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Praise The LARD!

It’s now a fact in the Tummy Treasure kitchen.  Lard produces a FAR superior pie crust.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we’d gotten a pig, and one of the things that came from the pig was the fat.  I took one day a week ago and very slowly rendered that fat into lard.  It literally took me all day- and I only did half the fat!  But in the end I had nine little half-pint jars of lard.  Before I forged ahead on rendering the rest of the fat, I wanted to try it in my pie crust and see if it made a difference.

Boy, did it ever!  I’ve really been struggling with pie crusts lately.  I’ve been using organic palm shortening, which does work well, but I’ve been finding the dough a little difficult to work with.  So much so that the thought of baking a pie just made me groan!  But this past Friday I took one of my little jars of lard, a small bit of butter, and followed a recently favored recipe for pie crust.  First of all, the dough was pure pleasure to work with straight out of the fridge.  It didn’t firm up too much to roll out, and it just rolled smoothly and evenly.  The real proof came when we ate that cherry pie.  The crust was so delicious- tender and flaky- even around the edges where the dough tends to be a little thicker from rolling it over on itself.  Every bite was delicious- and the kids ate their crusts, which is also a tell-tale sign.  I had made enough crust for two pies, so the cherry pie was quickly followed by a blueberry pie, and the report is unanimous.  Lard makes a far superior pie crust.

Next I’m going to try the lard pie crust without adding butter as well and see how that works out.  In the meantime, I’m looking for another open day to render down the second half of that lard to put in the freezer.  Right now I have enough lard to get us through the holidays, but it would be nice to have more on hand.  I’d also like to see what happens if I use the lard in biscuits.  Maybe with the next rendering I’ll share my process, but honestly, if you go to The Great Google and search for how to render lard, there are several bloggers out there who have already done the work there.   I know our culture has been pretty anti-lard, but things are changing, and the saturated fats once considered evil are more and more being found to be preferable to the fake and overly processed vegetable oils that make up a significant portion of the Standard America Diet.

We’re going to need another pig.

Pork Chops With Cranberry Mustard Sauce

At the beginning of September, Andy got an unexpected phone call.  It was from our “Pig Guy”.  Several years ago we’d bought a half of a pig from this person, and we loved every bit of it.  We’ve talked on and off how we’d love to get a whole pig from this guy sometime, but we never heard back from him again.  I honestly wondered if he’d decided not to raise pigs anymore.  But then Andy got a phone call- he had pigs that were going into the butcher at the end of September, and were we interested.  Uh, hello!?  Absolutely!  Just over two weeks ago, Andy brought our pig home from the butcher and we popped all these gorgeous packages in the freezer.

One of the things that it seems to me that we got a lot of was pork chops.  I think we put 15 packages of chops in the freezer- all with 4 chops a piece.   We don’t normally buy a lot of pork chops these days because they’ve gotten pretty cost prohibitive.   So this was one item that I was very excited to have in abundance to cook with.  The very first thing I made with a package of pork chops is a recipe that I received from the $5 Dinner Plan, a recipe for Pork Chops with Cranberry-Mustard Sauce.   It was a perfect pantry dinner, because I have several pounds of cranberries in the freezer from last  year.  I added some simple mashed potatoes and green beans and we had a fantastic fall-inspired dinner.

I did make changes to the original recipe, and my recipe below will reflect those changes.   The biggest change I made was that I used only half of the sugar called for.  For the spicy mustard I used a whole grain style mustard, and I accidentally left off the cinnamon.  They were delicious as I made them, and I can’t imagine using a sweeter cranberry sauce- I think it would be cloyingly sweet.   Also, I decided to give the chops a sear in a pan on the stove before putting them in the oven to finish with the sauce.  I think the browning added a layer of flavor to the pork and also kept the juices in the chops.  As I’m thinking about this recipe today, it’s sure open to other ideas and incorporations.  I think adding a sliced, sweet onion to the bottom of the baking dish would be a delicious addition and would work great with the cranberry and mustard flavors.

Overall, a winner.  Three out of four of us enjoyed this very much.  I don’t think Zander even took a bite of his pork chop, I think the thick layer of cranberries on top scared him off.  Next time I would just bake a chop in the pan without the chunky sauce on top for him.

100_8523

Pork Chops with Cranberry-Mustard Sauce

4 pork chops (bone in)
salt and pepper
olive oil
6 ounces fresh cranberries (half a bag)
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Lightly drizzle a baking pan with olive oil and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the cranberries, mustard, sugar and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the cranberries have burst and the sauce begins to thicken.  (About 20 minutes.)

Bring a saute pan to medium heat and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle the pork chops lightly with salt and pepper and place in the saute pan.  Cook for 3 minutes per side- or until the are lightly browned on each side.  They will not be cooked through- we just want some caramelization on those chops.  Add the pork chops to the prepared baking dish.

Divide the cranberry mixture evenly among the pork chops.  Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through.

Cooking time may vary depending on the thickness of your pork chops.

Those End Of Season Green Beans

A few weeks ago I went to clean out my community garden plot for the season.  It was a dismal growing year for me over there, so I was surprised as all get out to find that my bean towers were actually fairly loaded with beans.  I hadn’t been by in about ten days or so, so these beans were quite large and older, and when I pulled one off the plant and ate it fresh, it wasn’t particularly tasty.  I stared at all these beans and went back and forth on putting them in my bucket or just pulling them up and putting them on the compost pile.  The bucket won, and I went in search of something to do with them.

I had this vague thought that I had seen Pioneer Woman do some green bean and tomato dish that cooked for a really long time, so I went searching her site and found exactly what I was looking for.  Green Beans with Tomatoes was what I was after.  I thought the long cooking of these tough and old beans would make them edible- at least that’s what I was hoping.

I followed her recipe pretty closely, only I used my fresh beans instead of canned, and I used a quart of my home-canned tomatoes.   I started by cooking down some chopped bacon that I had in the freezer.  As a side note, for cooking, I really like to use bacon “ends and pieces” from good quality smokehouses.  They are cheaper than the good bacon, and since you’re using it for flavoring, it doesn’t matter what it looks like.  When I get a pound I pop it in the freezer and then lop of frozen chunks when I need some bacon.  In this case I was down to the last couple inches of bacon, so I gave that a rough chop with my knife and threw that in.  Frozen bacon is SO easy to chop up.

Anyway.  I cooked the bacon for a bit- until there was plenty of bacon fat in the pan but the bacon wasn’t cooked through and crispy yet.  Then I added the onion and let that cook for a few minutes.  Wow- talk about amazing smells there.  I really thought hard about mincing up some of my garlic and throwing that in, but in the end decided to make these beans without garlic.  Instead, I just added the green beans, followed by the tomatoes, and then a nice sprinkling of black pepper and a pinch of salt.  I did not use the cayenne called for in PW’s recipe, as I wanted the kids to eat these beans.

I cooked these beans for a little over an hour.   And let me tell you, magic was made in that pan.  I was instantly sorry that I did not have another harvest of beans waiting in the garden for me.  We all enjoyed the beans, although do you know what Zander said?  It could use a little garlic.  Next time I will try adding some garlic and seeing what happens.   I’m so glad I decided to try cooking these beans up, because there was absolutely no toughness left with the beans.  They were slightly smokey, slightly sweet, very tender, and just delicious.  It was a big bowl of comfort.  The next day I took the leftovers and warmed them up for my lunch with a fried egg- and that was pretty good too.

Make these.  You can use the canned green beans called for, frozen beans, or those old beans from the garden.  If you use fresh beans, remove the stem ends and snap them into two-inch pieces or so.   Consider the quantities guidelines, really, there is a lot of flexibility with this recipe.  It really was good.  So good that I’m seriously considering trying this again with canned beans and seeing what happens there.   And honestly?  I think that if you rendered the bacon fat a bit in a pan on the stove for a bit, you could dump everything into a crock pot and cook it on low all day long.  I may try that as well…

100_8516

Spanish Style Green Beans

5 slices Bacon
1 whole Onion (medium)
4 cans (14.5 Oz. Cans) Whole Green Beans (or 1 To 2 Pounds Fresh)
2 cans (14.5 Oz.) Whole Tomatoes
Cayenne Pepper To Taste

Slice the bacon up into 1 inch pieces and start cooking them in a large skillet or Dutch oven. Keep cooking until bacon turns brown. Meanwhile, dice 1 medium onion. When the bacon is beginning to brown, drain some of the fat and then add the onions. Cook, stirring now and then, until bacon and onions are both turning a nice golden.

Drain the green beans and add them right into the pan with the bacon and the onions. Next, throw in the two cans of whole tomatoes with their juice. Stir around gently and then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 45 minutes.

When they are finished cooking add cayenne pepper to taste up to about ¼ of a teaspoon for a hotter dish. Stir gently and serve!

Quick! While You Still Have Fresh Tomatoes!

I apologize because I should have posted this recipe much sooner.  Tomato season is rapidly coming to a close here in Wisconsin, but hopefully you can find a few to make this recipe.

I made these stuffed tomatoes  several weeks ago while visiting family in the Twin Cities.  Honestly, I went back and forth all weekend on making them or not, because I just wasn’t sure how they would turn out.  I mean, stuffed tomatoes?  Would that even be good?  In the end we decided to go ahead and make it, with a few modifications, and wow was it good!  It was so good that earlier this week I made a stuffed pepper recipe (recipe coming) and Zander got really excited about it.  Until he actually had the stuffed pepper on his plate, and then he and Abigail both made sure I knew that these stuffed peppers were nothing like the stuffed tomatoes we’d had at their uncle’s house.   So I guess it was a bigger hit than I thought!

The original recipe came to me in my inbox from Food Network.  Here is the original recipe for Sausage-and-Basil Stuffed Tomatoes.  My recipe below will reflect the changes we made to the recipe.

We started with a pile of freshly plucked from the garden heirloom tomatoes.  You really do want the best tomatoes you can find here.  Grocery store tomatoes aren’t going to cut it, however, I do think you could maybe pull it off if you can find Kumato tomatoes- Sam’s Club sells those in 12 packs.

Anyway.  I started with tomatoes.  I sliced off the tops and then took a spoon and scooped out the guts of each tomato.  I discarded both the tops and the central core of the tomato.  The original recipe called for pureeing these guts with cayenne and olive oil.  I added a small drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper, and then just used a wooden spoon to mix it all together.  A smooth puree was not necessary, and since we were feeding children, skipped the cayenne.  This went into the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.  Then the tomato shells were set in the pan on top of that.

The next focus was the filling.  We had to modify a little here, as they were out of regular onions and celery.  So instead we used scallions fresh from the garden, and I finely diced up a carrot in place of the celery.  I also eliminated the herbs de provence.  I do like that spice blend, but I wasn’t feeling it at all in this application with the sweet Italian sausage and Parmesan/tomato flavors we were going for.   I cooked up my sausage and veggies together, and then looked at the recipe again- which called again for the food processor.  We decided to make our filling chunky instead of smooth.  So I took our cooked sausage and veggies and added them to the bread cubes and skipped the food processor.  Next I added half the basil called for in the recipe and mixed it all up.  This mixture was scooped into the tomato shells waiting in the pan.  Here’s a picture of it so far:

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Back to the recipe we found walnuts called for.  We skipped that, and mixed together the remaining basil and Parmesan (Asiago, actually) and topped our tomatoes with that, and then decided to add a little Mozzarella for extra cheesy goodness.  They sure smelled good so far!

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Now ready to pop in the oven,  while they baked up we made a simple tossed salad to go with.   I still wasn’t sure the kids were going to like this one, but it did smell a lot like pizza as it baked up.  It took about 30 minutes for it to look like it was cooked through and the cheese was all luscious.

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Seriously.  Make these.  You won’t regret it.  In fact, make two pans, because there were no leftovers from this meal.

Sausage and Basil Stuffed Tomatoes

8 to 10 Heirloom Tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of salt and pepper
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
1/2 cup chopped scallion- both white and green parts
2 small carrots, peeled and finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning.
2 cups of fresh bread cubes
1 cup of fresh Basil
1/2 cup grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Mozzarella cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Cut the tops off of the tomatoes and discard the tops.  Scoop out the insides of the tomatoes into a mixing bowl.  Mash the tomatoes up with the back of a wooden spoon- add a drizzle of olive oil a pinch of salt and pepper.  Remove any large chunks, and pour this rough sauce into a 9×13 baking dish.  Save this mixing bowl for using again.  Place your scooped tomato shells into the baking pan on top of the sauce.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the Italian sausage.  Cook for about 2 minutes and then add the scallions, carrots and garlic.    Cook and stir for a few minutes until the sausage is cooked through and the vegetables are tender.   Add the dried Italian seasoning and cook for another minute or so.

In the same mixing bowl you had the tomato sauce, add the bread cubes, and then pour the cooked sausage mixture over the top of the bread.  Add 1/2 cup of the fresh basil, and mix it up with a spoon.  Evenly distribute the stuffing mixture among the tomatoes.  Press the stuffing in firmly if you have extra stuffing- it should all fit.

In a small bowl combine the rest of the fresh basil with the Asiago and the Mozzarella cheeses.  Sprinkle this over the top of the stuffed tomatoes.  Put the whole pan in the 400ºF oven and bake for 20-30 minutes or until the tomatoes are nicely softened and the cheeses are lightly browned.

Serve immediately.

 

 

 

A Delicious Slow Cooker Dessert from the $5 Dinner Meal Plan

Wow, adjusting to our new everyday has definitely been a challenge.  I still haven’t figured a lot out yet.   The way the dance schedule has turned out this year, dinner has been quite late most days of the week.  Monday, Tuesday and Thursday dinner is after 8:00 or 8:30, as that’s when the kids get home.  This has presented a problem for myself, as I’m ready for dinner much earlier, and it’s leading to all sorts of ravenous snacking.  I do want to wait and eat with them, but this is turning out to be more of a challenge than I thought!

Last night was Wednesday, though, which has its own set of challenges.   The kids both have a ballet class until 6:00, and then we dash over to church to be ready for mid-week service half an hour later.  These last two weeks I’ve met the kids at the dance door with sandwiches in hand.  This has worked okay.  Last week was a simple cold salami sandwich, yesterday I made hot ham and cheese on homemade rolls, and wrapped them individually in foil, then a towel, so they were still nice and warm and ready for the kids.   But one lone sandwich quickly scarfed down while in transit, does not dinner make for two very active children.  By the time I’ve picked them up from their intensive ballet class, their bodies are screaming for some calories.  Next week I am hoping to try taking calzones on the run- and maybe I should start incorporating a yogurt smoothie.

What we’ve done the last two Wednesdays has been to have dessert when we get home from church.  That’s actually fairly normal, that after evening services we either go out for frozen yogurt or custard, or come home and have a bowl of ice cream here at home.  But this week I wanted to try something more substantial.

I was lucky to be a part of a beta testing group this summer for a meal-planning service created by Erin Chase from $5 Dinners.  I’ve talked about her recipes before- the ones we’ve tried of hers have been good, solid recipes, and I was curious to see how she would put meal planning together.  While I haven’t followed a meal plan fully yet, I have tried a recipe here and there, and I’ve also scrutinized each week to see what I would do differently.  For the most part it’s been a very nice variety of food, and because it’s from the $5 Dinner Mom, you know the recipes are pretty economical once you have a decently stocked pantry to draw some basics from.   The beta phase for the $5 Meal Plan is over, and I definitely recommend it if you need some help in that area.  It’s an insanely affordable meal plan at just $5 a month- less than that if you pay in advance in six month or full year increments.   The menus serve 4 people, so if you are cooking for more you’ll need to adjust, but I have found most of the recipes approachable, and easily adaptable if you have to change things up for your individual tastes.  She also has a gluten-free plan option if your family needs to be gluten free.

Each week of the meal plan comes with a whole pile of recipes for you to enjoy.  The week I have sitting right next to me has six dinner recipes, one breakfast (that could be dinner) recipe, one lunch (again, could be dinner) recipe, a side dish and a dessert.  One of those recipes is also a slow-cooker recipe, and at least one recipe each week is also designated as being freezer-friendly, so you could make two and save one for another time.  THIS is a plan designed for a busy family!  It doesn’t stop there, though!  In addition to these great, family-friendly recipes, Erin also has compiled a shopping list for you.  The shopping list is very user-friendly and breaks everything down into department for shopping to make your time in the store more efficient.  She suggests what items are pantry staples, so it’s extra easy to double check in your own pantry and then cross them off the list.   And beyond all that, every item on the shopping list tells you which meals that is going to be used for- helping you to customize your trip AND save you both time and money by telling you what you should not buy if you’re not making a particular recipe.

The $5 Meal Plan is now available to everyone!  And here’s the best part- the first four weeks of the plan are absolutely free to you with no catch whatsoever.  Try it out for a full four weeks ( it gets delivered to your inbox early Friday afternoons) and decide if its right for your family with no strings attached.  After the four weeks you can decide if you want to continue and pay for it, or if it’s not for you, you’ve lost nothing.  You can sign up for your free trial (remember, no strings attached) at the $5 Meal Plan page, but if you want to do so, act quickly, because the free trial period is not going to last forever.

And now a teaser recipe.  Last night, as I previously mentioned, I wanted to make dessert for when we got home last night.  In a recent meal plan, there was a recipe for a Slow Cooker Pear Berry Crumble.   I knew I needed to make it, but I wasn’t totally convinced a crumble in the crock pot was going to work.  I decided to try it anyway.  If it didn’t turn out, we’d just have ice cream on its own, but as it turned out, the crumble was delicious!

For myself, I used a quart of home-canned pears instead of the fresh pears.  I left them in quarters and simply drained them of the juice before adding to my pot.  Then I added half a bag of frozen blueberries from my summer bounty.   I did not add the fresh cardamom- I recently used up my stash of cardamom pods, so I’ll have to pick up more.  Then, when it came time for the topping, I opted to use brown sugar instead of white sugar, as I thought I’d prefer the flavor more.   I’ll admit, it looked like a lot of topping when I had it all in the crock pot, but in the end, it was the perfect amount for me.  The topping is my favorite part though! Zander thought there was a little too much topping for his tastes.

Overall this was a huge winner.  It’s not overly sweet at all- the fruit is allowed to shine on its own, and once you add a scoop of ice cream, it’s perfectly balanced and not cloyingly sweet as crumbles can be sometimes.   For this to be 4 servings would have been very generous portions- as it was, I served a pretty hefty portion to everyone since this was technically part of dinner.  I still had one nice portion left which made a spectacular breakfast this morning.

I definitely recommend this one.  It smelled wonderful when we walked in the door, and while it maybe would have been better being baked in the oven like a traditional crumble- to have it ready when we walked in was worth it.

pear berry crumble

Slow Cooker Pear Berry Crumble

from $5 Dinners

 
3 Anjou pears, peeled, cored and chopped
1 pint blueberries
about 1 Tbsp lemon juice, sprinkled
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
Dash of cardamom, optional
1 1/2 cup quick oats (substitute with certified GF oats)
1/2 cup flour (substitute with GF Flour mix)
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter (substitute with dairy-free margarine)
Optional: ice cream or whipped cream topping

Directions:

Spray slow cooker generously with non-stick cooking spray.  (Oh, I don’t use cooking spray, I used a bit of olive oil rubbed around the pot)
Toss together the chopped pears and blueberries in the base of the slow cooker and sprinkle with a little lemon juice. Add the cinnamon, ginger and (if you have it on hand) a pinch full of cardamom.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the oats, flour, sugar. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender or two knives.
Spread the topping evenly over the blueberries and pears in the base of the slow cooker.
Set on low and cook for 4 hours.
Serve Pear Blueberry Crumble as is, or with ice cream or whipped cream.

Chinese Red Cooked Bear

Towards the end of last spring,  one of Andy’s co-workers sent him home from work with a goody bag.  This co-worker is a hunter, and had heard that we  were very curious about playing around with venison and bear meat.  Historically I don’t have a good relationship with venison.  I want to like it, but every time I’ve tried it, I take a few bites and then I’m done.  I just really dislike that gamey flavor that is all too often present with venison.  Bear meat, on the other hand, we’d had exactly once before and were surprised that it wasn’t gamey at all- it was like a richer variety of beef.  Well, this co-worker sent both along, a few different cuts of venison, and a few cuts of bear meat.   We were quite excited to play around with all of these and figure out the best way to prepare them.

Surprisingly, I found very little direction on cooking with bear meat.  I hunted through game cookbooks at our library and many websites, but there was very little out there, with the exception that every source indicated that the bear needed to be thoroughly cooked, as it tends to harbor a dangerous parasite known as trichonosis.   As I was looking and not finding an inspiring recipe anywhere, I recalled the blog known as Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, and I was sure that he would have something on his site about cooking bear meat.   Sure enough, he did, but the one I was most attracted to was the Chinese Red Cooked Bear, though I had bear steaks and not belly to deal with.  I’ll admit, though, I was pretty intimidated by the recipe itself.   So I filed it away in my brain to consider, but then company came calling.  And it was adventurous company, willing to try new things, and I just had to do it.

I did not use the preserved garlic called for in the recipe.  We have several Asian markets in the area that I’m sure I could have found it at, but I decided to just leave it out and see what happened.  Other than that change, I followed the recipe to the letter with the exception that I used less chilies- as we wanted the kids to enjoy it as well.  I want to say I used two dried chilies, and there was very little heat in the end.

The toughest part of the recipe was the second step, where you heat the oil and sugar together.  This turned into napalm very quickly- and it tends to spatter.  My stirring arm still has scars from this cooking adventure- so be careful there.  On my gas stovetop, the caramelized sugar happened within two minutes- not the ten indicated in the recipe.

All told, I think the bear cooked for about 90 minutes, instead of the two hours in the recipe, and I did end up taking out the whole spices after an hour.  The end result was beyond spectacular.  While the technique was new to me, making it seem more tedious at the time, it really wasn’t complicated or difficult once I had everything on hand.   The Chinese Red Cooking was delectable.  The meat was so tender and packed with flavor.  We had it served with rice and another whole meal in case we didn’t care for the bear.   Fortunately Andy had decided to snap a picture of his plate that day.

cooked bear

Maybe not the most artful display, but a display nonetheless.  The bear meat really did cook that dark- it’s not burnt in the least.  It was a great dish, and it could very easily be made with pork, beef, or other game as you see fit as well.  I really think the recipe is highly adaptable to the meat you have on hand.

Rather than copy the recipe here today, I’m going to link you right to the recipe at Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook, as I changed barely a thing, so did not adapt the recipe enough to warrant a re-posting.

Chinese Red Cooked Bear.

 

Delicious Pizza Bites!

I have a love/hate relationship with pizza.  Mostly, I love it.  Our whole family loves pizza- we could eat it most days of the week and never tire of it.  We love it homemade and we love to get it out as well.  The hate part of the relationship is the pizza-like things that end up not quite satisfying that pizza craving.  Last Christmas I decided to make a hot pizza dip, thinking it would be a huge hit with everyone.  Not so much.  While it did taste like pizza, it just wasn’t quite there- it was more like a pizza flavored something than actual pizza, despite the use of real ingredients.

So the first time I saw these Pepperoni Pizza Puffs at the Noble Pig blog, they called to me, but at the same time, I wasn’t convinced they were going to be true to being pizza.  I filed away the idea in my brain somewhere, but promptly forgot about them.  Fast forward a few weeks, and I was looking at my recipe bookmarks, and lo and behold, there they were again.  As it happened, I had everything on hand to make them, and I thought it would be worth trying out for the kids for lunch one day.

Well, they certainly came together quickly enough.  They are deceptively simple.  Flour, baking powder, milk, egg and your pizza mix-ins.  When I made these, I stuck to the recipe, but you can bet that as I was mixing, my thoughts were turning to the possibilities here.  I was sticking with pepperoni and cheese, but we never top pizzas the same way twice. Y0u could probably mix just about anything into these little puffs.  Sausage and mushroom, broccoli and cheese, baked potatoes and bacon bits, feta cheese and black olives- the list could go on and on!  Regardless of what you want to put in your pizza bites, you must make these!

These absolutely tasted like pizza!  And while I was using these as lunch, they would make an excellent quick snack, or I could totally see them as a party nibble.    Quick and easy, Zander asked me the other day if I would make these again soon, so they clearly made an impression.   I am very thankful to Noble Pig for sharing these delicious pizza treasures.

pizza puffs

 

Pepperoni Pizza Puffs

from the Noble Pig blog

3/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup whole milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
4 ounces pepperoni, cut into small cubes (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup pizza sauce
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease a 24-cup mini muffin pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder; whisk in the milk and egg. Stir in the mozzarella and pepperoni; let stand for 10 minutes.

Stir the batter and divide among the mini-muffin cups. Bake until puffed and golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Microwave the pizza sauce until warmed through, then stir in 1 Tablespoon basil. Sprinkle the puffs with the remaining1 Tablespoon basil. Serve the puffs with the pizza sauce for dipping.

Making An Effort

I made the decision this week to make a hearty effort to get back into this blogging thing.  I miss it- I really do.  Strange as it may sound, I miss the dialogue in my head as I cook and prepare a dish, and start planning the words that will flow out onto the computer screen.  I miss the excitement as I realize how spectacular a dish is and then cannot wait to hop onto the blog and share it.  Honestly, a huge factor in not blogging much has been my camera.  It’s really gotten wonky and it’s so much work to get a picture ready to share.   But since camera replacement is not a possibility anytime soon, I’m just going to have to make the effort.

Yesterday I spent some time trolling through my old food blogging stomping grounds.  I went through my entire blogroll and I became very sad.  Way too many have stopped blogging for one reason or another.   There were also way too many food blogs that simply didn’t exist anymore.   I can always hope that some of those voices will return some day, and I decided that I didn’t want to be one of those empty blogs anymore.  Where people pop in every couple of months and see that no blogging has happened.   So I will try.  As I go through pictures I have on my computer right now, I do have quite a few things to share with you that I haven’t before, so I will start there and see what happens.

I’m trying to set myself some realistic goals.  Daily blogging is not realistic to me.  Once a week is not often enough.  And with school and dance both starting up next week (what was I thinking!) there will have to be some fluidity in my planning.  But I will make it work.  Because I have noticed a very disturbing trend in the blogosphere this last year.  Once upon a time, us voices who started the food blogging movement did so because we truly loved food- and most of us loved cooking.   Now, so many of the popular food blogs of today are… well, they’re not my cup of tea at all.  They’re heavily ad driven.   I can appreciate wanting to make money doing something you love… but enticing readers to subscribe because  subscribers get to enter contests and giveaways leaves an off-flavor to me.  And then they give extra entries into a giveaway because you share it on social media… Blech.    I like to put thought and meat into my blog posts.  I am aghast when I click on one of these “food” blogs and they give a few short sentences about how much they love this new chocolate spread product, and then there are hundreds of comments below agreeing or disagreeing.  That’s not a blog post- that’s an advertisement.

Anyway.  My current plan is to make an effort.  To cook something delicious and pull my camera out and then share it right here.   In fact, I was coming on here to share a recipe when I started on this tangent and decided that I better save the recipe for another blog post.  I’m working on tweaking my website a bit.  There are some areas that I never post in, so I’ve hidden them for the time being.   Of course, it’s been so long since I played behind the scenes that I feel like I’m learning all over again.  My homepage is a disaster area, but hopefully I’ll figure that out soon.

So coming up, a delicious and easy pizza-like bite that works for a quick lunch or snack idea.  Perfect for afters school or to grab when dashing out the door on the way to dance.   I also have a recipe for something really interesting- Chinese Red Cooked Bear.  I almost forgot about that one, but my thoughtful husband took a picture of it, so I must share it.  It’s not everyday you get to sample delicious bear meat.   Stay tuned!

Quick, Easy, Delicious Chicken Marinade

I’ve been meaning to share this really simple recipe for some time now, but first I had to figure out the recipe.  I’ve made this chicken a few times for company, and every time I get asked for the recipe.  So I try to explain how I take a bit of this and a bit of that and do this with it… So this last time I wrote down as I went, but of course, I cannot find the scrap of paper that I wrote it down on.  Nevertheless, I want to share it anyway.  It’s too good to pass up, and while I’ve only used it on chicken breasts, I think it would be great on thighs as well, and possibly pork chops. You can also use this as a dump recipe- putting the chicken in the marinade and tossing it in the freezer.  The chicken can be grilled, baked, or sauteed on the stove top once the marinade has had time to soak in.

Here is the cast of characters for this one:

ingredientsFresh basil, sea salt, fresh black pepper, red wine vinegar, olive oil, honey, and several cloves of garlic.  I believe the measurements go something like this:

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

black pepper to taste

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon honey

4 cloves of garlic, finely minced

If anything, those measurements are a little shy- use more to taste as you tweak this to your own specifications.    Put them all in a large bowl and give them a good whisk.

marinade

My mouth is watering just looking at that.   It doesn’t look like a ton of marinade- but it’s more than enough for any quantity of chicken you have on hand.  On this particular day, I was going to use 2 of those jumbo packs of chicken that you get as Sam’s Club.  But first, because the breasts are so big, I decided to butterfly them.  Butterflying has become my favorite thing to do with these large pieces of chicken.  First of all, it makes one piece of breast a realistic portion, so you’re not overdoing it.  Secondly, and maybe more importantly, it also roughs up one side of the chicken, and it seems to soak up the flavors of the marinade more readily.  Butterflying is really easy when the chicken pieces are so large!

chicken 1

 

First set your breast on a cutting board and grab a nice, sharp knife.  See how I have the knife positioned with the blade facing the largest end of the chicken?  That’s where we’re going to start cutting.  Just do your best guessing as to the midway point on that end of the chicken, and start carefully cutting and sliding your knife parallel to your cutting board.

chicken 2

These particular breasts get thinner as you move towards the pointy end.  I just tried my very hardest to keep the knife at the same distance to the cutting board the whole time.  I did have some breasts that did not cut quite as evenly, but for the most part, once I got into a rhythm it went quickly.

chicken 3

 

See?  Two better-sized pieces of chicken.  Now we’re going to take all these pieces and chuck them into our large bowl that’s holding the marinade.  Use your hands to stir them up as you go- making sure each piece is coated with marinade.  Remember when I said I was using two large packages?  Yeah, that’s a lot of chicken.

marinating

 

Let them sit on the counter, in the marinade for 45 minutes.  You can turn them a few times if you like.  During that time you can get your grill ready for the chicken, your oven preheated and your baking sheets lightly oiled, or get your saute pan out and ready.  On this particular day I took two baking sheets and lined them with heavy duty foil before brushing them very lightly with olive oil.  The foil was purely for clean-up purposes later, as I knew I would have to do two batches.  I baked them at 375ºF for 35 minutes, rotating my pans halfway through cooking.  When the first batch was cooked, I removed the foil from the pans and repeated.

I did not get a finished picture this time, but the end result is a whole bunch of delicious chicken that can serve any purpose you want.  You can eat it just as it is, served with some side dishes and a fork a knife.  It also makes a spectacular addition to a salad or a wrap.  We used some for sandwiches with some delicious rolls and cheeses one day, and honestly, there was one day I wasn’t really hungry for lunch, so I just grabbed a breast out of the fridge cold and ate it just like that.  Fully cooked, these will store in a properly cold fridge for a week, giving you chicken on hand anytime you need some cooked chicken.  Now that I’m thinking about it, we also used some of these on homemade pizzas- one was a chicken BBQ pizza, and another was a chicken-bacon-ranch kind of creation.

Economically, this makes excellent sense.  When I shop at Sam’s Club right now I can get one package of these large chicken breasts for $1.88 a pound. (Around $10 a package, give or take.) A package usually has around 8 or 9 breasts in it.   I butterfly them and instantly I’m up to 16-18 portions of chicken.  So I cook the chicken and say we use 4 of them in salads for dinner.  That leaves at least 12 more pieces to use in other ways.  Even if only The Hubby uses them for sandwiches for lunch all week- that’s still a massive bargain.  But I will use these once or twice more for dinners in various ways, and lunches once or twice as well.   And if we get tired of chicken, back in the freezer they go to pull out another time.

With the grocery dollar shrinking from week to week, this recipe for easy chicken is a must-have.

 

 

 

Finally- Homemade Macaroni and Cheese!

It has taken me YEARS to find this recipe.  I have tried many homemade mac and cheese recipes over the years in my quest to find THE recipe.   I have tried simply winging it, I’ve tried stove-top, baked, and crock-pot recipes.  Yet none of them would convert my mac-and-cheese loving son to the homemade variety.  Always, when he requested macaroni and cheese for a meal, he would add a qualifier.  You know, the shells and cheese, Mom.  Meaning his favorite macaroni and cheese not only was from a box, it was the kind made with Velveeta- the cheese that is not that different from plastic.   Every once in a while I would buy the blue box to make a quick lunch for the kids, and while they ate it, they never really cheered or got excited about mac and cheese.  Honestly, I would take dehydrated powdered cheese over plastic cheese sauce, but neither one was really a good option…

In my quest last year to remove as much fake stuff from our diet as possible, I stopped buying the occasional box of shells and cheese, but somewhere along the line I decided it would make a fine side dish for whatever I made that day.  So I bought some and brought it home.  Several hours later I had some very serious and awful digestive issues, and I very clearly knew that it was a direct result of that non-food hitting my system, and I swore never to buy it again. And more importantly, to never feed it to my kids again.   I began in earnest to hunt down recipes, but just wasn’t finding something I hadn’t already tried!

I did manage to narrow down that Zander was not a fan of baked mac and cheese. While that will forever be my favorite, as I love the crispy toppings, the crispy toppings did not work for my buddy.  He wanted creamy and extra cheesy.   Surely this was possible?

Turns out it is definitely possible.  Andy was gone one evening for dinner, and the kids requested macaroni and cheese.  I don’t even remember what we had with it, but I do recall sitting down at the computer, determined to find THE recipe that would rock our mac-n-cheese world.   I spent quite a bit of time on different recipe sites looking at recipe after recipe, trying to determine what would qualify it as perfect homemade macaroni and cheese?  And then I saw a picture.  I saw macaroni literally drowning in cheese sauce, and I knew at that moment that I had met a contender.   Allrecipes came to my rescue with a recipe created by Pam Anderson- I’ve actually made recipes from her before, and they turned out pretty good.  I read the recipe, and then I read a ton of reviews to see what other people changed, and decided this was the one.  Even better?  I had everything on hand.

I followed the recipe for Creamy Macaroni and Cheese pretty closely.   For the first time making it, I decided I did not need servings for ten people, and opted to cut the recipe in half.   The only real change I made was that I did not use the amount of Dijon mustard called for- I cut that in half again, using just one teaspoon of Dijon mustard.  It was the perfect amount.  It added a discernible tang, but you could not identify where it came from.   The recipe came together quickly enough- I had the sauce made before the macaroni was finished boiling up, and I knew I had a winner if it would maintain its creamy texture.

I loved the magic that using Parmesan and Sharp Cheddar together did- I did use Sharp Cheddar cheese instead of the Extra Sharp called for, as that’s what I have on hand.  Plus, here in Wisconsin, extra sharp is pretty sharp, I wanted a kid-friendly mac and cheese.    It was cheesy, but not heavy in the least.  The evaporated milk kept it creamy without separating at all, and overall, it was the kind of macaroni and cheese that you keep going back for another bite, because you cannot believe how good it is.    I found that the half batch was the perfect amount for our family, so that is the recipe I’m going to share at the bottom.  As a side dish, this would make about six generous servings.  As a main dish, maybe closer to four.

I made this again a week later when Andy was home.  This time I added 3/4 of a pound of macaroni to the sauce, and interestingly, I found that it was better with the original 1/2 a pound of pasta.  Specifically, as a leftover.  My kids actually ate leftovers!  This macaroni and cheese, re-heated in a microwave made a perfect lunch from leftovers, and the extra cheesy sauce is what made it work so well.  So if you’re planning to eat it all, you can use a little more than the 1/2 pound of pasta if you’d like.  Actually, if you prefer a less saucy mac and cheese, by all means, make a full pound of pasta for this amount of sauce.  But as written, it’s spectacular the day you made it, and it’s great as a leftover.  Now if I can only find some large enough thermoses for the kids, this would be the perfect meal for them to take on the road with them.

I have no picture, as I didn’t really think this was a mind-blowing recipe until I made it for the second time and Zander gobbled it down.  I believe I have finally succeeded in beating out that neon orange plastic cheese product.

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound elbow, shell or other bite sized pasta shape
1 (12 fl. ounce)can evaporated milk
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon prepared Dijon mustard
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 pound grated sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:

Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a large pot.  Add salt and pasta, cooking according to package directions until al-dente.  Drain.

Meanwhile, heat the evaporated milk and chicken broth together until hot and steamy- do not boil.  Use a microwave or a small sauce pan.

Melt the butter in an empty pot over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour until fully combined, and then whisk in the hot milk mixture. Continue whisking over the heat until the mixture is thick and bubbly- roughly 3-5 minutes, depending on how your heat is.  Whisk in the mustard, black pepper and Parmesan cheese.  Once fully combined, turn off the heat and stir in the cheddar until fully melted and combined.

Add the drained pasta to the cheese sauce.  Stir together until fully combined- if it’s too thick for your taste, add a small drizzle of milk to thin it a bit.  Serve hot.

 

Purple Sweet Potatoes

I feel like my family does not eat near enough sweet potatoes.  They truly are one of my favorite foods, but I don’t prepare them too often because one person doesn’t like them much.  (It’s interesting how that one person can affect the family dining habits.) Earlier this week I was at the store to pick up some regular potatoes for making scalloped potatoes when I saw the display of sweet potatoes.  I wandered over and considered picking some up when out of the corner of my eye I spied some more exotic varieties.  In particular, the purple ones.  They were priced at only $1.99 per pound, which is a little high, but normal for this particular store.  I hadn’t recalled ever hearing about purple sweet potatoes before- I needed to know about these!  This past summer I got over my fear of eating blue potatoes (yes, I really couldn’t eat them), so why not try these out too? I picked out four of the healthiest looking ones and added them to my New Year’s Eve menu.

I decided to roast them in the oven in their jackets and then mash them afterward.  I wanted to lightly sweeten them and top them with marshmallows- I had this visual in my head of purple potatoes with a crown of white marshmallowy goodness and I couldn’t get it out of my head.

So I poked them with a fork, put them on a baking sheet and popped them in the oven.  Here they are, freshly pierced and ready to cook.

purple pots 1

I baked them for about an hour- which was apparently a touch too long, as one of the potatoes burst their jackets, but I was seriously surprised by how purple they were on the inside.  Like play-dough purple.   And they were insanely sweet.  In a delicious way, but there was no way I was going to add any brown sugar or top with marshmallow.  I added a few pats of butter, a drizzle of milk, and a tiny pinch of cinnamon, salt and pepper, and mashed them up.  Here they are in their serving bowl- I stuck a white handled knife in so you can see how purple these really are.

cooked pots

These really are delicious sweet potatoes.   The sweetest I’ve ever had, and they also had a denser texture- it must be all that sugar, because they were almost sticky.   I will totally purchase these potatoes again when I see them.  My picky child still didn’t like them, but Andy and I loved them, as did Abigail.  Abigail was saddened to learn these would not get their crown of marshmallow, so I allowed her to add a dab of marshmallow cream to the top- she said the flavors went together perfectly.

I will suggest that if you do find these and want to cook them up that you make sure they are on a baking sheet or a layer of foil for baking.  They oozed a lot of purple goo that would have made quite the mess on the oven bottom.   I want to get them again soon and see if they retain that vibrant purple color when boiled, or if they drift closer to a blue tone.   But seriously, as I ate these last night I thought about some crazy potential for these potatoes.  I recently had some amazing red velvet cupcakes where the red dye was actually beet juice, and all I could think about was some delicious sweet potato cupcakes made with these purple potatoes.   I also couldn’t help but think about how purple in fruits and vegetables equals a high level of antioxidant goodness.   These have to be some kind of super food- I wonder why I’ve never heard of them?

Have you ever seen or had these purple sweet potatoes?

 

New Bread For A New Year

I can make my standard sandwich bread with my eyes closed.  I love this bread, and acquired the recipe from my trusty old Joy of Cooking- one of the first cookbooks my mom bought for me.   It’s become the standard by which I measure all homemade bread, yet there are a few things about it that has kept me looking for more.  One is that it deteriorates in quality really quickly.  It’s best eaten the first day it is made, good for sandwiches the second day, but beyond that it’s good for grilled cheese or toast only.   The second thing I have been musing about removing from the bread recipe is the milk.  Now, I agree that the milk enriches the bread with added protein and nutrients, but there are times where I am trying to make a gallon of milk last a few more days, and I hate adding that 1 cup of milk to the bread.  Powdered milk has never been a solution for me, as it’s pricey and I’ve heard such conflicting information about using it.

In all truth, what I’ve really been wanting was to find a way to turn delicious white sandwich bread into a vegan option.  I eat vegan from time to time, and a slice of toast with nut butter makes a great breakfast when I’m eating that way.   There’s nothing worse than commiting to eating vegan for a week and realizing halfway through your sandwich or piece of toast that the bread you are eating contains milk or butter.

I was flipping through one of my Amish cookbooks and looking at the breads.  This happened to be the same book I found the Oatmeal Bread in, and sure enough, there was a recipe for plain old white bread that made two loaves.  Two loaves is a must- if I’m going to go to the trouble to bake bread, it best make more than one loaf!   I read through the recipe- the fact that there was no milk intrigued me- would the bread suffer from it’s omission?   I put a batch together, but as I did so, it occurred to me that 1/3 cup of sugar was a lot of sugar.  The finished bread had an amazing texture!  Even better, it was still soft and delicious the third day after baking.  However, it was really sweet, and we didn’t even really want to finish that second loaf.

So I’ve been tweaking and playing around, and yesterday I perfected the recipe.  It’s perfect.  It makes a great white sandwich bread that is soft and chewy, and it maintains a great texture for three full days.  I have settled on honey as my desired sweetener- I am sure you can use sugar instead if you’d like, but we thought the addition of honey gave the bread a depth in flavor. ( I realize that the honey actually makes the bread non-vegan for someone who is a vegan in every facet of life, but for myself who chooses to eat like a vegan from time to time, I’m good with the honey. ) The recipe also calls for 2 1/2 tablespoons of shortening.  I use my organic palm shortening, but I think you can easily sub in whatever fat you would like.   The un-tweaked recipe called for it to be melted, so even oil would be a fine substitution.  I found that the palm shortening didn’t need to be melted first and could simply be worked into the dough as is.

This is my new standard sandwich bread.  It’s really not that different from my old recipe, but the improvements seem to make a huge difference!  I do plan to play with it just a touch more by swapping out some of the white bread flour for whole wheat flour and finding a good way to do a whole wheat loaf that way.  I need to refresh my whole wheat flour supply, and then I’ll be doing that.  As an added bonus, my previous favorite bread called for two rises plus a third rise in the bread pans.  This recipe skips the second rise- the rising does take a little longer, but it is well worth it.

new bread

Basic White Bread

makes 2 loaves of bread.

1/4 cup warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (or 1 packet)
2 tablespoons honey
2 1/2 tablespoons organic palm shortening
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups warm water
5-6 cups bread flour

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1/4 cup warm water and the yeast.  Let sit for 5 minutes.  Add the honey, shortening, salt and water, and mix well.  Add 3 cups of the bread flour and stir until the dough is smooth.

Now start working in the flour 1/2 cup at a time.  Once it become difficult to work with a spoon, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead by hand, adding flour as needed.  You’ll want to knead for 7-10 minutes total, or until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky.  (If you use sugar instead of honey, this will take less flour.)

Place the dough in a bowl that has been oiled and turn to coat.   Cover the dough and let rise for 2 hours.

Grease two loaf pans with your preferred grease.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide the bread in half, and roll each half into a loaf.  Once shaped, place the loaves in the prepared loaf pans.

Cover, let rise for 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Place the bread in the hot oven and bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool completely on a rack before slicing.