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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.

This is a very special recipe. Really- it is! This is the recipe my husband asks for every single year for his birthday cake. My husband’s name is Ron (Ronald), which means “Ruler”. And as he is the leader of our household and the head of our marriage I’d say that makes him the ruler of this family! Ok, I’ll admit that that was maybe a little cheesy. But it’s all true and I do believe this cheesecake would make royalty happy! This is an incredibly basic cheesecake recipe; no lemon or sour cream. Just a plain vanilla cheesecake. But it is SO good! Rich and creamy with the perfect thick texture- and the plainness of it is the perfect palette for toppings. Ron is a purist and insists that any cheesecake he’s going to eat have cherry pie filling on top and nothing else. Well… maybe strawberry or raspberry puree, but that’s starting to push it. I myself, on the other hand, have no such purist leanings. I’m not crazy about cherries in general so I usually scrape mine off and give them to Ron :-) I love lots of different flavors on and in my cheesecake: caramel, pumpkin, strawberry, blueberry, Snickers… anything but coconut and coffee, really! And this recipe is the perfect starting off point for all of them!

As I said; this is a very basic cheesecake, so you want to make sure you have the best ingredients you can get your hands on- especially the vanilla. Being the only actual flavoring agent, the vanilla is very important. If you use cheap vanilla for this your cheesecake will taste like cheap vanilla and the results will be lackluster.

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This cheesecake is incredibly simple to prepare. The hardest part is making the graham cracker crumbs if, like me, you don’t have a food processor. And, currently, we are out of zip top bags, so I can’t even use the trick of crushing them with a rolling pin in a zip top bag. What I do in this situation is use a wooden rolling pin that is missing the handle on one side to pound the graham crackers into crumbs. Sometimes things get broken and become an entirely new tool! :-) You have to be careful when doing it that way because it’s easier to make a mess, but it works! You COULD just buy graham cracker crumbs, but they are insanely expensive- it’s not that much trouble to make them yourself and you save a lot of money!

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Make sure you press the crust evenly into the bottom of the pan. If you just spread them in the bottom without pressing them down they will form a crumb layer on the bottom and quite a bit of the crust mixture will end up floating throughout the cheesecake. Tasty, but not how it’s supposed to be. Now this gets put in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until it starts to smell really good and gets a little brown… er. It starts out light brown and you want it to end up a little darker light brown. I know that sounds confusing, but just make the crust & you’ll find out what I mean :-)

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Once you have your crust blind baked all you have to do is mix the filling & pour it in the crust. You will definitely need a mixer for the filling; cream cheese is a pain to beat by hand. Literally. I’ve done it before and my wrist hurt for 2 days afterward. So make sure your cream cheese is nice and soft and start beating it. I use my stand mixer (with the paddle attachment) for this because it’s a lot stronger than the hand mixer I have. Give the cream cheese a good beating and make sure it’s completely smooth. Stop the mixer a couple of times and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all of the cream cheese is beaten.

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See? No lumps. Lumpy cheesecake=yucky cheesecake. Seriously. Biting into a lump of plain cream cheese ruins the moment. Don’t let it happen to you. Now that you have perfectly smooth cream cheese, add the sugar and beat the heck out of it again. Stop & scrape the sides at least twice to make sure get all of the sugar incorporated before you add the eggs. Don’t be afraid to over beat the filling at this point- you want to make sure it’s smooth & well mixed.

Now you can add the vanilla and the eggs one at a time, mixing very well and scraping the bowl down after each egg. I realize that is a little more work than most cheesecake recipes call for but this is they only way I have found to REALLY make sure you get all of the cream cheese properly incorporated. It only take a few seconds extra, so don’t skip this step. Here’s how smooth your batter should end up:

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Very pretty indeed! Now there are two ways to bake this: with a water bath or without. I have an awful time with my cheesecake cracking either way. I’ve tried both ways several times and have always had my cheesecake get HUGE cracks (calling them “fissures” would not be a stretch) in the middle before it’s even done baking. If you want to do a water bath, put the cheesecake in a pan that will fit into another pan with room to spare. If you’re using a spring form pan, wrap the outside of it with foil so water can’t get in. Set the bigger pan on the rack of the preheated oven, set the cheesecake filled pan in the bigger pan, and carefully pour boiling water into the bigger pan until it comes about halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. Bake as per directions. Personally, I will be using the above pictured pan every time I make cheesecake from now on. It’s a stoneware 8 x 11 dish that my mom gave me as a gift. And the cheesecake didn’t crack while baking! I think it’s because the stoneware dish heats and holds heat more evenly.

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I did not use a water bath this time- just the stoneware dish. I ended up with a 2 inch, shallow crack in the middle when it was done cooling. I can certainly live with that! The brown around the edges that you see is not normal. The actual edges of the cheesecake are supposed to be a bit brown, but you shouldn’t have cooked on batter on the pan like that. I actually forgot to add the vanilla before I put the batter in the pan. So I had to mix it in carefully after I already had it in the dish. I was talking to my mom while doing this and got distracted. Violated my own rule. Again. But there are worse things. Moving on…

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These are actually the last two pieces. I almost didn’t get a shot of the cheesecake with toppings. With 5 people eating on it, it barely lasted 2 days. I know the lighting is bad; this was taken at 8:30 at night. Sorry. We enjoyed these last two pieces with particular relish, as I won’t be making another cheesecake until Ron- my Ruler’s- birthday. My guess is when you try this cheesecake you’ll want it for your birthday too!

The Recipe- The Crust:

1 C Graham Cracker Crumbs

3 T Sugar

5 T Butter, Melted

The Recipe- The Filling:

24 Oz Cream Cheese, Softened

3/4 C Sugar

3 Eggs

1 t Vanilla

The Method: The Crust:

*Heat oven to 325 degrees.

*In a bowl, combine all ingredients well.

*Pour into chosen pan and, with your fingers or the bottom of a glass or measuring cup, gently but firmly press the crumbs into the bottom and up the side of the pan (only about 1/2 an inch, depending on the size of your pan).

*Bake the crust for 10-12 minutes, until it smells of buttery graham crackers and is slightly more golden.

*Take out of the oven and let cool at least 10 minutes.

The Method- The Filling and Construction:

*Heat oven to 425 degrees.

*In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom at least once.

*Add the sugar and beat again, scraping the sides and bottom at least twice, until the mixture is perfectly smooth.

*Add the vanilla and then the eggs one at a time. Mix each egg into the batter completely and then scrape the bowl down after each egg.

* Once as close to perfectly smooth as you can get it, pour the batter into the crust.

*If you want to use a water bath, follow the instructions above.

*Bake the cheesecake at 425 for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 250 and bake until the cheesecake is set in the middle and starting to brown around the edges. This could be anywhere from 35-45 minutes up to an hour plus. You’ll just have to keep an eye on it.

*Once done, open the oven door and let the cheesecake cool for one hour in the oven.

*Remove from the oven and finish cooling on the counter.

*Once completely cool, put the cheesecake in the refrigerator and chill thoroughly.

*Slice and serve with desired toppings. Or eat it plain- it’s just that good!

I think one of my absolute favorite desserts is pie. I love cake- but only with a generous amount of frosting on top, thank you very much. And I adore New York style cheesecake, especially with some caramel drizzled over it. (I’ll eventually get around to posting my cheesecake recipe). And ice cream is always a hit with me. But when it comes right down to answering the “what dessert would you choose if you could only have one for the rest of your life?” question I think the answer has to be pie. There are infinite variations and it’s so homey and comforting. My favorite pie, as I’ve mentioned before, is apple. A nice apple pie with a good, thick double crust is a sure way into my good graces. Add some quality vanilla ice cream along with fresh whipped cream and I’ll do just about anything you want. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to make an apple pie- or any kind of pie- for months now, as my inlaw’s oven is broken and looks to be staying that way indefinitely. So my baking adventures are fewer now; I have to drive to my parents’ house across town and use their oven. I do that at times but I try to make things that don’t have heavy ingredients. Like the 5 pounds of apples my special apple pie requires. So what am I to do? My family loves apple pie too so this is hard for them as well. I had to come up with something. So I thought on it… and it finally dawned on me one day while I was making my monthly dinner menu. I needed a way to change up the weekly breakfast-for-dinner offering and things just came together: apple pie waffles!! I made Belgian-style waffles with a homemade apple pie “filling” to go on top and put a dollop of freshly made vanilla whipped cream on top of that. I can’t even tell you how good they were from the very first try! They have become very popular around my house and the kids asked to have them this month so I thought I would share them with you too! Now you can have apple pie without having to use the oven! Very handy for when the oven is on the fritz or in the summer when it’s just too hot to bake a pie :-)

Really this is more of a method post instead of a specific recipe post- you could make this dish with frozen waffles and canned pie filling if you really had to, but using all homemade is so incredibly good that I BEG you to not go that route! And making waffles at home is so easy and so satisfying! The same goes for the pie filling- store bought has nothing on homemade! So I’ll include the recipes below to make things a little easier.

You can make the waffles or the pie filling first- it really doesn’t matter (Oh- and blueberry pie filling is amazing over waffles too! Don’t limit yourself to just apple.). One reheats just as well as the other so you don’t have to worry about having one ready & waiting for you before you start the other. This dish really is much easier than it sounds!

In all honesty you could use pancakes or crepes for this recipe just as easily as the waffles but we love waffles in my house so that’s what we use. And, incidentally, the recipe I’m going to give you makes such amazing waffles that my kids often ask for them plain- no butter, no syrup, no honey, no nothing. Please, please give it a go!

So get your waffles waffled and your apple pie “filling” cooked and ready to go, then start assembling. If you decide to make Belgian-style waffles out of the recipe below I would recommend starting out with half or a quarter of a waffle; this is a very filling dish! Make sure your waffles and your apples are hot and then spoon some “filling” over your waffle, add some freshly whipped cream on top just before serving (it will melt QUICKLY!) and enjoy.

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Add a glass of milk & you’re set with a balanced meal! ;-)

The Recipe- Waffles:

4C Flour

6T Sugar

3t Baking Powder

1t Salt

4C Buttermilk (sometimes I have to add a little more plain milk- depends on the humidity outside)

1T Vanilla

12T (one stick + 4 T) Butter, melted (Sometimes if I’m short on butter I’ll use 1 stick plus 4 T oil)

The Method:

*As I never have buttermilk on hand, the first thing I do is measure 4T white vinegar into a 4C measuring cup and add enough milk to bring it up to 4C. Let this sit 15 minutes & you’ve got buttermilk.

*Combine dry ingredients well.

*Add wet ingredients and whisk thoroughly.

*Let batter rest while waffle iron heats up.

*Once the waffle iron is hot, check the batter to see if you need a little more milk. If it doesn’t fall from the spoon in one smooth motion it needs a bit more milk.

*Make waffles according to your irons’ directions.

*This recipe freezes very well. If you make thinner waffles (not belgian style) you can even put them in the toaster just like store bought- only these are MUCH better!

The Recipe- Apple Pie Filling

4 Large Apples, sweet or tart, depending on your preference. I use sweet apples.

2T Butter

1/2C+ Brown Sugar (adjust to your tastes)

1t Cinnamon

1/4t Nutmeg

1T Cornstarch

1/4C Apple Juice

More Apple Juice as needed

The Method- Apple Pie Filling:

*Peel, core, quarter, and slice apples.

*Melt the butter in a large skillet

*Add the apples, sugar, and spices.

*Cook, stirring occasionally, until apples are to desired doneness. If you’re using these for this recipe you can leave them crispy or cook them until they’re soft- whichever you prefer. If you’re using this for an actual apple pie, leave them a bit crispy.

*Combine cornstarch and 1/4C apple juice to make a slurry.

*When apples reach desired doneness, add the slurry and stir through the apples.

*If the mixture is too thick (is seized up and too stiff) add more apple juice, a little at a time, until the filling is looser and spreads easily.

*Serve warm over waffles, pancakes, or ice cream. Also works well as a filling for crepes or even a pie.

*Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 5 days.

I know what you’re thinking: “Potato candy? I’ll pass!” That’s what just about everyone says when they encounter this little slice of sweetness. And those who are too cowardly to take a taste end up missing out on a fantastic, unique candy with almost no perceptible taste of potato. I know this because I was almost one of those people. When I was little I hated mashed potatoes. It was a texture thing. I loved french fries, which are basically mashed potatoes with a crunchy exterior. But I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that. How could my beloved french fries be akin to something so squishy and bland? Having that aversion to mashed potatoes, I was horrified upon being offered a piece of “mashed potato” candy by a relative when I was about 7. I remember thinking “How could someone ruin candy with mashed potatoes?!” I was convinced it was a trick to get me to eat something I didn’t like. I was rather a conspiracy theorist, even then. But there it sat on the tray in the kitchen… sweet looking with a beautiful ribbon of peanut butter in the center… “Hmmm…” I thought. “Peanut butter is my favorite food… maybe just a tiny taste and if I hate it I can spit it into the trash…” I would like to say that was a life changing moment for me. That it was a lesson in being bold in trying new foods. It definitely was not. I learned no such painfully obvious lesson. I remained resolutely picky for several more years. BUT I took a piece of that candy and, ready to cause a scene and run to the trash can to perform my most dramatic spitting-out yet, took a small bite. There was no scene. Only knowing smiles from the relatives standing closest to me. The candy was amazing! Incredibly sweet and rich and peanut butter-y with only the merest hint of potato- certainly not enough for an incredibly picky 7 year old to pick out and reject. I ate several pieces that holiday, proving that there really isn’t such a thing as “too rich” for me.

Sadly, I’ve had potato candy only once since then. I was a bit hesitant to try it because I was older and knew from experience that things one loved as a child have a tendency to be awful when tried with more mature taste buds. But I was pleasantly surprised- the candy was still wonderful that second time! So when I made dinner the other night- slow simmered beef stew served in hollowed out baked potatoes (“baked” in the slow cooker)- I didn’t know what I was going to do with the small amount of potato left over from the 4 potatoes I used. Then it hit me: potato candy! I immediately texted my BFF with my idea and found she had never heard of such a thing but was very intrigued so I should blog it. I took her advice (she’s a very wise woman, after all) and here we are. Hopefully you will be as curious!

I’ve studied all the recipes I can find and they are all pretty much the same- and incredibly basic. All you need is almost definitely already in your pantry and fridge.

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If you want your candy to keep a bright whiteness you will need clear vanilla, available in the baking aisle. As vanilla beans are almost black and exude a brown color when soaked, I don’t trust clear vanilla. It’s fake. I don’t like fake. And, honestly, there’s something I find a tad unsettling about stark white potato candy. So I use regular vanilla and it ends up off white- I’m ok with that.

As I said, you only need a small amount of potato for this. But it needs to be just plain potato. As I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, I always use chicken broth when I make mashed potatoes and that won’t work here. Then you’d have chicken-y potato candy and that would just be too weird. So make sure you have PLAIN potatoes (from a baked potato would be ideal) and make sure they are room temperature- they will be easier to incorporate that way. Put them in a bowl along with the vanilla, salt, and the lesser amounts of the milk and powdered sugar. Start stirring with a spoon, not your hands because it will be gloopy. Once everything is mixed together add another cup of powdered sugar and start mixing with your hands. I used 5 cups when I made mine and that was enough. The dough should be soft but not sticky. If your dough is still a little too sticky add more powdered sugar by the 1/4 cupful until it’s not sticky anymore. If you get the dough a little too dry, add more milk by the teaspoonful until it’s at the right consistency. You want something like this:

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You don’t have to worry about getting it completely mixed in the bowl. It’s actually easier if you turn the contents of the bowl out onto a countertop that has been dusted with powdered sugar (NOT flour!) and then work it into a smooth ball of dough. Knead it just like bread dough for a about a minute to get all of the sugar mixed in and you will end up with a beautifully smooth dough…

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If you’ll notice, this is not a ball. It’s more an oblong blob of dough. This is for very good reason, actually. If you roll the dough into a ball it will form a circle when you roll it out. Some of the recipes I found called for rolling the dough into a circle and then cutting the edges off to form a circle. That just seemed completely ridiculous to me. Why on Earth would you roll it into a circle, then cut edges off and waste them when you can just roll it into a rectangle to begin with?! So I made the dough into an oblong shape, coated my rolling pin and the surface of the dough with a bit of powdered sugar, and started rolling. I didn’t end up with a perfect rectangle, but I was close…

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It’s close enough for my purposes, anyway. You will need to keep the rolling pin and the surface of the dough coated with a little powdered sugar so things don’t stick. And if you get a tear, just pinch it back together. You can see where I had to do that at the bottom edge. It’s a really easy fix!

Once you have the dough rolled out to about 1/4 inch, spread your peanut butter. I have an amount listed below in the recipe but this is approximate. I don’t measure the peanut butter, I just keep spreading it on until I have a very thin layer. Don’t go overboard- that will just make it hard to roll.  Here’s how mine looked:

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Now comes the tricky part: rolling this up. Start at the edge farthest from you and roll towards you. Go slowly! You will probably need to scrape the dough up from the counter in a few spots as you go and the edges may be a bit crumbly. Just go slowly and be patient and you will, indeed, get a cinnamon roll-style log of peanut butter filled candy dough. Now take a sharp knife, cut the ends off… and share them with whomever is nearest. Seriously! That’s why I wasn’t worried about getting a perfectly neat rectangle. I just cut the unsightly ends off and share them with whomever is closest at hand. That way there’s no waste! As for the rest of the log, cut it into slices no thicker than half an inch and either plate it up or put it into an airtight container. If you put it on a plate, wrap it well in plastic wrap. If you put it in a container and have to have layers, put plastic wrap between said layers.

Once you slice and arrange the pieces you will have what looks like minature cinnamon rolls, ready to be baked:

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These are a little rough and not exactly perfect but it’s also my first try… well, ever. I’ll get it a little cleaner next time. But even if they aren’t the prettiest they are SO tasty! These would be beautiful alongside your other candies on a platter at your Christmas shindig. Maybe they’ll inspire you to dig out the old time cookbooks and make some other classic candies for the Holidays! It’s definitely got me thinking now! We’ll see if any other old school ideas catch my fancy! :-)

The Recipe:

1/3 C Mashed Potato, room temperature
1-2 T Milk (I used only 1 T)
1 t Vanilla
Large Pinch Salt
4-6 C Powdered Sugar
4-6 T Creamy Peanut Butter

The Method:

*In a large bowl, combine mashed potatoes, salt, vanilla, and the lesser amounts of powdered sugar and milk.

*Mix with a spoon until well combined.

*Add 1 C more of powdered sugar and begin working the dough together with your hands until everything is combined and the dough is no longer sticky.

*If needed, add more powdered sugar by 1/4 cupfuls until the dough is the required consistency.

*If the dough gets too dry (crumbly) add more milk by teaspoonfuls until the proper consistency is reached.

*Dust the countertop liberally with powdered sugar and turn the dough out onto it. Knead the dough until it is smooth and not sticky at all; about 1-2 minutes.

*Pat into a rough oblong shape.

*Coat the surface of the dough and a rolling pin with a thin layer of powdered sugar and roll the dough into the rough shape of a rectangle, rolling until the dough is about 1/4 inch thick.

*Spread with a layer of peanut butter (I would say I used the larger amount listed above, maybe a tiny bit more).

*Start at the long side farthest from you and roll the dough up cinnamon roll-style, rolling it towards you.

*With a sharp knife, trim up the edges (read: eat the ugly bits!) and cut the roll into slices no thicker than 1/2 an inch.

*Place on a platter and wrap well with plastic wrap or put in an airtight container with plastic between the layers.

*Keep up to 5 days.

Something rather upsetting happened last night: fruit flies became VERY interested in our Christmas Pudding :-( We took it down from it’s happy hanging place and put it in the fridge. We still have high hopes for enjoying it after our Christmas feast and I will still follow up with that post to let you all know how it turned out.

We are definitely disappointed that we had to put the pudding in the refrigerator. Not so much because we don’t want cold pudding, but because this was also an experiment in keeping food in the Victorian way. I know what some of you are thinking: “That’s why they invented refrigerators. Duh!” My husband & I are trying to move away from things like microwaves, refrigerators, ranges, and- well, electricity in general. Our goal is to start putting food by in it’s most nutritional form which DOES NOT include refrigerators. Refrigerators are actually very bad for food- that’s why they have to be so cold. Fridges create a very damp environment, which bacteria like and is why they have to make the internal temperature so cold. And the cold temperature diminishes the nutrient content as well as the flavor of foods. Traditional pantries, cold pits, and root cellars are actually MUCH better places to store food and that is what we are working towards. That is why this was so disappointing.

But we think we’ve also found a solution for next time: another flour sack towel. Yep. It’s that simple. All we should have to do is wrap the pudding in another clean, dry flour sack towel and then hang it. Problem should be solved! But for now, we’ll keep the pudding in the fridge and see how it turns out.

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