifle through the fridge and throw whatever leftovers I can find on the pizza. We haven't found a bad combination yet (although, I'm sure they exist!).

What is your favorite pizza topping? Do you have any "weird" combinations that you love?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How to Make Homemade Pizza, Part 2: The Sauce

Click here to read Part 1 of this series, How To Make Homemade Pizza: The Dough.

It took me a while to figure out that pizza sauce is not "just pizza sauce". Once I started fiddling with sauce (and not just dumping on a can of plain tomato sauce), I realized that it is the sauce that really makes a pizza. At least for me.

This pizza sauce recipe from Real Mom Kitchen was the first sauce I mixed up and I still love it. I don't use canned tomatoes anymore, though so I've had to branch out usually using homemade tomato sauce and tomato paste from a tube.  I use mostly tomato sauce (around a cup) with just enough tomato paste to thicken the consistency.  While I'm not one for purchased seasoning mixes, I use Pampered Chef's Italian Seasoning mix  in my pizza sauce. A friend gave a bottle to me once and I love it so much in the sauce that I keep buying more. I also add a touch of sugar to flavor my pizza sauce. I played around with the sugar amount and I like just a hint of sweetness.

Like the dough, the tomato sauce is freezable. I like to make up a big batch and throw what I don't use in to the freezer for later.

You can also use a lot of other condiments as your sauce.  I've used barbecue and buffalo sauce and I think that alfredo sauce or ranch dressing would be delicious for a "white" pizza. Any kind of pesto would be delicious and taco sauce is great for a taco pizza. Or you can even go sauce-less! My favorite pizza of all time is Margherita Pizza and it doesn't have any sauce at all. The possibilities are endless.

Do you have a favorite traditional or non-traditional sauce you love on pizza?

Monday, October 25, 2010

How to Make Homemade Pizza, Part 1: The Dough

Pizza dough can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be. I've made pizza dough in 5 minutes and I've made pizza dough over a few hours. You can really use any bread recipe you like as your pizza dough. Just shorten or skip the rise unless you like a thicker, breadier crust, then by all means let that baby rise!

I think the easiest way to make pizza dough is just to use a hunk of Artisan Bread in 5 minutes A Day Master Recipe. I almost always have this dough in my fridge and in a pinch, I scoop out a hunk, roll it out and go. The crust is FABULOUS!

My current favorite dough is Camille's (nope, not me!) Best Ever Bread Dough. While this dough requires a few more ingredients and steps than most pizza doughs I've used, it is truly impossible to mess up. It also has a magnificent flavor. I love that there is no need to let the dough rise. At all. I make 4 pizzas out the recipe.

The basic pizza dough recipe below is the one that started it all for us. We still use this recipe on a regular basis and I love it.

The best thing about pizza dough is that you can freeze it! I always make a double batch (or in the Best Ever Bread Dough, I just freeze half that single batch) and freeze. I wrap the dough in plastic wrap and tuck it way back in the freezer so that it freezes quickly. I then put the frozen dough in a freezer bag. I'm not perfect at thawing it and I'm trying to pin down a precise thawing process. I like to give it enough time to thaw and warm up and rise just a bit so I know the yeast is good to go. How long that takes just depends on the time of year. But I usually let it sit out on the counter all day long.

Basic Pizza Dough
1 cup warm water
1 package dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 Tablespoons oil (I like olive oil)
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups all purpose flour (you can substitute some whole wheat)

In a bowl, mix yeast, sugar, and water. Add in olive oil, salt and 1 1/2 cups of flour. Mix to combine. Keeping adding flour by 1/4 cups until the dough is smooth and tacky, but not too sticky. Bread dough should almost always have a little annoying stick to it. Let dough rest for 5 minutes, covered, up to 2 hours.

Do you have a favorite pizza dough? I'd love to try it out!

Friday, October 22, 2010

How To Make Homemade Pizza -- A Series

(Calzones -- one form of pizza!)

I have been making homemade pizza for six years. I picked up a frugal cookbook just after I got married and the author suggested making your own pizza rather than ordering out as a way to save money. As we were on a tight budget, my husband and I dove in with both feet and found that we really love homemade pizza.

The one thing I've learned in the past six years of making pizza is that there is no one way to make it. I've also picked up a number of tips and tricks for making all kinds of different pizzas. Because I don't want you to miss out on the delights of making your own pizza, I'm going to write a series of posts on how to do it.

The topics I'll cover are:

1. The Crust
2. The Sauce
3. The Toppings
4. The Baking

My goal is to get these posts out Monday through Thursday next week so that by Friday you, too, can be enjoying the best pizza in town right out of your oven!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs in the Slow Cooker

There are probably thousands of recipes you can find on-line for homemade marinara sauce and meatballs. I am on a continual search for a go-to recipe.  The December 2010 edition of Cook's Illustrated magazine takes up the challenge of a "better" spaghetti and meatballs. I gave the recipes a go, making my own changes to make the recipe a bit more pantry friendly.  For example, the Cook's Illustrated recipe calls for Knox Gelatin for the meatballs. While I agree it probably plumps them up nicely, Knox Gelatin is expensive and I never have it on hand so I skipped it.I also cooked my sauce in my Crock Pot instead of the oven.

I was really pleased with how this turned out. I made the meatballs two days before I made the marinara. It was nice to make the marinara in the morning and just let it simmer in the Crock Pot all day long until we were ready to eat! This will easily feed 6-7 adults -- with meatballs left over for the freezer.

Homemade Meatballs
1 1/2 cups finely ground bread crumbs (preferably panko)
Just over 1 cup buttermilk
3 large eggs
3 pounds 85% lean ground beef (or 2 lbs beef/1lb pork or turkey)
1 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley (or fresh, if you have it)
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine bread crumbs and buttermilk in a large bowl (this is a panade). Let sit, mashing with fork every once and a while, until a smooth paste forms.  Add eggs, meat, parsley, garlic, Parmesan and salt and pepper. Using hands, knead the mixture until it is uniform making sure that the panade is fully integrated and mashed up (or you end up with mini-bread balls in your meat!)

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan with foil. Roll meat mixture in to 2 inch balls. Place meatballs on prepared pan. I put any extras in a glass baking dish and bake them in there. Roast until browned.

Homemade Slow Cooker Marinara Sauce
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1-2 onions grated
6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
6 Tablespoons dry white wine
Salt, pepper and sugar to taste
10-12 cups of tomato sauce (mine was homemade from cooking down tomatoes)

Heat olive oil in pot or pan. Add onion and cook until soften and golden around edges, about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and oregano and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in wine and tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Once simmering transfer sauce in to the crock of slow cooker.  Add in about 20 meatballs if desired. Cook on low for as long as desired, but at least a few hours, I like 4 hours. Add in salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. I use about 3/4 Tablespoon of sugar. I also added in chopped fresh basil at the end.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How To Make A Healthy, Homemade Baking Mix

My kids would eat pancakes all day long. I'm a big believer in a good hearty breakfast every morning, but sometimes making that good hearty breakfast gets to be tiring. I can always trust that pancakes will get eaten. Thankfully I found a healthy baking mix that not only streamlines my morning, but also ensures my kids are getting a healthy breakfast.

Healthy Homemade Baking Mix
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (or 1 more cup all purpose flour)
1 cup oat flour (throw some oatmeal in the food processor and process in to flour)
1/4 cup bran
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 1/2 Tablespoons salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoons baking soda
6 Tablespoons baking powder

Measure all ingredients in to a LARGE bowl and use a whisk to combine. This recipe just fits in to a gallon sized freezer bag.

If you want, you can process the dry ingredient mixture with 3 sticks of cold, hard butter (in batches). If you do this, keep the mix in the fridge and do not add any fat to the recipes below.

To make pancakes: measure about 1 1/2 cups of mix in to a bowl. Add 3 Tablespoons fat (oil or melted butter); 1 egg; and enough milk or buttermilk until the mixture is as thin or thick as you like.

To make biscuits: Measure 1-2 cups of mix in to a bowl. Cut in 2 Tablespoons cold butter. Add enough milk to just form a dough. Knead to form dough. Roll and cut as biscuits. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes.

You can also use the mix to make scones, but I have don't it yet!

Recipe adapted from Like Mother, Like Daughter Blog. Her granola is awesome, too!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Slow Cooker Lentil and Sausage Soup

My usual go to lentil soup recipe is from the More With Less cookbook.  It's very good and reminds me of lentil soup I had in the Middle East. But this lentil soup kicks it up a notch and was SO GOOD! I always keep a bag of lentils in my pantry for a quick, easy, filling and healthy soup. I served the soup with fresh homemade bread.

You can use any sausage you like in this soup. I used a spicy Italian and it made the whole soup HOT! I think a nice smoky kielbasa would be good as well.

Slow Cooker Lentil and Sausage Soup
2 medium carrots, cut in to 1/4 inch pieces (I cute min on the bias for fun)
1 large onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, cut in to 1/4 inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 sausage links, cut in to 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/2 cup lentils
5 cups chicken broth
3 cups loosely packed baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste

In a pot or large frying pan, heat a Tablespoon of oil. Add sausage and onions and saute for a few minutes. Add garlic, carrots and celery and continue to cook until onions are clear.  Put contents of pot/pan in to the bowl/crock of slow cooker. Add lentils and chicken broth. Cover and cook on low for 4 hour or on high for 2 hours. Stir in baby spinach, salt and pepper just before serving.

Altered from the November 1, 2010 edition of Woman's Day Magazine.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Italian Wedding Soup

Every single time I make this soup, my husband rants and raves about it. The nice thing is that if you have broth and meatballs in the freezer, this literally takes about 15 minutes to come together. I serve it with fresh bread from the oven and it always fill us up.

This recipe is very versatile. You can homemade broth and meatballs or use store bought ones. You can use fresh spinach or frozen spinach. And any type of pasta works, too. 

Italian Wedding Soup
7 cups chicken broth
20 or so meatballs
1 carrot, chopped
2 cups fresh baby spinach or 1/2 package frozen spinach
1/2 box orzo or other smallish pasta

Bring broth to a boil in a large pot. Add in rest of ingredients. Cook for 10 minutes or until pasta is tender.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Scones with Cinnamon Icing

I am on a mission to use more whole wheat flour in my cooking and baking. I'm really not a fan of whole wheat myself, but the rest of my family doesn't mind it at all. While I'm still trying to adjust to whole wheat pasta, my kids just gobble it up! Using whole wheat pastry flour or whole wheat white flour has made eating whole wheat easier for me.

One of my husband's favorite fall treats are pumpkin scones at Starbucks. We only go to Starbucks about twice a year so I really have no idea how he found these, but I've been promising to make pumpkin scones since last Fall. I finally got around to it last week when I happened upon this recipe at Tammy's Recipes. I made a few minor adjustments (of course!). I find that sometimes scones have a hard time baking up well without getting too brown, but these baked up perfectly as directed.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Scones with Cinnamon Icing
 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
6 Tablespoons butter, cold
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup buttermilk
6 Tablespoons brown sugar or sucanat
2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Enough milk to make icing, about 1 Tablespoon

In a large bowl whisk together flours, salt, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, and baking powder. Cut in butter until mixture is coarse.

In a small bowl whisk together pumpkin, buttermilk, sugar and vanilla.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir to mix. Knead mixture to form in to dough. Roll or pat dough in to a 3/4 inch high disk on a cookie sheet. Cut disk in to 6 or 8 pie pieces. Separate.

Bake scones at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.

Combine sugar and cinnamon. Stir in enough milk to make in to icing. Drizzle or brush icing on to hot, warm, or cooled scones.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pizza Puffs

This recipe deserves a spot on the top of your "to make" pile. They are super quick, super easy, and super delicious! These would make great treats for a kid birthday party and I plan to try that theory out soon. They are also portable without any mess. I'm thinking they'd be pretty good in a brown bag lunch, too.

The original recipe is half of this, but trust me, you'll want to make this bigger batch. I used pepperoni for my topping and Parmesan cheese instead of mozzarella because I'm out of mozzarella. Warm up some pizza sauce or make some ranch dressing to dip these in.

Pizza Puffs

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
2 cups of toppings cut in to small pieces (pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, peppers, etc)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease two 24 cup mini muffin pans.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Whisk in eggs and milk. Stir in cheese and pepperoni. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Stir batter and fill muffin tins full. Bake until puffed and golden, 20-25 minutes.

Recipe from Noble Pig.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mini Apple Cinnamon Bran Muffins

I can't remember where I saw this recipe, but it must have been on a parenting website because these are suggested as pre-school snacks. I am not generally a huge fan of bran -- I like my white flour! But these are delicious. They are nice and sweet.

The original recipe calls for vegetable oil, which I avoid. I would have used coconut oil, but the cold milk and eggs would cause it to solidify so I opted for grape seed oil. The dough is pretty thick so I'm thinking you could easily substitute yogurt for the milk to make this even healthier.

Last Fall I peeled, cored and sliced apples and froze them. I have one bag left and I used an apple from the freezer for this. It worked great and I highly recommend freezing apples now for use all winter and summer long.

Mini Apple Cinnamon Bran Muffins

1 1/4 cups natural bran
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sucanat (or brown sugar)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup oil
2 eggs
1 medium apple, peeled and finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Grease mini muffin pan.

In a large bowl stir together bran, flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon. In a smaller bowl, stir together milk, oil, and eggs. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir just until combined. Fold in apples.

Fill muffin pans. Bake for 12-14 minutes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Salsa Verde

I had never heard of a tomatillo or salsa verde until we moved out west 6 years ago. If they were available, I certainly didn't pay any attention to them! My introduction to salsa verde was in Albuquerque, New Mexico when a waiter asked if I wanted "red or green" with my meal. He was asking what kind of chili sauce I wanted. I fell in love with salsa verde at that meal. This super easy and quick recipe means salsa verde can now be a staple in my kitchen. Finding a bag of tomatillos on manager's special for $.22 makes this even better!

If you aren't familiar with salsa verde, you can use it like taco sauce, salsa, or enchilada sauce.

Salsa Verde

10 tomatillos, husked
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves (or more or less)
1 pepper, chopped (poblano or green; jalapeno if you want some heat)
Juice from 1/2 lime (I didn't have this so I skipped it)
A few sprigs of cilantro (optional)
A dash or more of hot sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet. Cook all ingredients until the tomatillos are softening and brighten a bit in color, about 10 minutes. Put everything in to a blender or food processor and blend until liquid.

I put mine in jars and froze them, but you could also can these or freeze in freezer bags.

This recipe is from Debi Does Dinner.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Trail Mix Cookies

I found this recipe on the inside of a Horizon organic butter box. I love finding recipes on products. They are usually very good. This one did not disappoint -- I love these cookies as do my kids. My dough was very, very crumbly. I couldn't figure out why until I recalled that I used 1/2 and 2/3 cup of sucanat and skipped the brown sugar. I'm wondering if the brown sugar would have creamed better. Guess I'll have to make them again!

The original recipe says to leave plenty of room when baking because cookies spread. Mine didn't budge. Maybe it was the brown sugar? Or the fact that I used baking powder instead of baking soda (that one wasn't on purpose)? I'm not sure, but they still tasted just fine.

I didn't use raisins or pecans because the granola I used had cranberries and pecans in it already.

Trail Mix Cookies
1/2 cup salted organic butter (or just butter)
6 Tablespoons peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 Tablespoons wheat germ
1/4 teaspoon baking SODA
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup granola
1/2 cup lightly toasted pecans
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit. Cream butter, peanut butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, vanilla, and wheat germ. Add baking soda, salt, and flour. Stir in granola, pecans, raisins, and chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Homemade French Dressing

One of my favorite meals of all time is taco salad. I lived with a college friend after I graduated from college and she taught me the yummiest taco salad recipe that used French or Catalina dressing and Doritos. When I "cleaned up" our eating habits, I really missed the Catalina dressing on my taco salad (I replaced the Doritos with homemade corn chips).

The days of taco salad sans Catalina are no more thanks to this recipe for homemade French Dressing posted by Laura at Heavenly Homemakers. I didn't change a thing so you can click over to see her recipe. My husband wasn't fond of the store bought Catalina on his taco salad, but he loved this! We agreed that it is leaps and bounds better than store bought.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chicken Club Braid

This is a fabulous recipe for a crowd. I've served it at birthday parties and pot lucks and it is always a hit! Double the dough recipe and put half in the freezer for later.

Chicken Braid
Dough (or any pizza dough):
1 scant Tablespoon yeast
1 cup warm water
1 egg
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons olive oil (or any oil or melted butter)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3-3 1/2 cups flour (I use 2 cups unbleached all purpose and 1 cup white whole wheat)

Chicken Mixture:
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
4 slices crisp bacon, chopped
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/3 cup mayo
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper

In a bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer combine water, yeast, and sugar. Add in salt, oil, egg, and 1 1/2 cups of flour. Stir with wooden spoon or mix with paddle until smooth. Change to dough hook and add in rest of flour. Stir to mix. Hand knead for 10 minutes or about 5 minutes with the dough hook. Let rest for 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit. In a bowl, combine chicken, bacon, 3/4 cup cheese, mayo, mustard and lemon pepper and mix well. Roll out dough in to a large rectangle, about 12 inches long and 8 inches wide. Cut sides of dough into 8 strips, about 1/2 inches wide and 3 inches long. Scoop chicken filling evenly over center of dough. Starting at one end, lift one strip of dough, twist one turn and lay across top of filling. Repeat, alternating strips of dough to form braid. Sprinkle top with remaining cheese. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

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