Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Two-week Menu Plan

Steve and I have been making menu plans for over a year now. There are many reasons we do this:
  1. to save money
  2. we always have ingredients on hand
  3. we don't have to think about what we're having for supper
Before we started making our menus, we realized that we were eating out a lot at the beginning of our marriage. This may not sound bad to some people but we had a very limited budget. I was working full-time. Steve was working part-time while looking for full-time work. We realized we couldn't continue to eat out. We were eating out for a variety of reasons:
  1. We were too tired to think of what to cook for supper.
  2. If we did think of something, we didn't have the ingredients on hand to make the dish and didn't want to go to the grocery store.
I had read online about making a menu plan and decided to give it a shot. We made a menu plan for one week. I didn't pay attention to the Fareway ad and just wrote down what we wanted to eat and made our grocery list from that. After spending $80 a week on groceries for awhile, I decided that was ridiculous. I think that's when I started the two-week menu plan. I would glance at the Fareway ad but not base my meals around it. It was still cheaper than our weekly grocery list and I started incorporating left-overs and using all (ok, most) of the produce I was buying. Sometime during my menu-planning adventures, I decided to make a menu plan for a month. We would write down 36 meals and then write our grocery list. We would buy all non-perishables and the first two weeks' perishables. The third week we would buy the last two weeks' perishables. This sounds great in theory and as I'm writing this, I'm thinking We should do that again. But I remember why we stopped doing it. It is very hard to sit down and decide what we're going to eat for the next month. It takes a good hour to make the menu plan and then it takes about an hour (more or less) to make the grocery list. It did save time in the long run but we decided to switch back to our two-week menu plan. I've finished writing our menu plan for the next two weeks. I'm pretty excited because it re-uses a lot of ingredients and I'm using my crock-pot at least 5 times. Without further ado, here is my menu plan:

Sunday Dec. 26th

Monday Dec. 27th
grilled cheese, tomato soup

Tuesday Dec 28th Crockpot Day
Crockpot Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti, fruit and veggies

Wednesday Dec. 29th
boneless beef ribs, fruit and veggies

Thursday Dec. 30th Crockpot Day
Ham, Knorr rice side, veggies and fruit

Friday Dec. 31st
Shredded meat sandwiches, veggies and fruit

Saturday Jan. 1st Crockpot Day
Ham and Lentil Soup, veggies and fruit

Sunday Jan. 2nd
Orange Chicken, rice
Hot Ham and Cheese Sandwiches, veggies, fruit

Monday Jan. 3rd Crockpot Day
Three Bean Vegetarian Chili, Texas toast

Tuesday Jan. 4th

Wednesday Jan. 5th
ground beef with rice and Rotel tomatoes

Thursday Jan. 6th Crockpot Day
Hodgepodge Sloppy Joes, veggies, fruit

Friday Jan. 7th
Chicken Noodle Soup

Saturday Jan. 8th
left-overs/catch-up meal

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I have a plan!

Yesterday we were in the midst of a snow storm. We didn't get a lot of snow but it was very windy and snow was blowing everywhere. I decided to not go anywhere except the grocery store. I really wouldn't have even gone there but our fridge was empty. Literally empty. I sat down with Steve to make our menu for the next two weeks and make our grocery list. Yesterday was also a good day to decide what I wanted to bake next weekend. (I'm all about planning ahead... anybody know what they're giving their mom and grandma next year for Christmas? I do!) I brought out my personal cookbook and flipped through it. I considered some family favorites and some new recipes. Here's the list:

Cranberry bread
Chocolate chip-Butterscotch chip cookies
Oreo balls
Peanut butter cookies
Peanut brittle
Mt. Dew cake
Marble cake

Most of this will be going to my grandma's for Christmas. I already have some cookies in the freezer from my cookie swap in October. I also plan to make a goodie tray and the Mt. Dew cake for the bake sale at work. I've never made cranberry bread. I bought two bags of cranberries for Thanksgiving. I only used one bag and saw the recipe on the back. The recipe sounds good so I decided to try it. The chocolate chip-butterscotch chip cookies are my classic recipe. I figured I should throw something easy into the mix! Peanut butter cookies are my brother's favorite and I just couldn't resist making them for him. I've never made the oreo balls but the recipe only has 3 ingredients... how easy is that?! I plan to make the marble cake because, well, I need the practice! May is not that far away and I need to get it just right for Darcy's graduation. And last but not least is the peanut brittle. I found this recipe online. I don't really care for peanut brittle but my dad loves it. I plan to make it as part of his Christmas gift. He is still getting his traditional box of chocolate covered cherries. For the goodie tray for work, I plan to take a few cookies from each batch and some peanut brittle. I think that will make a nice arrangement.

If anybody wants to help, come over!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

In search of marble cake

My little sister is one of the coolest people I know. And no, that's not sarcasm. I adore Darcy. I would do anything for her. In fact, I am. I told our mom that I would make her graduation cakes. I was thinking something simple like chocolate, white or yellow or even cupcakes. I asked Darcy what kind of cake she wanted the last time I was home. She thought about it for awhile and said "You know, I've always liked marble cake." Oh, boy. You see, I had never made a marble cake before. I didn't even have a recipe for marble cake. I told her that I would find a recipe for marble cake and give it a shot. My mom had two recipes which I made copies of. My grandma threw a curve ball into the mix by saying that my Great Grandma used to make a marble cake that was a mix of yellow, chocolate and spice cake. She couldn't find the recipe but I took Great Grandma's spice cake recipe. We'll see what happens. I also subscribe to Penzey's spice catalog (I've never ordered from them but I do like looking at the recipes... I told you that I have a problem!). The latest catalog had a recipe for marble cake. I made a marble cake from one of Mom's recipes for a pot luck at work. It was a tad dry. Tonight I made the marble cake from Penzey's. It wasn't dry but I still think it needs some work. Practice makes perfect and I really hope that my coworkers and Steve's like marble cake because they're going to be eating a lot of it in the next 5 months!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cran-Apple Butter

I made the cranberry apple butter yesterday. I peeled and sliced 11 apples. The original recipe calls for 14. I know it sounds like a lot but you get a lot of apple butter. I had a cup and a half of cranberry sauce left over from Thanksgiving. My little sister would be shocked. She loves cranberry sauce. I added the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. I did cut down on the amount of ground cloves going in. The original recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon but I changed it to 1/4 teaspoon. I wasn't sure how cloves and cranberries would taste together. The cranberry-apple butter turned out great but I can't really taste the cranberries in it. The apple butter has a slight tang to it but not a lot. I do like it though. I put some in the freezer containers and the rest in a left over glass jar. The glass jar went into the fridge because I did not want to clean apple butter out of my freezer after the jar exploded! I plan to give my grandma some of the first batch of apple butter and I think I'll give her some cran-apple butter too. My mom might like some too. I think I'm addicted to making it!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving and Left-overs

This past Thursday I hosted Thanksgiving for Steve's parents and his twin brother. I popped the turkey in the oven at 10 AM. Most of the side dishes were made in advance. The only things that weren't made in advance were the corn, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Steve cut his finger on our new peeler trying to peel the potatoes. After getting him bandaged up, I took over peeling potatoes. Linda, David and Nathan arrived while I was peeling potatoes. They brought cookies, a cheese ball and crackers. Nathan forgot to bring the rolls. I gave him a hard time about it and then told him we had some Grand's biscuits in the fridge he could make. Linda helped make the potatoes and helped me transfer the turkey to the serving dish. In all, the meal went very well. The turkey turned out great which I was the most nervous about. I also made homemade gravy for the first time using the turkey drippings. The seven layer jell-o salad did not turn out that well. A couple of the layers with carnation milk didn't completely set. I was disappointed but didn't let it ruin my day. I had a great time talking with Linda. The boys and David were at the table talking so Linda and I took control of the TV. I switched it to ABC family and we watched a little of Snow White. Steve and I had watched the Macy's Thanksgiving parade before everyone arrived.

We had a lot of left-overs, mainly turkey. I did send some food home with Nathan. Linda turned down taking left-overs because they had more traveling to do during the weekend and no way to store the food properly. For this week's menu plan, I put turkey noodle soup and turkey pot pie. I'm hoping we can use all of the turkey left-overs that way. If not, we'll have BBQ turkey sandwiches. I made the turkey noodle soup today and it tasted great. Chicken noodle soup is one of my favorites. I used that recipe and subbed turkey for the chicken. I also decided to make cranberry apple butter using the left-over cranberry sauce. My sister Kat had sent me a recipe for apple butter that I've tried and liked. I'm adding the cranberry sauce to it and hoping that it turns out well. The cranberry apple butter is made using the crock pot so I will turn it on tomorrow before I leave for work. I'm so anxious to smell it! I love coming home to a yummy smelling apartment.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Let's Get Ready To...

This year I'm hosting Thanksgiving for my in-laws. This was a random decision that Steve and I made when we learned he had to work Thanksgiving evening. I love the holidays and decided that there was no reason we couldn't have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. We decided to invite his parents and twin brother to celebrate with us. We've been planning this for a month. I've asked my grandma for advice on turkeys, cranberry sauce and jell-o layer salad. I've even called her from the grocery store. She has been very patient with me and given me all of her secrets. Most of the secrets are "follow the directions" and "keep it simple". Today I premade what I could. I assembled the green bean casserole. I made both pumpkin and apple pies. Steve made squash and I made the cranberry sauce. I also made the jell-o salad. There's only one layer to go and it will be done. The table is set and a card table is out in anticipation of how much food we're going to have. I did spread a white tablecloth on the card table to make it look a little better. Grandma's decorative pilgrims have been given a place of honor next to my other grandparents' wedding picture... have to keep my family in the dinner somehow! The cranberries made a fun popping sound as I was making the cranberry sauce. Oh the little things. Lol! The pie crust almost killed me but me being my mother's daughter, I refuse to give in and buy pie crust. Gross. I think the pies turned out alright. The green bean casserole needs the French-fried onions sprinkled on it tomorrow and it can be popped into the oven with the turkey. Oh the turkey... I've never made a turkey before. But there is a first time for everything. I keep telling myself that even if it doesn't go according to plan, it'll make a great story. And I love a good story. I'm also doing something most of my family members have not done... cooking Thanksgiving dinner! My grandma has cooked it every year since before I was born. It makes me a little happy to think that I'm taking on a challenge that most of my family (including my mom!) hasn't done. Wish me luck!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cookie Swap and Family Recipes

A couple of weeks ago, I hosted a cookie swap. My cookie swap was by no means a traditional cookie swap. With a traditional cookie swap, the participants bake their cookies at home and bring them to the swap. I decided it was more fun to bake all of the cookies together at my apartment... and I was right! My sister-in-law and niece came from Sioux Falls. A couple of my college friends, who I don't see enough, came as well as a couple of friends that I see fairly often. My kitchen was armed with 2 Kitchenaid mixers (the holy grail of kitchens), measuring cups, cooling racks and any other baking necessity we thought necessary. I bought new spatulas and wooden spoons for the event. I needed them and had put off buying them... the swap finally gave me a reason to get them. A great time was had by all as we measured, mixed, scooped batter, talked and laughed. I was very happy and relieved to see that the group mixed well. Each participant knew one other person other than me but not everyone. My college friends stayed long after everyone else had gone home. We reminisced about college days and laughed at the fun we had. We also talked about life after college and the many surprises (some pleasant, others not) that had occurred. It was great fun and I look forward to seeing them again.

This past weekend I went home for my little sister's play. Side note: the play was fantastic and I was extremely proud of her. I stayed at my grandma's house and was able to talk turkey with her... literally. I'm hosting Thanksgiving for my in-laws this year and needed advice. I've never made a turkey before and wanted my grandma's secrets. Her big secret: get the Reynold's cooking bags and follow the directions. I also needed her secret for the cranberry sauce. My little sister loves it and even though, she's not going to be at my Thanksgiving, I wanted my family traditions to be there. Grandma looked at me and said "Buy the Ocean Spray cranberries and follow the directions." All these years, I thought these were secret family recipes and I could have easily gone to the grocery store and gotten them! When I arrived at Grandma's, she had made some cookies for her church's annual bazaar and let me have some. The cookies were delicious and when I asked for the recipe, she said it was in the family cookbook. This posed a little problem for me. I had the family cookbook years ago but between moving to college and then to my own apartment and having some momentos at my parents' house, I can't find my copy. When I told Grandma, she promptly went to the cupboard and got my great-grandma's copy. Great Grandma was such a treasure to our family and still is. Great Grandma and I shared a special bond and I miss her tremedously. Great Grandma had written notes in her family cookbook so I have her recipe notes written in her beautiful hand-writing. I will treasure this cookbook forever and never lose it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Soup and Goo

Today I ate one of my favorite things... and no, it's not a baked goodie. It's chicken noodle soup. I love this soup; it's my absolute favorite soup. I have about 3 different recipes for it but the recipe I made today is the best. This recipe has a nice blend of spices and veggies to give the soup a good flavor. I have a crock-pot chicken noodle soup recipe that uses water and way too much onion. The soup ends up tasting watery and oniony. (Is that even a real word?) Normally the recipe I made today uses evaporated milk to make the soup creamy. I've found that with just the two of us, soups produce a lot of left-overs and left-over creamy soups don't reheat well. Last year on a whim, I left out the evaporated milk and the soup still tasted great and that's what I did today. Chicken noodle soup seems to signify the beginning of fall to me.

Also today I made a dessert for a pot luck at work. Yes, another one. It's a wonder that I'm not 300 pounds. I made choco-cherry krispie treats. I remembered not being pleased with this recipe in the past but decided to give it another shot. The cherries were too large last time but I have a food processor now. I was able to whir the cherries into smaller pieces. The recipe also uses Cocoa Krispies. Chocolate cereal! Whoever thought of it, thank you. This recipe is similar to rice krispie bars with a few simple additions. I measured out the cocoa krispies and cherries and melted the butter, cocoa and marshmallows. I forgot to spray the bowl I was mixing everything in...problem one. I scraped as much back in the pan as I could and sprayed the bowl. Using a wooden spoon was starting to be cumbersome so I decided to use my hand to mix everything. This would have been a great idea...had I remembered to spray my hands. I was trying to get the chocolate cherry goo off my hands and it kept sticking together. I finally gave up and woke Steve out of his nap to help get the goo off my hands. After he got the majority of it off my hands, I washed the rest off, SPRAYED my hands and pressed the mixture into the pan. Dessert finished!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Old Favorite

This week was my first week back from vacation. Steve and I went to Rapid City, SD to visit his parents and do some sight-seeing. The vacation was great! I came back refreshed... until Monday when I had to go back to work. All of my work had piled up while I was on vacation... great. I am transferring to a different position effective Monday. I've been trying to balance my training for that position with the work of my current (soon to be old) position and that's just my work life! I had decided that I would bake something for my coworkers my last week with them so that was my goal tonight. I came home and had a Mike's; a girl has to unwind somehow, right? After supper, I started on my famous chocolate chip-butterscotch chip cookies. I've made them a zillion times and never tire of them. The recipe originates from the Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe but I've modified it over the years. Some of the modifications were for preferences in taste, others due to lack of ingredients. The kicker, butterscotch chips, was an inspiration from my cousin Liz. The butterscotch adds a softness to the flavor of the cookie that's very refreshing... in my humble opinion.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In preperation

Fall is here which means staying inside more. While most people seem to dread the changing of seasons (especially summer to fall), I love it. Suddenly a break in what has been experienced for days and something new to see and feel and smell. I eagerly await fall. Fall is the precursor to the holiday season... a season I love. Fall also means more baking for me. During the summer, it is simply too hot to bake. Our tiny apartment can't handle the heat generated by our oven during the summer and we feel as though we are in a sweat shop. But fall with its cooler temperatures brings the perfect baking and soup weather. This weekend I have to bake (I know, poor me!) for a pot luck at my church. Last night I flipped through my personal cook book trying to find something different to make. The problem was not finding a new recipe to try but rather which recipe out of the many to try. You see, I collect recipes... I search through cook books, magazines and web sites looking for recipes that might be good. If I did this only occasionally, it wouldn't be a problem but I don't. I search recipes frequently, dreaming of the day when I will make those recipes and picking up little tips as I go along. Last night I could barely sit still; I wanted to bake so bad! However I didn't have the necessary ingredients and it was late. Today presents an opportunity. Today I am making a list and going grocery shopping... even though Fareway is closed on Sundays. I am braving Walmart on Sunday for my love of baking.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Who Needs Retail Therapy? I've Got Kitchen Therapy!

I always forget how comforting a kitchen can be. There is something about focusing all of my energy into baking that always makes me feel great. I'm a little amazed that I've forgotten this because it was always what I turned to in the past. Mad?
Bake it out. Upset or sad? Bake. Happy? Bake to celebrate. This summer has been horrid for me... I've had a few happy moments and memories but overall the summer has sucked. My job is in jeopardy due to a grant possibly not being renewed and the feelings from it have spiraled into something I can't control, something I can't escape. Something I want to hide from and forget about but can't.

My sister-in-law Heather loves to bake as much as I do and during a recent family get-together we decided to do a girls' night followed by a day of baking. We both desperately needed a girls' night and we both love kitchen therapy. Heather's coworker gave her some peaches with the request to bake him a pie which is what set this day in motion. I brought two of my personal cook books. We looked through mine and hers and came up with a list: Tuscan Lemon Cake (with a lemon glaze!), banana oatmeal cookies, cola brownies, and 2 peach pies. At 9 in the morning we went to Hy-Vee and got the necessary ingredients including sandwich fixins' for lunch. The Tuscan Lemon Cake was first which I mainly worked on while Heather puttered around the kitchen. We had a few drinks the night before so a lot of jamming also went on that day... we needed to get rid of some of the calories we had consumed! Heather had said she likes to bake with other people because she always learns some new tricks. I'm not sure what she learned from me but I want her pie crust recipe. It has vinegar in it and sounded very interesting. It was great to vent about my weird summer or family as we were baking.
The Tuscan Lemon Cake was in the oven and I was working on the cola brownies when our friend (and old boss) Elizabeth showed up for lunch. I adore Elizabeth. She has such a great
attitude and is so easy to be around. I hadn't seen her for awhile so it was nice to have her in the kitchen as well. She was more of an observer since she doesn't bake. She was amazed by the ease in which Heather and I baked. She compared it with being on the set of a Food Network show which I found hilarious! Elizabeth's dog, Jessie, had come with her but had stayed outside in the back yard. My niece Eve had a ball going outside with Elizabeth to play with Jessie and slide shoes down the slide. At the end of the day, most of my worries were out in the open and I had seen people I loved. Kitchen therapy had done it's job.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Citrus Streusel Bread, anyone?

Saturdays I have completely to myself while Steve is at work. This might sound nice in theory but around 3pm, I get really bored. Laundry is usually done, apartment is tidy, and...I have nothing else to do. This is also the hour of bad TV shows on Saturdays and I can only read for so long. I decided this week to make a citrus streusel quick bread. I love citrus and who doesn't love bread? The bread seemed simple enough to make but I needed a couple of ingredients. I finish writing our menu for the next 2 weeks, wrote up a grocery list and headed to Fareway. Side note, I love Fareway. It's a very peaceful grocery store to go to even when it's busy. I can always find what I'm looking for, unlike HyVee where I spend hours searching for something only to give up and leave. Fareway also has reasonable prices even though it didn't stop me from spending nearly $140...we had a lot of restocking to do. But back to the bread. After putting away all of the groceries, I started making the bread. The recipe called for a lemon or orange cake mix; I used lemon since I had it on hand. The best part of the bread was the topping on the bread. The topping was a mix of cake mix, brown sugar and cinnamon with butter cut into it. The recipe also called for pecans but since I don't like the texture of nuts in baked goods, I omitted the pecans. With the topping made and set aside, the rest of the batter came together quite nicely. I tried stirring the batter by hand but it looked a little gluey. Time to bust out the hand mixer! The mixer made all the difference. The batter was still thick but smooth. I spooned the batter into the bread loaf pans and sprinkled on the topping.

Soon my apartment smelled of was divine. The loaves cooled in their pans for 10 minutes. My friend Kim came over right after I took the loaves out of the pans. The bread was fantastic. In hindsight, I would double the topping because it's the best part.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Soda Cookies and Potato Salad

Tonight I'm celebrating my heritage. No, there is no holiday today that only I know about. I'm half Irish and a quarter German. The other quarter is a mix of French and Luxembourg. Tonight I made Irish Soda Bread cookies. I've tried to make actual soda bread in the past and failed... horribly the first time, not so horribly the second time. The first time I made soda bread was for my church. My priest hosts a holy hour in March for all the local priests. Soda bread is always served along with other appetizers. I signed up to make the soda bread. A few of the older ladies at church asked if I had ever made it soda bread in the past. "No but my uncle is three-fourths Irish. I'm sure I'll be able to find an authentic recipe," I said with confidence... stupid confidence but confidence none the less. I got a recipe for soda bread that came from Ireland. The bread was awkward. There is no other way to describe it. I signed up for 2 loaves of bread so I had to double the recipe. The bread was a huge mound on the cookie sheet. It looked strange. I can't serve this to a bunch of priests! They're going to think I'm trying to kill them! I thought to myself. My husband agreed the bread was strange looking. I started over. I had no choice. Fast forward 2 months to the Irish soda cookies. Everything went smoothly! I did however wish I had a pastry cutter when I was cutting the butter into the dry ingredients with a fork. I made a not so subtle suggestion to Steve that a pastry cutter would make a good gift. OK, I told him that I want one! I was able to knead the dough (which wasn't possible for the soda bread) and cut it into squares. The cookies turned out awesome!

The other half of celebrating my heritage was the potato salad. Tonight Steve asked me if I knew how to make potato salad. Of course! It's one of my favorite foods and one of the few ways I will eat potatoes. Yes, I'm half Irish and I don't eat potatoes. I'm aware of the irony. However the next time the potato famine comes around, I'll be the only one not affected. I actually grew up eating more German food than I did Irish. My mom was taught to cook by her mom who is not one tiny little bit Irish. We love her despite this fact and have dubbed her an honorary Irish woman. But back to the potato salad. Somehow we had all of the ingredients on hand for potato salad: potatoes, eggs, celery, onion, mustard, mayo and paprika. Eggs and potatoes were boiled and left to cool while I worked on the Irish Soda Bread cookies. Steve was nice and agreed to slice the potatoes. I hate cutting the potatoes for potato salad. The potato always got all over my hands and I can smell the potatoes. It's just a bad scene. I sliced the eggs and celery. Everything went in a big bowl. Some onion was added, along with mayo and mustard. A few taste tests and some additions of mayo and mustard and the potato salad was ready! Sprinkle paprika over the potato salad because I like my food to be fancy.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Kabobs and Smoothies

Tonight Steve and I decided to be adventurous and make kabobs. I had watched an episode of Rachael Ray a couple weeks ago and she was making shish kabobs. We made beef kabobs instead of shish kabobs because the shish part is lamb and I refuse to eat baby animals. Same goes for veal which is a calf (baby cow for you non-farmers). Don't get my wrong... I'm not a vegetarian, not even close, but I prefer my meat to be fully grown. I had looked up Rachael's recipe for the kabobs awhile ago but decided to wing it tonight. Steve cut a beef steak into bite size cubes and I did the same with a green pepper, red pepper, cucumber and half an onion. I seasoned the veggies and the beef liberally with salt and pepper before putting them on the skewers. We were using wooden skewers so we soaked them in water to avoid burning them. The veggies and the meat had their own skewers because each had their own cooking time. Thanks for the tip, Rachael! Another liberal seasoning of salt and pepper and the kabobs were ready for the grill. We also had rice going in our rice cooker for the side. The kabobs cooked really fast on the grill and tasted awesome! I think we've found another summer staple for our menus!

Now for the smoothie! The smoothie is actually tomorrow's breakfast. One of my goals last year was to eat breakfast every day but this habit has been kind of forgotten. I'm trying to revive the habit and make it healthy too. I had a recipe for smoothies from a HyVee magazine. It called for orange juice, which I don't have, and ice, which I refuse to use because the ice in our freezer tastes (and smells) disgusting (no matter what we do). I've made smoothies before and decided to wing it. I did have the fruit and the plain yogurt the recipe called for. I put in the amount of yogurt and the fruit according to the recipe in my food processor. Side note: I love my food processor. The blender I find annoying but I absolutely love my food processor! I gave the yogurt and fruit a whir and took a look. It looked a little skimpy... I added milk and gave it another whir. Not enough cherries... in more cherries went. I gave it a quick taste and concluded... that it needed a little sugar. A couple spoonfuls of sugar (no medicine involved here) blended in and it tasted great! I gave Steve a taste and he gave it a positive review. Breakfast is served!

I Bake at Strange Times

It's true. I bake at strange hours, some by choice, others not so much. Friday, my husband and I went out for supper with a friend from college. We hadn't seen this friend for awhile so supper was a little longer than usual. We went out to eat at our favorite Chinese restaurant from college, 45 minutes away. We got home later than we usually do which normally wouldn't have been a problem. My husband's co-workers were having a "Fruit Saturday" pot luck. He had signed up to bring fruit pizza. I love fruit pizza. I made it a lot when I was studying in Spain and crafted my own recipe. In the past, I remember not being 100% satisfied with the crust. I told Steve to buy ready made sugar cookie dough since it was so late. I didn't want to stay up all night making the pizza after all. Steve stopped by the grocery store to pick up some much needed ingredients... strawberries, cream cheese, the cookie dough, Clementine oranges. I had started slicing the kiwi and measured out the sugar for the crust. Steve came home and we got serious about this pizza. I tried to smooth the cookie dough onto a cookie sheet. I say try because the dough was sticky and kept sticking to my hands as I smoothed it out. I tried using a glass sprayed with cooking spray... it worked... somewhat. Steve started chopping strawberries and peeling oranges. I finally popped the cookie crust into the oven. I debated poking holes in the crust with a fork. My mom does this with pie crust but I decided against it. I'm not really sure why except that it was late and I was a little tired. I turned my attention to the pizza "sauce". The sauce is a fruit dip which is one of the reasons I love this version of fruit pizza. Like I said, it was late and I was a little tired. Instead of adding 2 teaspoons of vanilla to the sugar and cream cheese, I added 2 tablespoons! Yikes! I tried adding more sugar but it was still a little runny. I did the best I could and prayed that it would thicken while it was in the fridge overnight. About the same time, the cookie crust was done... The cookie was bubbling slightly... it looked alive. I pierced it with a fork and stuck it back in the oven. After taking it out of the oven a second time, I popped it in the fridge to cool down. I didn't want the crust to cook the sauce! In the meantime, Steve had finished chopping the strawberries and peeling the oranges. I'm fortunate that he loves to cook/bake as much as I do. It was getting extremely late and he had to be up for work at 6, so I told him to go to bed while I finished the pizza. After 10 minutes of being in the fridge, I decided the crust was ready... if it wasn't I was. Like I said earlier, I didn't want to be up all night making this pizza. I spread the sauce on and started the rows of the fruit. Oranges on the outside, then strawberries, then kiwi, another row of strawberries and a row of kiwi in the middle and I was done! Put some press-n-seal wrap on it and time for bed! Yay!

Making the pizza reminded me of my time in Spain and for a few minutes late Friday night, I felt as though I were in my apartment in Spain making the fruit pizza for my friends to enjoy. I hoped Steve's co-workers would enjoy it as much as my friends in Spain.

With as late as it was Friday night when I went to bed, I expected to sleep in until at least 8 Saturday morning. Not even close! I was wide awake at 5:30! That isn't even close to the time I get up for work during the week. However I didn't want to wake Steve by tossing and turning. I got out of bed and checked my Facebook account. The light of the screen blinded me until I opened our blinds to let natural light in. After 30 minutes of computer time, I was bored. What to do? What to do? What to do? Oh I know! I'll bake the cupcakes that I've been meaning to bake all week! Yup, 6 AM and I'm getting ready to bake. A little side note about these cupcakes: I like chocolate cupcakes but I have yet to find a recipe that I love. I also plan on hosting a bridal shower for my best friend sometime next winter. I wanted to do a trial run of cupcakes and find the best chocolate cupcakes. Texas sheet cake is my favorite chocolate cake. It always turns out perfect and my relatives harass me to make it for them all the time. "I wonder how it would be as a cupcake recipe?" I thought to myself many times last week. Saturday morning I decided to go for it. I measured out the flour and sugar... doing OK so far. The portion of the recipe that requires the butter, cocoa and water to be boiled was a little problematic. I didn't have enough butter. I used what I had and remembered a tip I had heard before but never tried. Applesauce can replace a half cup of oil or shortening in a recipe. Perfect! I have homemade applesauce in my fridge! I did NOT add the applesauce to the boiling cocoa mix... that sounded a little disgusting to me. I did however add it immediately after adding the cocoa mix to the flour/sugar mix. Things seemed to be going just fine for these cupcakes until the eggs. Cracking eggs is both fun and gross. Half of the shell for the first egg fell into the batter. Thankfully, the mixer was not running so I could simply scoop the egg shell out. The second egg behaved itself better than the first and didn't pose a problem at all. I spooned the batter into a muffin pan, lined with white muffin liners. I like white muffin liners better than the traditional pink, yellow and blue liners. Those liners are perfect for Easter or some other spring activity but any other time seem a little weird to me. After fussing over the cupcakes and their cooking time, they were done! They looked and smelled great. I let them cool for hours before I frosted them. OK, that wasn't actually the plan but Saturday is also my day to do laundry and I got a little distracted. I frosted them about 4 in the afternoon (oh yes, baking is a whole day activity for me!). I used my aunt's recipe with one little exception... I added a little more water. I'm still new to the decorative frosting experience and my hands hurts if the frosting isn't a little soft. I tinted the frosting teal (or as close as I could get) and got to work. Sanding sugar was sprinkled on top to make the cupcakes really elegant. I think they turned out quite nicely.

A little side note about the fruit pizza, Steve called me at 11 to say the sauce hadn't thickened and was there something we could do? Nope. Not one thing. Except start over which wasn't an option since he was at work. When he got home, he told me that the middle of the pizza was soggy so he had thrown away those pieces. The pieces on the edge were OK. I consider the fruit pizza to be a half-failure and proof that I probably shouldn't bake when tired. The cupcakes on the other hand turned out great! Proof that I can get up ridiculously early and bake!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Holiday Baking

This post is a little late but I've just gotten organized from the holidays. Every year at work, the Employee Committee holds a bake sale/silent auction the week before Christmas. This year the bake sale was a benefit for a coworker who is battling melanoma. Normally I would only bake a couple of things but this was for a good cause. I decided to go all out and bake a ton of goodies. I started baking at 8 AM on December 19th. This was a Saturday so I was home by myself in the morning. First up was a Mt. Dew cake which is very easy to make. This cake uses a lemon cake mix (I know) and pudding mixes as the base. I whisked both mixes together and in a seperate bowl mixed together the wet ingredients (eggs, oil, Mt. Dew). I combined all of them together and poured the batter into a bundt pan sprayed with Pam. Pop that into the oven for 55 minutes and I can relax. I was also racing to finish a scarf that I was making for my grandma for Christmas. I'd pop the cake/cookies into the oven and then go knit for a little while. The Mt. Dew cake smelled delicious and was done after 55 minutes. I pulled it out of the oven and placed it on the counter to cool. Back to knitting. After 10 minutes or so, I went to the kitchen to remove the Mt. Dew cake for the pan. I flipped the bundt pan over a cooling rack and nothing happened. The cake didn't come out. Ok, this is ok. I grabbed a butter knife and gently scraped along the sides of the pan. This is has happened before and isn't that big of a deal. I flipped the pan over and with a couple of shakes, the cake came out! Yay! Or maybe not, yay. The cake had chunk missing from it's side. Dang it! Changing the plan--I will be bringing a goodie tray to the bake sale with slices of Mt. Dew cake.

Next up, was some orange chocolate scones. I found this recipe in a Taste of Home magazine. It sounded great. The recipe uses pancake mix and heavy cream. Great, I can do this. Or maybe not. I didn't have heavy cream so I decided to substitute sweetened condensed milk for the heavy cream. It's not exactly the same but same concept, I thought. I had an orange so getting the grated orange peel was not a problem at all. But I didn't have the milk chocolate candy bars I needed. I did, however, have some German chocolate left over from making my husband's birthday cake. I decided to use that. I grabbed my food processor and pulsed the chocolate until it was coarse. The recipe said to knead the dough. Not happening... the dough looked more like pancake batter than bread dough. I can improvise, I thought as I poured the batter into an 8x8 greased pan. Pop that into the oven and we are good to go. I did learn from my earlier mistake with the Mt. Dew cake and let the scones cool in the pan completely before removing to a cooling rack. I personally didn't care for these but my husband said he liked the scones. They went onto the goodie tray as well.

I decided to make dinner rolls using my mom's recipe. I made the dough and left it to rise. I decided to take a nap. It was almost noon and keep in mind that I had been baking since 8 AM that morning. The dough was fully risen by the time I woke up. I was a little worried that it had rose too much. But I continued making the rolls. I kneaded the dough and shaped it into rolls in a glass 8x8 pan (greased, of course). I did save out one roll in a seperate pan for myself to try. Those went into the oven and I started on my next recipe.

I found a recipe for vanilla cherry chocolate cookies from the food network. I was going to make them for my dad for Christmas because he loves cherries and cookies. Perfect! I followed the recipe to a T and everything was going great. I put pan after pan of cookies in the oven. The cookies didn't spread out as much as I prefer but were still good. I did run into one tiny problem with them. A few of my cookie sheets are pretty old and black. The cookies on these sheets were a little burnt on the bottom. These cookies did not go into Dad's present or the goodie tray. I took them to work for our pot-luck in my department.

The rolls came out great. The goodie tray looked great. It contained Mt. Dew cake, orange chocolate scones, pecan bars (I made those the night before) and vanilla cherry chocolate cookies. It netted $15 at the bake sale. My coworker bought my dinner rolls for $8. I'm excited to find out how the dinner rolls tasted at her family's Christmas.