Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chicken Caesar Wraps

If you love a good chicken Caesar salad this is the wrap sandwich for you. I have been making this recipe for at least the last decade and it is one of my go-to sandwiches for packing when we have a busy day.

In fact since my daughter is an ice skater and she is competing this weekend; this is what I am packing for us to eat during our busy day. It is super easy because you use one of those pre-packaged salad mixes that has the Caesar dressing, croutons, and romaine lettuce in it, just adding a few ingredients that are normally on hand.

Chicken Caesar Wraps

1 (7 ½ ounce) Caesar salad kit
1 cup chopped cooked chicken
4 flour tortillas (8" to 9" size)
2 Tablespoons freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

Begin by crushing the croutons that come in the kit and setting them to the side. In a large bowl combine the remaining contents of the salad kit and the chicken.

Divide the chicken/salad mixture between your tortillas sprinkle with the crushed croutons and the Parmesan cheese.

Roll up and wrap in wax paper or foil. Keep cold until lunch time
Makes 4 tasty wrap sandwiches

Friday, April 29, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup-cakes

What is it about that delightful combination of chocolate and peanut butter? I know it gets me every time I see it; I just have to have it. This cupcake and frosting combination is one I have been making here for a long time and it is always a real favorite.

Chocolate Cupcakes

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cocoa powder
½ cup all vegetable shortening
¾ cup water (or for an extra special flavor use cold left over coffee)
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Prepare muffin pan with paper cupcake liners (20-24)
Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and add the shortening. With a mixer beat to combine well. Add water and vanilla and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add eggs and beat another 2 minutes.
Transfer batter to prepared pan
Bake approximately 15 to 20 minutes (test with a toothpick)

Peanut Butter Frosting

2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup all vegetable shortening
3 Tablespoons milk

Combine powdered sugar, peanut butter and shortening in mixing bowl and beat to combine. Gradually add milk to make frosting consistency you want, beating for at least 3 minutes to get a nice fluffy frosting.
I prefer to use a disposable decorating bag (or a ziplock storage bag with the corner cut off) to apply this frosting to the cupcakes.

Sprinkle with chocolate sprinkles if desired.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Deviled Eggs

I always seem to crave deviled eggs the week after Easter; probably a leftover from when the kids were little and I had a bunch of colored eggs to deal with. This week I made a basic deviled egg to share with you, nothing fancy although it is certainly easy to change up. I used capers because I always have them in the fridge but if you don’t have any or just don’t like them feel free to substitute chopped pickles, chopped olives, chopped green onions or chopped green chilies; just be sure to chop them small (about the size of those capers) so they mix well in the yolk mixture.

Deviled Eggs

6 hard cooked eggs
¼ cup mayonnaise
3 Tablespoons capers
1 ½ teaspoons prepared mustard
Dry dill weed, salt and pepper to taste
Dill and paprika for garnish (optional)

Peel and cut your hard cooked eggs in half lengthwise. In a small mixing bowl mash the yolks with a fork then add mayonnaise, capers, mustard, dill, salt and pepper and combine into a smooth mixture. Using a spoon or pastry bag fill the egg white halves with the yolk mixture. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.
Sprinkle with additional dry dill and paprika just before serving.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hamburger and Pasta Skillet

I know I sound like a broken record talking about having foods in the freezer ready to make meals with but I am firm believer in doing this so I am going to talk about it. Today I am sharing a recipe for both a Hamburger and pasta dish that is really so much better than the ones you get in the box (you know what I’m talking about) and really just a quick to get on the table. This recipe relies on a base mix that I try to keep in the freezer all the time. I make this base up every few months in large batches and freeze it to make lots of different types of dishes. This process can be called “freezer cooking”  or “investment cooking” or any of several other terms. They all mean basically the same thing, you cook and freeze to use later. I have been doing this off and on for probably 20 or more years and I have notebooks (literally) filled with my favorite recipes. Today’s “Basic Meat Combo” is really versatile and I will share more recipes to use it in in the near future. It will keep in the freezer for about 3 months and will make 5 dinners each serving at least 4 people.

If you have your pasta and veggies already pre-cooked and in the fridge ready to go you can actually have the Hamburger and Pasta Skillet on the table in about 20 minutes (I timed it while I cooked this time)

Basic Meat Combo

¼ cup vegetable oil or shortening
4 sliced onions
4 garlic cloves, minced (or grated)
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
5 pound lean ground beef
5 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
3 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 cups ketchup
Hot sauce to taste

In a large skillet over medium heat cook the onions, garlic, celery and carrots until tender. Add the ground beef; stir and cook breaking the meat up until the meat is cooked through. Drain off most of the excess fat, Add the remaining ingredients and combine thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings. Cover and simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes to allow the flavors to combine.

Cool and evenly divide between 5 pint size containers (pint= 2 cups) use a spoon to stir the mixture in the containers a bit to get rid of any air pockets. Label and freeze for up 3 months.

Hamburger and Pasta Skillet

1 pint container of Basic Meat Combo (recipe above) thawed
3 cups of cooked pasta (any pasta will do, I used whole wheat today)
2 cups cooked vegetables (leftover or frozen ones you have thawed)
1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
1 Tablespoon Italian herb seasoning
½ cup shredded cheese (your favorite)

In a large skillet  over medium heat combine all ingredients except the cheese, cover and cook  until heated through about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Be sure to taste and adjust the seasoning at this point. Sprinkle cheese over top (don’t stir in) cover and allow cheese to melt.

Serves 4 or 5

Ham and Walnut Pasta

I have one more recipe here to help you use up some of that leftover Ham from the weekend. This one came about because I was in the mood to try something new so I began searching through my cookbooks. I came upon a recipe that looked interesting but I had less than 1/3 of the original ingredients on hand. However, the concept (browning some breadcrumbs to add to the pasta) intrigued me. I read through the recipe then headed into my kitchen. I then made choices from what was available in the cabinets, fridge and pantry and this is what I came up with. It really in no way resembles the recipe I saw in the book but we loved it. In fact my daughter and I fought over who got the leftovers for lunch the next day. (We reached a compromise and split it)

Ham and Walnut Pasta

1 pound spaghetti
¼ cup chopped walnuts
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs
½ pound cooked ham, cubed
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped
10 ounce bag fresh spinach
½ cup cooking water from the pasta
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Start by getting your water to cook your pasta in boiling, you will want to be cooking you pasta while you are making the rest so go ahead and add the pasta when the water boils. Drain pasta when it is cooked. Be sure to reserve ½ cup of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, in a sauté pan toast the walnuts until they just begin to turn a bit brown and you begin to smell them. Add the olive oil and breadcrumbs and cook until the mixture browns. Remove this from the nut mixture to a bowl to save for later and wipe the pan out.

In the same pan combine the ham, crushed red pepper, and garlic and cook to brown the meat and toast the garlic a bit. Add the spinach and ½ cup of water that the pasta is cooking in (this will not only cook the spinach but there is starch from the pasta will help the sauce to form) and cover to cook the spinach.

Toss the pasta, the spinach mixture, the nut mixture and lemon juice to combine. Top with some parmesan cheese if desired.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

In the Name of Simplicity

I am very lucky to have a couple of wonderful produce stores that I can visit on a regular basis. Today I made one of my favorite stops at E.Z. Orchards just north of Salem Oregon. I try to stop there anytime I am anywhere near it. They not only have some of the best fresh produce I have ever seen they also have a wonderful little gourmet food department and some doughnuts that are to die for (be sure to look for the bowls of doughnut samples as you come in the door) Always a fun stop.

Since I knew today was going to be busy I went in search of veggies to toss on the grill for dinner. When I am on this type of quest I don't go in with a list I simply let the produce talk to me. As I made my trip through the display of wonderful fresh produce I simply chose those that looked the best and that I knew would grill beautifully. The choices I made today were: asparagus, zucchini, green peppers, some baby crimini mushrooms, and a beautiful basket of mixed cherry tomatoes.

When produce is this fresh and wonderful I like to let it stand on its own. I felt tonight a simple treatment was what was in order so I simply cut the zucchini, asparagus and bell pepper into bite size pieces and combined them with the rest of the choices and added a simple pour of good olive oil and some salt and fresh ground pepper. Since dinner really doesn't seem like a meal with just the veggies I also gave a simple boneless, skinless chicken breast (that I had butter flied) the same simple treatment. At the last minute I grabbed a can of sliced pineapple from the shelf and drained the slices well and added them to the rest of the my gathered supplies. As soon as the grill was hot (be sure you have a mesh grill surface so you don't loose any veggies to the grill) I put the chicken breasts on to start cooking. After a mere 5 minutes I turned the chicken and added the veggies and the pineapple. Two and a half minutes later I turned the veggies and pineapple and gave everything another two and half minutes. At the end of the cooking time I had a marvelous treat that highlighted the fantastic fresh veggies.

So take a trip through a produce store or find a local farmer's market and find the treasures of the day. Especially when the produce is fresh a simple treatment and a turn on the grill is the perfect end to a wonderful spring or summer day.

Q & A with Mummsie April 24, 2011

Emma asks: Mummsie, I notice that when you use brown sugar you seem to always call for dark brown, is there a reason and can I use light brown instead?

Emma, you are right in the recipes I write I usually use dark brown sugar and it is simply because at our house that is what we like the best. Feel free to use the light version in my recipes if that is your preference. All brown sugar really is, is granulated sugar with molasses added to it. The dark brown has more molasses so the molasses flavor is more pronounced and we happen to really like that so that is what I tend to balance the recipes for.

Melanie asks: When a recipe calls for butter should I use salted or unsalted?

Well, that depends partly on who wrote the recipe. When I write a recipe I unless I specify unsalted I am using the regular salted (sometimes called “sweet butter”) because that is generally what I have in the fridge. Unsalted butter has a much shorter lifespan so if I do buy it unless I am using it immediately I store it in the freezer.

Elizabeth asks: When I make cookies I can never get them all the same size, what is your secret to getting them all the same size?

That is a really good question, and it really isn’t a secret. I use a cookie scoop; it looks like an ice cream scoop except it is smaller. I use mine for all kinds of things besides cookies too. I use it to portion out meatballs and to fill the holes in my mini muffin pan. I think I paid $5 or less for mine and I love it.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ham and Cheese Pancake Roll-Ups

I know that many of us will be eating a ham on Easter so I decided to dust off one of my favorite recipes to use some of the leftover ham. First let me say that I love ham just about any way you fix it, but this is a real hit with the entire family. The amounts are flexible so you can tailor it to what your family likes and the amount you have left over.

This time I was in a hurry when I made this and to be honest I used pancake mix to make the pancakes and that is the way I am presenting the recipe. If you would rather to make your pancakes from scratch or any other favorite method feel free to do them that way. Just add the onion and an extra pinch of salt to your batter before you cook them.

Ham and Cheese Pancake Roll-Ups

3 cups of cooked ham, diced
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup all purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups milk
2 Tablespoons mustard (spicy brown or Dijon)
4 dashes of Tabasco sauce
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups of pancake mix (the kind you just add water to)
1 1/3 cups water
1 medium onion, finely diced

Begin by combining the ham and oil in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until the ham begins to brown. Add the flour, salt and pepper and stir over until bubbly. Add milk gradually stirring to combine. Heat to boiling stirring often, boil for about 1 minute then add the mustard and Tabasco sauce. Stir in cheese until mostly melted then turn off heat leaving pan on burner to stay warm. Continue to stir making sure cheese is melted completely before serving.

Meanwhile combine the pancake mix, water and onion mixing to combine. You want to have a slightly thin batter. Cook in a hot skillet using about ½ cup of batter for each pancake (I use a ladle to portion out the batter)

As pancakes cook move to a plate in a warm oven to keep warm until serving time.

To serve spoon ham and cheese sauce mixture onto pancake and roll up.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lemon Butter Catfish

There are some things that I always try to have on hand; frozen fish (of all kinds) is one of those items. One of the things I love about it is that it is really a blank canvass. I can do so much and make it fit into any mood. I sometimes refer to it as the “little black dress of the freezer” simply because it can be dressed up or down to fit any occasion. This fish dish is so easy and although I used catfish you can use your favorite fish fillets either fresh or frozen.

Lemon Butter Catfish

¼ cup all purpose flour
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese (the kind in the can is fine here)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 catfish fillets (thawed if frozen)
1 Tablespoon olive oil (or as needed)
3 Tablespoons butter (divided)
The juice of 1 lemon

Preheat your skillet over medium high heat.
Add oil and 1 Tablespoon butter to pan.
Combine flour, cornstarch, parmesan, salt and pepper in a flat dish (pie plate works great here) and use to dredge fish. Add fish to hot pan immediately.
Allow fish cook on first side long enough that the fish no longer sticks. If you start in a hot pan, add the fish and leave it alone it will let go when it is ready to turn. Carefully turn fish and cook on second side.
Remove fish to serving plate and add the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter and the lemon juice to the pan. Allow butter to melt and use a spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan. Pour the butter/lemon mixture over fish and serve immediately.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies

Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies

I have heard these little cookies referred to by many names, usually Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies or Russian Tea Cookies. I think probably by other names that I can’t think of off the top of my head, I have no idea what the history of them and I don’t really care where they came from. All that is important is that they are so tasty. There are very few cookies that are simpler either in ingredients or preparation but few are at the same moment so good either.

Growing up I am pretty sure these were at every event that the moms had to bring cookies to, but different moms brought them to each event. They all tasted about the same even when they had a different name. I doubt there were ever any to carry home because I think they were always the first to disappear from the table.

Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies

1 cup butter
2 cups all purpose flour
½ cup powdered sugar
2 cups chopped walnuts
½ teaspoon vanilla
extra powdered sugar for rolling completed cookies in

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
Combine all the ingredients (except the extra powdered sugar) in a mixing bowl until well combined.
Roll dough into small balls (about 1" in diameter)
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes
Cool on rack
When completely cooled, roll in the extra powdered sugar

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Greek Chicken Pizza

This pizza came about simply because I needed to figure out dinner and I really didn’t feel like driving to the store. I was in the mood for a pizza and I happened to have some things on hand that led me down a path to a Greek inspired pizza.

You could use your favorite pizza crust, I am including the one I used (it is the one I use most often) but feel free to substitute your favorite. At our house we like a chewy crust on our pizza and to accomplish this I par-bake my crust before I top it. This particular crust is made using my bread machine, so if you have one this is a good place to use it.

You will find that I didn’t use a canned pizza sauce; instead I used an 8 ounce can of tomato sauce which I seasoned up with some herbs and spices from my spice cabinet. I do this on most of our pizzas since I almost always have tomato sauce on hand.

Pizza Crust from the Bread machine

½ cup milk
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon garlic salt
¼ teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon yeast

Layer the ingredients in you bread machine in the order directed by your owner’s manual. If your machine has a Pizza Dough cycle choose it, otherwise choose the regular dough setting.
At the end of the cycle remove dough to a floured surface, cover and let rest 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit
With oiled fingers pat dough onto an oiled pizza pan. Use a fork to poke holes in the dough to prevent it from over-rising while baking.
Bake the dough for about 10 minutes or until browned. You can use it immediately to make a pizza or set it aside until you are ready for it.

Greek Pizza

Baked pizza crust (you favorite or the one above)
8 ounce can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon fennel seed
1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups cubed cooked chicken
½ cup thinly sliced red onion
½ seeded chopped tomato
½ cup crumbled Feta cheese
¼ chopped Kalamata olives
1 teaspoon dry oregano

Have oven heated to 450 degrees Fahrenheit
Mix the tomato sauce with the Italian seasoning and fennel seed and spread over baked crust. Top with remaining ingredients in order given.
Bake directly on oven rack for 10 minutes or until hot through and cheese is melted.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Turkey Taco Filling

This is one of those recipes that really doesn’t have an official name but it appears on our table regularly. The kids all love it and it is one of the recipes that my oldest son has been known to call me from the grocery store just to check that he hasn’t forgotten some ingredient because it just seems too simple to be correct. Yes, there really are only 2 things to put in the slow cooker and it can sit in there for up 12 hours (maybe even longer) and be wonderful. It is great as leftovers the next day and I have yet to find anyone that doesn’t like it. Even people that tell me they don’t really care for turkey can’t get enough of it.

The way we usually serve it is wrapped in a tortilla with cheese, sour cream, tomato lettuce, really what ever we have on hand that would normally go into a burrito or taco. I also love to use the leftovers to make a nacho the next day. My oldest son tells me it is fantastic mixed in Spanish rice too.

Turkey Taco Filling

2 turkey thighs (they usually come 2 to a package at my store)
1 package Taco seasoning (any style, any brand)

Place the turkey thighs in your slow cooker and sprinkle the contents of the package of taco seasoning over them. Use the entire package even though it looks like a lot it is just right.

Cover and cook on low for at least 8 hours, up to 12.

Remove skin and bones and shred meat. Use to fill tacos, burritos, in a nacho, and probably many more places that you can come up with.

Store leftovers in the juices that form in slow cooker in a container in the fridge. I find if I store it without the liquid it tends to dry out when I reheat it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mini Cupcakes with Lemon Frosting for Easter (or any time)

I love cupcakes; there is just something so wonderful about being able to have a little cake all to yourself. I have been wanting to go even smaller by using my mini muffin pan to make some really tiny ones and a while back on a stroll through my local dollar store I came across some adorable little tiny mini cupcake papers in Easter designs. I had to buy them, they were just too cute to leave in the store. So this weekend I put them to good use and made my go-to cake recipe into mini cupcakes and paired it with my very favorite Lemon Frosting. Way back in the dark ages I used to eat a lot of those hard lemon candies, the ones that are sour lemon on the inside and coated in sweet sugar, do you know the ones? This frosting reminds me of that childhood favorite, it is sweet and tart all in the same bit.

Mini Cupcakes

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
Line the cups in you mini muffin pan with mini cupcake liners

Begin by combining all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
Add the oil and milk and beat with a mixer for 2 minutes.
Add the eggs and continue to beat at with a mixer for 2 additional minutes.
Fill the mini cupcake liners in the mini muffin pan with the batter (mine took about 2 Tablespoons per cup)
Bake at 400 for 10 to 15 minutes, test with a toothpick for doneness.
Allow to cool in pan 10 minutes then remove to a rack to finish cooling

Lemon Frosting

2 cups powdered (confectioners) sugar
¼ all vegetable shortening
2 – 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Combine the sugar and shortening until blended through.

Add the lemon juice beating until it reaches a spreading consistency.

Makes about 4 dozen mini cupcakes

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Q & A with Mummsie April 17, 2011

Phil asks: Hi - I've been reading your blog at the suggestion of Grant Cunningham, and I'm hoping you might have some advice for me:

I've been trying to develop a recipe for bacon cheddar jalapeno(or chipotle) cornbread, and my efforts so far have been edible, but not outstanding. Can you offer any suggestions? I would add that my goal here is to develop a cornbread that is simultaneously moist, savory, sweet and spicy, with definite salty-smoky bacon flavor and, ideally, some textural crunch from the bits of bacon. Also, I prefer to bake it as muffins in a 12-cup tin, for convenience in serving.

I have done a batch with a half-pound of cooked chopped bacon, with the bacon grease added to the batter - it was a decent-tasting batch, but again not outstanding. Do you think I could take a shortcut by adding the chopped bacon to the batter uncooked, and letting the oven cook the bacon and render the fat into the cornbread during the baking process?

Thanks in advance for your attention.

 Phil, thanks so much for following Grant’s advice and stopping by I hope I can give you the help you need here to make this amazing sounding cornbread you have in mind.

I think the best way to tackle your question is to tell you how I would go about figuring out the recipe if it was me.

The first step is to find a basic cornbread recipe that you love, to use as the foundation of this experiment. You want to find one that fulfills your expectations in regard to base taste, texture and sweetness/savory areas. I would suggest unless you want a very sweet cornbread that you with a Southern style recipe that contains buttermilk and baking soda, those seem to play better with spicy and salty flavors in my opinion. Next get that recipe just the way you like it. One thing I do many times is to switch out the buttermilk with orange juice this sweetens it up a bit and gives a nice background flavor.

The next step in this process is to switch out the fat that is called for with your rendered bacon fat, using the amount that was called for in the recipe. The balance of flour, liquid, fat and leaveners is a delicate balance that is important in the end result. If you add too much fat you will upset this balance and probably end up with a very heavy finished product.  I would not add the bacon raw because part of what gives bacon that wonderful flavor we all love is the frying process. If you just put the bacon in raw it will at best just steam in the bread, leaving you a limp blob. At this point you might also add in some ground cumin, its flavor will accent the bacon’s smokiness and help to bring it out.

Don’t forget to stir that cooked bacon into the batter too. You might also want to save a few pieces to scatter over the top of the batter once it is in the pan (before baking) especially if you are making muffins so you know there are bacon bits in every bite.

Next you can feel free add your other ingredients, the cheese and peppers. I think I would go with the chipotles myself because of the wonderful smokiness they offer to the party. 

I hope this helps you some in your quest, let me know how it turns out and feel free to ask more questions.

Now after talking about cornbread, I am craving some myself so stay tuned for a cornbread recipe in the near future.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

This is the number one, absolute favorite dessert at our house. I can almost guarantee that if I was to ask any of my kids (there are 4 of them) what dessert they would like me to make them this will be the answer. I am good with that because what they don’t know is that this is also probably the easiest dessert I make too. Not only is it tasty, warm, gooey, comfort food; there is something magical about the way it makes its own layer of pudding underneath the layer of chocolate cake. I mostly make this during the colder months and since spring is promised I figured I should share this while we are still having some chilly days.

This mixes together so easily and contains ingredients I always have on hand so it is the perfect emergency recipe for those times when you need something at the last minute. I can usually get it mixed together and into the pan in the time it takes for the oven to heat up. Then it bakes and can be served almost immediately (let it sit about 10 minutes)  after it comes out to the oven but, it is also very tasty at room temperature too.

Please note that while this is the easiest recipe I know of for dessert it is also the hardest to get a decent picture of.

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

1 cup all purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons unsweetened baking cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1 ¾ cups very hot water

Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
Mix flour, sugar, 2 Tablespoons cocoa, baking powder and the salt in a mixing bowl to combine. In a measuring cup or small bowl combine the milk, oil and vanilla until well combined. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and stir just until combined. You will have a rather thick batter. Spread this batter evenly in an 8”x8” baking dish (ungreased)

Sprinkle brown sugar and ¼ cup of cocoa over the top of the batter in the baking dish. Try to get it as even as possible. Pour the hot water evenly over the top and bake immediately.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is dry. Cool for about 10 minutes and serve in bowls with the sauce from the bottom of the pan spooned over the cake layer.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bread Machine Focus week Day 5-Beyond the Basics or the Bells and Whistles

Today I thought I would tell you a bit about some of the extra features that some bread machines come with.

I can speak mostly for the one I have so let’s start there.

One of the features mine has that I do use from time to time is the whole wheat setting. On this setting everything is pretty much the same as the basic or white setting except the machine goes through a “warming” cycle before it mixes the ingredients. Since my kitchen tends to be very cold in the winter this setting comes in handy then. I could certainly live with out it.

Most machines give you the choice of crust color so the bread can be tailored to your liking.

In addition to the standard dough cycle my machine has a pizza dough setting which has a shorter rise time since pizza dough doesn’t need to rise as long as rolls.

One of the cycles that has intrigued me since I got my first bread machine is the Jam Cycle, I make a lot of jam in the summer and fall but I had never tried to do any in the bread machine. I decided to give it go this week (all in the name of research for this column). Since I didn’t really have any fresh produce around that would work very well for jam I chose to use frozen strawberries. The recipe and picture of the finished product are below. It was certainly the easiest jam I have ever made, simply put the ingredients in the bread machine and walk away for just over an hour, and then allow to chill in the fridge for another 3 or so hours. I have to admit it does lack something in texture but it is certainly good. I will be repeating the recipe in the future. My official “Jam Tester” (my youngest son, age 12) says he likes this better than a lot of jam because it is not too sweet, just right in his opinion.

My machine can also bake a cake, another cycle I have never tried so I can’t really speak for it.

There are also several different cycles for baking special types of breads from French style to fruit and nut breads. Other machines have settings for Artisan breads and quick breads.

Both of the machines I had used have also had rapid or ultra-fast cycles, these usually take more yeast and result in a baked loaf much faster than the normal cycle. I have used them and when I am in a hurry they are a lifesaver but the quality of the loaf in my opinion is not as good and the traditional cycles. That being said I have noticed several recipes out there for Gluten Free Bread machine breads and they are all baked in the rapid cycles. I am already planning to experiment with some gluten free breads in the near future so watch this column for some of those recipes and thoughts.

Sometimes you might want to add additional ingredients into your bread later in the kneading process. Maybe dry fruit or nuts or chocolate chips things that you don’t want to add at the beginning because they will get too broken up in the mixing process. Some machines have a beeper that will alert you to add ingredients later but you do have to be where you can hear the beep. My current machine actually has a little bin that you put your add in ingredients into and then when you set up the cycle you tell it to add them at the correct time

In my online research I looked at numerous bread machines to see what is on the newer models. I looked at machines with a low price of around $60 up to just over $200 in price range. I found that many of the machines share a lot of cycles in common. Some of the higher priced machines had longer delay settings some up to at least 24 hours. Some had the ability to make larger loaves of bread. One in particular (I don’t remember what brand but it was around $200) could make not only 1 2 pound loaf you also had the option to make 2 1 pound loaves at the same time. It also had mixing paddles that fold down before the baking cycle starts so there is no hole from the paddle in bottom of the loaf.

I also found a few machines that had a yeast dispenser so your yeast is added to the mixture at the perfect moment.

I know this is probably just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to features on bread machines and as manufacturers come up with newer models there will be even more. So do some research I am sure there is a bread machine that is perfect for your home.

Strawberry Jam in the Bread Machine

1 16 ounce bag of frozen strawberries (unsweetened) thawed and mashed
1 ½ cups sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 package (1.75 ounces) powdered fruit pectin

Add all the ingredients into the pan of your bread machine in the order given above. Put the pan into the bread machine and choose the “jam” cycle. At the end of the cycle remove the jam from the bread machine and pour into a heat proof container and chill for about 3 hours to set up.This is definitely not a super sweet jam, we found it slightly tart but very good.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bread Machine Focus week Day 4- Using the dough cycle

Another of the cycles that I consider to be really important in a bread machine is the dough cycle. With this feature you are free to make breads and rolls that you can form and bake in your regular oven. I use mine this way for dinner rolls on a regular basis. It is so nice to have the machine do all the mixing, kneading and rising for me. I then only have to form the rolls allow them to rise again and bake them. This really frees up my time when entertaining or just getting dinner on the table for the family.

Most of the bread machines I have used and looked at take about an hour and a half for this cycle. Then most recipes need to rise again and be baked so you can easily plan your time. I find that the rolls seem to rise more predictably this way than when I make them with my mixer and try to do both rises in my somewhat cold kitchen.

I also use this feature for pizza crust, cutting my prep time down a lot when making a pizza from scratch.

The recipe I am giving today is one of our favorites and makes a very basic dinner roll that is good with any meal. I found this recipe when I was on a mission for a friend to find a dairy free roll recipe that actually tasted good. I especially love the versatility of this recipe. How you want to use the rolls will determine how many rolls you get. If you want a sandwich bun (about the size of a regular size hamburger bun) you will get 12. If you want dinner rolls between 15 and 18 depending on how big you want your rolls.

Dinner Rolls

1 cup warm water
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg
3 ¼ cups all purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons yeast

Combine the ingredients in your bread machine in the order specified by the manufacturer.
Select the dough cycle
At the end of the dough cycle remove the dough from the bread machine and allow to rest on a floured surface, covered for about 10 minutes.

Grease a rimmed cookie sheet (mine is about 10”X15” and is the perfect size for this recipe.
Divide the dough in to the desired number of rolls. If you want to use them for sandwiches cut it into 12 if you want a dinner roll you can do either 15 or 18 depending on how big you want your rolls.
Allow the rolls to rise covered in a warm place for about 30-40 minutes. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Serve warm.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bread Machine Focus week Day 3- The Delay Setting

One of my favorite features on my bread machine is the delay setting. By taking advantage of this feature I can set up my bread machine and know that when the end of the day comes I will have a wonderful, hot, delicious loaf of fresh homemade bread waiting for dinner.  On a busy day when I can leave my two favorite kitchen helpers my bread machine and slow cooker in charge of dinner I know that when dinner time rolls around I will only need a few minutes to pull together a tasty and satisfying meal for the family. I do recommend getting to know your bread machine before you leave it for the day, like I mentioned a few days ago my current machine always needs to have a bit more liquid than most recipes call for. Since I know my machine so well, I can look at the recipe and make those adjustments in the morning when I put the ingredients in the bread machine.

Another good time to use the delay setting is for breakfast. Wouldn’t your family love to wake up to the smell of fresh bread waiting for them in the morning? Just slice and you are ready to head out the door.

Now, not all recipes can be left on Delay. You need to read through the list of ingredients. In order to be safe on the delay cycle there needs to be no fresh dairy (butter is okay though) or eggs, honey, meats or fresh fruits or vegetables.  As long as none of these ingredients are in the recipe you are good to go.

Do make sure when you are layering your ingredients in the bread machine that yeast will be safe from coming in contact with the liquid ingredients until the machine starts to mix, that is one of the reasons the yeast is almost always put in last on top of everything else.

Today’s recipe is Crusty Italian Bread; this is one of our family favorites and works well with almost any Italian inspired meal as well as almost any soup. This is one of my favorites to pair with slow cooker meals for a quick dinner on a busy day.

Crusty Italian Bread

1 1/8 cups water
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 cups bread flour
1 envelope dry Italian salad dressing mix
3 Tablespoons Sugar
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon yeast

Layer ingredients in the bread machine in recommended order.
Set machine to Delay cycle, 1 ½ pound loaf

This recipe also bakes well at the basic or white bread setting if you don’t need to use the delay.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bread Machine Focus week Day 2- What goes in to a loaf of bread and why?

We all have read recipes for bread and most of us have probably even made at least a few loaves of bread. Did you ever wonder why you are putting in the ingredients that you are and what they do for your loaf of bread?

For most breads the major ingredient is flour, usually a bread flour or an all-purpose flour. Flour provides the structure for the loaf and contributes to the flavor. For a yeast bread at least a part of the flour needs to be a wheat flour because wheat contains gluten. By getting the flour moist and beating it the gluten becomes very elastic and allows the dough to stretch as the yeast rises and gives the loaf the strength to keep its shape. There are some gluten free recipes for yeast bread and I will try to do a focus week in the future on those recipes. For now we are working with breads made with wheat. Rye flour contains some gluten but not as much as wheat and that is why it is normally mixed with wheat flour.

Another ingredient that is important is the liquid in the bread recipe. It can be water, milk, eggs, juice almost any liquid can be used. Most recipes call for at least some water to dissolve the yeast in, and the liquid should be warm (not hot) to allow the yeast to start growing. Yeast has 2 major roles in the loaf of bread, it is the ingredient that allows the yeast to come to life and it moistens the flour to allow the gluten to develop. The liquid you choose also will affect the texture and flavor of the finished loaf.  Milk will create a velvety grain that is much softer than other liquids. Eggs beaten and used as part of the liquid will add richness to the bread as well as adding a nutrient boost. Fruit juice can add a wonderful flavor to bread. Water used alone will produce a coarse texture and a chewier crust.

Leavenings- are the ingredients that produce carbon dioxide gas and lighten the dough- make it to rise and be airy and light. There are 2 main types of leaveners chemical and biological. Chemical leaveners are baking powder and baking soda and we will talk about those another day. This week we are focusing on yeast breads so that is our emphasis today. Yeast is a microscopic plant that when activated with warm liquid gives off bubbles of carbon dioxide that make your bread dough rise. For the recipes I am sharing I use dry yeast in the granulated form, my preference is Bob’s Red Mill brand and if you can get it is well worth it. This product is sold in a bag and must be kept refrigerated but is by far the best yeast I have ever used. When I can’t get it I buy any other brand of yeast from the grocery store in a jar. I never buy the packets of yeast because I find they are way more expensive and much more prone to spoilage.

Sugar and salt are in most bread recipes, sugar has two main functions it feeds the yeast and also helps the crust to get brown. Salt helps to control the growth of yeast, without the salt the yeast will grow too quickly and loose it’s leavening qualities before the bread is finished. They both obviously add to the flavor balance too. Sugar can be in the form of granulated sugar, brown sugar, honey, or molasses all giving their own distinct flavor profile.

Fats are the finial must have in the loaf of bread; this is what makes the bread moist, tender and palatable. Fat can come in many forms also- salad oil, olive oil, butter or shortening to name the most common.

Your loaf of bread can also have many other special ingredients to add special flavors- herbs, cheeses, nuts, dry fruits almost anything can be added. These ingredients aren’t necessary to the basic creation of the loaf they are there to give it a special flavor and character.

This potato bread is a good example of using extra ingredients to make your loaf of bread special. The potato makes for a nice soft bread that is perfect for both sandwiches and toast and the rosemary accents many sandwich fillings perfectly. I totally recommend this bread for your next chicken or turkey sandwich!

Potato Rosemary Bread

1 1/3 cups warm water
2 Tablespoons butter (softened)
3 cups bread flour
½ cup dry instant mashed potato mix
1 Tablespoon dry rosemary (crushed)
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon dry yeast

Put the ingredients in your bread machine in the order your owner’s manual directs.*
Select basic or white cycle (this bread would also do well on the delay setting)

* If you don’t have an owner’s manual for your machine look online. Most bread machines call for layering the ingredients in the order I have them listed in the recipe.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bread Machine Focus week Day 1- the Basics

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be a continuing feature of this blog- the Focus Week! A Focus Week will be just that a week set aside where I will focus on a specific topic. Sometimes it will be an appliance (like this week) sometimes an ingredient, a type of food or who knows but the recipes that week will come with my thoughts and experiences, a little (or a lot) of education and hopefully some great recipes that you can try in your own kitchen.

So while we focus on the bread machine, I first want to say I love mine! I use it a lot not just to bake bread but to make dough for everything from pizza to dinner rolls. Out of every 10 loaves of bread we eat in our house I probably make at least 9 of them. Over the course of the year about half of those loaves of bread come directly out of my bread machine. The bread machine I have currently is my second one; I did wear out the first one. This one has more bells and whistles than the last one but most of those are not necessary. If you have never used a bread machine before and are shopping for one I would recommend you start with a very basic machine. The only features you really need are the ability to make a basic loaf of bread, a dough setting (so you can make a dough to remove and make rolls or pizza and what have you) and a delay timer (so you can have bread ready later in the day) the other features are nice but really are not necessary at all. There are many nice bread machines to be had for under $100 and these are the perfect ones to start out with. Do look for a manufactures warranty of at least a year. If the manufacture won’t stick behind the product for at least a year there is probably a reason.
You might be wondering why I say buy a basic model for your first bread machine, the reason is you need to learn a few things about yourself before you spend big bucks on a lot of features. You may find that the basic machine is just exactly what you need and you will be very happy with those features. Or you might find that you really don’t use it as often as you thought you would, not a problem a basic machine will still be handy to use and will serve you for many years.

One of my favorite things to do on a busy day is set up my slow cooker with soup and my bread machine to make a special loaf of bread and I can get on with my day. It doesn’t matter if I am busy at home or out and about I know that at the end of the day dinner will be waiting for us with very little bother, a very nice feeling at the end of a long day.

If you are going to leave your bread machine on a delay setting be sure of a couple of things first. You need to choose a recipe with no fresh dairy or eggs in the recipe; those could start to spoil before the machine comes on and make you sick. There are a lot of recipes that are very safe to use on a delay setting however. Also know your bread machine, for instance with my current machine I find I need to add about 2 Tablespoons more liquid than a lot of recipes call for. I never had that problem with my old machine that is why you need to check your machine after the first 5 to 6 minutes of mixing and adjust your mixture. You may find you need to add more flour or more liquid, when you get to know your machine you can make these adjustments when you are filling the pan.

Today the recipe I am sharing is for a basic white bread. I am listing the ingredients in the order that they go into the bread pan in most bread machines. Be sure to check your owner’s manual for specifics with your machine.

Basic White Bread from the Bread Machine

1 1/8 cups lukewarm water
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons butter
3 1/3 cups bread machine flour
1 Tablespoon dry milk
1 ½ teaspoons yeast

Spray the pan from your bread machine with no-stick spray and add the ingredients to the pan in the order specified in your owner’s manual.
Use the basic or white bread cycle for this loaf and choose the 1 ½ pound loaf size setting.

Stay tuned tomorrow for another great recipe and we will talk a bit about the ingredients that go into a loaf of bread and what they do.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Q & A with Mummsie

First I want to thank all of you that sent me questions; I promise I will get to all of them, so if yours isn’t on today’s column rest assured it will be here soon. In the meantime keep those questions coming.

Kate asks: I need to make a roast and don't know what cut to get.  Do I cook it in the oven or in a Dutch oven on top of the stove?
As a general rule the closer the cut of meat is from the feet/legs of the animal the less tender it will be. So for oven roasting I would recommend something like Tenderloin or Rib Roast (Rib Eye would fit here also) those cuts did much less work while the animal was still walking so they will be tender.  For braising (cooking in a small amount of liquid in the Dutch oven) a Tip Roast or Rump Roast would be my first choice.

Marta asks: I want to barbeque.  How do I know if the temperature is right for what I am grilling?
If at all possible get a grill thermometer; they are your best indicator of what is going on in your grill. If you don’t have one use the hand test, hold your hand over the grill at about cooking height, if you can hold it there for around 2 seconds, you have a hot fire (about 400 to 450 degrees). If you can hold it there for about 4 seconds you have a medium fire (about 350 to 375 degrees). If you can hold it there for 5 seconds you have a low fire (about 300 to 350 degrees) And finally if you can hold it there longer you have a very low fire. What does this mean, it does depend some on what food you are grilling as to what temperature you want most meats I find do best over a medium fire.

Dori asks:  Mummsie, here is a problem I always run into when I find a recipe I want to try. The recipe calls for a fresh spice or herb that I don't have on hand.

Is there a huge difference in taste when using fresh compared to the dried you buy off the grocery shelf?  If I do replace the fresh with the dried in a recipe, what is an easy way to measure the amount I need to replace?

My general rule of thumb is to start with 1/3 dry for the amount that is called for in fresh, so for every Tablespoon of fresh start with a teaspoon. Be sure to taste and adjust to your liking. As far as how much it will change the recipe there are no hard and fast answers, it depends on which herb you are talking about and how fresh your dried herbs are. For most herbs as long as you are using them in a recipe that calls for some liquid and/or cooking time it is fine to substitute dry for fresh. Some herbs do retain their flavor when dried better than others. My rule is if it is at all possible to use fresh do, but if you can’t go ahead and substitute the dry, it will still be good (as long as your dry ones aren’t too old) I do recommend having some fresh herbs on hand to add to dishes, I try to always have at least parsley, basil and cilantro on hand.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Looking for Questions

 Today's blog post is a little different, I need your help.

Okay, I have a request to make of my readers I want your questions. I have been wanting to set aside the Sunday space on this blog for answering reader questions. In order to do this I need some questions to answer. So think about those cooking and food related questions you have and send them to me. You can either post them in the comments here on the blog or send them directly to my email: 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lemon Chicken for now and later

One of the things I try to be consistent about is stocking my freezer. I have a huge collection of recipes that are designed for just that purpose. I do this for many reasons, one being it really isn’t convenient for us to go into the grocery store so having things on hand is a necessity and also I like to have healthy meals that are quick and easy to make. By doing part of the work before putting these dishes in the freezer it save me time. Also because I can take advantage of the lower prices offered for larger packages of meat and other items it saves me money. For instance, this morning at my grocery store they had what they were referring to as “grill packs” of chicken on a good price. These were large tray packages of chicken drumsticks and thighs. The package I purchased weighed about 4 ½ pounds and had 8 legs and 6 thighs in it. These were much cheaper per pound than the smaller packages of chicken and in fact I didn’t pay much more for this large package than I would have for a small package that would have been just enough for tonight’s dinner. There are 3 of us here most nights and tonight is no exception to that number. This package of chicken will provide 2 meals for my family one tonight and one at a later date.

This Lemon Chicken recipe is on of my favorites and as much as we love it the first night the package that goes in the freezer is even better. Something happens when the chicken freezes and then thaws in the marinade that draws the marinade deeper into the chicken so it is flavored all the way through.  Simply put all the ingredients into a ziplock freezer bag, let the one for tonight sit in the fridge for a few hours and put the rest in the freezer for other meals.

Lemon Chicken
(amounts are given on a per basis simply make as many bags as you need)

1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
Juice of 1 lemon
About 2 pounds of chicken parts

Combine the seasonings and lemon juice in gallon size ziplock freezer bags using the above amounts of ingredients per bag. Add the chicken and seal bags being sure to get out as much air as possible. Massage the marinade around the chicken so coat. For the bag you are cooking tonight place the bag in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Label remaining bags and place in freezer.

To serve: Thaw if frozen

Heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit

Arrange chicken skin side down in a baking dish that has been coated with no-stick spray. Pour any liquid in bag over chicken and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

Turn chicken over and baste with juices in pan. Return to oven and bake another 15 to 20 minutes or until cooked completely through.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seafood Pasta

This is one of those meals that came about because I really didn’t want to go the grocery store so I put together what was here. You see I live about 10 or 12 miles from the nearest grocery store and some days I just don’t really feel like going there. I do keep a lot of stuff on hand so that I can pull a meal together when I don’t have anything planned.

The ingredients in this dish are a combination of some of the staples I keep on hand always (canned seafood, bacon, pasta, half & half, wine, onions and garlic) and some things that I wanted to use up before they were past their prime (some cheese and mushrooms) the kids really liked this one so I thought I should pass it on.

Let me first say that I know some people don’t like to mix seafood and cheese but I happen to like the combination. I think this very same dish would also work really well with some chicken too.

This is obviously not a low calorie dish; don’t eat it everyday, save it for a special occasion. I think these kind of dishes can be enjoyed from time to time as long as you balance it with the rest of your diet.

Seafood Pasta

1 lb spaghetti (or other pasta)
2 slices of bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped mushrooms
2/3 cup white wine
4 cloves garlic, grated or minced finely
4 oz can minced clams, drained reserving the liquid
2 cups half & half
1 cup shredded Italian blend cheese (mozzarella and parmesan)
¼ grated parmesan cheese
6 oz can crabmeat

Bring a large pan of water to a boil to cook your pasta, adding the pasta as soon as it comes to a boil.

Meanwhile cook the bacon in a large skillet, rendering the fat. Remove the bacon to a paper towel lined plate and add the onions and mushrooms to the bacon fat to cook. When the veggies are softened add the wine scraping the bottom of the pan to remove the flavorful bits from the bottom. When the wine comes to a simmer add the garlic and cook until everything is tender. Add the liquid from the clams and bring back to a simmer

Lower the heat and add the half & half along with the cheeses heat to melt the cheese and bring the mixture up to temperature. Add the clams and crab to the mixture stir gently to combine.

As soon as the pasta is cooked add it to the cream mixture and mix to combine.

Serve immediately.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Abby’s Pork Roast

I got this recipe from my good friend Abby a few years back (I don't know where she got it) and although it has an official name at our house we just call it “Abby’s Pork Roast” if I give it another name my kids just look at me blankly. I think this is supposed to be a slow cooker version on the Kalua Pork that they cook in Hawaii but since I have never been there I am not sure how close it comes. All I can tell you is this is fantastic!

You do have to plan ahead for this one, it cooks for a very long time (20 to 24 hours) but it is so worth it in the end. The ingredient list is so short and no I didn’t forget anything, there really are just 3 ingredients.

The original recipe called for Hawaiian Sea Salt but I couldn’t locate that locally so I use Himalayan Pink Salt and it works wonderfully. I have used regular kosher salt and it is okay but I don’t recommend it (too salty and just missing something), look for a nice red or pink salt for this it is worth the effort. I buy my pink salt at Cost Plus World Market so if you have one near by be sure to check out their spice/ seasoning aisle lots of fun stuff there and the prices are usually really good.

For the pork roast for this you want something that will hold up to the long cooking time, think the type of cut you would use for a pot roast. I have even used bone-in country style ribs a few times and they worked out wonderfully too. The important thing here in my opinion is to use a roast with the bone in. The bone provides so much flavor that you really do need it there.

Abby’s Pork Roast

1 (6 pound) pork butt roast (or whatever size will fit snuggly in your slow cooker)
1 1/2 tablespoons Hawaiian sea salt or Himalayan Pink Salt
1 tablespoon liquid smoke flavoring 
I have changed up the method a bit from what Abby originally told me so here is 
how I do it.
Put the roast in the slow cooker sprinkle with the salt and the liquid smoke. Cover and 
cook on low for 20 to 24 hours. The roast will create its own juices over the cooking 
time. If in the morning when I get up and check on the roast I find that the top of 
the meat is not under the liquid I turn the meat (it will fall apart) over and push it 
as much as 
possible under the liquid. 
This roast is going to completely fall apart and that is the idea. 
The next day this will make the best pork sandwiches, just heat the leftover meat up 
put into a bun, cheese is optional but does taste wonderful.