Saturday, December 31, 2011

Purple Palace and Conversing Food Style

This past Christmas I acquired a few purple items for my kitchen and had 3 food related conversations in 2 days.  (Is anyone surprised by this?)  I stopped by my second mommy's house on the way to Grandma's for Christmas. While there I got to see Randy and Nancy, Jen, Shane, Cole and Karson and Ryan and Jared.  I rarely get to see all of the Janssens together and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Growing up I was usually at the Janssens' house a couple times a week.  I love them to bits.  Nancy gave me (drum roll please!) a plum Fiesta Ware spoon rest and a plum Fiesta Ware salt and pepper shaker set.  My first pieces of Fiesta Ware! Yesterday we went to Sioux Falls to have a small family Christmas while my in-laws where driving through on their way to St. Cloud to visit Steve's grandma.  We exchanged Christmas presents at Nathan's after supper.  My mother-in-law gave me a purple apron and dark purple plastic plates and forks.  With the plastic-ware was a note that read: "Psst--It's not Fiesta Ware.  If you don't say anything maybe nobody will notice the difference."  I told Linda that I could use them for a fiesta.  I appreciated that Linda was contributing to my purple kitchen and her sense of humor about doing so.  I told Steve that we can save them and if the Vikings get into the Super Bowl, we can use them then.  His response: "It's not looking good this year."  So maybe we'll just use them when I don't want to do dishes someday.

Some families watch sports when they get together for the holidays; some play sports; some sleep; some fight.  Mine talks about food and politics.  Since politics aren't really my cup of tea (no lectures please!  I'm just not that into them.), I usually focus on the food conversations.  Now we all know that my Achilles heel this year for Thanksgiving was the dressing.  I had separate conversations with my aunt Colleen and my grandma about dressing.  Both said they add more liquid than the recipe states.  Grandma also omits something but for the life of me, I can't remember what it is.  This year she added small apple chunks to it.  Grandma also pops her dressing in the microwave on high for 5 minutes to get it started.  Colleen does all of her prep work for the dressing the night before so Thanksgiving (or Christmas Day) is less hectic.  Great tips that I will surely keep in mind for next year.  I will have successful dressing if it's the death of me!

My third food conversation was with my uncle Mark and my mom.  Every year Uncle Mark makes divinity.  It is a very rich Irish dessert made mainly with sugar and corn syrup.  (There is more to it but I don't have the recipe right in front of me at the moment.)  Mom had tried to make divinity once years ago and flubbed it.  Divinity is a very picky thing to make.  Uncle Mark learned how to make it from his mom and has modified his recipe a little to suit him.  The recipe can be made primarily using a standing mixer.  However the batter will start to rise out of the mixer and you must continue to mix it by hand for 15 minutes.  This is usually when Uncle Mark's mom turned it over to him.  I would like to learn how to make this.  It's one of Mom's favorite desserts and a tradition in our family.  (As are Uncle Mark's bourbon balls... but that is a recipe and post for another time.)  Perhaps next year I will ask Uncle Mark if I can come to Omaha to witness the making of the divinity.  I enjoy learning other people's family traditions and making them a part of my own.  Plus it would be good bonding time with an uncle I hold dear.  

Also during that conversation we talked about traditional Norwegian and Swedish food.  Our family is neither but the area my mom grew up in has a lot of Norwegians and Swedes and Scandinavians.  It was a fun conversation.  We talked about lefsa, lutefisk and a whole bunch of other desserts and foods that I can't spell.    Steve is Scandinavian and German so I'm going to try to learn how to make some traditional foods.  However not lutefisk.  If you're interested in learning more about lutefisk, check out this wikipedia entry.  Here's what I know about lutefisk: it is a process of aging fish and it reeks to high-heaven.  Steve has never tried it and I'm certainly not going to.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Purple Kitchen Becoming Reality

       As many of you know Steve and I have been house-hunting.  We have found the perfect house for us.  Built in 1900 with 4 bedrooms and technically 3 bathrooms (the third is in the basement).  An updated eat-in kitchen and a formal dining room.  It has the fancy woodwork from years past that newer houses lack.  Doesn't this house have me written all over it?  We closed on the house yesterday.  Steve's birthday was Thursday so I like to joke that it's his birthday present.  But in reality, it's a present for both of us.  We've been wanting a house for a long time and are excited to get in.  My parents are coming to help us move and paint.  Nathan is already here to help.  The paint has been purchased along with my stove.  I get a brand new stove!  Although it has been stressful to pick out the appliances, it has been fun too.  I'm excited to see my dream kitchen come together and will be posting pictures as soon as it's done.  It will be nice to finally be able to cook and bake in a big space.  In our apartment, we were always moving things on the counter to make room for something.  It was a hassle and we are so glad to be rid of it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lesson Learned: Holiday Edition

I learned a few lessons this Thanksgiving weekend.

1.Making homemade dressing the very first time is a pain in the butt.
        -So I'm sure half of this is my fault but homemade dressing is a huge pain.  I hadn't fully read the recipe until Thanksgiving day.  Then the stupid onion wouldn't peel.  Tiny pieces came off at a time.  At this point, I was very frustrated and told Steve to peel it because I wasn't wasting anymore time on it.  I started chopping the celery.  We didn't put our last batch of onions in the fridge and I could tell.  My eyes stung chopping the onion.  I sat down to cut up the bread for the dressing and it turns out I made 2 loaves too many.  Go me.  I had decided to cut the stuffing recipe in half since there were only 4 of us.  In case you ever need to know, the 2-lb loaf my bread machine makes equals 9 cups of bread.  I put everything in the crock pot but didn't reduce the cooking time.  The dressing was slightly dryer than Grandma's.  I'm not sure I'm making this next year.  If I do make it for next year, I think I will cook it a day or two before Thanksgiving and warm it in the crock-pot the day of Thanksgiving.

2. OXO peelers are lethal.
         -Steve cut his finger last year peeling the potatoes.  I've cut my finger in the past peeling carrots.  This year I decided to peel the potatoes so Steve wouldn't hurt himself again.  I peeled the carrots and half of a potato before cutting my finger.  It hurt like hell.  It also causes your finger to gush blood.  I ran my finger under cold water and put pressure on it before Steve grabbed a band-aid for me.  I called my aunt to commiserate about the progress of my Thanksgiving and proceeded to nick my thumb.  The peeler is in a box for Goodwill.


3. Dancing when flouring your turkey bag makes the day a little better.
    -Yes, I dance at strange times.  I blame my mom.  Music was always blaring at home and she was usually dancing to it.  Not only was she dancing to it but she'd usually convince us to dance with her.  It's in our blood.  I also had a mixed CD blaring that contained a lot of 70's rock and 90's alternative music.  Dancing is bound to happen with that combination.



4. Small kitchens are not ideal for making a holiday meal.
      -My kitchen is tiny and I can't wait to be out of it.  Our dirty dishes took up the counter with the sink leaving the very tiny counters next to the stove for Thanksgiving meal prep.  I don't think I have to elaborate on why that's a pain.

5. Gravy turns out better when your mother-in-law helps you make it.
     -My white wine gravy turned out pretty good.  Or so people say, I haven't actually tasted it yet.  Linda whisked the drippings and the wine together as I poured.  I'm fairly certain this is why it turned out this year.

6. The 24-hours for every 4 pounds to thaw a turkey rule is a lie.  It takes longer than that.
     -Our turkey was just under 12 pounds.  I took it out of the freezer the Sunday before Thanksgiving and put it in the fridge.  This allowed 3 complete days in the fridge (not counting Sunday or Thanksgiving day).  Part of the turkey was still frozen on Thanksgiving day.  The directions to quickly thaw a turkey were to place it in cold water in the sink.  We placed it in the sink with cold running water and our turkey thawed.  It created unnecessary stress on Thanksgiving day.

7. Recipes given by family members are the best.
     -My cousin Angie gave me her pumpkin bar recipe after my previous blog post.  She doesn't give it out to very many people but offered it to me.  I'm proud to be among the select few that gets the recipe.  The bars are delicious and simple.  I made them for Steve's employees and they gave me the title of The Angel of Baking Everything.  Thanks Angie!



8. Delegate more food responsibilities next year.
    -After this year, I'm definitely going pot-luck for my next holiday.  Making all of the dishes is a lot of work and Linda had offered to bring food or help.  I'm filing that away in my memory for next year.  I think next year I'll have a list of the dishes I would like to have for Thanksgiving and ask family members to sign up for the dishes they want to make.

9. If your china is packed away, the white Corelle will work just fine and double as serving dishes.
     -Because we're moving in a few weeks, my guest bedroom is full of boxes.  I keep my china in the storage closet in the guest bedroom.  You can see where this is going, can't you?  The boxes are in the way of getting things out of the storage closet.

10. If your gravy boat is packed away, a Pyrex 2-cup measuring cup works just fine too.
    -We don't have a gravy boat or gravy ladle for every day use.  Pyrex is as good as it was going to get.  I found it slightly humorous.



11. Don't be depressed if you didn't have a fancy Thanksgiving table if the food tasted ok.
    -I'm disappointed my Thanksgiving table wasn't as fancy as I would have liked but that's the perfectionist in me coming out.  The food tasted good so that's all that matters... right?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Get Your Game Face On

The countdown to Thanksgiving has begun and so have the preparations.  I'm hosting Thanksgiving again this year.  We're having a very small group.  David and Linda are the only guests that I know are coming.  Other family members are welcome since the smallest turkey available was 12 pounds.  We're going to be eating turkey forever... it's a good thing I like it.  My Thanksgiving menu is:

-turkey
-homemade stuffing (Hey my side of the family, did you hear that? You can stop icking about Stove Top because this year, I'm trying to make the real stuff...enjoy Grandma's at her house.)
-cranberry sauce
-mashed potatoes and gravy
-corn
-squash
-green bean casserole
-veggie tray
       --olives
       --celery
       --carrots
       --pickles
-rolls
-cheese and crackers
-lettuce salad
-pumpkin pie

I had a great idea to do prep all week long... Great idea, right?  The cranberry sauce was made Sunday.  I've made 2 loaves of bread for the stuffing.  I think I need 4.  The recipe says 18 cups of soft bread.  Hey, my side of the family, if I have left-over stuffing you're invited to come eat it anytime you want.  The bread machine made a loaf on Sunday and another yesterday.  Today I forgot to get it ready before we left to get groceries.  Bread takes over 3 hours... that was so not happening tonight after 7pm.  Linda did email and ask what she could bring or help with.  I told her to bring the rolls, cheese and crackers.  I've also delegated the mashed potatoes to her again this  year.  If she only did that, it would be enough.  I know how to make mashed potatoes but the smell makes me want to gag.  I haven't mastered making mashed potatoes and the angle my neck needs to be so the potato steam doesn't hit me in the face.  I hope I never get that mastered.  It just doesn't need to happen.

Tomorrow, I'm making the pumpkin pie (and the pie crusts), the squash and assembling the green bean casserole.  Oh and I work  7-4pm tomorrow.  I'm going to be tired.  I have Mike's Cranberry in the fridge as my reward.  Speaking of alcohol, I found a gravy recipe with white wine in it.  It sounds delicious.  And since my gravy was way too thick last year, I figured up the ante and make it more difficult to make, right?  I am aware that I'm crazy but it's the good crazy.  The good crazy always leads to a fun story.  The scary crazy leads to an interesting but potentially bad story... that's not me.

I'm going to have Steve help me make the squash.  I don't know how to make it.  He made it last year.  Squash usually doesn't make an appearance at my family's Thanksgiving.  Steve really likes it so it's becoming a traditional part of our Thanksgiving dinner.

I was watching the Food Network this past Sunday (shocking, right?) and Guy Fieri was making cranberry sauce.  His cranberry sauce had serrano peppers, orange juice and a chipotle pepper in adobo sauce among other things in it.  As he grabbed the chipotle pepper, he said "that's right.  it gets weirder as you go."  I so want to try this.  But I'm already being adventurous with my gravy and the homemade stuffing and didn't want to stretch myself too far.  Next year, maybe I'll give this a whirl and if it's good, I'll make an extra batch for Darcy.  Cranberry sauce is her favorite part of Thanksgiving.

My crock-pot will be housing the stuffing.  I'm so glad I got the big 6-quart crock-pot.  (Thanks again Nancy and Jen!)  I think I can make that day of but should probably chop the veggies for it and the turkey tomorrow.

As a surprise for Linda and because he likes them, Steve made refrigerator pickles for the veggie tray.  I hope they last until Thursday.  Last time he made a batch, they were gone within a day or two.  Again, I don't know how to make these.  Steve got the recipe from his mom.  The original recipe is David's mom's.  Linda found a very similar recipe in the Winthrop cookbook.  According to Steve, they taste exactly the same.  Isn't it fun when food is a part of your family history?  (Ok, it is to me... I'm weird.)  

And to add to my insanity, I'm making a few treats for Steve's employees since they have to work on Thanksgiving.  (A coworker offered to work for Steve so he has the day off.  Thanks Anthony!)  Steve's employees will get their treats on Friday.  I want to make pumpkin bars and a cranberry chutney.  The cranberry chutney is served over cream cheese and is eaten with crackers.  I really want to try it.  I might have to sneak a bite before I give it to them.  I don't have a recipe for the pumpkin bars yet... is that bad?

I've got my game face on.  Get ready Thanksgiving, I'm cooking and I'm going to kick your butt!

Friday, November 4, 2011

I'm dreaming of a...

Purple kitchen.  Steve and I are buying a house.  I had told him awhile ago that I wanted a purple kitchen.  He's a little scared.  He asked if I was going to paint all of the walls purple.  I think he was envisioning four walls painted Vikings purple.  I explained I didn't want that.  I want purple accessories and dishes.  I do plan on replacing my white Correlle with purple Fiesta Ware.  Any purple Fiesta Ware.  Younkers and Khols both carry Fiesta Ware and are located in Sioux City.  Neither store carries the current purple Fiesta Ware.  How is that possible?! I will find purple Fiesta Ware.  It's going to happen.  Both retailers have stores in Sioux Falls too.  I'm going to be checking those branches.  I will not be denied my purple Fiesta Ware.  Fiesta Ware has had many different purple shades through out the years.  I want any and all that I can get my hands on.  On the plus side of my search for purple kitchen accessories, I saw a purple casserole dish at Kitchen Dressings.  I took it off the shelf and showed Steve.  I also told him that it was a hint.

The kitchen is large and I can't wait to use it.  I've been dealing with small apartment kitchens for almost 10 years.  I want my big kitchen.  I need my big kitchen.  I will be able to do so much more cooking, baking and experimenting there.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Week in Food

        Yesterday was a very productive day for me.  I had decided earlier in the week that I was changing up some of my weekend routines so that I could get more done.  We've started to look at houses which means we don't get home until 7 or later.  These are the nights you don't want to chop veggies for supper.  For the past month, we'd usually end up eating frozen pizza or something just as easy and not at all nutritious.  To remedy this, I decided to do all of the veggie chopping on Saturday.  I had done this last weekend and it worked really well.  I've moved laundry day to Friday night (I lead a very exciting life.).  Saturday morning I made myself a pumpkin spice latte.  This is a recipe that I got from a vegan blog called Peas and Thank You.  Don't worry I'm not going vegan, I just enjoy her writing style and some of the healthy ideas from her recipes.  I unveganized it by using cow's milk.  It's still good.  I don't have the garam masala the recipe calls for so I added a dash of chili powder.  Same basic concept.  Side note, a couple days after we tried this recipe without the garam masala or chili powder I found an article in the Sioux City journal about garam masala with a recipe.  Thank you to the food gods!  I didn't try to make it yesterday.  I figured I already have enough planned for the day.  So after enjoying my pumpkin spice latte (my weekend treat!), I did the two loads of laundry left over from Friday night.  After that I raided the refrigerator for all of the veggies that needed to be chopped.  These included: 3 green peppers, 1 red pepper, 1 orange pepper, broccoli and a bag of carrots.  Crank up the radio and I'm in business.  In case you're wondering what all of that looks like, here's a pic:
I don't feel like the picture is an accurate depiction of all of the chopping I did but I hope you get the point.  On Saturday I also made a batch of rice and chicken noodle soup.  We frequently have stir-fry during the week but I always forget to make rice.  Ta-da!  Problem solved!  The chicken noodle soup is for today.  I like to have Sundays be very relaxing and being able to reheat a pot of soup will add to that.

Earlier in the week, we made pumpkin pie smoothies.  I got the recipe from the same site as the pumpkin spice latte.  We had already used the food processor so I had to use my blender.  I'm not that huge of a fan of blender and I was considering getting rid of mine due to the lack of use it gets.  I dragged out our blender and put the ingredients in.  The pitcher of the blender didn't appear to be sitting right but I wiggled it around and got the same result.  I turned it on and none of the ingredients moved.  This is not normal.  I adjusted it and tried a few more times... same result.  I took the pitcher off and looked at the bottom.  It was broken!  I've used this blender maybe 3 times since I got it!  What a piece of crap!  It was a Black and Decker Crush Master.  Don't buy it.  Another side note, I had registered for this as a wedding gift and someone gave it to us.  I'm not criticizing the gift.  I'm criticizing my ability to pick out a decent blender.  I stood there looking at my pumpkin pie smoothie ingredients in a busted blender wondering what to do.  Steve reminded me that I have an old blender from my grandma.  Grandma had given me this blender when I was going to college.  It was extremely old and she was going to get rid of it anyway.  We poured all of the ingredients into Grandma's blender.  Well, almost all of them.  An ice cube fell on my foot in the process.  I have a bruise.  Cooking/baking/smoothie making is dangerous work.  Grandma's 40-year old blender worked perfectly and our smoothies came out great.  So to recap: New blenders are junk.  40-year old blenders are great.  Here's a pic of both:
Ironic, right?  Please ignore my messy kitchen.  That's my week in food.  I hope you enjoyed it!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Winning the Battle... Maybe the War

   Today I will be spending the day in my kitchen chopping vegetables and fruit, browning hamburger and cooking chicken for next week's meals.  I'm taking solace in my kitchen.  This last month has been particularly stressful for me.  I'm trying to do all of the prep work today so we can have tasty and nutritious meals this week. I've over-scheduled myself until January and the perfectionist in me in rearing her ugly head.  The perfectionist in me questions everything I do at work, in my church activities, my participation in holiday traditions, how I play music, how I complete my crafts and so on.  Many people appreciate the perfectionist in me.  They know if I'm assigned a task or take on a task, it will be done correctly.  But I don't appreciate her.  The perfectionist in me questions everything except my presence in the kitchen.  Cooking and baking are the one thing that comes naturally to me.  Being in the kitchen is the one place the perfectionist won't follow me to.  The one place were she won't nag me and tell me I'm doing something wrong or not good enough.  It's the one place where I can tell her to take a flying leap and she actually listens.  I've done battle many times with the perfectionist in me.  She's easing up a little bit but when I get stressed especially around the holiday season, she rears her ugly head.  Quite frequently I lose my battle with the perfectionist but not in the kitchen.  In the kitchen I always win.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Food Glorious Food!

         I took today off work so I can go home for my brother's football game and the Spencer fair.  Steve works until 2:30 so we plan to leave after he gets home.  My plan for today was to make our menu plan and grocery list and then go grocery shopping.  Good plan, right?  It is when your car is not in the shop.  The only place I can actually go to is the mall because it's a block away and I can walk there.  This will not help me.  But on the plus side, the menu and grocery list are done and ready for when we return on Sunday.  I am looking forward to all of the delicious food we'll have when home.  We're staying at Grandma's and her food is always good.  I'm excited to have concession snacks at Jerry's game.  I don't remember all of the concession food but I do remember the giant pickles which I only bought once.  I'm not a huge fan of pickles.  I wonder if they still have those...  I am excited for the fair food!  It's going to be very difficult choosing what to eat.  There are always so many options: pizza, nachos, gyro on a stick, fried butter (I'm not kidding or trying it.), taffy, pastries...  A couple years ago I had a bucket of nachos and it was delicious in a very disgusting way.
      I actually couldn't eat all of it.  I don't remember what Steve had but I do remember that he liked it.  He wouldn't let me take a picture of it. :(  I'm very excited for Tom Thumb donuts.  They are a legend at the Spencer fair and you must stand in line for the freshly fried mini donuts covered in sugar.  What's your favorite concession or fair food?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day

          Breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day.  We've all read it in magazines but I've learned it the hard way.  In the past couple of months, I've skipped breakfast a few times and almost passed out.  I'm not kidding.  I have a fast metabolism and in the past had to eat every 3 hours.  Before you slap me, keep reading to find out why it's not always the greatest thing in the world.  In July I skipped breakfast before hosting coffee and rolls at church.  All I had to eat was 2 large glazed donuts at this event.  Afterwards Steve and I took the left-over donuts to a local women's and children's shelter.  I have no idea how I drove all the way across town to the shelter without causing an accident.  I had Steve drive us directly to a restaurant for lunch.  By the time we got there it was 2 o'clock and I wanted to lay down on the restaurant floor.  I'm not exaggerating.  Sitting up in a chair felt like work.  I ate my burger and fries and instantly felt better and could sit up straight.  This past Friday I skipped breakfast before going to work.  Friday was the last grill-out at work so I needed to pick up some grill-out items: buns, BBQ sauce, pickles.  I started to shake just by carrying those items inside.  I also had a headache.  I grabbed a Snickers and a Pepsi from the vending machine because I knew it would pop my blood sugar back up but still felt crappy until lunch when I ate real food.  I know better than to skip breakfast but I was too lazy both of those days to fix my simple breakfasts.  Not anymore.  I have to take better care of myself.

I have two go-to breakfasts: yogurt with homemade granola and fruit and toast with homemade apple butter and peanut butter.  I prefer the yogurt because it lasts longer but the toast is really tasty.  Both of these breakfasts take a couple minutes to assemble.  Both breakfasts last because they contain multiple food groups.  For your benefit, I'm posting the original recipes and I'll list the few tweaks I've made.  First the granola.  My older sister Kat found this recipe online and shared it with me.

Homemade Granola
Mix well:
3C oats
1/2C sunflower seeds
1/2C nuts
1/2C coconut

Mix well:
1/4C oil
1/4C honey
1/6C water
1tsp vanilla

Combine the mixed wet and dry ingredients together and stir well.  Pour into a 9x13 pan or a cookie sheet.  Toast in a 350 degree oven.  Stir after 10 minutes, then more frequently until browned (every 5 minutes).  Store in an airtight container.

Easy, right?  I don't usually add the sunflower seeds or coconut.  The sunflower seeds are left out because we usually don't have any in our apartment.  I have added them a few times and it's good with them.  I leave out the coconut because I hate it and it's never in the apartment.  I know I'm taking away some of the nutrition by leaving these out but I'll actually eat it this way.  I usually use vegetable oil or olive oil.  The recipe suggests melted coconut oil or butter but I don't have coconut oil and I don't want to use all of my butter making granola.  I store my granola in the fridge.  For breakfast I put a couple tablespoons of granola in a bowl, grab an individual vanilla yogurt and mix in some fruit.  For the fruit, I use frozen fruit that's thawed in the fridge.  Easy and nutritious.  And also delicious.

Now for the apple butter.  I've blogged about it before but I feel it's worth mentioning again.  Another recipe my older sister found online and shared with me.  It would take too long to share the original and list my changes so you're getting my version of the recipe.

Apple Butter
14 apples
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 C white sugar
3/4 C brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Core and quarter the apples.  I cut the slices into smaller sections.  Put all of the apples into the crock pot.  Add in the sugars, vanilla, cloves and cinnamon.  Cook on low for 8 hours.  When done, stir and let cool.  Put in smaller containers and refrigerate.  I usually put all of the containers in the freezer except one.  This recipe makes a lot and it lasts for a really long time.  I made the recipe a few times and have never made it the same way.  I've previously blogged about adding cranberry sauce to it.  I have also added peaches to it and eliminated the white sugar.  I realize that it still has quite a bit of brown sugar in it but I'm still working on that part.  I'm thinking about subbing molasses or sorghum for the brown sugar.  I'll have to wait until apples go on sale again before I start making it this fall.  The original recipe suggests picking out the apples skins and uses a hand mixer to make the apple butter smooth.  I didn't do this because a) I'm lazy and b) I like the chunkiness of it.

Happy breakfast to all of you!  I hope these recipes make your mornings a little easier.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Old Faithful

            No, I'm not talking about the geyser at Yellowstone National Park.  I'm talking about my chocolate chip butterscotch chip cookies.  We made these cookies last night for Steve's employees because they won quality for the week again.  (Yay!)  I'm bribing them with cookies for the second time. I wonder if they'll figure it out this time...
           The cookies are Old Faithful because I've been making a version of this recipe since I was 13.  Every time I make these cookies, old memories come flooding back.  The memories flood back in bits and pieces.  Asking my mom what we should do since we're one stick short of butter.  Going to my neighbors to borrow some flour because we're out and I didn't realize until after the eggs and sugar were in the mixing bowl.  Dad asking how long it would be before the cookies would be done after I put the first pan in the oven.  Kat and I accidentally tripling the salt and having to triple the rest of the recipe to fix it.  Counting all of the cookies from the triple batch even as people ate them.  (There were over 100 cookies.  The original recipe is a double batch already.)  Dad coming inside and saying "I smell cookies" and walking to the kitchen to swipe a few.  The last pan of cookies always burning because I would forget to set the timer or let them brown on the pan too long.  Using a small cookie scoop to get the perfect cookie.  Using Mom's Pampered Chef cookie spatula.  Dad suggesting taking the cookies out of the oven a minute sooner and letting them brown on the pan to get soft cookies.  Making a mess in the kitchen because I'm 13.  Leaving a ton of dirty dishes because I'd use a different measuring cup or spoon for each ingredient.  Adding butterscotch chips to my cookies because I saw my cousin Liz do it.  Adding in white chocolate chips just for fun.  Mom showing me how to level off the flour and sugar with a knife to get the right amount.  Kat doing laundry while I'm baking.  Mom explaining that brown sugar needs to be packed into the measuring cup always.  Dad saying "I better taste test a few to make sure they're ok" and me playing along with it.  Maureen's horror at finding out that we dumped all of the ingredients in and mixed them that way.  Discovering that baking when I'm upset makes me feel better.  Making Steve the cookies for his birthday two months into our relationship because I had no idea what else to get him.  Making cookies the first time away from home and discovering that mixing them by hand is a lot harder than using Mom's KitchenAid mixer.
            All of these memories from a single cookie recipe.  I cherish this recipe for what it has given me and what it will give me in years to come because as you can see it's not your average cookie recipe.  It's the key to memories.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cheesecake Rangoons...Raviolis

          Two weekends ago my little sister Darcy visited.  Darcy is leaving for college and needed to get supplies for her dorm room.  Friday evening we went to HuHot at Darcy's request.  At HuHot, there was a table tent featuring their desserts.  One of the desserts was cheesecake rangoons.  It looked so delicious but none of us had room for dessert after our meal.  We never get dessert at HuHot because the buffet is so filling and this time we ordered egg rolls too.  I told Darce that we could probably make those.  How hard could it be?  Our last stop shopping was Fareway to pick up the cheesecake ingredients.  I got the Jell-o no bake cheesecake dessert.  I wasn't sure how the traditional cream cheese recipe would hold up in a fryer.  I was going to use some pastry wrappers that Steve had bought practically a year ago but they don't puff up.  We decided against them and Steve ran to Hy-Vee to get new pastry wraps.  The first couple cheesecake rangoons were too big.  Darcy started making them and magically they were better.  She used a smaller section of the pastry sheet and the same amount of cheesecake filling.  


Steve was in charge of the fryer and I went back and forth.  We sprinkled sugar on them fresh from the fryer.... it was so yummy.  The smaller rangoons looked more like cheesecake ravioli so we switched between Asian and Italian desserts!  The cheesecake raviolis tasted great with cherry pie filling (is there anything else to eat cheesecake with?!).  They do taste the best fresh from the fryer rather than the next day.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Food for the Children

             As most of you know, I'm somewhat of a sap.  Not a make-a-huge-scene-in-public kind of sap but a cry-at-weddings-movies-commercials kind of sap.  Our local food bank has a program called The Backpack Program: Food for Kids.  There are backpack programs all over the nation but each is run a little differently according to the parent organization.  In Sioux City, volunteers make up the bags of food.  The Sioux City school district notifies the food bank of the number of children in need at each school served.  This program serves 6, soon to be 5, schools in the Sioux City area.  (Soon to be 5 because 2 schools are combining not because of lack of need.)  Each bag contains nutritionally sound items such as a fruit cup, granola bar, pudding, peanut butter crackers, etc.  The program does not focus on calorie content because the focus is about the children's hunger and providing shelf-stable child-friendly food.  The food bank does send an extra bag home if there is a younger sibling not attending school.  The logic is "If the 6-year old is hungry, the 4-year old is probably hungry too."  Every Friday bags of food are delivered to the schools for needy children.  These are children that normally qualify for free or reduced lunches at school and the school has identified as in need.  The food bank does dictate that the program be carried out to respect the dignity of the child.  This means that the bags are handed out very discreetly.  The bags are not handed out in front of the class.  It is up to the school how this will happen.  One of the schools has a backpack club.  An announcement is made over the intercom that the Backpack Club is meeting and the needy children go to the designated area.  There they receive their food bags.

            This amazing program does need help with funding.  The director of the food bank projected that $122,000 was needed for last school year and more will be needed for this school year due to rising food costs.  Roughly 50% to 90% of the children in the Sioux City school system use this program.  The percentage varies based on each specific school.  I'm proud to say that my employer is helping a little.  Our employee committee is holding a fund-raiser and the director spoke at our All-Staff meeting.  At three stations in the building are 2 jars.  One jar is empty; one jar has wrapped candy.  The premise is simple: Put a donation in the empty jar and take a piece of candy from the candy jar.  One of the jars is at my desk so I've contributed a little already.  We started yesterday and the jar at my desk already has over $12.  The program is running for 2 weeks so I'm really hoping we can help with the costs.  The director stressed that while food donations are nice, monetary donations are better.  The program needs pallets of food at a time for this program.  It's much easier for the food bank to meet the children's need with monetary donations than with food donations.  (But please keep donating food so the needy in general will have something to eat!)  The food bank director said that when the program started she spoke to the principals of the local elementary schools.  One of the principals said to her "If you start this program, you will have to keep it going because the kids will count on it.  Don't let them down."  So I'm asking all of you to take a look at the website for The Backpack Program: Food for Kids and consider donating to this program.  This program is not a touchy-subject program.  There are no moral lines being crossed.  It's about feeding kids simple as that.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tasty Treasures

             On Saturday Steve bought lunch for his team at work.  His employer provided him with the money because his team had the highest scores for quality for the whole department the previous week.  House of Q was the restaurant Steve decided to use and asked me to deliver the food.  House of Q is a great local restaurant but that's not what I'm writing about today.  As many of you know, to me food is comfort, love, and a stress-reliever.  It's also the carrot that dangles in front of Steve's team so they'll continue to do well.  I made Steve's team cookies this past weekend as a bribe.  I want them to continue to do well because it makes Steve look good.  It took me a week to decide which cookies to make.  Chocolate chip? Or peanut butter?  Or something new?  It went like this for days.  I wanted something that would showcase my skills as a baker.  Something that wouldn't be compared to their mom's/friend's/sister's cookies.  Chocolate chip cookies were out.  There's too many variances with chocolate chip cookies.  Everyone has a family recipe for chocolate chip cookies.  I flipped through the family cook book and finally settled on Caramel Cookies.  This recipe is from my great grandma who was great in the kitchen.  I never have to worry when I see a recipe with her name on it.  I know it will be great because she didn't keep crappy recipes... truth be told, I'm not sure she ever tried any recipes that were crappy.  The caramel cookies had a very delicate flavor as most of her cookies do.  The secret is real maple syrup and brown sugar.  The recipe was very simple which is another thing I love about her recipes.  Great Grandma's recipes don't require a lot of fussing but always produce elegant tasty results.  Her recipes are also famous for her directions.  This recipe said "Chill dough.  Shape into balls. Dip in sugar after dipping in water.  Bake at 350 degrees until light brown."  If you notice, there are no directions to cream butter and brown sugar, etc, etc, etc.  You are supposed to know this.  There is also no time given.  You're supposed to know this as well.  In fact, I'm surprised the temperature is given.  These directions are not a finger wagging at us but rather general family knowledge.  Great Grandma was the second oldest of 12 so she had been baking for the majority of her life and lengthy directions were simply not needed.  Her recipes remind me so much of her which comfort me and make me sad at the same time.  I miss her tremendously and her recipes are all I have (well besides the cookbook...).  I feel her in the kitchen with me when I bake her recipes.  Her recipes are a tangible reminder of her.  A reminder that I don't give out to just anyone.  Special close family friends, perhaps, but not just anyone.  I just can't bring myself to do it.  I know it's silly to hold onto recipes so tightly but I just can't let them go.  I do however share her tasty creations with people.  I called Steve at work to see how my cookies were doing.  He said people loved them.  One of his employees asked him "If I give your wife 20 bucks, will she make me more?"  Um yeah!  For 20 bucks, I'll make whatever cookies you want!   I've been harboring a secret dream to open a bakery for awhile now and this might be my start.  My mind swirled yesterday thinking of ideas, recipes and supplies that I would need.  Steve is going to double check with this guy about how serious he is.  If he's serious and I get more orders, you might be seeing more of my Tasty Treasures in the future.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Restaurant Review: Greek to Me!

       Today Steve and I tried a new restaurant in Sioux City.  Greek to Me! is close to Target on Sunnybrook Drive across from a very familiar fast-food joint with the golden arches.  (I will not say it!)  We've never had gyros before.  Steve's coworker highly recommends them.  He actually eats at a restaurant called Opa Time on Hamilton Blvd.  But that's all the way across town, Hamilton Blvd is under construction and the exit to Hamilton Blvd from I29 is closed because it's under water.  Greek to Me! is 5 minutes from our apartment making it the clear winner.  I had the gyro platter with a Greek salad.  Steve had the Philly Cheese gyro with a Greek salad.  I briefly considered getting the chicken gyro but decided to be authentic the first time I tried a gyro.  Now I realize that I said I would never eat lamb... I lied.  Gyros contain lamb.  The gyro had a great peppery flavor and was topped with Greek yogurt, tomatoes and onions.  It also had a couple pieces of feta cheese... which as it turns out, I'm not that fond of.  The salad was fantastic.  It had lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and a Greek dressing.  The dressing!  It was a vinaigrette with Greek spices.  (Ok, so I don't know exactly what they were but it tasted great!)  Steve didn't especially care for it but vinaigrette dressings are not his thing.  I, however, want to learn exactly what was in it so I can make it at home.  Steve's gyro had lamb, green peppers, onions and provolone cheese.  Normally it would have mushrooms but he ordered it without them.  He let me have a bite of it and it was pretty good.  I'm not a fan of Philly cheese steaks so I have to admit that I preferred my gyro.  My meal also came with 3 black olives with the seeds in.  The seed was a surprise after I popped the first olive in my mouth.  In Spain, olives are served with practically every meal, drink, etc and always contain seeds so I'm used to eating around them.  Black olives with seeds actually taste a lot better than black olives without seeds.  I have no idea why.  Greek to Me! had pictures of Greece along the wall and Greek music playing which I thought was pretty cool.  Other than the pictures, the decor was pretty generic.

Final review: B+ Great food, speedy service, clean restaurant, reasonable prices.  We will be eating here again.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ode to the Crock-Pot

             I may be in over my head.  I found the website for the Crock-Pot brand slow cookers.  The website has a recipe section.  You can all see where this is going, can't you?  As we all know, I love browsing recipe websites and magazines.  However I usually end up collecting more recipes than I can actually make.  I'm also planning on hosting Thanksgiving again this year and would like to use the crock-pot a little more.  I enjoyed making all of the dishes but using the crock-pot would make the process even smoother.  I know it's way to early to think about Thanksgiving.  A lot of people think I'm a planner out of obsessiveness but the truth is I get so excited about the holiday/party/whatever that I can't help myself.  I hosted my first Super Bowl party in February and I already want to do it again.  If I can plan a party around food, I'll do it and look forward to it for months.  But back to the Crock-Pot recipe section.  I found recipes for: Bread Pudding, Cranberry Orange Sauce (Darcy, I know it's not Grandma's but we have to try it anyways!) and Cherry Delight.  I can make a dessert called Cherry Delight in the crock-pot!!!!!!!  I love cherries!  So does Dad.  If it tastes as good as I hope it does, I'm making it for him at some point.  There's a bunch of other recipes that I'm really excited to look at as well.  I also think that I should get a smaller crock-pot too.  A lot of the side dish recipes use a smaller one.  The crock-pot that I received as a bridal shower gift (thanks Nancy and Jen!) is a 6-quart crock-pot that I registered for.  I wanted a bigger one because I plan on having kids and big crock-pots are great for families.  I love my big crock-pot and have used it a lot.  I think a smaller crock-pot would come in handy too.  I could have two different recipes in crock-pots at the same time!  Right now, the crock-pot sleeve is sitting in my refrigerator with Minestrone soup ingredients ready to go for tomorrow.  I can't wait!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Thank you Great Grandma

At work we have a grill-out the first Friday of every month.  Employee Committee supplies the burgers and hot dogs and employees are supposed to bring something to share.  I usually participate because it's fun.  This week has been a little weird though.  I've gotten some new assignments at work and trying to learn them has left my brain a little tired.  I forgot about the grill-out until Thursday night at 9:20pm when I was thinking about getting ready for bed.  Steve also informed me that we don't have any eggs.  Wacky cake! I can make wacky cake! I thought.  Wacky Cake does not use eggs or milk.  I knew it would probably be in my family cookbook.  As many of you know, I have my great grandma's copy of the family cookbook.  She totally saved my butt Thursday night.  I flipped to the index and saw Wacky Cake p 56 in her beautiful handwriting.  (Side note, why don't schools teach us to write that way anymore?  It's so pretty!)  The recipe was not in the cookbook but she had added it to her notes section.  I never realized that Wacky Cake called for a teaspoon of red food coloring.  I only added 1/2 teaspoon because it seemed to be enough.  Wacky Cake doesn't have a specific frosting recipe.  It simply calls for chocolate frosting.  I decided to use the Texas Sheet Cake frosting recipe.  Steve agreed to make it.  Everything was fine until I realized we didn't have any powdered sugar.  I had to send Steve to HyVee to get powdered sugar.  I was really trying to avoid that.  I didn't go because the cake was already in the oven.  Steve came back with powdered sugar and finished the frosting.  The recipe says to frost while cake is warm.  We took that at face value and poured the frosting on right after the cake came out of the oven.  I do know better than that but it was almost 10:30 and we were exhausted.  The cake was a hit at the grill-out.  Thank you Great Grandma!


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Back in the Saddle

            I've finally baked again after my marathon baking for Darcy's party.  Last weekend I made S'mores bars while Nathan (Steve's twin) was visiting and yesterday I made yellow cake.  Last weekend I told the boys to pick something out and I would bake it.  About an hour later, they still hadn't decided.  I think they did more talking than looking at the recipes while they flipped through cookbooks.  I picked out S'mores bars because I know that the Krueger boys will take hours to make a decision if left to their own devices.  We went to HyVee and got the necessary ingredients.  The bars are so easy it's ridiculous.  Make a graham cracker crust.  Save a half cup for the top.  Press the crust into a square pan.  Layer chocolate bars over the crust.  Spread marshmallow fluff on that.  Sprinkle the saved crust on top.  Pop in the oven.  Easy, right?  But on the flip side, how hard is it to microwave a s'more?  (And I say microwave because there wasn't a campfire anywhere close.)  The bars were good but the marshmallow fluff was a bit too sweet.  Maybe next time, I'll use real marshmallows and see how it turns out.
           Yesterday our friends Matt and Abby had us over for a BBQ.  They made pork burgers (or for my family, pork patties) from Tiefenthaler's.  Tienfenthaler's is a meat locker in Holstein and everything I've tried has been delicious.  I so miss having meat locker meat.  Side story, when I moved away from home and actually had to buy my meat at the grocery store, I didn't have a clue what to get.  At home, the meat was always there and it was always yummy.  I decided to bake a cake for my friends since they were supplying the rest of the food.  I made yellow cake because I love it.  I used store-bought chocolate frosting.  I'm still not ready to dive back into the everything from scratch bit after making all of Darcy's cupcakes.  Matt and Abby have the most adorable twin girls.  It was so cute to watch their girls try to eat the frosting off the cake.  Diem actually said she needed more cake when she ran out of frosting!  We had such a great time playing with the girls and talking to Matt and Abby.  I can't wait to do it again.

Side note, I just checked out Tiefenthaler's recipe section on their website.  There's a recipe for their smoked turkey! It's been printed and will be filed with my other Thanksgiving recipes.  I love trying new recipes!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Guy Fieri's Rockin' Road Show

       Last month Guy Fieri was at the Orpheum for his Food and Road Show.  The show was amazing.  Let me just say that I will pay any amount of money to go to his show again.  It was the coolest thing I've done this year.  In Guy Fieri's own words: it was off the hook.  The show was part rock show, part food show, part inspirational speaker and part stand-up comedy.  My friend Abby is also a foodie and went with me.  We had an awesome time.
       The show started with Hayden "Woody" Wood and his Liquid Kitchen.  He bar tending skills were more impressive than Tom Cruise's in the movie Cocktail.  He was flipping bottles over his head and behind his back. And he even got some alcohol in his eye.  That last part wasn't part of the act and he said it hurt.  I bet it did but at least we knew the bottles were full.  He brought 3 ladies on stage (they actually had tickets to sit on stage... I wasn't willing to pay $200 for that privilege) to mix drinks for him.  One of the ladies was wearing a long dress that looked a little like a fancy flour sack and was hammered.  Note to self: Never wear a fancy flour sack dress, get hammered before a show and think you're sexier than you are.  Woody had the three ladies mix cocktails and then toss the glass/shaker at him.  Drunk flour sack lady was the second and chucked it at him.  He had to duck to his left a little to catch it to which he cried "Jesus!"  After the three ladies he did some dancing and mixing and had 3 guys come on stage.  The guys were supposed to mix drinks but being in Iowa, when Woody's back was turned they started drinking straight from the bottles.  He had said the crew had a good time the night before drinking until 4 AM with some locales.  You get what you ask for Woody.  Woody also pulled a married couple celebrating their anniversary on stage.  "What do you do in the kitchen?" Woody asked him.  "The dishes" was his answer.  Woody was going to fix that.  He outfitted the guy with a frilly apron, a purple cape and crown and gave him 60 seconds to make 4 drinks for his wife and beg for her forgiveness.  The way he gave a feather duster with a string attached to it so she could crack the whip at her husband.  On his way to beg for forgiveness, 2 drinks slipped off the tray and crashed to the floor.  Woody looked shocked.  This left the guy with 2 drinks.  His wife forgave him and both left the stage with smiles on their faces.
        After the opening act, a video played featuring 3 guys that Guy had met while doing Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  Guy Fieri came on stage and introduced his crew which included original camera guys from Triple D, DJ Cobra from LA and 3 guys he met while doing Triple D: Panini Pete, Stretch and Pigskin.  Guy is very charismatic and funny but he did touch on a few important issues.  He promoted his new book Guy Fieri Food: Cookin' It, Livin' It, Lovin' It and told the crowd to pay special attention to the dedication page.  The book is dedicated to his sister Morgan who passed away from cancer.  The publisher already had the book printed with a dedication to his family when Morgan passed away and Guy changed his mind about the dedication.  The publisher ripped out all of the pages with the old dedication and printed the new one.  How awesome is that?!  If any of my family are reading this and would like a Christmas present idea, that book would be an awesome gift.  The second issue he tackled was childhood obesity.  "Somewhere along the line, we've forgotten to teach our kids what real food is," he said and it's so true.  I hear a lot of people say "I don't cook" with pride in their voice.  That is nothing to be proud of.  You can't or don't want to prepare food for your family?  Good for you.  He told us to cook with our kids.  Abby and I looked at each other at the same time.  "I cook with my kids," Abby said at the same time I said "I'll cook with your kids!"  It's true.  I steal people's kids to cook with.  I cook with Jade, Aiden and Eve.  It's fun to cook with kids and I plan to do it with my own someday.  Music played throughout the show and DJ Cobra had some special effects for the hilarious stories that Guy told.  Guy is a great speaker.  He was able to mix in subtle cooking lessons with his stories, like don't get your oil to hot.  That story was about deep-frying a turkey for Thanksgiving and how he almost started his house on fire because the oil was too hot.  (It was outside and spilled and the fire was dangerously close to his porch.)  He also did a skit for Minute to Win It, a show he hosts on NBC.  The show's concept came from Australia and he was asked to host an American version.  In the preliminary part of the show, he told a contestant "You have a minute to win it."  The producers liked the phrase so much that they asked for permission to use it.  He had no idea they were going to use it for the title of the show.  I've never seen Minute to Win It but Abby has.  When he asked for audience volunteers even though we were on the third level, Abby jumped up and down trying to get his attention.  And I, being the good friend I am, pointed at her like a dork.  Unfortunately she didn't get picked.  He did pick a soldier from the crowd.  "I support our troops.  I don't support war but I do support our troops," Guy said when the soldier came onstage.  The soldier got a standing ovation from the crowd.  It was a great sight to see.
            Throughout the night Guy recognized various people during the show.  He recognized the students from a culinary school that were acting as his stage hands and a member of the Pork Producers responsible for getting his show to Sioux City.  I learned a lot from Guy.  Not all of it had to do with food preparation.  He always plays music while he's cooking because cooking should be fun.  I think this is an excellent idea and have been using it in my own home.  Abby and I stood in line until midnight for Guy to sign the t-shirts we bought for our husbands.  He's a trooper.  I could tell he was really tired but he was still very funny.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Here a Cupcake, There a Cupcake, Everywhere a Cupcake!

             I made all of the cupcakes for Darcy's graduation party and I survived.  156 cupcakes.  When my coworkers hear about it, they give me a strange look and say "You're nuts."  I then make it very clear to them that I would only do this for family... no one else.  I don't want people getting any ideas... right Nancy?  I took a week off work to help get ready for Darcy's party.  On Tuesday I made 2 batches of chocolate cupcakes and a batch of yellow cupcakes.  Grandma did all of the dishes for me.  It was the perfect set-up because I hate doing dishes and Grandma doesn't mind it.  We froze the cupcakes so they'd still be fresh for Sunday.  I had planned to make the white cupcakes on Tuesday instead of the yellow but hit a snag when we realized we had forgotten to buy almond flavoring while grocery shopping.  Wednesday we went grocery shopping before Grandma's dental appointment and forgot the almond flavoring again.  We had just a few things on our mind while at the store!  On Thursday I made the white cupcakes after buying the almond flavoring in Emmetsburg.  Grandma made the spice cupcakes on Friday because I was decorating for the party.  So I guess technically I didn't make ALL of the cupcakes... 
              I made 4 different kinds of frosting: cherry, Butterfinger, chocolate and cream cheese.  I had brought a half batch of the cherry and Butterfinger frosting.  The secret trick to these frosting was the base.  Each started with very basic cake decorating frosting.  I made another batch of the basic frosting and split it in half.  Half was added to the cherry frosting; the other half to the Butterfinger frosting.  Each frosting had been too strong previously.  I wanted the frosting to have a faint taste.  The chocolate frosting was very bitter after I made it.  Grandma fussed with it the next day while I was in Emmetsburg and the result was perfection.  The cream cheese frosting was made Saturday before frosting.  I didn't want to make it sit too long.  The cherry frosting was for the white cupcakes.  The chocolate frosting, the yellow cupcakes.  The chocolate cupcakes had the Butterfinger frosting.  Cream cheese frosting suited the spice cupcakes.
              Saturday Grandma and I took the cupcakes out of the freezer...which wasn't the funnest thing I've ever done.  We put the cupcakes in metal cake pans.  It was a long dash from the freezer in the garage to the counter in the kitchen with the freezing metal on our hands.  Grandma figured it would take us an hour to frost the cupcakes.  We finished frosting in an hour and a half... Grandma was pretty close!  We sprinkled sanding sugar on the white and yellow cupcakes to add a little extra elegance.  For the chocolate cupcakes, Grandma sprinkled a little extra crushed Butterfinger on them.   The spice cupcakes were elegant enough with the cream cheese frosting (and also, anything added to that would have been really gross). 



             On Sunday I took the cupcakes to the office and set them out.  I did plan for the cupcakes to be part of the decoration with the different frosting and the fancy black with white polka dot liners.  I think they turned out very nice.  (And yes, I did fuss with the presentation.)  People seemed to really enjoy the cupcakes. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat"

        Every year I struggle with what to give up for Lent.  But last year and this year, I decided to do something a little different.  I decided not to give anything up.  I decided to instead donate $10 each week to the food basket at church.  Last year John Morrell closed their plant in Sioux City.  It did make the city smell better but the closing left over a thousand people without jobs.  Sioux City's economy took a beating.  A lot of the laid-off workers had a difficult time paying their bills and feeding their families.  It was hard for me to think of their kids not having enough food.  It was something that, thankfully, had never happened when I was a kid.  I had to do something.  My church has a basket inside the doors for food donations.  I decided that every week I would donate $10 worth of food.  It was my small way of helping these families.  As most of you know, food is not just food to me.  It's comfort, love, an apology, a celebration, a way to release frustration and stress, and so much more.  Food is every emotion you could possibly think of.  This year I kept track of my food donations:

Stove Top stuffing
Velveeta cheese
French's fried onions
Jell-o (grape)
corn x2
creamed corn
spaghetti sauce
beef chow mein with sauce
pasta sides cheesy cheddar
pasta sides alfredo broccoli
pasta roni shells and white cheddar
mac n cheese
roasted garlic instant mashed potatoes
pork and beans (Van Camp's) x2
cream of chicken soup x3
white rice
elbow macaroni
Wanchai Ferry Cashew Chicken
Sweet Peas x2
diced tomatoes x2
cream of mushroom soup x3
mandarin oranges
rotini noodles
rigatoni noodles
chunky pineapple
chunky mixed fruit
vegetable broth
tuna x2
instant potatoes x2
Bush's chili magic x2
funfetti cake mix
tomato soup x2
Hamburger Helper x3
egg noodles
Knorr Italian Sides
Knorr Fiesta Sides
Knorr Pasta Sides
Knorr Rice Sides
Knorr Asian Sides

This is what $60-$70 worth of food looks like.  I shopped sales so I could get a lot of food for my $10.  And I did occasionally go over that amount (the cake mix...I thought there should be something fun in the food basket too.).  Now you might notice that some of the food on this list is not food that I would eat at home (ahem, potatoes). I thought it was more important to provide food items that could make a complete meal rather than food items that catered to my personal tastes or views about nutrition.

I'm a dork

           It's true.  I'm a dork.  Not only am I a dork but I publicly admit it... with examples.  The best part of my day today was buying a cupcake stand.  Yes, a cupcake stand.  And I was a little picky.  Target had a cupcake/dessert stand but it wasn't what I wanted.  I just looked it up.  It was a dessert pedestal for $16.  Here's the link: http://www.nordicware.com/store/products/detail/dessert-pedestal/7E9E9A5C-5FB9-11E0-B8E4-005056A42C5A  Not what I wanted at all.  My best friend's mom (my second mommy) and my sister-in-law have similar cupcake stands and that's what I was looking for.  I remembered Hobby Lobby carried theirs.  The brand I bought is a Wilton cupcake stand.  I had three different choices: 13, 23 or 38 cupcakes.  I, of course, chose the 38 cupcake stand.  Here's the link to the one I got: http://www.wilton.com/store/site/product.cfm?id=BA1648DA-802D-F658-04E205A00CB91EFB&killnav=1

My little sister is graduating this month and I'm making the cupcakes for her party.  (I'm sure you're well-aware of that fact.)  Her party gave me the perfect excuse to buy the cupcake stand.  Darcy and I were talking about her party a couple weeks ago.  I told her that I was going to buy the stand for her party and she said "You so want one, just admit it.  You have a blog about food.  You want the cupcake stand."  Yup, it's true.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dr. Pepper and Peanut Butter

Tomorrow is another bake sale at work.  As per usual, I made at least 3 things.  I made puppy chow, peanut butter fudgy bars and Dr. Pepper cake.  I really need to learn to limit myself... but I don't think that's ever going to happen.  I've already written about the puppy chow and the peanut butter fudgy bars so I will not be rehashing those.  The Dr Pepper cake is a recipe my sister found on the internet and is really yummy.  The recipe calls for Dr. Pepper (duh), vegetable oil, butter, cocoa powder, sugar, flour, baking soda, eggs and buttermilk.


Side note: I hardly ever buy buttermilk.  I usually make my own by adding a splash of vinegar to milk.  (Thank you growing up on a farm and running out of ingredients for that little bit of creativity!)  That was the plan for tonight.  But, I couldn't find any regular vinegar in our apartment.  Both of us swore we had some but had no idea where it went.  We both looked in the cupboards and pantry multiple times... no regular vinegar.  I did have apple cider vinegar.  I figured it's close and it's cake; it'll work.  I've also subbed vodka for vinegar to make buttermilk for Texas Sheet Cake in the past.  That same time, I also swapped the vanilla for cinnamon (again, ran out of ingredients).  It ended up tasting like an Oreo and my then boss (who likes to drink) almost fell off her chair when I told her.  (The cake was for work.)  OK, back to my current cake!  (Sorry for the detour!)  The Dr. Pepper, vegetable oil, butter and cocoa powder are melted on the stove.  Mix together the flour, sugar and baking soda in a separate bowl.  The recipe says to whisk the eggs and buttermilk together.  I like to use the Pyrex 2-cup measuring cup for things like that.  The 1/2 half apple cider buttermilk and 2 eggs fit perfectly in it.  I've decided to start mixing more by hand.  It gives me a real feeling of accomplishment rather than watching the mixer work.  And I'm hoping to build some arm muscles.  (I'm a bit of wimp... not cool for a farm girl.)  It was really satisfying watching the bits of flour melt away when I added the chocolate mixture to it.  I almost forgot to add the apple cider buttermilk and eggs which would have been a disaster.  I enjoyed watching the dark brown chocolate color change to a lighter but still rich brown when I added the egg mixture.  (Former art major here... I enjoy colors!)  The recipe says to bake for 23-28 minutes... mine was still jiggly in the center after 25 minutes.  I checked it after another 3 minutes... still jiggly.  Steve checked it after another 2 minutes... still a little jiggly.  I checked it after another 2 minutes... finally done!  So about 32 minutes and the cake will be done.  Recipes irritate me when the baking time is that far off.  I haven't made the frosting yet.  Last time I made this cake was for Steve and Nathan's birthday.  The frosting seemed a little runny so tonight I'll focus on the thickness of it.  I can't take a cake to work if the frosting is runny and thin.
The unfrosted cake

I've also realized that this cake doesn't have brown sugar in it.  I'm thinking this has something to do with the flavor of the Dr. Pepper.  I thought about how the pop probably caramelizes on the stove as it mixes with the cocoa, butter and oil.  Interesting.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Just Roll With It

             This past Saturday I visited my sister-in-law Heather in Sioux Falls.  (The one that likes to bake as much as me... remember?)  I hadn't seen her, her husband Jon and their daughter Eve since Eve's birthday party in November.  It had been way too long.  Heather and I agreed to get together Saturday and bake.  She wanted to make lefsa and Wheaties rolls for Easter.  I was psyched.  I've never made lefsa.  I'm not Norwegian or Scandinavian so I don't have a clue how it's made.  I have eaten it and it's good.  (Although, I did have to ask how to eat it the first time!)  Heather has a lefsa pan which looks like this:
I had never seen one so I took a picture.  The dough has to rest 8 hours for lefsa so Heather had made the dough the night before while we talked on the phone.  The dough looked like this: 
However, the dough was stickier than Heather remembered it being.  I was no help.  I'm an Irish girl learning how to make lefsa... how could I be of any assistance?  Jon called his grandma and she solved the mystery with her first question: "Did she add the flour to the dough the night before?"  Heather had done exactly that and apparently that's wrong.  Sort of.  Grandma Y (Jon and Steve's grandma) said that their grandpa like lefsa to be crispier, to the point where it wouldn't bend.  We could achieve this by adding more flour.  Heather wasn't too thrilled at the suggestion.  We scrapped the plans to make lefsa.  I will have to learn another time.
              We did make Wheaties rolls.  This is another of Grandma Y's recipes.  Steve loves them.  Wheaties rolls are similar to cinnamon rolls in the consistency of the dough but you don't let them rise.  And the recipe really does call for Wheaties.  After letting the dough rest in the fridge for a few hours (and getting Eve's bike), we rolled out the dough and sprinkled some cinnamon on it.  Eve was a big girl and enjoyed helping.  We had to give her a little piece of dough to work with.  The dough was rolled up and cut.  The smell in the house as the rolls baked was divine.  The final touch: maple flavored frosting.  It's delicioso.  Powdered sugar, butter, milk and maple flavoring and you have a very yummy frosting.

      All in all, it was a great day.  (And I did bring home some rolls for Steve.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spice Cake and a Fryer

No, we didn't have fried spice cake. And yes, I did briefly consider it. The spice cake was practice for Darcy's graduation. I'd never made it before and I didn't think Darcy's party would be the right time to try a brand new (old) recipe. The recipe is another of my great grandma's recipe. Like most of her recipes, it is very simple and has delicate flavors. The first part of the recipe says to boil the sugar, lard (or other shortening), water, cinnamon, cloves and salt. I was a little concerned because I chose to Crisco in place of the lard. The Crisco wasn't melting as fast as I thought it should. But it did eventually melt and the mixture boiled quite nicely. After it boils, you're supposed to let it cool. I left it alone for a good 5 minutes and then transfered it to a different container hoping to speed up the process. I left it alone for other 20 minutes. I was too anxious to wait for it to completely cool so I figured that was good enough. The second half of the recipe is flour, soda, baking soda and eggs. Mix the two components together and bake for 30 minutes and you'll have the most glorious, delicate-tasting spice cake ever. Yes, ever.


I frosted the spice cake with a cream cheese frosting. The frosting contains sour cream, NOT lemon juice like I previously wrote. The frosting is great. It doesn't have an overly sweet taste to it. The cream cheese flavr is definitely present but in a very savory, non-sugary way.

The second part of the title: Steve bought a mini fryer last night.
Now we can make fries and not have grease splattered all over the stove. We also have temperature control and a little fryer basket. We will NOT be picking up applications to McDonald's any time soon, though. Last night we had oven-baked chicken strips and crispy homemade fries. It was delicious.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Graduation Party Cakes

I had mentioned previously that I'm making the cakes for my little sister's graduation party. She wanted marble cake. I gave it my best shot but it is not something I can make. It turns out dry every time I make it. I've tried recipes and cake mixes. It's just something I can't make. I will be making a white cake, yellow cake, chocolate cake and a spice cake for Darcy's graduation. Darcy wasn't too sure about the spice cake but my mom and grandma both voted it in. Grandma will also be making a carrot cake. The frosting will be the fun part. The white cake will have chocolate or white... we haven't decided yet. The yellow cake will have chocolate because that's how my aunt always made it for her kids' birthday parties. (There's 8 of them so I ate it this way a lot. Trust me, it's yummy.) The chocolate cake will have butterfinger frosting! I had made this one for a church function and it was yummy! I made my aunt Patti's white frosting recipe and added crushed butterfingers. It's delicious! The spice cake and carrot cake will have cream cheese frosting. My mom has a great cream cheese frosting recipe. Mom adds lemon juice (I think) to balance the sweetness of the cream cheese. The frosting is still sweet but not so cloyingly sweet. It's delicious but I can't find the recipe so I'll have to get it from Mom. Last weekend I went through my Great Grandma's recipe box to find recipes for the cakes. I already have a recipe for the yellow cake and the chocolate cake (Texas sheet cake... now you're definitely coming to her party, right?). I have recipes for white cake but I always like to try new ones. Grandma had given me a recipe for spice cake when I was at her house last fall. I still haven't tried it! I think I'll make it this weekend.
I talked to a few coworkers and they are willing to be my taste-testers while I practice. Get ready world, I'm baking!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Food Network is my Crack

It's true. Food Network on Saturday mornings is my crack. I love watching their cooking shows. There are a few that I don't care for (Hey Neeleys, get it on before you tape your show... I don't enjoy being part of your foreplay!). I love Guy Fieri (Guy's Big Bite), Anne Burrell (Secrets of a Restaurant Chef), Rachael Ray (30 Minute Meals and Week in a Day), Sunny Anderson (Cooking for Real) and many others.
Guy Fieri is coming to Sioux City in May to do a live cooking show at the Orpheum. I'm so there! Even if I have to go by myself, I'm there. I'm just praying the tickets will not cost an arm and a leg. He's one of my absolute favorites on the Food Network. He's a little goofy but his goofiness adds a nice twist to his cooking show. And his food always looks good. (If I could hire him to be my personal chef, I would.) Steve and I love his show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (Triple D) and even went to one of the dives he reviewed on our honeymoon. The dive was called the Wienery and truth be told, we probably would not have eaten there if it wasn't for Triple D. We were so glad we did! The food was excellent and it was super cheap! We got all of this:
for less than $11. We gave the guy a tip since the food was so cheap. I was smart and took a picture of the menu so we could recreate the hot dogs at home. I do wish we had the Vienna Beef hot dogs like the restaurant does. They were really yummy! If you want to learn more about the Wienery, check out their website at: http://www.wienery.com/

One of the other chefs I love on the food network is Anne Burrell of Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. She's a little kooky which is always a great thing in my book. Let your weirdo/freak flag fly, people! Today I was watching her show and she was making a stuffed pork loin. This caught my eye. We were supposed to have pork loin last week but it didn't get made. I put it back on our upcoming menu so this episode is perfect timing. The meal was stuffed pork loin, mashed rutabagas and maple cream cheese pots de creme. Wow. The meal sounds delicious (except for the mashed rutabagas). I put down my knitting and watched the show intently. I'm pretty sure I can make the pork loin and the pots de creme. I printed the recipes off foodnetwork.com. Each recipe is listed as intermediate... which I think will be fine. Stay tuned for how the meal turns out!

Monday, February 28, 2011

What is the passion for food and where does it come from?

Today I started thinking that I had lost my passion for food, that I had lost the love of being in the kitchen. In reality, I'm overwhelmed. I spent the majority of the weekend in my pajamas watching movies... and it felt good. I got promoted (which is great) but now have to split my time between both positions again. (I guess my employer thinks I'm good at juggling... maybe I should stop faking that I am????) Fortunately and unfortunately, my supervisors have approved 2 hours of overtime a day while one of my coworkers is on vacation. (My training is normally done during the work day but they can't spare me while she's gone.) In reality, I'm tired. I don't want to cook when I get home. When Steve is home, he cooks for me which is great. But for 3 days out of the work week, I'm here alone which means I have to cook.

Recently a friend's family was hit with a medical crisis that I'm too familiar with. I wish I didn't understand what they are going through. This medical crisis is something that I would never wish upon someone I hated and it's happening to a friend. I wish she and her family weren't going through it. As I talked to her today, I started thinking about ways I could be there for her. People always say "Let me know if you need anything" but sometimes you really don't know what you need until someone does it for you without being asked. And I remembered how nice it was when our neighbors brought us over a big pot of spaghetti when my mom was sick. That simple thing meant the world to me and reminded me of why I love my neighbors so much. With that thought, my passion for food returned and two homemade lasagnas are now sitting in my fridge. I hope the lasagnas will help my friend's family.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Breakfast


I've struggled with what to eat for breakfast that will be healthy and long-lasting. In the past, I've eaten every 3 hours due to my fast metabolism. But with my current job, that eating schedule is not an option. I'm not a terrific morning person so I don't want to make eggs and toast or anything like that. This week I'm trying something new: yogurt with granola and green tea. I normally eat granola or string cheese in the morning but it doesn't last very long. My older sister had given me a recipe for granola and I finally made it last weekend. It's pretty tasty and seems really healthy. I add a couple spoonfuls to my yogurt and breakfast is ready. I'm thinking I will eventually buy plain yogurt and add fruit with the granola. The green tea part of my breakfast is replacing Pepsi. That's right. I'm giving up pop. I've been easing myself into it. I started last week. I'm replacing my morning Pepsi with green tea. I usually drink two cups so I don't have caffeine withdrawals. The bad part of this is that now I drink pop in the afternoon/evening. I'm hoping that once the pop is out of the apartment that will stop. I'll still have it as a treat occasionally but I'd really like to take it out of my daily diet.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Restaurant Review

I've been planning to include restaurant reviews in my blog for awhile. After all, the blog is called "For the Love of Food" which means that I don't necessarily have to make the food to love it. Steve and I celebrated Valentine's Day on Sunday because he works Monday evenings. We ate at a very intimate cafe. The tables had linen tablecloths, place mats and napkins. We ate by candle light.
The menu was incredible: cavatini, lettuce salad, glazed carrots, homemade applesauce and garlic bread. The only thing the cafe lacked was music.

Next time, we're definitely going to remind our servers to put on some music. The best part was it wasn't crowded and we were seated immediately. The name of this fabulous cafe, you ask? Cafe Krueger.



Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lessons Learned

I learned a few lessons this week while in my kitchen. I thought you could benefit from my misfortune. Keep the following lessons in mind while you're cooking or baking.

Lesson #1: Make sure the cookie dough has enough flour or you will end up with M&M cookie goo after baking.
I was making the M&M cookies for the bake sale at work. The recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups of flour but I have a note next to it that looks like this: 2C? meaning maybe only 2 cups of flour is needed. The note is wrong and I need to take it out. I added more flour after the first pan and the cookies turned out fine.

Lesson #2: Saturday morning is a great time to pre-chop veggies.
We've fallen behind on our menu plan this week and I wanted to catch up yesterday. I didn't get the meals made but I did chop most of the veggies needed.

Lesson #3: If the recipe for banana bread calls for baking soda, it's crucial that you remember to put it in.
The banana bread still tastes ok but it's kind of cakey and didn't bake all the way through. There's a few gooey spots. If you ever doubted the need for baking soda, here's your proof that it really makes a difference.

Lesson #4: When adding the ingredients to your bread machine, make sure you add the correct amount of sugar.
That, my friends, is what happens when you add 2 teaspoons of sugar instead of the 2 tablespoons of sugar the recipe called for. There wasn't enough food for the yeast. I threw away that loaf after Steve got home from work. I waited so he could see it because it was too funny not to share. I was going to make Baked Apple French Toast with it. I'll just have to try again today.

Lesson #5: When making fried broccoli, don't accidentally inhale the crushed red pepper when it hits the frying pan.
Nothing really bad will happen but it will make your throat hurt a little. Just don't do it. A side note: Fried broccoli is really easy. A little olive oil in a hot skillet (maybe a teaspoon or two), 1 teaspoon (don't use a tablespoon) crushed red pepper flakes and broccoli. Push broccoli around until it's coated with the oil and the red peppers.

Lesson #6: Crack open a Mike's Cranberry and put your feet up if you learned the majority of these lessons on the same day.