Thursday, February 5, 2015

Cook's Illustrated Best Banana Bread

This is a can't-believe-it-takes-so-long recipe, but, once again, so worth it.  Cook's Illustrated usually never steers me wrong and this is no exception.  The banana liqueur that is made by reducing banana juice makes this recipe exceptional.  Highly recommend.  Seriously.
Takes almost an hour to get ready to go in the oven.  Takes over an hour in the oven.  What can I say?  It's sleeting outside.  Warm banana bread is just the sort of comfort food I could go for right now.  And guess what folks, I left the butter out entirely and it is still moist and delicious!

So let's make some.


1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
5 large very ripe bananas (about 1¾ to 2 pounds), peeled
½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 eggs
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar


1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray an 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan with Baker's Joy and set aside.  
2. Peel bananas and place in bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap (cut steam vents, please!) and microwave on high until the bananas release liquid about 5 minutes, but keep an eye on it.  Put the bananas in a fine-mesh strainer and place over a medium bowl and allow to drain.
Transfer the liquid to a small saucepan and reduce over medium-high heat to about 1/4 cup.  Stir liquid into the bananas and mash until fairly smooth. Whisk in butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.
Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Fold in walnuts.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Sprinkle granulated sugar on top.
Bake for 55-75 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.  Serve warm or at room temp. 
Will store up to 2 months (double-wrapped) in the freezer.
Follow Me on Pinterest(Recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Chocolate Snowballs

This cookie recipe came from Dan Savage.  Yes.  THAT Dan Savage.  Well, from his mother, really.  But Dan passed the recipe along and I decided to take a chance and I'm glad I did.

This is the second new recipe I've gotten from a radio podcast.  (The other being the Sweet Potato Pie recipe below.)  Both of them are egg-sell-ent.

I'm going to have to take up NPR all over again.

These are melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  A chocolate, butter-based cookie with pecans and tossed in sugar. What's not to love?

Without further ado....

Ma Savage's Christmas Snowballs 

1 1/4 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup cocoa
2 c pecans
confectioners sugar
Sift flour, salt, and cocoa together.  Cream butter & sugar until fluffy.  Add vanilla.  Mix together dry ingredients in a separate bowl.  Gradually beat dry ingredients into butter mixture.  Blend in pecans.  Form a log, wrap in saran and then foil, and put in fridge overnight.

Cut loaf into inch-thick slices, then into quartered cubes.  Roll cubes into balls about 1 inch in diameter.  Bake on a non-greased cookie sheet for 20 minutes at 350.  Transfer cookies as soon as they come out of the oven to a cooling rack.  Allow to cool completely before tossing in confectioner's sugar.  Much easier than they look when you finish them.  A great beginner's cookie.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sweet potato pie!

Thanksgiving is coming up.  At my house, pumpkin pie reigns supreme. Every year I watch my relatives dive into a national favorite.  I watch, but I never partake.  I'm no fan of pumpkin pie.  I am a fan of sweet potatoes.  This year, I decided to take the bull by the horns and make my own pie.  In advance.  Just for me.  Let them have their pumpkin. I gots me some sweet taters.

This is a delicious pie.  I kid you not.  Easily made it into my top five pies.  Try it. You won't be disappointed.

3 large sweet potatoes (about 1.5 lbs)
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 stick unsalted sweet butter, room temp
1 can evaporated milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 9-inch pie crust

Boil sweet potatoes in their skin until fork tender.  Drain water and allow potatoes to cool.  Peel and discard the skin. In a medium bowl, add the sweet potatoes, eggs, butter cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar, and whip until incorporated.  Add evaporated milk a little at a time until the filling becomes loose.  Pour the filling into the pie crust.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Take the remaining evaporated milk, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 cup sugar and heat just until sugar is dissolved. Brush the mixture on top of the filling.

Place pie in oven and bake for 50 minutes or until the pie is firm to the touch.  Remove pie from oven and allow to cool slightly before eating.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pork Carnitas

You have to try this recipe.  It was so good, I didn't even have time to take a picture of it before it was gone.  The most amazing thing is it is made of pork.  I usually hate pork.  But this is melt in your mouth magic.  I'm not kidding.  You can also double this recipe.

Pork Carnitas

5 lb pork shoulder
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon adobo sauce
juice of 2 limes
1/2 cup orange juice
12 ounces beer


purple onion, small dice
fresh cilantro leaves
lime juice

1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne

Put the pork shoulder in your slow cooker.  Tub the garlic all over the meat.  Pour the rub over the meat and rub it in.  Add the lime and orange juice, beer, and adobo sauce. Cover and cook for 6 hours.  Shred the meat with forks and return to slow cooker.  Preheat broiler.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Place the meat on the cookie sheet and broil a few minutes until the edges sort of carmelize on the pork.
Serve on corn or flour tortillas with fresh cilantro, diced onions and a drizzle of lime juice.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Homemade Apple Butter

Ahh, the apple tree did it again.  Not a mast year like the last one, but I got some nice eating apples and enough to make an apple cake and something new this year:  apple butter.

This recipe came from, and it's a good one.  I scaled it for 15 half pints with enough left over to put in the fridge and have some this week.

Homemade Apple Butter

2 cans frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
3 cups apple cider
8 lbs of apples, cored and chopped
1.5 cups dark brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves

Bring apple juice, apple cider and apples to a boil.  When soft, mash through a sieve, a chinois, or use a food processor or hand blender.   Return to heat and add sugar and spices.  Simmer on low for up to 2 hours. (I actually had to cook mine longer.)  You want to cook it until when you put a heaping teaspoon of the butter on a plate, no water separates from the pulp.  Another test is if you have a heaping teaspoon and let it cool for 2 minutes, it is still mounded on the spoon.

Put in sterilized half-pint jars with 1/4" head space and process for 10 minutes.

Allow to cool for several hours until you hear that magical "pop".

Great on everything from ice cream to cornbread.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Cowboy Kick in the Spurs

I don't know about your garden, but the weather has been awfully kind to my peppers this year.  I've got a bumper crop of banana peppers and jalapenos, which is to be expected, but I also have...for the first time ever....plentiful bell peppers, pasillas, cayennes, Peter peppers, seranos and Thai red chilis.  The only peppers that aren't doing tremendously are the pepperoncinis and I think that's because they get shaded for about 4 hours during the day.  Otherwise, it's been a super year for peppers.

Just what do you do with all of them?  I put up 4 pints of pickled banana peppers, and I'm trading some to my friend who owns a pizzaria, but I am still overrun with jalapenos.  So I decided to make some of that delicious hot jalapeno jam that warms things up during the cold winter months ahead.  This jam will not set to a jelly-like consistency, but it meant to be pourable and served as a condiment.  If you want your jam more firmly set, add more pectin.

This is delicious over a brick of cream cheese and served with crackers or crudites.

Cowboy Jam

1 lb green or red bell peppers, washed and seeded
3/4 lb jalapenos, washed, stems removed
6 cups sugar
1 1/4 c apple cider vinegar
1/4 c lemon juice
1 t kosher salt
3 oz. liquid pectin

Wash and remove seeds from bell peppers.  Wash and remove stems from jalapenos.  Put both in a food processor and pulse into a fine dice.  Place in a large, non-reactive pot and combine with sugar, vinegar, lemon juice and salt.   Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.  Return to a boil and add the liquid pectin.  Bring to a rolling boil for 1 minute.  Ladle into sterilized pint jars.  Wipe down the rims with a clean cloth dipped in boiling water.  Place prepared lids and bands on the jars and process in a boiling water bath 10 minutes.  Remove from water bath and allow to cool on the counter for 24 hours.  Turn jars periodically to ensure that peppers are distributed throughout the jam as it cools.  If, after 24 hours, any lids have not sealed, put them in the refrigerator and use them promptly.  

Amount of jam will depend on the water content of your peppers.  This recipe should make about 8 pints of jam.  Mine made 9.  I just put the ninth in a clean jar and straight into the fridge for immediate use.  Looking forward to this.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Chocolate Peanut Butter No-Bake Cookies

Just like you remember from the school lunchroom!  These were among my favorite treats in grade school.  No one I knew ever made these at home even though my family was friends with one of the lunch ladies.  I figured the recipe was a trade secret.  Then I found this online. I enjoy these at least three times a year now.

I hope you like them as much as I do.  They really are a blast from the past.

Chocolate Peanut Butter No-Bake Cookies

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup cocoa
1 stick oleo or butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
3 cups old fashion oats

Put the sugar, milk, cocoa, and butter in a pan and bring to a hard boil.  Boil for 1 minute.  Remove from heat.  Add peanut butter and stir until incorporated.  Add vanilla and stir again.  Then add the oats.  Mix well.  Drop from spoon onto a greased or oiled baking sheet.  Refrigerate until hardened. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

I keep these in the fridge until they are all gone.  

Don't tell the lunch lady, but these are everything I remember.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Fish tacos!

I first had fish tacos at a little joint at Huntington Beach, California.  They were rock-my-socks-off delicious.  Ever since then, I've been determined to re-create that first experience.  This recipe is not exactly like the tacos I had that day, but they are every bit as authentic a California eating experience, and they are rock-star fish tacos.  I kid you not.  Try these and you may find them in your regular rotation for a while.  Or at least as long as your arteries hold out.

Beer-Battered Fish Tacos

1 cup AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup beer (plus more to make a thin batter)

1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons of capers, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne (red) pepper

1 lb cod fillets, sliced into 2 oz. chunks
package corn tortillas
shredded cabbage
chopped tomato
vegetable oil (for frying)

Mix the batter and set aside.  Mix the sauce ingredients together and refrigerate.  In a deep, heavy bottomed pot, put one quart of oil and set on medium high heat.  Once the oil is hot, dredge the cod in some flour and then dunk in the batter.  Add no more than 5 pieces at a time.  Do not let them get too dark. Dry cod on paper towels.  Heat a non-stick skillet on high.  Heat a corn tortilla (not too stiff) on both sides.  Load with fish, sauce, cabbage, tomatoes and top off with a little lime juice.

The fish is amazing by itself.  The sauce by itself is amazing.   And, if you use El Milagro corn tortilla shells (out of Chicago), the tortillas by themselves are amazing.  But this dish put together is electric!

The sauce has many more applications beyond this dish.  I can see it as dipping sauce for french fries (even though I'm not a french fry fan), on beef sandwiches, etc.

I'm not a big fan of fried food and I don't make it very often.  (What do you do with all that oil when you are done?)  From a health perspective, I suppose that's a good thing.   But like homemade fried chicken, there is nothing quite like home cooked fried fish.  So I only do this once every two years or so.  I think my arteries will forgive me on those rare occasions.  And this, my friends, was worth it.

On the other hand, the original fish tacos I had in Huntington Beach were grilled.  I'm pretty sure they used tilapia or some other white fish.  I think that you could use any "substantial" white fish (tilapia, cod, perch, etc.) and it would still be fine. I think if you sprinkled that fish with a little cumin and cayenne before baking it, it would also complement the flavors.  So this doesn't have to be only an every-once-in-a-while dish.  I also think it would be more visually appealing with purple cabbage and a nice fresh slice of avocado.  Maybe even a few pinches of shredded carrot.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Restaurant-style Salsa

Sometimes you just want it like they have at the Mexican place.  You know the stuff.  They bring it out sometimes in a mini-carafe with a basket of warm tortilla chips.

My mouth waters just thinking about it.

I was thinking about that and then I found this recipe.  OK, it is a Pioneer Woman recipe, but it was pretty good nonetheless.  Say what you will, that woman can cook.

Restaurant-style Salsa

1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes with juice (I used Contadina brand)
2 10 oz. cans of Rotel with juice
1 clove garlic
1 small onion
1 jalapeno, seeds removed
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 teaspoon sugar
juice of 1 whole lime

Put in your blender or food processor and have at it.

Makes a lot, but that's okay.  You may find yourself pouring a glass and drinking this.

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Gregg's Birthday Peanut Butter Cookies - Shhhh. It's a Surprise!

So today, I made some peanut butter cookies.  I don't like peanut butter cookies.  Never have.  Amazing thing, if you think about it.  Peanut butter is my favorite food.  Followed closely by popcorn.  Nothing else comes in a close third.  Then how is it possible that I don't like peanut butter cookies?

I know this might be heresy, but I also don't like peanut butter cake.  I think it's because the only peanut butter cake I've ever had was prepared as though it was Texas sheet cake and I don't like that style of cake.  I digress.

Monday is Gregg's birthday.  Gregg is a good guy.  He's one of my best friends.  Peanut butter cookies are his favorite.  How could I deny a face like that?

Gregg's Birthday Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup butter, room temp
1/2 cup butter flavored shortening
1 cup smooth or crunchy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2.5 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat overn to 375F.  Cream together butter, shortening, sugars, eggs, and vanilla until well combined.  Sift together flour, soda, and salt.  Add in thirds to the sugar mixture. Roll into 1" balls and place on a baking sheet.  (I use a silicone mat.)  Squash cookies slightly with the back of a fork and make the cross marks.  Bake 8-10 minutes. Don't overcook.  Allow to cool on the baking sheets for at least 2 minutes to set.  Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

CopyCat Recipe: Olive Garden's Pasta e Fagioli

Like you, I've seen a lot of copycat recipes on various recipe sites, Pinterest (follow me, by the way!) and so on.  I've never bothered to try many of them.  For one, you can often go directly to your favorite restaurant's website and get the recipe straight from them!

There are probably lots of others, but those were three I was curious enough about their recipes to locate.

In any event, if you go to Olive Garden's free recipe site, you will not find a recipe for their pasta e fagioli.  Pasta e fagioli (pronounced pasta fazool) is a classic Italian soup.  It is, to my mind, minestrone with pasta.  Literally translated, it means pasta with beans.  Every cook makes it differently, uses different beans or bean blends, puts some secret ingredient in and so on.  It's a versatile recipe that you can adjust to your own tastes.

I've never been a big fan of Olive Garden.  I always felt that their food was mediocre.  It bears no resemblance whatsoever to real Italian food which can be obtained at many small, family-owned restaurants scattered in mid-sized cities throughout the country.  One of my favorites is a place called Scotty's Italian Restaurant on 9th Street and Vine (I believe) in Cincinnati, OH.  It was about the only redeeming thing I found in Cincinnati, OH.  But I digress.

Back to Olive Garden.  Never a big fan. But I went there for lunch once many, many moons ago and remember that their soup and salad was pretty darn good.  The soup I had was pasta e fagioli.  So when I saw a copycat recipe, I decided to give it a try.  I'm glad I did.

However, it is pretty pedestrian as listed.  You may prefer it this way.  I think it pretty well mirrors Olive Garden's actual recipe.  This is a recipe you need to toy with.  Tinker with.  Try a major overhaul once in a while.  But for starters, here's the bones you'll get to work with.

Olive Garden's Copycat Pasta e Fagioli

1 lb. ground chuck/turkey/beef
1 small onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 large carrots, diced
2 15 oz cans of Hunts Fire-Roasted Tomatoes (to me, this is vital that they be "fire roasted)
1 15 oz can of tomato sauce (any brand, plain)
1 Tablespoon vinegar (recipe calls for white, I use apple cider vinegar because white vinegar is for cleaning, people)
2 cups beef broth
1 14 oz. can of red beans (I use red kidney beans)
1 14 oz. can of white beans (I use northern or canneli beans)
1.5 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 lb. Digitali pasta (or a small rigatoni, or even elbow macaroni--whatever you've got on hand)

In a large stock pot or dutch oven, brown the ground meat together with the onion, celery and carrot. I usually use ground chuck and there is so little fat to drain that I usually don't bother.  If you are counting every calorie, go ahead and drain it.  Return it to the pan and add the diced tomatoes, beans, broth, tomato sauce, vinegar, salt, basil, oregano,  pepper and thyme.  I usually also add one bay leaf.  I'm a rebel that way.

Bring to a boil and lower the heat until it is maintained at a slow simmer.  Cook for 50 minutes, minimum.  It's always better the second day.  It's practically illegal by day three.  Keep in mind that this soup works very nice as a poaching liquid for Italian sausage links.  Just saying.

After 50 minutes, put on a pot of salted water to boil.  When it reaches a rolling boil, add the pasta to the water and allow to cook according to package directions.  Remove when al dente.

Now, you can add your pasta to the pot if you like, but we warned that it will continue to cook in the soup liquid and will begin to absorb a lot of the liquid in your pot.  Next day, you'll go to have a bowl of soup and find out you know have a pasta chowder that has to be watered down again.  I'm not a fan of losing precious liquid to pasta and then having to water down my soup that I worked so hard to develop the flavor in.  I usually keep my pasta on the side and add abut a quarter cup to a single serving of soup.  Much better.

Now, I modify this recipe.  What do I do?   

I chop up two mild Italian sausage links and brown it with the ground chuck, onion, carrot and celery mix.  Sausage adds rich fat flavor.  It gives this recipe ummph and ummph is a good thing.  A nice breakfast sausage might work just as well.  Because Italian sausage links usually come in packages of five, I throw the remaining three in to cook as the soup cooks.  You can leave them in there as long as you'd like. Take them out and feed them to your husband.  Hide them in the soup and save them for yourself.  Use them in another recipe.  Go crazy!

Italian sausage is also heavy in salt, so I completely omit the salt.

I usually skip buying prepared beef broth and just toss in two beef bullion cubes with the tomatoes and add 2 cups of water.  You don't have to use beef broth.  You can use tomato juice.  V8.  Plain water.  I've even used leftover coffee!  Use whatever is handy.  Whatever liquid you use will marry in with the flavors and turn into liquid gold.

I add any Parmesan rinds I have hidden in the back of the fridge with the tomatoes and tomato sauce.  This really add some fantastic flavor.  You've been throwing those away?  Oh dear Lord.  Don't do that anymore.

I rarely keep dried basil in the house.  I have frozen pesto left over from last year's garden in the freezer, and I usually add a tablespoon or so of the thawed pesto to the pot.  Pesto, for those who don't know is a maceration of fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.  Nothing there that would conflict with this recipe!

As I mentioned, I also add a bay leaf.  I fish it out before serving.

I usually add a generous 3/4 to a full cup of a good burgundy wine (Merlot, Shiraz, something along those lines).  I like wine in Italian dishes.  But be warned, this is going to change the tenor of this soup.  If you aren't a wine fan, proceed with caution.

I use whatever beans I have handy.  I usually try to stick with dark kidney beans, some white bean (Northern or Cannelli), or a bean mixture.  Pintos would fall apart. Avoid them.  Garbanzos?  No. You can use chili beans as long as they are rinsed.  You don't want Mexican overtones here. And Pasta e fagioli is not a spicy dish.

I almost always serve with a piece of chewy crusty bread.

Man, that's good eating.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Parmesan Enrusted Talipa

There was a time when I was watching my carbs.  Say what you will, it is an effective diet regimen.  Not a lot of fun, but effective.  This dish made it suck just a little less.  OK, a whole lot less.  Then again, I'm a fish lover.  If I had my way, I'd probably die of mercury poisoning.

But all that aside, this no-carb dish is delicious.   If you like fish, you'll love this dish.

I stole this recipe from  It isn't often that I prepare recipes, but the ones I have tried, including Bobby Flay's Orange Jalapeno Turkey, are fantastic.

As I said in my review of this dish, I made it for four adults who can't agree on anything.  Everyone loved this dish.

Because I'm not following a low-carb diet at the moment, I served this with long grain and wild rice.

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (do yourself a favor and use fresh)
1/4 cup butter, softened
4 Tablespoons mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon celery salt
pinch of table salt
2 lbs tilapia fillets

Line a broiler pan with foil and spray lightly with Pam.  Turn the broiler on to heat up.  In a small bowl mix together Parmesan cheese, butter, mayo, lemon juice and garlic.  Add the seasonings and mix well.  Set aside.

Arrange the fillets in a single layer on the prepared pan and broil a few inches from the heat for 2-3 minutes.  Turn the fish over and broil 2-3 more minutes.  Remove from broiler and cover with the Parmesan mixture on the top side only.  Return to oven and broil for about 2 minutes or until the topping is browned and the fish flakes easily.  Don't overcook the fish!

Organizing Makeup for Easier Access

I live in a small house where storage is at a premium.  I realized the other day after tripping over my canister vacuum for the 90,000th time that something has to give. My kitchen linens are stored in a dresser in the living area.  The utility room closet is so inconvenient that I put things there that by all rights should be in the garage.  The only thing that has ever persuaded me to lug the vacuum into the inconveniently placed and awkwardly shaped utility room closet was the prospect of my mother knowing exactly how I keep house.

The bathroom has the most closet space in the house.  My clothes closet is in the bathroom rather than the bedroom, which has no closet at all.  The linen closet, also in the bathroom, is spacious.  Both do triple duty as generalized house storage.  Which is to say, they are a mess.

Compounding the problem, there is no medicine cabinet in the bathroom.  The toothpaste and brush, hand soap and air freshener are housed on the sink top out of necessity. Everything else has found its way into the oversized linen closet. That closet hides an extraordinary amount of sins.  If you want to know how someone can own five different bottles of shampoo, 13 different bottles of hand lotion, 18 hair brushes--all essentially the same, it's because of overtaxed linen closets where things can get lost.  I've tried all sorts of things to bring organization to that closet, but it just has to meet so  many different objectives, nothing seems to work.  And the makeup is buried in that zoo of shampoo, conditioner, hand lotion, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, towels and sheets.

I've never been one to wear a lot of makeup.  It's not that I don't like looking put together. Perhaps I'm not your ordinary girl. If things aren't sitting right in front of me and beyond easy to access, to hell with it.  Such was the case with makeup.  So I decided to try something to put the makeup front and center.  I made it conveniently available.  I put up a magnet board inside the linen closet door and stuck the makeup to it.  Isn't it cute?  If you only knew how cheap that was.

Here's what I used, where I got it and how much it all cost.

12" x 24" piece of sheet metal: $3.68 (the $24.97 aluminum sheet is for another project coming soon!)
Primer for metal: $4.98
Chalkboard spray paint: $5.98
Magnets (bought 2, only needed 1 - 1 going back) $1.97
6 screws, $0.05/ea, $0.30

3 stainless magnetic pockets $6.99/ea. (with 15% off coupon) $17.82

Magnetic hook FREE!  (already had - cost unknown)
Gorilla glue.  FREE!  (Already had this. I think it was about $5 for the bottle, but I only used about 2 cents worth.)

Total cost of project:  $34.73.

I primed the sheet metal with two coats of spray-on primer.  Then I put on two coats of spray-on chalkboard paint.  Then I glued the magnets to the bottoms of the various pots of makeup I had.  I drilled 6 holes around the sheet metal to accommodate the screws.  I screwed the thing to the inside linen closet door and then just slapped all the magnetics to the sheet metal.  Voila!

The three pockets are organized so that they contain lip items, eye items, and brushes.  I was surprised that even the large brushes and tubes fit really nicely into the metal pockets.  I need to think of something that will prevent the tubes/pencils/etc. from tipping over when I remove one. Rice might work.  I'll let you know.  

The nice stainless steel magnetic pockets were more than half the cost of the project.  I could have shopped around for less expensive alternatives.  I'm pretty sure that Staples has plastic magnetic pockets, but this was still pretty cheap and it looks sharp.  In fact, it was those stainless pockets that caused me to think of this project.  I could have  opted for basic black matte paint and possibly saved some money (I didn't comparison shop so I'm not sure about that).  I could have opted for no paint at all and saved $11 off the project costs.  But really, it's my bathroom and I wanted it to look nice, not like the garage.

I'm pretty pleased with the results.  I'll let you know if it prompts me to wear makeup more often or if this was just another crafty project gone wrong. Then again, if I find it doesn't work, it's a chalkboard I can use to make a grocery list.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Upside Down Cake in a Skillet
I get that my mom wasn't much of a role model in the kitchen. But I really didn't know that you are supposed to make pineapple upside down cake in a skillet.  An offhand comment from a friend alerted me to this fact.  So I tried it.  And here is how it looks.  I used the largest iron pan I had.  It's the size for frying chicken.  Large diameter, deep sides, and heavy.  But it looked and tasted fantastic!
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Sunday, January 27, 2013

The best cookies on the planet

I don't say this lightly.  These cookies are it.  They are the perfect texture.  They are sweet, nutty, chocolatey and equally as spectacular after they have cooled.  They are PERFECT dunked in a cup of coffee.  PERFECT I TELL YOU!

Grandma Swisher had this recipe.  Grandma was my maternal grandmother.  She could cook like a baws.  Unfortunately, she didn't pass the skills on to her daughter and I had to learn it all over from scratch.  But this recipe.  She had it forever.  I assume she got it from her mother, who appears to have been something of a baker.  These cookies are so spectacular because they are crisp and chewy at the same time.

There's a couple of tips you need to know.  Don't overcook them.  Let them cool for about 4 minutes on the cookie sheet before moving them to a cooling rack.  (Otherwise, they will fall apart on you.)  Try to keep from eating all the dough.  Try to keep from eating all the cookies straight out of the oven.  Try to control yourself.

Oh hell.  It's useless.

Grandma's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip  Cookies

1.5 cup AP flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt

Mix together and set aside.

In your mixing bowl, combine

1 cup butter flavored Crisco (which thankfully comes in a convenient 1 cup serving size these days)
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, unbeaten
1 t vanilla
1 t hot water

Cream ingredients until well combined.

Add the dry ingredients.  Mix well.  Then, add:

2 cup Old Fashion oats (must be slow cook)
12 oz. pkg of Nestle's chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts (not optional!)

Mix until homogenous.  Bake at 350F for 8-10 minutes.  Cookies are done when they are only just beginning to show some brown on the top.  At first, you'll think they are undercooked. They are not. If you don't believe me, make a batch, let them cool and then try one before baking any more.

Take them in the vicinity of your favorite suitors and wait for the marriage proposals to start flooding in.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Dinner

I made Thanksgiving for myself this year.   Not the first time.  Probably won't be the last.  I don't mind at all. I love cooking.  It's a relaxing day for me.  No pressure.  No worries.

So even though I'm alone, I still put on the full Thanksgiving spread.  Just a little pared down.  Here's my recipes for dinner.

Cranberry sauce

12 oz. fresh cranberries
1 cup orange juice
1/2-3/4 cup white sugar

Put all in a pan and heat to a rolling boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and simmer until sauce thickens a bit.  Take off the heat, allow to cool and put in a serving dish.  Can be made ahead and chilled.

Sweet Potato Casserole

My favorite part of the meal.

3 whole sweet potatoes, peeled and boiled until soft
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup orange juice
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup white or brown sugar (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Whip all with a beater.  Put in a casserole pan.  Cover with topping.  Bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Pecan topping
3 tablespoons butter, melted in microwave
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup pecans
2 tablespoons all purpose flour

Mix sugar, flour and nuts with butter in a bowl and sprinkle over sweet potatoes.

I do not stuff my bird with stuffing while it roasts.  I make it separately and have never bothered to stuff the bird with it.  I serve it on the side.  I always use Pepperidge Farm sage stuffing and follow the directions on the package except that I also add one can of diced water chestnuts.  Mmmm.  That's good eating right there.

I brine the turkey for approximately 24 hours.
Brine solution:
14-16 lb. turkey
1-2 gallons of water (whatever it takes to cover the bird)
1 cup salt
2 oranges, quartered
2 lemons, quartered
3 sprigs rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
handful of black pepper corns

To roast the turkey, I've been using Bobby Flay's Roasted Turkey Rubbed with Roasted Jalapeno-Sage-Orange Butter

2 cups orange juice
Zest of one orange, grated
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
3 jalapenos, roasted, peeled, seeded
1/4 cup fresh sage (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
Salt and pepper
and, of course, the turkey

Put the orange juice in a nonreactive pan and bring to a boil over high heat.   Reduce to about 1/2 cup.  Let cool to room temp.  Put the butter, cooled orange syrup, orange zest, japaleno and sage in a food processor and whip until smooth.  Scrape into a bowl.  Make this a day in advance and store it in the fridge.  Bring to room temp before using.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Remove the innards from the turkey and set aside.  Rinse the bird with cold water and pat dry. Rub the surface of the turkey with 1/2 of the butter.  Season the skin and the cavity liberally with salt and pepper.  Truss the turkey, put in a roasting bag, and place on a rack in a large roasting pan.

Roast the turkey for 30 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 375 degrees and continue to roast for 1.5 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.  I usually buy a bird with a pop-up thermometer, so I use that as my signal that it's done.  Brush the remaining butter on the bird every 15 minutes.  Remove the turkey from the oven and let rest for 20 minutes before carving.  I generally watch the bird pretty closely and loosely cover the top of the bird if it is getting over browned.

I usually carve in an unceremonious manner.  First I remove the legs and thighs, then I remove both the breasts and pull off the wings.  I slice one of the breasts in thick slices and leave the remaining pieces whole.  I usually go for a thigh.  I like the dark meat.  No pun intended.

After dinner, I go back and start picking the carcass clean and put on a stock pot, dump in the carcass, some celery and carrots and usually a yellow onion, quartered, cover with water, and make some stock.  The stock comes in handy for the leftovers.

Broccoli Casserole

1 large head of broccoli (approximately 5 stems)
1 cup mayo
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/4 small onion, grated
2 eggs, beaten
Durkee French Fried Onions
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (optional)

Prepare the broccoli. Place broccoli in an oven- and microwave-safe bowl with approx. 2 tablespoons of water and microwave on high for 7-10 minutes.  Remove from microwave.  In a bowl, beat 2 whole eggs.  Add mayo, mushroom soup, cheese and onion to the eggs.  Spoon liquid mixture over broccoli and cover with dried onions.  I skip the cheese because I'm lactose intolerant, but it is very good in the dish.  Bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 50 minutes.

And there you have it.  My Thanksgiving dinner in a single post.   I wish you all the best Thanksgiving you can possible have.   Maybe one day, we'll enjoy Thanksgiving dinner together.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Apple Pie Liqueur

This is delicious.  It's liquid candy with a punch.  I highly recommend it.  Goes well with campfires, holiday parties, and great friends.

Apple Pie Liqueur

1 gallon apple juice (I used 3 cans frozen with 15 cans of water)
1 gallon apple cider
4 cups brown sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons of allspice berries
4/5 whole cloves
1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
juice of one fresh orange
A fifth (750 ml) Everclear

Place all ingredients except the everclear into a pot and bring to a boil.  Stir well until the sugar melts.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature, at least 1 hour.

Add the entire bottle of everclear.

Warning:  Everclear is flammable. As in REALLY FLAMMABLE. Do not put this into the pot when it is warm.  Do not use it near an open flame.

FOLKS.  Keep Everclear away from the heat!

Strain the allspice and cinnamon sticks from the liquid and bottle. Place one piece of the stick cinnamon in each bottle. This makes a very, very large batch.  Great for Christmas presents.  Not overly alcoholic.  I would guess it's about 40 proof but I haven't really done the math.

You won't be sorry.

Great Kitchen Idea: Recipe/Take-out menu holder

If you are like me, when you cook, hanging on to the recipe gets to be a problem.  You lay it down, walk away, clutter the counter tops, and just when you are at that emergency point, you can't lay your hands on the recipe.

Problem solved.

Cost:  About $4.00.

Put it on the back of the cabinet door where I do most of my food prep.  

Then I thought, why not find a good place for those take-out menus while I'm at it!

Problem solved.  Recipe is always where I need it at eye level, never misplaced and in case of spills on the counters, it doesn't get soiled!  Take out menus are always handy!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Homemade laundry soap

** Read to the bottom for my 6 month update**

I've been beyond derelict in getting around to fulfilling those New Year's resolutions, one of which was to explore means of "greening" my life.  So today I decided to try my hand at making my own laundry soap.  I found a recipe online and headed off to the local Rural King in search of various detergents.

It's really very simple to make. One large box of baking soda, another of borax, Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda, one tub of Oxi Clean, and 3 bars of Fels Naptha soap.

Unwrap and stick the soap in the microwave for 2.5 minutes at half power (it puffs up like a marshmallow).  Then spin the bar soap in a food processor to create soap powder.

Put everything in a 3.5 gallon bucket, mix well and voila.

You use much less of this since there are no fillers.  Each load gets 1-2 tablespoons of soap, depending on its size.  It took minutes to put together, and the cost is about half that of the cheapest liquid laundry detergent on the market.  Here are the figures.

All  Free & Clear Laundry Soap, 150 oz.
Tide 2X Ultra, 150 oz.
Product Cost

 $               11.97
 $            17.97
 $            2.99

Baking soda
 $            3.99

Oxy Clean, 96 oz.
 $            4.00

Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda
 $            3.24

Fels Naptha Soap (X3)
 $            4.47

 $            1.40
 $                 0.90
 $              1.35
 $         20.09
 $               12.87
 $            19.32
# of Loads
Cost per load
 $            0.08
 $                 0.13
 $              0.21

After using this for a week or so, I've decided that there is too much filler and not enough soap in this.  So I'm going to add two more bars of the Fels Naptha and see if that doesn't improve its performance some.  Check back for more updates!

OK, after using this for a while I have some feedback.  First, unless you wash in hot, hot water, anything but the completely powdered fels naptha soap fails to melt.  Unmelted soap can't do it's job. In fact, even in hot water, I sometimes find little balls of fels naptha soap in the dryer vent screen.  So, I have to say, in many instances, I'm washing my clothes in softened water without soap!  So no, I can't say that I'm a fan of this for everyday use.  I now use it as an additive to my laundry soap.   Softened water does allow the soap to do a better job, but I've returned to using store-bought liquid laundry soap as the main cleaning agent.

And no, I won't be making this again.  I can always add a little washing soda toand borax for much less $$.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fall Seasonal Treat: Pumpkin Bread

When late summer casts an amber glow on the blazing leaves and the air becomes crisp and chill, you can bet its time to break out the soup recipes and fish that jar of sage out of the forgotten corner of the spice cabinet.  Fall is finally here and with it the official opening of comfort food season.  And Boy Howdy is Daktari ready.

I was shopping in town one day and saw a bin of sugar pie pumpkins with the low, low sale price of $0.28/lb.  There is nothing like a seasonal favorite to make me believe I have tons of time to cook and do all sorts of things that normal people who aren't writing their dissertations do.  That happy orange gourd caused my mind to wander.  Fresh pumpkin in my oatmeal.  Pumpkin-whipped cream desserts.  Savory pumpkin soup. so four of them came home with me.  Total cost: a little over $2.50.

In them meantime, a friend was anticipating surgery and I volunteered to bake some treats for him and his caretakers.  So I sacrificed the pumpkins to a greater cause.  Halved and deseeded, I popped two of them in the oven (cut side down at 350F) and an hour later was rewarded with a bowl of steaming orange deliciousness.

 I took a chance on this recipe I found over on Allrecipes, and am I ever glad I did.  This is, hands down, the best quick bread recipe I've ever made.  Better than Goldie Hutchinson's zucchini bread recipe.  Better than any banana bread I've ever tried.  Better even than the chocolate zucchini bread winner of a few years ago.  I can only say one thing about this recipe.  You must try it.

It is deliciously moist.  It is almost cake like in it's airiness.  It isn't heavy.  It's perfect.  It's heavenly with apple butter.  Probably even better straight out of the oven with melted butter.  You get the picture.

Try it.  I promise you won't regret it.

Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread

15 oz. pureed pumpkin
4 eggs
0.5 cup vegetable oil
0.5 cup apple sauce (no sugar added, plain)
3 cups white sugar (can reduce to 2 without losing anything)
3.5 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
0.5 teaspoon ground cloves
0.25 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup chopped walnuts, optional
1 cup baking raisins, optional

Preheat oven to 350F.  Oil and flour two loaf pans.  I use "baking" Pam spray--the kind with flour already in there--and add a little extra flour to coat.  Be certain to really beat the sides of the loaf pan after dusting to remove most of the excess flour.

Mix the pumpkin, eggs, oil, apple sauce and sugar until well blended.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, and spices.  Wisk to mix.  Add dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and mix until well combined.  If you want to add the nuts and raisins, do so now.  Pour batter into the two pans.

Bake at 350F for an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Mine cooked for a little over an hour.  More like 65-70 minutes, but keep an eye on yours the first time you make this.

When finished, remove from oven and let cool on the counter at least 10 minutes.  Turn out loaves onto a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature.  If you can't wait that long, wait until the bread is still slightly warm and slice it for immediate eating.  Do not cut the loaves while they are still hot.  They will lose that internal heat that continues to bake the bread as it cools.

I really hope you enjoy this recipe.

It gets the Eagan seal of approval.  And that's something.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Best Buttermilk Waffles (Cook's Illustrated)

This morning, I thought about going to Denny's for breakfast.  Seems that always happens on Sunday mornings.  I get up, want coffee, and then start dreaming about breakfast food.

Then I thought about my pocketbook.  Would cost me $5 in gas to get there and back.  I don't have any other pressing business in Carbondale, so I couldn't justify it as a side trip.  Then I thought, why not make breakfast myself?  It's cheaper, I don't have to leave the house, and I if I have leftovers, I'll freeze them.

I have a ton of sausage (thanks Beckie!) since brother Don, who visited two weeks ago, didn't think he could get the sausage back before it thawed and spoiled.  Silly man. Since I'm not going to Chicago before next Christmas, I figured I'd eat this batch and give him a fresh roll to be made in November.

I settled on a menu of waffles and sausage. I pulled out my 1960s era waffle iron (you know, the one with the fabric cord that heats up on the outside like a pot of boiling oil), and plugged her in.  I put the coffee on, and got started.

Backstory on the recipe...I signed up for a free two-week trial subscription to Cook's Illustrated recipe service (again) and I thought I might as well give it a whirl.  I'm embarrassed to say that I actually paid for a one-year subscription to this service and forgot I had done so and so the whole year was wasted.  But, I have also signed up for their magazine for three years and I really look forward to the new issues arriving.  Those magazines make the circuit through my family and then back to me.  They have yet to steer me wrong.  One of my absolute favorite CI recipes is for cole slaw.  I'm going to have to find that issue and put the recipe on a recipe card.  That's one I never want to lose.

I digress.  This morning I tried their "Best Buttermilk Waffles".  I have to agree.  They are the best I've ever made.  And I actually have tried quite a few waffle recipes.  The worst was the one made with oat flour.  But try these and you won't be disappointed.

My waffle maker cooks four 4" square waffles at a time.  This recipe made two full "trays" of four for a total of 8 servings.  I nearly panicked when I realized I forgot to spray the waffle iron with cooking spray.  It didn't matter.  As long as you wait for the waffles to crisp, they don't stick to the waffle iron.  They key is to know how long it takes for a waffle to cook in your iron and then to not peek.   If you peek, you'll split your waffle along a transverse plane and it will never be right again.

Cook's Illustrated claims that a thick batter makes great waffles.  Take their word for it. Their explanation for the recipe includes the following caveats.  1) Cornmeal in the rate of 1 tablespoon per cup flour helps the waffles crisp.  2) Whipping the egg whites makes the interior of the waffle light and airy.

Trust me, you don't need to melt butter on the top of these waffles.  It would be overkill.

Cook's Illustrated Best Buttermilk Waffles

2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 T cornmeal (optional, but I used it)
1 t table salt
2 eggs, separated
14 oz. buttermilk
4 T unsalted butter, melted (1/2 stick)

1.  Get the coffee pot going.  Put the bacon or sausage on if you are so inclined.
2.  Turn on the waffle iron.
3.  Mix together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
4.  Whisk together the buttermilk, egg yolks, and melted butter.
5.  Pour yourself a cup of coffee.
5.   Pull out your hand-held mixer and whip the egg whites stiff until they hold 2" peaks.
6.  Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients in a steady stream.
7.  Gently fold in the egg whites.
8.  Check on the sausage or bacon.  Refill your coffee.  I highly recommend adding a little Kahlua.  Just sayin'.
9.  I put about a 1/2-3/4 cup of batter in the center of each of the four sections of the waffle iron or, more technically, four big plops from my rubber spoon.  I add a half "plop" dead center of the iron.  No need to spread it out.  The top of the waffle iron will do that for you.  Put the top down on the iron and walk away for five minutes.  Don't peek.
10.  Remove the waffle from the iron.  It should be golden brown and crispy.  You can hold it in a 200 degree oven if you can help yourself.  I couldn't.
11.  Serve with maple syrup, fruit and confectioner's sugar, or a generous schmear of apple butter. Little tip from your friend D:  Start with one.  You can always get another if you are still hungry.

The key to keeping your waffles from getting all limp and losing their crispness is to NOT STACK THEM.  I hold them directly on a rack in the oven until they cool completely.  Then they can be stacked and frozen.

When it was all over, I had two large waffles with two pieces of sausage, orange juice and coffee.  I will tell you straight up that two waffles was more than my belly could handle.  One is plenty for any adult.  Right now, I'm so full I could pop.  But I do believe that I did this breakfast better than Denny's ever could and it was everything I expected and then some.  Bonus: I have plenty to freeze.