Saturday, November 14, 2015

Chocolate-Raspberry Surprise Muffins

I love raspberries, and used to just keep them on hand pretty much all the time.  But Yoplait has stopped selling the yogurt that is a necessary ingredient for my favourite dip for them, and the seeds do bother my tummy, so I have had a few times in the last couple years that a package goes bad without me finishing it.  This is another way to use just a few when some are in the fridge.
  • 1 egg white 
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar 
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp butter, melted 
  • 1 Tbsp seedless raspberry jam 
  • 2 Tbsp flour 
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa 
  • 1/4 heaping tsp baking powder 
  • pinch of salt 
  • 1 Tbsp milk 
  • 2 Tbsp chocolate chips 
  • 6-8 fresh raspberries
  • 2 tsp additional cocoa
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with 2 liners.
2. In medium bowl, add egg white and sugar and beat until combined. Add jam and melted butter and stir until mixed. Add flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt and stir until smooth. Stir in milk, then chocolate chips. Pour 1/4th of batter into each muffin liner.  Toss four raspberries with 2 tsp cocoa and place two in each liner gently on top of batter.  Top with remaining batter, covering completely.
3. Bake at 350°F for 16-18min, or until cake is set. Top each muffin with 1-2 raspberries, barely pressing them into place.  Let cool completely.

Robyn's notes: tossing the inner raspberries in cocoa is done to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the liner during baking, without having a clump of white flour in the middle of a lovely brown chocolate muffin.  These are good, and since they went from idea to reality in less than 6 hours, I'm pretty pleased with them.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Friday, November 13, 2015

Raspberry-Glazed Chicken

For several years I found myself regularly running across recipes that called for "seedless raspberry jam", but couldn't find the stuff in any of my local stores.  I've made raspberry jam, but straining out the seeds was a pain, and due to my health problems I should avoid seeds as much as possible, so just substituting regular jam didn't seem the best idea.  I did eventually find the product, and of course bought it immediately...then couldn't find any of those recipes again.  This one doesn't necessarily require seedless, but I find it better and now that I have the jar I might as well enjoy it!
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • 3 Tbsp raspberry jam
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 C raspberries (frozen and thawed is ok)
1.  In 10-inch nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat.  Cook chicken in oil 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, until juice of chicken is clear when cut.
2.  In small bowl, mix jam and mustard.  Spoon jam mixture over chicken; top with raspberries.

Robyn's notes: I was pleasantly surprised at how good this was, as I expected it to just be acceptable.  The sweet from the jam combined with the sharp bite of the mustard worked great together.  I served this with Creamy Couscous, which I think was a good choice for the dish. GF: check your mustard, some brands are free of cross-contamination, others may not be. 

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Creamy Couscous

I love couscous, and am happy to eat it in pretty much any form.  But sometimes I want a little something extra without having to go to a lot of work in the preparation of a side dish. 
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp butter (if desired)
  • 1/2 C uncooked couscous
  • 2 Tbsp cream cheese, softened
  • 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1.   Bring water, salt, and butter if using to a boil in a small saucepan.  Quickly stir in couscous, cover, and remove from heat.  Let stand 4-5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
2.  Combine cheeses, stir mixture into couscous.

Robyn's notes: I used tomato couscous because it was what I had in the house, but plain would work equally well.  This could easily do with more of both cheeses, depending on what it's being served with.  I wanted a side that would stand up to the sauce of Raspberry-Glazed Chicken, but with another entree it might be better with a consistency closer to risotto.  I've made this several times and have really enjoyed it each time.  My favourite is Parmesan couscous as prepared above, but I've also been successful using plain couscous with flavored cream cheese.  I generally have a few triangles of Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss Garlic and Herb spreadable cheese wedges in the fridge, and have enjoyed that quite a bit.  

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Open-Face Breakfast Sandwiches

This is another quick dish I had regularly growing up. I don't buy bread products at the store very often, because they tend to start growing before I finish the package. So this is a good way to use up English muffins without feeling like I'm eating the same thing day after day.

  • 2 English muffins, split
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into coins
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • 3-4 oz Cheddar cheese, sliced
  • 2 slices cooked bacon, crumbled or diced
1.  Toast English muffins.
2.  Top each English muffin half with single layer of egg coins, season with salt and pepper.  Top with slices of cheese and sprinkle bacon on center of cheese.
3.  Microwave on high 20-45 seconds, until edges of cheese are starting to melt, but slices retain their shape.

Robyn's notes: as soon as these come out of the microwave they should be moved to a different section of the plate, or the condensation beneath them will make the English muffins wet and gummy.   Can be made without the bacon, if that's too much trouble or it's not on hand.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tomato Soup Cake

I had never even heard of this type of cake until I got a Daughters of the Nile charity cookbook and saw the full-size recipe in it.  My immediate thoughts were a) weird; and b) if that works as a reduced recipe, it would be a great way to use up half a can of condensed tomato soup.
  • 1 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/2 beaten egg
  • 1/2 C condensed tomato soup (half of a 10.75oz can)
  • 3/4 C flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • Raisins (optional)
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease a mini cake pan or mini loaf pan.
2.  Cream together butter and sugar; add egg and tomato soup.  Mix well.
3.  Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Fold flour mixture into batter, being careful not to overmix.  Add raisins if desired.
4.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake at 350°F for 33-36 minutes (loaf pan may require longer baking) or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pan 5 minutes, then remove to rack to finish cooling.  Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

Robyn's notes: see "Using Up Ingredients" at top of page for uses for the other half of the can of soup.  I wasn't sure how far the batter would go, so prepared a few pans.  Probably a mini loaf pan would be just the right size, my mini angel food cake pan was over-full but still worked as the tube in the center helped the cake bake quickly.  This came out basically as a spice cake, really quite good and smelled fantastic, especially good during the holidays.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


I am well aware that there are a lot of people who think that S.O.S. is disgusting.  It does, after all, stand for "Shit On a Shingle", and it's not even the prettiest dish.  My stepdad and my sweetheart both refuse to eat it, but the cooks in my dad's branch of the service must have done a better job, because he had no problem with it, and therefore I grew up eating it from time to time.  And I like it. 
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • pinch salt
  • dash pepper
  • 3/4 C milk
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 15 slices dried beef (from 5oz can)
1.  In a small saucepan melt butter.  Stir in flour, salt, and pepper.  Stir in milk all at once.  Cook and stir over medium heat till thickened and bubbly.  Stir in W-sauce.  Pull apart and tear dried beef into  chunks and strips, adding to sauce.  Simmer until beef is heated through, and serve over any starch.

Robyn's notes: I always have this over toasted English muffins, but it can be served over toasted bread, baked potato, pasta, whatever the preference is.  Go really easy on the salt, as the beef has a lot of sodium and it will overwhelm the dish.  Unopened, a jar of dried beef is shelf-stable for a very long time.  This only gets three stars because he won't eat it and because it's not the most exciting dish, it's just good and filling and I have nostalgia for it from childhood.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Monday, July 13, 2015

Chunky Applesauce

My mom has been making this applesauce for a good 45 years or so.  Back when she started, my great-grandfather gave her a crate of apples every year that he'd grown, and they had to be dealt with before they turned, so applesauce was a great project.  She doesn't use a recipe, so she sent me basic instructions for her method, which I have used repeatedly and turned into this recipe.  Read all notes before beginning.
  • 3 lbs apples (about 8 medium)
  • 1 1/2 C apple juice
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1.  Core, quarter, and peel apples, cut them into 1 inch chunks.
2.  In large saucepan, combine apple juice and cut-up apples.  Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer 15-20 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
3.  Using sugar and cinnamon, sweeten to taste.  Be careful!  These apples and the liquid they're sitting in can burn your tongue.  Be aware that the apples will taste sweeter when hot, so for a very sweet applesauce it may be necessary to over-sweeten them at this stage.
4.  Return to a boil for about 1 minute, remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Smash with potato masher to desired consistency.  (For creamy applesauce, press through a ricer or food mill instead)

Applesauce is ready to eat at this point, or it can be preserved in a boiling water canner as follows.

5.  Carefully ladle hot applesauce into hot half-pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Remove all bubbles; wipe rims and adjust lids.  Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner at sea level, increasing processing time by 1 minute for each 1,000 feet of additional altitude.

Yield: 5 half-pints

Robyn's notes: I've used several different varieties of apples, but have to say that my favourite batches have been made with two varieties together.  Because of what's available at my market this has generally been Fuji and Golden Delicious.  I have been told that the best varieties for applesauce are those as well as Braeburn, Cortland, Crispin, McIntosh, Liberty, and Rome.  Use a saucepan large enough that the liquid and apple chunks combined in it fill no more than 30-50% of the interior.  While simmering, the apples will splatter and bubble up the sides, so they need a lot of room in the pan.  The juice should be enough to cover the bottom of your pan by 1/2 inch.  A larger saucepan may need more than I use.  Water can be used in place of apple juice, but the flavor will not be as deep and more sugar will need to be used.  I always use 100% not-from-concentrate apple juice.  While I'm a fan of the assembly-line method of doing practically anything, I don't use it for prepping the apples.  As soon as they are exposed to the air they will start to oxidize, but this will be slowed when they're in the juice.  So I do each apple as quickly as possible without risking my fingers and move on to the next.  I have never measured the cinnamon, instead just dashing it in.  I quite like the taste of cinnamon in my applesauce, so if I use a bit too much I'm ok with it, it just makes for darker applesauce. 

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Homemade Magic Shell

"Magic Shell" is, of course, a brand name, but it's the term most people are familiar with. This is the chocolate sauce for ice cream that is liquid when it's poured on, then goes immediately solid.
  • 1/4 C semi-sweet chocolate morsels 
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp coconut oil 
1. In double boiler, melt both ingredients, stirring to combine.
2. Remove from heat and allow to cool for two minutes.
3. Pour over ice cream, wait for shell to harden, and enjoy!  

Robyn's notes: if the sauce is not used right away, it should be refrigerated, as there are no preservatives like the bottled store-bought version has. The sauce will of course harden in the fridge, it can be microwaved to return to liquid form before using, or the container it's in can be placed in a hot water bath.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Monday, June 8, 2015


There has obviously been a very long hiatus here. I'm not going to get too deeply into the reasons, but they're all health-related. My existing health problems have continued to worsen, and in ways that have had a serious impact on my diet. Originally, the site was temporarily closed because I was put on intravenous feeding only--nothing by mouth--for 12 weeks. If I'm not eating, I'm not cooking or developing recipes. 
When those 12 weeks were over, the IV feeding continued for another year, supplemented by eating in the usual manner. I was so ill, however, that I was not physically capable of cooking. So I did a lot of convenience foods and snacks like crackers (I fell in love with 34° Natural crispbreads). There have been a lot of other severe issues with my health, which all continue to the present day, but I am able to do some real cooking and baking here and there. When I'm having a good day, I tend to do some make-ahead dishes for the freezer, to make things easier on bad days. This past Xmas, my sweetie gave me a beautiful KitchenAid stand mixer, which I adore, and we have a garden now, so some canning and preserving is planned.
While I can't say that updates will be particularly regular (and most of what I made in the past couple years I took no pictures), I'm re-opening the site. Here's hoping for good days in the kitchen for a long time to come!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Mini Cheddar Apple Pies

  • pie crust dough (homemade or purchased)
  • 4 Tbsp grated sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 heaping Tbsp flour
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • dash salt
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 large apple
1.  Preheat oven to 425°F.  Cut two circles of crust for the bottom of the pies (see notes, below).  Press into bottom and up sides of two mini pie pans or tart dishes.  Sprinkle 2 Tbsp cheese over the bottom of each crust. 
2.  In a small bowl, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.  Peel and slice apple into small pieces, coat apple pieces with sugar and flour mixture.  Place seasoned apple pieces into crusts, layering them well above the top level of the pie pan (apples will sink during baking due to water loss).
3.  Cut circles for top crusts or strips if a lattice top is desired.  If using a circular top crust, use a sharp knife to cut slits in several places.  Crimp edges of crusts together with the tines of a fork or with fingers.  Sprinkle top with a small amount of additional sugar. 
4.  Place pans on a baking sheet for easier handling and bake at 425°F for 16-18 minutes.  Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.

Robyn's notes: I know some people traditionally enjoy apple pie with a thick slice of Cheddar cheese alongside, though I was raised on French apple pie a la mode instead.  I thought incorporating the cheese into the pie itself might make for a nice flavour combination, and knew I would splurge on really good cheese for the purpose.  The cheese I got was Kerrygold Reserve, which is aged 2 years, but I didn't realize until I got home that I had grabbed the version that's aged with Irish Whiskey.  The taste of the whiskey is quite strong, and made the first pie attempt into more of a Drunken Apple Pie.  Still tasty.  I used a Gala apple, other good choices are Red or Golden Delicious.  Might be 4 stars with a less whiskey-flavoured cheese, and/or with homemade crust.

About the crust: a homemade crust recipe is fantastic, or just use a pre-made crust from the market.  Because this was an early test version of the recipe, I used a pre-made.  The first test I made just one mini pie, rolled the leftover crust up in plastic wrap, and refrigerated it.  For that pie I used one of my mini pie pans, which has relatively steep sides.  I placed it upside down gently on the unrolled crust, and cut a circle about one inch away from the edge of it all the way around.  For the top crust, I cut another circle just at the edges.  Because of the size of my mini pie pans, I had to fudge this process, and couldn't really get both circles out of one unrolled pie crust.  This is where homemade dough would be best, as it could be re-rolled to accommodate the second circle instead of having to be cut from the same layout.  For the second test pie, I used one of my mini tart pans, again cutting about an inch away all the way around, but I did (as seen above) a lattice top, in order to make the dough go farther.  Because I still had leftover dough from the first pie, I ended up having about a 6" diameter circle of dough left after completing the second pie.  Since I made the two test pies on different days, I was using different apples and had some apple leftover.  I dipped those apple slices into the leftover filling mixture from this recipe, grated some Edam cheese over half the dough circle, topped it with the seasoned apples, sprinkled more grated Edam on top, folded the dough over, pinched it shut, and made it a turnover.  It went onto a square of parchment paper and into the oven at the same time, on the same baking sheet, same temperature, as the pie.  Not the prettiest turnover in the world, but tasty.
*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Havarti-Dill Mashed Potatoes

  • 1 large russet potato
  • 1/4 C milk
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp shredded Havarti cheese
  • 1 tsp fresh dill
  • salt and pepper to taste
1. Peel potato and chop into 1/2 inch pieces (see notes below). Place in large saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until potatoes can be broken up with a fork.
2. Drain, return to saucepan, and shake over low heat for 1 minute. Mash in remaining ingredients, leaving some potato chunks if desired.

Robyn's notes: he likes potato skin in his mashed potatoes, I can't have the skins, so I sometimes make two versions of any mashed potatoes, peeling half the potato for mine and leaving the other half unpeeled for his.  Add the milk while mashing, depending on the size of the potato it may not be necessary to use the full amount.  Havarti, being a semi-soft cheese, is difficult to shred.  It can help to spray the grater with cooking spray, or simply cut it into small pieces off the block instead of shredding. 

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Banana Bread Mini Loaf

Since the checker at the market chose to put my canned goods in the bag on top of my bananas, some had to be sacrificed to bread.  This was meant to also have a chocolate glaze, but the unsweetened chocolate that was in my grocery basket was never rung up by the checker.  No way was I driving all the way back to town when I got home and discovered I didn't have it (since I also was not charged for it), so I decided to just make the bread without the glaze, which is of course also perfectly good.
  • 1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 C mashed ripe banana 
  • 2 Tbsp plain yogurt
  • 1/4 C chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour a mini loaf pan (5 1/2 " x 3") .
2.  In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda.
3.  In another medium bowl, beat sugar, eggs, and butter until fluffy.  Slowly beat in bananas and yogurt.  Add flour mixture and mix just until blended.  Do not overmix or the bread will be tough.  Stir in nuts if using.
4.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake on middle shelf for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove from pan to finish cooling on wire rack.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let stand overnight to allow flavours to mellow.

Robyn's notes: I did not use the nuts, because I'm not able to eat them.  For me, the amount of banana needed was one-and-a-half medium bananas once the completely black bruised sections had been cut out.  This probably translates to one large banana that hasn't been manhandled by a checker who was presumably having a lousy day.  My baking time was 40 minutes.  I made this bread again after we moved, so I can confirm it was as good without any needed changes at 4,500ft.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Friday, November 2, 2012


When I was young, I had a lot of activities, from piano to Camp Fire to various things involving horses. For a lot of years one of those activities was ballet, and I was really into it. Throughout my ballet years, a tradition existed in my hometown of going to the small downtown ice cream parlor after performances and treating the performers to a sundae.  Back then, I had a hard time choosing a favourite sundae, but as I've gotten older and the family has continued to make the occasional visit there, I've settled on the Fudge-Ana.  It's not flashy, like the Cherry Hawaiian (coconut pineapple and burgundy cherry ice creams topped with pineapple and creamy marshmallow, chopped toasted nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry).  It doesn't have a pop of flavour like the Mint Delight (chocolate mint and peppermint stick ice creams topped with hot fudge and creamy marshmallow, chopped toasted nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry).  And it isn't surprising, like the Honeycomb Buzz (I'll let you wonder).  What it is, is delicious, every time.  It's just that little bit more than a hot fudge sundae, and every time I eat one, I'm transported right back to that pink and white shop, sitting in a chair with a heart-shaped back while I kick my ballet shoes under the table and spin the free glass of ice cold water they give you as soon as you walk in the door. 
  • hot fudge ice cream topping
  • one medium banana, sliced into coins
  • vanilla ice cream
1.  Melt hot fudge as instructed on package.  Drop a spoonful into bottom of sundae glass or tall drinking glass.   Top with three or four banana coins.  Add one small scoop of ice cream.  Repeat in layers until glass is full.  If desired, top with whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry.

Robyn's notes: no measurements, because it's really about how much you feel like eating, how large the serving vessel is, and how much you like hot fudge. I don't generally bother with the whipped cream, nuts, and cherry when I'm making a Fudge-Ana at home, because it means having them sitting around waiting to be used up.

 ***** 5 Stars: Excellent. A favourite for both of us, I will make this repeatedly

Monday, October 29, 2012

Simple Muffin Tin Meatloaves

We didn't have meatloaf very often when I was growing up, but I still find it to be a nice comfort-food dish.  This recipe can be made with either beef or turkey, I've used turkey for the picture above.  When using turkey, it may be necessary to increase spices, and be careful not to overcook the mini-loaves, since turkey can get dried out easily.

  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 lb extra lean ground beef or ground turkey
  • 2 Tbsp dry bread crumbs (any flavour)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 Tbsp barbecue sauce or ketchup
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  In medium bowl, beat milk, egg, and Worcestershire sauce with fork.  Mix in meat, bread crumbs, salt and pepper.  Scoop into ungreased muffin tin.  Brush loaves with barbecue sauce or ketchup.
2.  Bake 20-25 minutes until cooked through.  Let stand 5 minutes.

Robyn's notes:  since I used plain bread crumbs and turkey, I decided to spice it up a bit by adding grated Parmesan cheese and dried basil.  I didn't measure either one, just eyeballed them.  Turned out to be a good thing, the basil especially added good flavour to the finished product.  While the standard side dish for meat loaf is mashed potatoes, we were both in the mood for rice, so had that instead.  I cooked 20 minutes and the loaves were nicely juicy inside.  This is a good meatloaf recipe for when I don't have a lot in the house, since every required ingredient is always on hand.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Small-Batch Frosted Sugar Cookies

I have a weakness for grocery store bakery frosted sugar cookies.  Those fat soft cookies with thick frosting and sprinkles on top?  I'm forever in search of a recipe for homemade sugar cookies that come out like those, and I have yet to find one.  This recipe is not the long-awaited successful completion to that search, but it is a perfectly good recipe, if I do say so myself, so I figure I might as well share it for those who are looking for a simple recipe for whipping up a few thin sugar cookies quickly.

  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract
  • 1 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 3/4 tsp buttermilk, sour cream, or plain yogurt
  • 1/2 C + 1 rounded Tbsp flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda 
1.  Preheat oven to 375°F.  Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Stir in flavourings, mayonnaise, and buttermilk; mix.  Stir in flour and baking soda.
2.  Shape dough into teaspoon-sized balls, drop on parchment-lined baking sheet, 2 inches apart.  Flatten slightly with the bottom of a glass that's been dipped in granulated sugar (see notes).
3.  Bake for 9-11 minutes, or until just set.  Do not overbake.  Allow to cool for 1 minute on baking sheet, remove to cooling rack to finish cooling.  Frost when completely cooled.

Yield: 8-10 cookies

Robyn's notes: to flatten the cookies, I used the underside of a 1/4 C measure.  I gently pressed it briefly against one of the dough balls first, then dipped it in granulated sugar, to get the sugar to stick to the measuring cup for flattening all the dough balls.  Another option is to roll the dough balls in sugar and then flatten them, but I didn't want that much sugar on the outside of the cookies.  It would be best to mix the dough in an electric mixer, but since my mixer is here with us and the mixer's beaters are apparently still in storage, that wasn't an option.  I therefore mixed the dough with a fork as fast as my arm would move, to get air into it.

  • 1 C confectioner's sugar
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • approximately 1 Tbsp + 1-1/2 tsp milk
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • food coloring if desired
1.  In a medium bowl, cream together the confectioners' sugar and butter. Gradually mix in the milk and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth and stiff, about 5 minutes. Color with food coloring if desired.

Robyn's notes: again, I had to do this by hand, and frosting is never as good when mixed by hand because it's very difficult to get the air in.  It's also exceedingly difficult to cream that much powdered sugar with that little butter by hand.  Add the milk slowly, until you've achieved the desired consistency.  The entire amount may not be needed, and since this makes a very sweet frosting, if you add too much milk it's hard to firm it back up.  Replacing the butter with shortening is an option and might actually be better, but I didn't have any shortening in the house.  

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Peanut Butter Bread Mini Loaf

This is a very simple recipe that produces a bread that's good for snacks or pbj sandwiches.  I've eaten it toasted or not, spread with jelly or honey.  While it's baking the whole house gets a nice smell of peanut butter, but the flavour of the finished loaf is pretty subtle.
  • 1 C flour
  • 2 rounded Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp beaten egg
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 1/4 C + 2 Tbsp peanut butter
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  In medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add egg, milk and peanut butter; stir just until combined. Pour into greased mini loaf pan (5 1/2 by 3 inches).
2.  Bake for 40-50 minutes, until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.  Allow to cool 10 minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.  

Robyn's notes: I own steel mini loaf pans, but for households that don't, disposable ones can generally be found in the kitchen supplies aisle of grocery stores (I always keep a few of those on hand for cooking gluten-free breads, so there's no danger of cross-contamination from my regular pans).  As I've said before, I suspect that my oven thermostat is off, so while this took 40 minutes to bake for me, it may take longer for more accurate ovens.  This makes a fairly dense bread, but I still think it has good texture.  It would get a higher star rating if there was more peanut butter flavour, it's just a bit too mild for my taste and adding much more peanut butter would keep it from baking properly.  Chunky peanut butter is an option for those who can have it, I'm not supposed to.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Drop Biscuits

Growing up, my mom had an old recipe for baking powder biscuits that we all loved.  Soft and fluffy and flaky, perfect with jam or honey or even just butter.  I've made the recipe myself a few times, but don't have the recipe available just now. These drop biscuits aren't a replacement for the old cut-out biscuits I love, but they're an easy substitution, especially for a leisurely morning.
  • 2/3 C flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/3 C buttermilk, cold
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted and slightly cooled, plus 1 tsp extra for brushing the completed tops
1.  Preheat oven to 450°F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
2.  In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt.  In a small bowl, combine chilled buttermilk and melted butter until butter forms small clumps.  Stir buttermilk mixture into flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just combined and dough is pulling away from the sides of the bowl.
3.  Using a greased 1/4 C measure or #16 scoop, drop four mounds of dough onto prepared baking sheet (see notes, below), about 1 1/2 inches apart.  Bake 12-15 minutes until tops are golden brown and crisp, turning pan halfway through baking.
4.  Brush additional melted butter on tops of baked biscuits, transfer to a wire rack, and allow to cool for 5 minutes, serving warm.

Robyn's notes: I used a 1/4 C measure to scoop the dough onto the baking sheet, and got exactly three biscuits.  The original recipe gives a yield of four, so it's up to you whether to scoop the dough into four equal portions or measure out in 1/4 C amounts as instructed.  Be aware that smaller biscuits will cook faster.  These came out slightly dry for my taste, but I strongly suspect that my oven thermostat is wrong and that they were baking at a temperature higher than the oven claimed.  Since I haven't found my oven thermometer in any of the boxes we have here, I can't check it yet.  The biscuits were still good, easy to pull apart and tasty both with jam and just with dabs of butter.  

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Queso Blanco

Last Wednesday I leaned over the bed to pull off the fitted sheet for washing, and immediately felt a series of spasms in my lower back.  I have a herniated disc that leads to sciatica, so this is not the first time I've experienced this, it generally happens about once a year.  This time I fell forward onto my face screaming from the pain, which is where I remained until my sweetheart got home and rescued me.  He moved me onto my back in bed with pillows under my knees, and I stayed there until Thursday morning when we went to the ER for stronger pain meds and muscle relaxants.  Monday was the first day I was truly up and moving around, but since it's best for this sort of back problem to keep moving as much as possible, I decided that today I'd make the most basic of cheeses.  Queso blanco is not a melting cheese, but it's good on crackers or bread, sliced and fried, or sprinkled over tacos or refried beans.  Read all my notes at the bottom before beginning, the recipe I followed was not perfect.
  • 1/2 gallon cow's milk (raw or pasteurized is ok, not ultrapasteurized)
  • 1/4 C lime juice (for me this was every drop of 3 limes)
  • salt to taste
1.  Heat milk in a non-aluminum pot on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes (see notes, below) or until it looks like it’s just about to boil. If you have an instant-read thermometer, heat until milk is between 185°F and 190°F.
2.  Pour in lime juice. The curds will separate from the whey and the mixture will begin to look lumpy or grainy.  Simmer for 2-3 minutes.
3.  Pour the pot’s contents into a cheesecloth-lined colander and drain for 2-3 minutes.  Sprinkle curds with salt (see notes, below).  If desired, add herbs, spices, or chopped chiles (about 1/4 C of chopped chiles would be right, or about 1/2 Tbsp of fresh herbs.  Really it's whatever tastes best to you, you'd need to experiment).
4.  Gather curds in the center, tie the cheesecloth’s ends and hang the cloth on the faucet so it can drain for 4 hours or overnight.
5.  Untie cheesecloth, and store cheese in sealed container in the refrigerator.  It will keep as long as the milk would have, so note the expiration date on the milk before disposing of the packaging.

Robyn's notes: I used raw cow's milk because it's easily available, but as mentioned above, pasteurized is fine.  Ultrapasteurized should never be used for making cheese.  The recipe I was following phrased step 1 almost exactly as I've written it here, and since it didn't say whether or not to cover the heating milk, I left it uncovered so I could see better when it was getting close to a boil (I have many thermometers of various types, all are still in storage).  When, after 15 minutes, the milk was just slightly warm to the touch, I put the lid on.  Another 30 minutes later, it still wasn't coming up to a boil and I bumped the burner to a slightly higher heat.  Counting from the time I first turned on the stove, it took 50 minutes to get the milk to the proper temperature, and I've seen other people comment that they had the same experience.  A lot of this will depend on your stove, the size of the pot you use, etc.  Visually for me, the milk quickly got a yellow skin on top, and after all that time tiny bubbles started to form all across the underside of that skin.  When I poured in the lime juice I did give it a quick stir, but didn't agitate it very much.  The entire pot separated without my having to do so.  I only used two thicknesses of cheesecloth over my strainer, and I lost a lot of curds, so in future I'll probably use four thicknesses.  The recipe I followed gave no guidelines as to amount of salt.  It just said it was ok to use more than you normally would, because a lot of the salt will drain out as the cheese dries.  Since I didn't know how much "normal" was, I used about 1/2 tsp.  It was definitely not enough.  As I was draining in the strainer, I scraped the cheesecloth with a spoon in several places to help the whey drain out.  I would recommend not pressing with the back of a spoon, as that will just force the curds through.  The completed recipe worked, but the cheese was completely tasteless.  I've had queso blanco many times, and while it's a mild cheese it does usually have some flavour.  This did not.  Obviously if I'd added herbs, spices, or chiles it would have been different, and I will try that in the future and revise my rating if it improves.  For now I'm being generous in a 3 star rating, as so many of the instructions were vague and the final product tastes like nothing.
*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Generally, if someone told me there was a spider in my kitchen, my response would not be one of joy or excitement.  In our house the eight-legged kind get liberated instead of decimated (unless a cat sees them before I do), and the wire kind shown above get waved happily around like a magic wand. 

A spider is a fairly simple tool, a straight handle with a shallow wire-mesh basket at the end.  It's not a kitchen necessity by any stretch of the imagination, everything it does can be done by other tools, but it's a great addition to your kitchen and it does its jobs better than the other options.  If you're making a holiday wishlist, a spider might be a good thing to include. 

The most common use for a spider is to lift and remove food from hot water or oil.  Those of us who can and preserve can use it for moving blanched vegetables quickly from boiling to cold water.  It's also a great tool for gnocchi and any stuffed pasta, which should ideally be lifted from their cooking liquid instead of being poured into a colander.  Doing the latter can burst delicate pasta or crush gnocchi, while lifting them out individually with the spider is gentle enough to keep this from happening.  Spiders are sometimes referred to as basket skimmers, because they are very useful for skimming foam from stocks and soups.  Additional uses include fishing a bouquet garni or whole bay leaves out of a pot and deep frying foods.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Small-Batch Shortbread Cookies

The cats have been waking us up very early recently, which means that we eat breakfast earlier than usual, then lunch and dinner as well, and at the end of the day I'm wanting to snack on something. A quick cookie dessert generally satisfies that, and the other night I was in the mood for a very simple cookie.  I don't know how I managed to bring a kitchen box that contained cookie cutters but didn't manage to bring one that contained a paring knife, but I do have the former and so used them to make these cookies.  I really like shortbread cookie dough, so I only rolled out and cut the dough twice, eating the remainder raw.  Between that and the fact that I rolled my dough thinner than is traditional (see notes, below), the yield is a little vague.  I suspect that 1/2-inch thick cookies cut to 3"x1" would work out to about 5 cookies.  
  • 6 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 C + 2 Tbsp flour
  • dash salt (see notes, below)
  • additional sugar
  • 3-4 Tbsp semisweet chocolate morsels
1.  Cream together butter and sugar, add vanilla and mix.  Sift in flour and salt and combine.  Form dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate 30 minutes.
2.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Turn dough onto lightly floured workstation and roll to 1/2 inch thickness.  Use cookie cutters or cut into rectangles 3"x1".  Sprinkle with additional sugar, place on ungreased baking sheet and bake 20-25 minutes.  Allow to cool completely on wire rack.
3.  Once cookies are at room temperature, melt chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler, and drizzle chocolate over half of each cookie until well coated.  Allow to cool.

Yield: 5-8 cookies depending on size

Robyn's notes: the salt measurement should technically be 1/16 tsp.  I used my 1/8 tsp measure and filled it halfway.  This is actually a bit more than I use when a recipe calls for a dash or a pinch, so I like to mention it here.  If using cookie cutters, be sure to either use all one shape or, if using multiple shapes (as I did in the picture above), bake all the cookies of a given shape together.  Size and shape differences can lead to different baking times, and you don't want half the cookies overcooked just to get the other half perfect.  I rolled my dough out to 1/4 inch thick, because that's what I'm used to and I didn't have a recipe in front of me when I was working on this one.  I baked my cookies for 12 minutes at that thickness and they came out perfectly.  In researching various shortbread cookie recipes today, however, I find that the vast majority call for a 1/2-inch thick cookie and a longer baking time.  Whatever works for you.  With this small an amount of chocolate, a microwave is the easiest way to melt it (30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, don't overcook).  We don't have our microwave with us at the moment, so I did it in a double boiler.  I let the chocolate-coated cookies cool on the same wire rack with a sheet of aluminum foil beneath to catch any drippings.   

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Small-Batch Peanut Butter Blossoms

Being as far as we now are from the nearest grocery means that if I suddenly have a sweets craving, I have to satisfy it with whatever is in the house, or do without.  So the other day I stood staring into the pantry, waiting for inspiration, when I realized I had all the ingredients on hand for peanut butter cookies.  I looked up the basic cross-hatched pb cookie recipe and discovered that I was wrong and was shy one ingredient.  I did, however, have all the ingredients (except for the Hershey's Kisses) for peanut butter blossoms, and I figured I could just make those, cross-hatch the tops with a fork, and eat them as peanut butter cookies.  Unfortunately, translating the full recipe into a small-batch version was not as straightforward as some other cookie recipes have been, and it took several attempts to get a successful cookie.  In the meantime, we drove into town for something else and I picked up a bag of Hershey's Kisses, on the assumption that I'd eventually get it to work (and I did!). 
  • 2 Tbsp sugar 
  • 2 Tbsp packed brown sugar 
  • 2 Tbsp creamy peanut butter 
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp butter, softened 
  • 1 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1/4 C + 2 Tbsp flour 
  • 1/8 rounded tsp baking soda 
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • additional sugar
  • about 10 Hershey's Kisses, unwrapped
1. In medium bowl, mix sugar, brown sugar, peanut butter, butter, and mayonnaise until combined.  Add flour, baking soda, and baking powder, stir until dough forms.  Refrigerate, covered, one hour.
2. Preheat oven to 375°F.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in additional sugar. Place on ungreased baking sheet, about 2 inches apart.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Immediately press 1 Hershey's Kiss in center of each cookie. Cool on baking sheet 1-2 minutes, then move to cooling rack.

Yield: about 10 cookies

Robyn's notes: I wrote this recipe after moving, and it has therefore only been tested at an elevation of 2,500 feet.  The flour measurement is a little awkward, I know, but I feel this is the best way to write it.  One-third Cup plus 2 teaspoons would be the same measurement, or six Tablespoons.  I think this is just the clearest.  I find the easiest way to roll the dough in sugar is to put a couple Tbsp of sugar into a 1/3 C measure, drop the shaped ball on top, and shake the measuring cup around until the ball has been well coated.  Do not skip the refrigeration step or the dough will not hold together when shaped and the baked cookies will spread and flatten instead of remaining rounded.  

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Friday, July 27, 2012

Kitchen Basics #2 - Being Fancypants

One of the joys of cooking for two is the chance to be a little more luxurious from time to time.  There are many different levels of luxury, and it's not necessary to try to achieve fancypants status every single night.  Especially if you're a working cook (or in my case, one with very limited energy reserves) it may be hard to find the time, but on your weekend or of you like to have a 'date night' at home, or for special occasions, it's fairly easy to gussy up your meals when there's only two of you.

The easiest way to make a meal more special is by changing the environment it's served in.  Put down a tablecloth or placemats.  If you don't have a tablecloth, as we didn't for a long time, fake it.  Lay a square scarf, bandanna, or shawl down as if it were a cloth (or a rectangular scarf as a tablerunner).  Clean cotton sheets can work as tablecloths for some tables (we have a round cafe table, so it's more challenging).  Unfold a paper napkin completely and place it offset in the center of the table, so that two of the corners are pointing at your plates.  If you're the kind of person who has fabric scraps (I'm a quilter and I sew, so I do), dig through and see if there's a fat quarter worth of material that you wouldn't be heartbroken to get grease on.  Scrapbooker?  Put a square of paper that you don't have plans for in the center of the table, or if you've got two that coordinate, put one under each plate as mats.  If you've got a little extra cash, go buy a tablecloth or some mats.  If you're crafty, make your own.  Quilters and those who sew have a head start here, but all it really takes is straight cutting and sewing a reasonably straight hem.  If you can afford it, it can be fun to have a few tablecloths or placemats that are themed for various holidays.

Whether you go the route of tablecloths/placemats or not, there are additional table changes that can make a real difference.  Have a small centerpiece on your table from time to time.  Fresh flowers are probably the best option, because they'll brighten up that whole section of the house as long as you keep them alive.  Most people usually smile when they walk into a room that has flowers in it.  If you're allergic or have a black thumb even for purchased daisies, grab some silk flowers at the craft store and stick them in a short vase.  Short is the operative word here.  You want to brighten up the table, not make it impossible to carry on a conversation because you can't see each other through foliage.  If you're not particularly clumsy, a couple candles can also make a nice occasional centerpiece, especially sitting on a small mirror.  Have a sense of humor about it.  Fancypants does not mean stuffy.  Why not make a Lego centerpiece?  Or stick a tootsie roll pop bouquet into a favourite mug.  The point is to add colour and interest and change to the table in a way that slows things down and makes you smile.

As often as possible, use napkins.  I've made cloth napkins that match the decor of our eating nook, but we don't always use them, we sometimes just use paper napkins.  The point is to have it there beside the fork, ready to be used.  It completes the table setting.  Which is another note I think is important.  Place the entire table setting.  Even if you know that neither of you will be using a spoon, put the spoons in their proper place on the table anyway.  Sitting down to a set table with a napkin and beverage is a different experience from being handed a plate with a fork on it.  It's not necessary to include salad forks and soup spoons and such, unless you're going all-out and having a Serious FancyPants Dinner with multiple courses.  For a regular meal, the standard place setting should be as shown:

More standard ways to make a meal fancypants are by gussying up the actual food presentation.  Put colour on the plate.  Chicken breast over rice with a cream sauce is just white on white on white.  Use tomato couscous sometimes, or spinach pasta.  Choose a fresh vegetable or fruit side that's orange or yellow, something contrasting the rest of the meal.  If you've got the inclination, grab a couple cheap squeeze bottles (often available, again, at the dollar store) and swirl or dot some sauce on the plate.  It'll make you feel like a restaurant chef and whether it comes out well or not it should make you both smile.  Use garnishes, there's nothing wrong with them if they're edible.  If the budget is tight you can grow a couple small planters in your windowsill (parsley is a good all-purpose garnish for savory and mint for sweet--just don't plant mint directly in the ground unless you know what you're doing, as it has an extensive root system) and snip a couple leaves as needed.  Many flowers are fully edible, as long as you know how they were grown (think about pesticides and sprays used for freshness in cut flowers at stores), including pansies and nasturtiums.  Grate fresh cheese over the top of dishes at the table; pick up a small pepper grinder and add that last seasoning tableside.  If it's something you'd enjoy taking the time with, appetizers or amuse bouches set the tone for a luxurious meal from the start.  If you drink alcohol, wine or cocktails can be a nice addition.  Serve a plated dessert now and then.

From here we move into the parts of a fancypants meal that are some of the bonus aspects of being a small household.  Everything I've written above is easy and relatively cheap regardless of how many people are sitting around the table.  But there are some things that are easier and cheaper when there's just the two of you.

Most of us have sets of dishes.  Whether we bought them, inherited them, received them as gifts, we mostly eat from dishes that have a cohesive look.  But do we have to?  Mix up your dishes.  You don't have to eat off the same plates every night.  Now, I'm a little weird about this, in that I like for all the plates on the table at a time to coordinate.  But even with that being the case, the dishes we use on Monday don't have to be the dishes we use on Tuesday.  Here's where this is great for two-person households: all you have to buy is two plates and you've got a whole new look to your meal.  The dollar store often has dishes in different shapes and colours, so you could either pay $2 to change up one night's table, or conceivably get an entire week's worth of plates for less than $15.  If you really feel like splurging, go to an upscale department store with a china department (or go online).  Since people often have to purchase replacements for broken or chipped fine china, you can buy just two pieces of many designs, instead of a full set.  My grocery store actually sells some dishes, and they have some square bowls that I love, along with those giant leaning spoons that are really appetizer holders.  Thrift stores and garage sales are, of course, also options.  Only needing to get a couple pieces frees up your options and keeps you from needing a second kitchen for storage. 

Having only two people at the table makes it easier to give yourself permission to sometimes try more expensive ingredients in your meals.  When you're cooking a specialty luxury dish, you only have to buy enough to serve two.  Sushi fans will find it much easier to budget for two servings of otoro tuna than for four or six.  Filet Mignon is often sold already portioned for two.  Even such things as specialty nuts, olives, or cheeses are much easier to justify when you only have to buy a small amount.  As a bonus, when you buy just a very small amount of something expensive, if it turns out that you just don't like it, it's not as big of a deal to leave it unfinished and have a slice of pizza instead.  If you're serving 4-6 people, the ingredients for a fancy dish can run you upwards of $50.  When you've put that kind of money into dinner, you're likely to feel that you just have to finish it, no matter what.  If the ingredients for the same fancy dish cost you half as much, you can more easily allow yourself to consider it an unsuccessful experiment.

Many households have very busy schedules.  The more people living in the house, the busier they tend to be.  Lots of people have to contend with multiple work schedules, school schedules, after-school extracurriculars, clubs, errands, appointments, and visiting friends.  This makes arranging dinner more challenging.  When there are two people in the house, managing the time does get simplified quite a bit.  It's easier to plan a nice dinner together from time to time, because there are only two schedules that have to be worked around.  Only having to take into account the time constraints of two people allows dinner to be a more luxurious experience on occasion. 

There are some surprising benefits to taking the time to make a meal a nice occasion, instead of just grabbing some plates and chowing down in front of the tv.  You're much more likely to talk to each other if you're sitting at a table, especially if that table has been fully set and even decorated in some manner.  Talking, having real conversations, is regularly cited as being important for all types of relationships, be they parent-child, friendships, siblings, but especially intimate partners.  Taking the time to sit down to a meal together and talk about your day can have a real lasting effect on the long-term health of your partnership.  Also, give some thought to how quickly you eat when you're at a sit-down restaurant versus a casual meal at home.  You likely eat much faster at home, rushing through the meal to get the dishes out of the way and get on to the next thing you've got planned for the evening, even if that's just tv time.  Slowing down when we eat doesn't just improve our enjoyment of the experience (it tastes better if you let the food touch your tongue, instead of just inhaling it!), but it's good for our physical health.  People who eat slowly and fully chew their food have fewer digestive problems such as gas, reflux, constipation, etc.  It can also be a part of a weight-loss plan, in that you're more likely to eat only as much as you need and stop when you're full if you eat slowly.  The faster you eat, the more likely you are to eat until there's no food left.  Personally, I think life is less stressful overall if you take time as often as possible to just take a break from everything else and sit down and eat a meal with no hurry and no interruptions.  Let the phone ring if someone calls.  Put your napkins in your laps.  Tell a story and laugh at your eating companion's stories.  Do it on a regular basis and it becomes something to look forward to, a moment of calm no matter how hectic things otherwise get. 

One important note about being a little bit fancypants.  If one person is in charge of the meals they either need to tell the other person that they're planning something special for dinner, or they need to do it only to make themselves happy.  One should never spend money and time on elevating a meal experience solely for the praise or appreciation of someone else.  Many of the things I've mentioned are small changes that, taken alone, will make a meal a little bit more fun or a little bit fancier.  They may not be consciously noticed by the person who didn't put the time into them, and that's ok.  On the other side, if many of these things are combined, it could make for a very fancy meal, which might be uncomfortable for an unwarned person who's used to very casual eating.  Be fancypants to the level that is fun for you, and do it because it is fun.  Tell your dining companion that you thought you'd "do things up special tonight".  They may decide to make it even more special and contribute an idea of their own, or they may just grin and go along with it.  Regardless, the point is to have a nice meal together.

The photo at the top of this entry is an example of a very simple fancypants side dish.  I made Parmesan couscous and spooned it into an old heart-shaped mold (which I think was originally for jello), pressing it into all crevices.  Then I turned it out onto the plate and lay a few celery leaves alongside (because I had celery in the fridge.  If I'd had an herb within reach that related to the dish, I'd have used that so the garnish could be eaten), topping the heart with a small amount of grated Parmesan cheese.  The white beneath the blue plate is an old Corningware plate turned facedown.  The whole look took about a minute and a half to achieve, but made my sweetheart smile when he sat down.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Spinach Cucumber Salad with Yogurt Dressing

I don't really like to buy salad dressing unless I'm using it to cook with.  I'd much rather make my own, as it's fresher and can be made in small amounts as needed.
  • 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp plain yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 C baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and halved lengthwise (see notes, below)
  • few slices red onion
1. Whisk the lemon juice and honey in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the yogurt and olive oil together. Add the yogurt mixture to the lemon juice mixture in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Stir in mint, then add the salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill the dressing for up to 24 hours.
2.  Combine the spinach, cucumbers and onion in a large bowl. Season with a little salt and pepper if desired. Add just enough dressing to moisten the salad. Toss to coat, and serve with extra dressing on the side.

Robyn's notes: My sweetheart prefers that I not peel or seed cucumber, as lots of nutrition is lost in disposing of the peel, so I just wash it well and slice it into half-coins.  This is a side salad, not an entree salad, and was made to use leftover cucumber, red onion, and yogurt from recent meals.  I can't eat spinach, cucumber, or red onion, so I can only go by his opinion, which was that this was "fine".  Dressing smelled nice, I can say that!  

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cookbook Review: Diabetes and Heart-Healthy Meals for Two

Author: American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association
Published: 2008 by The American Heart Association Consumer Publications
Available for Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell's

Neither of us is diabetic, nor do we have heart problems, but I think the best way to keep those statements true is be careful before issues start.

There are more than 170 recipes in the book, in the following categories: Appetizers, Snacks, Beverages; Soups; Salads; Seafood; Poultry; Meats; Vegetarian Entrees; Vegetables and Side Dishes; Breads and Breakfast Dishes; Desserts.  There is a very short (6 pages) introduction on making healthy food choices, and a double index that isn't fantastic because it lists the recipes first by name, then by "subject", and many of the subjects are the same as the chapter headings.  It's just as easy for me to go to the first page of the poultry chapter and look at the recipe list that's printed at the start of the chapter with page numbers, as it is for me to go to the index, find the poultry section of the index, and look at that list of recipes.  If the index were sorted more specifically, for example chicken vs turkey, that would be more useful.  There are a few pictures in the center of the book, all in full colour, showing a total of 15 recipes.

Lots of recipes that look tasty, good nutritional information, and real "for two" recipes, none of that "freeze leftovers" nonsense that some small-yield cookbooks try. A couple recipes do call for "half a can" of diced tomatoes or whatever, which is frustrating, but most either use all of an ingredient or explain how you can purchase just half to begin with. There are a surprising number of processed ingredients in some of the recipes, and in order to make the nutritional analysis accurate you have to be careful to note that most of the ingredients required are "fat-free" or "low fat" or "low sodium" versions.

I've cooked from the book on several occasions, and have had good luck with everything I've tried, but for one soup that was far too heavily spiced. The dishes are good, filling, and the recipes are complete and easy to follow. Nothing so far has felt as if we're eating "light", there's no flavour lacking.  Admittedly, I sometimes use a recipe but don't get the "fat-free" sour cream that it calls for, but mostly I follow their guidelines. 

The vast majority of the entrees are in the 200-300 calorie range (some fall below that, a few go as high as 450 calories), and the sodium levels are generally amazingly low.  There are a lot of options, and recently this has been a cookbook that I find myself checking fairly often.  It's nice to have a good meal that is also relatively good for us. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Small-Batch Oatmeal Scotchies

After successfully writing and testing my recipe for Small-Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies, I decided to turn the same technique to other cookies.  I love Oatmeal Scotchies, but the recipe makes so many!  Fortunately, the egg and butter ratio could be modified in a fairly straightforward manner, so I'm pleased to have successfully written the below recipe. In the Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, I used vanilla sugar to counteract any tang from the acid that's in mayonnaise.  I use regular sugar in this recipe, partly because I doubt the vanilla sugar is strictly necessary in either recipe, but mostly because a common ingredient in some butterscotch-oatmeal cookies is a bit of citrus (usually orange zest), so the tiny bit of lemon juice usually found in mayonnaise won't be an issue flavour-wise. 
  • 2 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1/3 C flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 C quick or old-fashioned oats
  • 1/3 C butterscotch flavored morsels
1.  Preheat oven to 375°F.  In a medium bowl, cream together butter, sugar, and brown sugar until combined.  Stir in vanilla and mayonnaise until blended.
2.  Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, add to butter mixture and stir until combined.  Stir in oats and morsels.
3.  Drop dough onto baking sheet in rounded spoonfuls.  Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cookies are beginning to brown at the edges.  Allow to cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet.  Remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 8 medium-sized cookies

Robyn's notes: I made this twice, and the first time refrigerated the dough for an hour because I was in the middle of doing other things and wasn't ready to bake it yet.  That's not at all necessary, but it certainly doesn't hurt anything, just makes it a bit more difficult to form the dough into balls.  It will seem like there is far too much oat compared to dough when you start to mix in the oats, but stick with it and be sure to scrape your spoon, a lot of dough tries to hide in it.  Same with the butterscotch chips, there seems to be too many, but they can all be combined, even if it means pressing the stragglers into the dough balls before placing them on a cookie sheet.  The first four cookies I baked for 8 minutes, the second four for 10.  Not much difference between the two, and neither batch flattened much while baking, though they certainly baked through and I think they're delicious.  Just be aware that the cookies may not look cooked through if they've not flattened, but they actually are.  If you want flat cookies, make them small, the littlest cookies I made did flatten out during baking, but they were about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  Oatmeal Scotchies are some of my favourite cookies, so I'm very happy that these came out.  I have also made this recipe at high altitude, successfully, with no changes.  Several friends had them and all loved them.  

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Luleh Kebabs with Yogurt-Cucumber Sauce

As far as I can determine, Luleh Kebabs are an Armenian dish (though some others claim them, mostly people of various Persian descents).  Traditionally, they would be made with ground lamb, but as I didn't get this recipe from a traditional source, ground beef has been substituted.  This is an American Heart Association/American Diabetes Association approved dish.

Yogurt-Cucumber Sauce

  • 1/4 C fat-free plain yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped, peeled, and seeded cucumber
  • 1/8 tsp dried dillweed, crumbled
  • dash of pepper
  •  8 oz extra-lean ground beef
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped onion
  • 2 Tbsp snipped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
1.  In a small bowl, stir together the sauce ingredients.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
2.  Preheat the broiler.  In a medium bowl, using hands or a large spoon, combine the kebab ingredients.  Using hands, shape the mixture into two 6x1 1/2-inch logs.  Insert skewers into the center of the logs.  (Or shape the mixture into two oblong patties about 3/4 inch thick.)  Place on broiler sheet.
3.  Broil 4 to 5 inches from the heat for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until no longer pink in the center (internal temp should be 160°F).  Serve with the sauce.

Robyn's notes: these were fine, not exciting for me because there are so many parts of this that I'm not able to eat (cucumber, onion, only supposed to have ground beef once each month).  I tasted the sauce and it was interesting, very strong taste of the cucumber, which made it light and fresh.  The kebab was juicy all through, and I admit I ended up eating mine with some ketchup since I couldn't have the sauce.  Needs a side dish of some sort, since each person only gets one kebab it feels like you're not getting much to eat, even though it's a full serving.  For snipping the parsley, the easiest way is to use kitchen shears, hold the leaves in a tight bunch between your fingers, and carefully snip, avoiding injuring yourself.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cinnamon Apple Bagels

I love bagels for breakfast.  When I lived in Arizona, every Saturday morning when I got home from work (my Friday night shift ended at 7am Saturday morning), we'd load the dog into the car and head for the Bark Park, to give him a chance to run around and socialize with other dogs.  On the way, we'd stop at Einstein Brothers Bagels.  I'd get a plain with plain shmear (restrictions, sigh) and a hot chocolate.  Einstein Brothers knew us, and always threw in a free doggie bagel--bagels that fell on the floor would be wiped off and then cooked near to burnt for dogs.  Usually I'm too tired in the mornings to get fancy with my bagels, and I still have a plain with plain cream cheese.  Sometimes, though, I like to do a little something more.  No measurements on this, because much of it will depend on individual tastes.

1.  Split and toast two bagels, plain or whatever flavour is preferred (cinnamon or raisin are good options).  Allow to cool until easily held.
2.  Shmear cut sides with cream cheese to achieve preferred consistency (I like a lot of cream cheese on my bagel, my sweetheart prefers a thin spread).  Top with thin slices of apple (I usually go with Golden Delicious, you'll want an "eating apple", not a baking apple, that's juicy).  Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon.

Robyn's notes:  that's all there is to it!  The cinnamon won't impart a lot of actual taste, but every time you bring the bagel to your mouth you'll smell the cinnamon, and that makes for an entirely different experience than if you leave it out.  The juicy apple with the thick bagel bread is a winner in my mind.  I'm not allowed to eat the peel, so I have to peel my apples, but since that's where a lot of the nutrition is, I recommend leaving it on if you can.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chicken Tikka Masala

Whenever I go to an Indian restaurant that serves chicken tikka, I'm always grateful.  It's not really an Indian dish, after all, it's a British dish, so I'm glad it's made the transition here to the States, no matter what menus it ends up on.  If you can make your own garam masala mix, that's always best, but it's fine to grab one from the grocery.  Be aware that results will be different based on what specific spices are included in the garam masala mix you use.  Plan ahead, this includes a marinade.
  • 1/2 C plain yogurt
  • 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 3 tsp garam masala
  • dash cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 C heavy cream
1.  Combine yogurt, lemon juice, 2 1/2 tsp garam masala, ginger, and 1/4 tsp salt in a ziploc bag.  Add chicken, coating completely, seal, and marinate in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
2.  Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat, add garlic and saute for 1 minute.  Add paprika, 3 tsp garam masala, cayenne, 1/4 tsp salt, and blend.  Carefully stir in tomato sauce and heavy cream.  Simmer uncovered on low heat until thickened, approximately 20 minutes.
3.  Meanwhile, place chicken on broiler pan, discard marinade.  Broil 3-4 inches from heat for 8-10 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking.  Add cooked chicken to thickened sauce and simmer 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.  Serve over rice.

Robyn's notes: this was fairly spicy, but I'm sensitive to spice.  The garam masala I was using (I was lazy this time and used a pre-made mix) contained black pepper, cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, "and other spices".  I would have added black pepper and cumin separately if they had not been included in the mix.  Although we enjoyed this, it was a bit too spicy for our tastes, so I'm not likely to make it often.  

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Garam Masala

Garama masala is a blend of toasted ground spices used in South Asian cuisine, most especially in Northern India.  As is the case with curry powder, different brands will have different amounts of the spices, and sometimes other spices added. 

Many garam masalas will include black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, cardamom, and sometimes coriander.  Because these spices quickly lose their aroma and strength once ground, it is best and most effective to use whole spices and create the mix as needed.  In this case, the spices are toasted first, then ground together.  Sometimes a liquid is added to make a paste.  Bay leaves, nutmeg, garlic, or onion may be included.  In store-bought garam masala, there is often a higher proportion of less expensive spices, sometimes including ground ginger and dried garlic.

The pre-made garam masala I have on hand includes coriander, black pepper, cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon. 

GF - because garam masala is not a single spice, there is a very slight possibility of gluten in some brands. The McCormick company is very dependable on this subject and does not hide wheat on their labels (if it's there, it'll say "wheat", not "natural flavours"). At the time of this writing, McCormick garam masala is gluten-free, as are the vast majority of brands (I've yet to find one that isn't).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Zoku Fudgsicles

I don't think there's a part of the country that hasn't been suffering from the heat these past few weeks.  Personally, having lived in Arizona and in the Southern CA Low Desert, I'm just grateful to have air conditioning and not be looking at brown-outs on 110°F days.  But I have been using my Zoku quite a bit, mostly for simple juice pops.  I'd tried a Zoku-branded recipe for fudgsicles once before and wasn't happy with the results, so I'm pleased to say that this recipe seems to work great.
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2/3 C heavy cream
  • 1/4 C whole milk
  • 1/2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp vanilla
1.  Place the chocolate in a medium-sized glass bowl, and set aside.
2.  In a medium saucepan, combine cream, milk, and cocoa powder over medium-high heat, whisking constantly.  Bring to a simmer.  Remove from heat and pour mixture over chocolate.  Let sit for 2 minutes without stirring.
3.  Whisk together until chocolate is melted, whisk in vanilla.  Refrigerate until cool.
4.  Stir cooled sauce to re-combine.  Insert stick into mold, pour sauce into prepared Zoku, and let stand until frozen, 10-12 minutes.

Yield: 3 Zoku pops

Robyn's notes: the texture of these is exactly what I look for in a fudgsicle.  Remove from Zoku slowly, the soft consistency wants to stick.  It'll be fine if removed gently but will be a disaster if you force it.  I also thought these were great with some banana coins in the mold first.  Does not store well, I had some leftover in the fridge overnight and it had thickened to a point the following day that I had to defrost the Zoku to get the popsicle out (and I'd stirred it a lot before pouring it in the mold).

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often