Monday, August 31, 2009

Best in Show? Well....almost.

Something that I don't talk much about in my blog posts is my husband's hobby/sport. If you've spent your entire life in a city, like I did, you may not even realize that things like this exist. And yet, they do. When I first met my husband, and subsequently moved to the sticks, I discovered a whole different world than the one I grew up in. That much, you already know.
Until recently (and I've lived hare about ten years now), I still thought that his chosen pastime was a local or regional thing, but it isn't. If you look in the rural areas in your own region, you might just be surprised to find that it exists there as well, as surprised as I was, in fact, to recently learn that there are groups dedicated to this kind of activity very close to where I was born and raised.
My husband hunts......pretty much anything that moves. When I first met him, his main interest was fox hunting. (and no, to all you out there who are horrified, they do NOT actually kill the fox) although in the modern era, fox hunting is generally equivalent to coyote hunting. The main point of it is to have a dog that can hunt and trail, identify his quarry, and corner it for his master. Lately, however, his tastes have veered toward Coon Hunting (yes, that means 'raccoon' to all you city folk). The main differences between the two are:
1. fox hunting is a day time sport, coon hunting is at night
2. with fox hunting, you run a pack of dogs, the more, the better. With coon hunting, its usually just one per hunter.

The major differences end there. There are other slight differences, such as the breed of dog, etc., but there are many similarities as well. For example; with both sports, you can hunt individually, or as a group. Group hunts are often in competition form. And, as with any dog-related competition, there is always a 'show'. A bench show for hunting dogs is not like the fancy dog shows you see on TV, and often (but not necessarily) being called a 'show dog' in hunting circles is not a compliment. But, I've also found that that depends on whether or not you have a dog pretty enough to show. Mainly, at group hunts, the bench show looks for the composition of the dog, his composure on the bench, how well the dog 'stands', and how well the handler keeps the dog on the table and in his stance, etc. The hubs had a group hunt Saturday night, and, of course, there was a bench show. However, this show was strictly for the youth hunters. Now, Ty is not a hunter....yet. But he does want to be just like his Daddy, and the club that Matt hunts with is a very strong proponent for youth hunting. This time Ty got to show his first dog. Daddy took his pride and joy, Chevy (formally known as Leach's Hot Rod Chevy) who isn't just a pretty dog, but a darn good hound, too. Ty had never shown a dog before, so this was his learning experience....for which he took second place. Don't get me wrong, he didn't have much competition this time, which was a big part of why we took him. It gave him an opportunity to learn from the club, and win a prize, which made his just proud as a peacock, and now he can't wait until next month's bench show, where he'll surely do a better job of handling Chevy, and maybe get another plaque, just like this one.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Litmus Test

When I received a package of White Whole Wheat flour from the King Arthur Flour company last week, I wanted to be sure I gave the product a good, thorough test. If you missed the first installment of this test, it is part of my participation in BloggerAid Changing the Face of Famine's View and Review program. My first recipe was a savory one from the King Arthur website and was definitely a winner in my book. I also plan to do a "sweet" recipe (maybe pancakes or cinnamon rolls or something), but in my mind, if you're going to truly rate a flour on any scale, the best way to do it is in the raw (or as close to raw as you can get) to catch the flavor, texture, and quality at its most blatant....and in my book, that is by baking bread. I call that, the Litmus Test.

Now, I am not a baker. Not even close. I commonly equate cooking and baking to the subjects in which I excelled or was dismally poor at during my school years. To me, cooking is like an art....a little of this, a little of that, add some color for flair, and give it a personality. I was good at the arts. Baking, on the other hand, reminds me of science and math. Measurements, quantity, temperature, time, and you need to be accurate. Science and Math were not my strong suits (and that's putting it mildly).

On that note, I want to send a big thanks out to PJH from the King Arthur Flour company for leaving a comment on my last post, suggesting their No Knead 100% Whole Wheat Bread recipe for my first effort in yeast breads. This recipe could not have been easier. Still, I was nervous. Serious baking has always intimidated me. I don't even get along very well with bread machines, and that's cheating.

So, let me start with the recipe, and then I'll tell you how it went.
No-Knead 100% Whole Wheat Bread
1 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup melted butter or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons molasses, maple syrup, dark corn syrup, or brown sugar corn syrup (I used maple syrup)
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup Baker's Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 cups King Arthur whole wheat flour, white whole wheat preferred
1) Heavily grease an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan. This loaf tends to stick, so be sure to grease the pan thoroughly with non-stick vegetable oil spray.
2) Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Beat the mixture vigorously for about 3 minutes; an electric mixer set on high speed works well here. You should have a very sticky dough. It won't be pourable, but neither will it be kneadable. Scoop it into the prepared pan.
3) Cover the pan with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let it rise for 60 to 90 minutes; it should just about rise to the rim of the pan, perhaps just barely cresting over the rim. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350°F.
4) Uncover the bread, and bake it for about 40 to 45 minutes, tenting it with aluminum foil after 20 minutes. The bread is done when it's golden brown on top, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers between 190°F and 195°F. Remove it from the oven, and after 5 minutes turn it out onto a rack. Brush with melted butter, if desired; this will keep the crust soft. Cool the bread completely before cutting it.Notes: Since I am new to baking, I made sure to follow the recipe to the letter. I timed and measured everything carefully, tented the loaf after exactly 20 minutes, and used my instant read thermometer to make sure it also hit the right internal temperature (don't mind the probe sticking out of the loaf in the pictures!).

Who can argue with a recipe that just says, "Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl"? That prospect won me over from step one. My only thought is that I should have let the yeast bloom a bit in the lukewarm water before adding the other ingredients, as my bread didn't really rise much. I even made sure I bought fresh yeast for the project.

Now, that being said, this bread was great.

My main curiosity with the White Whole Wheat flour was whether or not it would be dramatically different from traditional whole wheat flours. So many of them produce doughs that are either dry or gritty (in my opinion), not that I mind some texture in my breads, but the whole point here is that it should be smoother and milder (in theory, to pass a healthier version on to my picky eaters).

And it worked.

Now, granted, I did not blind fold anyone (come on, like I'm going to take the time to do that when the house smells like freshly baked bread? Please, you're lucky I held off on inhaling the lovely golden stuff long enough to take pictures), but I don't think you could pass this off as white bread. On the other hand, its absolutely nothing like any whole wheat breads I've ever had, either. It had a lovely, somewhat dense consistency, without being heavy, and a texture that was neither airy nor tough. The loaf was moist, but strong. It held up to buttering, and manhandling by my son, who, as you can see, gobbled it up like it was a chocolate chip muffin.
(yeah, I know, there's a lot of butter on that piece of bread, I got a little carried away)The hubs even tried it willingly and enthused that it was really good. Not that I needed any extra positive reinforcement after that, but the girls at work really enjoyed it this morning, as well.
So, how would I rate King Arthur Flour's White Whole Wheat Flour? And, I will be baking bread again. My loaf is gone and I want more.
Don't change that station, folks! I've got one more recipe up my sleeve - I hope to have it out to you later this week!
On a side note, we are also the proud owners of a pretty spiffy new charcoal grill. The hubs has been wanting to start smoking his own meats, and we were looking at something a little fancier, but we ended up going with a basic, but heavy duty model. Here's the proud papa grillin' away after 3 measly hours of assembly time.

Friday, August 21, 2009

TFF - Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup...a classic!

Well, everyone, summer is, unfortunately, beginning to decline. I know some of you look forward to winter, but I most definitely do not. I will mourn the end of summer fiercely...I guess its a good thing I have plenty of wine to cry my tears into.
Meanwhile, the weather has taken a mild turn to the cooler side, and that immediately puts me in the mood for soup. I've had a recipe marked in Tyler Florence's Stirring the Pot for some time now, and was just waiting for the right moment to bring it out. Tomato Soup is one of my all time favorite comfort foods, especially in the winter or when I'm sick; and I don't know about you, but when I think of tomato soup, my mind automatically adds a grilled cheese sandwich to the menu. Lucky for me, there is also a recipe in the same book for a wonderful grilled cheese sandwich with smoked mozzarella and basil pesto.

These recipes couldn't have come at a better time. I have a mountain of fresh garden tomatoes, a freezer chock full of pesto from last year's basil crop, and I was finally able to find a chunk of smoked mozzarella at Meijer! I couldn't believe how hard it was to find that! (Special thanks to Melyssa for snaring that prize for me!). Admittedly, the flavor of the smoked mozzarella is a little pverwhelming to me on its own, but paired with the pesto, it takes on a nutty flavor and blends in perfectly. I am really glad tha I held out for the smoked mozzarella instead of settling for regular, which I honestly thought would be fine. I am very glad I waited.

Being me, I couldn't help making a few adjustments to the recipe. For one, I either doubled or tripled the amount of basil I added to the soup. In my book, you can NEVER have too much fresh basil. Also, instead of plain white bread for the sandwiches, I broke out some pretty little ciabatta rolls. I love a chewy bread when there is cheese on a sandwich.

While I was cooking supper last night for the hubs, I had the tomatoes, onions and garlic roasting in the oven for the soup. I have to say, I am actually surprised the hubs didn't end up trying the soup when it was finished. He was walking around the kitchen like a foxhound with his nose in the air, telling me how great it smelled. "There's something in there that smells really good!" he kept saying. And I'll tell you what, he was right. My kitchen was just bursting at the seams with the wonderful fragrance of the roasted vegetables, and when I put the fresh chopped basil on top of the stewing tomatoes and plunged the immersion blender into it, the whole atmosphere changed. It smelled like we were in an Italian grandma's kitchen.

The sandwiches were gooey and chock full of flavor, and the soup was rich and creamy. I have a feeling this soup is going to become a staple in my kitchen. Since tonight is Friday and its my night off from cooking each week, I plan to cook up a little pasta and toss it with the soup as a sauce, top it with some freshly shaved Parmesan....Oooo! I can't wait to see how THAT turns out!

Until then, I hope you enjoy the pictures of last night's indulgence. And do't forget to check back later for the roundup at Tyler Florence Fridays - this is my submission for this week!Grilled Cheese (Smoked Mozzarella and Basil Pesto)
4 slices white sandwich bread
4 slices smoked mozzarella
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups fresh basil
1 cup fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
To make pesto combine pesto ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well combined but still has a rough texture.
Assemble sandwich by smearing insides of bread slices with pesto. Arrange a layer of mozzarella and season with a few turns of fresh pepper. Layer the mozzarella slices over the top and then place the bread over to make the sandwich. Set a large sauté pan over medium heat and add butter. Add sandwich and cook 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown and crispy. Remove from pan and rub toasted bread with garlic.
Roasted Tomato Soup with Fresh Basil
2 ½ lb fresh tomatoes (mix of fresh heirlooms, cherry, vine and plum tomatoes)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 small yellow onions, sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 qt chicken stock
2 bay leaves
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
¾ cup heavy cream, optional
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh basil, for garnish

Preheat oven to 450˚F.

Wash, core and cut the tomatoes into halves. Spread the tomatoes, garlic cloves and onions onto a baking tray. Also add the vine cherry tomatoes if using for garnish, leave them whole and on the vine. Drizzle with ½ cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.Roast for 20-30 minutes or until caramelized.Remove roasted tomatoes, garlic and onion from the oven and transfer to a large stock pot (set aside the roasted vine tomatoes for later use). Pour in any liquid, ¾ of the chicken stock, bay leaves and butter. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until liquid has reduced by1/3. Wash and dry basil leaves and add to the pot.Puree the soup using an immersion stick blender until smooth. Return soup to low heat, add cream and adjust consistency with remaining chicken stock if necessary. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish in bowl with three or four roasted vine cherry tomatoes and a splash of heavy cream.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

King Arthur Flour - Spicy Cheddar Muffins

Good Morning, everyone! I have some very exciting news to share with you today. I recently became involved with a group called BloggerAid Changing the Face of Famine, which is a group of bloggers who are dedicated to making a difference in the face of world famine. You can read more about the group and how to become a member here.

Through BloggerAid, I have also become part of a group of their members who takes on the challenge of receiving products from various companies to test and review on our own blogs. I am thrilled to say that I was recently contacted by the King Arthur Flour company (who, if you are a baker, you know provides us with absolutely the highest quality flours and baking ingredients around!) and asked to try one of their products, their Unbleached White Whole Wheat Flour.

Now, you all know the struggles I have at home with providing my family with healthier options (you know, that they will actually EAT) and it is something I struggle with. The white whole wheat flour is reputed to be a lighter whole wheat, that makes lighter-colored, milder-tasting baked goods., what that says to me is heart healthy, whole wheat flour that I might be able to sneak by my picky eaters! Now THAT calls for a celebration! IF it works. And this is my challenge. In the next ten days, I'll be testing a minimum of three recipes using the whole wheat flour and feeding it to my guys (and probably all my ladies at work, too!) to get feedback on how it rates.

For my first experiment, I decided to use a recipe that I found on the King Arthur site, in the form of a savory (you know I'll take savory over sweet any day) Spicy Cheddar muffin.

On the site, King Arthur recommends: "Be sure to use an assertive sharp cheddar. The flavor of mild cheddar doesn’t shine through like extra-sharp does." And I have to say, they are so right. I used the only extra sharp cheddar that I could find locally, and it was good, but I will be making this again when I can find some really nice, pungent cheddar. I also couldn't resist amping up the spices just a bit, and after baking and tasting, the hubs and I bot agree that I could add even a bit more next time.

Next time? Did I say "next time"? Yes, there will indeed be a next time. These muffins were so easy to put together, and baked up in about 16 minutes. Fresh and hot from the oven, we scarfed down several while they were still steaming.
Watching my husband tearing into his first muffin (and yes, he had more than one), I could tell he was trying to do his best to be helpful and was considering the flavor and texture carefully. He was a real sport about it, which surprised me since he has a natural aversion to anything remotely healthy. When he started in on the second muffin, I couldn't stay silent any more, I had to know what he thought. "Mikey likes it!!!" Yep, he sure did. Now, he DID know that these had whole wheat in them, so I am not certain I could have slipped it by him secretly, but he really enjoyed the muffin. He described the texture as being a cross between cornbread and banana bread. I my words, they had a nice texture without tasting gritty, like I find with so many whole wheat products. They were dense without being heavy, and flavorful.

So, I'm calling experiment number one a success - one that I look forward to repeating soon! The next test will be passing something off to my picky little boy. (no, we didn't give him a muffin, he's still fairly sensitive to spicy foods)

So, I'm thinking that for the rest of the experiment, I want to do something sweet, like pancakes or cinnamon rolls, and the true litmus test...I'm going to bake bread. Which should be interesting, you now, since I don't bake bread....ever. But I'm going to give it a try! I expect to still have a little flour leftover after these three tests....anyone have any suggestions for a recipe I should try?

Stay tuned! The next episode of the King Arthur Flour experiment will be coming soon!

**note: I bought this great fluted muffin pan from Wolfgang Puck a while back and hadn't had an opportunity to try it until now.I don't know whether it was the recipe, the cooking spray, or the non-stick pan, but these little guys literally just fell out of the pan. And just look at the gorgeous little fluted pattern on the sides of the muffins! I just love a recipe that works and a cool new kitchen gadget/dish to prepare it in! You know I have a fetish for fun dishes.)
**note: The original recipe calls for All-Purpose Flour, but offers a healthier substitution for 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup whole wheat. This is what I used for my test.Spicy Cheddar Muffins
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) extra-sharp grated cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 cup (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) butter
1 cup (8 ounces) milk
1 large egg

*To add fiber to your diet in delicious fashion, substitute 1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour + 1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur All Natural White Whole Wheat Flour (or 100% Organic White Whole Wheat Flour All-Purpose Flour) for the 2 cups all-purpose flour.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease the wells of a 12-cup muffin pan, or grease muffin papers and place them in the wells.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, peppers, and 1 cup of the grated cheese. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat together the butter and milk, stirring until the butter melts.

Cool to comfortably warm (e.g., it doesn’t burn your finger when you test it), whisk in the egg, and pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Stir just till everything is thoroughly moistened. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling them nearly full. Sprinkle with the reserved cheese, then very lightly with paprika, if desired, for added color.

Bake the muffins for 16 to 18 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean. Remove them from the oven, cool them in the pan for 5 minutes, then serve and enjoy warm; or transfer from the pan to a rack to cool completely. Store muffins wrapped, at room temperature. They’re best enjoyed warm, so when you’re ready to serve, reheat briefly in the microwave (15 seconds or less), or in a preheated 350°F oven, lightly wrapped in foil, for about 10 minutes.Yield: 12 muffins.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ty has a new best friend....and his name is Chuck E Cheese!

Okay, okay, his name is actually Brayden. But they both sure like Chuck a lot, too! I never got around to posting about our first trip to Chuck's last month, when the boys just had a blast running around and playing all the games, so I thought I'd include some pictures from each visit. Brayden's mom and I took the boys back up last Friday night for another visit and they just couldn't get enough. We were both very proud of how well they behaved and treated them to an extra special prize at the end of the night. We are already envisioning the trouble these two are going to get in together when they are older.
Last time we went, Ty's favorite game was the "water shooting game".This time is was the "helmet" game.Some of the games are more like rides, and one even takes the kid's picture with Chuck.My favorite may be the one that actually "draws" your picture while you wait.And then, there is not much more precious than getting a "yee-haw!" out of your four year old while he's riding a"horsie".All in all, it has become one of our favorite places....I just have to try not to spoil him by taking him there too often!

Monday, August 17, 2009

View and Review!

Let the blogging begin!


Yes, that's right, my Little Grasshopper earned his first belt in karate. I was on the fence about whether or not he would pass (and yeah, I know his instructor let him slide on a couple of things...but hey, he IS only FOUR), but Saturday after class, the students who passed their recent belt test were presented with their certificates of rank and their new belts (in Ty's case, it was just adding a stripe to his white belt). He was so proud of himself (as we were of him!) that Mommy started a new tradition of taking her boy out to breakfast whenever he gets a new belt.
We went to my favorite place to eat in town and I treated him to silver dollar pancakes with chocolate chips while I had my favorite Eggs Benedict.
I just can't get over how handsome my Little Guy is!!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

And now....Blackberry CAKE!

While I was preparing to make the blackberry muffins for My Girl, Paula!, I picked up a quart of gorgeous blackberries at the local farmer's market, but the recipe only called for 2 cups, so I had quite a bit leftover. At $5.25 a quart, I wasn't about to waste half the container, but I didn't really feel like making muffins again, either. So, just to check the versatility of the recipe, I threw it together again (did I mention how easy this recipe is to make?) and poured it into a 9 inch round foil pan. (I know, I shouldn't use foil, but see, I have several in my pantry that keep falling out at me every time I get the fryer or food processor out, and I really want to use them up and get them out of there!)

It look about twice as long to bake since it was a much larger dish, but it turned out beautifully, and now I think I have a blackberry CAKE recipe that people are going to request over and over again. These things are so moist, its ridiculous. Its almost like a pancake batter in consistency. I will definitely be making this again!

Swedish Meatballs

Summer is usually a time when I crave nothing but fresh produce and light meals. Sometimes, however, but stomach turns traitor and I just gotta have some comfort food. This year, I've been seeing a lot of traitorous activity in my nether-regions, I suppose due to the fact that our weather has been so freakishly fickle, and the produce hasn't exactly been overflowing. So, it didn't surprise me recently when my brain started whispering the words..."Swedish Meatballs" a low, lecherous tone, making my mouth water.

See, normally, I consider comfort food to be those dishes that remind me most of my youth, or other times when I felt safe, secure, and otherwise content. Swedish Meatballs is not a meal I ever at as a kid, but it reminds me so much of Beef Stroganoff (which IS a meal I remember fondly from my mother's kitchen) which I can't eat because it is generally made with mushrooms.

I dug around a bit and came across this great blog and a recipe for Swedish Meatballs that sounded great. I made my grocery list and planned to go to the store after work to get the ingredients. And then....I got the know the call....the one from the school/daycare that has you turning your work PC off before you've even hung up the phone, standing up from your chair and hollering to your office neighbor that you have to leave because Mt. Vesuvius is erupting breakfast all over his school.....yeah, THAT call.

So, unfortunately, I didn't get to try Gin's recipe, but I did have all the ingredients I needed for another version (from Alton Brown) that I had printed and saved a day or so before. Taking advantage of Ty's four hour uber-nap that afternoon, I mixed up the meat and rolled all the meatballs. When I have a dish with meatballs in it, I like to have one that is actually bite-sized. I want to be able to shove the whole thing in my mouth without either having to cut it, or take a bite out of it while its still on the fork, so I use my little scooper that I use to make my Aztec Truffles (hmmm haven't posted about those yet...mental note to buy chocolate...) so they would be nice and manageable. However, you know what that means...the smaller the meatball, the MORE meatballs you have to roll....yeah, I was at it for a while.

In the end, it was so worth it. I made the meatballs up ahead of time and then left the pan on the stove until Matt got home and whisked up the gravy while boiling some egg noodles. I ate the leftovers the next day while we were at home again (under sick-boy house arrest) and they were just as tasty the second time around.

The one thing I might do different next time is increase the seasonings. The meatballs were tasty, just a bit bland for my taste buds. I also wondered about rolling them in either breadcrumbs or Parmesan cheese before cooking them....something for next time.
Alton Brown's Swedish Meatballs
2 slices fresh white bread
1/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons clarified butter, divided
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
A pinch plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 pound ground chuck
3/4 pound ground pork
2 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups beef broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
Tear the bread into pieces and place in a small mixing bowl along with the milk. Set aside.
In a 12-inch straight sided saute pan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and sweat until the onions are soft. Remove from the heat and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the bread and milk mixture, ground chuck, pork, egg yolks, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, black pepper, allspice, nutmeg, and onions. Beat on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes.
Using a scale, weigh meatballs into 1-ounce portions and place on a sheet pan. Using your hands, shape the meatballs into rounds.Heat the remaining butter in the saute pan over medium-low heat, or in an electric skillet set to 250 degrees F. Add the meatballs and saute until golden brown on all sides, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the meatballs to an ovenproof dish using a slotted spoon and place in the warmed oven. Once all of the meatballs are cooked, decrease the heat to low and add the flour to the pan or skillet.Whisk until lightly browned, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add the beef stock and whisk until sauce begins to thicken. Add the cream and continue to cook until the gravy reaches the desired consistency. Remove the meatballs from the oven, cover with the gravy and serve.

**And, if you're me, while the meatballs are cooking, set a pot of salter water to boil and make some nice egg noodles to serve this won't be sorry!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Blackberry Muffins for My Girl, Paula!

I will admit, as much as I love Paula Deen, I have only had mixed success with her recipes. This recipe, however, was well worth the (very minimal) effort. When I saw this on the list of August recipes, I was looking forward to making it because I knew there had been an abundance of gorgeous blackberries at the local farmer's market (if you can consider 3-6 tables set up on the sidewalk outside the courthouse a "farmers market") lately. So, Saturday after Ty's karate class, I drove buy to see if there were any berries left unclaimed, and sure enough, there was a quart of them calling my name! I promptly rushed home and got out my copy of The Lady & Sons, Too! and got to work. These muffins are outrageously simple to put together. and I had them in the oven in no time.
These turned out so lusciously moist, I had to eat two, and as big as the Texas muffins are, that's making a statement. I'm really thinking that for the next batch, I might try just making it in a square baking dish with a crumb yummy does that sound? They didn't puff up very well, but I think my baking powder might be at fault for that.
Blackberry Muffins
1/2 stick melted butter
1/2 c. milk
2 large eggs at room temp.
2 c. flour
1-1/4 c. plus 4 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh blackberries or frozen blackberries, thawed and drained.
Preheat 350 degree oven
Line 18, 2-1/2 in. muffin cups or if you prefer, grease tins well.
In a bowl stir together melted butter, milk and eggs.
In a separate bowl, sift together flour, 1-1/4 cups sugar, baking powder and the salt.
Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and pour in the milk mixture all at once; stir until blended, the batter will be lumpy, don't overmix.
Fold in the berries.
Divide batter in muffin tins and sprinkle the remaining 4 teaspoons of sugar over the batter.
Bake for about 25 min. or until golden.
**notes: I used my Texas muffin pans, so I had to let mine bake a little longer, and I sprinkled the tops with a hearty helping of cinnamon sugar, but other than that, I stuck to the recipe.

All in all, this one is definitely a keeper...I may have to make another batch this week!

Monday, August 10, 2009

ANNOUNCEMENT - Giveaway Winner!

Good Morning, everyone! I am so glad to see all the comments and I know you are all excited about my giveaway. As promised, I am announcing the winner today. Before I do, I just want to say that this last year of blogging has introduced me to so many wonderful people and reunited me with others. I have spent countless hours cooking recipes to post here, expanded my own culinary horizons (and maybe a few of yours) and even had the honor of appearing on Tyler Florence’s blog, along with many other exciting things along the way. I want to thank everyone for their support and enthusiasm, and I am looking forward to doing much more in the next year (and all the years after that!).

So! On to the announcement. If you haven’t already read about the giveaway, I’ll give you a quick overview. I am co-hosting a baby shower next month for a friend and I have been looking for new and creative ways to put together the traditional “veggie tray”. I put a call out for help and asked my wonderful readers to submit ideas for vegetables that could be crafted into little flowers or other garden related items that I could make for my friend’s baby shower.

Kim from Stirring the Pot carved up these lovely little carrot—tops and won the heart of my Little Man (it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that his favorite color is orange!) who pointed to the picture I showed him and promptly said, “I like THAT pretty flower!”

And I agreed with him! We picked Kim’s carrot flowers for a few reasons:
1. carrots are inexpensive and everyone likes them
2. I tried my hand at carving them up and it was pretty easy to do
3. I love basil, and I have a garden full of it right now. If it survives until the shower I’ll be using a bunch of it on the veggie tray. Never would have thought of that one!
4. The idea is very versatile. I can skewer them by themselves, or with an edamame or small grape inside for color, and they really brighten up a garden!

Great job, Kim! Shoot me an email at with your mailing address and I’ll get your prize headed your direction!

Thanks to everyone for their input, you’re the best! Stay tuned….I’ve already got an idea brewing for another giveaway….just have to wait for the right mood to strike!

Friday, August 7, 2009


Ok everyone, its that time. Today is the last day to enter the giveaway for the Pampered Chef Deep Covered Baker. I will be reviewing the entries this weekend and letting my Little Man pick his favorite, with the winner to be announced on Monday!

Come on, you know you know I want you to......and you know you want the pressure or anything.

I Always Feel Like...Soomebody's Waaaatchin' Me...

Ok, I hope you're all ready, because you're about to learn something about me that you didn't know and may never have guessed. (ok, a couple of you know, but not most of you) Some of you will think its utterly cool, others may stop following me because of it...but its part of what makes me "me", so here goes nothing.

I am a Paranormal Investigator. Or, at least, that's what my friends at Midwest Paranormal Society tell me. I have always been interested in the paranormal activity in the world around me, and have had a number of personal experiences, but about a year ago, I was fortunate enough to meet some people who took me under their wing, so to speak, and I became a part of their organization. You might call us ghost hunters, and you might just be right about that. I'm bringing this up now because I've just signed on to go on an investigation in November to a place that we went to last June, but I was unable to finish the night because of something that happened at home. I am very excited to be going back to finish the job, and I thought I would take this opportunity to share this tidbit about myself with you and the blog post that I wrote after that investigation.

I don't expect you to believe if you don't, and that's okay with me, I just hope you accept this as part of who I am.
(The Midwest Paranormal Society members present that night)

Monday, June 09, 2008 (previously posted on MySpace)
A "spiritual" experience....
This weekend, I got the opportunity to go ghost hunting for the first time. Not running around a graveyard at night with a bunch of friends like we did in high school, but out on an actual expedition with legitimate paranormal investigators. This group uses a wide variety of equipment to detect anomalies in the area, including, but not limited to, digital voice recorders, still digital cameras and camcorders, K2 meters, thermometers, and dowsing rods (since this was an area connected to a source of water). But, as one of the investigators said Saturday night, and I think it rings true, the best tool you have is your own senses.
It was amazing. Well, at least until I had to leave early to go home and handle a situation. I wish I could have stayed for the whole night. If I ever get invited back, you can believe I won't let anyone ruin it for me again.
Since I wasn't there very long, I don't have much of a story to tell, except that the location was unreal. Until the owner releases us to give the name, the location shall be undisclosed, but I can tell you that the site is that of a one-time hotel and health spa, set on top of a natural spring. The upper levels of the building are still in use as stores, apartments, etc, but the lower levels have been condemned by the city and those are the main areas we explored. They include two abandoned pools, a meat packing plant, and untold numbers of nooks, crannies, and empty spaces.
In these areas, we encountered a series of sounds that we (at least at the point when I left) had not been able to determine the source of, but I will term them as "curious". Maybe they were nothing….we thought at first that they sounded like clothes tumbling in a clothes dryer. Later that night we did find a dryer on the premises, but quickly found that it was not only not running, but unplugged. Some members of the team also thought the sound was like you would expect to hear a woman in high heels walking on marble, like that which used to be around the pool in the next room, where a man was once rumored to be killed by his wife wielding her high heeled shoe. Although the noise eventually ceased, it seemed to keep drawing us toward it when we wandered into other rooms, as if it was warning us to stay out of those areas. The meat packing area was very uncomfortable. I can't explain why, but just walking into the room made my skin crawl. When I said I didn't know what it was about it, Marie simply said, "Its death". And I think she was right. In another small room in the lower levels, where we sat trying to get some EVPs, I had my camcorder in use, hoping to catch some EVPs or images in that pitch black room. With the night vision feature on my camera, I was able to pan back and forth across the faces of the team there, and had very strange blurring problems. I would pan from Marie, to Brian, to Matt and back again repeatedly. At certain times, I would move to one of the people and the camera would blur the images so much that the person's silhouette was so distorted you couldn't tell it was a person, when only a moment before it had been clear. At first I thought it was a problem with focusing in the dark, but the clarity did not return immediately, as it would have if the camera was trying to focus. Marie described this as something affecting the "depth of field", in other words, something between the camera and the subject, changing the area focused on by the camera. After playing the video back at home, I believe there was something in that room with us, sitting in the empty space between me and Matt. Of course, I can't prove this, but you can believe what you want.
Maybe the most exciting for me, was something that happened when we returned to the main level to take a break. Marie and I were headed through a doorway toward the women's restroom when I suddenly felt like I was walking through a wall of static electricity. Marie was a few feet ahead of me, and we both stopped at the same time. I stepped back into the field, and every hair on my left arm stood up. The skin on my arm tingled for the next 5-10 minutes. Marie also encountered the same sensation and we were able to call some of the other investigators over and although the body of the disturbance had dissipated, they did feel some residual static. This happened at the foot of a staircase where there is reputed to be some paranormal activity. We checked the area for anything that might have caused an electrical charge, and found nothing. Again, believe what you want, but I think Marie and I had a close encounter…..
All in all, the night was very exciting for me, and I have no idea if or when I'll get to go again, but I sure hope so.
(here we are at the bottom of the staircase, along with members of the Riverbend Paranormal Society)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

TFF - Greek Yogurt with a Fig, Date and Honey Swirl

Every once in awhile, my little small-town grocery does something that makes me very happy. Kind of like the time they finally started carrying fresh(er) mozzarella. No, not the real deal, floating in water, but the vacuum sealed balls are better than nothing.

Friday afternoon when I was browsing the store, looking for a few items to fill in the gap between last week's dinners and this week's, I came to a dead stop in front of the dairy case. "Dost mine eyes deceive me?" No, it is not an illusion....right here, in my quaint little market, was a display of FAGE greek yogurt. If you have never had greek yogurt, and you often think to yourself, "Come on, what's the big deal?" when you hear chefs on Food Network talking about it.....well, you've just got to taste for yourself.
Its like the difference between Jell-o cheesecake, and New York cheesecake. Fat Free Sour Cream and Creme Fraiche. More expensive, too? You're darn right it is. So, no, I wouldn't use it for ALL my yogurt needs, but there is a Tyler Florence recipe I've been very intrigued by and I just knew that even though the recipe says you can substitute strained plain yogurt in lieu of greek yogurt, that it would not be the same. And I was right....

This unctuous concoction is like a little mouth full of heaven....superbly creamy, decadently sweet, with little bits of rich date and fig, and a crunchy crumble of toasted nuts on top. Much more substantial than regular yogurts, this was a perfect treat for my breakfast at work today, and with a minimum of effort. The swirl was like a little treasure trove of candy hiding in a milky cloud. I'm seriously considering putting it in my little popsicle molds and making frozen yogurt treats to last all summer! If you love yogurt....I don't care if you've never tried figs before, you are gonna LOVE this! Come on over to Tyler Florence Fridays this week and see all the lovely dishes, including this one, which is my entry for this week.
Greek Yogurt with a Fig, Date and Honey Swirl
Recipe by Tyler Florence
Show: Food 911
Episode: Hail to Greece!Ingredients
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup pine nuts
***I just used 3/4 cup of a can of deluxe mixed nuts
6 figs, fresh or dried, cut into quarters (I used dried, because I have never, I repeat NEVER seen fresh figs anywhere in this region.)
6 dates, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1 lemon, juiced
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups Greek yogurt
Mint leaves for garnish (yeah, anyone need some mint? It is taking over my garden....)

If you can't find Greek yogurt, drain regular yogurt, refrigerated, overnight through cheesecloth. Toast the nuts in a saute pan over medium heat until they become fragrant. Put the nuts onto a plate and set aside; when cool enough to handle, chop them roughly. In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the figs, dates, honey, water, lemon juice, and cinnamon stick. Cook for about 10 minutes until fruit is soft. Set aside and let it cool slightly; remove the cinnamon stick. Place the yogurt in a big bowl. Spoon the warm fruit onto the yogurt and gently swirl the fruit through the yogurt. Sprinkle on the nuts and garnish with mint leaves. Serve immediately.

You want some, don't you?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hummingbird Cake for My Girl, Paula!

Good morning, everyone! You may or may not already know, but I have recently signed up to be part of the My Girl, Paula! bloggy group. Basically, what that means is that once a week (more or less), I'll be making a recipe from Paula's cookbook, "The Lady & Sons, Too!" along with the other bloggers in the group. We all do the same recipe every week and then we get to see everyone else's version of the dish on Mondays.

This is my first week, and the assigned dish was Paula's Hummingbird Cake.

Now, you all know I'm not much of a baker. I didn't even own a round cake pan until this recipe came up. Several times this year I have come across cake recipes that tempted me, but they always call for at least 2, if not 3, round cake pans and I just didn't feel like making the investment for something I don't use very often. But, I decided that I wanted to make a strong start on my submissions to My Girl,Paula, so I bit the bullet and picked up three cake pans. After all, I recently fell in love with a cake stand (I know, I don't bake, so why do I want a cake stand?) because it was absolutely PERFECT for my kitchen. If you know me, you know I have a fetish for serving dishes, especially white ones, and if they have blue accents, even better. So, this was a great excuse for me to pull it out and put it to good use for the first time!

"Hummingbird Cake" is essentially a spice cake, looking very much like carrot cake (at least my version did) but instead of carrots and raisins, it has pineapple and bananas. The cake was not overly sweet, which was what I was expecting, but it had a nice texture to it and was very flavorful. I really enjoyed the pecans mixed in with both the batter, and then on top of the icing. Speaking of which, the icing was lovely, a simple cream cheese frosting which took care of the "sweet" factor nicely, as you can see here....
I caught Ty "sampling" the cake when I had it in my light box for its photo shoot.

Admittedly, I am NOT a good decorator of cakes and especially since I overbeat my frosting and it came out a little thing, but no one at work complained on Friday when I put it out in the lunchroom for the vultures. I also made sure I put wax paper under the layers before I frosted so that my lovely cake stand would remain pristine. (Gotta show off the pretty blue patterns on it!) I also used the recipe directly from the book versus the ones online as they seem to differ somewhat.

So, there you go, one very lovely cake, and my very first entry to My Girl, Paula!
Hummingbird Cake

For the cake:

3 cups all purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs, beaten

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 3/4 cup mashed bananas

1 (8-ounce) crushed pineapple, with juice

1 cup finely chopped pecans

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the Frosting:

1 (8-ounces) cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 pound (1 box) confectioners' sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup chopped pecans


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9-inch round cake pans. For the cake, in a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add the eggs and oil and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not beat. Stir in the banana, pineapple and its juice, the pecans, and the vanilla. Divide the batter among the prepared pans and bake for 23 to 28 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake layers in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a rack to cool completely.While the cake cools, make the frosting:In a bowl, blend together the cream cheese and butter. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. Stir in the pecans, or reserve them to sprinkle over the frosted cake. Fill and frost the cake.Voila!And, the inside: