Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Pomegranate-Honey Cornish Game Hens

If you're looking for a special occasion dinner for two (maybe for Valentine's Day?), look no further.  With a roast bird for each of you, this is delicious and filling, with a fancy presentation.  And while it does take some time, it's actually very simple to accomplish.
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 3/4 C kosher salt
  • 1 gallon water (see notes)
  • 2 Cornish game hens (giblets removed if necessary)
  • 1 C honey
  • 2 Tbsp pomegranate juice
  • pomegranate seeds (optional)
1.  In a large zip-top or brining bag, combine sugar, salt, and water.  Stir or agitate to help sugar and salt dissolve.  Add hens, ensuring they are completely covered.  Seal and refrigerate for 2 hours.
2.  Preheat oven to 400°F.  Remove hens from bag and discard brine.  Completely rinse hens, including cavity, in cool water, and pat dry. 
3.  Stir honey and juice together until well combined (see notes).
4.  Tie the legs of each hen together with kitchen twine.  Glaze both sides of hens with approximately 2 Tbsp honey mixture per bird.  Place hens breast side down on an elevated rack in a roasting pan.  Roast at 400°F for 1 hour, re-glazing birds with more honey mixture every 15 minutes and rotating the pan each time.  After the first 30 minutes, flip hens over in the pan. 
5.  After a total of 1 hour of cooking, or when meat thermometer reads 160-165°F, remove birds from pan and allow to rest.  Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, reduce any remaining honey mixture over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. 
6.  Pour reduced sauce over hens and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds if desired. 

Robyn's notes: brining can be skipped if desired, but will help keep roasted birds juicy.  The brining liquid can be all water, all chicken or vegetable broth, or a combination, as long as it totals 1 gallon.  Birds start breast side down so that the juices will move down into the breast and help to keep it from drying out as the darker meat cooks.  Even though the birds cook for 1 hour, it takes a few minutes to do each of the three glazes, rotate the pan, and flip the hens.  With that and resting time, plan to serve about 90 minutes after the birds first go into the oven.  I seeded a pomegranate and used fresh juice, but store-bought juice can be substituted.  The amount of juice added to the honey is by taste.  Start with 2 Tbsp, and if the pomegranate flavour isn't strong enough, add more.  I used a strong local honey that required quite a bit more juice to balance the flavour.  After the sauce is reduced, it will harden very quickly if left in the pan or in a bowl, so pour it over the birds right away and set everything to soak while you enjoy dinner.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Slow-Cooker Gooey Brownie Cake

Ok, so it doesn't look great in a photograph.  But it tastes fabulous! 
  • 4 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 3 Tbsp + 1 1/2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 1/4 tsp flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • dash salt
  • 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp chocolate chips
1.  Line insert of 1 1/2 quart slow cooker with foil, then lightly grease foil.
2.  Whisk together melted butter, sugar, cocoa powder, flour, egg, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl.  Fold in chocolate chips. Scrape batter into prepared insert in even layer.
3.  Cover and cook on LOW for 3.5 hours or HIGH for 2 hours.  Cake should be set around edges and gooey in center.

Robyn's notes: ok, it tasted quite good, but it wasn't the consistency I was hoping for.  I had a hard time getting it to set fully, and the lining seems unnecessary.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Slow-Cooker Swiss Steak

There are few dishes easier than this one, with prep about 2 minutes before it goes into the slow cooker to be ready for dinner!
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 3/4 lb beef top round steak
  • 1/2 medium onion, sliced
  • 1/3 C chopped celery
  • 1 can (8oz) tomato sauce
1.  In a large zip-top bag, combine flour, salt, and pepper.  Cut beef into two portions; add to bag and shake to coat.
2.  Spray slow cooker insert with nonstick spray.  Place onion inside, layer with beef, celery, and tomato sauce.  Cover and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours or until meat is tender.

Robyn's notes: this cooked the meat through nicely and smelled fabulous, but wasn't hugely exciting.  That was partly because I wasn't really in the mood for beef, so I have to be fair and mention it.  I served it over rice.  If desired, giving a quick sear to the meat in a skillet before putting it in the slow cooker would add some depth of flavor.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe and talk a little about slow cookers generally on youtube!

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

Friday, January 13, 2017

Slow-Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup

For cold and flu season, for a cold winter day, or just because, this makes a great soup and the noodles cook right in the broth at the end!

  • 6 oz boneless skinless chicken
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 C chicken broth
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp diced onion
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1/8 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/8 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 2 oz spaghetti noodles, broken into thirds
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
1.  Season chicken with salt and pepper, place into 1 1/2 qt slow cooker.
2.  Stir in broth, garlic, onion, carrot, celery, and seasonings. Cover and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours.
3.  Remove chicken and shred, using two forks.  Remove and discard bay leaf.
4.  Stir pasta and chicken into slow cooker.  Cover and cook on LOW for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until pasta is tender.
5.  Stir in lemon juice and serve.

Robyn's notes: the seasoning was just a tad strong, so don't overdo it.  I might add a pinch of cayenne next time.  This was very simple and straightforward.  Can use all chicken breast, all thigh, or a combination.  Thigh holds up better in the slow cooker, but I'm partial to breast, so I used both.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube! 

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Slow-Cooker Breakfast Bake

I'm someone who enjoys traditional breakfast foods at any time of the day, but if you prefer not to have breakfast for dinner, this makes a great weekend brunch.  Just start it when you first get up, and in a couple hours it'll be ready! 
  • 1 C frozen hash brown potatoes
  • 1 C shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
1.  Spray the inside of a 1 1/2 quart slow cooker with cooking spray.  Pour potatoes, cheese, and bacon into slow cooker, stir briefly to combine.
2.  Beat together eggs, milk, salt, and pepper until well mixed.  Pour over mixture in slow cooker, stir briefly to distribute potatoes, cheese, and bacon throughout eggs.
3.  Cover slow cooker and cook on HIGH for 2-3 hours or on LOW for 4-5 hours, until well set.

Robyn's notes: I used Southern-style hash brown potatoes, because it was what I had on hand, but the shredded will also work just as well.  I also used a four-cheese Mexican cheese blend because again it was what I had on hand.  If desired, add chopped green onions when combining potatoes, cheese, and bacon.  I thought this would be only ok, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Friday, December 23, 2016

Cinnamon-Sugar Chayote Pies

A squash usually used in savory preparations, chayote can also shine as a dessert.
  • 2 servings pâte brisée or purchased pie dough
  • scant 1/4 C brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • dash salt
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 medium chayote squash
1.  Preheat oven to 425°F.  Roll and cut two circles of crust for the bottom of the pies.  Press into bottom and up sides of two mini pie pans or tart dishes. 
2.  In a small bowl, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.  Peel and slice chayote into small pieces, coat pieces with sugar and flour mixture.  Place seasoned chayote pieces into crusts, layering them well above the top level of the pie pan (squash 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 18-22 minutes.  Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.

 Robyn's notes: nice as something a little different, but won't replace apple pies for me, mainly because the chayote stays crisper than I prefer.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Pâte Brisée

This pie dough can be used for savory or sweet pies, and once prepared can be kept in the refrigerator for 5 days or the freezer for up to 3 months. 
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 2 Tbsp cold butter
  • 1 Tbsp cold shortening
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp ice cold water, as needed
1.  Place flour, butter, shortening, and salt in a bowl.  Cut the butter and shortening into the flour until it is the size of peas.  Add 4 tsp of water and stir lightly with a fork until it just starts to form moist clumps, adding a bit more water, if necessary.
2.  Divide the dough into two flattened discs and wrap them individually with cling film.  Chill the dough at least 30 minutes before rolling as directed in recipe.

Robyn's notes: this dough worked quite well for me, and I enjoyed the flake and flavour of it.  If it's been frozen, thaw by leaving it in the fridge overnight first.  The recipe makes enough dough for a top and bottom crust for one small pie.

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


A very special family recipe!  My late maternal grandpa was in the US Army Air Forces (the predecessor to the US Air Force) during WWII, and the wife of one of his friends in the USAAF had the original recipe.  When she made it, it was meatless, but my grandmother added ground beef, and we've been making it ever since.  I'm so spoiled by these enchiladas--and especially by the sauce--that I don't ever order enchiladas in restaurants, because I know they just won't be as good as the ones I grew up on! 


  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbsp Gebhart's Eagle Brand* chili powder
  • 1 1/2 C water
1.  Combine flour and garlic salt in a small bowl, set aside.  
2.  In a medium saucepan, heat oil over high heat; stir in flour mixture.  Reduce heat to medium or medium-high and cook for 1 minute.  Do not allow flour to brown. 
3.  Remove pan from heat and stir in chili powder; when thoroughly blended, return to heat and immediately stir in water.  Stir until it is a smooth consistency--do not allow chili powder to burn. 
4.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. 


  • 1/4 lb ground beef
  • 3 green onions, diced
  • 2 1/2 C shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 4 corn tortillas
1.  While sauce simmers, brown ground beef.  Add salt and pepper to taste if preferred.  Preheat oven to 350°F.
2.  Drain fat from meat and allow to cool.  Add onions and two-thirds of cheese and stir thoroughly. 
3.  Warm tortillas (see notes, below).  Divide the meat mixture evenly between the tortillas and roll each one.  Place rolled enchiladas, seam side down, in ungreased baking dish.  Pour sauce over all, and top with remaining cheese.
4.  Bake enchiladas 10-15 minutes at 350°F or until sauce bubbles and cheese melts.  Serve hot. 

Robyn's notes: to warm tortillas, place them between dampened paper towels, then microwave on high for 1 minute.  If a microwave is not available, remove from package and place in a brown paper back.  Sprinkle the outside of bag with water and place in preheated oven for 5 minutes.  Chili powder brand is important in this case.  The enchiladas can be made with another brand, but they really won't taste as good.  Each family member has tried, friends have tried, it's just not worth the substitution.  Gebhardt's is not always available (I can't get it at the markets in my area), but it can be ordered online in reasonably-sized packages, and is usually found at larger stores.  The sauce will make more than needed for four enchiladas, but can't really be reduced any further.  The leftovers are great drizzled over scrambled eggs, or baked chicken.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe, with a special guest, on youtube!

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Apple Meatloaf

During the holidays, sometimes you might have someone staying with you, so you need an easy dish that will feed an extra person.  This is a quick meatloaf that serves three, instead of our usual two, with a touch of sweetness from the autumn apple. 
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 3/4 C shredded peeled apple
  • 1/2 C soft bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tsp ketchup
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • dash ground allspice
  • 3/4 lb lean ground beef
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a small skillet, saute onion in butter until tender. 
2.  In a large bowl, combine the apple, bread crumbs, egg, ketchup, mustard, salt, pepper, and allspice.  Stir in onion.  Crumble beef over misture and mix well.  Shape into a 6"x5" loaf.
3.  Place in an 8" square baking dish coated with nonstick spray.  Bake, uncovered, at 350°F for 40-45 minutes or until no pink remains and a meat thermometer reads 160°F.

Robyn's notes: I don't normally get very excited about meatloaf.  It's fine, but it tends to feel kind of blah.  This was a pleasant surprise.  The apple lends just the right amount of sweet, as well as keeping the meat moist.  For myself, in future, I'd leave out the onion entirely.  Since I can't eat onion I have to pick it out of the final dish, which is fine, I'm totally used to it, except that the shredded apple and finely chopped sauteed onion look identical in the cooked loaf, so it was very hard to pick out the right things.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Spicy Chicken Tenders

Fast and delicious, these can be doubled and served on skewers as an appetizer when having guests! 
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp curry powder
  • 1/8 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 lb chicken tenderloins
 1.  In a small bowl, combine water and seasonings; brush over both sides of chicken.  Place in a large resealable plastic bag; seal bag and refrigerate 15 minutes.
2.  Place chicken on a broiler pan coated with nonstick cooking spray.  Broil 3-4 inches from the heat for 3 minutes on each side or until juices run clear.

Robyn's notes: spicy for my taste, but I knew it would be.  The red pepper flakes can be adjusted to meet the diners' preferences.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe and talk about broiling--even if you don't have a broiler pan--on youtube!

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

Friday, November 4, 2016

Mini Spaghetti Pies

I remember seeing a spaghetti pie recipe in a Pillsbury book when I was a late-teen and thinking pasta for a crust sounded fantastic, but just kind of never got around to making one.  This one is great, and the pies can be frozen before baking if needed. 
  • 3 oz cooked angel hair pasta or thin spaghetti 
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 lb bulk pork sausage
  • 1/4 C chopped onion
  • 1/2 C tomato sauce 
  • 1/3 C sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 C shredded mozzarella cheese
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a small bowl, combine pasta, egg, and Parmesan cheese.  Press onto the bottom and up sides of two mini pie plates coated with nonstick cooking spray, set aside.
2.  Crumble sausage into a small skillet, add onion.  Cook over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain.  Stir in the tomato sauce, sour cream, and Italian seasoning.  Spoon into crusts.
3.  Bake, uncovered, at 350°F for 15-20 minutes, or until heated through.  Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese; bake an additional 2-3 minutes or until cheese is melted.  Serve immediately.

 Robyn's notes: this can also be made in a single 7-inch pie pan (not the standard size, which is 9-inch), or in a shallow 2-cup oven-safe baking dish, or in two custard cups or ramekins.  This was good, but I have to say the crust really was the star for me.  I'd have eaten that practically with no filling!  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Maple Baked Apple

A lightning-quick dessert for times when you're on your own and want something with just the right amount of sweet.
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp raisins, dried cranberries, or dried currants
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 medium tart apple
 1.  In a small bowl, combine first six ingredients.  Core apple and peel the top third.  Place in a small microwave-safe dish.  Fill apple with walnut mixture.  Microwave, uncovered, on high for 3-4 minutes or until apple is tender.  Serve warm.

 Robyn's notes: I used a Jonagold apple--they're good for baking because they hold their shape well.  This was really quite good, except that I can't eat a couple of the ingredients.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe--and how to core an apple without a corer--on youtube!

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Scented Rice in Baked Pumpkin

An easy, filling vegetarian dish that makes the whole kitchen smell like autumn. 
  • 1 small pie pumpkin (about 2lbs)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 C cooked brown rice
  • 1/4 C coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
  • 3 dried apricots, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp raisins
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp curry powder
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp ground cumin
1.  Preheat oven to 400°F.  Wash pumpkin, cut off top stem section.  Remove seeds and scrape out stringy fibers.  Cut pumpkin in half vertically.  Brush halves with oil.  Place onto an ungreased baking sheet.   Bake at 400°F for 35-40 minutes or until tender.
2.  To hot rice, add pecans, apricots, raisins, salt, curry, cinnamon and cardamom if using.  Stir to combine. 
3.  Sprinkle cumin on inside of pumpkin halves; top with rice mixture. 

Robyn's notes: there's a lot here that I can't have, but it smelled fantastic and I did taste it to get a sense of the dish.  It was good, and really quite easy to prepare, with a lot of hands-off time.  I held the seeds aside to roast them, but was sick and forgot to do it, so they sprouted before I got a chance.  Oops!  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Friday, October 14, 2016

Loaded S'mores Dip

I can't remember where on the internet I first heard of s'mores dip, but long after I'd lost the link I decided to reverse-engineer it, with a couple added ingredients. 
  • 2/3 C chocolate chips
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter
  • 12 large marshmallows, cut in half
  • 1 banana, coined, with coins cut in half
  • graham crackers
1.  Preheat oven to 450°F.  Divide chocolate chips between two cast-iron mini skillets (5 inches top diameter), covering the bottoms.  Dollop peanut butter over chocolate chips in several places.  Top with marshmallow halves, cut side down.
2.  Bake at 450°F for 7-9 minutes.  Remove from oven, stir briefly, and scatter banana pieces into dip.  Serve with graham crackers for dipping.

Robyn's notes: this is definitely delicious, but very rich.  I've always enjoyed peanut butter with banana, and fluffernutters are popular with a lot of people, so it's kind of a combination of s'mores and those two things.  I think the cool fresh banana adds something to the otherwise thick hot dip.

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Pumpkin Sloppy Joes

It may have snowed here yesterday, but for most people in the Northern Hemisphere autumn is in full colourful glory!  Time to satisfy all those pumpkin cravings.  But since this calls for canned pumpkin, keep it in your back pocket any time of the year for a little something different.
  • 1/2 lb lean ground beef
  • 3 Tbsp finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 C ketchup
  • 2 Tbsp tomato juice
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • dash ground cloves
  • dash ground nutmeg
  • dash pepper
  • 2/3 C canned pumpkin
  • 2 hamburger buns, split
1.  In a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain.
2.  Add the ketchup, tomato juice, chili powder, and spices, mix well.  Bring to a boil.  Stir in pumpkin.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until heated through.  Serve on buns.

Robyn's notes: I actually don't get that excited about pumpkin, but still enjoyed this.  It's satisfying if you feel like having sloppy joes, while being different enough to make it special.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Monday, October 10, 2016

PB Poire Belle Helene

From the first moment I heard of this recipe I knew I had to make it.  Poached pears with vanilla ice cream in warm chocolate sauce?!  Absolutely, I'm all over that.  But I basically just didn't get around to it, until one day I was playing around in the kitchen and came up with the peanut butter chocolate sauce.  I decided I had to try that with the pears, and here we are!
1.   In a wide saucepan or deep skillet, bring water and sugar to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. 
2.  Add pears, cut side down, and raise the heat so that the syrup boils up over the pears (it may be necessary to spoon some syrup over the top of the pears).  Lower heat, cover, and simmer 5-7 minutes.  Turn pears, cover and simmer another 5-7 minutes.  Pears should be tender when pierced.  Remove from heat, cover, and leave to cool. 
3.  Scoop 1/2 C ice cream onto each of two serving dishes.  Place two pear halves alongside each scoop of ice cream, and drizzle with chocolate sauce. 

Robyn's notes: Bosc pears are the best for poaching, as they hold their shape when cooked.  This was really quite good, best with a bit of each element in every bite. 

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

Peanut Butter Chocolate Sauce

  • 1/3 C chocolate chips
  • 2 tsp shortening
  • 1 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
1.  Add chocolate chips and shortening to a small microwave-safe bowl, do not stir.  Microwave, at 70% power, for 2 minutes.  Remove from microwave and immediately stir in peanut butter until sauce is smooth.

Robyn's notes: I have made this with milk chocolate a few times but have mostly used semi-sweet.  My microwave is 1540 watts, cooktime and power level may be different for other machines.  This is great over ice cream, cookies, all sorts of things, and licking the bowl is a must!

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Pork with Curried Apple and Couscous

Perfect for an early-autumn weeknight dinner, the aroma of the curry will make you glad it only takes a half hour to prepare. 
  • 3/4 lb pork tenderloin
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 3 tsp butter, divided
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 small apple, peeled and sliced
  • 1 Tbsp raisins
  • 1 tsp cornstarch (see notes, below)
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1/3 C chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 C hot cooked couscous
1.  Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper.  In a medium skillet, brown pork in 2 tsp butter.  Reduce heat to low; cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until meat thermometer reads 160°F, turning occasionally.  Remove pork and keep warm.
2.  In the same skillet, saute onion and garlic in remaining butter until tender.  Add apple and raisins, saute 2 minutes longer.  Combine the cornstarch, curry powder, and broth until smooth; stir into apple mixture.  Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened.  Serve with pork and couscous.

 Robyn's notes: I decided to use tapioca starch (tapioca flour) in place of the cornstarch, to see if the recipe would be successful for people who can't eat corn derivatives.  Came out great.  When making that substitution, it's a 2:1 ratio, tapioca to cornstarch.  So since the recipe calls for 1 tsp cornstarch, 2 tsp tapioca starch is needed.  This was good, smelled fantastic, but the pork was a little drier than I wanted it, and I barely cooked it to done because I knew the carryover as it rested would get it to proper internal temperature.  Gluten-free if you use rice instead of couscous.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Friday, September 23, 2016

Chocolate Drizzled Shortbread

These can look quite fancy without taking much work, and shortbread goes well with a lot of different meals. 
  • 1/2 C butter, softened
  • 1/2 C powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 C flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 chocolate chips
  • 1/4 tsp shortening
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a small mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Beat in vanilla; mix well.  Combine flour and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. 
2.  Shape into 1 inch balls.  Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet; flatten slightly with a glass dipped in sugar.  Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden brown.  Immediately remove to wire racks to cool. 
3.  For drizzle, in a heavy saucepan or microwave, melt the chips and shortening, stir until smooth.  Remove from heat.  Drizzle over cookies. 
Yield: about 18 cookies

Robyn's notes: Good when you want cookies but have run out of eggs or granulated sugar.  This went quickly, though the drizzle required fast work because I had to do it while the chocolate was still very hot.  I really like the dough for these!

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

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Steak Strips with Dumplings

A great dish for a busy Sunday, with just a few steps and taking advantage of a slow cooker, this makes a tasty end-of-summer hot dinner that makes the house smell fabulous! 
  • 3/4 lb boneless beef top round steak, cut into 1/2 inch strips
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 2/3 C condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted
  • 1/2 C beef broth
  • 4 large fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 C chopped onion
  • 1/4 C chopped green pepper
  • 1/4 C chopped celery
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp beaten egg
  • 3 Tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley flakes
1.  Sprinkle steak with pepper.  In a small skillet, brown steak in oil over medium-high heat.  Transfer to a 1 1/2 quart slow cooker.
2.  Combine the soup, broth, and vegetables; pour over steak.  Cover and cook on LOW for 4 hours.
3.  For dumplings, in a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.  Stir in egg and milk just until blended.  Drop by Tablespoonfuls onto meat mixture.  Sprinkle with parsley.  Cover and cook on HIGH for 1 hour.  After 5 total hours of cooking, a toothpick inserted in a dumpling should come out clean.

Robyn's notes: I enjoyed this more than expected, because I'm not someone who has eaten a lot of dumplings in my life, so I was pleasantly surprised by them.  The aroma really was great, my stomach was rumbling by dinnertime.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on YouTube!

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

Monday, September 19, 2016

Crackle Cookies

Quick to make and nice to see on the plate, they won't leave you with dozens of cookies to finish later. 
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 square (1 oz) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 1/2 to 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • powdered sugar
1.  In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, egg, oil, chocolate, and vanilla; mix well.  Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.  Refrigerate dough for at least 2 hours.
2.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  With sugared hands, shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Roll in powdered sugar.  Place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets.  Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes or until set.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.
Yield: about 18 cookies.

Robyn's notes: I took these and another batch of cookies to a potluck lunch and they seemed to go pretty well, but I found them a bit dry so I'm only giving them 3 stars.  

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

Saturday, September 17, 2016

S'mores Bread

As the warm summer days give way to chill autumn nights, this is a great bread for holding onto those campfire moments just a little longer.
  • 3 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/4 C brown sugar
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 C sour cream
  • 2/3 C flour
  • 1/2 C graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 3 Tbsp milk
  • 1/3 C milk chocolate chips
  • 6 Tbsp marshmallow creme
1.   Preheat oven to 400°F.  In a small mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars.  Add egg; beat well.  Stir in sour cream.  Combine the flour, graham cracker crumbs, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and baking soda; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk just until moistened.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Add marshmallow creme to mixture, and swirl through gently without combining (the marshmallow creme should remain visible).
2.  Grease a mini loaf pan.  Fill two-thirds full with batter.  Bake at 400°F for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.  Serve warm. 

 Robyn's notes: I had some difficulties with the marshmallow creme, because it expands as it bakes, which caused some overflow.  If the creme is stirred into the batter too much, it will disappear in the finished bread, which will still taste good but won't taste like a S'more.  If the marshmallow overflows there won't be enough remaining in the bread for that flavor.  So it's a balancing act.  It can be hard to test for doneness, as a toothpick has to be inserted where there are no chocolate chips or marshmallow ribbons to get an accurate read, it may be necessary to poke in several places.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on YouTube!

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

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Jalapeño-Lime Sweet Potato

When you're in the mood for a spicy dish that will provide two side servings, this is the way to go. 
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 1/4 C sour cream
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp minced jalapeño pepper
  • 1/2 tsp lime juice
  • 1/8 tsp hot sauce (optional)
  • dash salt
1.  Bake sweet potato (see notes, below)
2.  In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, syrup, pepper, lime juice, hot sauce if desired, and salt.  Cut sweet potato in half; top with sour cream mixture.  

Robyn's notes: just as with white potatoes, there are several ways to bake a sweet potato.  The fastest is the prick it with a fork in several places, and microwave on high for 8-9 minutes, flipping once halfway through.  You can also poke it then wrap in foil and bake at 400°F for 45-50 minutes, or on a grill if you've already got one heated.  The longest way but which has the best result in my opinion is to poke it in several places, wrap in foil, place in a 1 1/2 qt slow cooker, and cook on Low for 4.5 hours.  Use what works best for you.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Honey-Topped Sweet Potato

When you need a quick side dish that will serve the both of you with minimal fuss, a sweet potato and a few on-hand ingredients will step right in!
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 2 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 4 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
1.  Bake sweet potato (see notes, below).
2.  In a small bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, honey, and cinnamon until smooth.  Cut an "x" on top of potato.  Using a fork, fluff the pulp.  Add butter mixture, fluff with potato until melted.

Robyn's notes: just as with white potatoes, there are several ways to bake a sweet potato.  The fastest is the prick it with a fork in several places, and microwave on high for 8-9 minutes, flipping once halfway through.  You can also poke it then wrap in foil and bake at 400°F for 45-50 minutes, or on a grill if you've already got one heated.  The longest way but which has the best result in my opinion is to poke it in several places, wrap in foil, place in a 1 1/2 qt slow cooker, and cook on Low for 4.5 hours.  Use what works best.  Unfortunately in the photo above I baked it in the oven, for an hour even, and though it felt cooked through when I squeezed it, it wasn't as soft as I would have liked, so it was difficult to "fluff" the pulp.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Monday, September 5, 2016

Chocolate Cherry Bars

In 1974, Mrs Emil Jerzak won a grand prize from Pillsbury for her Chocolate Cherry Bars recipe, and my family has been making them ever since.  The original recipe called for a box of fudge cake mix, and over the years all brands have changed their formulation in various ways.  The finished product remained delicious, but wasn't exactly what it was 42 years ago.  My mom and I have both separately worked on tweaks to the full-size version, to regain the remembered taste and texture, and I have long wanted a reduced version.  This is my final successful incarnation, sized for my smaller household.  It does call for half a can of cherry pie filling, but the remainder can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks and used for another purpose...perhaps Slow-Cooker Cherry-Balsamic Pork Tenderloin?  Each mini loaf is two servings, so this recipe makes a total of four servings, but I suspect the second loaf won't stand around long before being eaten.
  • 1 batch Instant Fudge Cake Mix
  • 1 C cherry pie filling (from a 21 oz can)
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 egg, beaten


  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp milk
  • 1/2 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
 1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  With shortening, grease and then flour two mini loaf pans (5.75"x 3"x 2").  In medium bowl, combine first four ingredients, stir by hand until well mixed.  Pour into prepared pans.
2.  Bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
3.  While bars cool, prepare frosting.  In small saucepan, combine sugar, butter, and milk.  Boil, stirring constantly, 1 minute.  Remove from heat, stir in chocolate chips until smooth.  Pour over partially cooled bars.

Robyn's notes: though it's perfectly fine to use flour to prepare the pans, I like to use cocoa powder instead.  Flour can sometimes leave a bit of white on the finished cake, while cocoa will blend with the dark brown of the chocolate and won't be visible.  The original bars were intended to be frosted while still in the pans, so that only the tops were frosted, but I like to remove them from the pans first, so the frosting drips down the sides of the cakes.  The frosting will set very quickly, so however you choose to do it, do it fast. 

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

Friday, September 2, 2016

Instant Fudge Cake Mix

This is a copycat of your standard box cake mix, but makes a much smaller cake or fewer cupcakes.  It's shelf-stable for several months in a sealed container.
  • 2/3 C flour
  • 1/2 C + 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/3 C cocoa
  • 1/2 rounded tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 rounded tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp shortening
1.  Stir together all ingredients except shortening.  Using a hand mixer, add shortening until it is completely mixed in and no visible chunks remain.

To use:

  • 1/3 C + 1 1/2 Tbsp water
  • 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.
2.  In a medium bowl, combine wet ingredients with dry cake mix.  Divide batter equally between two mini loaf pans (or two 6-inch round cake pans).  Bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Robyn's notes: I mixed up the dry ingredients and put them in a mason jar, which was left on the counter for a couple weeks of changing weather conditions, to see how well it would hold up in heat, direct sunlight, and unexpectedly cold nights.  No problems with the mix.  I used the mix for Chocolate Cherry Bars and they came out fabulously.  For cupcakes, I baked for 17 minutes.  Waatch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Dealing with Large Potlucks

I think potlucks tend to be challenging for many people, but they're even harder for small households, especially when you've been a small household for any length of time.  Watch me demonstrate the included recipes on youtube!

The usual difficulties lie in time, temperature, space, and facilities.  Potlucks are often held in people's workplaces or for civic/philanthropic groups, which means there will be limited ability to re-heat hot dishes or to keep cold dishes chilled.  In my case there's the extra issue of not having much in the way of large cooking vessels.  My largest pan is a 9 inch x 9 inch cake pan.  How would I bring a casserole to serve a dozen or more people?!

If you can manage to be assigned a dessert, you're pretty much golden.  Cookies are always a good dessert, and they solve all your problems in one.  While I did spend several years only owning a mini baking sheet, I currently have a regular-size one, and I suspect that most households are more likely to have a full-size cookie sheet than one that will fit a toaster oven.  Cookies can be made ahead, bagged, and laid out nicely on a plate just before the meal, and everyone will be happy.  Another option that I've used is petit fours or even simply a cake cut into tiny squares that are individually frosted.  That takes more time and effort, but goes over well.

But sometimes you can't be the dessert bringer.  Once, when I was asked to bring a main dish, I made Easy Burrito Roll-Ups (note that the posted version is the halved recipe, for a potluck I'd make the full size, or double this posted recipe).  At a potluck, no one person should ever be the only one bringing the main dish, so you don't need a recipe that serves the total number of people, because everyone should take less than a regular serving of each entree.  So a dish that serves 8 can serve about 14, a dish that serves 12 can feed nearly two dozen.

Slow cookers are my friend for potlucks, as long as it's not a picnic (for picnics, I generally let the grocery store deli department take care of things, there's only so much time and energy I'm willing to give to the issue).  Set everything up at home, plug in as soon as you arrive, and it'll be hot when people are ready to eat a few hours later.  Chilled dishes are another good bet, if there's a fridge on site and if your dish is not too large for the shelves and there aren't a lot of other people bringing cold dishes that will crowd yours out.  Salads, therefore, are another great thing to get on the list for.  And if you can swing it at all, and don't want to worry about anything, find a way to sign up for rolls and either make them the day before or pick up a bag from the market on your way.

Potlucks are not a great place to show off your cooking skills.  Most of the people eating won't notice if you've done something special (I once made a potato side dish that required two specialty cheeses and my mandolin, most of it came home with me, which was delicious but kind of heart-breaking), and if they do particularly enjoy something they will either forget who made it or forget to mention it to you, because there are so many other dishes and people, and they're socializing while they eat.  Don't put a lot of time and heart into it, you're just setting yourself up for disappointment.  Use the opportunity to take advantage of convenience foods, there is nothing wrong with that.  Remember that there will probably be at least one person with dietary restrictions who just can't have what you're serving, and be ok with that.  If possible, include a list of the ingredients that you place next to the dish (not a recipe, just a list), so that people know if what you've brought is safe for them.

Couscous Fruit Salad

  • 1/2 C orange juice, no pulp
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 C uncooked couscous
  • 1/4 C sliced almonds
  • 2 lbs assorted fresh prepared fruit from the grocery
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a medium saucepan, combine orange juice and water.  Bring to a boil, add couscous, cover, and remove from heat.  Let sit for 6 minutes.  Fluff couscous with a fork and spread out on a baking sheet or several plates in a shallow layer to cool.
2.  Meanwhile, spread almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Bake at 350°F for 5-6 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time, until toasted a light golden brown.  Transfer to a plate and allow to cool.
3.  Just before serving, drain fruit and combine with couscous and almonds in a large bowl.  Toss together until well mixed.

Robyn's notes: the fruit that was included in the packages I bought: strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, honeydew, blackberries, pineapple, grapes, raspberries.  I actually didn't get any of this, it was far more popular than I expected so the only parts that were left at the end were a few chunks of melon, and I can't eat melon.  I packaged up the couscous and almonds separately, and assembled on site.

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

Slow-Cooker Cheesy Potatoes

  • 3 C milk
  • 1 can (10.75 oz) condensed Cheddar cheese soup
  • 2 boxes (5 oz each) cheese scalloped potatoes
  • 2 C boiling water
1.  Spray 3.5-4 quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray.  In large bowl, combine milk, soup, and contents of seasoning packets from potatoes; blend well.  Add potatoes, mix well.  Pour mixture into sprayed slow cooker.  Pour boiling water over potato mixture; stir to mix.
2.  Cover, cook on low setting for 7 to 8 hours.

Robyn's notes: I used Betty Crocker Three-Cheese Potatoes.  This cooked for an hour, then I wrapped it in a beach towel to keep the outside warm and protect my car in case of sudden stops, and placed it on the floor of the front passenger seat.  The drive took about 40 minutes, then it was about another 10 minutes of getting things inside and set up, then it was plugged back in and cooked for about another 6 hours, possibly just a little longer.  I thought it was good, and it was very popular at the potluck.  More of it was eaten than the other potato dishes that had been brought (including at least one other scalloped potato dish), so very little of it came home with me afterward.  

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

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Two Quick Chocolate and Tortilla Desserts

Here are some options when you need a little something sweet that won't take a lot of energy and probably won't require a trip to the store!

Chocolate Wraps

  • 3 Tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 tsp butter
  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 3 Tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 1/4 tsp powdered sugar
  • 2 flour tortillas (6 inches)
  • 1 Tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 tsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp hot water
 1.  In a microwave, melt chocolate chips and butter; stir until smooth.  Cool slightly.  Stir in cream cheese, peanut butter, and powdered sugar until blended.  Spread over tortillas.  Roll up tightly; wrap in cling film.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
2.  For glaze, in a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips, butter, and corn syrup; stir in water until smooth.  Drizzle over wraps.

Robyn's notes:  this was good, but quickly became just a bit too much for me.  I could barely eat a whole wrap and I didn't use all the filling so couldn't have eaten a whole one if I had spread it on thickly.  Watch me demonstrate both these recipes on youtube! 

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

Honey-Chocolate Quesadillas

  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 flour tortillas (6 inches)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
1.  Drizzle honey over half of one tortilla; sprinkle with cinnamon and chocolate chips. Fold tortilla over to close. In a small skillet, cook quesadilla in oil over medium heat for 1-2 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Cut into four wedges.

Robyn's notes: I've been making this for years and it's quite tasty.  Can also be done in the microwave, though the tortilla will get pretty soggy in that case.  Don't overdo it on the honey, as it warms it will run everywhere and the quesadilla will be nearly impossible to eat.  Watch me demonstrate both these recipes on youtube!

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Slow Cooker Cherry-Balsamic Pork Tenderloin

I'm really quite proud of this recipe.  Here's what happened: I'm recipe testing a dessert (hopefully soon to appear!) which will require half a can of cherry pie filling.  As has been shown time and again here on Our Small Table, I don't like using "half a can" of anything, unless I have a use for the remainder.  I was also working on the recently-posted Pork Tenderloin with Horseradish Sauce, which meant I had half a pork tenderloin left.  Same problem.  Well, cherries and pork go together, right?  Why not combine my two orphaned ingredients?  So I sat and brainstormed what else should go in, and the cooking method I wanted to use, and I really thought it would take several attempts to get it just right.  Lo and behold: delicious on the first try!
  • 1 C cherry pie filling (from a 21 oz can)
  • 1 garlic clove. minced
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 3/4 lb pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat
  • salt and pepper to taste
1.  In a small bowl, stir together pie filling, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and ginger.  Set aside.
2.  Season pork with salt and pepper on both sides.  Place in a 1-1/2 qt slow cooker.  Pour cherry mixture over top of pork, covering completely.  Cook on LOW heat for 4.5-5 hours or until meat thermometer inserted at thickest part of meat reads 160°F.
3.  Remove pork from slow cooker and set aside to rest before slicing.  Meanwhile, pour sauce from slow cooker into medium saucepan.  Bring to a slow boil over medium-low heat and reduce for 5-6 minutes.  Slice pork and spoon sauce over top.

Robyn's notes: I didn't think about a side dish until the pork was done cooking, so I needed something that would cook fast, while the sauce was reducing.  Since I didn't have any instant rice in the cupboard, I chose plain couscous.  This was really good.  I got a little nervous at around the 4 hour cooking point, because I could really smell the vinegar and thought it would overpower the dish, but it turned out to be just the right amount.  

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

Pork Tenderloin with Horseradish Sauce

With just a few steps of prep-work and about half an hour in the oven, a delicious pork dinner that can be served hot or cold.
  • 1/2 tsp steak seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 pork tenderloin (3/4 pound), trimmed
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp olive oil

Horseradish Sauce:

  • 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp sour cream
  • 1 tsp prepared horseradish
  • 1/8 tsp grated lemon peel
  • dash salt and pepper
1.  In a small bowl, combine the steak seasoning, rosemary, and thyme; rub over meat.  Using the point of a sharp knife, make eight slits in the tenderloin.  Insert garlic into slits.  Place meat on a rack in a foil-lined shallow roasting pan.  Drizzle with vinegar and oil.
2.  Bake, uncovered, at 350°F for 30-40 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads 160°F.  Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.
3.  Meanwhile, combine the sauce ingredients; chill until serving.  Serve with pork.

Robyn's notes: I enjoyed this quite a bit more than I expected.  Pork was not in heavy rotation in my house when I was growing up (aside from ham and bacon), which means that my main exposure to it for many years was pork chops at buffets and potlucks.  That's not the best example of the meat, as it tends to be dry and somewhat tasteless in those cases.  This was juicy and tasty and I would absolutely have it again.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Kitchen Basics #3 -- Measuring

So, does it really matter that much just how a cook measures an ingredient?  Are all the different measuring cups and spoons truly important, or just a way for kitchen supply stores to increase sales?  Is weight actually a better method than volume?  Why do we do it this way, anyway?!

I've demonstrated the proper measuring process for a few ingredients, as well as showing why it makes a difference, in a video on youtube.  Go check it out!

Here in the US, most people use volume measurements of Cups, Tablespoons, and teaspoons.   This is easy and quick, but yes, the weight measures used in other countries are more accurate.  Many professional bakers here use weights for that very reason, and now that kitchen scales are inexpensive, more home bakers are going that direction.  I use both in my kitchen, but since US standard remains volume, all my recipes are written that way. 

Three types of measuring equipment are needed for a standard home kitchen: a liquid measuring cup showing increments from 1/4 Cup to 1 Cup, a set of dry measuring cups, and a set of measuring spoons.  I always make sure to have the "extended" set of measuring spoons, which includes both a 1/8 tsp and a 1/2 Tbsp.  Since I make small dishes, I use those two far more than kitchens that regularly cook for 4 or more people.  I have not found those sets difficult to buy or any more expensive.  Dry measuring cups should have some heft to them, if the metal is too thin they may bend at the handle when you're using them, which can get messy and frustrating and means the possibility of spilling and inaccurate measures.  Avoid any sort of lip where the handle meets the cup, as it's a great place for food particles to get trapped and for bacteria to form over time if not scrupulously cleaned.  Measuring spoons are best if all one piece, whether that be metal or plastic--your preference--for the same reason.  I keep two liquid measuring cups in the house, a 4 Cup and a 1 Cup, some people like to have a third, mid-range as well.  The larger is not strictly necessary for most people, it's simply faster for measuring large amounts and I use it mostly when making jams to make sure I have the proper ounces of fruit pulp. 

It is necessary to have separate dry and wet cup sets, though spoons are used for both. Wet measuring cups allow you to correct for the meniscus, or curve caused by surface tension. You may notice that when filling a dry measure with water, the water line can actually be higher than the top of the cup. This is more difficult to see and correct in a dry measure than in a wet.  It's also far more difficult to get a liquid right up to the top of a dry cup and then transport that to the work station without spilling. 

While it won't appear in my recipes because I find it less clear and because I don't often write recipes that call for so much butter, sometimes a recipe will reference a "stick of butter".  As shown in the photo above, butter in the US is mostly sold in wrapped sticks, each of which is 1/2 Cup.  On the wrapping is printed lines showing Tablespoon measures, 1/4 Cup, and usually 1/3 Cup.  By simply slicing along the proper line, the needed amount of butter is measured out quickly and easily.  If using Amish roll butter or other types that don't come in a stick form, the butter would be measured in a spoon or dry cup.

Ingredients like softened butter, shortening, peanut butter, or others of that consistency are measured in a dry cup, even if they are being used as a liquid in the recipe (for example, when creaming butter and sugar for making cookies, both those ingredients are considered liquids, both would use a dry cup).  If measuring something very sticky, like peanut butter or molasses, giving the measuring cup a quick shot of cooking spray first can help release it later.  Push the ingredient into the cup with a small spatula to fill all air pockets, spoon more in, repeat, and level off the top.  Another option is one I've taken advantage of, which is a push-up measuring cup.  This has a plunger action that pushes the ingredients out without leaving a bunch behind in the cup.  I did a lot of reading of reviews before buying mine, and a lot of brands have complaints about how quickly the markings rub or wash off, making the item useless.  I ended up purchasing the "Adjust-A-Cup" brand, from Amazon, and while I don't use it often and I only hand-wash (we don't have a dishwasher), I use it a lot during the holidays when I measure molasses for gingerbread and I've had it for 3 years without any loss of markings on the sides. 

We have Fannie Farmer to thank for standardized measurements, as her Boston Cooking School Cook Book, published in 1896, introduced the concept, as well as being specific about level measures.  Prior to her work, recipes generally called for ingredients in amounts compared to other objects, such as butter "the size of an egg".  If you've ever seen eggs in the farmyard, you'll know that this can vary widely even if you're exclusively talking about chicken eggs, and any homemaker of the time could easily have interpreted that size to her own experiences, ending up with unsuccessful recipes.  Farmer's work, and all the efforts of those at the Boston Cooking School in the culinary science field, have led directly to the success and understanding of food we enjoy today.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Waffled Monte Cristos

Who wants to deal with heating up oil and avoiding splatter burns, just to make a couple sandwiches?!  Here's a great way to use a countertop appliance to get a nice crispy meal that's both savoury and sweet in all the right ways.
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 C milk
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp grated orange peel
  • 4 slices white bread
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped pecans (optional)
  • 4 slices American cheese
  • 4 thin slices deli turkey
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese
  • 4 thin slices deli ham
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 2 tsp powdered sugar
  • 1/4 C seedless raspberry jam
1.  In a shallow dish, combine egg, milk, sugar, and orange peel.  Dip bread into egg mixture to coat both sides.  Place bread slices on a preheated waffle maker in a single layer.  If desired, sprinkle each slice with pecans.  Bake according to manufacturer's directions until golden brown.
2.  Place 2 American cheese slices on two bread slices; layer with turkey, Swiss cheese, and ham.  Top with remaining bread; butter outsides of sandwiches.
3.  Toast sandwiches in a skillet on medium heat for 1-2 minutes on each side or until cheese is melted.  Dust with powdered sugar, serve with jam.

Robyn's notes: this is still an indulgence, even without the frying that is a standard part of Monte Cristo sandwiches, but it feels less greasy.  These went quickly but in my opinion definitely needed the jam as a dipping sauce, it just didn't seem exciting without.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Friday, August 5, 2016

Fiesta Chicken Kiev

I feel quite warmly toward this recipe.  Not only have I been eating it for decades, since my mom was the original discoverer, but it was the first meal I cooked for my sweetheart when we'd been dating for about 6 weeks.  I use "mild" chiles, but those with a stronger taste for spice can use the regular kind.
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Old English cheese spread (see note, below)
  • 1 tsp dried minced onion
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp chopped green chiles from a 4oz can
  • 1/4 C butter, melted
  • 1/2 C crushed cheese crackers (Cheez-Its)
  • 1 Tbsp taco seasoning mix
1.  Pound each raw chicken breast to flatten to 1/4 inch thickness.
2.  Beat together softened butter and cheese spread until well blended.  Mix in onion, salt, and chiles.  Divide mixture evenly between the two flattened chicken pieces, spreading along center.  Roll up each chicken piece, tucking in ends to completely enclose filling.  Secure with toothpicks if needed.
3.  Dip each roll in melted butter to cover, then coat with mixture of crushed cheese crackers and taco seasoning mix.  Arrange rolls in small oven-safe casserole or gratin dish.  Cover with parchment or wax paper and microwave for 4-5 minutes on 70% power, or until juices are clear and chicken is cooked through.

Robyn's notes:  served alongside steam-in-bag microwave rice and on a bed of lettuce with diced tomato.  The video shows what the cheese spread packaging looks like, it can usually be found in the cracker section of the grocery.  There will almost certainly be leftover filling, which is great when stirred into scrambled eggs in the pan.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!  

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cupcakes

I'm really quite pleased with this recipe.  I was doing some chores one morning recently, and thought to myself "a cupcake that tastes like my favourite instant oatmeal would probably be really good".  I was quite sure I could make an easy maple buttercream frosting, so the next step was the cupcakes themselves.  My elevation gave me some real challenges this time, so after I had the recipe working I had two family members test it for me, as they both live at sea level.  Came out even better for them than it had for me!
  • 1/4 C boiling water 
  • 1/4 C old-fashioned oats (not "quick cooking") 
  • 2 Tbsp sugar 
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar 
  • 2 Tbsp butter, softened 
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp beaten egg 
  • 1/2 tsp 100% real maple syrup (not Mrs Butterworth's, Log Cabin, Aunt Jemima, or other "breakfast syrups") 
  • 1/2 C flour 
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda 
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon 
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line four regular-size muffin cups with paper liners.
2. In a small bowl, pour boiling water over oats, stir so that all oats are wet, and set aside to cool.
3. In a medium bowl cream together sugars and butter. Beat in egg and maple syrup. Stir in oats.
4. Combine dry ingredients and add to batter. Blend until just combined, do not overmix.
5. Spoon batter evenly into prepared muffin cups, and bake at 350°F for 19-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Remove cupcakes to cooling rack and allow to cool completely before icing. 

Maple Buttercream Frosting:

  • 4 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 2 Tbsp 100% real maple syrup (again, not "breakfast syrup")
  • 1 C powdered sugar
1. With a mixer, beat together butter and syrup until fluffy, add sugar and mix at low speed until combined.

Robyn's notes: high altitude may have to increase flour measurement to 2/3 C.  These will be just a little bit muffiny, but the frosting is so sweet that I think it makes up for that.  And since this is oatmeal, it could even be an excuse for cupcakes for breakfast, right?  Breakfast syrups have little or even zero actual maple syrup in them, and the main ingredient--hfcs--won't have the same reaction in baking as real maple syrup will, so the pure product is necessary.  After taking the picture I sprinkled some maple sugar on top of one of the cupcakes, since I had it in the house, and it was great!  But as that's a specialty ingredient I didn't mention it in the recipe.

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

Friday, July 29, 2016

Refrigerator M&M Cookies

Since the company is now offering m&ms in specialty colours all throughout the year, this is an easy way to make holiday-themed treats for any holiday!  In the photo above I've used the 4th of July candies, I've also made this recipe at Christmas with the red and green.
  • 1/4 C brown sugar
  • 1/4 C butter, softened
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1 C flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 4oz m&m candies
1.  In a medium bowl, cream together sugar and butter.  Discard 1 tsp of egg and beat remainder into butter-sugar mixture.  Add vanilla and beat until combined.
2.  Stir together flour, soda, and salt.  Add to wet ingredients and mix well.  Stir in m&ms.  Refrigerate, covered, 30 minutes or up to one hour.
3.  Preheat oven to 325­°F.  Scoop dough onto unlined baking sheet in rounded spoonfuls.  Bake for 11-13 minutes.

Yield: 8-10 cookies

Robyn's notes: The dough of this is really tasty, and since there's less sugar in it than many other cookie recipes, I sometimes make the dough without the m&ms and we just eat it raw. Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bacon Cream Cheese Sandwiches

When I was in elementary school my mom sometimes sent these sandwiches to school with me in my packed lunch.  I loved them, and I always encouraged other kids to try a bite.  Every time one of them did, they would tell me how great it was ("best sandwich I've ever had!"), until I listed the ingredients.  Immediately they would decide it was gross because those things don't go together.  I figured they were missing out and more for me!
  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened, divided
  • 1 Tbsp orange juice
  • 1/4 C diced cooked bacon
  • 1/4 C shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 4 slices bread
1.  In a medium bowl and using a hand mixer, beat together orange juice and 2 ounces of cream cheese.  Stir in bacon, add remaining cream cheese, and beat until combined.  Add Cheddar cheese and stir until fully incorporated.  Spread half of mixture onto each of two slices of bread, top each with remaining bread slices.

Robyn's notes: I use no-pulp OJ because it's what I prefer to drink, but I also think it's the best texture for the filling.  I prefer a fairly plain bread for this--white, potato, similar--because I like to taste the filling, but whatever favourite bread is preferred is fine.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Vintage Cheese Ramequins

One of my Christmas gifts this past year was a vintage 1909 Cooking for Two cookbook by Janet McKenzie Hill.  Quite a few of the recipes can still be made today with a minimum of tweaking, because Ms Hill attended the Boston Cooking School, where recipes written in the style we know them today really took off.  Unfortunately, Ms Hill did tend to use the same recipe in more than one of her cookbooks, which means that this particular one was not actually a 2-person yield originally.  I've reduced it and updated a couple things (baking temperature and time, for example).  I am, though, using her original spelling for the recipe name. 
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp melted butter (plus additional butter for ramekins)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 C + 2 Tbsp plain bread crumbs
  • 2 oz Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 C milk
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.   Butter inside of two ramekins or custard cups and set aside.
2.  Combine melted butter, salt, paprika, bread crumbs, and cheese, mixing thoroughly.  Set aside.
3.  Add milk to egg and stir into cheese mixture.
4.  Pour evenly into buttered ramekins.  Place ramekins in a casserole dish and surround with hot water (bain-marie) to about half the height of the ramekins.  Bake at 350°F for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Serve hot before they deflate. 

Robyn's notes: The baking cheese smelled fantastic, but I admit I don't eat a lot of souffles because I don't care for the texture of the moist curds inside.  This is basically a much easier cheese souffle, so while it was good, it wasn't a big treat for me.  If desired, after buttering the ramekins, sprinkle them with freshly grated Parmesan cheese on the bottom and sides.  This will form a crust around the finished dish.  Watch me demonstrate this dish on youtube!

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

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Black Bean-Smothered Sweet Potatoes

Great last-minute summer dish, especially for vegetarians! 
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 can (15oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1.  Prick sweet potatoes with a fork in several places.  Microwave on High until tender all the way to the center, 12 to 15 minutes.  When cooked, set aside to cool.
2.  Meanwhile, in a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine beans, tomato, oil, cumin, coriander, and salt; microwave on High until just heated through, 2 to 3 minutes.  
3.  When just cool enough to handle, slash each sweet potato lengthwise, press open to make a well in the center, and spoon the bean mixture into the well.  Top each with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of cilantro.

Robyn's notes: this went so quickly and easily, and the cumin made the kitchen smell fantastic!  Many people hate cilantro, feel free to leave it out if you're one of them.  Unfortunately this contains several ingredients that I can't eat, so it won't be made often in this house.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on YouTube! 

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