Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Cream Puff Wreath

I find baking so soothing.  With the tragedy today I needed to keep myself occupied so I didn't rush to pick the kids up just to hug them.  I decided to run a practice of my cream puff wreath, since last time I tried it, it didn't rise properly, likely because of the difference in altitude.  After some modifications, I think it turned out quite lovely.  Everyone really enjoyed it.

Christmas Cream Puff Wreath (I made two of these, separately)

1 cup water
1/2 cup butter (I typed this wrong previously, many apologies!)
1 cup flour
eggs (whisked in a bowl)

I preheated the oven to 425 degrees and used my round stoneware baking sheet sprayed with coking spray.  It provided the outline for my wreath.

In a saucepan I heated the water and butter at medium.  Once the water reached a boil and melted the butter I removed it from the heat and added all of the flour at once.  Using my wooden spoon I made sure it all mixed in.  I let it cool for a few minutes and then added half of the whisked egg mixture.  Once it was mixed thoroughly, I added the remainder.  I put the full mixture in a plastic Ziploc bag with the corner cut out to use as a pastry bag.  I squeezed two rings of the pastry flat for the bottom part of the cream puff and for the top section, I squeezed one ring of dough on the top center of the other two rings.  I baked the rings for 20 minutes at 425, then reduced the heat to 375 and let it cook for another 25 minutes after using my bacon fork to poke small holes around the edges.  I moved the wreaths to a wire rack to cool while I made the filling.

For Christmas I plan to make the filling with:

2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp almond extract

Today I cheated and used a package of chocolate instant pudding with 1 1/2 cups of milk instead of two, then once it was ready, I folded in a cup and a half of whipped cream. 

When the wreath was nice and cooled down, I put the bottom layer face down and put the filling on top.  I added the top wreath piece and drizzled some chocolate melted with a little butter and powdered sugar over the top.  It was delicious.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Prep: Dessert

I am making three desserts for tomorrow.  Well, technically, the apple pie is being made by my daughter.  I prepped an almond pie to go into the oven tomorrow and the dough and filling for pumpkin empanadas.

Almond Pie

I cheated a bit and used a pre-made crust for this one

2 cups sliced almonds
4 eggs, whisked
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp almond extract
4 tbsp butter, melted

I mixed all ingredients together in a bowl, then added them to the pie crust.  I put a piece of aluminum foil over the pie and put it in the refrigerator to bake tomorrow.  It will bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.

Pumpkin Empanadas

14 tbsp butter
6 tbsp shortening
4 cups flour
2 tbsp ice water
2 eggs, whisked

I added the butter and shortening to the flour and cut it in with a fork.  I added the water and egg after, and mixed it with my hands.  The dough is currently chilling in the refrigerator for morning.

4 tbsp butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 30 oz can of pumpkin pie mix
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 cup flour

I melted the butter in my freshly washed saucepan and added the brown sugar.  I then added the pumpkin and all of the spices (not the flour!).  I let it simmer for about 10 or 15 minutes until the mixture thickened nicely and I was pleased with the flavor.  I removed it from the heat and divided it in half.  I whisked the flour in with half of it, then mixed the remainder in with it.  I then refrigerated the filling for tomorrow.

In the morning, I will divide my dough in four parts.  Each part should then be divided in 8 balls.  Each ball will roll out into a circle.  I will add filling mixture to the center of each circle and fold them in half.  The edges will be pressed down with a fork, the top will be brushed with egg wash, and they will be baked for about 15 minutes at 425 degrees.  I will sprinkle a cinnamon/sugar mixture over the tops when they come out of the oven.

Thanksgiving Prep: Sides

Some of the side dishes are ones that take little time, like the macaroni and cheese, and some I cheat on, like the rolls, which I bought pre-made since I had enough other things to do today and tomorrow.  Others I was able to prep.

Garlic Cheddar Mashed Potatoes

3 pounds potatoes, cleaned and boiled tender (I used the white ones and left the skin on)
2 cups heavy cream
1 stick butter
8 cloves garlic, smashed (I love my garlic press!)
4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Black pepper
Garlic powder
1/4 cup chopped parsley

I boiled the potatoes until they were tender and drained the water off.  I used my potato masher to mash the potatoes down.  I put the cream, butter, and garlic in a saucepan and brought it to a simmer.  I then poured the mixture into the mashed potatoes and mashed it all together.  I added the salt, pepper, garlic powder and parsley and mashed it all.  I added the cheese and mashed everything together.  I put all of it into a container in the refrigerator.  Tomorrow I will put the mashed potatoes into the crock pot on low heat about three hours before dinner and let them heat up, stirring them occasionally.  This will keep the stove free for me to cook my other sides!

Thanksgiving Prep: Dinner

I must confess.  There is little I could do to prep the turkey other than thaw it, so I let it spend the day thawing in the sink with the extra legs I make.  The kids call it a spider-turkey, since it has eight legs.  I did spend some prep time on the stuffing.

Garlic Mushroom Stuffing

8 tbsp butter (I use salted)
16 oz fresh mushrooms washed and cut into small chunks
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp ground thyme
1 cup white cooking wine
5 cups chicken stock (bouillon cubes and water)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 eggs, whisked
16 oz bread cut into cubes and toasted until dry

I prepared the liquid portion of this recipe today, and will complete the cooking tomorrow.

In a large skillet melt the stick of butter.  Add the chopped mushrooms and cook until lightly browned and the mushrooms give off liquid.  Add the minced garlic and fresh thyme.  Cook for three to four minutes.  Add the wine and five chicken bouillon cubes.  Simmer until wine reduces by half.  Add two cups of water to the mixture and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Add the salt and pepper and transfer the mixture to a large bowl.  Add the three cups of water, ground thyme, heavy cream and parsley, and taste it to make sure you like the flavor.  When you are satisfied, add the whisked eggs.

At this point, I put the mixture in the refrigerator.  I will add the toasted bread tomorrow, put the stuffing in a baking dish, cover it with foil and bake it at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, uncover it and bake it for another 30 minutes and let it rest for about 15 minutes before serving it.

Thanksgiving Prep: Appetizers

On the appetizers menu, the only thing I needed to prep was the stuffing for the mushrooms.

Stuffed Mushrooms

4 / 6 tbsp butter (divided)
8 slices cooked bacon
1 package frozen spinach (10 oz, I used about 8 oz in the actual mixture)
18 oz mushrooms (I used baby Portabello)
Onion powder
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Today's Prep:
I started by cooking up the bacon in one pan, and the spinach in another.  For the spinach, place the frozen spinach in a saucepan with 1/4 cup of water.  Bring the water to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium.  Cook about 10 minutes, then drain.  Set the spinach aside.  Once I finished the bacon, I drained the grease, and kept the drippings.  I removed the stems from all of my mushrooms today and put the caps in a tupperware bowl in the refrigerator for the morning (I did not wash the caps because I did not want the extra moisture stored with them).  I washed all of the stems then chopped them with my chopper.

In my rinsed saucepan I melted the 6 tbsp of butter and sautéed the minced garlic with a dash of onion powder.  I cooked them until they were nice and brown, then added the mushroom stems.  Once they cooked for about two minutes, I added the bacon, spinach, and heavy cream.  Once the cream started to bubble, I removed the pan from the heat and added the cheese, salt, and pepper.  This final mixture was placed in a container in the refrigerator overnight.  Tomorrow at about 10:30 or 11:00 am, I will rinse all of the mushroom caps, stuff them abundantly with the pre-prepared stuffing, drizzle them with the remaining 4 tbsp of butter, and bake them at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes until they are gently browned.

Thanksgiving Prep Day

I did a lot of planning so that my Thanksgiving Day would be a little less hectic this year, and we could still enjoy a wonderful meal.  I spent the majority of today in preparation, but I feel relaxed and I am sure that this will reduce any stress I might have experienced tomorrow.

Here is the menu for tomorrow:

Stuffed mushrooms
Potato chowder

Upside Down Turkey
Herbed turkey gravy
Garlic mushroom stuffing

Garlic cheddar mashed potatoes
Green beans
Macaroni and cheese
Herb rice
Cranberry sauce

Apple pie
Almond pie
Pumpkin Empanadas

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Bacon Chicken & Dumplings

Things have been a little hectic since I started classes again, and I haven't really been experimenting the way I was able to over the summer.  I do plan on trying some new things for Thanksgiving, and last night I tried a variation on an old favorite.

I get daily recipe emails from  Sometimes I look at the title of the email and delete it without even reading it, and sometimes I actually save it to read later, or open it right then.  I received an email about a week ago titled "Bacon Chicken and Dumplings," and got around to reading it yesterday.  The approach they took to the recipe was very different from the way I make mine, and I thought it might be possible to incorporate some of the ideas into my recipe, but still do it my way.  The empty pot that almost got licked clean by my kids (and my husband) confirmed my suspicions, but I do have to give credit where credit is due, and the inspiration was the email I received from that website.  If you want to check out their recipe, you might enjoy it, but here is what I did:

Bacon Chicken & Dumplings
1.5 pounds bacon (I used hickory smoked)
2.5 pounds chicken, cubed
1 bag frozen southern hash brown potatoes
1 tsp onion powder (the recipe on the other website used actual onion)
12 cups chicken broth (water + bouillon cubes)
3 tsp poultry seasoning
Salt & pepper to taste
Spicy garlic seasoning to taste (I have a grinder, but you can use garlic powder instead)
2 splashes of lemon juice
1 1/2 cups half and half


4 cups flour
1  tsp baking soda
1  tsp salt
6 tbsp shortening
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tsp pepper

I normally boil my chicken for chicken and dumplings, so this was the first departure. 

Start with the bacon, and fry it up  to a nice brown color.  Set it to the side as it finishes (leave it for now), and drain almost all of the grease afterwards.  Make sure to keep the drippings!

While cooking the bacon, put the water, bouillon cubes, and the rest of the poultry seasoning into your big silver stock pot and start heating it up (once it boils, turn it down to a simmer).  If you have additional down time in between adding uncooked bacon to the pan and turning the bacon over, prepare your dumpling mixture. 

Dumplings: Mix your flour, soda, and salt and pepper together.  Once the dry ingredients are mixed, cut the shortening in (I use a fork and just make it crumble nicely).  Add your milk and mix.  If you have time before you start your chicken, potatoes and such, go ahead and roll out your dough and slice it into dumpling strips. If you don't have time, you can do it after you add the bacon and cream while your dinner simmers.

Note on the dumplings:  I had to use my hands to finish mixing the dough, and it was a little stickier than my other dumplings, mostly because for my other kind of chicken and dumplings I use a triple batch of dough, and I had to change the mixture since the additional bacon changed how it all went together.  It still worked just fine, and was plenty tasty enough. 

Cook the diced chicken in the bacon drippings and the teensy bit of grease that was left in the pan (hopefully less than a tsp worth of the grease after you drain).  Add the onion powder and about 1 1/2 tsp of the poultry seasoning to the chicken as it cooks.  Once the chicken is mostly cooked through, dump everything from the pan into your large silver stock pot.  Immediately put the potatoes in the already hot frying pan.  When they are lightly browned, added them to the stock pot as well.

Crumbled the bacon and add it to the pot.  Add the half and half.  Bring it back up to boil if the half and half cools the contents too much, then turn it back down, since it should be simmering at about medium low for as much of the process as possible (everything except your initial boil if you can manage it).  Make sure you are happy with the seasoning, and add whatever salt, pepper, garlic, etc. that you need if you aren't.  I used a couple of splashes of lemon juice after I tasted mine at this point in the cooking, just to take a little of the edge off.  I usually use more with my other recipe, but the bacon adds so much to the flavor of this, I didn't want to use too much.  You can even do without if you prefer.  Once you have your seasonings just right, start adding your dumplings. 

If you need to roll out your dumplings and slice them into strips, now is the time.  Once they are ready, feed them into the simmering pot, stirring occasionally so they don't stick together. 

Simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered, and make sure to stir frequently so it does not burn to the bottom of your pot.  Serve a yummy dinner!  If you have any questions, let me know. I'll be happy to answer any that you have.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Apple Cinnamon Scones

So, for the second half of scone day, I decided on apple cinnamon.  Here it is!

Apple Cinnamon Scones


4 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar (white)
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
12 tbsp butter
2 large apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup milk, 1 tbsp milk
2 tbsp sugar crystals
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 and grease a baking sheet.  Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl.  Cut in your butter, either with a fork or your fingers until it is evenly distributed.  Add apple chunks.

Flour mixture + apple chunks

Stir in milk.  Mix gently until a soft dough forms. 

With my other scones, I formed a circle and cut it into slices to form the scones.  For these, I simply formed balls of dough into flattened circles on the cookie sheet, because the dough was a bit stickier. 

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. 

Garlic, Herb and Cheddar Scones

I decided it was a scone day.  My first attempt today was in the cheese family.  I think my second attempt will be with fruit.  I am waffling between apples and blueberries.  Anyhow, here is what I did:

Garlic, Herb and Cheddar Scones

4 cups flour 
3 tsp baking powder 
1 tsp baking soda
2 heaping tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp parsley
12 tablespoons butter 
½ tsp salt 
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (I used sharp)
4 heaping tsp minced garlic
1 1/3 cup milk, 1 tsp milk for glaze

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly grease a baking sheet, or if you are like me, you are using a stoneware baking sheet that does not need to be greased, so you can skip this step.

In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, parsley and salt.  Cut in the butter, either with a fork or your fingers until it forms small balls.  Stir in cheese and minced garlic. 

 Flour before adding the milk

Gently mix in the milk, just until combined.   Use your hands to finish mixing it into a solid dough.  Be careful not to knead it for too long.  Once it sticks together easily, make sure to stop.  If you are concerned, let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes in the refrigerator.

Press your dough into a 1 inch thick round. Cut into 16 wedges. Place on prepared tray and brush with milk. 
Baking 8 at a time

Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve hot or let cool on a wire rack.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Creamy Lemon Chicken Pasta

It's summer!  It's also ridiculously hot when there is no AC.  I have been trying some lighter flavors to make up for the heat, thus my new obsession with lemon.

Creamy Lemon Chicken Pasta

16 oz penne pasta, cooked according to directions on package (no salt)
1 tbsp cooking oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 pounds chicken breast, cut into strips
8 oz. heavy cream
1 cup chicken stock
1 additional chicken bouillon cube
4 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup parsley
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add garlic, cook for one minute.  Add chicken and cook until lightly browned.  Add chicken stock, lemon juice, and bouillon cubes.  Cover and simmer at least five minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.  Stir in pasta and parsley.  Once pasta is heated through, add cream and then stir in cheese.

The hubbs loved this one!

Lemon Chocolate Drum Torte

There were two major problems with this particular experiment, though I plan to fix both of those the next time I make it, since both were "user" errors. The first was when I was making my ganache. I had it chilling in an ice bath in the sink, and some water got splashed into it, making it less solid than I wanted it. The second was using too much batter in each layer (I originally used two cups), and the layers were less spongy than I wanted them, and a little more solid. I have fixed the second error in the recipe. The first...well, just don't forget you have ganache chilling in the sink when you make this.

Lemon Chocolate Drum Torte

Ganache (Make this several hours ahead, or the night before)
16 oz semisweet chocolate
6 oz milk chocolate, finely chopped
2 cups heavy cream
8 tbsp butter, cut

Sponge Cake
24 large eggs, separated
2 cups sugar
4 tsp lemon extract
2 2/3 cups cake flour
4 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp lemon juice

      Prepare ganache early: Combine chocolates, cream, and butter in top half of a double boiler. Stir together as all elements melt, until smooth. If you do not have access to a double boiler, combine your chocolates in a large bowl, preferably metal, and heat cream to boiling over medium high heat in small saucepan. Pour boiling cream over chocolate in bowl, and let stand 1 minute. Stir with rubber spatula until smooth. Stir in butter until melted and smooth.

      Chill ganache in refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight. If in a hurry, set bowl in ice bath and chill about 20 minutes, until thick, stirring occasionally. I don't care for the ice bath method, for several reasons now. My best results with this ganache have been when I chilled it overnight, then let it stand the next day until it was room temperature, stirred easily, and spread easily.

      Once your ganache is warming to room temperature (if refrigerated), prepare the sponge cake: Preheat oven to 400. Grease bottoms of two 9-inch round metal cake pans (I used heart shaped pans, though I have also used the bottom of a bundt pan so I could make it into a wreath). Line each pan with a 9-inch reusable non-stick bakeware liner, or kitchen parchment, or waxed paper; grease parchment or waxed paper.

      In a small bowl, with mixer at high speed, beat egg yolks with ½ cup sugar about 10 minutes, until thick and lemon colored. Beat in extract; set aside. 

      In a large bowl, with clean beaters and with mixer at high speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Beating at high speed, gradually sprinkle in remaining ½ cup sugar, 2 tbsp at a time, beating well after each addition until sugar dissolves and whites stand in stiff peaks. 

      Transfer yolk mixture to very large bowl. Gradually sift in and fold flour into yolk mixture, then fold in melted butter and lemon juice until blended (add food coloring if desired...I do, because I like my lemon cake to be yellow).

      With spatula, fold beaten egg-white mixture into yolk mixture, one third at a time, just until blended. 

      Spoon about 1 cup batter into each prepared pan (Do NOT use too much. If you are using a larger pan, you can use more, but you want your layers very thin). With spatula, spread batter to even thickness. Bake cake layers about 10 minutes, until lightly golden and cake springs back when gently touched with finger. Loosen edge of each layer with spatula, and invert onto wire rack to cool completely. 

      When pans are cool, repeat with remaining batter to make remaining layers. Stack cooled layers between sheets of waxed paper.

      Spread 1/3 cup ganache on one cake layer. Top with second layer and spread with 1/3 cup ganache. Repeat until all layers covered and cake is assembled.  I added some chocolate chips on top, for a little texture.

 Assembled cake

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Almond Cookies

I decided to modify my regular chocolate chip cookie recipe for a church dinner tonight.  It started with me eying the Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder in my cupboard and thinking of making chocolate chocolate chip cookies, and then I decided to add some almonds I had in the freezer for a little texture.  Here goes:

Chelsea's Chocolate Chocolate Chip Almond Cookies

3 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder (or your preference in cocoa powder)
1 tbsp cinnamon (Makura is the only way to go)
1 c. butter
1 c. white sugar
1 c. light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp light corn syrup
2  tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
pinch of nutmeg
12 oz chocolate chips
1 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325.  Cream butter.  Add sugars, then eggs, corn syrup, and extracts and mix thoroughly.  Add baking powder, soda, cocoa powder, nutmeg and cinnamon and blend well.  Add flour and mix until blended.  I use my mixer all the way up to the point where I add the chocolate chips.  Stir in chocolate chips and sliced almonds.  Roll spoonfuls of dough into small-ish balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart (I use my Pampered Chef stoneware for cookies).  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until puffed up.  Enjoy!

Just out of the oven

Monday, July 9, 2012

Beef Dumplings

My husband was begging me for pork dumplings, but finding ground pork around here is a difficult task.  Sometimes I get lucky and can stock some in the freezer, but I haven't run across any in a month or two, so I don't have any here right now.  He fussed at me a bit, and then insisted that I try my pork dumpling recipe with beef, and it actually turned out quite delicious.  He is now insisting that I only make dumplings with the beef from now on, because they were so good.  Here is what I did:

Beef Dumplings

2 pounds ground beef, uncooked
3 tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp ginger
4 tbsp soy sauce, or more to taste
1 cup heavy cream
1-2 packages pre-made wonton wrappers

Puree all ingredients except meat in blender.  Pour the mixture over your meat (beef, pork, whichever you decide to use), and mix together well.  Fill your wonton wrappers with the mixture (I buy these in the salad section at my local grocery store, and if a store way out here in the middle of nowhere has them, you should have no trouble finding them wherever you are).  I use about one teaspoonful per wrapper, and then fold them according to directions on the package, using a drop of water to seal the edges. 

 Dumpling prep

I steam my dumplings in a double boiler.  I use cooking spray to keep my dumplings from sticking, and steam them for at least 20 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through.  Before my husband got on his health food kick, we did fry some of them in our Fry-Daddy, and the fried ones are pretty tasty also.

Steaming in the double boiler

My only problem with this meal is that I can only steam 9 dumplings at a time in my double boiler, so I made him dinner, then I steamed some for myself afterwards. 

 My husband's plate before he ran off with it

When frying, it is a little easier to make more at once.  This isn't the most practical meal when all the children are home, but fortunately, it was just me and the hubbs, so it wasn't a problem.  As always, let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Enchiladas, Attempt #4

 Okay, just to make sure we're keeping track of the changes, I am re-posting the full recipe (with changes) this time.  I was out of ground cumin, so I actually had to make a minor substitution, and I nixed the chili powder altogether this time.  I also doubled the amount of sauce I made for a single batch.  Here are the results:

Enchilada Gravy

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup flour

1 tsp pepper
4 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Zaatar* substituted for the ground cumin, though not knowing how it would change the flavor, I only used the one tsp
1 tsp oregano
8 cups tomato broth (tomato bouillon and water)

Using a cast iron skillet:  Heat oil over medium heat and add flour to make a roux base.  See Attempt #2 if you have any questions about the base.  Let your roux cook for few minutes, while stirring, until it turns light brown in color, about the color of peanut butter.  Add the dry ingredients, including the tomato bouillon, and continue cooking for about one minute.  I measure them out in advance into a little bowl, and when the roux is ready, just dump them in together to keep from burning my flour.  Once your mixture has cooked for one minute, add the water and stir until it is mixed.  I started with one cup, just to make sure it mixed properly, then slowly added the rest, two cups at a time.  Bring it to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until at desired thickness. 

The Rest of the Deal

2 dozen corn tortillas
3 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese (I use this now instead of the taco blend, since that one has additional spices that I don't want to interfere with my gravy flavor)

Preheat your oven to 325.  Once my sauce was completed, I used about three to four ladles worth of the gravy to cover the bottom of my casserole dish.  Heat some cooking oil in a small pan and run your corn tortillas through the oil until they float, and pull them out and set them aside on a paper-towel lined plate.  Sprinkle cheddar cheese (around a tablespoon) in the middle of each tortilla and roll it up.  Smoosh them as close as you can together.  I have found that it will keep the cheese from running out too much.  I have found that my pan will fit two dozen, though you may have to 'trial and error' to determine how many you can fit.  Once you place them all, but them in the oven and let them bake just long enough to melt the cheese.  My oven takes about 8 minutes. Last time, I poured my remaining gravy over the top and let the heat from underneath melt the cheese.  This time, I took the suggestion of a friend, and served them straight out of the oven, and waited until they were on the plates to cover them with the gravy and let that melt the cheese.  I have to say, this method was perfect.  Everyone got enough sauce, it didn't thicken up from the heat, and there was plenty of sauce left over for tomorrow's lunch.  Honestly, the flavor this time was actually the best so far as well, though I may go back to the cumin once I have time to go to the store and pick some up.

Mmmm...dinner tonight.  Looking at this makes me want seconds...

*side note:  Zaatar is a seasoning blend consisting of thyme, toasted wheat, toasted mixed spices, etc. that I picked up on a whim in the Indian grocery store near where I used to teach music lessons in Pearland, Texas, simply because I liked the way it smelled.  This was the first time I have actually used it.  I have no idea if it is available elsewhere, but it has a similar scent to the cumin, and the taste this time was the best I have made so far, and I'm inclined to try using it again.

Apple Praline Roll Cake

I got home from church today feeling the urge to make something sweet.  I have a sick love for praline, and I decided to do some experimenting, since it has been a while since I had any.  This was the fruit of my labor, and I can't wait to taste it!

Apple Praline Roll Cake

1 box Angel Food Cake mix
2 tbsp powdered sugar

5 cups (5 medium) thinly sliced peeled apples
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp butter

Praline topping
¼ cup butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp half and half or milk
½ cup chopped pecans

Heat oven to 350.  Grease a cookie sheet pan and line bottom of pan with waxed paper (this keeps your sponge cake from crisping).  Prepare cake batter as directed on package.  Pour batter into wax-lined pan.  Bake for 17 to 22 minutes or until golden brown and cracks in cake appear dry.

In the meantime, place a clean towel on a flat surface.  Lightly sprinkle powdered sugar evenly onto towel.  Once your cake is out of the oven, loosen the edges of the cake with a spatula and invert onto the towel.  Remove pan and waxed paper, carefully.  Starting with the long side, roll the cake up in the towel and cool for 45 minutes or until completely cool on a baking rack.


Combine apples, sugar, flour, cinnamon and vanilla extract in a bowl, toss lightly. (I actually went ahead and prepped my praline while I waited for it to cool, but you can wait and do it after you have everything rolled up if you prefer.)

To assemble, unroll cooled cake, remove towel.   

Unrolled cake

Spread apple mixture over cake, dot with butter.  Carefully re-roll cake loosely.  

Rolled cake

In 1-quart saucepan, melt ¼ cup butter, stir in brown sugar and half-and-half.  Slowly heat to boiling and remove from heat.  Stir in pecans and spread mixture over the top of the cake.  

Finished product

It looks fantastic.  Here's hoping it tastes as good as it looks!  I'll let you know.

Nom, nom, nom...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Easy Navy Bean Soup

My husband had back surgery, and we're home from the hospital.  I decided to make soup last night, and experimented with an easy navy bean soup.  This is my first attempt, but he was pretty pleased with it, and I enjoyed it quite a bit as well.

Easy Navy Bean Soup

32 oz navy beans (2 packages)
2 pounds sausage, sliced
6 cups chicken broth
3 cups tomato broth
2 1/2 cups water
Celery, fresh or dried (I use dried because my husband hates fresh celery, and I use about 2 tablespoons)
Carrots, shredded (I use one package of the pre-shredded carrots at the grocery store)
Parsley (2 tablespoons)
Salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder to taste

Soak your beans overnight or as directed on the package.  When ready to cook, make sure they are rinsed and drained.  Add all ingredients to your large soup pot, except for the sausage.  When you boil sausage for long periods of time, it gets rubbery and loses its flavor.  Bring contents of pot to a boil and simmer for about an hour and a half.  Add sausage and heat through.  For a thicker soup, you can puree your beans once they are soft, and return them to your pot.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Casa Ole Enchiladas Attempt #3

So, after realizing the error of my ways, I tried a batch of enchiladas last night.  I used the same sauce recipe I did last time, but did as I suggested in my epiphany.  Once my sauce was completed, I used about four ladles worth of the gravy to cover the bottom of my pan.  I then rolled my enchiladas with my mild cheddar and baked them just long enough to melt the cheese.  When they came out of the oven, I poured the rest of the gravy on top, and added my cheese blend on the top of that.  I used the Mexican blend cheese this time, since the taco blend has additional spices.  It came out the proper texture, but could have used a little more gravy.  I plan to halve my gravy recipe and add that much more to it the next time I attempt this in order to make them a little more "saucey."

Flour + oil = roux

Simmering gravy

Going into the oven

Letting the cheese melt from the heat underneath

Finished product

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


I had planned on making  chicken and wild rice soup tonight, but I ran across a recipe for grilling pizza, and after mentioning it to my husband, my son begged for pizza for dinner tonight.  I did not make it on the grill, I did bake it in the oven, but I will share the recipe anyhow.  If I end up trying it on the grill at a later date, I will keep you all posted.

Homemade Pizza

3 1/2 to 4 cups flour (if you want a crispier crust, use bread flour, otherwise all-purpose flour is fine)
1 tsp sugar
1 square pre-packaged yeast
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water heated to approximately 110 degrees
2 tbsp olive oil

Combine sugar, yeast and water in a bowl.  Let stand for 10 minutes until it starts to look foamy.  Mix in the olive oil and salt, and then add 3 1/2 to 4 cups of flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring each 1/2 cup into the mixture.  Stop adding flour when your dough is nice and elastic.  On most normal days, I only need 3 1/2 cups.  When I make bread in Houston, where the humidity is always at 100%, or on very humid days here, I need all 4 cups of flour.  Once you have your ball of dough, scrape it onto a lightly floured surface and knead for several minutes until it forms a smooth, firm ball.  Grease a large bowl with oil.  If I'm feeling generous, I rinse out my previous bowl and use that.  If my son has been getting bad grades and slacking on his homework and I know he's doing the dishes that night, I use a new bowl.  I like to use a dab of olive oil when I do pizza dough, but for my other types of bread I generally use Baker's Joy because that spray is amazing.  Add your dough to the bowl and turn to coat.  Cover it and put it in a warm place.  Let it rise for about an hour or until approximately doubled in size.  Turn out your dough, punch it down, and divide it into two equal pieces.  Cover it and let it rise again for about 15 minutes-ish.  Use to make two pizzas. 

The Rest

2 cans tomato paste
2 tbsp-ish Italian seasoning OR
    2 tsp-ish oregano
    2 tsp-ish basil
    2 tsp-ish rosemary
    An extra dash or two or oregano
1 tbsp-ish of garlic powder (or more if you likey the garlic like I do)
A couple of dashes of dried parsley
If you want it spicy, you can toss some black or red pepper in to taste
4 cups mozzarella or Italian blend cheese
1 1/2 cups Parmasian cheese
Pepperonis (or whatever you want on your pizza)
1 cup cheddar cheese (sharp)

Preheat your oven to 350.  Roll your pizza dough into a round disc.  (Note:  If you don't have time to make your own crust, you can buy pre-made crusts at the grocery store or roll out biscuit dough to make a crust.)  You can roll it as thin as you want to, depending on how thick you like your pizza crust.  Mix tomato paste and seasonings together in a small bowl, and spread evenly across your dough OR spread the paste evenly across your pizza dough and sprinkle the seasonings across the paste equally evenly, depending on how much trouble you having mixing the paste.  Remember that seasoning is a personal preference and that some will like it spicier than others.  Adjust to suit your own personal preferences.  Put 2 cups of mozzarella (or Italian blend cheese) on each pizza as a base.  Add your pepperonis in an eye pleasing pattern.  Sprinkle your Parmasian cheese across the pepperonis, and add the cheddar cheese on top.  You can add extra cheddar if you like it cheesy.

I used mozzarella on the bottom, but added a thin layer of finely shredded Italian blend cheese 
with Italian seasoning and Parmasian mixed in on the top of the cheddar layer.  

You can certainly use whatever toppings suit your fancy.  My personal favorite is bacon, cheddar and Canadian bacon with the mozzarella base.  Anyhow, bake your pizzas for 10 to 15 minutes until your crust edges are clearly cooked and your cheese is as brown as you want it.  If you rolled your crust thicker, remember to leave it in the oven a bit longer so it cooks all the way through.  Enjoy!

 Fresh from the oven

Creamy Chicken Marsala

So, it turns out that I didn't have any mushrooms in the house, and everyone knows you can't have Chicken Marsala without mushrooms.  Fortunately, I had to run errands yesterday, so I picked up a gallon of milk and some baby bella mushrooms for dinner last night.  Marsala is not one of those meals that goes as far as some of the others I make, so I waited until there were only three of us here for the night (which hardly every happens!).  I ate at Olive Garden a few years ago (yes, I have a point, here), and when I ordered their Chicken Marsala, they accidentally brought me the Marsala sauce they serve with their stuffed Marsala, which was creamy.  I, of course, have endeavored to make my home-cooked sauce a creamy one, and this is what I have come up with:

Creamy Chicken Marsala

To roll your chicken in:
1 cup flour
2 tbsp Emeril's Essence

2.5 lb chicken breasts, trimmed and butterflied
2 tbsp olive oil
8 tbsp butter or margarine (I use the real thing)
2 packages mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 cups Marsala cooking wine
2 cups chicken broth
8 to 16 ounces heavy cream (if you want to have regular Marsala sauce, leave this off)
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix your seasoning and flour to created a seasoned flour.  Roll your chicken in the flour, shaking off excess.
Heat olive oil over a medium high heat (not until smoking).  Add 4 tbsp butter and pan fry your breasts about three minutes per side until a nice golden brown.  Transfer to a plate as they finish, and set aside (not where your dog can reach them).  There should still be plenty of oil/butter mixture to saute your mushrooms.  Stir frequently until they darken and give off liquid. 


At this point, add your wine, assuming you didn't drink it absentmindedly because you have a teenager living in your home whose hormones are going crazy, and at this point any alcohol sounds good.  Bring mixture to a boil, making sure any drippings are part of the sauce and not still stuck to the bottom of your pan.  When your wine has reduced by about half-ish, add the chicken broth and cook for three or four minutes (I usually throw my bouillon cubes in with the wine, and just add water once the wine has reduced) until it thickens slightly.  Lower your heat to medium and return your chicken breasts to the pan.  Continue to cook until the chicken is cooked through and your sauce has thickened, which should take at least five to six minutes, though it can take a little longer with thicker chicken breasts, so just take care, and when in doubt, pull a breast and test the center of the thickest spot. 


Now, remember the other 4 tbsp of butter?  Toss that in along with some salt and pepper.  When you are pleased with the taste, add 8 ounces of cream, and gently mix it in.  If you want it to be more creamy, you can add some more of the cream until it is exactly how you want it.  Pull it off the heat and serve over mashed potatoes. 

 My son's he was trying to take bites out of it

If you made your sauce without the cream, you may prefer to serve it with pasta, but I think the cream sauce goes better with mashed potatoes, myself.  Enjoy!  And, as always, if you have any questions or suggestions for improvement, let me know! 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Curry Chicken

I've been feeling better every day.  Yesterday was a bit chilly, so I thought something a little more spicy was in order.  We had two teenage boys to feed, one teenage girl, and the ten year old who eats like a little bird in addition to myself and my husband, so we didn't have much in the way of leftovers, but enough for lunch today.

Curry Chicken

3 pounds chicken, cut into pieces
2 pounds red potatoes cut into chunks/squares
1 bag pre-shredded carrots, because I cut corners wherever I can
1 tsp onion powder
6 tsp oil or butter for stir frying (this is approximate)
6 tbsp curry powder
3 cups chicken broth
3 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Ground coriander (optional)

Heat your wok over a medium-high heat.  I use a REALLY large wok, the largest I have found anywhere.  Add your oil or butter, whichever you prefer.  I prefer butter for the flavor boost, but some prefer certain vegetable oils for health reasons.  Mix your curry powder in a small bowl with a tablespoon of water to make a paste.  Stir fry your curry paste (you can actually purchase curry paste in some cities, but it isn't available where I live) and onion powder for about 30 seconds.  Add your cut chicken and cook about five minutes.  When your chicken gets white, add the carrots and potatoes, stir frying for about a minute.  If you need a little extra butter/oil, add it as needed.  Sometimes, at this point, I transfer everything to my large stainless steel pot to simmer, depending on how many dishes I want to wash.  Other times, I use the wok, but it does get extremely full, and can be difficult to stir well.  Whichever pot you use, add your broth, sugar, and some salt and pepper, tasting to make sure you don't need more curry or other seasonings.  Mix well, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes, until your mixture thickens a bit.  Sprinkle ground coriander on top as a garnish, if you desire, and serve over rice.  I use jasmine rice for just about everything, but you can use white rice, and even add a dash of curry while it cooks for added flavor.

P.S.  I think tomorrow is going to be Chicken Marsala.  Indian food, then Italian's alphabetically correct!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Casa Ole Enchiladas Attempt #2

So, being a Texas girl displaced, I constantly crave some of the foods from home.  Houston is a huge city, with amazing cuisine, and it's funny how one of the things I miss most are the cheap Tex-Mex enchiladas from Casa Ole.  I have attempted them once before.  I did some research on enchilada gravy and started from a roux-based one.  This is what I have so far, though it may still need some tweaking.  Also, please keep in mind that while I did use measuring spoons to attempt to record this the best I could, some values may be approximate.

Enchilada Gravy

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour

1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1 tbsp chili powder (I used Mexican chili powder I found on sale up here, not sure if it made a difference)
4 cups tomato broth (tomato bouillon and water)

I used my cast iron skillet for this, by the way:  Heat oil over medium heat and add flour like you are making roux for gumbo.  Basically, for those who haven't done gumbo roux, you make sure your oil is hot, and then add your flour, stirring quickly with a whisk.  Stir constantly and don't let the flour burn.  If it burns, chunk it and start over.  There is nothing worse than burned roux.  Okay, maybe burned popcorn.  But, I digress.  Let your roux cook for few minutes, while stirring, until it turns light brown in color, about the color of peanut butter.  Add your dry ingredients, and continue cooking for one minute.  I measure them out in advance into a little bowl, and when the roux is ready, just dump them in together to keep from burning my flour.  Once your mixture has cooked for one minute, add the tomato broth and stir until it is mixed.  Bring it to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes-ish or until at desired thickness.  Casa Ole doesn't have very thick sauce, which is the mistake I made last time.

The gravy as it simmers

The Rest of the Deal

2 dozen corn tortillas
3 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded taco cheese

Preheat your oven to 325.  Once you have your sauce, pour half of it into the bottom of your casserole dish.  Heat some cooking oil in a small pan and run your corn tortillas through the oil until they float, and pull them out.  Sprinkle cheddar cheese (at least a tablespoon-ish?) in the middle of each tortilla and roll it up.  Smoosh them as close as you can together.  I have found that it will keep the cheese from running out too much.  I have found that my pan will fit two dozen, though you may have to trial and error.  I tend to err on the side of caution with a new pan:  cook a few tortillas, roll and place them, figure out how many more will fit, etc.  Once you place them all, pour the remainder of your sauce on top.  Some people like to run the tortillas through the sauce, but I found that to make it too saucey on the inside, and I didn't care for it.  Then, sprinkle your taco cheese on top.  I don't always use both cups, sometimes if my pan is smaller (depending on how many I'm feeding), I use maybe a cup and a half or so.  Just eyeball it so that it looks good to you.  You'll be the one eating it, and maybe you like more cheese.  Maybe less.  You decide.  Anyhow, toss them in the oven and bake them for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until your cheese melts and gets nice and gooey.  I don't like my cheese to brown on my enchiladas.  I think it dries them up too much.


Anyhow, if you have any modifications or suggestions, let me know.  I think this one was pretty darn close, but it doesn't mean it can't improve!

Friday, May 25, 2012

It's a Jello and Hamburger Mac Day

Home from the hospital, and swallowing is not really my friend right now.  I have been doing a lot of toast and tea, honestly.  I use the Texas toast bread and once the butter softens it up a bit, I'm good to go as long as I take small bites.  I made some jello earlier.  I would trust that you all know how to make jello, but after eating the hospital's attempt at jello, I just can't be sure.  For starters, it's amazing how good things taste when you follow the instructions.  So, I just followed the instructions on the box, and yum!  Jello!  My husband is making hamburger mac tonight for dinner, since he wanted to do something easy that meant I wouldn't have to cook. When we do hamburger mac, we just throw 2.5 pounds of cooked burger in with about 5 boxes of macaroni and cheese or shells and cheese, toss in a little seasoning and we're good to go.  On occasion, we do it with a block of Velveeta and maybe some sausage instead, and some cream of mushroom soup, but tonight, we're going simple all the way.  Here's hoping this dinner will work well as an after-surgery meal.  Surprisingly, the ham and potato casserole turned out to be excellent for that purpose, though that was a pleasant and un-intended side effect.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ham and Potato Casserole

I have to make something tonight that the kids can eat tomorrow with very little fuss, so I am making a casserole for them.  They can either pop it in the oven tomorrow night, or I can do it later this evening and they can just heat portions up in the microwave.  I haven't decided yet.

Ham and Potato Casserole

2 pounds ham
3 pounds red potatoes or 1 bag of frozen southern style hashbrown potatoes
2 can cream of mushroom soup
Dash of Worcestershire sauce (I only use Lea & Perrins)
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

This one is really easy.  Let's start with the potatoes.  Slice them into cubes and boil until tender.  If you use the pre-cut hashbrown style potatoes in the frozen section, toss them in a pot and boil them for 8 minutes.  I love these in a pinch, they make for a much faster prep.  Drain your potatoes and put them in the bottom of a casserole dish.  I have Pyrex now.  I used to use my super-awesome Pampered Chef stoneware casserole pan, but that was decimated a few moves ago.  Throw in your cream of mushroom soup.  I used to use Campbell's, but I have found that for this, you really don't taste it much anyhow, so store brand works just as well for half the price.  There have been a few times that I substituted cream of potato when one of the girls was here for dinner who hates mushrooms, and that works just fine, too.  Add one can's worth of water to the mix and stir well.  Dash in some of that yummy Worcestershire sauce (to taste, though I have been known to use as much as a quarter of a bottle on this meal) and mix that in as well.  Slice up your ham and stir that in.  Sprinkle your cheese evenly across the top and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until your cheese is as bubbly as you like it.  I like to zap it under the broiler for a minute or two at the end to brown my cheese a bit, but it is entirely up to you.  Super easy, especially on busy work/school nights, and the kids love this one!