Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best chocolate frosting EVER. Ever, ever, ever, ever. Ovaltine frosting from Joy the Baker...

I love this frosting. I love it so much, that I can't stop raving about it. Imagine my surprise then, when I'd realized that I forgot to tell you all about it! Its Ovaltine chocolate butter cream frosting, and its amazing. Know who else is amazing? Joy the Baker. The chocolate cake recipe that she posted with the frosting recipe? Dangerous. So good I could eat many, many pieces in one sitting, and I'm normally not really a chocolate cake person. Go check out her site and her recipe for Ovaltine frosting now!

This cake is currently featured as the chocolate cake of the week at the restaurant that I work at! Go on down to Roadhouse on the Hill in Key Center, WA, to have a slice today!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Oreo Truffles for Christmas!



Oreo truffles from the Sister's Cafe recipe! These were a huge hit with the kids of the family. They were a little sweet for me personally, but I'll definitely make them again for a treat for all the little ones!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Things I am going to make in the next week...

Its a busy week around here, and I'm sure its a busy week where ever you happen to be too. I'm happy to say that the vast majority of my Christmas shopping is done. I now just have to wait on shipping! Its a nerve wracking process, wondering whether they will get here on time. I've never really done this much Christmas shopping online before, but I definitely enjoy it. I can shop, price compare, order, and all from my pj's on my couch. No crazy cranky crowds to fight. One more actual in-store shopping day and I'll be DONE. DONE DONE DONE. Except for the cooking. And the cleaning. And the wrapping. And the cleaning. Did I mention the cleaning? I love Christmas.


This week is going to so full. Monday is my shopping day. Tuesday I work. Wednesday I am making a few pans of homemade caramels, some to wrap up, some to make into homemade Turtles. I'm also going to do these Oreo Truffles that we very popular last year, I hear, in the blogosphere. I am in love with this blog that I just linked to three times, that I just found today. Its called The Sisters Cafe, and its amazing. I can't wait until I have some time to browse through it some more.

Thursday is my official "cookie day" with my awesome sister-in-law, Jen. I'm making a massive amount of sugar cookies for the herds of small children that will be running around to decorate. I'm making turtle tassies from The Girl Who Are Everything, another of my favorite blogs. I'm also making Hazlenut crusted caramel thumbprints, adapted from Tracey's Culinary Adventure. Can you tell I'm on a chocolate/caramel kick? Better to just roll with it than fight it and have to choose, right?

We're also making Russian Tea Cakes, Melting Moments, and Spritz cookies (both recipes have me wishing for a digital kitchen scale, or wondering how to convert grams to measurements I'm familiar with! Can you help?). By special request from my awesome husband, we are also making The Busty Baker's Kiss Cookies. I'm sure Jen will have a few more too! It'll be a long day of baking, but I can't wait.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Let me introduce myself...

I'm Nicole. The very busy, neglectful blog owner with very high expectations but very little time. I think, starting this, I underestimated the time needed to properly maintain it the way I was envisioning. So, from here on out, I'm just going to let go of all of those expectations and go with it. When I have time to post, I'll post. When I don't, I'm not going to let it stress me out! This is a fun hobby for me, not a source of stress. Its amazing the things I can let occupy my mind when other, higher priority things are waiting for my attention. Its because this is fun. I like blogging. I like community. I like making new friends, meeting new people, finding new recipes, and sharing my own, but I like taking care of my responsibilities to my God and my family more!


The problem is I started this blog in July when my job was staying at home with my kids, and though being a full time at home parent is a very demanding job, it still leaves some spare time for other ventures. 


Speaking of my family, let me introduce you to the other members of it!



This is my husband, Jeremiah, on our 7th wedding anniversary! We went out for dinner, something we only do once or twice a year, and instead of our normal Red Lobster dinner out (because he loves me and knows I am a sucker for Cheddar Bay Biscuits and an Ultimate Feast!), we did something new and went to Anthony's. Delicious. I've started just letting him order for me because he is an expert. Whenever I don't, I always wish I was eating what he had or that I had ordered what he suggested! My love of cooking was born from my love of him. He teaches me. He inspires me.

 Daniel, 6.5 years old, in his first year of school this year and loving every minute of it! Loves silly bandz (why didn't I think of that!), Transformers, and riding bike. He loves being the leader of the pack, and has a very kind heart. Favorite food is pizza, cheese only. He's gradually being more open to trying new things, but its been a rough few years of picky eating for this kid. My own little food snob, who often embarrasses me by asking other people, "Is this home made?"



 


Isaiah, 5 year old!! Hates smiling for pictures, loves monster trucks, coloring, and playing Super Mario Bros Wii.  He is my child with allergies to soy, white fish, peanuts, and eggs. Currently he tolerates baked in eggs well. We're planning on doing further testing for shellfish and other types of seafood. Isaiah is such a kind boy to his brothers. He really considers other people's feelings and takes action to help them or make them feel better. My only salad eater thus far, he loves his veggies! He's so good about his allergies, and has a great attitude about it. I've been so proud of the way he's handled that challenge at such a young age.


Elijah is 3 years old and loves the DSi more than anything else at the moment. We limit his playing time, but that child loves that thing all the same. Does not like being too cold, or too wet, unless its summer and he's playing in the mud or the outside faucets. Loves potty talking, and playing catch. He is very silly and makes us laugh all the time. His favorite food is Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I have to get a video of him singing his mac-n-cheese song. Stinking adorable.


Here is our latest addition, Caleb, almost 1.5 years old already! Our biggest, and most rough-and-tumble child yet. He is nearly as big as Elijah, and doesn't realize he is a baby and can't quite keep up with the big guys yet! My husband has dubbed him "Moofungo".  I have no idea where that one came from but somehow, it fits. He is a basher and we love him to pieces. One second he will be throwing himself on the floor in a tantrum, and the next showering any brother that will let him with kisses. Caleb will eat nearly anything, but his favorite food at the moment seems to be crayons, much as we try and hide them.



So back in July life was much more...relaxing. Then life changed and God led us in a new direction. I went back to work at a few different jobs, and my time has been shifting between work and home, a transition that has left little time for blogging, or laundry, or 'me' time (HAHA!), or HIM time, and most importantly, US time. I'm thankful for the opportunity to see what its like on the other side of the coin. My three jobs only amount to part time, even on my busiest week, so I can only imagine the toll of the demands that a full-time job, part time job, husband, father to 4, protector, and knight in shining armor must take on my awesomely adaptive husband. I'm so blessed to have him in my life for NINE years now, and have him as my husband for seven! He's been a rock star with the kids the last few months, and our whole household has benefited from it.


So, family, friends, blog friends, board friends, all friends, I will post when I can, and update when I'm able, and hopefully when the Lord decides to change our course again I can come back to this refreshed, renewed, and with lots of new recipes in the book to share with you all!


Like this one, that I've been making lately especially for Roadhouse on the Hill, in Key Center, WA, and for my father-in-law now and then, because he loves it and we love him!



Friday, November 19, 2010

1970's Vintage rural Minnesota old-folks cook book!

My mom sent this to me a week or so ago, but I just got around to looking at it last night. Oh.good.gracious! I am going to have fun with this!



I especially like this one, below, from a man? who was way, way, way ahead of his time. Do you think he went to Woodstock and had long hair and tie dye shirts?





I'd also like to try these 6 weeks muffins. I have never heard of using raisin bran in a muffin before...



and this. Lefsa is prized in our family, and my sister-in-law is the sole maker of it. My husband, is especially a fan.


It'll take me months to cook through all the cookie and bar recipes in that book! I am thinking about doing an "8 cookies for Christmas" series starting after Thanksgiving using recipes out of the book.

One thing that really surprised me about this book is the amount of 'convenience item' ingredients were included. Lots of "cream of" soups, Velveeta, Whipped Topping, and some strange strange thing called "Oleo" that I neither know how to pronounce nor have ever heard of. I'm sure some of you will laugh at me, but a child of the 70's I am not.

Strange ingredients or not, I love this cookbook! Thanks Mom!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Raspberry Sauce, use for cheesecake, ice cream, or by the spoonfull...

Raspberry is in my top 5 favorite flavors list. It might be number one, depending on the quality of the berry I have in front of me. I love it that much. Some of the most memorable times from my childhood are picking raspberries out at my Grandparent's house, and in the winter, having Grandma heat up a bowl of those berries from the freezer, pouring some sugar over it, and letting me go to town. No better dessert than that!

This sauce is simple. The hardest part is taking the seeds out of it, and even that isn't really hard, just a bit time consuming. 


Seedless Raspberry Sauce
4 cups whole fresh raspberries
2 cups sugar
3 tbsp Chambord
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup water


1. Place berries and sugar into a sauce pan over medium low heat. Cook until liquid is released and sugar is dissolved, about 15 minutes. 


2. Take the berry mixture and press through a fine metal strainer. On occasion, with a different spoon, scrape the bottom of the strainer to remove any stubborn pulp that is sticking there.


3. Put back into a now cleaned out saucepan. Add Chambord, water, and vanilla. Stir well and simmer over low heat for another 10 minutes.


We made this tonight for a topping on the vanilla cheesecake I'll be bringing to Thanksgiving dinner. I hope I can keep my paws off of it until then! I had to 'test' it tonight on some Bryer's Natural Vanilla ice cream. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Shrimp stir-fry with vegetables and shiitake mushrooms


I haven't posted an actual recipe in too long! Here you go. This is my go-to stir-fry recipe. I love the garlicky soy-based sauce, and often double the sauce portion so I can have plenty to pour over my jasmine rice.


This recipe is so versatile. You can add whatever vegetables that you like, and whatever meat as well. I often sub chicken in for the shrimp.


Basic Stir Fry Recipe
(printable recipe)
Stir-fry
1 lb shelled, deveined, large shrimp
1 lb various vegetables (onion, asparagus, peas, green beans, zucchini, carrots, peppers, etc)
1/4 lb shiitake mushrooms

3-4 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp garlic, finely chopped

Sauce

2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
2 T soy sauce
2 T dry sherry
1/4 tsp garlic chili sauce (Sriracha)
1/4 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp water







  1. Mix Sauce ingredients in a small bowl, set aside. Mix slurry (cornstarch & water in a separate bowl. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large wok or pan until almost smoking. You want it very, very, VERY hot. Dump in shrimp and stir fry approximately 2 minutes, or until pink. Remove from pan. 
  3. If necessary, add more oil to pan and allow to heat again until smoking. Add vegetables and stir fry 3-4 minutes, or until crisp tender. Add garlic and stir fry 30 seconds.
  4. Dump in sauce mixture and heat, while stirring, until simmering. Slowly pour in slurry mixture and stir until sauce is thickened. You may not need entire slurry mixture.
  5. Serve over jasmine rice








    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    WFMW - Drying, made easy. Bounce Drier Bar, my new laundry BFF

    I have not raved about a product ever as much as I rave about the Bounce Dryer Bar. I love, love, LOVE this thing. I used to use liquid softener, religiously. Every load, measure out a cup of the blue stuff, pour into the Downey Ball, toss into the wash, and then...what? Nothing. The scent, and the softness, was never what I hoped it would be.

    I tried using dryer sheets, but the end result also wasn't what I was looking for. The scent was too strong, or not strong enough, or the little balled up papers would get stuck in or on my clothes. Not big problems, for sure, but minor annoyances in my day-to-day cleaning routine. I have four little kids, three of which are big enough to take off their clothes, and put on new ones, WHEN EVER the urge strikes them. Not good. My laundry pile is often just as big as my laundry machines. Very classy and neat looking sitting right off of my kitchen. I can vouch for that.

    These Bounce Dryer Bars though? Perfect. Stick the holder to the side of the dryer. Slide in the fabric softener bar. Forget about it...for MONTHS at a time. One less thing to worry about in my day is something to celebrate. They certainly add up when you keep at it!

    Once upon a time I had received some coupons to try these from either Bzzagent.com, or Vocalpoint (both GREAT site to get a lot of great coupons and sometimes free product to try!), and ever since then I've been hooked.

    Also, a great tip I've learned through the years is to toss in a dry towel into a wet load of clothes to speed up the drying time!

    **Note...this post was in no way sponsored by anyone or any company. I rarely feel strongly about a product to blog about it, but this one makes the cut.

    Saturday, November 6, 2010

    Exciting times!





    Its exciting times in the Cookerella home these days. I have never been busier, and things have been pretty stressful, but for the first time ever I'm doing something I love doing, and getting PAID for it. PAID! Real money! What a concept, huh? Now I'm having not just ONE paying cooking job, but TWO. Can you believe it? If I actually remember to keep my camera charged and WITH me, that might actually mean a lot more real posts too. I haven't been posting much lately because I haven't really been cooking at home lately. I haven't even really been HOME lately.

    I'm very thankful that in this season that God has me, which is requiring me to step outside my comfort zone, He's providing a way for me to earn money for our family doing something that I enjoy. He's providing me the energy and the stamina to continue on doing so while having 2, 3, and soon to be 4 jobs (although technically three of them will be at the same physical location!). Let me tell you, friends, family, and blog readers, just what my weeks will look like in the next few weeks.

    • Monday - All day work shopping, cooking, and meal planning for a local client. 
    • Tuesday - Bake and cook at local restaurant from 12 or 1 to 5pm, the wait tables from 5pm until 9ish.
    • Wednesday - Prepare the house and the heart for youth group @ our house Wednesday evening.
    • Thursday - More cooking and some shopping for local client.
    • Friday - 5pm - 9ish waiting tables
    • Saturday - OFF!! Unless I pick up a shift waiting tables, or didn't finish my cooking for local client.
    • Sunday - Church in the morning, karaoke in the evening starting November 21st out at the same restaurant I'm waiting tables at and will be baking for.

    That is a busy week for someone whose calendar used to say "Open" all day, every day, and has four little tiny kids. In between sleep and work I also still have to keep up with all that needs to be done around the home front. Mr. Cooker has been amazing stepping up his game and adapting to his new temporart season in life as well, but running this house is definitely a two person job.

    I'm tired just thinking about all that. Good thing I get an extra hour of sleep tonight! I am praying tonight that whatever is being taught to me I'm learning well, and that I'm not making these lessons harder than they need to be. We're both going to be so glad when things go back to 'normal' again, but let us be content right where we are at as well.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    My very first "Works for me Wednesday"/ Cleaning your microwave

    works for me wednesday at we are that family

    I have spent way too much time in my short life cleaning microwaves. Or maybe not nearly enough judging by the average state of my microwave in the past 11 years since I've been out in the big world! That's until I discovered this fast, easy, and perfect method. It requires NO special cleaning tools, NO special cleaning solutions, and almost NO elbow grease. That is my perfect cleaning situation. Its so simple, I don't know why it took me so long to figure it out, and its something everyone else has probably known for all of eternity, but I'll share it with you anyway just in case you are a little, ahhh...slow...like me.


    1. Take a dish rag, or a sponge, or any other cleaning cloth you use in your kitchen normally. Wet it down. I usually use hot soapy water from hand-washing dishes, but you can just wet it down under the faucet if you want. 
    2. Place sopping wet rag/sponge/cloth into microwave.
    3. Put 2:30 - 3:00 on the microwave
    4. Push start
    5. Walk away for 30-40 minutes
    6. Open microwave
    7. Grab cooled off rag/sponge/cloth
    8. Easily, with almost no effort, wipe out all the gook. 
    9. You are done, can you believe I broke that down into eight steps?
    10. No? How about 10?
    So there it is. Enjoy!

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    *Yawn*...TPC's Chicken Guac Tacos

    Its almost 1am, and I'm still up. I worked a serving shift tonight, the last few hours of which were crazy busy. I'm always so keyed up after a busy night waiting tables that this is what I'm left with.

    Can't watch tv because it'll disturb Mr. Cooker. Can't find the headphones so I can't lull myself to sleep with some Prison Break, season 1, via Netflix. Can't blog because I forgot all THREE of my recipe notebooks at work tonight! LAME! LAME! LAME! Wait now, wait. Can't blog? Oh yes I can!

    So tonight I'm bringing you this...


    My very favorite chicken guac tacos. And then I'm going to bed. ;)


    Start out with 3 or 4 ripe avocados. It helps to have varying stages of ripeness, with one being really extra ripe, one in the middle, and one just BARELY ripe. My sister-in-law Mandie let me in on this little secret to heavenly guacamole. It really helps the texture to be less 'baby food', more 'best dip ever'.

    Next chop up a tomato or two, a handful of cilantro, and a few TBSP of onion, if you are brave and love the raw onion stuff. I'm not that into it so I usually leave it out. Cooked onion, awesome, raw? Not so much. Mr. Cooker tells me someday raw onion will be to me like these avocados are now (did you know I had never tried an avocado, or guacamole, until a year or two ago?? CRAZY!). I don't believe him.

    Mix up your tomato and cilantro, shake in a few drops of Tapatio, and squeeze in some lime juice. Mix together and let sit while you are prepping your avocados.

    Doing the avocados is simple. If you've never done it there is an awesome picture tutorial here. Once you have them pitted, peeled, and diced, mash them with a fork until it reaches your desired consistency. I like chunky guacamole, so I leave some good sized chunks in it! Stir in the tomato mixture, add salt to taste, and you've just made yourself the best party host ever.

    Sometimes I can keep myself contained enough to leave some of this magical stuff for the actual meal. When I do, this is what you can make. The chicken guac tac. The chicken was quickly sauteed and seasoned with cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Add shredded lettuce, fresh tomato, your favorite salsa, and a big heaping spoonful of the guacamole and enjoy!

    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    What a crazy couple of days! Kittencal's Jumbo Blueberry Muffins...

    Its been a CRAZY, awesome, blessed week here at the Cooker home (not our real name, but I'm going with it!). Last month my husband became one of the 14.8 million Americans currently unemployed. Its been a huge change in our family, as you can imagine. We enjoyed three weeks home together, which was a blessing and a huge learning experience for us both, I think, but now that time is up. This week I went from having no job, to two jobs! Woo-hoo!

    My awesome former employer, and someone I consider a friend, needed someone out at her restaurant a couple of nights a week. I really love working for her, in particular, and her entire family couldn't be kinder. I'm enjoying being back in the restaurant world, and serving people again.

    My other job kind of happened by accident, but I think is going to be something I really love. I am meal planning, shopping, errand running, and cooking for a local businessman. I'm finding that while it is definitely going to be a challenge, its going to be right up my alley. I've worked twice now, and have made: fresh baked roasted garlic bread with homemade marinara, guacamole, scratch apple pie (only my 2nd scratch pie crust! Hope it turned out!), the muffins I'm going to share with you tonight, pre-prepped for Honey Soy salmon bake, bruschetta skewers with a balsamic reduction, shrimp scampi ready to bake, a cheese plate, Asian sesame soy spinach and noodle salad, crash hot potatoes, and a green salad. I planned, shopped, prepped, cooked, baked, and cleaned up all of that in 12 hours. How different an experience cooking uninterrupted is, and getting paid for it! So until Mr. Cooker find his ideal job like I found mine, I'm going to be a busy girl.

    Now on to these muffins. They are my ideal muffins. Not too crumbly, but not cake-like, blueberries from top to bottom, sweet, but not too sweet. Blueberry muffins are my favorite breakfast with a hot cup of coffee.

     I love Kittencal from formerly recipezaar, now food.com. LOVE her. I've made so many of her recipes from there, and they always turn out great. I'm about to share with you one of my favorites. You can find her blog at http://www.kittencalskitchen.com.

    Jumbo Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins
    slightly adapted from Kittencal's Muffin Shop Jumbo Blueberry Muffins


    4 1/4 c all-purpose flour
    1 1/2 c sugar
    3/4 cup butter, softened
    1 Tbsp baking powder
    1 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    6 Tbsp Saco buttermilk powder
    1 1/2  cup milk
    2 lg eggs
    1 Tbsp vanilla
    2 cups blueberries, thawed, if frozen, and tossed with flour to thinly coat

    1/4 cup brown sugar or vanilla sugar




    1. Mix flour, sugar, butter, and salt in a stand mixer until it resembles coarse pea-sized or smaller lumps. 


    2. In small bowl mix baking powder, baking soda, Saco buttermilk powder, and cinnamon well. Add to flour mixture and combine.


    3. In separate bowl whisk milk, eggs, and vanilla until well combined. Mix gently with flour mixer JUST until liquid is incorporated. DON'T overmix. This can be a challenge with a big powerful stand mixer, but its doable. Just be careful. Or do it the old-fashioned way with a wooden spoon. 


    4. Gently fold in berries, place batter in a prepped pan,  sprinkle lightly with brown sugar or vanilla sugar, and bake at 375 degrees in a pre-heated oven, one rack down from the center, for 25 - 30 minutes for Jumbo, approximately 20-25 for regular sized muffins.

    Notes:
    *On the Saco buttermilk blend it says to use water in place of liquid when using it. I never do. I always use milk. I don't really have a reason for this, other than feeling slighly squicky mixing water into baked goods. I know, its a sickness. I've accepted it. I haven't tried one batch following directions using water, and one using milk, and then done a comparison side-by-side, but it would be interesting to see if there is a big difference or if I just like to make everything as full of calories as humanly possible.

    *If I would've had actual buttermilk I would've just used that, but I didn't. You can if you are more prepared than me!

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    So you want to make a decent marinara but don't have 3 hours?


    You've come to the right place. Sometimes I don't have my slow-cooked, meaty, big-batch spaghetti sauce in the freezer ready to go. Sometimes I want a little lighter tasting, fresher, meatless marinara for a quick lunch. Sometimes I am lazy and forgot to plan anything for dinner until 5:15 and I'm scrambling for something quick and easy but doesn't come pre-made in a jar...it comes basically deconstructed in cans. I'm not really a spaghetti snob, as you've read previously. I'll eat plain tomato sauce and be happy. That said I do appreciate a good red sauce, even more so lately.


    Quick meatless chunky mushroom marinana

    3 TBSP Olive Oil
    2 TBSP finely diced onion
    5-6 medium mushrooms, sliced
    2 tsp garlic
    2 TBSP red wine (I use Cab)
    1 TBSP sugar (amount is approximate and will depend on the sodium content of the tomato sauce you use)
    1 - 15oz can diced tomatoes
    1/4 tsp dried oregano
    1/4 tsp onion powder
    1/4 tsp garlic powder
    1 - 15oz can tomato sauce
    1/4 cup parmesan cheese (grated kind in the green can!)
    *optional several leaves of chopped fresh basil


    1) Place olive oil, onion, and mushrooms in a sauce pan. Saute over medium heat until water is released from mushrooms and onions are translucent. Add garlic. Saute 30 seconds. Add red wine. Cook until wine is reduced. Add sugar, herbs, seasonings, and diced tomatoes. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until liquid is reduced. Add tomato sauce. Stir well, heat through, and taste. Add more sugar to taste, or adjust seasonings as needed. Wait until simmering and slowly stir in parmesan cheese until fully incorporated. Serve immediately with your favorite pasta.

    Enjoy! I did today!

    Sunday, October 17, 2010

    Please, veteran foodbloggers, advise me!

    Is there a 'how-to' guide to get started in this? I keep submitting to tastespotting, foodgawker, and photograzing, to be continually rejected again and again. What am I doing wrong here? Are these sites for the food elite only? Is it typically hard for a newbie to break-in to this club?

    I'm under no illusions that my photos are amazing, great, or even really all that good. I have a 5+ year old point and shoot and virtually no technical photography know-how. I think I've had some okay results though, despite those things. Are there some secrets that I don't yet know? Have I not yet passed the freshman hazing that I didn't know existed? Aren't they, above all else, about the food?

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Lasagna...*sigh*

    Do you remember a few posts ago I mentioned I was going to tell you all about the meal that, if asked, "What is Nicole's all-time favorite food, ever?", every one of my family would have the exact same answer. Seriously. I used to get cases of the main ingredient for Christmas or my birthday from my Grandma as a teenager, and I wasn't disappointed. I was excited. What was the super awesome, best meal ever??

    Noodles & sauce

    What is noodles and sauce, you ask? Its noodles, of any shape, size, or form, and plain jane tomato sauce.

    It was my version of mac-n-cheese I guess, which as "The World's Pickiest Eater", couldn't possibly pass my lips. Oh, was I ever picky. No chunks, of anything, ever. No onion, mushroom, fresh tomato or chunks of tomato, on anything, ever. Very, VERY few vegetable. Salad, sometimes, but only with iceberg, cheese, croutons, and Western dressing. I was in my 20's before I ever tried ranch dressing, or Caesar dressing, and I JUST got myself to try blue cheese dressing this year. Some of my bad habits linger, I'm afraid, but very, very little. There are things I just got in my head somehow that I didn't like, and so I assume that is the case. It was that way for the poor avacado until last year. Now I'm making up for it by eating my weight in guacamole every possibly chance I get. Seriously. HOW did I live without guacamole for nearly 28 years???

    So my noodles & sauce habit was that of legend. I still get teased about it when I make the trek back to Minnesota.  4-5 times a week, at minimum, I'd make this. Back when the 'low-carb diet' wasn't really done, and I thought I was doing pretty good with it because it was relatively low in fat and calories. Back when my aunt Terri told me that someday eating like that would most definitely catch up with me and my skinny, teenage, I'm-never-going-to-be-THAT-kind-of-old-person self laughed at her. Now, 13 years and four kids later, I'm not laughing anymore, but my love for all that is pasta cannot die.

    I ate enough noodles & sauce that I became somewhat of an expert on the subtle differences in the many different brands of tomato sauce. Contadina is my favorite for plain old noodles & sauce. I've progressed in my tastes to at least toss some mozzarella on it, but that's about it. I still love it, but I've also learned to love many, many, many other kinds of pasta as well! This is my recipe for lasagna. You can use your favorite spaghetti sauce for this to make it quick and easy, and to tide you over until I post MY homemade, giant-batch, Costco-sized sauce recipe that I make for our family. It makes enough to feed a small army, which I need for my crew.

    1 box lasagna noodles
    8ish cups spaghetti sauce
    15 oz ricotta cheese
    8 oz cottage cheese
    4 oz parmigiano reggiano
    8 oz whole milk mozzarella
    16 oz divided in half Italian cheese blend (I used a four cheese blend with mozzarella, romano, parmesan, and one other kind I can't think of off-hand.)
    1/2 tsp basil
    2 tsp parsley
    2 eggs

    Start by par boiling the noodles. You only want these JUST on this side of flexible, not even half-way done. There's nothing worse than mushy noodles, and lasagna is an easy one to get over-cooked noodles. While they are par-boiling (set a timer! Don't foget!), mix all the cheese together (except 8 oz of the Italian cheese blend, save that for the very top of the lasagna) well with the eggs, the basil, and the parsley.

    PA121493

    When the noodles and par-boiled and drained, place 1 1/2 cups of sauce in the bottom of the 10 x 13 pan. Place a single layer of noodles, slightly overlapped at the edges, in the pan. Put 1/2 of the cheese mixture on the top of them and spread it out evenly. Cover with about 2 cups of sauce and gently spread out.

    PA121500

    Repeat the process with noodle, the remaining cheese mix, sauce, then do noodle, sauce, and top it with the remaining 8 oz of Italian cheese blend.

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    Cover with non-stick foil (make SURE its non-stick, or that you spray it very, very, VERY well with non-stick spray, I've had lasagna disasters before where the entire top layer of cheese comes off with the foil!), and bake in a 325 degree oven for 1 - 1.5 hours. The amount of time it needs to bake will vary depending on if your sauce is hot or not when you put it together. Take the foil off for the last 15 minutes of bake time. Serve with caesar salad and garlic bread.


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    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    Chicken Tenders, Jeremiah style with homemade honey mustard...

    Does this look good to you? It sure tasted good to me. My husband makes my favorite chicken tenders, ever. These are his very own creation, and I had to actually pry the recipe out of him! Ok, so I just had to ask, but actually getting it onto the paper wasn't easy. He doesn't really do recipes, he just wings it. I've kind of become the same way as my cooking grows a bit. I rarely measure during cooking, so many of my recipes are rough guesstimates on seasoning amounts. I always mess with recipes when I am following one, so I assume everyone else does too, and will just season to taste I guess! Do you do that? Its just a part of me won't LET me make a recipe exactly as written. I was bugging Jeremiah to try a panko breading for the tenders for this meal! He said, and I need to train myself to agree, "Once you get something right you just have to leave it alone."

    Have I told you guys yet about the meal I am 'known' for in my entire family? Oh. my. goodness. I'll save that for another day, with another recipe. You'll love it.

    So, these chicken tenders. Yes. We serve them with ultra healthy and diet friendly Mac-n-cheese (hehehe), sometimes in whole wheat wraps with lettuce, cheese, and dressing. I love the chicken ranch wraps at CrapD's, but we're trying to avoid it at the moment at all costs because of the cost, but also because we can make things that taste so much better at home, for a fraction of the price, and we can pronounce ALL of the ingredient names! Bonus!!

    To make these soy-free you really have to make sure you read your cracker labels well. Some brands of crackers contain soy, some don't. Some day soon I will write a post on soy-free living. Its been quite the adventure this year after my 2nd son was diagnosed with several food allergies. No more eating out. No more cooking from a box. Not that I'm complaining. Unless its 6pm and we're just getting home and the kids are starving and I've got nothing in mind for dinner. Then, a little grumbling goes on!


    2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts or tenders, cut up into chunks (or however you like them!)

    Breading:
    1 sleeve saltine crackers
    1/8 cup all purpose flour
    1 tsp onion powder
    1/2 tsp garlic powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 tsp smoked paprika
    1 tsp Johnny's Seasoning Salt
    1 tsp ground mustard
    1/4 tsp cayenne
    1/4 tsp marjoram
    1/4 tsp black pepper
    1 tsp parsley

    Egg Wash:
    3 eggs
    1/4 cup milk

    For frying:
    1 stick butter
    3 cups canola oil


    Crush crackers into little pieces, but not so fine that they are dust. You want semi-big chunks for these. It really enhances the crispy parts to keep them a bit bigger than you normally would. Mix together with all the seasonings and flour and set aside.

    Put eggs and milk into another container and whisk together until well combined.
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    Coat chicken chunks in egg wash and then roll in the cracker mixture. Preheat the oil and butter over medium to medium-high heat. When oil is hot, place chicken chunks in and let cook until brown on one side. Flip over and brown the other side and cook until all the way done. (We cut one or two in half to check after the first batch is done.)

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    That's it! Pretty easy!

    Did you know that honey mustard was this easy to make?
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    Me either. Now go, fry, whisk, and enjoy.

    Thursday, September 30, 2010

    Wow! Long hiatus! Cream of Broccoli Soup. Ah yum.

    Its been a busy couple of weeks around here. I've been cooking up a storm, and mostly remembering to take pictures, but finding the time to actually sit down and post them has been a challenge. There is lots of big stuff going on around here, like Kindergarten apple day (whatever that is!), and turning almost 30. There have also been a few Spongebob marathons for the kids, a few Fringe, season 2, marathons for me and my husband, with a bunch of cleaning and wiping and yelling and crying in between.

    In the midst of all of that I decided to make a batch of super easy, really yummy, cream of broccoli soup. Isaiah can't have the canned stuff anymore because of the soy allergy, so if we want cream-of-anything, we have to make it. Not that I'm complaining. I don't miss the chemicals-in-a-can variety at all. It always tastes good, but then I wash the dish and it soaps up and bubbles with no soap added and the whole idea of it begins to creep me out. Try it sometime. Its disgusting.

    Back to the soup...Take a bunch of broccoli. I buy the pre-cut Costco variety. I use 6 cups or so. Toss it in a pan with some water. You can use chicken stock if you'd like. It would be fabulous. I didn't this time, but next time, for sure.

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    Cover the pot 'o' broccoli and let it simmer for quite a while, until all the broccoli is tender. You aren't really going for mush here, but definitely cooked through. When it is, pour in 3 cups of heavy cream, and 3 cups of half-n-half. This recipe is very easy to play with. You can adjust those to your liking, using more or less of one, and it'll still turn out great.

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    Let that heat through over med-low heat and then stick an immersion blender in a buzz away until the soup is combined and broccoli is chopped up and incorporated. If you don't have a stick blender you could certainly use a regular one, it would just be more messy.

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    Now let his simmer on low for a bit and get a butter roux going. I showed you how to make it a while back. Click HERE for a refresher.

    Get the soup up to a low low simmer and then slowly incorporate the butter roux to slightly thicken the soup. You don't want it too thick. You can skip this step completely if you would like and just throw a whole stick of butter into the soup. It needs the butter though, in one way, shape, or form. It just goes with it. It deepens the richness of this soup in a real and necessary way.

    From here on out you are done! The possibilities are endless. Sometimes I lightly steam some more broccoli and toss it in, then throw in a generous heap of sharp cheddar and eat it just like that. Other times, mostly the day after times, I'll saute some chicken breasts, chop them up, toss them in a baking pan, cover with noodles that are par-boiled, a ton of cheese, and pour copious amounts of this soup on the top then bake it, topped with more cheese. Its my version of one of my ultimate comfort foods, Chicken Divan. That's what my mom called it anyway. It stuck with me, much like this meal will stick to you. I'll post the step-by-step and recipe for that sometime in the not-too-distant future, as well as some other gems I've been saving up for one of the many, upcoming, rainy days.

    Now though I'm off to enjoy the rest of the sunshine on this absolutely PERFECT fall day, and go get my 6 year old off the bus!

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    For your amusement, and possible menu planning...

    Here are some blogs and recipes that I've bookmarked over the last several weeks and put in my "I MUST MAKE THESE!" folder.

    The Girl Who Ate Everything, and her amazing looking frosting that came from The Pioneer Woman!

    The Novice Chef Blog, with the Cherry Coke Float Cupcakes

    A Spoonful of Sugah with the Japenese Souflee Cheesecake

    and finally, the one that really, really caught my eye and makes me want to spend massive time in the kitchen making a zillion of these to freeze...

    Sweet Pea from Sweet Pea's Kitchen has her Pork Pot Stickers with homemade wrappers

    Hmmm....three desserts and an appetizer. Something is off here! ;)

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    Quick dinner last night...Beef Barley Soup and Sands

    Everyone is sick in our house right now. We have all the kids with the school crud, general boogery stuff. Then there's my husband. He has an illness which will not be spoken of. Enough said. I'm doing fairly well! I had a nasty couple of yellow jacket stings on Saturday that landed me in urgent care on Sunday afternoon with a quickly spreading, nasty, red rash. Three rx's for me and two days later, and its on the upswing.

    So because of all the general yuck circulating in these parts at the moment I needed to make something for dinner last night that was quick, easy, and relatively good. I think I did that!

    A week or so ago I made a roast beef dinner. It was a huge cut of beef. Huge. We couldn't possibly eat it all, so the leftovers went into a baggie and into the freezer. The great thing about having a slow-cooked, fork tender roast in the freezer is that is makes beef soup and stew a breeze. Normally you need to cook beef soup or stew for a long, long, long time in order to get tender beef. This removes that step! Sweet!

    So toss your leftover roast into a pot of water and bring to a boil.
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    Throw in an appropriate amount of beef base, which you will definitely need in this recipe.
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    Also throw in some chopped carrots, green beans (I use frozen), corn, and a large can of diced tomatoes.
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    After this comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and toss in a cup of quick cooking barley.
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    Bring this to a slow boil and cook according to package directions.

    It smells awesome.
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    While this is cooking, get your french bread and butter it generously.

    Place this under the broiler for a couple of minutes, WATCHING CAREFULLY not to burn it (bolding for me! I always burn things under the broiler!!).


    When its nice and golden brown, take it out and place some cheese one side of the bread. I did mozzarella and colby jack. On the other half of your bread place your meats. This time, I wanted to do kind of a homemade BMT (Subway fans, you hear me!), so I tossed on Genoa salami, pepperoni, ham, and roast beef. Then I put both sides back under the broiler WATCHING CAREFULLY until the cheese was melted and the meat was heated.

    This is something like what you will see when you pull it out.
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    My favorite way to top it now is with spinach and Dietz & Watson Hoagie Dressing. Next time I'm going to try out my own dressing though, so stay tuned for that.

    So that was our quick soup and sammy dinner. I liked it, a lot. The kids didn't hardly eat at all (more of a product of not feeling well I think!), and poor Jeremiah. Poor poor Jeremiah. We won't talk about him.

    What do you guys think of the new layout, if you've been around long enough to see the old one? It may change again soon, so don't be shocked when you click my link and see a facelift sometime in the not-too-distant-future. Have a great week!

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    Cream Chicken Wild Rice Soup, via Jen B! aka Minnesota Soup

    * I edited this recipe on 11/13 in response to a measurement mistake I made. I also added a bit to it and wrote up the actual, um, recipe. Who said that this blogging stuff is easy! ;)*

    This is one of the first meals that my then future sister-in-law made when her brother was bringing me to their house for dinner. I was so picky and lame, I ate before I went because I thought I would hate it.

    Now its one of my absolute favorite meals. I have my family ship me wild rice from Minnesota for this. Seriously. If you are in Minnesota and can find me wild rice for $1.99 - $2.99 a pound, please contact me, and ship me some. Out here in the wild west, wild rice is like gold. In the grocery store a teeny, tiny, itty, bitty, USELESS 4oz box sells for upwards of $6.00. I could probably get the precooked Trader Joe's wild rice, but really, I would just rather not.

    So back to this soup. This soup. This soup. This soup. The Soup Nazi WISHES he had the recipe for this soup. Now I am sharing it with you, as it was graciously shared with me by my awesome, caring, loving, generous, sister-in-law. I love her.

    Now again, back to the soup. The soup, the soup, the soup. Just kidding. Take your chicken stock that I showed you how to make the other day. Put that in a big soup pot and bring it to a boil. Ideally you want about 4-5 qts of liquid, but you can definitely eyeball it. Toss in 4-5 TBSP rubbed sage. Adjust this to your personal tastes. I like mine heavily flavored with sage.
    P9151319Measure out 2 cups of this deliciousness, aka wild rice, and toss it in. Or parboil it and drain the liquid. It really depends on how much you love the wild rice flavor. Often times I parboil it and get rid of some of the 'wildness'. Other times I don't. You can do whatever you'd like! You may need to add water to the soup after its cooked if you didn't parboil it, as it soaks up a lot of liquid.


    Wild rice takes about 45 minutes to cook fully. Depending on your chosen cooking method for the rice, you'll need to time the addition of the carrots to the stock. You want the rice and carrots to be cooked, but not mush, at the same time.

    I usually half cook the wild rice, about 25 minutes at a simmer, drain it, rinse it, then toss it into the soup with the carrots and mushrooms. After you do that, start your roux. Clear as mud, huh?

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    While the carrots and mushrooms are cooking, take out two sticks of salted butter. Or unsalted. Whatever you prefer will work here. Unwrap them and toss them and toss them into a small pan. I use a 4" cast iron. You use what will work for you. Add approximately 1/2 - 3/4 cup flour into the melted butter, whisk well, and cook over med-low heat. It'll start to bubble.

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    Give it a stir here and there. You don't need to stir it constantly, but you do need to keep a good eye on it and stir when necessary. You don't want this to burn. It'll begin to foam up a bit. This is good. Stir it every so often to calm the foam down a bit.

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    After a little while you'll get something that looks like this...

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    That is your goal. That is what you want. Make sure the soup is boiling and slowly drizzle this in while stirring constantly. It should thicken your soup slightly and make it rich and delicious.

    Turn the now thickened slightly soup down to a light simmer. Now take 4 cups, yes, 4 cups, of heavy whipping cream, and toss it in. You could use half-n-half, but I find the cream gives it a necessary element of YUM. That's my technical term for it. Plus, I recently learned that by using heavy whipping cream you pretty much eliminate the chance of the dairy curdling. With half and half, there's always that risk. Half and half, because of the higher casein content, sometimes dislikes being cold and getting added to hot liquids. I've never had it curdle in this particular recipe, but I'm a bit gun-shy on the curdled half and half right now. Plus, cream is cream and it is full of fat and flavor and is delicious.

     Now dish up and eat. Right now. This minute. Serve with warm crusty bread and a salad.

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    Creamy Chicken & Mushroom Wild Rice Soup, or Minnesota Soup
    5 quarts chicken stock
    4-5 Tbsp rubbed sage
    4ish cups chopped chicken
    2 cups wild rice
    3 cups carrots
    5 cups sliced mushrooms
    2 sticks butter
    1/2 - 3/4 cup a.p. flour
    4 cups heavy whipping cream

    1. Bring stock to a boil. Add sage and chicken. 
    2. Bring a large pot of water to boil and add wild rice. Cook 25 minutes. Drain, rinse, and add to soup pot along with carrots and mushrooms.
    3. Melt butter in small saute pan. Add flour and whisk. Let cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown and texture changes. 
    4. Slowly add to simmering soup while stirring soup. Let cook until thickened. If necessary, adjust thickness by adding additional chicken stock. When thickened, add cream.

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    Chocolate Chip Cookies, or CCC, my way.

    This makes a huge batch. HUGE. At least 3 dozen, depending on how big you make them. They are delicious. Perfectly chewy and crisp just enough to leave you wanting more. A lot more. I think I ate a dozen, which is why I don't make these very often!

    Around here this week shall be now known as "The Week of Many Calories". For dinner this week we had: Chicken Marsala (butter, butter, and MORE butter in that one!), Roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, home-made corn dogs with onion rings, Surf & Turf (steak and scampi) with scratch copycat cheddar bay biscuits, and creamy wild rice chicken soup, and spaghetti with meat sauce. I feel bigger just reading that.

    We aren't calorie-counters around here...yet...but I usually don't cook like that so MANY times in one week. I didn't even mention the CCC and the Caramello cake.

    So here is the recipe for my CCC. I've made a ton of different CCC recipes, and once I made this one I knew this was it. My search is over. Done. Make these tomorrow!

    CCC

    3 sticks butter
    2 1/2 c packed dark brown sugar
    1/2 c white sugar
    2 lg eggs

    2 egg yolks
    2 1/2 Tbsp vanilla
    2 c bread flour
    2 c all-purpose flour
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/4 tsp baking powder
    2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
    2 c milk chocolate chips

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    1. Cream butter and sugars in a stand mixer until light, fluffy, and creamy, about 4-5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition. Add vanilla and mix.

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    Sift together all dry ingredients and slowly add to the batter mixing on low while doing so. When well combined, mix in chocolate chips.

    2. Put all cookie dough into fridge for at least 4 hours. 24 is better, but 4 will do in a pinch.

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    Take out and roll lightly into 1" balls, place on a cookie sheet lined with non-stick foil, bake at 325 for 10-13 minutes. Take out when the outside edges are JUST starting to brown for a softer, chewier cookie. Leave in another minute or so if you like them a bit crunchier.

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