Monday, December 15, 2014

Buttermilk Bread

I have been making homemade bread for years, and watched my mom make it for years before that, but I learned something new about the whole process recently. Apparently, adding just a pinch of ginger to the yeast mixture when starting your bread makes the yeast go crazy! I have never seen yeast bloom like it did when I used ginger in with the sugar/yeast/water mixture. I highly recommend giving this recipe a try because the bread and rolls I made were tender, fluffy, soft ... perfect!

Buttermilk Bread

I used half the dough to make rolls and half to make a loaf:


Naturally I tried to find out why the ginger affected the yeast the way it did, and this website had a pretty good explanation. (At the link, scroll down to the final answer to the question.) In a nutshell, ginger keeps the pH at the optimum level for yeast growth.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Hamburger Today

I don't even remember when I started making hamburger patties using this method, but I've done it for years. I love it because my hands stay relatively clean. That means not only do I have easy clean-up, but that I can also do other things in between forming patties. I'm a big multi-tasker - I think most cooks are! It's a necessity in the kitchen. My oldest daughter took process shots so you can see what I'm talking about:

Use a good-sized piece of plastic wrap to protect your hand.

Scoop up a portion of your ground beef.

Twist the plastic wrap up loosely to form the meat into a ball.

Press the meat down firmly into a patty.

Unwrap and ...

... fold the plastic wrap over and press to shape the patty.

Then turn your hand over to drop the patty ...

... onto your waiting plate!
If you're making a big batch of patties and need a double layer on your plate, simply lay your used plastic wrap over the first layer of patties. Then get a fresh square to make the second layer of patties.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

By Special Request

I have to say, we have the best mechanic! We've had a few issues with our van over the last year and our service place always goes above and beyond to make sure that we get back on the road quickly and affordably. Because of that, I've made cookies a few times to share with them as a Thank You. The latest batch I whipped up included a special request for Lemon Coolers, which is coincidentally one of my childhood favorites! You can't really buy them anymore since Sunshine Biscuits merged with Keebler. The recipe I used made a nice imitation, and were really fantastic in their own right. I also included a batch of my Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Bars.

Lemon Meltaways

Chocolate Cream Cheese Bars, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Lemon Meltaways

Also this week, Jeff received a request from someone at work for Cookie Dough Brownies. I made them several months ago and his friend remembered how good they were! I follow the recipe more or less as written, but I use mini chocolate chips and omit the walnuts. I put half of the chips in the cookie dough batter and melt the other half to drizzle on top. I don't like having a solid layer of chocolate on the top - it makes them hard to bite into.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Five Dollar Meals

As I was scrolling through my news feed the other day, a Wal-Mart ad caught my eye (Thanks, Facebook!). It was a picture of a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese and a big jug of storebought, prepared Kool-Aid. The picture was captioned, identifying the combination as a "weeknight family meal". Now call me Judgy McJudgerton, but THAT is not a weeknight family meal! At best, it's a "there's nothing left in the pantry or refrigerator and payday isn't until tomorrow" kind of meal. Or even a "Mom is incapacitated and Dad's fixing dinner tonight" kind of meal. (See, now I'm judgmental AND sexist!)

All I'm saying is, it's easy to whip up a healthy, filling meal under normal circumstances without resorting to such extreme measures. I mean, at least serve a side of apple sauce or a handful of grapes with that meal! I'd be happy to show you just a couple of options for roughly the same price.

Let's just say I'm fixing lunch for my four little darlings. Here's what Wal-Mart's meal looks like:

Macaroni and cheese: $1.00 per box X 2 boxes = $2.00
Kool-Aid (purchased prepared): $3.00
Total Meal: $5.00
(Of course, this doesn't include the butter and milk needed to prepare the pasta. They'd be negligible.)

Here is a different option:

Black beans: $0.60 per can X 2 = $1.20
Tortillas: (1/2 package) $0.60
Spinach: (1/2 package) $0.40
Cheddar cheese: (8 oz) $1.90
Pineapple chunks: $0.90
Total Meal: $5.00

With these ingredients, plus some salsa and other seasonings you probably already have in your fridge, you can make Black Bean Soup, spinach and cheese quesadillas, and a side of pineapple!

Guess which meal is healthier? Now, I'm sure some of you may be saying that your kids wouldn't eat that, but I have at least two that don't like boxed mac and cheese! That's fair enough, though. I make homemade "Spaghettios" for my kids (and me!) all the time, and that's comparable to good old cheesy mac. Check this out:

Pasta: (2 cups) $0.50
Tomato sauce: $1.00
Tomato paste: (negligible, but let's say) $0.10
Cheddar cheese: (4 oz) $0.95
Gala apples: (3 small) $0.63
Greek yogurt, vanilla: (1/2 large container) $1.95
Total Meal: $5.13

That's a BIG pot of flavorful pasta, plus a side of apple slices with Greek yogurt for dipping (I add a sprinkling of cinnamon, too!) And neither of these two meals takes much more time than cooking up that blue box.

It's all about perspective and priorities. Sure, there's a time and place when all you feel like is that blue box and Kool-Aid, if that's how you roll. My objection is to the suggestion that those two items are a legitimate complete meal.

Let's come up with a better "weeknight family meal" advertisement, Wal-Mart!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Red Pepper Hummus

I improvised this hummus recipe the other day when I realized I was out of spinach for my favorite Spinach & Feta Hummus. I was craving a relatively healthy snack that could pretty much double up for my lunch and this Red Pepper Hummus satisfied my craving perfectly. I used pita crackers from Aldi as my dipper, and also had a hard-boiled egg and half of a honeycrisp apple. It kept me full all afternoon!

Red Pepper Hummus

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon cumin
1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup feta cheese (optional)

In a small skillet over medium heat, saute the red pepper and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil until tender. Sprinkle in the red pepper flakes and cook for a minute longer. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, in a food processor combine the chickpeas, salt and pepper, cumin, and lemon juice. When the peppers and garlic are ready, add them to the food processor and blend. Drizzle in about 1/4 cup olive oil and blend well. Add in the feta if using and blend. At this point you'll want to check your seasoning and adjust if necessary, adding a touch more oil or lemon juice to get the hummus to your desired consistency.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Bars

If I had to name my favorite dessert, I'd say cheesecake and soft, warm chocolate chip cookies would be tied for first place. These decadent bars have the best of both worlds!



Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Bars

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 package (12 ounces) chocolate chips

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375°. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine sugars, butter and vanilla. Beat until creamy. Add eggs and mix well. Add dry ingredients and mix again. Stir in chocolate chips.

Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil and spray with cooking spray. Press about half (a little less) of the cookie dough into the bottom of the pan, all the way to the edges. Transfer remaining cookie dough to your (now empty) dry ingredients bowl. Wash out your mixing bowl.

In your (now clean) mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and egg. Mix until smooth and well blended. Pour over the top of the pan of cookie dough. Dollop 9 teaspoonfuls of reserved cookie dough over the cream cheese layer. Bake at 375° for 22-25 minutes until it's very lightly browned.

Cool completely, remove from pan using foil to lift it out, and cut into squares. Yield: 2 dozen bars



Now, the awesome part of this is that you have some cookie dough left over! You can do one of a few things with it:

1) Bake cookies right away! 8-10 minutes at 375°. This should make about 2 dozen cookies.

2) Portion the dough out onto wax paper covered cookie sheets, freeze it, then transfer it to a freezer bag. Whenever you want a few fresh cookies, just pull some out and bake as usual.

3) Make a bigger batch of the bars to begin with and eliminate the leftovers! Just follow the recipe and make these changes: double the cream cheese layer, use a 9x13 pan, and add 7-10 minutes to the cooking time. (You'll use just over half the dough for the bottom cookie layer, of course.)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Oatmeal Crumble Apple Pie

We've been eating lots of apple desserts around here lately! Recently, one of Jeff's co-workers offered him a big bag of Granny Smiths and of course he accepted, knowing I could use them to create said desserts. One thing I've made is a fantastic Food Network recipe called Apple-Butterscotch Blondies. I am telling you, these things are moist and packed full of flavor! I love that they have a butterscotch twist instead of the standard cinnamon. Now that I've said that, I'm here today to offer you an apple recipe featuring the standard cinnamon!



Oatmeal Crumble Apple Pie

Filling
4 large Granny Smith apples, thinly sliced (no need to peel!)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
dash of salt

pastry for single-crust pie (If you don't want to make your own, store-bought is fine.)

Crumble
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup self-rising flour
dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
(I also add in 1/4 cup of mixed flax seed and wheat germ, totally optional!)
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 375. In a large bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. Pour the filling into your pie crust. For the crumble, just combine all the ingredients for it in the same bowl you mixed your filling. Use your hands to mix the butter in until the ingredients are completely moistened. Sprinkle the topping over the apples, pressing down slightly. Bake at 375 for 40-45 minutes, until topping is browned and apples are tender. If you like your apples very soft, you may want to lightly cover the top with foil halfway through baking and bake it longer. I prefer the apples to have a little bite to them.