Christmas?

My kitchen is beginning to smell a lot like Christmas but it was only a preliminary baking session for an event at my husband’s office. When I’m only doing small batches, I often try some new recipes. This morning, I tried a new one that might be a keeper for the future. They are called Gooey Butter Cookies but are not all that gooey but smelled really good. Very easy and adaptable recipe. The version I tried today:

Gooey Butter Cookies

1/2 cup softened butter
8 ounces of cream cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon
1 box of yellow cake mix
1/2 cup powdered sugar (for rolling the cookies in before baking)

Cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add in the egg, vanilla, zest and spices. Mix in the cake mix and refrigerate the dough until cold. It will still be sticky but somewhat easier to work with!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. It’s a good idea to use parchment paper on your baking sheets.

If you have a cookie scoop, it would be handy but basically roll balls of dough into 1-1 1/2-inch. Roll in the powdered sugar. Place two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 12-15 minutes but keep an eye on the cookies after around ten to determine how hot your often might run. Cookies should still be somewhat pale with golden edges. Let rest on the baking sheets a few minutes before putting them on the cooling racks.

After I finished these cookies, I realized it could end up being a real timesaver when I’m suddenly informed that someone in the family needs cookies for work! Also, what’s to stop the cookie creation at a yellow cake mix? I’m thinking chocolate, carrot, lemon . . . Adding some chopped nuts or chocolate chips might be an interesting addition . . . By the way, the gooey ones are the light ones in the middle of the picture with the patches of powdered sugar.

When Salad Isn’t Healthy . . .

Seems to me that with the general lack of discipline in the world, why are we surprised when some of our healthy groceries are not always grown, prepared for market, and placed in the stores for sale in the most humanly best condition? That’s when we have to get proactive on our own behalf and either raise such vegetation for ourselves or make sure we clean what we purchase far and above what we think it will need.

My rules are:

Nothing goes into my refrigerator that isn’t washed.

No bagged greens and lettuce. Yes, the packages claim they have been washed two or three times . . . but no mention about whether the water was changed all those times.

Always disinfect salad greens and vegetables.

If the fruit or melon has a skin, actually soap and water wash the outside before cutting through to the inside. Think about it! When the knife goes through a tainted skin, it could be dragging whatever germs, etc., that are sure to be on the outside across the fruit you are going to eat on the inside.

Ever think about washing a banana before handing it to your child? Why not? The peel protects the banana but what will protect you from the peel that has been around while and touched and handled in shipping and in the store.

Not a Science Experiment!

Even before the various tainted greens reports, not even bagged lettuce or cabbage ever came to the table without a thorough bathing! First, I cut or shred the greens to the size I want for my soup or salad. Then, I put them into a large bowl with half a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and fill the bowl to the brim with water. And there it will rest for 30 minutes while I go about my other kitchen chores. Then I pull out the greens with tongs and place in the colander. No sense in pouring the soaking water over the lettuce again. Just look at what it left behind after the soaking! When you pick up a head of lettuce,red-leaf lettuce, or kale at the market, they are always so damp and crisp feeling giving you a false sense of security about the food you want to put on your table. However, when you think about it, how many people have touched your salad greens before they end up in your serving bowl for dinner?

Thought I’d share my method with you. After I rinse the formerly peroxide-soaked greens, I given it a good, long clean water rinse and have been known to even add some vinegar to the rinse. Then, the greens are laid out on a length of triple-layered paper towel, rolled up and then rolled into a clean, cotton dish towel and stored in the refrigerator until needed.

Shhhh!!! Secret Recipe Alert!

Okay, perhaps, not all that secret but here is my way to up the grade on homemade apple pie or apple crisp.

When I first started baking, my mother’s ‘secret’ suggestion was to add lemon juice to the apple dessert prep. Fresh lemon juice does up the apple/cinnamon taste and people often wondered how my mother’s apple desserts were just a wee bit better.

I was an abstract artist in college and this inclination has seeped down into my baking and sewing over the years. In other words, I never leave well enough alone if I get inspired to add something more. So, this is how my latest apple dessert preparations has evolved.

1. Wash, peel, and slice the amount of green apples you will need for your planned dessert. When they are on hand, I will often throw in a couple of sweeter apples, too. They break down a bit more in baking and sort of form an applesauce texture to the more firm green variety.

2. First, I zest the lemons and limes and set it aside. Then toss the prepared apples with the juice and let them sit a minute while I gather the spices and sugar.

3. I usually use up to 3 teaspoons of ground cinnamon. Use a good quality one as the ones on the grocery shelves can be a bit bitter. My go-to for the best cinnamon is The Spice House which is on-line. To the cinnamon, I add half a teaspoon of ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and a smidge of salt.

4. Depending on your recipe, mix the spices into one to two cups of granulated sugar. Add the zest of the lemons and limes.

5. Combine the sugar/spice/zest mixture with the apples. If you really want to deepen the final result, a quarter cup of brandy works very well.

6. Add a quarter cup of cornstarch, mixing in well. This is what will hold the apples together a bit after baking.

7. This is my final secret. Put the prepared apples into a bowl or container, cover and refrigerate at least one day before using them in your recipe. My batch for this Thanksgiving got a two-day soak.

8. When you get to making your pie crust, substitute a quarter cup or so of the water called with vodka. It makes for a more tender crust.

Time is wasting so one guess what I’m about to put into the oven!

Easy Thanksgiving Side Dish!

Okay, I’m old school in that no matter the reason for the meal, there will be either a salad or some sort of vegetable dish in attendance. I recently realized that the lowly and often misunderstood Brussel Sprout can claim a place of note at the dinner table.

Welcome Brussel Sprout Dish

2 pounds of cleaned and trimmed Brussel Sprouts
2 large green apples, unpeeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 medium red onion, peeled and diced in medium pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil . . . or more depending on your tastes
1 tablespoon of Balsamic Vinegar (check the vinegar aisle at the store)
2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
Zest of one lime and one orange
Salt and Pepper to taste

Tose the sprouts with all the ingredients making sure everything gets a shiny coat of olive oil. Place in a baking dish and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until they are just tender. Taste for seasonings and serve.

Thanksgiving Is When?

Somehow, I seem to have misplaced a few days of allotted time and it was suddenly revealed to that Thanksgiving is NEXT week! How could that be as it would mean Christmas can’t be too far behind. First Sunday in Advent is closing in which means that the holiday season is showing up long before I can get my ‘comfort and joy’ into holiday gear!

I have spent the last two days working on my schedule for preparing the Thanksgiving feast. Yes, I have a day-by-day schedule and so help the person who moves it from its place on the counter for easy referencing! Then, the second page sets out the order of the menu along with what days they need to be prepped or completed. My husband deals with the turkey but, given my organizational gene, he gets hourly reminders on that. The third page is my grocery list according to store. You can’t stock up too soon but one does not want to fight the last-minute panic at Walmart and Costco where people grab the pumpkin pies from the harried clerks the minute they appear from the bakery.

Along with the food aspect, I have the house cleaning schedule with a request that each person highlight the job they have accomplished . . . and so help them, if it doesn’t reflect a job well done as they will lose their highlighter marker and go back to step one.

With these happy reflections in mind, I actually don’t mind Monday and Tuesday of THANKSGIVING WEEK, my last two days of sanity! We don’t have a large house but it is amazing how family members can escape me without leaving said house.

Monday is bread baking day and cranberry relish day. With very little prep, these items bake/cook on their own leaving me to hunt down missing relatives who seem to be afraid of me for some reason.

All this, as you might have guessed, is a prelude to sharing my cranberry relish recipe!

Cranberry Relish

4 cups of fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice
Finely grated zest of said orange BEFORE you squeeze it
2 peeled and diced green apples
dash of cinnamon
dash of salt

Rinse the cranberries and add to a large pot with all the ingredients and bring to a boil (stirring constantly) and then reduce to a mild simmer with stirring ever so often. Keep cooking until all the berries burst, the apples soften, and the mixture thickens. If you don’t feel it is thick enough, mix a tablespoon of cornstarch into a quarter cup of water, add to the pot, stir and continue simmering until it reaches a thicker state.

Now, you have a choice! Do you want sauce with the evidence of the fruit basically intact or do you want smooth? When it cools down a bit, you can blend the mixture in a blender until it reaches the texture you like.

A timesaver hint is when you are ready to refrigerate the cranberries, you can put them in the serving dish you planned for them, cover with saran and put in the refrigerator. On the day (and don’t forget them!), you just have to pull it out, remove the saran, add a serving spoon, and place on the table. Want a more rustic approach, get some medium canning jars for the sauce and you can then provide easy access to it for your guests with several jars on the table. You can put a ribbon around the jars to show everyone how classy you are at the holidays. AND, when the party is over, combine the leftover sauce into one or two jars, put the lid on and back into the refrigerator for leftovers time.

Food, Budgets, Children & Husbands

Every time I see a mother out shopping with her children trying to keep her goals in mind while the young ones clamor for everything the mother is not going to put in her grocery cart, I recall my own moments. Children are born with taste buds already acclimated to junk food and parents battle their inclinations from day one.

Children like recognizable food. If they can’t conveniently pick it up in their hands, they might not eat it. And, if the food, can be fried, grilled, or breaded, so much the better.
Unfortunately, the week before payday doesn’t always allow us the luxury of chunks of meat or chicken. This is when the bane of most children appears . . . casseroles!
Casseroles were invented when there was one shred of meat, two carrots, and a sprouted potato left in the larder. Whether it is a larder or refrigerator of today, we often have the same culinary scenario. This is when your motherly skills all come into play.
“Mom! What is that brown, crusty stuff on top of my food?”
“It is melted cheese. Eat it! Don’t take it off or you will be sorry!”
“Mom! There’s no meat under the brown, crusty stuff!”
“See! Didn’t I tell say you’d be sorry!”
For variation, all you have to do is add liquid to leftover casserole and you have soup. This is about as popular as casserole. Your children carefully skim tiny spoonfuls of broth from the surface of their soup bowls. There are whispered discussions and long, intent looks into their bowls. You get the impression that the appearance of the Loch Ness Monster from the depths of their soup would come as little surprise to them.
All the cookbooks and meal planners suggest stretching meals with a big salad. Salad often fits into my week before payday budget. Unfortunately, the children are all for drowning it in their soup and covering it with brown, crusty stuff.
Husbands should be supportive but, sometimes, they just can’t help what happens. Faced with a big bowl of mixed salad greens (two-pound bag on the ‘next stop, eternity’ used vegetable counter!), he tries to be encouraging.
“Children! Your mother works hard all day to fix us this wonderful dinner . . .”
“Dad! I don’t recognize this leaf!”
“It’s nettles, dear.”
“Dad! Nettles aren’t edible! It’s probably crab grass. Mom put crab grass in our salad!”
“Sweetheart! It’s not crab grass. I meant to say endive not nettles.”
“Dad! Do I have to eat the curly leaves?”
“If you want dessert, you do.”
“We have dessert tonight?”
“Well, no, but if we were having dessert, you could have some if you ate the curly leaves, too. Since we aren’t having dessert, you still have to eat the curly leaves so you don’t die of starvation by morning!”
“Dad! I think I saw something crawling in my salad . . .”
“Enough! I have heard enough complaints about dinner. I want you to all be quiet and eat your weeds! I mean, salad!”
Marriages are made in Heaven but I bet they happen before the salad course.