Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Snickerdoodles: A Dedication

On August 30, 2001, a chocolate lab named Daisy gave birth to a litter of black and white puppies.  Six weeks later, I was driving home with the runt of the litter - a little female with a white star on her chest, whose top point extended all the way up to her chin.  I named her Liz.  I'm notorious for giving nicknames to EVERYTHING and she was no different.  Her very first nickname was "Snickerdoodle".  I distinctly remember my dad telling me that if I kept calling her that, she wasn't going to learn what her real name was.  Even though I did start using her real name, I would end up calling her so many nicknames that I'm not even sure of them all (and she answered to every last one of them, thank you very much)!  But that very first one stuck and I've called her "Snickerdoodle" and "Doodle" her entire life.  Speaking of life...

On June 20, 2007, she barked ONE TIME when she met my boyfriend for the first time.  She never barks ONE TIME at anything!

My then-boyfriend hid this on her collar on November 25, 2009:

Then she did this on October 16, 2010:

(a candid shot of us)

When my husband and I purchased our first home, we said that we were really buying it for her.  We made sure it was carpeted (since she hated hardwood floors), had minimal steps to get in and out (because she had arthritis in her elbow and knee), and a BIG backyard for her roam around in (because she loves to be outside and smell everything).

She was a big foster sister to three rabbits, who she tolerated with no problems (even if one of the rabbits kept trying to jump onto the couch with her).  Then on November 1, 2014, we took her to the SPCA of Wake County to see how she would like having a little brother.  So then she became a big sister to a 5 year old Hound mix whom we named Chief Inspector Japp:

And then, on December 17, 2014, we lost her to nasosinal cancer.  There is this huge void in our lives where she should be.  We don't regret the decision to end her suffering because, in the end, that's what was happening - the cancer was affecting her ability to breath normally, terrible nosebleeds that were harder and harder to stop, losing weight, and affecting her sense of smell (which, for a dog who is half English Pointer, is tragic).  We were able to end her life on her terms - she walked into the vet's office with her head held high, gave everyone one last hug, and laid in my arms until the end.  Which is exactly how she would've wanted it.  And that's how we wanted it.

So to my dear, sweet, beautiful girl, my little Snickerdoodle, I love you.  I miss you.

adapted slightly from King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion

1/2 c. Shortening
1/2 c. Butter, unsalted
1 1/2 c. Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
2 3/4 c. All Purpose Flour
3/4 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1 Large Egg

2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 c. Sugar

Preheat oven to 400.
Lightly grease your cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
Using a mixer, cream together the shortening and butter until smooth.
Add in your sugar and vanilla, mixing well.
Mix in your egg until well combined.
While that's working, whisk together your flour, salt, nutmeg, and baking powder in a large bowl.
To your creamed butter and shortening mixture, slowly add in your flour mixture, scraping the bowl every once in a while.
Now you need to mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl.
Using a Tbsp. measuring spoon, take some dough and roll into balls.
Then roll your dough ball in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
Place on prepared cookie sheets and, using the end of a drinking glass that's been dipped into your cinnamon-sugar, press lightly until each dough ball is flattened.
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.
Cool on rack and store in air-tight containers.

(all professional photos are copyright Diane Lewis Photography.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap - Triple Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2014

YOU GET A COOKIE!  AND YOU GET A COOKIE!  AND YOU GET A COOKIE!!  That's pretty much what you feel when you have three different batches of cookies shipped to your house.  Yes folks, I once again participated in the 4th Annual Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  Which meant three different people got to feel this way from me and three different people made ME feel this way :)  Isn't Christmas fun?

Christmas is mostly about the cooking baking.  Am I right or am I right?  But Christmas is also about giving back, whether its through donations to a local charity or partaking in a fundraiser.  Which is another reason why I LOVE doing this cookie swap.  Each participant must donate $4 to Cookies to Kid's Cancer in order to have cookies sent to you and then our brand partners, OXO, Dixie Crystals, Brownie Brittle, and California Olive Ranch would MATCH the donations.  This year?  We had 566 participants.  Which meant that IN TOTAL, we raised over $12k for Cookies for Kids Cancer!  How amazing is that??

Now since we all know that calories don't count during the holidays, I got cookies from these amazing bloggers:
Christmas Cake Batter Cookies from Currently Coveting (my husband's favorite)
Cinnamon Pinwheel Bites from Confessions of a Foodie (my favorite - because OMG cinnamon.)
Everything Butterscotch Bars from The Food Driven Life (my bestie's favorite)

These lovely ladies received my no-calorie cookies:
The Spiffy Cookie
from Captain's Daughter to Army Mom
The Skinny Chick Can Bake

We all know that fall is all about pumpkin.  But Christmas is where peppermint reigns!  Once you get past Thanksgiving, all those pumpkin things turn into peppermint.  Peppermint shakes.  Peppermint lattes.  Peppermint pie.  Peppermint cookies.  When I was going over what to bake for the cookie swap with my family and friends, I took a poll and these cookies were the unanimous winner.  I think the peppermint and the fact that it's Christmas time made people biased.  (Next year, I may do something crazy and make piƱa colada cookies just to shake people up. haha)  Since chocolate is totally acceptable at any moment, any day, any time of the year, these make for the perfect Christmas cookie - chocolate and peppermint!  What could possibly go wrong??

Triple Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
adapted from Andes Mints

2 c. + 2 Tbsp. All Purpose Flour
½ c. Hot Cocoa Mix
½ tsp. Baking Soda
½ tsp. Salt
1 c. Unsalted Butter, melted
1 c. Brown Sugar, firmly packed
½ c. Granulated Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
2 Large Eggs
1 – 10 oz. package Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips
½ c. Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (I used mini chips but full-size works fine)
½ c. White Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, hot cocoa mix, baking soda, and salt.
In a large bowl, use a mixer on medium speed to beat your melted butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla until creamy.
Beat in your eggs, one at a time.
Slowly mix in your flour mixture until well combined.
Stir in your peppermint chips, chocolate chips, and white chocolate chips.
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a non-stick cookie sheet (or one lined with parchment paper), placing cookies two inches apart.
Bake for 10-12 minutes.
Let rest on your baking sheet for a minute and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yields around 48 cookies.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Traditional Pumpkin Pie

Do you remember the other day that I mentioned my husband was back in a pumpkin mood?  Well, it seems that his year-long hiatus from pumpkin is now back - with a vengeance .  Not only did I make him pumpkin scones but then he asks me to make him a pumpkin pie!  Can you believe that?  You'd think he thinks I like to bake or something.  I have no idea.  Who knew men could be so demanding?

Generally speaking, I like to keep things traditional.  I'm not someone who makes a bunch of wild and crazy things.  I am interested in making different things but when it comes down to it, I love traditional Southern food.  With Thanksgiving coming up at the end of this week, what is more traditional than a pumpkin pie?  (Of course, every year, I make my Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake because it's awesome but it certainly isn't a recipe you want to make multiple times a year, that's for sure.)

Traditional Pumpkin Pie
adapted slighlty from Libby's Pumpkin

3/4 c. Sugar
2 1/2 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice
2 Eggs (large)
1 - 15 oz. can Pumpkin
1 - 12 oz. can Evaporated Milk
1 unbaked Deep Dish Pie Shell  (no deep dish?  That's fine - this recipe will make 2 regular size pies.)

Preheat your oven to 425 with your cookie sheet.
Mix sugar and spices together in a large bowl.
Then beat in your eggs.
Stir the pumpkin into your egg mixture.
Gently stir in the evaporated milk.
Pour into your unbaked pie shell.  (Your shell will be VERY FULL!)
GENTLY transfer your pie to the oven and onto your preheated baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Reduce your oven temperature to 350.  (Do not open your oven.)
Bake for an additional 40 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.  (Mine took right at 40 minutes.)
Cool on a wire rack for at least two hours.
Then refrigerate or serve immediately... preferably with whipped cream.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tips-n-Tricks Tuesday - Baking Filled Pies

Fall y'all.  Is there really any other time that makes us want to make pies more often than fall?  Apple.  Pumpkin.  Sweet Potato.  I mean, come on people!  And let's just be honest - we all know that everyone and their brother makes a pumpkin pie at some point between September 1st and November 30th.  My husband already made me make him one (recipe coming soon).  So that leads me to today's tip.... how do you make sure your bottom crust cooks properly when you're making a filled pie??  We've all had it happen - you go to cut that first slice only to realize that your bottom crust didn't cook all the way.  And then we want to sob because we wanted it PERFECT!!! 

The best way to help ensure that the bottom crust of your filled pies cooks perfectly is as simple as preheating a cookie sheet.  By preheating your cookie sheet before placing your pie on it, you allow a stronger heat to be absorbed through the base.  Which makes the cooking process start on the top and bottom of your pie, rather than your cooking starting from the top and working its way down (which results in a soggy crust).

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pumpkin Scones with Cinnamon Chips

Many of my regular readers will know how much my husband loves pumpkin.  I've spoken about this many times.  Well, last year, suddenly he tells me that he's "off" pumpkin.  I apparently had made too many pumpkin things the year before and so he wasn't really feeling it.  I actually felt his forehead - I thought he was sick!  We have been together for seven years now (gee, where did the time go?) and he has always been, "Oh I love pumpkin!", "Make me something pumpkin!"  So you'll see why I wondered if I needed to rush him to the emergency room.  Or knock some sense into him... I wasn't really sure which.  So my mother-in-law (Hi!) calls me around a week ago asking if her son is still "off" pumpkin - she was as concerned as I was over that little development last year - and I was happy to report that he was, in fact, back in love with pumpkin!  We could all breath a little easier now.

Once my husband had made his happy announcement that he wanted pumpkin once more, off I went in search of recipes.  It had been a really long time since I'd made scones so I really wanted to make a pumpkin scone.  Apparently the recipe gods heard me because the very next day, my November issue of Bon Appetit magazine arrived in my mailbox and there it was:  Pumpkin Scones.  And as luck would have it, I actually had all the ingredients!  Oh happy day!  The original recipe included a cinnamon butter recipe and mixed cranberries into the scones.  Well, the husband doesn't like cranberries so I decided to meet-in-the-middle of this recipe and mixed in cinnamon chips (which are probably one of my favorite ingredients EVER).

I love making scones, almost as much as I love making cookies.  But scones can be deceiving.  When you add in your liquid ingredients, your dry ingredients look like they will never come together.  But PLEASE don't add in any more liquid.  Everything will come together, I promise.  I made the mistake of adding one tablespoon of extra liquid and it made my scones too sticky.  You want your dough to be on the dry side.

Pumpkin Scones with Cinnamon Chips
adapted slightly from Bon Appetit (Nov. 2014)

1/2 c. Sugar
2 tsp. Baking Powder
2 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Baking Soda
2 c. All Purpose Flour
3/4 c. Butter, unsalted (1 1/2 sticks)
1/2 c. Cinnamon Chips
1 Egg
1/2 c. Pumpkin (Libby's canned pumpkin)
1/4 c. Buttermilk

In a large bowl, whisk together your sugar, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, salt, baking soda, and flour.
Using the large holes on a box grater, grate in your butter.  (Placing your butter in the freezer 30 minutes prior to grating and it'll go so much easier.)
Toss the butter in the dry ingredients to coat.
Mix in your cinnamon chips.
Now add your egg, pumpkin, and buttermilk, stirring to combine.  (Remember this may not look like enough liquid but keep going - it'll all come together.)
Transfer the dough to some parchment paper that's been lightly floured and pat into a 1 1/2" thick disk.
Cut into 8 wedges.
Freeze until firm, around 25 to 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Pumpkin-y goodness.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Small Batch Pineapple Jam

Ladies, lets talk about something men just don't understand - the clearance section.  I know I'm not alone in my love for a deal!  I still talk about the time I got $40 shoes for $3 (gold sandals at JCPenney's, by the way).  My best friend knows that if we're Target, we are going to go see the endcaps to see what steals and deals they have.  I tell my husband all the time that if we ever get separated in a store, he can always find me in the clearance section.  Now, one of the surprising places to find a deal is the produce section of your grocery store.  Did you know that sometimes they will put produce that's maybe not quite as pretty as it once was on clearance?  Me neither - at least until a few months ago.  Now I love pineapple whether its in juice form or chunks - I love it all.  But pineapples can be expensive.  My local grocery store usually has them for $4.99 each.  Which, for folks on a budget, spending $5 on a pineapple sometimes doesn't make the final list.  So when I came across a pineapple wrapped up in the cling film that was marked $.69?  Yeah, that was going in my cart!  No it wouldn't be winning any special awards for appearance and it wasn't going to last long on the counter either.  No, this needed something to make it last MUCH longer...

Enter Pomona's Pectin.  I LOVE this stuff!  Pomona's Pectin allows the at-home canner to make jams and jellies (and lots of other things, according to their website) using much less sugar than your traditional pectin.  For example: strawberry jam using traditional pectin requires THREE CUPS of sugar. THREE! Using Pomona's Pectin, I use ONE CUP for the exact same amount of fruit. Talk about a big difference!  And I don't know about you but I find a lot of fresh fruits don't actually need that much sugar so it's great to see a product that will allow me to have much more control over the sugars rather than letting the sugar control me.  The insert that comes with the packets of pectin have plenty of jam and jelly ideas for you to try.  The pineapple jam had always intrigued me but, as you can guess, pineapple never stuck around long enough in my house to ever be made into jam.  But now, I had a pineapple that was just begging to made into jam.

Also, as a side note... as many of my readers know, I like to steer clear of preservatives and keep things as natural as possible.  Now, I will occasionally use tradition pectin because - well, sometimes a tradition is a tradition for a reason.  But have you looked on the side of a traditional Ball Fruit Pectin jar? It's dextrose (which is a type of sugar), fruit pectin, and citric acid.  Not exactly something I wanted to see.  But Pomona's Pectin?  From their website: "Pomona's Universal Pectin contains only 100% pure citrus pectin, which is vegan, gluten free, and GMO free.  There are no additives, preservatives, sugar, or dextrose.  There are no corn or apple by-products."  Now that sounds like a product I can get behind!  (side note:  I didn't get any compensation from Pomona's Pectin - I bought this product and I use it with quite a bit of regularity.)

So for the next question:  where can you find this wonderful product?  I found mine at my local Williams-Sonoma but you can also find it at Whole Foods Markets.  You can also order from Amazon (Prime eligible).  On their website, they do have a Store Locator to help you find it at a store near you.

Pineapple Jam
recipe from insert in Pomona's Pectin

2 c. Pineapple, mashed (one pineapple gave me the full amount)
1 c. Sugar
1 tsp. Pectin Powder (included in Pomona's Pectin)
1 tsp. Calcium Water (included in Pomona's Pectin)

Get your jars prepared by washing them and letting them stand in a pot of hot, simmering water (making sure the water is at least one inch higher than the top of the jars).
In a separate bowl, measure your sugar and mix in the pectin powder.
Pour the mashed fruit into a pan (DO NOT USE CAST IRON!) and stir in the calcium water.
Bring the fruit to a boil.
Add in your sugar and stir vigorously for 1-2 minutes until the pectin and sugar dissolves.
Bring the fruit mixture back up to a boil.
Remove from the heat.
Remove your warm jars from the water and turn up the heat, letting your water come to a boil.
Fill your warm jars to 1/4" from the top and wipe the rims clean.
Screw on your two piece, screwing them just "finger tight" (until you can't tighten anymore just using your fingers).
Return your jars into the boiling water.
Boil for 10 minutes (if you're above sea level, add 1 minute to each 1000 feet above sea level).
Remove from the water and let the jars cool with a towel draped over them.
The jars are sealed when you hear a loud pop as they cool.  (Unsealed jars should be eaten within three weeks and kept in the fridge.)

Makes two half pints.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Quick and Easy Banana Bread

Don't you just love it when some things in life just come together so perfectly?  I'd gone through a string of not-so-great recipes and then I got super busy so there was minimal posting on my blog (as you may have noticed).  Last week, I wanted some bananas.  I love raw bananas - the greener, the better.  Yes, I'm weird, I know.  My husband doesn't like bananas.  Which, of course, means my husband is even weirder than me!  So I ate the bananas I wanted and I ended up having three sitting on my counter.  They'd started to turn black and since I'm a firm believer of "waste not, want not", I HAD to make something out of these bananas.  Knowing the husband wasn't going to be eating anything, I decided to make banana bread.  While I may not be the biggest fan (I'll eat it if I feel like it), my mom and best friend love banana bread.  I wanted to try out a somewhat simple recipe since it had been SO long since I'd made it.  Luckily, this turned out REALLY good (although not as good as my best friend's banana bread, who currently owns the title of "Best Banana Bread" in our families).  It's super simple and I'd bet you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry right now.

Quick and Easy Banana Bread
adapted slightly from King Arthur Flour

1/4 c. Canola Oil
3/4 c. Brown Sugar, packed (light or dark)
3 Eggs
1 1/2 Bananas, mashed (about 3)
2 1/4 Baking Mix (I used this but Bisquick will work just fine)
1/2 tsp. Ground Allspice
1/2 c. Chopped Pecans (or walnuts)

Preheat your oven to 350.
Spray a 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan with cooking spray with flour.
In a large bowl, whisk your oil and sugar until combined.
Add in the eggs and keep whisking til it all comes together.
Add in your mashed bananas, baking mix, and allspice and mix until blended.
Stir in the nuts until its evenly distributed.
Pour into your loaf pan and bake for 60 minutes, laying a piece aluminum foil over the top after 30 minutes to prevent overbrowning.
You'll know its done when a toothpick is inserted and comes out clean.
Allow the bread to cool for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan so it can cool completely on a wire rack.
Eat and enjoy :)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Budget Friendly Dinner Series - Chicken Tamale Casserole

Have you ever had one of those days where you just go, "I don't know if I have the strength to make dinner?"  It's just been a terrible day at work, the kids are begging for attention, the dog is barking (or the cat keeps trying to trip you), and you just want to reach for the take-out menu or call the nearest pizza place that offers delivery.  I've been there so I know you have.  And I have a solution!  Chicken Tamale Casserole.  I know, I know.  I'd already done something similar to this on my blog before.  But this is completely different from the Tamale Pie I posted a few months ago.  That used hamburger, this uses chicken; that had lots of veggies, this has none.  This is absolutely one of me and my husband's favorite meals.  It's quick and easy to put together and talk about leftovers!  A 9x13 casserole makes leftovers galore!  This recipe is so simple to put together and its one that allows your kids to help you.  They could help pull the chicken off the bones for this casserole or let them poke lots of holes with a fork after the corn muffin mix cooks.  (After all, getting your kids in the kitchen is a great way to teach them about how to make fresh food and where their food comes from.)

Chicken Tamale Casserole
adapted slightly from Cooking Light

1 c. Mexican Cheese Blend, divided
1/3 c. Skim Milk
1 Egg
1 tsp. Ground Cumin
1 (14.75 oz.) can of Cream-Style Corn
1 (8.5 oz.) box Corn Muffin Mix (I used Jiffy Mix)
1 (4 oz.) can Diced Green Chiles, drained
1 (10 oz.) can Red Enchilada Sauce
2 c. Shredded Chicken (I used a rotisserie chicken that I bought at the grocery store)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray.
Combine 1/4 cup of cheese, milk, egg, cumin, can of cream-style corn, and the box of corn muffin mix, stirring until just moist.
Pour the mixture into your 9x13 pan.
Bake for 15 minutes or until set.
Now take a fork and poke holes all over the corn muffins!
Pour the can of enchilada sauce over the corn muffins.
Top with chicken and sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup of cheese over the top (feel free to add more cheese if you're so inclined).
Bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the cheese melts.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for five minutes before serving.
Eat and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pineapple Pie

Have you ever had a time where you plan and plan and everything just goes the complete opposite of what you were intending?  And yet, somehow, inexplicably, it turns out better than you had ever realized?  Yeah?  So its not just me.  Good to know.

The husband and I were invited to a cookout at my friend's house.  She was recently engaged and wanted to throw a cookout to celebrate.  (Well, technically she had planned the cookout before she got engaged and since the proposal was a surprise, she didn't know that at the time she was planning both a cookout and an engagement party.  Again - you plan something and it changes and ends up being better than you first thought.)  I wanted to make a dessert.  Gee.  I wonder why...  What I had planned on making was this really cool thing called fruit pizza. The base is a sugar cookie dough with a sweetened cream cheese frosting that you top with fresh fruit.  I was so excited!  Everything was going great - I had made the giant sugar cookie in a pizza pan and the cream cheese frosting tasted very yummy.  Until... I went to cut the sugar cookie and it stuck to the pan. (Nonstick my foot.)  Then it cracked and crumbled.  My pizza was no longer looking like a pizza.  Knowing I had NO time to prepare a new sugar cookie pizza "crust", I just changed things up.  I cut out the sugar cookie into two bite portions and somehow managed to save the day.

After this cookout, the husband and I were planning a little cookout of our own the next day (this was back during Memorial Day weekend) and I had planned on making a lemon dessert.  Then I couldn't find my recipe.  So I had to find another one and, as usual, I never had all of the ingredients.  So I decided to go in a totally different direction!  To top my fruit pizza, I had purchased loads of fresh strawberries, fresh blueberries, and a fresh pineapple.  Since I was expecting to use much more fruit than I actually ended up using, I had plenty of fruit leftover - especially the pineapple.  I knew I wanted to make a pie so I went in search of a pineapple pie.  Just to see if such a thing existed.  And, lo and behold, it was!! Except pretty much every recipe used canned pineapple.  But I had a fresh one! So I continued to search.  And finally, my search proved, well, fruitful (pun intended... hehe)!  This pie is fresh, delicious, simple, and a wonderful way to show off the natural sweetness of the pineapple.

Pineapple Pie
adapted from Lottie + Doof

4 Eggs
3/4 c. Sugar
Juice of one Lime
1/4 t. Salt
1/4 c. All Purpose Flour
1/4 c. Butter, melted
2 c. Fresh Pineapple, chopped
Deep Dish Pie Crust (uncooked)

Preheat your oven AND a baking sheet to 450.
In a large bowl, mix your eggs, sugar, lime juice, and salt.
In a smaller bowl, combine the flour and melted butter.
Whisk a small amount of your flour and butter mixture into your eggs to temper them... then you can add in the rest of the butter and flour.  (We don't want scrambled eggs in our pie, now do we?)
Stir in the pineapple.
Pour everything into your unbaked pie shell.
Take your preheated baking sheet out of the oven, gently place your pie onto it.  (Why?  If you preheat your baking sheet, it helps the bottom crust cook more evenly.)
Gently cover with foil, doing your best to keep the foil from touching the pineapple filling (otherwise it'll stick to the foil as it cooks.)
Bake for 20 minutes, rotating it in the oven after 10 minutes (more even cooking goodness).
Lower the oven temp to 350 and continue baking for 30 to 40 minutes.
The pie will be done when the center doesn't jiggle when you shake it.
Cool completely and my husband recommends that you serve (slightly warmed) with ice cream.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Budget Friendly Dinner Series - Goulash

Have you ever noticed how comfort foods are always southern foods?  You don't see someone asking for lobster rolls or clam chowder or some sort of salad with green goddess dressing.  No.  They want fried chicken, chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes, or your grandma's vegetable soup.  My definition of comfort food is my mom's spaghetti and my late grandmother's boiled potatoes.  I know it sounds strange to say some plain boiled potatoes are a comfort food.  But I'll tell you, nobody, and I mean NOBODY, could make boiled potatoes like my grandma. When I was little and we would visit my mom's parents on Sundays, we always had a big spread of food and it was pretty much a rule that my grandma would make boiled potatoes.  They were my favorite things EVER.  It didn't matter what else was on the table, I was diving in to the potatoes.  And they had usually just come out of the ground only a matter of hours beforehand.  I can plainly remember walking out to the garden with my grandpa, saying "hello" to his dog, Prince, and pulling potatoes straight from the ground for lunch.  My grandmother has since passed away, and with her, the way to make those potatoes.  My mom and my aunt have tried to replicate her recipe but they've never come close.  So, grandma, if you're reading this, I expect a giant pot of boiled potatoes waiting for me whenever I pass through those Pearly Gates!!

To me, this recipe is one of those foods that can be considered a comfort food - tomatoes, beef, and noodles all coming together in a large pot.  Top it with cheese and you've got yourself a meal that will make you feel good when you're sick or better when you've had a bad day.  The other nice thing about this?  If you are a family of two (like me and the husband), this recipe will last you for a dinner and a couple of lunches too.  Its easily doubled for a family of four!

Note:  Because the beef is cooked and not drained, I really recommend that you use 93/7 ground beef so that you can keep the grease to a minimum.

adapted slightly from Y'all Come Eat

1 1/2 lb. Ground Beef (93/7 preferred)
1 Large Onion, finely chopped
14.5 oz. can Petite Diced Tomatoes
15 oz. can Tomato Sauce
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
2 tsp. Italian Seasoning
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
1 c. Elbow Macaroni

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, cook your onion and ground beef together over medium-high heat until the beef is no longer pink and the onions are soft.
Add in all of your other ingredients except for the macaroni.
Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
Stir in the macaroni and cook for an additional 20 minutes.
Let the goulash stand for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
(We like to top it with some cheddar cheese!)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Strawberry Icebox Dessert

Let's talk about strawberries for a moment.  Just a minute.  Could there possibly be anything bad about a strawberry?  They are sweet no matter how you eat them.  They're special - the only fruit to have its seeds on the outside.  (Didn't know that, did ya?)  Dogs can eat them.  Speaking of dogs.....

This is Bella.  She belongs to my best friend.  And she loves fruit better than any dog I have ever seen.  So when I was cutting up the strawberries for this dessert, this is the look I got.
If anyone has a Dachshund, you will understand what this stare is.  It's constant and unblinking (almost).  You feel the tingles along the back of your neck and you know, you just KNOW, that when you turn around, those big brown eyes are going to be on you.  The entire time I was cutting up those strawberries for this dessert, I felt her eyes on me.  The ENTIRE time.  And Bella knows I'm a pushover when it comes to dogs.  Always have been, always will be.  If you're a pushover for a dog, they will know it and they will exploit it.  So it should come as no surprise to anyone that this dog totally got to be the taste tester for the strawberries we had.

This recipe is absolutely PERFECT for a summertime get-together.  There is no baking involved so no need to make your kitchen even hotter in the summertime. The combination of the cold whipped cream cheese with the fresh strawberries is utter perfection.  However, that being said, this recipe only lasts for around two days in the fridge before the graham crackers start becoming... well, not-so-good. They turn to mush and that's just not appealing to anyone.  So if you're having a picnic or family reunion and want to show off a dessert that looks and tastes like you put a lot more effort into it than you actual did, this is the recipe for you!

Strawberry Icebox Dessert
adapted slightly from Taste of the South magazine

8 oz. block Cream Cheese, softened (full fat
3/4 c. Powdered/Confectioners' Sugar
2 1/2 c. Heavy Whipping Cream
1 tsp. Vanilla
15 sheets Honey Graham Crackers
4 c. Fresh Strawberries, sliced

Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer in a large bowl until smooth.
Add in your cream and vanilla.
Beat a high speed until stiff peaks form.  (What are stiff peaks?  Stiff peaks happen when you lift your mixer's beaters out of the cream mixture and it forms a peak that doesn't fall over.  Need a visual?  Here ya go.)
In the bottom of an 11x7 inch baking dish, spread 1/2 cup of the whipping cream blend.
Place 5 of the graham cracker sheets along the bottom of the baking dish (you'll have four go the long way and then you'll break up the final one to fit along the tops).
Take one-third of the REMAINING cream mixture and spread along the graham crackers.
Top with 1 1/3 c. strawberries.
Repeat with the final two layers of graham crackers - whipped cream - strawberries.
NOTE:  Press gently after placing the graham crackers on the strawberries.  It will help fit the whole thing in your 11x7 pan because you won't believe three layers will fit!
Refrigerate for one to six hours.
Eat and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Budget Friendly Dinner Series - Easy Cottage Pie

It's been quite some time since I've posted on this blog :(  Bad Jamie.  Things on the homefront got a bit stressful and chaotic since my last post and I just couldn't get around to it.  I'll try to do better in the future.

I'm a big fan of pretty much anything British.  I love British television (it's just so much better quality - I mean, have you SEEN Downton Abbey?) and I love, LOVE British accents.  (I've always told my husband that he'd never have a problem with me staying married to him unless we went to England because the accents would probably make me want to run off with the first British bloke I came across... or Scottish.  I have a soft spot for David Tennant a.k.a. the Tenth Doctor on Doctor Who.)  I also love their history and sense of duty.  Their countryside is to die for.  And let's not forget about the Royal Family.  (Prince George is just too adorable for words.)

One of the things I also have a love for is recipes from other countries.  I have a British bread baking book and I love exploring food blogs where they talk about how this recipe came from their Danish grandmother or how a food helped a family make it through the Great Depression.  Food history is just amazing to me!  So needless to say, me finding some British recipes to try at home was not a big stretch.  This recipe is often referred to as Shepherd's Pie because it is traditionally made using lamb.  Well, anyone who knows me knows that I don't eat lamb (or veal for that matter) so I make mine using hamburger.  According to the Brits, what I make has a name - Cottage Pie.  And this recipe?  You can bet its a staple in Hoad Cottage :)

Cottage Pie
adapted from Kraft Food and Family

1 lb. Ground Beef (I use 93/7)
2 c. Mashed Potatoes*
1/2 c. Cheddar Cheese
Frozen Vegetables (I use corn and green peas but feel free to use a preselect frozen vegetable mixture.  If using a mixture with carrots, thaw first.)
12 oz. jar Beef Gravy (I use Heinz)

* - I usually whip up a 4 portion serving of mashed potatoes using instant potato flakes in my microwave.  It makes the perfect amount for the topping.

Preheat the oven to 375.
Brown and drain the hamburger.
Make the mashed potatoes in your microwave, according the package directions.
Wipe out the remaining grease from your pan and return your drained beef to it.
Add in your frozen vegetables - use as much or as little as you like but don't exceed four cups of veggies!
Now mix in the gravy.
Pour the beef mixture into an 8x8 pan.
Cover the beef with mashed potatoes.  (Don't worry about making it look pretty.  Rustic is good!)
Top your potatoes with shredded cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes.

okay, it's not pretty but it sure does taste good!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Gooey Butter Cookies

One of my biggest things lately is limiting preservatives and trying to make as much as possible from scratch.  Which usually always works out well unless I have a migraine and develop a sudden need for chocolate.  In that case, making it into the kitchen just doesn't happen.  Or when I'm really busy and I promised my husband that I'd make him muffins and.... yeah, sometimes it doesn't always work.  And then there are times like these.  Where using a simple, basic cake mix will make my life a million times easier and produce a cookie that is almost too good to be true.  And this cookie is.

My pumpkin gooey butter cake is a staple at my Thanksgiving table.  I've been told that if I show up without it, I will be turned away at the door.  But I don't like too many pumpkin things.  I know that it can be made without the pumpkin but the cake itself is so rich and decadent that Ryan and I couldn't possibly make just one for us.  Then I came across this recipe for a COOKIE version of this cake.  It was like the angels sang and the heavens opened... or that could've just been the clouds moving out of the way.  We're going to pretend that it was a mystical experience and that the entire universe wanted me to make these cookies.  So I did.  And they are some of the quickest and easiest cookies in the world to make - certainly pretty enough to be served to guests or when you sneak in a midnight glass of milk and a cookie.

Note:  This recipe calls for UNSALTED butter.  I have made this recipe twice, once with salted and once with unsalted butter.  And it does make a difference. When you make this with the salted butter, all you taste is salt.  When I made it with the unsalted butter, all you tasted was sweet perfection.

Gooey Butter Cookies
modified from Confessions of a Cookbook Queen

1 box Vanilla Cake Mix
1 - 8 oz. block Cream Cheese, room temp
1/2 c. Butter, UNSALTED, softened
1 Egg
Powdered Sugar

In a stand mixer, combine your butter and cream cheese.
Add in your egg and mix together.
Slowly add in you cake mix and mix thoroughly.  (Your batter will be THICK.)
Place in the fridge for around 30 minutes, just to firm up the batter.
Preheat oven to 350.
Put some powdered sugar in a bowl.
Using a tablespoon, scoop out some batter and roll it into a circle and then roll it in your powdered sugar.
Place on a cookie sheet, around an inch apart.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the cookies are set (they're going to seem underdone and that's okay).
Cool on a wire rack.
Eat and enjoy!!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Budget Friendly Dinner Series - Skillet Tamale Pie

So two weeks ago, this happened:

I burnt my hand.  Badly.  I had second degree burns over pretty much half of my hand.  The other half had minor, first degree burns.  How did this happen?  One this particular night, I was making pork chops and roasted apples.  Roasting involves.... the oven.  So in a stainless steel skillet, I had my apples.  I threw on an oven mitt and pulled the skillet out of the oven and put it on the stove.  While finishing my pork chops, I needed to move the skillet.  And I grabbed the skillet. The same skillet that just come out of a 400 degree oven just a few minutes before.  Needless to say, I let go rather quickly.  So I ended up in the emergency room because I was in so much pain (I had second degree burns!!).  The nurse who took my vitals saw me clutching a washcloth-covered bag of ice and said, "You have a burn.  You don't need to be using ice on your hand."  I told her, "Look, this ice is the only thing keeping me from crying in pain.  I'm keeping the ice."  We have still yet to figure out how my ring finger and thumb escaped being burnt.  I had to keep my hand wrapped like this for over a week due to the blisters on my hand.  Typing and writing was... difficult to say the least.  And cooking was really out of the question because, of course, I burnt my right hand which is my dominant hand.  Ryan and I like to joke that my pork chops and roasted apples is the most expensive meal we've ever eaten at home! :)

So I was out of commission for quite some time.  Once I was able to start cooking again, I had this craving for a tamale pie that I'd made once before.  I only had to find the recipe.  If you know me well enough, you know I have a great many cookbooks.  As in - A LOT.  I knew I had this recipe, I just wasn't sure where it was.  After quite a bit of time looking, I finally found it!  One of the things I love about this recipe is how versatile it is.  If you want to add more veggies, you can. Or if you have picky eaters who don't want a lot of veggies, you can add and subtract as you see fit.  It's super easy and very easy on the wallet!

Skillet Tamale Pie
adapted slightly from America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook

2 tsp. Canola Oil
1 Onion, minced
1 Red Bell Pepper, chopped fine
2 Tbsp. Chili Powder
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 lb. 93/7 Ground Beef
1 15-oz. can Black Beans, rinsed
1 14.5-oz. can Petite Diced Tomatoes, drained
3/4 c. Frozen Corn
1 c. Shredded Cheddar Cheese

1 Box Jiffy Mix
1 Egg
1/3 c. Milk

Preheat oven to 450.
Heat the oil in an 12 inch ovenproof skillet to medium heat and add onion, bell pepper, and chili powder and cook until the onion is softened and the bell pepper is cooked through.
Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
Mix in the ground beef, beans, tomatoes, and corn and cook until the beef is no longer pink.
Drain and add back into the pan.
Add in the cheddar cheese and cover while you make the topping.
In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the topping (so hard, right?).
Using a rubber spatula, spread the corn muffin topping over as much of the beef mixture as you can (it's not going to be perfect - just says it's "rustic"!).
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the center of the topping is golden brown and cooked through.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.