Monday, December 31, 2012

End of Year Giving

I know, every organization on the planet wants you to make a year-end donation. If you're have the ability and are looking for a place to donate, please consider Blood:Water Mission.  I've been donating here for years and following their work.

Honestly, the fact that in this day and age, there are children who don't have access to clean drinking water is unbelievable. This should not be so.

If you have it to give, that's terrific. If you don't, that's ok too. Just thought I'd mention it. ;o)

Happy New Year!

I'm working on some appetizers for tonight, I'll post later after work. Currently working on stuffed mushrooms and crab appetizers.

Hope you all have safe plans for tonight. We'll be having our traditional BBC Marathon, with a twist. Since Doctor Who ran such a short season this year, we've also recorded some Top Gear. There will be food and board games. Can't wait to see what my son-in-law and daugther bring. Excellent cooks! As it is, we have a slew of desserts to add to the mix because they gave each of us a custom treat for Christmas. Yum!

Ring in the new year with people you love. If you're far from home and loved ones, go find someone's day to brighten up!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Easy Hot Fudge

Whether you're looking for a simple, yummy gift to give for Christmas, or just having a serious chocolate craving, this hot fudge will do the trick. 

Many years ago, when Steve and I were dating, he introduced me to the best holiday treat ever. Peppermint Stick Ice Cream with Hot Fudge. How I had never come across this before is beyond me, but now it brings about the happiest memories for me. I was grocery shopping recently, and to my delight came across the coveted ice cream! There was nothing to do but grab some hot fudge and head home for a feast. Then I saw the price of a jar of hot fudge! Crazy! Especially when it's full of nasty stuff that does not make chocolate taste better.

So I detoured to the baking aisle to grab a couple of ingredients, and high-tailed it home to whip up some fudge while dinner was finishing up. 

Leni's Notes:
~Easy to dress up with some peppermint extract.
~This recipe will fill a one quart canning jar, with left overs. For gift giving, use jelly jars and dress up with some ribbon. Warms well in a water bath.
~Use this for one of the layers of an ice cream cake. I think I need to post that recipe too. Haven't made it in years. Yum...

2 cans of sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 - 2 bags of good quality chocolate chips

~Place the chips in a glass bowl.
~Warm the sweetened condensed milk over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
~When milk starts to steam (best not to let it boil) remove from heat, and pour over chips.
~Stir gently until chips are all melted.
~If you're going to add any extracts, now would be the time to do so.
~Ladle over ice cream or whatever your little heart desires.
~Pour extras into canning jars and cover.
~Store in fridge, warm in a water bath.

Blessings from my kitchen to yours,

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Minor Rant about Quality Ingredients

Our little town only has a discount grocery store. Honestly, I am so thankful that we are finally able to support a grocery store! However, products are not always of the highest quality, so I try to be careful.

The other day I needed sour cream, and really did not want to drive to the next town over to get it. So I grabbed some from the local store. Fast forward to today. I was making a layered dip for the kids to take to a Christmas party. I was trying to spread out the sour cream on top, and that stuff just would not spread! It glopped. I finally added some milk to thin it out so I could evenly coat the dip without ruining the layers.

I have never had this problem with other sour cream (Great Value or Daisy.) Let's investigate the ingredients, shall we?

Discount Brand: Cultured cream, milk solids nonfat, modified food starch, sodium phosphate, sodium citrate, guar gum, carrageenan, locust bean gum and potassium sorbate.

Great Value Brand: Cultured pasteurized milk, cream, nonfat milk, enzyme.

First of all, the fewer ingredients the better, as far as I'm concerned. I'd also like to be able to identify them all. That first brand has four thickeners in it. No wonder I couldn't spread it! I did a taste test of both of them, and there is a huge difference. The discount brand looks and feels like sour cream, but has none of the sour cream tang.

You might pay less for an item, but make sure you're paying for the actual item and not fillers that make it look normal but aren't the true product!

A Day in the Kitchen Preparing for Christmas

The day has arrived. My self-imposed deadline for all Christmas cooking. The next three days are going to be back-to-back Christmas celebrations, and I don't want to be having to leave parties early to go home and get ready for the next party!

So, I made huge mountains of Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Rolls on Thursday, and have already begun distributing them to teachers, pastors and other folks on our list.

Yesterday I made two super-secret gift desserts for my kids. (I'll fill you in later on those!)

Today's list:

5 Layer Mexican Dip for teen party tonight

Another couple dozen cinnamon rolls to take to my family's big Christmas bash Sunday afternoon.

Applesauce and Pumpkin Pies for Chirstmas Eve Brunch with the inlaws.

Zuppa Toscana for family gathering here at home after church on Christmas Eve.

Veggie Gratin and Scalloped Pineapple for Christmas Day at my mom's.

Orange cookies if I still feel up to it. So probably not. ;o)

It's going to be a long day, but when all is done I can just relax. Ooh, or I could wrap Christmas presents! oy. I used to do them Christmas Eve until the year I spent tilt he wee hours of Christmas morning in the ER checking for broken ribs. (An enthusiastic toddler and wrestling can end very badly sometimes.) When we finally got home with a diagnosis of badly bruised ribs and orders for me to rest and not lift anything for the next 48 hours, we still had all the presents to wrap! My poor husband. lol.

Off and running! Hope your holiday planning is coming along swimmingly, and that you enjoy this season with your family. When the chaos overtakes you, remember that we're celebrating the Savior's birth, and try to relax and love on your family!

Blessings from my chaotic kitchen to yours!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Off the Food Track for a Moment

This is a post I shared on Facebook a bit ago, and I wanted to share here, also. Mainly because I continue to be amazed that maybe the Fibromyalgia nightmare is coming to an end.

To my lovely friends who live with fibromyalgia, I have to share with you. 10 months ago, I went off my synthetic thyroid medicine and started taking a natural form from a compounding pharmacist in Rochester. I did this after reading reports of MANY women who developed fibro after being on synthetic thyroid meds for 5 years. As of about three months ago, 90% of my fibro symptoms are GONE. I feel like I've been set free from a prison. Passing it along in case it might help any of you.

I also have been seeing an Acupuncturist and a Chiropractor who has more degrees in alternative medicine than I can count. He is the one who first suggested (very firmly) that I get off the synthetic thyroid. 

Really, I feel amazing. Minor set backs here and there, but I went 48 hours without Neurontin the other day, and didn't realize it! I had to get back on it to chase off the pain in my legs, but I usually can't function once I hit that 24 hour mark, so this was astonishing.

I hope this will be a help to someone out there. Please don't hesitate to ask questions if there's something more you'd like to know. 


Monday, December 17, 2012

Tiramisu Inspired Dessert

Let me tell you a story about my attempt at Tiramisu.  

I wanted to do something special for my hubby for our 21st anniversary. As it would happen, my dearest friend in the world was also coming into town, and bringing her Prince Charming with her. So now the celebration morphed into an Anniversary/Woohoo-Karen-got-the-job/Happy-Birthday-to-Matt type of thing. This calls for something big! Something I've never done before. Something everyone loves. Tiramisu. 

Have you ever looked at recipes for this lovely dessert? If you look at one, you might be doing ok. If you look at more than one, you can be sure that none of the recipes will agree with each other and your head will start to swim with all of the ingredients and instructions that each person insists you MUST DO to be authentic! Eggs, no eggs. Raw eggs, or cooked eggs? Rum, Amaretto, Marsala? No alcohol at all! Lady Fingers? No, pound cake! Marscapone or cream cheese? Both? Only use Espresso! Just use coffee!

I gave up on authentic before I even began. In fact, I gave up on recipes. I decided to ditch it all and just wing it, making my own recipe. I hesitate to call this Tiramisu, because I'm sure purists would stone me or something. It might be well deserved. So we're going with Tiramisu-inspired.

I nervously gathered my ingredients and immediately ran into problems. Not just any problems, Baptist Girl problems. (BGP) The original recipe called for alcohol of some sort. I am not strictly opposed to alcohol, and actually like to use it for cooking. I happen to have an inherited bottle of amaretto, and was excited that I could use it for this. My BGP was not a conflict over using alcohol, it was a struggle over opening it. I couldn't get the top off! It's been a couple of years since I baked anything with it, but I'm reasonably sure I didn't have this kind of trouble before. I called my daughter to help me. The first thing she said was, "WHAT are you doing with that bottle, missy?!" She's a funny girl. Alas, even my muscle-bound teenager couldn't get the top off, so I dismissed that idea and moved on. So much for Plan A.

Rum extract! Not ideal, but it would help the flavoring. Do you think we could find even a drop of rum extract?? I know for a fact that I have at least 2 bottles floating around somewhere. But it was definitely not on the shelf full of extracts where it belonged. Good-bye to Plan B.

Plan C involved a total reworking of the recipe I had in mind, but I think it worked. I would not serve it to someone who was an expert on Tiramisu, as it would likely be a huge disappointment to them. But I don't think anyone will spit it out in disgust. (There were moments I thought that might be a possibility...)

So, below you will see the recipe for my final attempt. Should you try it, I'd love your feedback. Especially if you have tasted the real deal. I'd like to know how close I got. ;o)

Leni's Notes
~This made a 13x9 pan, there was enough filling that I probably could have made another smaller dish, but I just layered up extra filling. 
~Other than making coffee, there's no cooking involved in my version.
~I feel like this would freeze really well. I might save a piece and try it, it would make a terrific dish to make ahead for the holidays, and then just pull out to thaw the day of.
~Don't yell at me for doing it wrong. Remember, Tiramisu Inspired.
~Budget played a roll in my choice of ingredients. If you've got money to spend and want to go for marscapone instead of cream cheese, go for it! 
~Having now served the tiramisu, I can say that next time I would definitely use at least half marscapone, if not all.
~This one took a bit more time than I usually spend on a recipe. I think it would go faster with experience, but for a no-bake recipe, it took me a while. Probably all the decision making I was doing along the way.
~This plates beautifully! I served it with coffee. A lovely night was had by all.

2 Cups of Decaf Espresso or strongly brewed coffee, cooled
2 Tablespoons of raw sugar
3 packages of Lady Fingers. (Each package had about 40 small lady fingers)
4 (8 oz) blocks of cream cheese, softened
3/4 Cup raw sugar
2 Cups Heavy Whipping Cream 
2 tsp vanilla extract
Cocoa Powder

~Brew the coffee, and mix in the 2 T of sugar. 
~Place in the fridge to cool.
~Cream together cream cheese and sugar until smooth
~Whip the heavy cream and vanilla extract until you have soft peaks, but not runny.
~Fold the cream mixture into the cream cheese mixture.
~Separate the lady fingers.
~Dip the lady fingers into the coffee and place in pan.
IMPORTANT NOTE! This is a very quick process, 2 seconds or less. Any more than that will have them falling apart in your hand.
~Put a layer of dipped lady fingers in the pan, making sure you've covered in all with the fingers laying flat.
~Gently spread half of the cream mixture over the lady fingers.
~Layer a dusting of cocoa powder over the cream mixture.
~Repeat layers.
~Cover tightly with plastic or foil and place in fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.

If all goes well, you should be able to cut a square of this dessert to plate for your guests.

Blessings from my kitchen to yours,

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sweet and Sour Meatballs for a Crowd

Today's recipe is one I used for my daughter's wedding, and a number of times for our Labor Day party when we were using the Luau theme. You can't go wrong with Sweet and Sour Meatballs. Unless of course, there's an abundance of bees, because those little stinkers LOVE pineapple! Our 1st Annual Davis Labor Day Party was almost a disaster because of the invasion of bees. What's worse is that the next day, we pulled leftovers out of the fridge, and discovered bees had burrowed down into them, and were coming out to investigate! I have an admittedly unreasonable fear of bees, so it was kind of a nightmare come true.

I don't have a picture currently, because I took the last of the meatballs to the Christmas Cookie Exchange. ;o) So here's a picture of the wedding party, who is obviously thrilled, because they are finally going to get to eat meatballs! 

This recipe is insanely easy. You can make it difficult if you want to, by making your own meatballs. If you want to do that, I suggest the Meatball Evolution recipe.  That said, I find meatballs to be a pain in the tuckus to make! They just don't last long enough for the amount of work they take. I only make them if I need them for someone who can't do all the fillers in store-bought meatballs. So, unless you need a specific menu, buy the frozen ones, and throw this sauce over them in the crock pot. 

Leni's Notes:
~This more than filled our 18 quart roaster. This will do the roaster REALLY full, pluse a crock pot or two. Or better yet, get two roasters, and fill them both about half way so you have room to stir.
~If you're not having a wedding reception for 200 people, maybe cut the recipe down a bit. ;o)
~If you want to make a meal of this rather than appetizers, serve with rice or egg noodles. Wonderful. 
~If you have extras, they freeze really well, which makes for a quick dinner on busy nights.
~Not that it effects the flavor, but if you have a variety of bell peppers, the red, orange and green look beautiful on the plate.
~When I originally made this, it had soy sauce in it. (I used Bragg's Liquid Amino Acids.) It adds a nice fullness and cuts the sweetness, but as so many have trouble with MSG and soy, I just decided to leave it out.

2 cups cornstarch
8 cups brown sugar
16 (15 ounce) can pineapple chunks, juice reserved
5 & 1/3 cup vinegar
6 chunked and seeded bell peppers
(Optional - 1 Cup soy sauce)

~Place meatballs, drained pineapple and chunks of green pepper into the roaster pan.
~Stir the cornstarch and brown sugar together in a saucepan and place over low heat.
~Add the reserved pineapple juice and vinegar; stir until smooth.
~Bring the mixture to a boil; pour over the meatballs in the slow cooker. 
~Cook the mixture in the slow cooker on low until the flavors are thoroughly combined, 3 to 4 hours. (If you do the big roaster, you might need more time, especially if the meatballs are crowded together.)

Blessings from my kitchen to yours,

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Creamy Blueberry Pie and No Roll Pie Crust

I feel so cut off! My laptop is being repaired, and I've been without it for about a week and a half. Who knew you could wear out the hinges? And who knew how expensive they would be to replace? Thankfully we have a friend who will do the work for us, and do a terrific job. Meanwhile, I'm living on my tablet and realizing that indeed, I cannot survive with just a tablet!

OK, I'm done whining. ;o) I know it's not Monday, but I've got a recipe for you, so I'm going to throw it out there and hope you enjoy!

I made this pie for hubby's birthday this year. The recipe that inspired this came from Penzey's Spice catalog. I've now changed it so much, it's not really their recipe any more. I've done a lot of trial and error with this recipe. We once had blueberry soup in a crust! Still tasted good, but kinda hard to serve. It was just too hit or miss, so I finally just revamped the whole thing. This version of the recipe got good reviews and my son-in-law said not to change a thing, so I'm putting it down in stone, so to speak.

Sometimes you just want a blueberry pie when blueberries aren't in season, so this recipe is specifically for frozen blueberries. 

~If you make this pie while the blueberries are still frozen, they don't get mushy, and you get almost a raw blueberry texture. Great if you like that texture, but if you don't, let them thaw first, and add all the juice into the pie.
~This uses a no-roll pie crust which really is ridiculously easy, which is why I love it. I hate making pie crust.
~If you don't have a bulk food resource for getting whole wheat pastry flour, Bob's Red Mill makes a nice one. If all else fails, you can use white flour.
~You may want to check the edges for over-browning half way through cooking time, and cover if it's getting burned.

4 Cups large blueberries (not those teeny tiny ones that have no flavor)
2/3 Cup raw sugar
1/2 Cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 Cup half & half

~Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
~Pour berries into the pastry shell.
~Whisk together sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt.
~Stir in the half & half, whisk until smooth.
~Pour over the berries and bake for 45 minutes.
~Cool on a wire rack and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.
~Top with whipped cream if you've got it!

No Roll Pie Crust - Mix everything in the pie plate!

1 1/2 Cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. raw sugar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 Cup coconut oil, melted
3 TB. milk

~Put all ingredients into a 9 inch pie pan. 
~Mix with a fork until well blended and pat into the pan. 
~Push the pastry up the sides and form a nice edge with your thumb and finger. 
~Fill with pie filling and bake according to instructions. 

Blessings from my kitchen to yours,