Monday, December 31, 2007

2008 Food Goals

Well, here is this next year's list. We'll see how we do. Some I plan to concentrate on more than others, and I admit that I had a difficult time coming up with 10 specific goals, but we'll see how I do.

1. Focus more on Flexitarian eating. What do I mean by that? I mean that instead of cooking a meat or protein as the focus of my meals, and then planning around that, I want to focus more on the vegetables and the whole grains. I want the meat part of the meal to become the side dish, and the vegetables, grains, and fruits to be the stars. I have several posts in mind for the near future to explore this further.

2. Continue learning about Indian food. I am so in love with Indian food. But I would love to go deeper and explore the different regions of India and the different types of cuisine to go with.

3. Source my meat locally. Although I want to take the focus off the meat at the dinner table, the meat we do have I want it to be top-notch and local. We have several options here in the area, and I hope to give each one a try and then share that information for those of you reading from nearby. Maybe we can do this one together!

4. Make homemade Angel food cake. I never have. I don't even have the right pan to do so, but there is nothing like homemade angel food cake, and it's about time I learned how to do it.

5. Garden, Garden, Garden! My garden should be featured more prominently come garden season. This year I plan to try many new-to-me vegetables and varieties. I literally cannot wait, as the seed catalogs have begun pouring in and it's going to be very difficult to pick just a few things to put in my tiny garden space. Hopefully we can find a few new vegetables that we enjoy as well as learn how best to grow and preserve them.

6. Use the grill more in warmer weather. I don't know what happened last year. It seems to me that we didn't use the grill as much last year, and that's a shame. I hope to get a little more ambitious with fish and veggies on the grill this year.

7. Explore some new grains and seeds. There are many that I haven't tried yet. Each time I do try a new one I enjoy it, so I need to spend some time exploring and trying out some new grains. Specifically ones that I am thinking of would be bulgur, amaranth, millet, and wheat berries.

8. Continue working my way through my cookbooks. I will be updating my database soon and seeing where I sit.

9. Break out of my comfort zone for weekly soup day. Wednesday's have become soup day at our house since that's the day we have ballet class. Soup holds nicely in a crock pot, and accompanied by homemade bread makes the perfect after-dance meal. But I gotta try some new ones! I seem to be in a rut, and I must break free. Also look for a semi-regular post on Thursday's featuring my soup of the week.

10. And finally, master my new wok. I want to explore the different Asian foods that can be made in a wok, and Andy wants me to make an entire dim sum feast. That sounds like a fun goal, as well as a delicious one.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

That Barefoot Contessa Is Trouble!

Because this was seriously one of the best eggs I have ever eaten. Andy is going to be all sorts of sad when he sees this post and sees what he missed out on, but hey, a girl's got to eat sometimes.

This started as an egg moment. I reached into the fridge and grabbed an egg. I had been intending to hard boil it, when I spotted a mostly-empty carton of cream. I seldom have real cream in the fridge, but this was leftover from the holiday baking spree, and I grabbed it to toss, actually. Then I opened it and gave it a sniff. It smelled fine, so I tasted it, and it tasted fine, and in an instant, I recalled an episode of Barefoot Contessa where she made eggs baked in cream and herbs. I knew I needed to make this now.

Instead of looking for a recipe, I kind of made it up as I went. I started with buttering my dish. Then I added a healthy glug or two of cream (that's a scientific word-glug). Total it was probably about 3 tablespoons. Then I cracked my extra-large egg onto the cream. On top of this I sprinkled some sea salt, some freshly cracked black pepper, and then, since I knew there was supposed to be a mountain of fresh herbs, I added a very healthy shaking of Penzey's Tuscan Sunset- my current favorite herb blend. I baked this in a 350ºF oven for about 10 minutes or so- basically until the egg was set.

I overcooked it just a tad, because the yolk was cooked through- still soft and creamy, but not runny like I preferred. But that egg. That egg was heaven. I truly cannot even begin to describe to you the magic that baking the egg in cream resulted in. I can tell you right now that this is going to be made when the herb garden is going crazy because I know the fresh herbs would have taken this egg into nirvana-land. It was decadent and creamy and completely sinful, but for a once-in-a-while treat, this egg is going to the top of the list for a special occasion breakfast. Here's Ina's recipe, and a not-so-great picture of my egg. What do you want? It was a white egg in white cream and served on a white dish.

Herbed Baked Eggs

1/4 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan
6 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Toasted French bread or brioche, for serving

Preheat the broiler for 5 minutes and place the oven rack 6 inches below the heat.

Combine the garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and Parmesan and set aside. Carefully crack 3 eggs into each of 2 small bowls or teacups (you won't be baking them in these) without breaking the yolks. (It's very important to have all the eggs ready to go before you start cooking.)
Place 2 individual gratin dishes on a baking sheet. Place 1 tablespoon of cream and 1/2 tablespoon of butter in each dish and place under the broiler for about 3 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Quickly, but carefully, pour 3 eggs into each gratin dish and sprinkle evenly with the herb mixture, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place back under the broiler for 5 to 6 minutes, until the whites of the eggs are almost cooked. (Rotate the baking sheet once if they aren't cooking evenly.) The eggs will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven. Allow to set for 60 seconds and serve hot with toasted bread.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Very Simple Supper

Yet one the whole family enjoyed. The dinner idea began with a package of chicken wings. Everyone in the family enjoys chicken wings. They're fun to eat, and there are countless ways to prepare them. Last night, it was simply baked. I'd sprinkled them liberally with seasoning salt, pepper, and an herb blend and popped them in a 375ºF oven for 45 minutes. For a while though, I was stumped on what to have with it. I was thinking in terms of rice or potatoes, but I wasn't in the mood for potatoes, and we'd had rice a few times in the last couple of days. Since the kids aren't big on rice, I thought I needed something different.

Then I spied the butternut squash and decided to cook that instead. I baked it in a 350ºF oven for about an hour, covered with foil. I'd split it in half, scooped out the seeds, and then placed the halves cut-side down in a baking dish. I poked the skin with holes, covered with foil, and popped it in. When it came out, I scooped the soft flesh into a bowl with a smidge of butter, salt, and a tablespoon of brown sugar. Then I set it aside while the chicken cooked and pondered a vegetable or a salad to accompany.

When I popped open the produce drawers on the fridge, a fresh bunch of celery caught my eye, as well as a few apples that had a spot or two on them, and thus had been deemed inedible by my children. In mere seconds, I'd chopped two apples and two celery stalks. I added a handful of Craisins and then whipped up a honey-mustard vinaigrette. The salad was fresh and light and a perfect counterpoint to the last week of holiday indulging. I only wished that I'd had a bit of red onion to thinly slice into it.

The result was a dinner that made everyone happy, and was beyond simple to put together. There was very little active work time, mostly just waiting for it to finish in the oven. This is definitely a meal worthy of company, and I really need to remember this apple and celery salad. It's been a long while since I'd made it, and it's just so bright and delightful. I love it when a quick dinner comes out better than expected, and I hope to do the same thing tonight.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

So How Did I Do?

I thought it would be fun to look back at my food goals for 2007 and see how badly I did. :-) When I made this list last December, I expected normal life for most of the year. What actually happened was that I spent a majority of the year with a tiny food budget, so I had little extra to try and meet some of my goals. That's okay. These were just some things that I had been thinking about, and this year, some of them will make the list again, and some will be bumped off with a giggle and replaced with something else. Here's the condensed version of my Food Goals 2007, with my notes following in red.

1. Attempt to make homemade sausage. This sounded fun at the time. Seriously though, when I can buy amazing sausage, why would I go to the expense of buying the cuts of meat and spices and make my own. Sausage is inexpensive in sausage form, and I do have some great sources.

2. Explore Moroccan Cuisine. Hey- I think I did make two recipes last year. They both were excellent, and I'd love to learn more from that whole region- I don't know about specifically Moroccan though.

3. Be less afraid of greens. Okay, I didn't conquer this one a bit. However, I did get my kids into it! They both discovered that they love baby beet greens in salad. That's a great thing to have learned, and just the other day Abigail asked when we can have them again. Too bad they take so long to grow! This year I plan to tackle chard.

4. Make one recipe from every cookbook I own. Well, finances affected this one I'm afraid. I think I made my way through about 30 of them-that's definitely better than none, but then I added a bunch of cookbooks, so this next year I'll be updating my list and continuing on with it. I'm okay with that.

5. Experiment more with vegetarian cooking. This is my number one goal for this next year. I think I did okay with this, but I definitely want to do better. This is going to go hand-in-hand with gardening this year and shopping at the farmer's markets more often. I love vegetarian food, and I'd like to see us move more towards flexitarian eating. There will be a post coming soon about this.

6. Prepare duck. Do you know how much duck costs? Maybe in 2008

7. Incorporate more fish into our meals. While we haven't done much fish lately, this was an excellent year for eating fish for us. We were eating it once or twice a week for a while and discovered the kids like fish too- either basic fried, or more meaty fish like salmon or swordfish. Hooray for this one.

8. Eat breakfast daily/be more adventurous with breakfast. I do eat breakfast daily now, but I haven't felt much like playing with it I'm afraid.

9. Incorporate more beans into our diets. Another goal I think I can get a star for. While the kids still don't care for beans, I've found that I love beans. I've also found, for those who are wondering, that if you eat beans more often, the, uh, after-effects eventually taper and go away. Your diet does get used to them, and then it's not an issue. I love beans. Watch for more beans here.

10. And finally, I want to learn more about whole-grain baking. I did so-so with this. I have to admit the few cookies, cakes, and breads I made that were whole grain were only okay in my book. Except for the devil's food cupcakes- those were excellent, and you couldn't tell they were made with whole grains. So it didn't take me long to lose my fascination with the whole grain baking. I need to try more though, there have to be more recipes out there that are excellent.

Well, I guess that's not as bad as I thought. In the next day or so I'll be sharing a new top 10 list for 2008. We'll see how we do next year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What to Cook, What to Cook...?

Pretty fun looking huh? I have been pining for this wok for a long time. Steamed Dumplings anyone? To go with this gorgeous piece of kitchen equipment, a very nice cookbook that has me drooling for some Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian, as well as all the other cuisines well-represented. I just need to figure out what to make first...

And then some pictures of the kids. Abigail discovered Guitar Hero this past weekend. She did very well, and really enjoyed it. She reminded me a lot of the kids in the band on School of Rock. Very cute, and fun to watch.Here's Zander having a snack break with cousin Kara.

I promise I'll be back soon posting some real food and some real stuff. I just need to get back into the groove is all. :-)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas from Tummy Treasure!

A Very Merry Christmas from my family to yours! We'll be busy celebrating the wonderful holiday over the next few days. I'll be back soon with an analysis of this year's food resolutions, a look ahead to next year, and of course, plenty of new recipes to fill your tummies with comfort. May your Christmas be wonderful and blessed!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Last Minute Gift Idea?

Try this one. Sorry I forgot to snap a picture, but everyone who's had it has enjoyed it completely. I would have never thought of peanut brittle as a great gift- but apparently it works great because I have to keep buying peanuts to make more! You can certainly use any kind of nut you want-cashews are another particular favorite to me.

I still remember the very first time I made a nut brittle. I used a recipe from Joy of Cooking, and thought I would be both fancy and clever and use macadamia nuts. Do you know how much macadamia's cost in this part of the country? It's between 6-8 bucks for a tiny jar. It took three jars for one batch of brittle. I followed the directions to a tee and basically ended up with an inedible pile of macadamia nut...stuff. It took me awhile before I got brave enough to try again.

This recipe below I have yet to turn out wrong, and I've been making it for several years. Just one note on preparing it. The temperature of 295 is your window. The brittle will be fine from 295-300, so work quickly to add the baking soda and pour it out. I line my baking sheets with Reynold's Release, so I don't have to use butter and make the brittle greasy. I imagine a silpat would work as well.

Nut Brittle

2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup water
2 1/2 cups raw peanuts -- or other coarsely chopped nuts
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda -- sifted

Butter two large baking sheets; set aside. Butter sides of a heavy 3 qt suacepan. In pan, combine sugar, corn syrup, butter, and water. Cook and stir over medium high heat to boiling. Clip candy thermometer to side of pan. Cook and stir over medium-low heat to 275F, soft crack stage (about 30 minutes). Add nuts; cook and stir to 295F, hard crack stage (a5 to 20 minutes more). Remove saucepan from heat, remove thermometer.

Quickly sprinkle baking soda over mixture, stirring constantly. Immediately pour onto prepared baking sheets. Cool; break into pieces. Store tightly covered. Makes about 2 1/4 pounds.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hot off the Presses!

Trust me on this one. When I say you NEED the newest issue of Eating Well magazine, you need to pay attention and go pick it up at the bookstore. As soon as you possibly can. Today I found the February 2008 issue in my mailbox and while Eating Well has clearly become my favorite magazine, this issue is something beyond special. Features in this issue include Indian cuisine(!) slow-cooker cooking, healthy eating with beef, pineapple, winter greens, and some fantastic options for cooking cauliflower. I want to make most of the recipes in this issue- and that's just the recipes. There's great articles this month on changing the way we view food, as well as a good look at artificial sweeteners and how they taste and perform.

Definitely recommended reading- just don't ask to borrow mine, cause I ain't letting it go. :-)

A Pretty Cookie

This last Saturday at the cookie party I went to there was a cookie disaster. One of the ladies had found a recipe in her local paper for a chocolate covered cherry cookie. It had actually won a contest and was the featured recipe for the contest. They looked really pretty in the picture, and I could easily see why she wanted to make this cookie. But when mixing the dough together- following the directions precisely from the paper, something was amiss. The ratio of wet to dry ingredients was way off, and there was no way the dough, as written in the paper, was going to come together to make cookies of any kind. So a few of us made suggestions to salvage, and by adding more butter, another egg, and some milk, she had a dough to work with. The cookies turned out well, and I filed away the idea to research the cookie further at a later date and find out exactly what went wrong.

Yesterday after the kids went to bed, I curled up with a cup of tea and a new-to-me magazine, Home Cooking. Imagine how surprised I was to find the exact recipe for Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies on the pages of a brand new issue of a magazine! I pulled out the recipe that we'd used on Saturday and compared the two, to find that the difference between them was 1/2 cup of cocoa. The one in the paper called for a full cup- the one in the magazine called for 1/2 a cup. That made sense to me, and scanning the ingredients, I knew I'd be trying this one soon to compare.

So here it is. I thought the flavor was pretty good, but that the almond flavor really didn't come through as much as it could. So to make up for that, I whipped up a quick glaze with some powdered sugar, maraschino cherry juice, and food coloring to make a pretty drizzle for the cookies. The drizzle is what took them over the top. They will definitely be on my cookie trays this year- if only because they are stunning to look at. The flavor is good too- but I think it could use a little added oomph. I like them enough to try playing with them in the near future, but in the meantime, these babies are very pretty and will add a lot to any cookie platter over the next week or so. I've re-named them Cherry Cordial Cookies just because I like the name better.

Cherry Cordial Cookies
1/2 cup butter -- softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 jar maraschino cherries,whole -- drained, juice reserved
6 ounces chocolate chips
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and sugar until well combined. Mix in egg and vanilla.

Add flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Gently mix in until combined.

Roll bits of dough into 1-inch balls and place 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Press down in the center of each ball with your thumb to make a small indentation.

Place one drained cherry in each of the indentations.

In a small saucepan, combine the chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, and 2 tablespoons of the reserved cherry juice. Melt over medium low heat, stirring constantly until well blended.

Drizzle 1 teaspoon of the chocolate sauce over each of the cherries.

Bake cookies in a 350ºF oven for 12-13 minutes. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 1 minute before removing to a baking rack to cool completely.

If desired, drizzle cookies with a glaze made from powdered sugar, cherry juice, and red food coloring.

Makes about 40 cookies.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cookie Days

Up to now I've really only made a few cookies for Christmas. I've been making candy to give as gifts, and to nibble on, but for the most part the cookies have waited. I'm a bit of a freshness nut, so I like to make my cookies as close to putting them on the platter as possible. Then this past Saturday I went to a cookie making party and the cookie bug bit. Big time. So since most of the candy has been made and given away, it's time to focus on the cookies.

Yesterday I managed to make three varieties of cookie before my son insisted I call it quits and spend some time with him. I made my favorite Choco-Marshmallow Cookies, Peanut Butter Blossoms, and a new drop cookie, White Chocolate Apricot Cookies. I had never made the peanut butter blossoms before, but they turned out really well. You can head over to Kids Cuisine for the recipe for those this morning. The White Chocolate Apricot cookies I'm still on the fence about. I do like them- the flavor is excellent, but I'm just not sure they're Christmas Cookie worthy. As they sit they develop more flavor, and I really like the combination of white chocolate, apricots, and pecans in a caramel flavored cookie dough, but they just don't scream something special to me. But they are definitely good enough to repeat and be an everyday cookie.

Today I hope to make my Greek Honey-Nut Wedges, a Chocolate-Cherry cookie if I have enough cherries, and then maybe, just maybe, I'll get myself worked up enough to work on my truffles. I'm still on the fence as to whether or not I want to do them this year, but I figure at least one batch should go on the books for the year.

White Chocolate-Apricot Cookies

1 cup butter -- at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar -- packed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup dried apricots -- chopped
3/4 cup white chocolate
3/4 cup pecans -- chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Cream the butter and brown sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl until smoothly blended.

Beat in the egg and vanilla.

Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, stirring the mixture into a smooth dough.

Add the apricots and white chocolate, stirring until the pieces are thoroughly dispersed.

Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets, spacing 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned.

Let the cookies set on the sheet for 1 to 2 minutes before transferring them with a spatula to wire racks to cool.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A New Use for Zucchini

After completely overdoing the zucchini this past summer, I am finally to the point where I can begin to eat it again. Really, I'd had enough of it for a long while, and learned my lesson well for next year. I was looking for a different appetizer to serve this past Sunday and I found a recipe for zucchini squares. It was a savory recipe, and used shredded zucchini. At first I glanced past it, too much zucchini still strong in my brain, but then I went back to it, really looked it over, and decided it couldn't hurt to try it out. I pulled two packages of zucchini out of the freezer to thaw. I had previously shredded them and froze them in 2-cup packages, the amount I need for a batch of zucchini bread, so I was kind of excited to find another use for them!

The rest of the ingredients were simple. Eggs, seasonings, oil, cheese, and biscuit mix. I still have that box of Bisquick Heart Smart lurking around, so I was happy to find another use for that as well. I looked at the oil called for, and decided it was way too much and reduced that to 1/3 of a cup from 1/2, and I suspect that it could be reduced further to 1/4 cup yet. I had to eliminate the onions because a guest who was coming was allergic, so I also left out the seasoning salt called for (who knew onions lurked in so many things!). Instead, I used grey sea salt and some Penzey's Tuscan Sunset- a fabulous salt-free blend that really perks up anything I use it in. When it came time to add the zucchini I decided to squeeze the liquid out of most of it and use all four cups. I poured the delicious smelling mixture into the pan and baked it up, and in no time I had a savory little appetizer begging to be cut into squares and eaten.

I've decided that I like this one. I honestly wasn't sure if I would like it, but all the flavors came through, and I thought the only thing missing was some marinara to dunk them in. Altogether we ate about half the pan, so I have the remainder in the freezer to be pulled out for Christmas- this time with the marinara. I think I'm also going to cut them into fingers to be easier to dunk. This is a great way to use up some frozen zucchini, and a nice no-fuss appetizer to serve to guests. They freeze beautifully, a quick run through the oven and they perk right back up, so these Zucchini Squares would be excellent to have around for unexpected drop-ins.

Zucchini Squares

4 large eggs -- beaten until smooth
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian spice blend (I used Penzey's Tuscan Sunset)
1/2 teaspoon grey salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup biscuit mix (Bisquick Heart Smart)
4 cups zucchini -- grated and squeezed to remove excess moisture
1/2 cup cheddar cheese -- grated (or mozzarella)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Marinara sauce -- for dipping

To the eggs add, parsley, spice blend, salt, garlic powder, oil & biscuit mix.

Mix well.

Add remaining ingredients, stir until mixed.

Pour into a greased 9x13 pan.

Bake 350f oven for 40-45 minutes or until golden.

Cut into squares.

Serve warm or cool with marinara sauce for dunking in.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Havin' A Party!

Yesterday we had a Christmas party for our regular Sunday Company Dinner folks and a few other friends. It was a blast. We all had a great time visiting and eating, and really getting into the holiday spirit with each other. I have a couple of recipes to share with you yet this week from things made at the party, but first today a few photos, and one recipe that is not one that I made.

First, here is a picture of my party helper. I decided to make some festive Snickerdoodles to add to my cookie plate for the party, and as I was rolling the dough into balls, Abigail walked into the kitchen. She lit up, asked what I was doing and then asked if she could help. Hot dog, I had plenty of other things to do to get ready for the party, so I handed her the dough balls and the bowl of sugar and told her to go to town. She really enjoys being involved, and the best part was that after she was done helping me, she was in helper mode and went and helped Andy with some cleaning.

Usually when we have Sunday Company Dinner, the kids all eat at the dining room table, and we grown-ups snag the living room, or a piece of floor, or a piece of counter to eat at. But this week since it was more of a celebratory occasion, we put in Frosty The Snowman on in our bedroom TV and let the kids all take their plates upstairs to watch while they ate. They were so excited! What was insanely cute was that none of them actually wanted to sit on the floor to eat, and all by themselves they started setting up the little chairs and stools in the house and they sat in a little line with plates of food on their laps. Well, all except Zander, who sensed the impending disaster should a plate of food actually be on his lap, so I wisely set his plate on the floor and would bend over to grab a bite. I had to take a picture of the kids...they were just so cute!And finally, the recipe for the day. This is one of those ones that I have eyed up since the day I saw it. It just looked really good to me, but I have yet to try and make them. I guess it doesn't come to mind very often when I'm looking for something to make. Until yesterday, that is. We had a family join us for Sunday Company Dinner who had never come before (and I sure hope they consider a regular appearance!) and they brought Oreo Balls. So simple, so pretty to look at, and by golly if they weren't delicious! They thoughtfully left the plate of them here and I haven't been able to stay away from them. I'm eyeing them up even now, wondering how one would be with my coffee! Or two or three or...So now, thanks to all the wonderful company we had yesterday, now I am officially "in the mood." It's the holiday season and time to celebrate! This year we'll be celebrating very simply, staying close to home and spending time with family. How are you celebrating this year? Any must-have traditions? Forging your own new tradition this year? Do tell, I'd love to hear it!

Oreo Balls

1 package regular size Oreo cookies -- crushed
1 package cream cheese -- (8 ounce) softened
1 package white almond bark

Using a blender or hand held mixer, mix Oreos and cream cheese together.

Roll into walnut size balls.

Chill for an hour.

Melt the package of white almond bark.

Stick a toothpick in an Oreo ball and dip it in the melted white almond bark.

Allow to harden on wax paper, sprinkling with colored sugars or non-pareils before setting if desired.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thinking of Others: Menu For Hope 4

It's that time of year again. The time of year where we spend time giving gifts and receiving gifts, and celebrating the wonders of the season with those we love. This time of year also means that my thoughts often turn towards those who are less fortunate. While we sit in our snug home, eating at each meal, with snacks often in between, there are people all over the world who don't even know where their next meal is coming from, or if it will even come in time...

Here in the United States, those who have school-aged children are fortunate to have school lunch programs available. Those families who have very little or no money, can often be assured that their little ones will at least have a hot meal during the school day. In other countries, children are not so fortunate.

That's one of the many reasons why this year's Menu For Hope is so important, and so dear to me. This year's proceeds from A Menu For Hope will be used by The World Food Programme to help support the school lunch program in the country of Lesotho. The very generous Chez Pim is once again spearheading and hosting the Menu For Hope campaign this year. One of the many things she has done this year includes getting some photos taken from the country of Lesotho. You can click here to see those photos- it's truly amazing to see just how little these people have.

Here's where you come in. Last year food bloggers helped raise over $62,000 for the UN World Food Programme, and we want to beat it this year! When so many people have so little, surely you can find an extra $10 in your pocket to contribute to the cause- I know I did. And here's the best part. By contributing just $10, you can also enter a chance to win some truly amazing prizes. There are so many to pick from- you can see the complete list here. The prizes run the gamut, from signed cookbooks, homemade sweets, and complimentary dinners to some truly amazing culinary experiences with premiere chefs around the country. The process is simple. Scroll down the prize offerings to find what you like, and then click over to the Firstgiving site to make your donation. You enter your prize codes in the comments section of your donation, and just like that, you've been entered into some very generous prize raffles. You can choose one prize per $10 you donate, so the more you donate, the more chances you have to win the prizes you want the most.

Please consider giving to this oh-so-worthy cause. And thank you in advance from the bottom of my heart.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Slightly Savory Cookie

This is a cookie that is slightly different, depending how you look at it. I was looking through my cookie magazines, and there was one that caught my eye that was just a touch different. It used fennel in it. At first I discarded the notion, but then I came back to it. We've become very fond of fennel, using it in everything, how would it be in a cookie? Then I thought about gingersnaps, and pfefferneuse, and peanut butter cookies, and thought about all the savory ingredients I already use in cookies, how could fennel be bad?

I adapted the recipe quite a bit though. It called for lemon, which I didn't have, but I did have an orange. And I thought orange and fennel would be a brilliant combination of flavors. It also called for crushed fennel seeds, but it struck me that toasting the seeds first would add something great, so I did that as well. I crushed my fennel with a mortar and pestle, but if you don't have one, just put your seeds in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. What? You don't have fennel seeds? You should! They are a pantry staple for me- I buy them in bulk at Penzey's, you should have fennel seeds on hand at all times!

Anyway, back to the cookies. The recipe also suggested a curd filling, like a thumbprint, but I decided that a curd filling would completely overwhelm the delicate flavor of the fennel. Instead, I opted for a very simple drizzle, combining powdered sugar, milk, and a lone drop of orange oil. The result is a rather stellar cookie. The orange flavor is bright and vibrant, and the fennel seed adds a prominent flavor without overwhelming. They are a delicious cookie! Which, in all honesty, kind of surprised me. These are slightly on the savory side, meaning they aren't as sweet as a traditional cookie. I think they would go excellently with tea or even with some bright crisp wine- Riesling perhaps? These Orange-Fennel Cookies surpassed my expectations, and I recommend them wholeheartedly.

Orange-Fennel Cookies
1 orange
2/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted and crushed
2 cups all-purpose flour
turbinado sugar
Simple glaze:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 drop orange oil
2 teaspoons milk

Remove the zest from the orange using a zester. Measure 2 teaspoons of orange peel. Juice the orange and measure 2 tablespoons of juice.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter with the sugar until well combined. Add the orange juice, zest, eggs, vanilla, and the fennel seeds. Stir in the flour. Wrap the dough well in plastic and refrigerate for several hours, or until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Shape the dough into 3/4 inch balls. Roll the balls in the turbinado sugar to coat and place on an ungreased baking sheet 1 inch apart. Press down on them slightly with a glass to flatten a bit. Bake in a preheated oven for 11 to 12 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool.

Combine the simple glaze ingredients, adding more milk if necessary to get a good consistency. Lightly drizzle the cookies with the glaze and allow to set completely.

To store, layer in an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 3 days. Cookies can also be frozen for up to 3 months.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

English Toffee

I tried a new recipe for toffee the other day. I think. The problem came when I was looking for a toffee recipe and I found this one in my Mastercook program in my candy cookbook. I thought I'd only put tried and trues in there- yet here was a recipe that I was sure I'd never made before. It sounded simple enough though, and I really wanted a standard English toffee to accompany my almond toffee.

What was crazy to me about this recipe was it's method. The ingredients are first combined and cooked over high heat- stirring the whole while. Then the heat is reduced to low, a candy thermometer added, and no stirring is allowed. None. I found that really difficult to adhere to! And even worse was the fact that it cooked on low. Do you have any idea how long the toffee took to get up to temperature!? I would say about 45 minutes. It was sooooo tempting to turn up the heat, but I didn't. After a long, long while, the temperature started creeping up, and finally, the moment came where I could pour out the toffee. The only error I think I made is that I scraped the bottom of the pan. I wanted all that toffee-goodness, but the stuff on the bottom of the pan had started to darken just a bit. Next time I will pour it out and leave the leavings behind.

And there will be a next time. Without the crazy mad-stirring and all that, I was worried this toffee wasn't going to turn out, but it's delightful. It's a very delicious toffee. It snaps just like toffee should, and it has a wonderful browned butter-caramel flavor. It's fantastic! I had halved the recipe and poured it into a 9 x 13 pan, and that worked very well. The very center is a little too thick though, so next time I will use a larger sheet pan to pour it on and try and get it a little thinner. Overall, I'm thrilled with it. I'm not entirely sure where the recipe came from, but I sure am loving it! This English Toffee is nothing short of spectacular- follow the directions and you won't be sorry. And if you're still looking for a new cookie or two to add to your cookie trays these years, you'll also want to check out my Kids Cuisine post today. Zander and I made a cherry-walnut snowball that I think is really pretty and tasty too!

English Toffee
4 cups pecans -- finely chopped
1 pound butter
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 pound milk chocolate

Butter a 12x18 baking sheet; cover with pecans and set aside. In a heavy 3 qt saucepan, combine butter, water, corn syrup, and sugar. Place over high heat and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture comes to a boil. Continue stirring until mixture begins to thicken. Reduce heat to low; remove wooden spoon.

Clip on candy thermometer. Cook syrup to 290F or soft crack stage. Remove from heat immediately and pour over pecans. Cool at room temperature for 1 hour.

Melt chocolate. Spread over the top of the toffee. Sprinkle warm chocolate with nuts if desired- pressing lightly so they adhere.

Allow to stand at room temperature for 24 hours. Break into irregular pieces and store in an airtight container. Makes 4-5 pounds- or around 150 pieces.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Lessons are Neverending

Just when you think you've made all the errors you possibly can this baking season...another one leaps out from the oven.

Yesterday I spent some time testing some new cookies. One of my challenges this year is to take the ingredients I have and use existing pantry ingredients only in my baking and candy-making. Due to the generosity of a few family members, I have a nicely stocked baking pantry right now. I have all different kinds of sugars and chips and nuts and things to use in my holiday baking. So as I'm looking for a new cookie to try here and there, I'm keeping in mind what I have in my pantry. It's kind of fun, actually, like a treasure hunt. It's been nice flipping through all my cookie magazines, looking for new ones that catch my eye, and then checking out the ingredients and directions. I've found several new ones to try- and yesterday I tried two new cookies and one toffee. I also created a new rule- only make a half-batch if possible, so if disaster strikes, I'm only wasting half the ingredients.

And I learned a new lesson about white chocolate. White chocolate chips and white baking chocolate are not interchangeable. I made a white chocolate peppermint cookie that called for white baking chocolate to be melted and folded in the dough. I simply thought I could use chips, and I did. Well, the chips tightened the dough up too much, and the resulting cookies were not what they were intended to be. These were drop cookies, so they were supposed to spread and bake up like a regular cookie. Instead, the cookies that I'd scooped with my cookie scoop stayed scoop-shaped. I was annoyed with myself. Then I tasted the cookies and found a very delicious cookie. I love the flavors- the white chocolate and peppermint are an amazing combination. SO while my cookies are not perfect, the flavor is there. So I will be nibbling on my half-batch myself and then when I get some white baking chocolate, I'll be making these again for my cookie trays.

They really are excellent. I used some Ande's candy cane baking chips that I'd found in the pantry, but the original recipe called for crushed candy-canes. The Ande's chips worked perfectly, but next time I think I'm going to use the Guittard mint chips I'd found. Try them if you like white chocolate- just pay attention to the white chocolate you use. White Chocolate-Peppermint Drops are an excellent cookie.

White Chocolate Peppermint Drops
8 ounces *white chocolate baking squares (with cocoa butter)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup peppermint chips (such as Andes or Guittard)
(or sub in 2/3 cup crushed peppermint candy canes)

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Chop 4 ounces of the white chocolate, set aside. In a small saucepan, cook and stir the remaining 4 ounces white chocolate over low heat until melted. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar together with an electric mixer. Add the baking powder and salt, mix well. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Beat in the melted white chocolate. Beat in about half of the flour. Using a wooden spoon, fold in the remaining flour until combined, and then fold in the chopped white chocolate and peppermint chips.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake at 375ºF for 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Makes about 50 cookies.

*Be sure to use a good quality white chocolate for the melting chocolate. White chocolate chips will not work in the dough for melting. However, chips would be a fine substitute for chopping the remaining white chocolate.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Problem With An Anonymous Gift...

Is that I don't know who to express my gratitude towards! So in the off-chance that my mysterious benefactor reads my blog... Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. What a delightful surprise- and thank you for making Christmas that much brighter! Bless you and your generous heart.

A Lesson In Leavening

You would think that the candy failure would have taught me a lesson. Yet here I was trying to do too much at once, and then Andy mentioned gingersnaps. I had forgotten to add them to my list of cookies to make, and once he mentioned them, I had to make them. I dug out the recipe for Ginger Spice Cookies and looked it over. The only thing missing was the crystallized ginger. While that addition does create a spectacular ginger cookie, I was certain I could make them without- there were plenty of spices for the cookie to stand on it's own two feet. So I mixed up the dough and set it in the fridge to chill.

Then I was distracted for a short while before returning to bake my cookies. I rolled the first batch into small balls and rolled them in turbinado sugar. Twelve minutes later I popped open the oven door to pull them out, eager for my first glimpse of the sparkling spice cookies...wait, this isn't right. These haven't changed since I put them on the pan. $%^*#$ cookies. This is supposed to be fun, and first that awful candy and now this...Surely I'm missing something. I double check the recipe, making sure I wrote everything down, when one ingredient gives me pause. I don't remember adding that. And it calls for 2 teaspoons, surely I would remember dipping in the box twice.That has to be it. I forgot the leavening. I looked at the ball of dough, and looked at the box, and decided that it couldn't hurt to try and mix in some baking soda. It was either attempt to mix it in now, or throw out the whole batch of dough and be really mad at myself. I kneaded in the baking soda, let it sit for a few minutes and then tried again.
That's much better.

And lesson learned. Don't be distracted when making your Christmas treats, and definitely don't forget the leavening. Oh, and these are just fine without the crystallized ginger- they're still a delicious spicy cookie.

Ginger Spice Cookies (a.k.a. the best ginger cookies evah) adapted from

makes about 30 cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup crystallized ginger
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1/4 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses

Turbinado sugar

Combine first 7 ingredients in medium bowl; whisk to blend. Chop the crystallized ginger finely; mix into dry ingredients. (To keep the ginger from clumping together, sprinkle pieces across the top of the flour mixture, then fold in.) With an electric mixer, beat brown sugar and butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add egg and molasses and beat until blended. Add flour mixture; stir just until blended. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter baking sheet. Pour turbinado sugar into a thick layer on a small plate. (Regular granulated sugar will work for this, too, though the larger crystals of the turbinado add an extra crunch to the cookie.) Using wet hands, form dough into 1 1/4-inch balls; roll in sugar to coat completely. Place dough balls on cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. (I made my balls more like 1-inch, and ended up with about 48 cookies.)

Bake cookies until tops are cracked but still soft to the touch, 11-12 minutes. Cool on sheets for a minute or two, then transfer to racks and cool. Store in airtight container to maintain outer shell’s crunch… if they last that long.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A Plea For The Local Readership

This is going to sound like a crazy post, I am sure, but I'm hoping that one or two of the locals who read this blog will be able to help me out here.

Last Christmas, we bought Abigail a fish tank. Over the last year, we've really come to enjoy the fish in the house. Sometime this last fall we decided we enjoy it so much, we needed to upgrade Abigail's tank to a larger one. A faulty filter pump sped that process up, and we upgraded her to a larger tank. I managed to repair the filter pump after the fact and decided to set up her old small tank in the living room for more fish. I kept putting it off and putting it off, and then a week before Thanksgiving, I set it up and bought some new fish- 3 black Mollies to be exact. These were my "beta" fish, designed to get my tank to cycle, knowing full well that the starter fish could very well not last long.

So imagine my surprise, when these fish seem to be languishing, and then one day we discover something new in the tank. And then another something, and then, oh dear, about 25 new somethings! One of my fish was pregnant when I bought her! At first we simply enjoyed the fish and the experience, fully expecting that the majority of these baby fish would in fact, be eaten by the adult fish in the tank. It happens. Well, it's been two more weeks, and every single one of my babies are still intact and thriving. In fact, the increase in fish enabled my tank to cycle in half the amount of time. I've moved six of the babies into Abigail's already crowded tank, but that leaves twenty-some in the tank. (Hey, they move around and are difficult to count.) I did lose my one male adult before the tank cycled, but I suspect he did his duty on at least one of the ladies before his final swim.

Which brings me to the crux of this post. I need a home for my fish! The condition is that they need to go to an established fresh-water tank. These are baby fish, so they won't do for a brand new set up, and I can't even guarantee that they'll live. But if there's anyone in my area who would like these fish, or knows someone who would like some fish- please send me an e-mail at tummytreasureATgmailDOTcom. You can have 2, 3, 4, 8, as many as your tank will hold. I just can't flush them, and we're not in a position to upgrade to the big tank that I really want for my fish, so I'll just have to give them away. They're all black mollies- but some of them seem to have a hint of silver on their bellies. Should be interesting to see how they grow.

Friday, December 7, 2007

I Hate Candy Failure!

There's nothing more disappointing to me. I tried a new recipe this morning for a peanut butter candy. The recipe was from a really reliable source, so I went ahead with it, expecting a peanut butter treasure. Instead, about 40 degrees before it was even where it was supposed to be, I began smelling burned sugar. I thought about halting there, but no....I had to continue on and of course I was rewarded with a pan of burnt peanut butter...something. Not even remotely edible. I hate wasting ingredients, and this one used a full cup of peanut butter. I won't be trying again. Had it been an old recipe that I was just having problems with, I would give it another go, but I don't want to try this one again.

Luckily, before this one, I made a quick batch of almond toffee- and that worked out beautifully! So I was able to break off a tiny sliver of that and console myself with it. I love this almond toffee. Anna, from Cookie Madness is entirely responsible for my obsession with it. And my whole family's obsession with it. And pretty much everyone I know who has ever had a taste. It's the best almond toffee I've ever had, and her latest variation of the recipe is even easier than it was before. I'll direct you to her post for the recipe-it's well worth giving a try.

I also have a tip this morning for making that almond toffee- and any other candy for that matter. But in order to check out that tip, I'm going to have to redirect you to my latest article at The Cook's Kitchen.

That's about it for today. I hope I'll be able to get a few more candy posts going in the next week or so. It's really much easier to make than you would think. (Despite today's disaster, I suppose.) TGIF!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

In Search of A New Job

Anyone? Picture this. Tuesday and Wednesday the big snowstorm passed through the area where Andy is working. Snowstorms mean icy slippery roads, hazardous driving conditions, etc. The National Weather Service tells people to stay off the roads as much as possible. Yet where is my husband? Working. On the side of the road. Does that sound like a safety minded company to you? I think not. So seriously. If anyone reading this has any connections... Andy works construction, and all that entails. And if you're not connected, could you maybe send a prayer or two in his direction while he's working on the side of the slippery road and looking for a new job? Sheesh. Like I really needed something else to worry about! And he's not even being compensated for being in harm's way!!!

Okay. Enough venting. Today Abigail's class at school is wrapping up a social studies unit on world geography, and they are celebrating with a "trip around the world". Abigail asked if I could make something from another country to bring in. She chose the country of Mexico and asked to bring chips and salsa. Chips and salsa? I didn't make homemade salsa this year, and I wasn't about to make homemade chips. I thought I could do better and sought out a Mexican cookie. Would you believe there aren't many? I didn't think the kids in class would appreciate Mexican Wedding Cakes- plus I think I wouldn't be appreciated for the powdered sugar mess from that. So I thought about Mexican ingredients, like cinnamon and decided to play with the Mexican theme. I used my Snickerdoodle recipe, only I put the cinnamon in the cookie instead of on the cookie. And then I carefully dipped each end in colored sugar, one red and one green. The end result? Mexican Flag Cookies. Abigail is very excited to share them today.And then you have to check out these chips. Last night we stopped at Cost Plus: World Market while Abigail was in ballet class. I wanted to see if they had any bulk chocolate for dipping truffles in, which of course, they didn't. But they had a ton of other neat things for holiday baking. These mint chips from Guittard ended up in my basket. I have no idea what I'll be doing with them, but they're a vibrant minty green and very tasty. Texture wise they're on the melty side, pretty decadent little chips actually.

Finally, I have to share, Andy was home last night because of the weather, so he had a chance to try yesterday's Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup. He loved it too, so it's definitely going to be a regular here.

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

In a mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar together with a mixer. Add the egg and vanilla and beat well. Add the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. Mix well to combine. Wrap the dough up in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon.

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Roll the cookie dough into small 3/4 inch balls. Roll each ball of dough well in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Place on an ungreased baking sheet 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10-11 minutes, or until the edges just begin to brown. Remove the cookies from the baking sheet to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Makes about 45 cookies.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Thanks Cookworm!

Since Andy is out of town this week, I'm making a lot of kid-friendly fare here. In my mind, there is just no point experimenting on my monsters when he's gone- it's so much easier to just make what they like and be done with it. Yet that's not always appealing to myself. I enjoy mac and cheese as much as the next guy, but by golly, it's winter here! And that means soup. I love soup, adore soup, I'd eat it every day if I could. My kids, not so much. They'll pick at it, and they are always willing to try, but big soup-eaters, they are not.

I planned to make soup. But since it was just for me, this was my opportunity to experiment and try a completely new soup- maybe find one to put into regular rotation (if there really is such a thing I guess). Looking in my freezer I found an insane amount of pork, and contemplated some kind of posole or something, but since I lack any of the other basic ingredients, I decided to pass for now. Then I found the frozen tube of Mexican Chorizo-ah ha! I found one part to my soup. A trip to the pantry found about 2 1/2 cups of dried black beans. Black beans? Chorizo? Surely there is a soup out there that combines these two. Only, not really. I did find one at Epicurious that looked promising, and a chili in last month's Cooking Light (but that included beef as well, and not really what I was looking for).

I resigned myself to making the epicurious one, I pulled the chorizo out of the fridge to thaw overnight, and cooked up the black beans to have them at the ready the next morning. Then, yesterday morning I decided to do some checking up on a few blogs I've been neglecting, and right there, front and center was a Black Bean and Pumpkin Stew. With Chorizo. My old swap buddy April of Cookworm had just posted a rather interesting looking stew. And I had every single ingredient on her list. It was fate. I pulled the pumpkin out of the freezer to thaw, and then the vegetable broth as well. (See, a well stocked freezer comes in super handy!) I put the stew together after lunch, but then I decided I really was more in the mood for soup and I doubled the veggie broth to make it soup instead of stew. Here's where I have a confession: I had serious doubts about this soup. While I was previously gung-ho about the project, I just wasn't sure about the pumpkin. I love pumpkin and squash, but I have yet to have a positive experience with them in something savory. I just prefer them sweet- even when mashed- they get a pat of butter and some brown sugar. That's just the way I am.

But something magical happened in that soup pot. The pumpkin shared it's sweetness, the chorizo it's spiciness, the black beans their earthiness, the garlic and onions shared all their flavor, and that final shot of vinegar at the end just took it over the top. This was one amazing soup! I crushed up a few tortilla chips to add to my serving, and a scattering of parsley. I had planned on eating this soup all week, but I am already thinking about it this early in the morning, and I'm thinking of how wonderful it would be for lunch. One thing is for sure. This soup is going into the repertoire, and I will be making this again for Andy. This is also very economical- for me it was literally free, but Mexican chorizo I tend to find very inexpensively, and beans and pumpkin are also really low in price. Thank you so much April! Be sure to head over to Cookworm to check out her original version of the recipe. My version of Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup has been customized to accommodate my changes.

Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup
adapted from a recipe by April at Cookworm

2 15-oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed (or 4 cups cooked black beans)
2 cups pumpkin or butternut squashed, cooked, cooled, and mashed (or 1 15-oz can)
1/2 lb Mexican chorizo, crumbled
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, ground
1/4 teaspoon whole coriander seeds, ground
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3-4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Tortilla chips and parsley to garnish

Heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the onion and cook until onions are translucent. Add the chorizo and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the cumin, coriander, and cayenne, stir for a few seconds, then add the beans, pumpkin, and stock. Cover and cook on medium-low for 30 to 40 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crushed tortilla chips and parsley.

Makes about 4 servings

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Easy, Delicious, and Multi-Functional

I forgot to share this recipe last week! Something that I struggle with every year is the day after Thanksgiving. I mean, what do you eat for dinner that day? The last two years we have had company, so I've also felt that trotting out a redux of The Great Feast just isn't the most thoughtful thing for my guests. And after a few days of cooking, I still wanted something fairly easy. Last year we made Indian food, which was a huge hit for post-turkey day. But this year, I was stumped. Until Andy mentioned tacos. I had a beef roast in the freezer that was on the tough side, but with the right method of cooking (read:braising) it would tenderize and become delicious.

So I pulled out a recipe that I've been meaning to try for ages for Beef Carnitas. Carnitas is simply a word for an all-purpose shredded meat mixture. I already make a Pork Carnitas from Cooking Light that we simply love, but have had yet to try the beef version. I assembled the ingredients a full week ahead of time. This was going to be made and then tucked into the freezer. It was perfect. It was mild in flavor- with just a touch of heat from some crushed red pepper flake. I went back and forth on using the orange wedge, but I ended up doing so, and I'm so glad I did. It sounds strange, but it really did make the dish! Ultimately, the beef was served up with tortillas, guacamole, and tomatillo salsa, and it was very good. I had leftovers in a quesadilla with some beans and I enjoyed it even more. The only thing I regret is that I didn't take the time to make my own corn crepes- the Beef Carnitas would have sung.

The Beef Carnitas comes together with very little hands-on time, and can be used for just about anything. Tacos, enchiladas, sandwiches, empanadas, anyway you decide to use the beef- you'll love it's versatility. The cumin seeds are my addition- and I loved what they added, so do consider them for your version. You can also add any other seasonings that you would like- maybe chili powder or a chipotle chili for a smoky version. Anyway you do it- it's worth the small effort.

Beef Carnitas
from Cooking Light Magazine

Cooking spray
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves -- crushed
2 pounds beef stew meat -- trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup less-sodium beef broth
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 large unpeeled orange wedge

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray

. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes or until tender. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add beef; sauté 5 minutes or until beef is browned on all sides. Add cumin seeds and saute for another 2 minutes, or until cumin is nice and fragrant.

Stir in broth, sugar, salt, and pepper; nestle orange section into beef mixture. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beef is tender.

Remove and discard orange. Continue simmering, uncovered, 8 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates, stirring frequently.

"4 Cups"

Monday, December 3, 2007

Warning: Slow Moving Vehicle

Well, after the excitement of the last week, this week is going to be the exact opposite. Not much going on in the kitchen though, I'm afraid. Andy is working out of town, so I likely won't be cooking much this week. I do happen to have some fresh bread dough rising as I write this, and I have an idea for a soup this week, but other than that, it looks to be a slow week.

Lately I've spent a lot of time looking up specifics on frugal cookery. Andy's new job is not bringing home the proverbial bacon as it was supposed to be, so pantry cooking has become my mantra. (I'm just glad I have a well-stocked pantry to do so with.) It's not always very exciting cooking, but with a full spice cabinet and a stocked freezer, I am able to change things up so they suit our family nicely. My big challenge right now is to get my son to eat beans. With all the experimentation I've been doing with beans, I've really fallen in love with them and could eat a simple bowl of cooked dried beans any day of the week. Abigail will eat them on occasion, but not all the time. Imagine the possibilities if they came around!

There are a few sites out there that address cooking on a budget, and a few have caught my eye, so I thought I'd share. The first one is Hillbilly Housewife. This site is full of interesting tips to help save a buck, and also includes recipes, and weekly menu plans for someone on a budget. While not all the recipes appeal to me, that may to someone else.

I've also found a few recipes on Frugal Cooking which interest me.

And you wouldn't think it, but someone sent me a link to the USDA website, Food Stamp Nutrition Connect. There are many recipes on there which surprised me, and it's great to see a step in the right direction regarding food stamps and nutrition. Now if only the people who utilized the food stamp program had Internet access and computers...

And finally, it wasn't that long ago that I realized that my favorite recipe-finding site, Recipezaar had a community and forums. The people there are so friendly, that I just love reading how others save money in the kitchen. The Cooking On A Budget forum is great for tips and once-a-month-cooking ideas.

I know I ask for tips every once in a while for cooking on a budget, and I even have a label dedicated to it in budget friendly ideas. But are there any new tips out there? Suggestions? Recipes? I'd love to see them and have them for future reference.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

My Little Nutcracker

I've never seen my little girl so excited, enamored, and just plain thrilled. She completely enjoyed her Nutcracker experience, and can't wait for next year. Last night she told me she was sad that it was all over, and I can't say that I blame her. It was wonderful, and she was wonderful. Here are some pictures of her in her battle mouse costume, and then one of her in her Chinese costume with her Auntie Lizzie.

And then her she is at the end of a very long day yesterday. She got a trophy for all her hard work. She is very proud of that trophy and it already has a place of honor in her bedroom. This morning she was listening to her Nutcracker CD, naming all the dances and thinking of them in her head. The whole experience made quite the impression on both our kids, and I suspect there will be many, many more Nutcrackers to come for this household.