Lent is approaching all too quickly. Time to think of a few sweets to soften the blow before the ‘give-ups’ begin! We don’t overdo our Fat Tuesday but a batch of fresh cookies made on the preceding Sunday to last through Tuesday always seems the best way to go for us.
Lemon Square Cookies
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup cold butter, cut into small squares
2 teaspoons finely-grated fresh lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon extract
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Mix together the dry ingredients, place into a mixing bowl. Add half of the pieces of butter, the lemon zest and mix to form buttery crumbs. Add the second half of the butter and mix until no flour is visible. Add the extracts and lemon juice until the dough just holds together.
Lightly knead the dough and then divide into two portions. Place each on a square of waxed paper and form into about 1 1/2-inch square logs about four to five inches long. Wrap the waxed paper around the logs and refrigerate 3-4 hours or overnight. Remove the dough rolls about 30 minutes before baking to soften a bit.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper. With a sharp knife, carefully slice 1/4th thick slices from the logs and place about an inch or so apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies for approximately 15-20 minutes depending on your oven. They should be firm to the touch and golden brown around the edges. Remove them to a rack to cool before icing.
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
Enough fresh lemon juice to form a medium-thick icing.
I’ve never heard anyone say no to some colorful sprinkles scattered over the cookies before the icing dries.
*A thought . . . If you have some walnuts or pecans on hand, you can toast a cup of them then finely grind them. After you form the log squares, you can roll and press the nuts all around the logs before you refrigerate them. That way, you get an extra bit of crunch and the flavor of the nuts goes well with lemon.
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.
My husband is a man of few dreams as he is quite content with a mostly clean house, housebroken pets and a good dinner on the table. Clean laundry is a plus, too. One of his dreams, however, has been to have a kitchen trash can that automatically opens when you want to make a deposit. Shopping one day, his wish was granted as there was the prize of his dreams and it was on sale, too, always a plus to get me to agree. He happily brought it home and set it up.
He came over to the new kitchen ‘family’ member with trash and held it over the lid. Nothing. He moved closer and . . . not a whisper of cooperation. He touched the lid and it opened rather reluctantly (as far as I could see as I can’t read appliance demeanor of any genre).
My husband took it apart and put it together, again, to insure it was done perfectly. It was still reluctant to accept his offerings of trash. He packed it up and returned it to the store and replaced it with another one. It was a very close cousin as it seemed to have the same stubborn streak as the first one. My husband gave up at that point, walked across to the kitchen sink to wash his hands . . . and the lid happily popped open. When the lid closed again (Much to the dismay, wonderment, and shock of our cats), my husband rounded up a trash offering and approached it. Nothing! Not even a glimmer of cooperation. He raised his hands in exasperation and, naturally, with a suppressed appliance grin, it immediately opened up.
These days, the trash can is mostly kind to my husband but always obeys me. I don’t know why. Perhaps, I deliver more interesting trash. Then, again, I didn’t call it any names which I will not mention here.
Summer will eventually simmer down and, hopefully, there will be some cold, rainy days that require a warm meal. This recipe is easy, different, and tasty. Also, a good one to earmark for Lent which always shows up way too soon!
Ingredients for Sauce:
½ c. butter
1½ c. chopped onions
1 c. chopped celery
1 c. chopped bell pepper
¼ c. diced garlic
2-3 whole bay leaves
1 16-ounce can tomato sauce
1 28-ounce can peeled & diced tomatoes
½ c. water
½ c. green onions
1 tbs. sugar
1-2 tbs. dry thyme
1-2 tbs. dry basil
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
1 pound catfish (or red fish) fillets, any white fish will work wonderfully.
6 cups cooked white rice
In a 2 quart heavy sauce pan (a cured heavy black iron pot is traditionally used if you have one), melt butter over medium-low fire. Saute onions, celery, bell pepper, and garlic until vegetables are wilted, stirring occasionally for about 15-20 minutes. Add bay leaves, tomatoes, sauce, water, and green onions. Bring mixture to a low boil, reduce to simmer, and cook an additional 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add spices and fillets. (Salt may be reserved until the fish is cooked.) Cook until fish breaks apart easily, about 10-15 minutes. Serve over steaming white rice.
In the pursuit for savings, we all know the less we frequent the grocery stores, the more we save! However, we often need that certain cake, cornbread or muffin mix. Now, not only are these boxed conveniences expensive when you are counting pennies, the temptations you pass in the aisles can put some items in your shopping cart you didn’t even know you needed.
I have found that premixing packages of baking mixes saves time in the long run and last-minute trips to the store. The concept is simple, you mix up the necessary dry ingredients for your recipe, seal it in a bag along with a stapled on note card with what you will need to finish it. Start simply. Make up one supply, try doing it a week later and see how it works into your schedule. You increase your supplies as you begin to include them into your family’s requirements.
A good, nutritious breakfast or lunch bread is easy to have on hand.
QUICK FRUIT-NUT BREAD
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons salt (Can be reduced if you are watching salt intake)
4 teaspoons baking soda
4 cups rolled oats
4 cups raisins (or a mixture of your favorite dried fruit, coarsely chopped)
2 cups coarsely chopped nuts, your choice
Sift together the flour, salt and soda and divide into 4 strong plastic bags or air-tight containers. Add one cup of the oats, one cup of the fruit and ½ cup of the nuts to each container and shake well to mix. Store in refrigerator or freezer until needed.
Additional Ingredients required for baking one loaf:
½ cup light brown sugar
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Beat the sugar and egg until fluffy. Stir the lemon juice into the milk and set aside to sour. Add the soured milk to the sugar and egg and beat until smooth. Add the contents of one bag of your baking mix to the milk-sugar mixture and stir gently to combine. Stir in the oil. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan and bake in 350 degree preheated oven for approximately 40 minutes or until golden brown. Cool, slice and serve.
The best part of having a homemade baking mix on hand is your ability to whip up another loaf of bread immediately since your first one is sure to disappear within seconds of leaving the pan.
Many of the recipes we make from scratch can be broken down in the same manner as the above bread mix. The trick is combining the dry ingredients ahead of time and attaching a note of what you will need when you want to bake. Think about the cake mixes I know many of us use. We bring home a box of flour, baking powder, spices and flavoring at a cost of over a dollar. And when we come home, we have to add our eggs, water and oil. We can drop the fancy box and the brand name and start using the house brand—our own!
Frugality is a handsome income. (Erasmus: Colloquia 16th century)
Although we always called this a holiday cheesecake, I think it appeared many times at dessert time on ordinary days of the week. Naturally, any time cheesecake showed up after dinner, could be declared a holiday!
EASY HOLIDAY CHEESECAKE
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
⅓ cup granulated sugar
½ cup melted butter or margarine
Combine above ingredients and press into a spring-form pan. The crust should come more than halfway to the top of the pan. Refrigerate until ready to use. Pan requirement: seven to nine-inch spring form pan.*
3 8-oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups granulated sugar
Place softened cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. using an electric mixer, beat at medium speed until cream cheese is thoroughly creamed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is well combined. Add vanilla. While running the mixer gradually add sugar, beating well. Mixture should be thick and smooth. Carefully spoon mixture into crust. smoothing evenly.
Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 50 minutes. Top will brown and crack. Cool and refrigerate eight hours or overnight before serving.
You can strike a festive note by spooning a puree of strawberries over each serving and garnishing with a mint sprig. Crushed pineapple also compliments cheesecake. Prepare about an hour ahead, a cup and a half of crushed pineapple combined with the zest of a lemon. Spoon over individual slices just before serving.
*A spring form pan is pictured above. Walmart usually sells them, three to a set for a budget-friendly price considering how often you will be baking cheesecake now!
Vegetable Soup was simmering on the stove and cheese bread was baking in the oven. It seemed that the meal needed something a bit more to satisfy a hungry husband who would have had to fight the Friday night traffic coming home from work and a daughter who is always nibbling.
Then, I remember something on Facebook where someone peeled a cucumber, sliced it lengthwise, scrapped out the seeds and then filled one side with lunch meat, greens, etc. and topped it off with the other side of the prepared cucumber and sort of an instant gluten-free sandwich. The moment had come for me to try this!
I prepared my cucumber and lay in a half leaf of Romaine, layered tuna salad with tomatoes on top of that with an extra touch of freshly ground black pepper. I ‘closed’ my ‘sandwich’. To stabilize the whole thing, I stuck in toothpicks every half inch or so and sliced between them. They were now easy to access at dinner and kept their good looks until dinner!
When the children were little, making pot pies was a mistake because they would only eat the crust and forget about the meat and vegetables. Very frustrating when you carefully fill and top individual pot pie dishes only to have most of the contents returned. And, yes, cries of desperately hungry children 30 minutes later didn’t move my heart to make them a peanut butter sandwich.
The parents, on the other hand, felt that they would prefer a bit more of the crust which evolved into my Deconstructed Beef Pot Pie. Hey, I couldn’t find any laws on the books saying that the crust has to be baked on top of the meat. As you can see from the pictures, the meat gets stewed into a tender treat and the crust can be cut to order. These days, everyone wants their beef pot pie contents on the crust rather than under it. Another plus is that I don’t end up having to crowd four to six individual pot pie dishes into the dishwasher.
The crust is gluten-free and made with butter, some olive oil, and enough iced water to form a dough. I bake it at 400 degrees on a parchment-lined baking sheet.