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I’ve certainly made no secret of my love for Autumn here on this blog and in life in general. However, that love doesn’t carry over to the sports that come with it. Well, one sport in particular: American football. It’s not that I’m against sports entirely; I’m not. Rugby is awesome, soccer is pretty damn cool, and jai alai just rocks. But American professional football… BLECH!! I despise it. The players are GROSSLY over paid and mostly they’re a bunch of thugs in tight pants made into (undeserving) idols. Thankfully I can pretty much ignore football season. I have several die hard football fan friends on Facebook, but I can either just ignore the posts or hide them if they get too numerous. In fact, I did such a good job of ignoring football the last couple of years that I didn’t even know who was playing in the Superbowl until a day or so before the game! HOWEVER, all that being said, I do have to admit that I like cooking for people who watch football. Cooking fun, comforting food for a group of people is always right up my alley and football watchers definitely require that! So while I know (and care) very little about the rules of the game, I certainly know what the game obsessed like to eat and I enjoy supplying the food they’ll eat and providing a fun atmosphere :-)

One of the best football watching/fall foods is chili… well, anything really. Chili dogs, chili cheese fries, chili nachos, chili mac, the list goes on. You can put chili on just about anything. But this isn’t chili such as you would eat out of a bowl with some cornbread on the side. Actually, I don’t care for that chili much. I think it’s the cumin- I’ve never really liked cumin as a defining flavor. That’s the version of chili you find in the Western US. What I like is the Eastern US’s version of chili: no beans, no cumin, and it’s usually served over spaghetti (look up “chili 5 way” and you’ll find an interesting meal!). This chili is more of a condiment than a meal in itself. And it’s incredibly easy to make. (You can also make this in the crock pot, but I’m doing the stove top version. I’ll put the crock pot directions below.) We’ll start with what you probably already have on hand…

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See? I bet you don’t even have to run to the store for any of that, do you? I love it when that happens! Oh- and I can hear you now “The Humble Food Snob is BUYING garlic in a jar?!?! Isn’t that contrary to what you’ve been saying all along about knife skills and economy?!” Sigh… Yes; it is. Under normal circumstances, I disdain jarred garlic. But under normal circumstances I have access to great garlic at one store or another. Large heads of garlic with nice big cloves and no green shoots in the center… what a fond memory. And that’s all it is; a memory. Because in my current locale, all that’s available at the 2 grocery stores are tiny heads of garlic about 3/4 the size of an egg with pathetic little cloves that are more work than they’re worth to peel. AND every head I’ve purchased so far has been growing already, which means I have to dissect the tiny cloves to remove the bitter shoots. So until I can grow my own garlic, I will be buying jarred garlic. Thankfully they offer it at a decent price here.

Anyway… You may notice that the amounts in this picture and the amounts in the recipe below don’t jive. I know that. I went from a normal sized freezer plus a stand alone freezer to store things in at my last residence, to just a tiny freezer in a small, 30 year old fridge. That means it’s also got an inch of frost taking up room. Is being in our own home and away from the awful situation we were in worth it? A thousand times YES!! Does it mean I have to change the way I do some things? Yes again. And that’s ok. So instead of the full batch I’m making a half batch. (And incidentally, a recipe I found that helped inspire this makes double what’s below! :-o )

So brown your ground beef. You can also use ground turkey or chicken, but you’ll need to make sure there is about half a cup of fat of one kind or another to soak up the flour to make the roux. It can be olive or vegetable oil, or you could use bacon fat- that would be a great addition! While the meat is browning, dice your onion. Don’t drain your meat. Like I said; you’ll need the fat. Add the onions and cook until they’re soft- about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir. Cook, stirring for about 3 minutes. You want the flour to cook but not burn. It should look almost like there is no flour:

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Now you can add the water and the tomato sauce. I usually add the sauce first and then put the water in the can and swish it around to get the last traces of the sauce out of the can. Why waste it? Along with the water and tomato sauce, add the spices. Give it a good stir, and you’ve got this:

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Put a tight fitting lid on this and bring it to a boil. Give it a stir, lower the heat until it’s at a slow simmer, replace the lid, and go do something else for awhile. You’ll need to come back and stir the pot about twice an hour, but other than that you’ve got 2 hours to kill. I’d suggest watching something with Robin Williams in it. Never forget what it feels like to laugh with your whole body and soul- the world needs more of that. The Birdcage is my particular favorite of his :-)

Once 2 hours have ticked by, take the lid off, give the pot another stir, and let the chili simmer for about an hour without the lid, stirring every 15 minutes or so. It may take a little more or less than an hour. Just keep an eye on it. You want to end up with a chili that is very thick.

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I know; it doesn’t LOOK a whole lot different. But it has reduced by about two thirds to half. Go ahead and give it a taste and adjust the salt and/or pepper. Don’t add too much pepper though- now is when you add the red pepper flakes if you want a milder chili. If you’re looking for spicy chili, add the red pepper flakes with the rest of the spices before you simmer the pot.

I was supposed to have a wonderful money shot for this post: A plate with hot dogs smothered in chili with melty cheese on top. But then I went and landed myself in the urgent care. I’ll be ok. But it cost me my blog picture. So sadly, I do not have a great shot of this tasty chili in action. But I do have a tip for freezing the leftovers. Here you go:

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I prefer to have thinner, wrapped packages of food that I can stack several packages high instead of plastic containers that limit my storage and break when I inevitably drop one. So I line plastic food storage containers with plastic wrap and divide the (completely cooled) food into them. Each of these containers will make one meal’s worth of chili dogs.

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Put these in the freezer, come back in a couple of hours, lift the sides of the plastic to remove, wrap the food, and you’re good to go! I usually do 2 layers of plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil, like so:

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Make sure you mark the package with the contents and the date it was made. That way you don’t have to unwrap your packages and try to guess what’s in them.

So there you go: a jumping off point for lots of hearty recipes to get you through the fall and winter; from watching sports on TV to tail gating to coming in off the slopes or the sled hills.

 

As promised, Here is what you need to do to make this chili in a crock pot (slow cooker):

- Brown the meat, saute the onions and garlic, and add/cook the flour as described above.

- Transfer the mixture to the crock of the slow cooker and add the rest of the ingredients.

- Remember to not add the red pepper flakes until after cooking unless you want SPICY chili.

- Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours or high for 3-4 hours.

-Here’s the caveat to making this chili in the slow cooker: you need to let it cook with the lid off for about the last hour, just like the stove top version. And you need to stir it a few times. When it’s the consistency you want you can take it out. This is a deal breaker for some, because they want whatever is in the slow cooker to be ready when they get home from work or wherever. If that’s the case, I’d advise making it on a day off and reheating what you have set aside. You can’t tell it’s been reheated, so it’s not a problem.

 

The Recipe:

2 Lbs. Ground Beef

2 Onions, diced fine

4-6 Cloves Garlic, minced

1/2 C + 1 T All Purpose Flour

29 Oz. Can Tomato Sauce

8 Oz. Water

2 t Salt

2 t Seasoned Salt

2 t Pepper (Black or White, doesn’t matter)

1/4 C Chili Powder (don’t let the amount scare you- it’s not really spicy at all)

1/3 C Sugar

1 t (or to taste) Red Pepper Flakes (this is what will make it spicy)

 

The Method:

*In a large soup or stock pot, brown the ground beef. Do not drain!

*Add the onions and saute 3-4 minutes, until the onions are fragrant and soft.

*Add the garlic and saute 2-3 minutes.

*Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to combine, cooking 3-4 minutes. Don’t let the roux burn!

*Add the tomato sauce and the water, swishing the water in the sauce can to get the remnants out.

*Stir in the spices (adding the red pepper flakes now only if you want spicy chili).

*Cover the pot and bring the chili to a boil.

*Stir, lower the heat to a slow simmer, replace the cover and cook 2 – 2 1/2 hours, stirring a couple of times per hour.

*Uncover the pot and continue to slowly simmer for about an hour, until the chili is very thick.

*Taste for seasoning. Add more salt and/or pepper if needed.

*If you haven’t added them before now, stir the red pepper flakes in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, this is not just any old cookie recipe. No; this recipe is my last bastion of recipe secretiveness. In celebration of more than a month of our new life as well as the start of a promising new school year, I have decided to give you all the last recipe that I’ve been keeping locked up. Before now, the only person I’ve given this recipe to was my BFF- and I made her swear that she would NEVER give the recipe to anyone. I even went so far as to ask her to immediately delete the email that contained it. So, my dear BFF, you are hereby set free from your sworn secrecy. If you would like to share the recipe, be my guest. If you don’t, I understand ;-) So let’s get down to it and make some Oatmeal Cookies!!

I have never been a huge fan of oatmeal cookies. I like them ok but they’ve never been my favorite. My husband, on the other hand, really likes them and asked me to make him some awesome oatmeal cookies. So I started researching recipes and came up with this one. It’s not a cakey cookie but it is a soft cookie so just that starts it off right. I don’t like crunchy cookies unless they’re Oreos or the like (which I can still take or leave) and Ron made it clear he doesn’t like crunchy oatmeal cookies. So these will be soft and chewy. These are also incredibly mediocre if you try to eat them straight out of the oven. You almost can’t taste the spices in them at all when they’re fresh. But let them sit overnight or freeze and then thaw them and they are phenomenal!! Spicy (not the hot kind!), sweet, and chewy- everything an old fashioned oatmeal cookie should be!

These cookies are incredibly basic. All you need is this:

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(Can I just say right now that I DESPISE doing the ingredient picture!! It seems I always forget something! This time it’s the brown sugar. Completely forgot it while I was fussing with everything, trying to make it look right and readable. HATE ingredients pictures!! Rant over.)

Make sure your butter is soft, measure out your ingredients, and you’re ready for SCP. That would be Standard Cookie Procedure. If you were to take a look at the cards in my recipe box, you would see a lot of recipes with no directions at all. I’ve been cooking and baking long enough that I know how to make most of my recipes just by looking at the title and the ingredients. And, honestly, most recipes fall under one of a few categories: Standard Quick Bread Procedure, Standard Yeast Bread Procedure, Standard Soup/Stew Procedure, Standard Casserole Procedure… you get the point. On most of my cookie recipes you’ll find, if anything, SCP. By that I know that I am to cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition, then add the vanilla and any other liquid ingredient, beat some more, and then start adding the combined dry ingredients, scraping down the bowl at least once. After that it’s scoop and bake. If the dough needs to chill I’ll usually note that because, for me, that is outside SCP. So simply follow SCP and you’re good to go!!

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Make sure the butter and sugar are completely creamed together. Then add your eggs…

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Let the mixer run for about 30 seconds after each egg to make sure they are well incorporated. And scrape the bowl down like I did above. Add your dry ingredients, flour mixture first and then the oatmeal…

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Your dough should still be very moist. It shouldn’t be crumbly at all. Make sure you use large eggs or else you won’t have enough liquid and protein from them for the cookies to turn out properly soft.

Ron and Zachariah like raisins, Liliana and I can take them or leave them, and Gloriana flat hates them. She likes oatmeal cookies, but always asks for them plain so I have to split the batch. This time Gloriana had a wonderful idea: dried apples. It was a stroke of genius! She’s good at that. My other two kids have good suggestions for meals and things when I ask them what they want. But Gloriana is really great at ideas for recipes. I’ve gotten a few recipe ideas from her over the years and she loves to help :-) As I’m splitting the batch anyway, it’s no big deal. So I bought some of the chewy dried apples and used kitchen shears to chop them into roughly raisins sized pieces. Once you’ve got the dry ingredients mixed in and have your basic dough, split the dough into two bowls. Mix the raisins into one and the apples into the other. Hmmm… or you could put both into the one batch of dough. That sounds good. Might have to try that! Anyway, add the fruits and mix well.

Now all that’s left is to scoop these onto cookie sheets and bake them in your (hopefully already preheated) oven. I use regular sized spoons like you’d eat ice cream with. Someday soon I’ll get cool little cookie scoops, but for now it’s spoons. I suppose it comes out to about 1 & 1/2 – 2 tablespoons of dough for each cookie. Space them about 2 inches apart and put one sheet at a time into the oven. You could do two sheets and swap the bottom sheet for the top halfway through, but I prefer to just do one at a time.

Bake the cookies for anywhere from 8-12 minutes. I usually set the timer for the least amount of time for the first batch and adjust accordingly. Some people do a test cookie. I don’t, but I can certainly see why some do. If you want to, please go ahead :-) When the first batch is about 3 minutes from being done, start scooping the next batch onto a cookie sheet. That way, when the batch in the oven is done you’ll have another sheet ready to go in and you’ll save time.

When the cookies are done, let them sit on the cookie sheet for about a minute and then take a spatula and transfer them to a cooling rack.

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The end of Summer is in sight and soon the school buses will reappear. My kids are super excited about school starting. They’ve always loved school, but this year is special because they get to go to a new school in a different state. But if your kids are lamenting the end of summer, this is a wonderful way to help them ease back into the school year. It will be a little taste of home and how much they are loved :-)

 

The Recipe:

1 C Butter, softened (Room Temperature)

1 C Brown Sugar, packed

1/2 C Granulated Sugar

2 Eggs (Large)

1 t Vanilla

1 1/2 C All Purpose Flour

1 t Baking Soda

1/2 t Salt

1 t Cinnamon

1/4 t Nutmeg

3 C Oats

1 C Raisins or other dried fruit, in raisin sized pieces (optional)

 

The Method:

*Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

*Follow SCP ;-)

In other words…

*Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices and set aside.

*In the bowl of a stand mixer of in a large bowl with a hand mixer beat butter until smooth.

*Add sugars to butter and cream at medium speed until lightened and as smooth as you can get it.(See picture above)

*Add the vanilla and the eggs, one at a time, beating after each.

*Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

*On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Make sure the flour is completely mixed in.

*Still on low, mix in the oats. Make sure they are completely incorporated.

*If using, add in the dried fruit.

*Scoop onto cookie sheets, spacing each scoop about 2 inches apart.

*Bake each tray for 8-12 minutes, until the cookies are cooked through but only just and beginning to turn golden around the edges.

*Once removed from the oven, let the cookies sit on the tray for one minute. Then carefully remove to a cooling rack with a spatula (the thinner the spatula the better).

*To ensure the cookies stay nice and soft, I put them into the zip top bags or containers while they are still slightly warm and close the bag or put the cover on the container.

*Store in an airtight container. Will keep for about 3-4 days before they start getting crumbly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It seems like forever ago that I wrote about my two year long craving for Chinese food and shared my recipe for Mongolian Beef. But really it was only last year. I’ve wanted to write about today’s recipe since shortly after that post, but it just never worked out. But it’s certainly been a life saver when a Chinese food craving strikes. Why is it that Chinese food is such an iconic craving? So many people I know lament that they crave Chinese food but can’t find a decent restaurant for it. Sure; people get cravings for pizza, sandwiches, soups, Mexican food, and any number of sweets. But Chinese food is what you always see the characters ordering for delivery in the movies. It’s what you always hear mentioned during conversations about late night bar crawls or whirlwind trips. And almost invariably the expression of the craving is followed by “but there just isn’t anywhere nearby to get good Chinese!” Someone will say “Such & Such has decent food, but it’s (insert location that is most definitely out of the question for whatever reason).” And that usually leads to the party agreeing to either eat at some mediocre Chinese place or forgo it altogether. Neither option does anything to satisfy the craving. In fact, that usually just makes it worse. Yeah… been there done that. Got really sick of it. Once that happened, I went on a search for a good chicken recipe. I found a copycat of the recipe that P.F. Chang’s uses for their Crispy Honey Chicken. I’ve never been to P.F. Chang’s, but I’ve heard they’re really good, so I started with that recipe and went about tweaking it so it went beyond “good”. That’s what I do. And I’m good at it ;-) What I ended up with is a definite family favorite that my kids rejoice over when they see it on the menu. Chinese Food Craving- 0, Humble Food Snob- 2 :-)

This is a recipe that is highly adaptable. You can swap out ingredients or add veggies with ease. I’m going to give the basic recipe and method and then suggest substitutions and additions at the end. This is also a super simple recipe that doesn’t use any specialty ingredients at all. All you really need is this:

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Start with a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or thighs, if you prefer). Slice them thin or cut them into small cubes (about half an inch). Combine the cut up chicken with about 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 or 3 cloves of finely minced garlic. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour. You can certainly skip the marinating step- I do sometimes- but it adds a really nice, yet subtle, flavor to the chicken.

Ummm… there’s supposed to be a picture of chicken marinating here. As you can see, there isn’t. I had no garlic. Sigh. And I forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer last night. Oh well. Use your imagination ;-)

Once the chicken is done marinating (if you choose to do so), set it to drain in a colander. Once the chicken is well drained, put in into a large bowl. Add enough cornstarch (corn flour) to completely coat the chicken. I can’t tell you how much that will be- it differs with each batch I do. You might have to add cornstarch a few times until your chicken is coated. Just start stirring and see how it goes. It should look something like this:

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Let the chicken sit while you heat up the oil in which to fry it. If you have an actual fryer, awesome! Go for it! I don’t. I tend to go back and forth on whether or not I want one. It would be nice to have an actual deep fryer, but I never have a place to store it. Maybe once we move again. But then again, as I’m working on getting rid of appliances and gadgets that use electricity, I’ll most likely pass even if I have the chance to get a fryer. For me, a pot or deep sided pan works just fine. So get out your frying equipment and get ready to fry your chicken. My “fryer” is an old dutch oven. It was my grandmothers. It’s in an atrocious state. I need to see to that. Later. Anyway, I’ve filled my fryer about halfway. Don’t fill anything you fry in more than half full. If you do, the oil could bubble up over the top and start a fire. Heat the oil to about 350 degrees. This usually takes about 10 minutes for me but it will vary according to the size and shape of your fryer. I have a frying/candy thermometer, but I don’t usually use it for frying. I use my experience to tell me when it’s about ready and then try a tiny piece of whatever I’m frying. If you don’t have a thermometer, put a small piece of bread in the hot oil. If it takes about 30 seconds to brown, you’re right around 350 degrees. Or you can take a wooden spoon and stick the handle into the oil. If the oil bubbles around the handle you’re there. When your oil is hot, take a small handful of chicken and jiggle it a bit in your partly open fingers to get rid of excess cornstarch and gently put the pieces in the fryer, one at a time. Wash your hands and then use a slotted spoon or wire frying spider to stir the chicken around a bit. Let the chicken cook until it’s just barely golden. That can take anywhere from 3-5 minutes, depending on the way you cut your chicken.

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Once done, use the spoon or spider to retrieve the chicken and transfer it to a colander over a heat proof bowl to drain (that’s the easiest way I’ve found) and put another batch of chicken in. Repeat the process until all of the chicken is cooked. It really is supposed to be this pale. If you marinate it before cooking it will be a little darker.

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Now you can start on the sauce. Spray a measuring cup with cooking spray or brush the inside with a tiny bit of oil and measure out the honey. The oil will prevent having to wrestle the honey out of the cup. Pour the honey into a pan large enough to hold all of the chicken. Add the rest of the ingredients- except the slurry ingredients- and turn the heat up to medium high. Whisk to dissolve the sugar and bring the sauce to a boil. Once boiling, add the chicken and stir to coat. Boil once again for about 3 minutes to see what effect the cornstarch coating on the chicken will have. Mix up the slurry during that time. Stir in about half of the slurry. Boil and check the consistency. It’s supposed to be very thick- almost like a gel. If you would prefer it thinner, add only 1/4 of the slurry to begin with. If needed, add more. It should only take a minute or so after the addition of the slurry to see what the sauce will do. Watch it closely- it will seize on you pretty quickly. If it does (you’ll know; it gets clumpy), add apple or pineapple juice to thin it out a bit, stirring to make the sauce a sauce again.

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Normally I serve this over noodles because my family doesn’t really like rice. In fact, most of this went over noodles (the same ones pictured in the Mongolian Beef post). But I wanted mine over rice and I didn’t want to have both Chinese food posts over noodles, so I made this serving with white rice. But isn’t it pretty?? And it’s SO good! It’s one of my favorites- my kids’ too. The leftovers (if there are any) are fabulous!

I promised you some adaptations, so here they are:

-Shrimp could easily be substituted for chicken. Marinate them if you want, coat them in cornstarch, and fry like the chicken.

-You could add some ginger to the marinade if you wanted to. About 2 teaspoons of fresh grated or 1 teaspoon of dry ginger is very tasty.

-You could make this chicken without frying it, but it’s not the same. It’s still really good, don’t get me wrong. But coating and frying the chicken adds enormously to the texture and flavor of the finished dish.

-If you wanted to add garlic and/or onions (green, white, or both) it would be a very welcome addition! Simply saute them in as small amount of oil as you can manage in the pan you will make the sauce in. Once they are sauteed, add the sauce ingredients and proceed as directed above.

-You could also add some steamed veggies and/or water chestnuts. Steam the veggies on their own and then add them at the last moment. OR, if you want them crunchy, stir fry the veggies quickly in the pan you’ll make the sauce in. If you add water chestnuts, slice them (if they aren’t that way when you buy them) and put them in the sauce along with the chicken to make sure they are heated through. I’ll put the substitution ideas in the ingredients list.

 

The Recipe:

FOR THE CHICKEN:

1 LB Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts or Thighs, sliced or cubed as directed above

2-3 Cloves Garlic, minced fine

2-3 T Soy Sauce

Enough Cornstarch to thoroughly coat the chicken

FOR THE SAUCE:

1/2 C Chicken Broth (Sake, Rice wine, White Wine, or even plain Water will work too- but will add zero flavor. I avoid cooking with it when I can!)

1/2 C Honey

2 Oz Apple Cider Vinegar (Rice Vinegar or White Wine Vinegar will also work- just don’t use plain, white vinegar. It’s much too harsh.)

3 T Soy Sauce

1/4 C + 2 T Sugar (Granulated is what’s called for, but Brown Sugar will work fine)

FOR THE SLURRY:

1/4 C Pineapple Juice (I take mine from canned pineapple I feed my kids :-) You can also use Apple Juice like I did here or plain Water. My preference is pineapple, but I was out.)

1/4 C Cornstarch

The Method:

*Combine the chicken ingredients- except for the cornstarch- and refrigerate for about an hour (or as long as possible if you don’t have an hour to spare.)

*Drain the chicken well and place in a large bowl. You want a bowl with high sides because cornstarch’s fondest wish is to make a huge mess!

*Coat the chicken with the cornstarch and set aside.

*Heat a fryer, large pot, or large, deep pan with oil for frying the chicken to 350 degrees.

*Fry the chicken in batches, draining each batch well.

*Combine the sauce ingredients in a pan large enough to hold the chicken as well as the sauce.

*Whisk the sauce to dissolve the sugar and turn the heat to medium.

*Bring the sauce to a boil and then add the chicken.

*Boil gently for about 3 minutes then add one quarter to half of the slurry. Boil once again.

*Check for consistency. If you want the sauce thicker, add the more of the slurry. Bring back to a boil. Don’t let it overcook- it will seize and get clumpy and gummy. If that happens, use juice, broth, or water to thin out and correct the sauce.

*Serve over noodles or rice.

When Ron & I started dating I was a single mom of 15 month old twins and to say that money was tight would be a gross understatement. Ron was a student, so his finances weren’t any better. Most of our dates consisted of staying in and watching a movie after the girls went to bed. That continued after we got married (10 months after we started dating). For our first anniversary I wanted to have a special dinner, but we didn’t know anyone in the town we had moved to so we couldn’t call a sitter. And money was still an issue. We were quite fond of our evenings in, but I didn’t want our anniversary to be just another date night on the couch. So ’round about April (3 months before our anniversary- I like to be prepared well in advance) I started really thinking about what I could do to give the two of us a special evening. I started by making a playlist on Youtube of romantic songs to listen to while we ate. Then I decided on dinner: pan seared filet mignon, Caesar Salad, good, crusty, fresh bread, and cheesecake for dessert (to find the recipe for the AMAZING cheesecake I make, click here). I know what you’re thinking “Filet mignon?! How is that cost conscious??” But if you watch the sales at a lot of grocery stores, you’ll find they offer filet mignon as part of a 2 for $5 (-ish; stores differ, but they usually offer them at a price that’s far less than what you’d normally pay) special at least once a year- usually 2 or 3 times. That makes it completely affordable! And I’ve found that deal in three different states in three different parts of the country, so there’s a good chance you’ll find it where ever you live. If I can get the steaks on sale I can make the whole dinner for about $25-$30 or so, give or take. Try getting 2 steak dinners with cheesecake for dessert at a nice restaurant for $30 or less and you’ll know why I’m perfectly fine with staying home and making our special occasion dinners when we’re low on money!

Once the night of our anniversary arrived, we put the girls to bed as usual and then set up the living room with a small coffee table in the middle of the room set with candles and Ron’s laptop set up next it for the music. Ron sat at the breakfast bar in the kitchen while I cooked and we talked. When dinner was ready we sat in the dark living room at the candle lit table, talking about our life together so far and what we’d like the future to hold as we ate a delicious dinner and listened to music that we both loved. By the end of dessert we had decided that the evening was so wonderful that we didn’t miss going out in the least. In fact, Ron requests the exact same dinner for his birthdays- even when we do have the money to go out. It’s truly a magical experience for us!

For our anniversary this year Ron had to work. For some, that means having a late dinner. For us that means postponing it completely because for now Ron spends Sunday night through Friday afternoon away from home, on the road with the railroad. So I had to plan the big night for the weekend after. I wanted to go all out this year because this is the first time in 4 years we’ve been able to have our special meal. I even bought flowers for the centerpiece this year. I’ve included pictures of the table for our special evening. But for now, I’ll give you the method for the steak I cook…

You’ll need 2 bacon-wrapped pieces of filet mignon. Sometimes the ones that are on sale come vacuum packed in a package of 2. I got this year’s steaks from the butcher counter at my local grocery store. About a day before you plan to cook them, coat both sides with seasoning. I’ve used McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning on these (I haven’t gotten around to making my own yet- but I will soon). Press the seasoning onto both sides so it sticks. IMG_20140719_204407536 Wrap the steaks in plastic and put them in the fridge until about 30-40 minutes before you plan to cook them. Let them come to room temperature while you let the oven heat up to 400 degrees. Yes; my anniversary is in July. Yes; I did this anyway. It was worth it!

Once the steaks are at room temperature and the oven has heated up, put a small oven proof skillet on medium high heat and add enough oil to coat the bottom. When the oil shimmers (it will happen fast so stand and watch it) put the steaks in and cook on the first side for about 2-4 minutes. My steaks are only about an inch to an inch & a half thick, so they will only take about 2 minutes to sear. It may seem like the seasoning is going to burn- don’t worry; it will be fine. So long as you put a good thick layer of seasoning on, it will form a crust instead of actually burning. If you don’t want a crust of seasonings, just sprinkle the steaks with a little seasoned salt. Or you can leave them plain too.

Cook the steaks for about a minute on the second side and then put the whole pan into the oven. Let the steaks cook for about 10 minutes for rare. (Despite the color on the outside of the steak in the picture below, it really was rare in the center.) This will give you time to plate up the sides you’ll be serving. I just did mixed greens and bread because we were going to be eating dessert immediately after dinner and I didn’t want us to be stuffed from a huge meal and therefore unable to truly enjoy our dessert. Well, that and other reasons ;-) If you make sides other than salad and bread, you’ll need to have them ready and standing by for when the steaks are ready to go. Once the steaks come out of the oven, plate them with the other sides and you’re ready to go! IMG_20140719_210231824

(Note: because of the lighting in my kitchen at 9 pm, the steak looks darker than it was. In reality the color was about a shade & a half lighter than in the picture.)

Here is what this year’s anniversary dinner looked like: IMG_20140719_210422052

 

In the light when I set this table up it looked like this: IMG_20140719_193756588_HDR

 

It’s super easy to turn a table that seats 6 into cozy seating for 2 or 3. See the stepped risers the candles are on? They’re made of these: IMG_20140719_193907100

Yep. Four 12 packs of soda. The single cans are for stability and the gallons of water are to help insure the top boxes don’t move around. Throw a (clean!) bed sheet over the whole thing and you have a beautifully appointed romantic table for 2, complete with ambiance! And all for WAY less than you’d pay in a restaurant. For fun, Ron & I did the math. Including decorations (which we already had but we included into the price to account for people buying them specifically for this dinner), rum to go in the sodas we had, and all of the ingredients, we had dinner for less than $50. Money isn’t an issue for us now, but it’s always wise to be judicious with the resources we have. And it feels good to know I can provide a top-notch meal for less than we’d have to pay elsewhere.

 

Over dinner we discussed our favorite memories from the last year and from the 8 years we’ve been together. That’s our anniversary tradition, and this year it was extra sweet :-) It was a beautiful evening with my beloved.  After all we’ve been through and with how bright our future looks, it was wonderful to have a special dinner just the two of us with great food and a romantic atmosphere. Ron was happy to have our special dinner again and I was happy to be able to make it for him. I’m very lucky to have the life I have and I really couldn’t ask for more. Life is good :-)

As it turns out, we have traded a very hot and dry summer for a slightly less hot but humid summer. However, I’m not complaining. It’s over 90 in Colorado, where we just left. And when the breeze blows, it’s frighteningly similar to a convection oven.  I’ll take 85 with humidity any day! But I do still have to take care in heating up the kitchen, of course. We have air conditioning, but only in the living room. So I am limited in what I can cook still. I started looking around for some versatile main dishes that won’t heat things up too much. I thought about starting another Summer Sucks type series (to find the entire 14 week series from Summer of 2013, click here), but decided against it. Life is better than it was last summer, and for that I’m grateful. Summer is still by far my least favorite season but now that we’re free of my oppressive in laws, Summer doesn’t suck nearly as bad as it used to!

In my search, I found some recipes for chicken cutlets in a super simple coating that are pan fried. They can be whole cutlets to eat with pasta salad on the side, they can be cooked and cut up over some greens and veggies as a salad, or they can be cut into strips and breaded then fried to be an easy finger food main for the kids to dip. Oh- and they make wonderful sandwiches; always a nice option when it’s hot outside! And the flavor is wonderful! The coating has only 2 ingredients- and only one has flavor of any kind, so I was surprised at how flavorful this recipe was. All you need is this:

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Seriously- this is all you need! This recipe is so easy that you can have it on the table in about 15 minutes. It’s perfect for a fast dinner after work or after a long day playing in your garden. The breadcrumbs have to be panko. You could make these with regular breadcrumbs, but the results won’t be nearly as crunchy. The Parmesan, on the other hand, gives you a little wiggle room. You can buy it already grated in the deli section or you can buy shredded and just rub it between your hands until you achieve a “grated” texture. OR you can even use the pre-grated stuff in the can that you find in the non-refrigerated section. The results will be a tiny bit different, but I’ve had to use it before (I was out of the real stuff and couldn’t get to the store) and the chicken was still tasty. As for the chicken, you can buy pre-sliced cutlets or whole, boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cut them horizontally into thinner slices.

If you want to make sure your chicken stays nice and juicy, give it a brine first. To 4 cups of cool water, add 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce along with 2 tablespoons salt and stir to dissolve. Soak the chicken in the brine in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, but not more than about 8 hours; these are thin pieces of chicken and you don’t want them too salty. When you’re ready to cook the chicken, drain and rinse it, then pat it dry with paper towels and proceed with the recipe.

In a shallow baking dish or on a platter with sides, pour the Parmesan cheese. If you bought shredded, take some between your (hopefully freshly washed and dried!) hands and rub. Continue to do this until the cheese is broken up into a grated consistency. (Yes; there are shreds of Parmesan left in my mixture. I like to leave some of the cheese shredded. It gives a good consistency to the breading. Yet another option to add to the suggestions above. The beauty of cooking! :-) ) Then add an equal amount of Panko crumbs and mix the two together with your fingers.

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Now take a piece of chicken and lay it into the mixture. Pick up some of the crumbs and spread them over the meat. Press them into the chicken then turn the cutlet over and repeat. Carefully pick the chicken up by one end, give it a tiny shake to get rid of the excess coating, and lay it on a plate to go into the hot pan. Only coat as many pieces as will fit into your pan at one time- you don’t want the coating to get soggy while the chicken is waiting to be cooked.

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In a large, heavy bottomed frying pan on medium high heat, add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan by about a 1/4 inch. Once the oil begins to shimmer, carefully add the chicken cutlets to the pan. Let cook for about 2-4 minutes and gently turn the cutlets over with a spatula. Let cook another 2-4 minutes and firmly but gently slide the spatula under the chicken. It will stick, so you have to make sure you get under the breading. Remove to a rack or paper towel lined plate to drain a bit. While the chicken is cooking, you can go ahead and bread the next batch of cutlets. Repeat until you’ve used up your chicken.

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I can tell you truthfully that this chicken is every bit as tasty as it looks! I still haven’t found a satisfactory breading recipe that uses an egg or milk dip to adhere the coating. They’ve all been a disappointment. But THIS recipe… this one satisfies every single time. It even makes good leftovers. Just heat a little oil in a pan and re-fry the cutlet for about 1 minute per side. It takes a tiny bit longer than the microwave, but it’s so worth it!

I hope you are all having a great summer so far! It feels wonderful to be back and blogging. I’m very excited about the future and am thankful that you’ll be right there with me!

 

The Recipe:

You can make as many or as few cutlets as you wish; just purchase the breading ingredients accordingly. 

Chicken Breast Cutlets or Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts sliced into cutlets

Panko Bread Crumbs (plain or seasoned, as you wish), enough to coat the chicken cutlets

Parmesan Cheese, Shredded or Grated, in an equal amount to the Panko

 

The Method:

*In a large, shallow dish, mix the cheese and the bread crumbs.

*Heat a large, heavy bottomed skillet or frying pan over medium high heat. Add oil to a depth of about 1/4 inch.

* Lay a cutlet in the mixture and put some of the mixture on top, spreading it over and then pressing down.

*Turn the chicken over and repeat.

*Lift the cutlet and shake gently to remove the excess breading and set aside on a plate.

*Bread only as many cutlets as will fit into the pan at one time.

*Once the oil is hot, place in it only as many cutlets as will fit without crowding. I have a 12 inch frying pan and can usually fit 3-4 cutlets in each batch.

*Fry the cutlets 2-4 minutes on each side (depending on how thick your cutlets are). Take care when turning them over; they may very well stick if you aren’t using a non-stick pan.

*Remove when cooked through and golden brown and drain on a rack or paper towels.

*While the first batch is cooking you can bread the next batch and have it ready.

*Repeat the process for the remaining chicken.

 

 

 

Ok, so it’s definitely not new. It’s older than I am by at least 10 years. And it’s a run down kitchen in a run down place. But it’s only until next summer, and it’s not in my in-law’s house! Yes, we’ve finally moved! Thanks to my husband’s awesome job with the rail road, we were able to get our own place! We had to relocate to do it, but sometimes that’s the way of things. We moved from Loveland, in Northern Colorado, to Watertown, South Dakota. We really like it here, but with the way things worked out we had to take a place that’s not in good shape. We will move next summer, hopefully into our own house that we buy. But for now I’ll make this kitchen work. I’ll be posting a new recipe soon; next week, actually. An easy chicken recipe that kids and adults alike will love and doesn’t involve the oven. At least, that’s the plan. I also have something up my sleeve for a little later; a special recipe that will make going back to school feel not quite so hard (for those kids who hate to see summer end. My kids can’t wait to get back to school, but they love the recipe I’ll be sharing too :-) )

I’m very happy to be getting back to blogging after such a long absence. I have several posts in mind for this fall and winter that I’m really looking forward to sharing with you- we just have to get through the dreaded summer first. Thankfully, the cooler weather comes to South Dakota faster than it does to Colorado and I’ll be enjoying fall and winter soon. Thank you for sticking with me and making this whole crazy blog thing work. :-)

I wanted to do a quick post just for the people stopping by for their first visit or those wanting to see what’s new. Currently there’s A LOT that’s new- just nothing I can post about at the moment. Everything is up in the air, but that’s a good thing. My husband has been in the hiring process for an amazing job since late January and is now finally at training. Things have been so crazy lately that I haven’t been able to write a coherent post in months. I want to blog but I’m afraid I’m on a bit of a forced hiatus until about June. But I will return! And when I do I will be blogging from a new kitchen- my own kitchen instead of my in-law’s! Please keep checking in and looking around- I’m glad to have you!

Seriously- stay with me on this one. I know it sounds outrageous and you want to turn your nose up at the idea. You’re thinking “Gingersnaps don’t belong in beef stew. Or any stew for that matter.” But if you refuse to be at least a little adventurous and humor me on this you will miss out on perhaps the best beef stew EVER. The flavor is complex and rich- infinitely more involved than just meat and vegetables in gravy. It’s what I’ve always wanted my beef stew to be but have never managed to turn it into. I do have to admit that the original idea isn’t mine. It all started here with Carbonnade a la Flamande, a traditional dish from Flanders (the Northern European area that encompasses France, Belgium, and Holland).

Carbonnade a la Flamande is said to be a hangover cure because it’s made with ale. I wouldn’t know. I don’t get hangovers. Partly because I don’t drink very often. And when I do I don’t drink to excess. But the times in my life that I have “tied one on”, I haven’t gotten a hangover. Called me blessed, I suppose. Anyway… The recipe calls for a significant amount of ale. I didn’t want to spend the cash, honestly. With my husband out of work at the moment we don’t have the extra cash to spend. So I changed the recipe. I turned this into a traditional beef stew with a secret ingredient instead of Carbonnade a la Flamande. I may never make beef stew any other way. It’s that good!

Aside from the gingersnaps, the ingredients for the stew are incredibly mundane…

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Note that there is no obvious thickening agent for this stew. The reason for that is simple: the gingersnaps thicken the stew. The above link says to add the gingersnaps when the stew starts boiling. I found that to be a mistake. I’ll go into why a bit later. But the gingersnaps really are all you need to make this stew unbelievably thick. You would have to add A LOT of cornstarch or roux to make it as thick as the gingersnaps make it.

Let’s get started! Dice the carrots, slice the onion and garlic, and then mince the thyme (if you’re using freshly cut off of your own plant like I do- the stems are so small and green that I can just use them along with the leaves. If you’re using store bought fresh thyme with woodier stems, scrape the leaves off and discard the stems). Wash your cutting board so you don’t cross contaminate, and then dice the bacon and deal with the meat if need be. You can use stew meat for this but I seem to have a knack for finding stew meat that looks great on the surface but under that is the fattiest, most gristly meat ever butchered. So I play it safe and buy an inexpensive roast or steak. In this case, a bottom round roast. If you’re using stew meat just leave it as is. If you’re using steak or roast, cut it into 1 inch chunks.

Cook the bacon over medium low heat to render it completely. Once it starts to get crisp remove it from the pan using a slotted spoon and set it aside- keep the drippings in the pan. Brown the meat in the bacon drippings over medium high heat in batches (don’t cook it all the way through- you just want to sear the outside), taking care to not crowd the pan. You want the meat to sear- not boil in it’s own juices. Remove each batch of beef to a bowl and set it aside. If you don’t want to use bacon you can use olive oil to brown the beef. But the bacon adds a wonderful flavor and a touch of smokiness- I never miss a chance to use bacon for things like this!

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After you get all of the meat browned and removed to a bowl, add the onions and saute over medium heat until soft. At that point add the garlic and cook for a few minutes; until it’s soft and fragrant. Once you’ve achieved that, pour in the beef stock to deglaze the pan. Add the beef (along with any juices accumulated in the bowl) and the herbs and cook for… well, that depends on what cut you used. If you used stew meat you’ll want to let it simmer for at least 2 hours. Three wouldn’t be a bad idea.  If you used round steak or roast you should only need about an hour to an hour & a half. Just be sure to keep an eye on the liquid level- it should always be covering the beef & onions by about half an inch. If you need to you can add some water to the pot to keep the proper level. Don’t worry about making it bland. The beef will give the water plenty of flavor.

This is where I diverge rather significantly from the carbonnade recipe linked above. It says to add in the gingersnaps spread with mustard as soon as the stock comes to the boil and then cook the stew for 2 to 3 hours. I did that the first time around and it worked ok… but I had a big burnt spot on the bottom of the pot that I had to be careful to not scrape into anyone’s bowl. It works much better if you let the meat simmer in the stock and then add the gingersnaps spread with the mustard for the last 30-45 minutes of cooking. So let your meat simmer, covered, for the appropriate time. When the time for the gingersnaps comes, get them ready…

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Turn each cookie over and smear the bottom with a thin layer of Dijon mustard. BEFORE YOU ADD THE COOKIES, put the carrots into the stew. You don’t want them to be mush so don’t add them before now. So stir the carrots in and then add the cookies in somewhat of a layer to the pot. They may not ALL be in one single layer- that’s ok. Just float them on top.

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Bring the stew back up to a simmer and put the cover back on. Let simmer for about 10 minutes and then start stirring the cookies into the stew.

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It may take a little effort but they will dissolve and thicken the stew. Simmer with the cover on until the cookies are completely dissolved and the stew is as thick as desired. You’ll need to stir the pot fairly often now, as once the cookies dissolve it’s the stew’s fondest wish to stick to the bottom of the pot. Once the stew is finished cooking, don’t forget to fish out the bay leaf- you don’t want to eat that. In fact, the bay leaf may very well cut your tongue if you try to eat it. Then check for seasoning and add salt & pepper to your liking.

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This stew really is amazing; it’s rich and savory with a hint of spice & a tiny bit of sweetness from the cookies. You can add just about anything you want in the way of veggies, too. Sometimes I add peas as well as carrots. And sometimes mushrooms are a very welcome addition. If you want to add mushrooms I suggest portobellos for their meatiness and ability to hold up to boiling. You will need to saute them along with the onions. I served this batch over homemade mashed potatoes, but traditionally carbonnade is served over egg noodles so if you prefer, you can serve it that way. But I think my absolute favorite way to eat this stew is by itself in a bowl with a hunk of warm, crusty bread. Mmmmmm….

The Recipe:

2 Lbs. Beef, see above

4 Large Cloves Garlic, Sliced Thin

1/4 Lb. Bacon, Diced

1 1/2 Liters (3 Pints) Beef Stock

1 Bay Leaf

2 Springs Fresh Thyme

2-3 Medium Carrots, Diced

6 Oz. Gingersnaps

Dijon Mustard

Salt & Pepper to Taste

The Method:

*Slice the onions and garlic, dice the carrots, and mince the thyme (put them into separate bowls).

* Dice the bacon.

*Cut up the meat if need be.

*In a large soup pot, cook the bacon over medium low heat until completely rendered and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Do not drain the drippings.

*In batches, sear the meat in the bacon drippings over medium high heat. As each batch is done remove it to a bowl.

*Add the onions to the pot and saute them over medium heat until soft.

*Add the sliced garlic and cook for 2 minutes- until soft and fragrant.

*Pour the beef broth into the pot to deglaze.

*Add the beef and it’s drippings and the bacon back into the pot.

*Add the herbs to the pot.

*Cover and simmer appropriately. (2-3 hours for stew meat and 1 1/2 – 2 hours for round steak or roast)

*Spread the bottoms of the gingersnaps with a thin layer of Dijon mustard.

*Add the carrots to the pot.

*Float the cookies on top of the broth.

*Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes and then break up the cookies by stirring.

*Simmer, stirring often, until the cookies are completely dissolved and the stew is as thick as you’d like it to be.

*Fish out the bay leaf (this can also be done right before you add the cookies- sometimes it’s easier to find when the stew isn’t thick) and discard.

*Taste to check seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

*Serve over mashed potatoes, egg noodles, or just on it’s own.

I almost didn’t do this post. I almost threw the Christmas pudding away and said “forget it” to Christmas dinner. The two months running up to Christmas were awful. (Things still aren’t great but no one wants to read my belly aching- not even me.) The last thing I felt like doing was making a big dinner and a big to-do. But in trying to hang on to the true reason for Christmas I found that making the season bright for my kids this year meant doing little things- like making treats and listening to Christmas music that told the story of Jesus’ miraculous birth. And they were excited to try the Christmas pudding so I had to finish the series. Thankfully it was done, for the most part. All I had to do was put it in the steamer for a couple of hours and make a super simple sauce to go over it. Actually, the whole thing was really simple now that I look back on it. The hardest part was shredding the suet- that was pretty messy. But now I know that I need to freeze it first so it doesn’t melt all over my hands. Other than that, it was easier than making a cake the modern way; I didn’t even have to bother greasing and flouring a cake pan!

You have to have a pretty big steamer to heat this pudding. I have a stock pot with a pasta basket insert so I used that. I left it to steam the entire 2 hours the recipe called for. I thought about letting it go only an hour because the 2 hour time was for the full sized pudding and I only made a half batch. But when I checked it at one hour I could tell the pudding wasn’t soft enough- the middle wasn’t going to be anywhere near hot and soft like it should be. So it took the entire 2 hours. In the last 5 minutes of the cooking time I made the sauce. It called for powdered sugar, butter, and rum (the recipe is below). I wanted my kids to be able to eat the sauce so I used milk instead. Here’s the pudding when it came out of the steamer and I managed to get it out of the towel:

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Let me tell you: getting the string off of the top of the towel to unwrap this pudding was an adventure. It was HOT!! But it only took a second once the proper knife was brought out (a thin fillet knife) and the whole pudding came right out of the flour sack towel easier than a cake coming out of a greased pan. The towel is permanently stained, but I don’t care. I didn’t buy them to be pretty & white & hang on a towel bar for guests to admire. I bought them to be used. Heavily. It’s doing it’s job. So don’t use a flour sack towel you want to keep looking pretty.

The next step is purely for presentation. I didn’t have to do it. But I knew the kids would love it. I took about 4 ounces of rum, poured it over the pudding, and lit it…

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Ooh and ahhs all around, I assure you! The kids thought it was grand and even my husband was very impressed. The picture doesn’t do it justice- you’ll have to try it for yourself!

I gave everyone a slice that was about 1/2 in thick and poured a good helping of sauce over each…

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As it turns out I should have made a quarter batch. I had about half of my pudding left over. Ron & I really liked it, Zachariah kind of liked it, but the girls both hated it. They didn’t like the texture of the raisins (one doesn’t like raisins at all so was rather set against it from the start). The flavor was very rich but not overly sweet- even with the healthy serving of sauce. I think I will make another, smaller batch this year and wrap it in a second flour sack towel to avoid the pantry problem I had with this attempt. Maybe another 11 months will develop the kids’ palates enough to enjoy it ;-) And maybe next year Christmas will be a little better time and I can enjoy the busyness more than I did this go round.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and your new year is going smoothly! I hope to continue to bring weekly installments of wonderful food, helpful hints, and a bit of snark this year. I really do enjoy being a food blogger- it’s a lot of fun for me! I hope you will continue to join me here in my little corner of the blogosphere!

The Recipe- Hard Sauce: 

2 C Powdered Sugar

10 T Butter, Softened

Pinch Salt (If using unsalted butter. If using salted butter, leave this out)

2 T Rum, Brandy, or spirit of choice (I wanted the kids to be able to eat this without the strong flavor of the alcohol so I used milk)

The Method:

*Mix the powdered sugar, butter, and salt (if using) together in a bowl. You can just stir it by hand with a fork or spoon- you don’t have to use a mixer if you don’t want to.

*Add in the liquid and stir well. The sauce should be runny but not watery. If you need more liquid add it in by the teaspoonful.

*Spoon desired amount over each slice of Christmas Pudding- just don’t go over board. You have to have enough for everyone :-)

This has not been a great year. My husband got laid off from his crappy job with a long commute (30 miles. Through a winding canyon. Full of looky-loo tourists. Took him an hour each way) thanks to Obamacare. I was worried- I can’t even tell you how desperately we needed that income, but within a week of getting the news that his contract wouldn’t be renewed he was in the beginning stages of starting a new job. A better job. A really good job, actually. So we rejoiced that God hadn’t let us find a new home where Ron’s crappy job was; meaning we would have been stuck there and he would have had the same long commute each day, just in the opposite direction each way. And we started looking for a new home here in Loveland. I was so happy that we would be able to move into our own place and start living our life as a family in better times again. I was elated that we would be able to give our kids some really good Christmas gifts and that we would be able to give them the one thing they truly wanted: our own home again. Notice a theme? Our own home. We have been in this situation too long. And every time we start to get back on our feet they get knocked out from under us again. This time was no different. Once again, thanks to Obamacare, Ron got laid off. Only this time we were blindsided. He went to work, normal as could be, on a Monday and on that Tuesday morning he walked in and they told him that Monday was his last day and they were awfully sorry. We are now in the process of looking for a new job for Ron as well as considering attempting to get him trained for something so he can bring in a good income instead of struggling just to pay basic bills. That being the case, our gift fund is at exactly $0. Holiday cheer has been thin on the ground this year.

So as we are without an income and my hope is trickling down the drain, Christmas is all but canceled. “All but” because we have kids. We can’t just cancel Christmas. We are attempting to hold on to the REAL reason for Christmas and make the holiday about Jesus, not gifts. It’s hard but we’re working at it and the kids are still happy…

Anyone else out there struggling to be merry this Christmas? This is such a hard time of year for so many people- for so many reasons. I know full well we aren’t the only ones. Sometimes we all need a little holiday boost- whatever the holiday. And sometimes that boost needs to involve liquor. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying “turn to booze!” I was married to an alcoholic at one time- I know better than that. But sometimes we all need the warm fuzziness of a hot mug of sweet, spicy, tinglyness-inducing holiday cheer. This SO fits the bill! Nothing outlandish, nothing too fancy, just holiday cheer you can hold in your hands.

All you need is this…

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Surprising? It was for me when I finally looked up the recipe for hot buttered rum. I always thought it would be more complicated than that. I was very happy to learn I was wrong! You don’t HAVE to add the spices; in the original version from American Colonial times they were only added by the well to do because spices were still pretty pricey. But the spices definitely add a nice touch so I always add them.

All you have to do is mix the ingredients all together and you’ve got hot buttered rum batter. Seriously- it’s that simple. You can use a hand or stand mixer or you can just mix it well by hand. You end up with “batter”…

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To make a mug of hot buttered rum just mix 1 tablespoon of the batter with 8 ounces of boiling water (or apple cider- it’s awesome with hot apple cider!) and 3/4 – 1 1/2 ounces of spiced rum. I use the lesser amount but use what you like.  Stir it all together well to melt the butter and dissolve the sugar and you’re done.

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Drink this slowly while you’re watching the snow pile up outside or while you watch one of the myriad Christmas movies that are all around us this time of year. Hopefully before you get to the dregs at the bottom of the mug you’ll have been lifted out of any kind of funk you’ve been in and back on the road to Christmas cheerfulness. Let this beautiful little mug of sweetness & spice remind you of all the things that are truly important at Christmas. And share with those around you- you never know when someone else could use a mug of cheer as well.

The Recipe:

1 Stick Butter, very soft

1 C Brown Sugar

1 t Cinnamon

1/2 t Ginger (or Cloves, or 1/2 t each)

1/8 – 1/4 t nutmeg (to taste)

The Method:

*Combine all ingredients well.

*Transfer to an airtight container.

*Store in the fridge or on the counter. I keep mine on the counter because I keep my butter on the counter. I hate cold butter. If keeping butter on the counter creeps you out, store this in the fridge.

To Make a Hot Buttered Rum:

*In a mug, combine 1 T batter, 8 ounces boiling water (or boiling apple cider), and 3/4 ounce to 1 1/2 ounces of dark, spiced rum. I use the lesser amount because I want to enjoy a cocktail, not get punched in the jaw with liquor.

*Stir well to dissolve the sugar and melt the butter.

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