Friday, December 25, 2009

In Memory of Mr. Data, Kitty Extraordinaire




Mr. Data, Kitty Extraordinaire, Supreme Glorious Ruler of the Feline Universe passed over to the other side today at the age of 18 1/2 years.

Considering what he was going through with a failing heart and fluid building up in his system, it was the only Christmas gift I could give him . We spent all day yesterday at the vets, taking xrays and giving him IV fluids to rehydrate him and knowing that there wasn't much time left. There was less than a 5% likelihood that keeping him in the hospital overnight would have helped so  I took him home last night  to spend some hours with him cuddled together on the bed. And at 6:00 am he started to have trouble breathing and I knew he was ready to go ahead. We were lucky to have a nice ER vet who let me have as much time with him in the exam room before and after the injection to help him cross over to the rainbow bridge and when he carried Data out of the room afterwards, it was with all the respect and gentleness he would have given to a member of his own family.

Data and I met 18 years ago, when I was living in a strange little apartment with a strange landlord and neighbors who bought roaches along when they moved in.  I had been walking up to Walgreens to buy roach spray and we met. He was a homeless kitty who let me pick him up and carry him over my shoulder just like you would with a child for almost an entire mile and while crossing busy streets.

When he first met his brothers, there was chaos. He liked Brandy, who had the same coloring as him, but Brandy wanted nothing to do with him. Our other kitty, Hobbes, was immediately smitten with him but Data wanted nothing to do with him. And he got his name when I realized that here was this kitty who wanted somewhere to belong, just like the character Mr. Data on Star Trek.

Only my Data was prettier with the tufts of fur on his ears and a striped whorl on top of his head. He loved scritchies under his chin, having his chest rubbed and his neck massaged. He hated vets, figured I was out to get him when I clipped his back nails, made it very clear when anyone but me was allowed to pet him and when it was time to put down the hand and back away now.

Data was famous for always getting into or on top of things. He  managed to open the fridge and get into kitchen cabinets and scatter oatmeal across the length of the apartment. I've seen him jump on top of the kitchen table, hop over to the fridge and walk across the length of the hot water pipes like a balancing beam until he was able to wedge himself on top of a tiny kitchen cabinet. He loved to sleep in the closet and considered everything and everywhere to be his personal bed that he was gracious enough to share with me.

His favorite fun was to flush pigeons off the balcony usually ruining a methodical stalk by his brother Brandy when Data would take a mad dash straight at the balcony door until the pigeons flew off and left his brother thwarted from a stalk yet again.

And he loved food. Data had a  serious jones for McGriddles and bacon, and even in his last weeks when things were starting to hurt more, he'd jump on the back of the couch and walk behind me to get at ice cream. I could put 10 plates of food down around the apartment, but if he saw me going into the kitchen he'd hustle over and start up with that plaintive, "Feed me woman, I'm starving" meow. If it had a spoon, he was convinced it was something he wanted and had to have.

And no, I never ever of course saw him snuggling with his brothers and enjoying it. Never ever did I see that.

Now my apartment seems so quiet and empty without the sound of a meow. It's the first time in almost 21 years that I haven't had a kitty to share my space with. Data, was the baby of our feline family, and I am grateful to have had him in my life for all these years. But now, it's so still that it's not home anymore.

I may not be blogging much for awhile. It's hard to talk or think right now. And I'm going to have to miss cooking with the barefoot bloggers or Cooking Italy as I don't have the energy or strength to do the recipes.

Godspeed Mr. Data. You're free now. There's no more vets, pills or nasty tasting antibiotics. So until we meet again at the rainbow bridge, play with your brothers and run through the universe, flushing pigeons, scattering oatmeal across the clouds and make sure to sit down for that never ending McGriddle. I will miss you boo boo kitty.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Traditions




 Going into the holiday season is always a bit tricky. There's always the goals of baking and not getting around to it, deciding that I'm going to take the tin of cookies my coworker gives me and passing it off on my family until I eat half the tin before christmas, and avoiding any type of store until several days after christmas, preferably the new year. Then there is sitting through football games on Christmas Day with my mother the sports nut, eating too much, explaining that I am not taking the el train at 4:30 in the morning to catch the early amtrak as the trains are crawling with mostly crazy folks, and watching A Christmas Story. And my personal favorite, the competition I have with a neighbor across the street(whom I've never met) as to who will leave their Christmas lights on the longest (2 years ago it was late march).

Happy Holidays from Mr. Data & I to everyone who is and has been a part of my blog. Your comments and encouragement and humor has made the last 6 months a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to more blogging adventures in 2010 with all of you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bloggers Beware of PetitChef.Com Comments

I am slightly paranoid by nature. Normally it can totally mess me up. This time some good actually came out of it

I'm pretty sure a lot of people like me get very happy when we find someone has commented on our blogs. And the instinct is to sometimes hit approve before we think twice. Today "Vincent" from Petitchef.com posted a comment on my blog saying they had stumbled across my site, how they loved my recipes and wanted to invite me to join other bloggers to promote my site. It was one of those compliments that really works the ego over good. So I googled for other people's experiences and came across a very horrific experience after linking with them  by Erin of Mrs. Cox's Slice O'Heaven. I highly recommend reading her story before having anything to do with petitchef. 

Definitely a day when I'm glad I have comment moderation to reject it before it actually hit my blog. 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

TCS: White Chocolate Layer Cake




 When I first found out we were baking the White Chocolate Layer Cake from Nancie McDermott's "Southern Cakes" I was slightly disappointed as I'd really been hoping for Tipsy Cake to win. I mean, we're talking layer cakes soaked in sweet wine which seemed like a win win situation to me.

Now I should go on record as saying I like white chocolate. But I was a tiny bit dubious about this recipe with the white chocolate in the frosting and cake. Normally I like my cakes to have some kind of flavor contrast, like white cake with chocolate frosting or chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.  But, I figured I'd step outside my baking comfort zone and give this a shot.

Apart from my usual egg white anxieties, the assembly of the cake wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.Considering I'd recently bought a very nifty mini square cake pan, I decided to go with that instead of the traditional three layer cake the recipe called for.

But I had to pick up some peppermint candies. I mean, I'd been fairly well behaved in general with the cake considering I'd initially planned on adding peppermint extract and tinting the cakes red and green until I saw the store was a zoo and hightailed it out of there.

The addition of the crushed peppermint candies didn't quite give the effect I'd been hoping for. I'd been thinking it would give the cake a slightly minty flavor but all it did was give it a slight pink tint. So I sprinkled the rest of the crushed candies on top of the cake and topped it off with an andes mint candy. Nothing gets in the way of my mint obsession when it hits. So I'm not sure how to rationalize the topping with the suggested winter type theme over at the Cake Slice, unless we're talking a box of peppermint candies that dropped off the back of a truck during a snowstorm and were then run over by another truck immediately after.

I liked the texture of the cake a lot. Very moist and tender with a nice flavor. However, I wouldn't have known it had white chocolate in it had I not been the one baking it. Overall, it was a pretty good cake indeed. For the complete recipe, check here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Attacks of Holiday Practicality

So, I had one of those practical grown up moments when it came to Christmas gifts this year.

My mother had asked what I wanted and I promptly said a particular cookbook I'd been drooling over for awhile since I'd checked it out at the Library.

She said okay, my sister ordered it for her online as my mother doesn't do computers and I figured that was the end of it.

But my family has a tendency every so many years to go a little overboard with gifts and this year she wanted to give me something more. And either I gave her something to buy or I was threatened with her buying me clothes which is a very scary prospect. Case in point, the time I asked for a very simple, elegant silk dress the time she went on vacation to Jamaica and she returned with a cotton, white two piece with black lettering and fringe.

So I said an electric skillet. Not that I have room for it. Just one of those casual spur of the moment decisions.

Which lasted until yesterday when I called up, suddenly stricken with a unmistakable case of grownupness and said that what I could really use was a warm pair of winter gloves, thermal long underwear and thermal socks for the upcoming Chicago winter.

Yep. Unmistakable signs of becoming a grownup.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Catmas Carols (No, Not a Typo)

As I have suddenly been inspired by the Christmas spirit, I bring you one of my favorite Catmas Carols. Feel free to sing out loud with all of your felines.

WRECK THE HALLS
Catmas Carols by Laurie Loughlin

Wreck the halls with two cats running
fa la la la la....la la la la.
Fur goes flying, lamps get done in,
fa la la la la...la la la la.
Tumbling swiftly down the stairway,
fa la la, fa la la, la la la.
Woe to those who get in their way,
fa la la la la...la la la la.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

MSC: Gingerbread Cupcakes



 This month's recipe for the dedicated bakers of the MSC was hosted by Kayte over at Grandma's Kitchen Table. And as Martha's recipes go, part of it was fairly simple while the rest of it was way over the top. For awhile I had vaguely thought of giving it all a shot while cheating just a tiny bit (store bought gingerbread cookies) but in the end, with time running out, this is all she wrote.

I was somewhat taken aback when I pulled the cupcakes out of the oven and found they were rather squat, dense, slightly crispy and a tiny bit burned on top. Now the squat and dense makes sense considering there was no baking powder in it. But the cooking time of 25 minutes that Martha calls for is definitely too long. I'd recommend starting to check around 20 minutes for doneness and go from there.

I love gingerbread, so I added extra giner, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves so I ended up with a slightly spicier cupcake. To alleviate the spiciness, I went with an alternative topping and used Penzy's Raspberry Enlightment Sauce in lieu of the frosting. Yum. Major yum. Makes me glad that I made only 1/3 of the recipe or I'd be seriously in trouble right now.

Just a word of warning: these are not very moist cupcakes and they will not keep very long. I took my pictures the day after I made them and they were definitely at the end of their shelf life. I think I would make them again but add baking powder this time around. .


Wordless Wednesday






Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms


 
Today's culinary challenge comes from Marcella Hazan's book "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" which has probably done more to push me out of my food comfort zone than any cookbook has for awhile. I've dabbled of course with cooking, but somewhere along the line, you start to think "Oh, I don't do this" or "I don't do that." Like when I decided I didn't like pepper and found that given the opportunity, pepper could do some lovely things for dishes.

So I was actually looking forward to this recipe because I love mushrooms. At least I thought I did. Turned out that I have actually led a very mushroom sheltered life. Because by loving mushrooms, what I really meant was white button mushrooms or if I was feeling particularly daring, maybe portobello mushrooms.

Now time to be honest. I'm not sure if I really cared for this recipe because it's somewhat of a pain to make with the constant, constant stirring not to mention the whole process of adding broth, waiting for it to evaporate, and then adding more. I'll admit it. I like Rice a Roni and Uncle Ben's styles of rice more than Risotto because of the simplicity. But the flavor was not what I had been expecting. Turns out Porcini mushrooms have a very distinctive flavor that the jury is still debating on as to whether I'll like it. I'm thinking it might work better when paired with other flavors. Alone with the Risotto it just wasn't my cup of tea. Or cup of shrooms to be specific. Even with a lot of extra parmesan on top, it was not coming together for my tastebuds to accept.

Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms
from "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" by Marcella Hazan

5 cups homemade meat broth or 1 cup canned beef broth diluted with 4 cups water
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp onion chopped very fine
2 cups arborio or other imported italian risotto rice
1 oz/small packet dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted
Filtered water from the mushroom soak
Black Pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
Additional cheese for table
Salt if required (which it was for me)

  1. Bring the broth to a very slow, steady simmer on a burner near where you'll be cooking the risotto. 
  2. Put 1 tbsp butter, the vegetable oil and the chopped onion in a broad, sturdy pot and turn the heat to medium high. Cook and stir onion until it becomes translucent, then add the rice. Stir quickly and thoroughly until the grains are coated well.
  3. Add 1/2 cup of simmering broth and cook rice until liquid is evaporated, stirring constantly so rice doesn't burn. Add more broth and continue to repeat. 
  4. When rice has cooked for 10 minutes, add the reconstituted mushrooms and 1/2 of the filtered water. Continue to stir and  when there is no more liquid, add more of the mushroom water, stirring and letting evaporate and adding more until you have used all of it. 
  5. Finish cooking rice with broth. If you have no more broth, use water. Cook rice until it is tender but firm to the bite with no more liquid remaining in the pot. 
  6. Remove from heat. Add a few grindings of pepper, the remaining 1 tbsp of butter and all the grated parmesan and stir thoroughly until the cheese melts and clings to the rice. Taste and correct for salt. Transfer to a platter and serve promptly with additional grates cheese of the side.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Peanut Sausage Chicken Surprise



Nothing like a good fright to set you straight a little bit. After hearing my doctor tell me my blood pressure was high (according to my internet research, stage 2 hypertension) I kind of got a wakeup call. Especially when every article recommends losing weight and eating right. It scares me in particular because most of my immediate family has blood pressure issues. I was always the only one who didn't.  And after finally settling down and realizing I was not going to die immediately from it, and spending another two days indulging like it was the last supper ever, I think things have settled down a bit.

So tonight, instead of ordering out for Chinese food and it's mega sodium levels, I figured I would cook in and save some money as well as get some frustrations out of my system by getting back into the kitchen. This recipe was for all extents and purposes, randomly throwing in different ingredients that sounded good and hope for the best. And to my surprise, it actually tasted pretty good, even the part of adding the Raspberry Enlightment sauce (Penzy's) on top of the chicken which amazingly melded some very odd flavors together.

It didn't look as pretty as I had hoped it might but it tasted quite nice in the end.

Peanut Sausage Chicken Surprise 
4 frozen chicken breasts
3 cut up pork breakfast sausages
1 tsp mustard powder
1/4 cup minced onion flakes
1 tsp white pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup tamari peanut sauce
Parmesan Cheese to taste 
1/4 cup Raspberry Enlightment Sauce (Penzy's)


Combine all ingredients. Baked at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Sprinkle with additional peanut sauce, parmesan cheese and a dollop of Penzy's Raspberry Enlightment.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Opera Cats and the Sleep Deprived Humans Who Love Them

It's been awhile since I've gotten the chance to sleep in. Mornings with Mr. Data, kitty extraordinaire, involve either being patted repeatedly and with increasing urgency on my face or hair with his paw until I wake up or being serenaded with rollicking feline aria's coming from around the house. Which, to be clear, in a sleep deprived state, usually lead me to leap out of bed to make sure nothing is wrong and often result in stepping in something that my foot would rather had not made contact with it. Then of course, since I'm up, he goes to sleep.

So this gives me some time to kill before I run in to work for a little bit. Not that I want to or really need to. But there was something I had promised to do for one of my coworkers yesterday that I never got around to doing for an event on Sunday. It's not earth shattering, at least to me but most likely it would be to them, so my peace of mind will be alleviated if I spare the time to go in. And considering my visit to the doctor last week when I found out  my blood pressure was reading consistently at 180/100 I really need to make the time to do the things that will make my life a little more peaceful even if it's something I really don't want to do.That and I need to learn to relax more and let the sillier things in life and at work roll over me.

Hopefully later today I will finally have the chance to do some cooking and maybe a tiny bit of baking. I feel kitchen deprived lately. 

 

Friday, December 11, 2009

You Will Pay For This Outrage!



Poor Mr. Data.

He puts up with a lot of hovering when I'm worrying about him. And he puts up with my creative whims when I'm bored.

I anticipate feline revenge somewhere down the line.

But for right now, I'm enjoying a relaxing start to my morning. We have an event going on tonight that I'm working at so I don't have to be at work until around noon. Which somehow, despite the fact that I still have to work 8 hours, somehow makes me feel like I'm getting away with something.

Although there is some anxiety about work that I have to deal with. Turns out that not having to work directly with that person who from my personal opinion seemed to thrive on driving me nuts doesn't mean they'll stop altogether. So they started throwing emails to my boss about how I'd messed up on an equipment install and then proceeded to tell them that I had made our company look back by something I had not done at an event that took place recently.

Although that was actually funny as I had nothing to do with said event. And the install issue was so minor as to not even affect this person directly and lasted less than 12 hours.

Still I need to find some coping skills to deal with this person.

They're not going to go away. And I need this job as the market is not great right now so it's not like I can walk away and find something else just like that.

Hence the picture of Mr. Data looking royally offended. Crazy cat mom's need something to cheer them up after a pain of a day at work.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

BB: Croissant Bread Pudding


One of the food loves that I share with my mom has always been bread pudding. My sister, poor misguided deprived woman, does not, at least nowhere near our relationship with it. And considering it's not a very complicated recipe, I'm not entirely sure why I haven't made it more. So I was pretty happy to find that the first recipe for December with the Barefoot Bloggers was Ina's Bread Pudding recipe which was chosen this week by Peggy of Pantry Revisited.

 I made a few changes (of course) to the recipe. Rather than make it with the 6 regular croissants which would have served 8-10 (normal people, 4-5 for people like my mom and I) I went with mini croissants instead so that to avoid a bread pudding overdose. I also added some vanilla sugar into the custard mix to give it a little extra flavor and sprinkled cinnamon on top of the croissants before covering the pans with tinfoil. Then there was the small matter of guessing at the cooking time. I figured that it wouldn't take the full 45/45 cooking times below so I had to settle for peeking at it several times after I pulled the tinfoil off...I probably baked it for another 25 minutes after that before I hoped it would be done. 

For me at least, it tasted good the first night I made it but I thought it was a lot better the next day. The custard flavor tasted richer and smoother so patience,with this bread pudding, is indeed a virtue. And to put it over the top, I drizzled a little sweetened condensed milk to make it pop a bit more. I had some for breakfast the morning after (I figured it couldn't be all that much different from some of the ingredients you'd use to make a pastry) and I loved it. 

 

CROISSANT BREAD PUDDING 

Ina Garten - The Barefoot Contessa

Ingredients

  • 3 extra-large whole eggs (2)
  • 8 extra-large egg yolks (3)
  • 5 cups half-and-half (2 1/2 cups for the half recipe (2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (3/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (1 tsp)
  • 6 croissants, preferably stale, sliced horizontally (6 mini croissants)
  • 1 cup raisins (1/2 cup)
  • Cinnamon (my addition)
  • Vanilla Sugar (my addition)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, half-and-half, sugar, and vanilla. Set the custard mixture aside. Slice the croissants in half horizontally. In a 10 by 15 by 2 1/2-inch oval baking dish, distribute the bottoms of the sliced croissants, then add the raisins, then the tops of the croissants (brown side up), being sure the raisins are between the layers of croissants or they will burn while baking. Pour the custard over the croissants and allow to soak for 10 minutes, pressing down gently.

Place the pan in a larger one filled with 1-inch of hot water. Cover the larger pan with aluminum foil, tenting the foil so it doesn't touch the pudding. Cut a few holes in the foil to allow steam to escape. Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for 40 to 45 more minutes or until the pudding puffs up and the custard is set. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When Chicago Weather Just Can't Make Up Its Mind



 One thing about living near and working in Chicago is that the weather is guaranteed to be interesting. From the time I left work to the time I got home last night, we had rain, sleet, winds, snow falling sideways, back to rain, resuming snow then sleet.  I felt guilty when I got home and decided to order in Chinese food so I tipped the driver extra for having to go out in this oddball sloppy mess.

Of course, everyone at work was jumping into panic mode all day, talking about the big storm that was going to hit and how they all had to leave right then and drive home to avoid it. Apparently my weather report was in a different parallel universe then theirs, as they were insisting we were getting 7 inches and I'd heard two. This is about the time I should explain that severe weather makes all of us at work pretty much revert back to our grade school days when we stand around hoping for a snow day so we can stay at home and watch TV all day. Last year was particularly hard on us as we missed pretty much every severe storm and therefore could not take the boss up on her offer to take the day off if the city was snowed in. At one point, she gave us a pity snow day when it really wasn't too bad just to shut us up for awhile.

But the weather is still nowhere near what most of the country and Canada has been getting so I can't complain. This is a shot of the braver ones venturing out from underneath the station awning and heading down the platform to get away from the crowd.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Well, I Kind of Had a Life This Weekend


 
I mean, at least I got out of the house for awhile yesterday and had a lovely browse over at Penzy's spices. I love Penzy's and am fortunate to live within walking distance of one of their stores. Which really now that I think about it, is about as dangerous as it would if I lived near a discount bakeware store. There's just something about walking in a room wall to wall with spices. I have gone in there many a time with the goal of buying just one pot of spice but ended up walking out with at least 2 more that I saw and realized I absolutely had to have in order to complete my kitchen spice collection. But yesterday was quite fun as they were handing out free pots of their hot chocolate mix which, of course, I had to try and can testify that it is to die for. I will never be able to go back to store bought hot chocolate again.

Today I'm going to be sticking closer to home for awhile as I want to keep an eye on Mr. Data, Kitty Extraordinaire's blood glucose level as he tested at 70 for his pre-insulin shot (Mr. Data is diabetic) and that's unusually low for him. I mean really unusually low especially as he was up in the 400's last night. Which is okay as it means I can rationalizing having bread pudding for breakfast. How I'm not sure but let's not bring logic into the day this early. I'm thinking he should be okay as I tested him about 1/2 hour after his "breakfast" and he was around 100 so it means he's going back into normal range. But being the cat mom that I am, I still worry a bit.

Speaking of bread pudding, I got to make some yesterday for the Barefoot Bloggers post that I'll be posting on the 10th and is a lovely little dessert for a bread pudding fan like myself. Today, as soon as I can whip the kitchen into some semblance of shape, I'll be starting on my first attempt at Risotto for the Cooking Italy post due on the 12(I think).

Now if I could only get the motivation to clean I'd be doing quite well indeed.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Finding More Fun in Life

There hasn't been a lot of time to bake lately so it's left me with time to think. Not so good, when it leads to worrying and stress. Good when it comes to being honest with myself. I know I've been complaining more about work lately, here, there, everywhere. And yes, the stress and worrying is helped and is helping that issue. But it's time to face facts...I am not allowing enough time for fun in my life. Watching TV and sitting in front of the computer in the evenings isn't for the most part doing it for me. I'm talking about turning off the things that don't require a lot of effort on my part (tv and computer) and getting back out into the world like I was doing this summer before my boss got sick and work took over. Using my mind more instead of existing on autopilot because its easier.

So I have to think about some more ways to get out of the house this weekend. and have some fun. My balance in life depends on it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wordless Tuesday



Look into my eyes. You are feeling very sleepy. You want to give me ice cream!






Monday, November 30, 2009

Root Beer Float Cookies



Two great things that  usually do NOT go very well together for me are boredom and imagination. However, what with the weather getting colder today and the rain, I didn't want to go out to the store. And I had just about had it with doing any more cleaning. So having played computer games until my brain fell asleep, I figured I might want to do some baking with the vague intention of bringing some into my coworkers (I keep it vague in case they're really really good in which case I usually do not want to share or really really bad).

So having a taste for something root beer related, I googled for root beer cookies, with part of me hoping that I might be the only person to have ever thought of something like this. Which did not happen as I came across several recipes for the root beer cookies, including  a lovely recipe by KC over at Grandma's Desserts for Root Beer Float Cookies. Which was okay with me. I might like a bit of culinary glory but I like quick guaranteed results when I gotta have my cookies and I gotta have them now.

Now considering I did not have the patience to let the butter completely soften plus having forgotten to set the timer when I put the cookies into the oven, these came out tasting pretty wonderful but a  little on the crunchier chewier side than I normally like with my cookies. Also, I cheated a bit on the frosting and mixed just the powdered sugar, a dash of milk and root beer extract for a glaze instead of a traditional frosting. And to be on the safe side, and avoid a full out cookie frenzy later, I just made 8 cookies, putting the rest of the dough into the fridge to chill before freezing them to make at a later day. My picture does not do them justice...they're actually a very nice looking cookie.

These hit the spot on a nasty weather day for sure.

Root Beer Float Cookies
Preheat oven to 375*

COOKIES
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
2 tsp. root beer extract
1 tsp. vanille
4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

FROSTING
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp. half and half
4 tsp. butter, softened
2 tsp. root beer extract

In a bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar, butter, buttermilk, eggs, root beer extract and vanilla.Combine until well blended.Add flour, baking soda and salt. Bet until a soft dough forms. Drop dough onto prepared cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cool complete before frosting.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving Dessert: Cream Cheese Flan


I'm not a pumpkin pie kind of girl. I like it in muffins and loafs but that's about it. So left to my own devices, this years thanksgiving dessert ended up being Cream Cheese Flan which I found in one of my cookbooks.

Simple. Sublime. Sweet.

The only problem with it is that with any custard based dessert, it takes awhile to chill. Making it is nice and simple...just throw everything in the blender, then into the baking dish and let it go for around 40 minutes. Most times, I cheat by throwing it in the freezer for awhile to speed up the process. Rather than deal with trying to get the sugar syrup poured into the individual ramekins, I tend to go with making the large flan for convenience sake.

Of course, now that I've made it, I'm thinking about the little tweaks I wish I'd done with it, but that's another day and another flan.Also, come to to think of it, I should have read the recipe a little more closely as it had been awhile since I'd made it and had forgotten how long to bake it for.

Still, slightly underdone or not, it's quite yummy and for me the perfect thanksgiving dessert.

CREAM CHEESE FLAN
From Nestle Best Ever Cookies.

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups (12 oz can) Evaporated Milk
1 1/4 cups (14 oz can) Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese, softened and cut into chunks
5 eggs

Place sugar in small, heavy duty saucepan. Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes or until sugar is dissolved and golden. Quickly pour into eight 10 oz custard cups (or a 2 quart casserole dish). Tip cups or dish to coat bottoms and sides with sugar syrup.

Place evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and cream cheese into food processor or blender and cover. Process until smooth. Add eggs and process until well mixed. Pour mixture into prepared container(s). Place in baking pan and fill with hot water to 1 inch depth.

For custard cups, bake in 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Remove to wire racks to cool. If using the casserole dish, bake for 60-70 minutes or until knife inserted comes out clean. Cool in refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Invert cups or dish onto platter and serve.

Friday, November 27, 2009

BB: Almost (but not quite) Company Pot Roast



I have a confession.

I completely forgot about this challenge which is being hosted this month by Lisa at Lime in the Coconut until after I'd woken up Thanksgiving Day.

So when I came across another members post on it, I sort of panicked because I suddenly remembered that I'd taken the roast out last week to thaw in the fridge with the intention of cooking  last weekend. .

Whoops.


Since this all went down Thanksgiving day, it meant I had to make do with what I had. And hope that the pot roast was still edible and wouldn't give me food poisoning. Granted I need time off from work but I have to draw the line somewhere.So I threw everything (or close to it) in the crockpot, turned in on high, hoped for the best and told myself that  if tasted at all strange out it went. My rationalization at the time, sleep deprived as I was on Thanksgiving day, was that in the 1800's people managed to survive eating meat without refrigeration..So therefore, mine should be okay.

It should be said that the tireder I am, the more illogical my rationalizations become.

Also, considering I'd spent an unprecedented $19.00 on the roast (I've never spent that much on meat in my life) I was not about to let it go to waste if there was any way of salvaging it. So after a quick sniff test to see if I passed out, I figured I'd give it a shot. 

So first things first. Let's talk about the substitutions which is why this is almost but not quite company pot roast.

Since all of this went down on Thanksgiving day and I am the person who tries not to go out on the day of T-Day due to the potential for craziness and crazy folks at the store, I had to go looking around the kitchen to see what I actually had and make substitutions as needed.

Lots of substitutions.

Well, maybe not a lot. But I didn't have celery so I substituted celery salt figuring it was close enough (dangerous words for me in the kitchen). And I didn't have leeks, so I had to omit that altogether. Scratch the home made chicken stock as I had some packaged stuff at home. Omit the chicken bouillon cube as I don't usually have that (make that never) in the house. And omit the tied part of the pot roast as I didn't have any kind of twine at home.Also, no fresh thyme or rosemary so I used dried spices sprinkled in the sauce mixture instead.

Actually come to think of it, I think I intended to put dried spices in but forgot about it. And just to be on the safe side, I threw in a large squirt of chili sauce to give it some kick.

What was the most amazing (to me at least) was how good this made the carrots taste good. I have never been a carrot girl. Apart from carrot cake, I don't eat carrots. I eat around them in every recipe. So this is nothing short of a culinary miracle for me if it can get me to voluntarily eat carrots.

I do feel sorry for Mr. Data right now as the smell of this make him yodel for food and I could not give him any due to the onions in the recipe. Right now he's sulking while I sit typing with a full tummy.

I'll have to figure out a way to make this up to him as this was a really good pot roast.

Now what was really great was having the next day off after making this  and catching an episode of Ina's TV show on food network where she happened to cook the company pot roast so I could watch it and learn from some of my mistakes and short cuts. Definitely need to make this again.

Company Pot Roast - Ina Garten "Back to Basics"

nocoupons
  • 1 (4 to 5-pound) prime boneless beef chuck roast, tied
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • All-purpose flour
  • Good olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
  • 2 cups chopped celery (4 stalks)
  • 2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 to 4 leeks)
  • 5 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 cups good red wine, such as Burgundy
  • 2 tablespoons Cognac or brandy
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes in puree
  • 1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 3 branches fresh thyme
  • 2 branches fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Pat the beef dry with a paper towel. Season the roast all over with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Dredge the whole roast in flour, including the ends. In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the roast and sear for 4 to 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn and sear the other side and then turn and sear the ends. This should take 4 to 5 minutes for each side. Remove the roast to a large plate.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the Dutch oven. Add the carrots, onions, celery, leeks, garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper and cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned. Add the wine and Cognac and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, bouillon cube, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Tie the thyme and rosemary together with kitchen string and add to the pot. Put the roast back into the pot, bring to a boil, and cover. Place in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is fork tender or about 160 degrees F internally. Turn the heat down to 250 degrees F after about an hour to keep the sauce at a simmer.

Remove the roast to a cutting board. Remove the herb bundle and discard. Skim off as much fat as possible from the sauce. Transfer half the sauce and vegetables to a blender or a food processor fitted with the steel blade and puree until smooth. Pour the puree back into the pot, place on the stovetop over low heat, and return the sauce to a simmer. Place 2 tablespoons flour and the butter in a small bowl and mash them together with a fork. Stir into the sauce and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring until thickened. Taste for seasonings. Remove the strings from the roast, and slice the meat. Serve warm with the sauce spooned over it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My New Baby(Computer) Is Home Now

I bought my old work computer home last night after a work function and I'm a little worried about us living together. Mostly because of the fact that I kind of let the internet take over my life for awhile over the past year. I've posted about that before with spending way too much time online and nothing to show for it. Most of the time, it was random browsing and nothing that I needed to know at all.

So I'm approaching this whole issue of letting the computer back into my life with some reasonable concerns. Especially since moderation has never really been one of my big skills in life with my all of nothing mentality at times.

On the positive side, I can blog with complete freedom and not worry about coworkers coming up behind me wanting to know what I'm doing or trying to come into work early to blog. So there's freedom. And there's the fact that there will be times that I can work from home instead of going into the office and save myself some CTA aggravation as well as a few hours of travel time.

I think I've learned my lessons over the past month of being computerless. I now know I can wake up and get ready for work and get to work on time without a computer. My mind is a lot happier now that I've used some of that wasted time and begun to read more.

Mr. Data has already climbed over the computer once today which does my heart good.

Happy thanksgiving to all. I'm off to search my cookbooks for biscuit recipes for thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Things to Break out the Happy Dance For

This past week has been busy with work so I haven't had a chance to do a lot of baking. Which means I need to think (gasp) when I'm blogging and not just ramble as I'm inclined to do when feeling slightly overwhelmed.

Fortunately, apart from an incident with one of my neighbors where I had the horrifying insight that I was TURNING INTO MY MOTHER (not a good thing in this case) life has been fairly good outside of that. So in order to consolidate energy and time I'm going to do one giant happy dance for everything that has been going well :
  1. Realizing that I only paid one bill late last month instead of 2 bills so I've saved myself a $39.00 late fee :)
  2. Finding out that I deducted the two bills from my checkbook twice so I actually had about 100.00 more than I had thought I did :)
  3. Being told last week that I no longer have to report to the director who seems to feel it is his destiny to make my life miserable (and yes, I'll accept that I'm complaining major time on that one) :)
  4. Moving desks with one of my coworkers so I have a lot more privacy now :)
  5. Getting a new computer at work and being able to take my old one home to use there :)
  6. Being told it was okay to take Wednesday off so I have a 5 day weekend to look forward to :)
  7. Mr. Data, Kitty Extraordinaire, has gained a few ounces back so he's up to 8 lbs again :)
As weeks go, this was a very good week indeed.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cake Slice: Burnt Sugar Cake




There are three words that up until today have never been uttered by me.

"Too Much Sugar."

I have a massive sweet tooth so when this recipe came up at "The Cake Slice" I was all for it. And in the cakes defense, I really liked the cake portion of it. The frosting, however, was way too much for me.

This is greatly upsetting to a sugar/frosting junkie like myself. Back in the day, I could happily eat frosting out of the can and skip the cake altogether. So maybe this is just a cake of my taste buds growing up and leaving the rest of me behind.

I did modify the recipe slightly as I was not up for having that much cake lying around the house waiting to attack me so I made only a single layer cake. Also, I should confess that the bottom layer didn't cook properly and caved in the center before falling apart when I tried to pop it out of the pan after cooling.

I might make the cake again using a different frosting considering the extra steps it would have to be for a special occasion. It's good but very very sweet.

November’s Cake: Burnt Sugar Cake

(Recipe from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott)

For the Cake
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1¾ cups sugar
4 eggs
½ cup Burnt Sugar Syrup (below)

For the Burnt Sugar Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup boiling water

For the Burnt Sugar Frosting
3¾ cups confectioners sugar
½ cup Burnt Sugar Syrup (above)
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 – 3 tbsp evaporated milk or normal milk

Method – Burnt Sugar Syrup

Heat the sugar in a cast iron skillet or another heavy bottomed pan with high sides. Heat over a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts into a clear brown caramel syrup. It should be the colour of tea. Gradually add the boiling water, pouring it down the sides of the pan so that if the syrup foams and bubbles up, you should be protected.

Continue cooking, stirring often, until the water combines with the syrup and turns a handsome brown syrup. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Store the cooled syrup in a sealed jar if not using straight away.

Method - Cake

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and stir with a fork to mix well. Stir the vanilla into the milk.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and the sugar with an electric mixer at high speed for 2 – 3 minutes, until they are well combined. Stop now and then to scrape the bowl down. Add the eggs, one by one, beating well each time. Pour in half a cup of the burnt sugar syrup and beat well. Add a third of the flour mixture and about half of the milk, beating at a low speed, until just incorporated. Mix in another third of the flour and the rest of the milk. Finally, add the remaining flour.

Divide the batter between the cake pans and bake at 350F for 20 to 25 minutes until the cakes are golden brown, spring back when touched gently in the centre and begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for15 minutes. Turn out the cakes into the wire rack to cool completely.

Method – Burnt Sugar Frosting
In a large bowl, combine the confectioners sugar, the burnt sugar syrup, butter and vanilla. Beat with a mixer at medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl now and then to bring the ingredients together. Add 2 tablespoons of the milk and continue beating until the frosting is thick, soft, smooth and easy to spread. Add a little more sugar if it is thin, and a little more milk if it is too thick.

To Assemble
Place one layer, top side down, on a cake stand or serving plate. Scoop about ¾ cup of the frosting onto the cake. Spread to the edges and place the second cake layer over it, top side down. Frost the sides of the cake, and then the top until it is evenly covered.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cooking Italy: Spinach Soup





I like spinach.

Sometimes. Usually not cooked as it has a chewiness that I'm not very fond of.

So, I tried to keep an open mind about this recipe.

It didn't start out well though when I burnt the onions sauteeing them and figured it shouldn't be too terribly bad in the recipe if I tweaked with it a little bit. Which worked out well even if it did take more tweaking then I had anticipated. I ended up adding another 1/2 stick of butter, garlic, and a lot of cheese before it covered up the bitterness of the burnt onions.

The crostini was another matter. I rushed it entirely, just pouring a huge dollop of olive oil in the pan and throwing in the crostini, skipping heating the pan altogether. Also i used brown bread which made it a lot harder to tell if they were toasting so half my crostini tasted okay...the other half tasted like I'd just chugged a bottle of olive oil.

Overall, the soup turned out fairly okay. I'm not a huge spinach person so I don't see making this one a lot but I think I would trot it out fairly frequently for my sister who would love it.

Spinach Soup
from Marcella Hazan "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"
(2) 10 oz packages frozen whole leaf spinach, thawed
Salt
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
2 tbsp chopped onion
1 cup canned beef broth diluted by 1 cup water
2 cups milk
Whole Nutmeg
5 tbsp freshly grated parmiagiano-reggiano cheese
Home made Crostini

Squeeze moisture out of spinach when it has thawed and chop coarsely.

Put the butter and onion in a soup pot and turn on the heat to medium. Saute the onion until it becomes colored a pale gold. Add the thawed spinach and saute in the uncovered pot for 2-3 minutes, stirring to coat well.

Add broth, milk and a tiny grating (no more than 1/8 tsp) of nutmeg and bring to a simmer, stirring from time to time.

Add the grated parmesan, stirring it thoroughly into the soup, tasting and correcting for salt and turn off heat.

Ladle into individiual plates or bowls and serve crostini on the side.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cooking Italy: Pan-Broiled Steaks with Tomatoes and Olives


Thanks to general crankiness and an all-around unorganized life, I'm a little late in posting this recipe for Cooking Italy.

Definitely worth the wait.

The one thing that gave me the culinary creeps was the greek black olives. I'd accidentally eaten them before and generally shunned them as I preferred the regular black olives. So part of me was definitely tempted to skip that ingredient.

My other big concern was in flattening the steaks. My gift in life is defnitely not in cooking meat to the right consistency. I'm either overdone or underdone. No middle of the road for me with cooking (or in life in general).

I was totally surprised in how great this tasted. And how easy it was to make. Of course it helped that I went with diced tomatoes and jarred garlic which left it still very tasty. I also was pleased by how good the greek olives worked with this recipe (a lot more than I had anticipated).

 Pan-Broiled Thin Beef Steaks with Tomatoes and Olives
Marcella Hazan "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"

1/2 medium onion sliced very thin
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled & sliced very thin
2/3 cup canned Italian Tomatoes, coarsely chopped with juice
1/4 tsp dried oregnao (or 1/2 tsp fresh)
Salt
Black Pepper
1 dozen black greek olives pitted and quartered
Vegetable Oil
1 lb boneless beef steaks, flattened thin and notched

Put the sliced onion and olive oil in a suate pan, turn on the heat to medium low and cook the onion, letting it gradually wilt. When it becomes a pale gold, add the garlic. cook the garlic until it becomes very lightly colored, then add the tomatoes with their juice and the oregano. Stir thoroughly to coat well, adjust heat so that the tomatoes cook at a steady simmer and cook for about 15 minutes or until the oil floats free of the tomatoes. Add salt, a few grindings of pepper, and the olives, stir thoroughly and cook for 1 more minute. Turn heat down to minimum.

Heat a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, until it is hot, then quickly grease the bottom with a cloth towel soaked in vegetable oil (I omitted this and just sprayed with olive oil). Put in the beef slices, cooking both sides just long enough to brown them. Sprinkle with salt and pepper as you turn them.

Transfer meat to the pan with the tomato sauce and turn it 2 or 3 times. Put the steaks on a warm serving platter, turning out the sauce over them and serve at once.

** The recipe can be completed up to this point several hours or even a day in advance. Stop short of of putting in the olives, adding them only after reheating the sauce, before it is combined with the steaks.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

MSC: Candied Sweet Potato Cupcakes


This month's recipe for the MSC (Martha Stewart Cupcake Club) was hosted by Karen over at Karen's Cookies, Cakes & More.

Awesome selection.
I had thought when I first went into this recipe that it would be pretty similar in taste to last month's pumpkin muffins. But I think, after having made these, that I would use this recipe more than I would last months.

Now the marshmallows definitely push this over to the winning side for me. I am a marshmallow junkie at heart. Give me a jar of marshmallow fluff and I would be a very happy woman. And give me a spoon and a jar of marshmallow fluff and I would be a very happy and full woman.

I did cheat a little with the recipe and used canned sweet potatoes instead of baking and mashing fresh sweet potatoes. Also, i went with marshmallow fluff for the top instead of toasting marshmallows. I also tried putting some marshmallows in the batter once I'd poured it into the cups with some mixed results. Although that might have been due to slightly overfilling the liners as well as not pushing the marshmallows further down into the batter for some of them.

I also did try to make the candied pecans with limited success but that was due to not letting the sugar syrup fully carmelize and dipping them in the syrup a little too soon.

Overall, a great recipe for the fall. I'm looking forward to next month's recipe!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Macaroni and Cheese (From a A Former Kraft Mac&Cheese Gal)




I know it's not good for me but I've gotta say that Kraft is still winning the mac and cheese contest right now. I tried hard to like this recipe. I even had it several days as leftovers hoping the flavors would deepen. But as taste goes, this recipe was so mild as to barely register on my junk food influenced taste buds. However, that glow in the dark shade of orange with Kraft is a little scary as an adult so I'm going to have to try again with another recipe. I haven't found it the actual recipe yet, but Ina had made mac and cheese on her show that involved 3 types of cheese (including blue cheese, my fave) and bacon so that's has got to be my mac and cheese destiny.

Still, gloating just a little that I have made homemade mac and cheese. Okay, so I'm strutting around a little bit. Trying all of these new recipes does provide a boost to my self esteem, proving that I'm capable of a lot more than I used to give myself credit for with cooking. Hey, if I can overcome my fear of egg whites, I can do anything.

Except for liver. I'm not that brave.

 Macaroni and Cheese
from "New Recipes from Quilt Country" by Marcia Adams

8 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) butter
3 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups milk
3 tbsp worcestershire sauce
3/4 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp ground dry mustard
2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup finely miced fresh parsley
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 2 quart flat baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large saucepan, over high heat, bring water to a boil and then add the macaroni and cook until tender, about 6 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and pour the macaroni in prepared dish; set aside.

In medium saucepan, melt 4 tbsp butter, add flour and whisk and cook over low heat until mixture bubbles.  Add milk all at once, plus onion, worcestershire sauce, celery salt, pepper and mustard.  Increase the heat to medium and continue whisking until mixture bubbles up in center. Add cheese gradually and return to a boil, whisking smooth.

Pour sauce over macaroni & mix well. Combine parsley and bread crumbs, sprinkle over top of macarconi; dot with remaining butter. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, 30-35 minutes. Serve hot.

Back on the (Weight Loss) Wagon

So, I have had a bit of a backslide with my weight these past few weeks. I can honestly blame it mostly on feeling sorry for myself. My way of dealing with stress and the issues I can't fix at work was to eat. At one point, I was back up to 193.5 lbs which was horrifying as I was over halfway back to being where I was before.

And then it hit me. The last time I successfully lost weight was when I was doing this weight loss contest at Kmart last year and lost about 35 pounds. Now part of the reason I was doing so well was because I was using slimfast for some meals instead of junk food, but I'm still convinced that the primary reason was because they gave out rewards. Every time I met goal, I got rewards. Some of it was stuff I would never use like microwaver steamer bags (I don't have one), but for the most part, I got some pretty good stuff like conditioner or a exercise dvd or a pedometer and it was great motivation to stay on track because I wanted the rewards.

Then it hit me.

I could do the same thing myself. Except this time, considering my minor obsession/hobby of cooking, I would use bake ware as my rewards.  For every 5 pounds I lost, I get to buy myself something that I could technically live without. Cookbooks, cake pans, kitchen blowtorches etc etc.I spent an hour the other day going through my King Arthur Flour Catalog and picking out rewards :)

This may just be  the missing piece I needed in the weight loss puzzle. I've already picked up my first reward for losing 5 pounds - a new cake pan. Just in time for a recipe I've got to make for The Cake Slice group on the 20th.

Oh happy dance. 5 days of eating better behind me. 5 pounds of junk food weight off me (okay, a little water weight in there too).

Life feels a lot more balanced today with some discipline in my life.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

BB: Creme Brulee (Part Deux) - Bruleeapalooza!


So two days after making creme brulee for the first time at home, I discover I'd be making it again for the Barefoot Bloggers.

I guess practice truly does make perfect. Although in a way, familiarity may also breed a slight bit of culinary contempt as I think creme brulee has been one of my all time favorites because I don't have it very often. Eaten it several days in a row takes away some of the special exclusivity that made it so appealing to have whenever I went out. Ina's version is great, actually easier than the previous recipe I tried and tastier too. But after having had creme brulee several days in a row, I realized it wasn't giving me the same sense of satisfaction. It still tasted great, but there's something to be said for moderation. Now if only i could get this to happen with cookies and cakes and all other sorts of sweets!

Biggest problem with making it was a flaw in my technique and nothing to do with the recipe. Note to self: pour the cream a lot slower next time. I found after pouring the mix  into the ramekins that I had traces of what looked like scrambled egg at the bottom of the bowl . 


CREME BRULEE
from Ina Garten's "Barefoot in Paris"

1 egg
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar + 1tbsp sugar for each ramekin
3 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp Grand Marnier

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

My $60.00 Oops

Realized this morning once I got to the library that I'd miscalculated the date two of my bills were due.

As in, I now have two bills that are late and am dealing with late charges next month.

Not exactly the sort of thing that puts me into a good mood to start out my week, but it is my own fault. I'd forgotten about the one until this weekend. And the other I had plenty of time to pay it online at work but kept putting it off until I forgot about that one as well.

Puts a bit of a damper in my goal to pay off my bills but it's something to learn from. I can't keep living a disorganized life mentally and physically and not expect it to catch up with me.

So it's probably about a $60.00 mistake to learn from. Ouch.

On the positive side, I did hunker down at home this weekend and cleaned my house. I now have a clean living room and kitchen and it's amazing how much better I feel.  Although I was motivated more by staying warm once the weather turns cold again as I had to clean in order to feel comfortable letting our maintenance guys in to fix the thermostat as the knob broke off last week.

Now I need to get myself back out into the world and start socializing again as I'd let that slide for awhile when things were so busy at work. I have a feeling that I'd be a little less crabby and complain a lot less if I had a life outside of work. It's hard to rely on them as being a major point of social contact without resenting them for it later.And that's not fair to them or me.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Apple Butterscotch Cookies



This is probably not the best recipe to make if one is borderline psycho pms'd because you will, as I was, be gobbling these down off the rack and then when you're thinking you can't possible eat one more bite, realize that you are in love with the butterscotch frosting. And not only are you in love with the butterscotch frosting, you somehow find the room to eat another 4 cookies because the frosting makes them impossible to resist.

It's actually a fairly easy recipe to make all things considered but bear in mind this is a sticky dough when you're dropping it on the cookie sheet so they won't be perfectly formed. Also I made the glaze a little thicker so it was more of a frosting and skipped the walnuts in the frosting (mostly because I forgot them).

These are really rich cookies, so in theory a little goes a long way. And by a long way, I mean that I will be bringing the rest of them to work tomorrow with me to get them out of the house and far away from my greedy little hands.


Butterscotch Apple Cookies
from "Nestle's Best-Ever Cookies"

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
1 egg
1/2 cup apple juice
1 2/3 cups (11 oz pkg) Butterscotch Morsels, divided
3/4 cup (1 small) unpeeled, grated apple (I used diced)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (divided)
Butterscotch Glaze (Recipe Follows)

Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Beat brown sugar and butter in large mixer bowl until creamy. Beat in egg. Gradually beat in flour mixture, alternating with apple juice. Stir in 1 1/2 cups morsels, apple and 1/2 cup walnuts. Drop by slightly founded tablespoons onto lightly greased baking sheets.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand for 2 minute; remove to wire racks to cool completely. Spread with butterscotch glaze; sprinkle with remaining walnuts. Makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

For Butterscotch Glaze:
Melt remaining morsels and 2 tbsp butter in small heavy duty saucepan over lowest possible heat. Remove from heat; stir in 1 cup sifted powedered sugar and 1 to 1/2 tbsp apple juice until smooth.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Living a Complaint Free Life Challenge

I'm starting to realize that I am a complainer.

I don't always do it out loud, because I am actually more introverted by nature. But sometimes it feels like my brain is going 24/7 with worrying or fretting or just outright complaining.

Now I found a book I'd picked up somewhere awhile back about living a complaint free life. Which has a very intriguing concept. You start out wearing something on one of your wrists, like a bracelet or whatever, and every time you catch yourself complaining you move the bracelet or whatever to the other wrist in order to raise a conscious awareness of when you are complaining.

The promise of the book is that you will see big changes in your life just by breaking the habit of complaining for 21 days. If you do complain and have to move the bracelet, the challenge starts over again from that point.

Now I can definitely go for this. I've seen things start to fall apart at work, my weight start to creep up again and overall mood scatter all over the place since I starting picking at everything that was wrong in my life. What the boss did or didn't do. What my coworkers did or didn't go. What my family did or didn't do. My noisy downstairs neighbor, the neighbor who throws his cats on the balcony for several hours in the morning despite the weather.

In a nutshell, I think I've been complaining about pretty much EVERYTHING. And I do NOT like the person I've become in the last month.

So I see nothing to lose by taking a challenge like this.

Although I have to disagree with the author on one point as he says this challenge is to watch the complaining that comes out of your mouth and says at this point, thoughts are free and don't count as dropping the challenge and having to start all over again. As an introvert, I tend to think a lot more than I speak anyway. And as long as those thoughts stay bouncing around in my head, it's just as damaging as if I was saying them out loud. Because I may not be complaining to other people but I am most definitely complaining to myself every time I indulge in one of those critical thoughts.

So I'm starting day 1 today. And for whoever reads my posts, if you catch something that sounds like I'm complaining, please let me know. I need to change my life and this is where it needs to start.

Skillet Puff Pancake



I may at last have found a pancake recipe that is foolproof for those mornings when I'm tired and prone to grabbing baking soda instead of baking powder.

To top it off, it's yummy.

I have a friend who always orders these when we  go out to breakfast but I was never tempted to try it until today.

In my case, laziness is the mother of invention. One bowl, one pan, leave it alone and it's ready to serve. Just my style for pancakes. The original recipe did call for 2 oz/4 tbsp but like I said, mornings are not my thing so I read it as 2 tbsp butter. Still very good and it was very cool to pull it out of the oven all puffy and browned.

Skillet Puff Pancake
Adapted from Fine Cooking's Sweet Cakes: Holiday Baking Issue 

2 large eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk
dash salt
dash of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice
2 tbsp butter

Place oven proof skillet in oven and heat to 450 degrees. Once oven has heated, place butter in skillet and allow it to melt. Meanwhile, mix eggs, flour, milk, salt and spices in bowl and mix well. Pour batter into skillet and bake in oven for 12-15 minutes. Drizzle with syrup and serve immediately.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Spicy Maple Cookies



In my valiant quest to bake but not break the bank with buying new cookbooks since life without the internet at home, I've been resorting to flipping through my old cookbooks. I wasn't sure what I wanted to make but I knew there had to be maple involved with it. Just because sort of thing.

I wasn't quite sure how subsituting maple for the molasses called in the recipe would turn out, but four thumbs up (if I had them so which I don't  I'll have to borrow someone elses).

The original recipe called for a vanilla almond frosting but in my effort to be lazing and still produce something delicious, I settled for beating some powdered sugar mixed with brandy, vanilla extract and milk by hand with a fork until I got a nice thick glaze to pour over the cookies.



SPICY MAPLE COOKIES
adapted from Better Homes & Gardens Complete Book of Baking

1/3 cup butter or margarine
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 cups flour
1 tbsp ground allspice
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground nutmeg

  1. Grease cookie sheet; set aside. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed about 30 seconds or until softened.  Add brown sugar. Beat until combined. Beat in the egg and maple syrup until combined.
  2. Stir together flour, allspice, baking soda and nutmeg. Beat as much of the flour mixture into the maple syrup mixture as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour mixture. Cover; chill 1 hour or until easy to handle.
  3. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until edges are firm. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Remove cookies from cookie sheet and cool on a wire rack.  Frost or glaze if desired.

Crockpot Amish Beef Stew



At long last.

I'm am finally finally trying out other recipes from some of my cookbooks.

Growing up, we made stew (sort of). My mom would buy this product called "Soup Starter" and all she had to do was dump water, meat, and this freeze dried veggie/spice thing and viola, soup.

Beef Stew from scratch is another matter altogether. But, emboldened by my successful foray into the world of soup via the Corn Chowder over at Barefoot Bloggers, I  figured it was time to get past this.

I did take a few shortcuts by cutting out the steps of browning the meat as I was going to be making this in a crockpot (and I didn't want to dirty more dishes.).

With this stew, the flavor definitely improves the next day. The first day is fairly good. Letting it sit overnight makes the spices in it pop a lot more.


Amish Beef Stew
adapted from "New Recipes from Quilt Country"

3 lbs lean chuck roast, cut into 1 inch cubes

5 cups beef broth
1 cup strong brewed coffee
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp ketchup
6 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 medium onions, quartered
6 medium carrots, peeled and quartered

 Place ingredients in crockpot and simmer on low for 6-8 hours. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cooking Italy: Amatriciana (Tomato Sauce with Pancetta & Chile Pepper)



This weeks recipe for the Cooking Italy Group was Amatriciana (Tomato Sauce with Pancetta & Chile Pepper). 

Before we talk about the recipe, I should explain. I grew up a Chef Boyardee kind of girl. Canned, jarred, it made no difference. Just dump it in a pot, heat it up dump it on a plate and call it dinner. After I read the recipe, I was a bit underwhelmed by the ingredients and pretty sure it was not going to taste all that great.

I am happy to be very wrong.

And I am now forever spoiled when it comes to Italian food now thanks to Marcella Hazan.

The only mistake I would say I made was starting to cook the sauce before i had the water boiling but that's because my pots take forever to boil water, even if i crank it to high. So I had the sauce done before the water even began to full boil and had to wait another 15 minutes with it simmering before I had cooked pasta.

The biggest surprise though was how good it tasted. You have to realize that I have flirted with cooking before so I know how good some things can taste homemade versus processed. But I think this was the first time that I've made pasta sauce from scratch that didn't involve sugar and a lot of ingredients.  The Amatriciana just had tomatoes, bacon (BACON! BACON! BACON BACON BACON!), onions, salt, white pepper, parmesan cheese and  romano cheese.

Seriously though. Real food tastes amazing when you just eat it as it's supposed to be. Only shame is I didn't discover this earlier.

Even more amazing was that it wasn't too difficult to make. I cheated a bit by using regular bacon instead of pancetta. Also I am not a chile pepper girl (or spicy foods in general) so I used white pepper in its place.Also, I used Penne pasta in place of the bucatini as it was a lot easier to find at Jewel. But this is still a keeper in my house now.


Amatriciana Sauce with Penne Pasta
from Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter
1 medium onion chopped fine
1/4 inch slice pancetta cut into 1/2 wide/1 inch long slices
1 1/2 cups plum tomato(drained & cut)
pepper to taste (original recipe called for chili pepper)
salt
3 tbsp parmigana reggiano cheese
2 tbsp romano cheese
1 pound penne pasta

Put oil, butter and onion in saucepan and turn heat to medium. Saute onion until pale gold, then add pancetta. Cook for one minute, stirring once or twice. Add tomatoes,pepper and salt and cook in uncovered pot at a steady, gentle simmer for 25 minutes. Toss pasta with sauce then add cheeses and toss again.