These Are a Few of MY Favorite Things!

I like to browse after I finish my necessary shopping whether at the grocery store or any other store. I don’t buy everything I see, but when I find something that works for my hobbies, my health, or my comfort, I’m willing to indulge. So, thought I’d share a few of my current favorite things.

We are gluten-free at our house because of my husband’s intolerance to wheat products. It took us years to discover the problem so never going to change that aspect of our life. If any of you are gluten-free, I’m willing to bet one of the things you miss the most is any kind of bread product. Yes, you can bake a sort of, not really, reasonable facsimile but it is never quite as satisfying as the real deal. I was an avid bread baker until we had to change the family diet around. You CAN produce a reasonable bread-like outcome on a gluten-free diet but the texture of the dough and the process is different.

I was cruising the Internet a few weeks ago and discovered Authentic Foods – Steve’s Gluten-Free Bread Flour. It promised great things and I purchased some with not too much hope. Bingo! First loaf of bread was amazing with the right texture and a wonderful yeast rise. I currently have a 25-pound bag of the stuff in my former wheat flour storage container! Definitely, number one on my discoveries of late.

Here is an odd, new favorite – Hemp hearts! I saw this at Costco and was intrigued. It has a lot of vitamins including three grams of fiber per serving. Supposedly, it claimed to taste good, too. And, it does! It now gets sprinkled on salads, blended in smoothies, and even enjoyed by the spoonful. I gave one of my sons a bag for his apartment living and his three roommates enjoy it, too. Great for those between-meal hunger pains.

Dry weather and being a constant knitter, crocheter, seamstress is very hard on my hands. I am seldom without chapped hands and split fingers. Buy stock in Liquid Bandage as I keep two bottles in the house constantly. Discovered O’Keeffe’s Skin Repair 48-hour lotion. It stated it was guaranteed to relieve extremely dry and itchy skin. I was desperate. I used it at bedtime and the next morning there was noticeable improvement. Found it at Walmart.

In the realm of gluten-free again, two other flour blends are good additions to my baking/cooking efforts in the kitchen: BetterBatter and Pamela’s All-Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Flour (Dairy-free, too!) are now staples in my cupboard. BetterBatter has a multitude of recipes on their Internet site for inspiration. Pamela’s is cup for cup for using in formerly favorite regular recipes and especially nice for baking cookies. Again, you can find recipes on-line and try some of your own favorites from the gluten day. I usually buy my flour blends on-line as it is less expensive than health store prices.

My addiction to yarn and crocheting/knitting was satisfied recently. I love making projects with varicolored yarn but couldn’t find exactly the mix of colors that pleased me in the usual offerings. Several months ago, I was looking at the yarn aisle and there was something new! It was a yarn that was soft, came in a larger amount than others for a good price and . . . it was variegated in the most interesting color combinations. I liked the whimsical names of the various choices, too. I recently completed a blanket for one daughter in the color blend ‘Gnome’. It was a wild assortment of vivid almost neon colors with enough somber ones to create a nice result. I’m now working on a blanket for my older son’s birthday and it is called ‘Sphinx’ which is a manly (can we still use the word manly in this day and age?) combination of brown and blue tones. The really nice thing about this yarn is that each skein has a lot more yardage than other brands which makes the under $5.00 a skein actually a bit of a bargain. Right now, Walmart is the only store selling this yarn. It is called Mandala and produced by Lion Brand Yarns.

End of sharing time. Laundry calls and I still haven’t invented dinner for this evening! Would rather be crocheting but them’s the breaks!

Last-Minute Baking Suggestions

The clock is definitely ticking down to Christmas. It really seems to sneak up on a person the last week when you realize that you do NOT have another week to shop, you do NOT have another week to buy groceries, and you do NOT have some great Christmas cookies stocked away in the cupboards and freezer. There is also the concern for people who have to avoid gluten. It wasn’t stated in my marriage vows, but after thirty-plus years of marriage, I seem to have acquired a husband who is very sensitive to gluten.

Around Christmas time, Christmas cookies  would make life sad for my husband until I discovered ‘flour’ blends that can turn out rather great cookies and still be safe for him to eat.

My latest discovery is Pamela’s All Purpose Flour, Gluten-Free Artisan Blend, Non-Dairy. It doesn’t work well for yeast-raised goodies but some people think it makes better cookies than wheat flour. It is pretty much cup to cup for measurements so you can use some of your old favorites still. I found the best deal on Amazon.com.

BetterBatter is a standby in my cupboard for making quick biscuits, egg noodles, tortillas and such. Their computer site has a lot of recipes to cover just about any need you have for baking during the holiday and throughout the year. Sometimes, the best deal is on Amazon and other times directly from BetterBatter.

King Arthur’s Flour is almost the same as Pamela’s and BetterBatter but, probably best for cookies and cakes. They, too, offer recipes for the asking  and just surfing for a particular recipe on the internet with their name in the search will bring up a lot of recipes from individuals, too. Just make sure to read the ratings for hints to avoid disasters.

Before my husband had to omit gluten from his diet, my specialty was bread and most any yeast-raised recipe. Although I have managed to produce some reasonable outcomes, to date, nothing was exactly what I wanted. I just discovered Steve’s Gluten-Free Bread flour blend by Authentic Foods. The first baguette turned out amazingly well with a crust and a ‘bread interior’ that was springy and didn’t ‘melt’ down exposing it’s gluten-free origins. I purchased 25 pounds and bread baking is back in my schedule. It looks, acts, and tastes like the real deal.

Crispy Coconut Chews

Crispy Coconut Chews

My husband doesn’t like coconut but, for some reason, he likes these cookies! They are easy to make and a nice contrast to all the chocolate and spice cookies that show up at Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against chocolate and spice cookies but don’t mind chomping down on an extra coconut cookie in addition to the rest! Sometimes, I use bran flakes for the called-for crushed flake cereal in the ingredients. I’m always sneaking in extra vitamins and fiber even with treats.

½ cup butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup crushed flake cereal
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coconut
½ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and sugars until smooth and fluffy. Stir in egg, extract, and lemon zest. Add the flour, baking soda, and baking powder to the butter mixture. Add the oatmeal, cereal, coconut, and walnuts. Mix gently until well combined.

Drop dough by tablespoons onto greased baking sheet, keeping them about 2 inches apart to allow for spreading. Bake for approximately ten minutes or until cookies are lightly browned at the edges. Cool on wire racks. Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies depending on size.

Apple Oatmeal Bars

Apple Oatmeal Bars

When Fall approaches, apples are in abundance. Nothing like a spicy apple and cinnamon concoction to put the scent of holidays into the air just a bit! This is a cookie-type bar cookie with a lot of taste and goes well as a snack or dressed up for dessert.

½ cup shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup rolled oats
2-3 green or tart apples, peeled and diced (about 2 cups total)
Juice and zest of one, small lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking pan (approximately 12x9x2-inches) with parchment paper or use vegetable oil spray.

Cream together the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a small bowl, mix together the lemon juice, zest, vanilla extract, and the apples. Now stir in the rolled oats, apple mixture and nuts into the flour/butter mixture. Spread the batter in the prepared baking pan.

Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes. Cool in the pan on a cooling rack. Cut into desired-sized bars and either sprinkle with powdered sugar or drizzle with a lemon glaze. Goes well with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a generous portion of freshly-whipped cream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mocha Hazelnut Orange Brownies

One of the favorite cookies on a plate always seems to be brownies. While I have several recipes, I’m sharing one that is usually popular. For me, the combination of chocolate, orange, and hazel nut is hard to resist.

Mocha Hazelnut Orange Brownies

Eight ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup butter (two sticks)
5 eggs
3 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 tablespoons coffee crystals
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Melt chocolate and butter in microwave. Stir in coffee crystals. Cool slightly. In another bowl, beat all, sugar and vanilla on high speed for five to eight minutes. Blend in melted chocolate mixture on low speed. All flour, beating just to blend. Stir in nuts.

Spread mixture in greased 13 x 9-inch jelly roll pan or in two 8 x 8-inch cake pans. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 25 to 35 minutes. Do not over bake.

Frosting

½ cup butter (one stick)
1 pound powdered sugar
3 heaping tablespoons Nutella spread.
Juice of one orange
Grated rind of one orange

Beat the butter and Nutella with an electric mixer until fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar until well incorporated. Add grated orange rind and enough juice to make the frosting spreadable but not runny.

When the brownies are completely cooled in the pan, generously frost. To make them easier to cut, refrigerate until frosting is set.

Busy Baking Day!

One of my darling offspring has a birthday, today! Besides a choice of what she would like for dinner, I also spent the morning making her a birthday cake. The choice this year was a lemon cake with lemon filling. The task also gave me a chance to try out some cake decorating tools I got over four years ago and have never had time to try out.

Although I was thrilled to have the fun of decorating a cake, once I stood back to admire, the ‘flaws’ showed up all too clearly. I’m thinking eating cake by the light of the birthday candles might be called for this evening!

Making Biscuits in a Hurry

Okay, everything takes some time but this is a pretty quick recipe to get into the oven. Just make sure you read the recipe a couple of times, line up your ingredients so you don’t have to go scurrying around the kitchen and . . . Bake!

Hurry Up Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chilled butter
1 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare a parchment lined baking sheet.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Dice up the cold butter and using your hands, mix it in with the dry ingredients. You don’t want to warm up the butter so rather quickly rub the butter into the dry mix between your fingers until there are rough crumbs of it in the flour. Add the milk gradually and using a fork gently mix until it forms a soft dough.

Flour a surface and roll out the dough to about 1/2-inch thick. Don’t have a biscuit cutter? No problem! Just use a glass to cut out rounds of biscuits and place on your prepared baking sheet. You can brush the tops lightly with melted butter before putting them into your preheated oven. Bake for approximately 8-12 minutes or until golden brown.

This recipe makes about a dozen biscuits (depends on how big you cut them!) The recipe doubles nicely.

Ideas:

Add a quarter cup of granulated sugar to the dry mixture for a sweeter biscuit. It would even work for the base of strawberry shortcake.

Roll the biscuits a bit thinner than directed, put a bit of jam in the center of one and another thin biscuit on top sealing well. A great surprise to your family for a special breakfast.

Brush the tops with melted butter and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar.

You could even cut a middle hole in your biscuits and deep fry them for donuts. Toss them in cinnamon and sugar while warm. Adding an extra quarter cup of sugar to the dough will make it sweeter but I like the taste of the biscuit with the sweet coming from the coating.