Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies

I've been making oatmeal cookies for years, but recently I realized that I had never really played around with my recipe. They were just okay cookies. I knew they could be better! When I came across Mom's Soft Raisin Cookies, I knew that between that recipe and Alton Brown's I'd have a winner. The recipe I'm sharing today is a little bit of a hybrid of those two. The cookies have that hearty texture of a standard oatmeal cookie, but they're soft and chewy - the way cookies should be, of course.

Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies

1 cup apple juice
2 cups raisins
1 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
2 cups oat flour*
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350°. In a small saucepan, combine the apple juice and raisins. Bring to a boil; cook for 3 minutes and remove from heat to let cool. Do not drain.

In a mixing bowl, cream together shortening and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and extracts. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Gradually add to the creamed mixture. Mix in the raisins/juice.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 9-11 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 1 minute before removing to wire racks to cool completely. Yield: 4 dozen cookies.

*Oat flour is easily made by processing old-fashioned oats in a food processor or blender until it's the texture of whole-wheat flour.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Pork Chops with Apples and Bacon

I'm always on the lookout for easy slow cooker recipes that will work for our Tuesday night suppers. Tuesday is homeschool co-op day which means we come stumbling in the door about thirty minutes before supper needs to be ready. It's a pretty tiring day, and I love being greeted by the smell of our meal simmering away.

I spied the inspiration for this particular meal over on Pinterest (how in the world did we plan meals before that glorious invention??). The original recipe was for stuffed pork chops, but y'all know what Sweet Brown says about that mess. "Ain't nobody got time for dat!" I simplified the process a bit, though the necessary prep work in this case adds so much flavor and keeps the pork chops moist.

Fully loaded slow cooker, minus the herbs, ready to cook.
Pork Chops with Apples and Bacon

4 thick-cut boneless pork chops
5 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 apples, cored and cut into about 8 pieces each (I used honeycrisp)
1 onion, peeled and sliced
3 celery ribs, cut into thirds
2 teaspoons salt-free lemon-pepper seasoning
1 lemon
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/3 cup pecan halves
1 tablespoon honey
(Optional, but just because I had some in the fridge: 1 sprig each rosemary and thyme)

In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat until slightly crisp. Remove from skillet, leaving behind the pan drippings. In the same skillet, saute the onions until they take on just a touch of color. Place the onions and celery in the bottom on the slow cooker. Sprinkle the pork chops with lemon-pepper seasoning and salt. Using  the same skillet, sear the pork chops 3-4 minutes each side. Place the pork chops in the slow cooker. Sprinkle with paprika and cumin. Top with apples, bacon, and pecans. Drizzle with honey. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the mixture. Toss the lemon halves in. If using, toss in the herb sprigs. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Scalloped Potatoes with Ham & Leeks

I will warn you, this is a decadent dish. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's totally worth it. I've made variations of scalloped potatoes for years. It was one of my favorite dishes from childhood - I loved it when my mom made a big, cheesy, pan of this stuff. I haven't made it in a really long time, though, because my husband isn't really a fan and our oldest girl doesn't like ham ... or potatoes. Bless her heart. I was excited to find that when I served this last night 5 out of 6 family members loved it! (The sixth one - guess who! - ate leftover tortellini.)

Scalloped Potatoes with Ham & Leeks

3 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and thinly sliced - 1/4 inch or less (I always leave the peel on.)
2 cups diced ham

2 leeks, trimmed, thinly sliced and thoroughly rinsed
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 cup chicken broth
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 ounces shredded swiss cheese

4 slices whole wheat bread (or whatever you have on hand)
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a large pot, combine potatoes and just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook for 5-6 minutes. You don't want them to be falling apart, just slightly tender. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, saute the leeks and garlic in the butter over medium heat until tender. Sprinkle in the flour, cayenne, salt and pepper. Whisk for 3-4 minutes until the flour is incorporated and begins to take on a touch of color. Whisk in the broth and cream until smooth. Let the mixture come to a low boil until thickened. Reduce the heat to medium-low; whisk in the thyme and then the cheeses, a little at a time. It should be very thick, so that it will stick directly to your arteries and/or hips.

In a blender or food processor, combine the topping ingredients, except for the butter. Blend until completely combined. Drizzle in the butter and blend again. (If you have dry bread crumbs already, you can simply chop the herbs and garlic by hand, then stir the ingredients together.)

In a greased 9 x 13 pan, spread out half of the potatoes. Top with all of the ham, then half of the sauce. Add in the remaining potatoes and cover with the rest of the sauce. Sprinkle on the bread crumb topping. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbly.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dr. Seuss Birthday Party

For birthdays each year, our four kids can choose to get a present from us or a birthday party. For her fifth birthday this year, one of our daughters chose to have a party. I kind of love the party option because even though it's a lot more work, I get to have fun being creative with cupcakes!

I baked two dozen pretty basic chocolate cupcakes, then went to work on them!

For the Thing 1 & 2 cakes: I baked these in red liners. (This picture shows just one liner, but I later switched the label to a second liner and placed the cupcake in that.) I made a simple cream cheese frosting and tinted it aqua with mostly blue and a touch of green food coloring. After lightly frosting the cakes,  I waited until the last minute (very important!) to top the cakes with tufts of cotton candy. The labels are just circles cut out of white paper, and I hand-wrote "Thing 1" or "Thing 2" with a black circle around the edge.
For the Cat's Hat cupcakes: I baked these in blue liners and lightly frosted them with some of the un-tinted frosting. On these, you can see that I added a second liner. I just liked the brighter color it gave them. The topper is an Oreo cookie (red velvet, no less!) I took the top wafer off and used a smidge of frosting to adhere the marshmallow to the top. For the marshmallows, I dipped each end slightly in water, then in red decorating sugar. For the bow ties, I drew a template, then traced and cut them out. I added the squiggly black lines to mimic a cartoonish style.

I kept the food to just cupcakes and chocolate ice cream, though it was tempting to go all out! We played several simple games like Memory, using the hats in the bottom right of the picture. The red cups have white paper stripes taped around them and they were used for bowling. 



The party invitation is pictured above. I wanted something a little abstract, but that was unmistakably Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat. And of course, on the address card that I sent out I used our real address and phone number. (Though if you called that number you might find someone named "Jenny".)

I also went abstract on the the decorations, trying to stick to shades of aqua, pink, and red, just like the book! I did have some Cat Hats that I hung up (the same ones from the memory game) but I don't have a great picture of those. 

*The original inspiration for the Thing 1 & 2 cupcakes is a picture I saw on Pinterest years ago. The source for that picture can be found here.

The Cat's Hat cupcakes were just something I came up with.