Saturday, December 31, 2016

6 New Favorite Recipes from 2016

We're just a few hours away from rolling into 2017, which means I've previously written a total of four blog entries this year. I had high hopes of doing some more writing this past summer, but as it was an unrelentingly hot one, and I was very very pregnant, most of my mental and emotional energy was spent trying to think of reasons to stand in front of an open freezer instead. It's possible a lot of those reasons had to do with ice cream, but ice cream doesn't make for very interesting blog entries either. So here we are: I've got a 4 1/2 month old sweet and exceedingly cute baby boy, I'm cold, and I'm ready to write a little.

These are the recipes that have particularly delighted us this year.

The Best General Tso's Chicken (pictured above)
This has the best coating of any takeout-style recipe I've tried. I don't keep Vodka around so I use a little more rice wine instead; I use as little oil as possible for the deep fry step and cook the chicken in small batches rather than one piece at a time, and I stir fry whatever veggies we have around with the garlic and ginger before adding the chicken and sauce back in at the end.  This simplified method works and is a little healthier, but if you want it to look like theirs, follow their directions. I'm going to have to try the other better-than-takeout recipes they list here too.

Oven Fried Garlic Parmesan Green Beans
I brought these to both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. They are delicious and so easy to prepare. I go heavy on the garlic.

Parmesan Baked Potato Halves
These are beautiful, with their crispy golden-brown edges, but fast and simple to prepare. I cut down on the butter. Make sure you let them sit 5-10 minutes after taking them out of the oven!

Oven Baked Scrambled Eggs
I host a family brunch at least once a year to celebrate birthdays, and these are great for feeding a crowd. I cut down on both butter (see a theme here?) and salt and stir several times during the baking process.

Stir-Fried Chinese Long Beans

We grew these for the first time this year, and loved them in a very similar preparation. I usually add a pinch of sugar and skip the oyster sauce.

Italian Wedding Cookies
I made these for Christmas this year in an effort to recreate a cookie my husband had tried at work. I added some mini chocolate chips to ours and left them in a ball shape. They're so pretty on a cookie tray!

We sadly had to cancel on our New Year's Eve plans because all 6 of us have colds, so we'll be ringing in the new year at home with some pot roast and reasonable bed times. See you next year! :)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

"Just Right" Brownies From Scratch

I figured brownies would be an acceptable way to break the radio silence here. Between school and incubating the 4th little egg to join our nest (expected to hatch in August :) ), I've been too tired to be terribly creative in the kitchen, and have been depending mostly on our tried and true favorites for dinners. But my husband and older kids are planting the raised beds as I write, the end of our homeschool year is in sight, and I hope to blog a few garden updates, homey things, and recipes before getting swept up in another newborn whirlwind. 

Yesterday was my current youngest's 3rd birthday, and she requested brownie sundaes for dessert.  I've tried a number of different homemade brownie recipes in the past, including the much talked about one from Baked, but in truth have usually preferred brownies from a box.  Whaaa...?  I think the homemade versions, while very good, always feel just a little too complicated to me with their additions of coffee or espresso, multiple types of sugar, etc.--and they taste it, too. These brownies are just right.  That perfect, uncomplicated, chocolatey and fudgey box-mix brownie taste and feel without any dyes, preservatives, or other nasty filler stuff. They take just a few minutes to whip up.

This recipe's base comes from an unassuming little cookbook called Cookies: Food Writers' Favorites, edited by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann and Jane Baker.  Amazon has some used copies available.  In the book the recipe is titled Just Brownies, but I've made some changes to use cocoa powders and a little oil instead of unsweetened baking squares, a little salt, and subbed chocolate chips for walnuts. 

A note on cocoa powders: my local bulk cooking/baking supply store sells Callebaut products and I believe that the cocoa I get there is relabeled Callebaut powder. The Royal Dutch Cocoa has wonderful flavor with no bitterness, and the Black Cocoa is coal black, giving a more appealing, rich color than its lighter counterpart. I love baking with these cocoa powders and have not tested this recipe with others, but I expect it would fare just fine with Hershey's or another brand. Or, do as the original recipe suggests and melt three 1 oz. squares of unsweetened chocolate with your butter, and omit the cocoa powders and oil. 

Just Right Brownies

1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted
6 T. Royal Dutch Cocoa
3 T. Dutch-processed Black Cocoa
3 T. vegetable oil
1 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. AP flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 8x8x2" pan with nonstick spray.

Whisk together melted butter, cocoa powders, and oil until smooth. Stir in sugar, mix well.  Blend in eggs one at a time. Add vanilla and salt, mix well. Stir in flour, mix well. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour/spread evenly into prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes until center is set.  Don't overbake.  Allow to cool completely.

For Fudge Frosting: Whisk together 2 T. melted butter, 2 T. Royal Dutch Cocoa, 3/4 c. confectioners' sugar, and 2 T. whole milk until smooth. Spread on cooled brownies, then allow to set before serving.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Morning

Oh when the saints go marching in
On any given Sunday morn
Some are cheery and exalting
Some are battle bruised and worn

There is no common thread between them
Save the one that grace has wound
All orphans with a family
Once all lost, all now found

When He called they answered
Brought their burdens to the cross
Came with joy and sweet relief
And gladly counted cost

Christ has not built his Church
based on merit, wealth, or looks
tax collectors, whores, and sinners
transformed as people of the Book

The world has nothing for them
But Good News is preached within
So how I long to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

Monday, January 4, 2016

White Pizza and Tomato Soup: Comfort Food for 2016

The first dinner I cooked in the new year was also a landmark one, for this, I decided, is how we're doing classic comfort food in 2016.  This soup works brilliantly with garden fresh tomatoes and basil OR with canned pantry staples. The meal meshes together two kid-friendly favorites and utilizes a time-saving dough if you prefer.  People who are mildly offended by pizza without tomato sauce (*cough* husband *cough*) can get their dose of red with a dunk before each bite, but a splash of sherry in the soup and the monochrome pie bring a little elegance to the whole thing. If it's colder than a polar bear's Frigidaire (see 1:12, oh how we love Slugs & Bugs!) where you are too, don't you think this would be a nice way to warm up tonight?

For years we've made and enjoyed the Cream of Tomato Soup recipe from the More With Less cookbook (How have I not blogged this?!  Thankfully, someone else has. ) but have come to prefer the flavor of this one.

Tomato Soup  (inspired by Ree Drummond's Best Tomato Soup Ever)
serves 6

3 T. butter

1 medium onion, diced fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes  (or equivalent chopped fresh tomatoes)
3.5 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. sherry
2-3 T. sugar (more or less to taste, depending on how acidic your tomatoes are)
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. parsley
1/2 cup heavy cream (or milk or a combo for a lighter version--I usually do half and half)

Melt butter in a large stockpot and saute onion and garlic until they begin to caramelize.  Add sherry, simmer for one minute, then add tomatoes, broth, sugar, pepper, basil, and parsley.  Simmer on low heat for at least a half hour (I've done up to an hour), adding cream/milk in last 5 minutes*.  Stir and heat thoroughly (but don't boil the cream), check seasonings, then serve warm. 

*You can use an immersion blender to puree the soup before adding the cream if the chunks of tomatoes are bothersome to one of your dinner guests. I'm the queen of texture issues so...I get it. :)

White Pizza
(adapted from these two recipes)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. 

Pizza dough: Approximately 1lb. of your favorite store-bought or homemade, enough for one large pie. I used one recipe of this 5-minute Quick and Easy Pizza Crust to speed things up and the portions are a perfect match for the soup (makes 1 pie), but our favorite pizza dough recipe for all other purposes is here.

White sauce: In a small saucepan melt 2 T. butter.  Saute 2 minced cloves of garlic, then stir in 3 T. flour until thoroughly mixed, then whisk in 1 c. of milk.  Add a pinch each of salt and pepper, 1/2 tsp. dried basil, 1/4 tsp. dried Thyme, and 2 T. Parmesan cheese.  Set aside.

Ricotta mixture: Stir a pinch each of salt and pepper and 1/4 tsp. dried Thyme into 1 cup of Ricotta cheese.

Roll out pizza dough to desired thickness and place on a prepared peel or baking pan sprinkled with cornmeal to prevent sticking.  (We enjoy a thin crust, and I made a 17" pizza, which our peel and stone just barely accommodated...)  Spread white sauce over the surface of the dough leaving a small edge, then dollop with small scoops of ricotta mixture.  Top/fill in empty spaces between dollops (is there a better way to explain this?!) with shredded mozzarella cheese--approximately 1/2lb. Sprinkle with mixed Italian herbs if desired, then bake for 8-10(-/+) minutes.  Baking times will vary depending on oven, whether you are baking on a stone or in a pan, how thick your crust is, etc.  I look for a crispy crust and cheese that is starting to brown/bubble.  You all know what a finished pizza looks like, right?  I don't need to belabor this. :)

Serve with tomato soup and a large green salad. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Crafty Christmas

Happy New Year! Popping in briefly to share a bit of my holiday crafting. :) Our older kids got new thinline Bibles this year, and as they don't fit well in Bible covers, I made them some totes to protect them and carry them to church.  I made plenty of mistakes during the process but think I have a system down now.  They are fairly quick to sew, taking me under 2 hours from first cut to final stitch.  Someone more experienced could probably whip them out faster.  I most closely followed this tutorial, though I added a lined, divided pocket with a place for a pen or pencil, and used soft jute trim from Hobby Lobby for the straps.

Remember those Knifty Knitter round looms that were so popular a few years ago?  We picked a set up at a thrift store, and I tried one out during this past week's vacation. Having never knitted or crocheted anything before, I was pleased that one afternoon's work yielded a hat for my son--fun!  My oldest daughter is excited to try making one for her little sister.

Back soon with recipes for tomato soup and white pizza--my new favorite take on the grilled cheese & soup idea, and a huge hit at our house last night.