10/31/09

Cheese and Fruit Tartlet

Back in the late 80's I remember first hearing the phrase "real men don't eat quiche!" And those that believe that probably also believe real men wouldn't eat light salads, fruit kabobs, soups, little appetizer's or other 'froo froo' food.... and well, those same men would be awfully hungry wouldn't they!?

Real men do eat quiche. And appetizers and soup and leafy green salads with tiny little craisins and raspberry vinaigrette. Real men also have been known to read recipe books and magazines and (gasp), cook! This recipe, from one of my favorite sources, Southern Living is from 2008 but is timeless and also ready to be adapted to whatever tastes your guests like or how creative you feel like being. Men, women... everyone can like an appetizer like this.

Cheese and Fruit Tartlet

24 Tartlet Shells or Phyllo cups, etc.
2 oz Gorgonzola cheese
1/2 cup peach fruit spread
3 T chopped roasted salted almonds

Preheat oven to 350°. Arrange pastries on a baking sheet. Cut Gorgonzola cheese into 24 very small pieces. Spoon 1/4 rounded teaspoonful peach fruit spread into each shell; top with cheese. Sprinkle evenly with chopped roasted salted almonds. Bake tartlets at 350° for 5 to 6 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Ginger-Brie Bites: Prepare Peach-and-Blue Cheese Bites as directed, substituting ginger preserves for peach fruit spread and 3 oz. Brie, rind removed, for Gorgonzola cheese.

Pear-Havarti Bites: Prepare Peach-and-Blue Cheese Bites as directed, substituting pear preserves for peach fruit spread and 2 oz. Havarti cheese for Gorgonzola cheese.

Spicy-Sweet Goat Cheese Bites: Prepare Peach-and-Blue Cheese Bites as directed, substituting red pepper jelly for peach fruit spread and 2 oz. goat cheese for Gorgonzola cheese.
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10/29/09

Peppermint Cheesecake Bites


If you have old Sunset or similar magazines from the early 2000's you may have seen this one or other recipes that are very, very close to this one in other cooking magazines from the heartland. Either way I wanted to tuck this one away to make very, very soon.












Peppermint Cheesecake Bites


Crust:
1 cup chocolate wafer crumbs (such as Nabisco's Famous Chocolate Wafers; about 22 cookies)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Cooking spray

Filling:
12 hard peppermint candies, divided
2/3 cup (5 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (4 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
1 (8-ounce) carton low-fat sour cream
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate minichips
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 cup frozen fat-free whipped topping, thawed
2 tablespoons chocolate sprinkles

Preheat oven to 325°.

To prepare crust, combine the first 3 ingredients in a small bowl. Press about 1 1/2 teaspoons crumb mixture into the bottom of each of 48 mini muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake at 325° for 5 minutes.

To prepare the filling, place 6 candies, fat-free cream cheese and the next 6 ingredients (fat-free cream cheese through sour cream) in a food processor; process until smooth. Stir in minichips and peppermint extract. Divide the filling evenly among prepared crusts. Bake at 325° for 12 minutes or until done. Cool in pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Remove mini cheesecakes from pans, and cool completely. Top each mini cheesecake with 1 teaspoon whipped topping. Crush the remaining 6 candies; sprinkle the crushed candies and chocolate sprinkles over the cheesecakes.
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It's Cold. It's Rainy. It's Time for a Roast!

Walking into the kitchen at 5:00 everyday, I usually have something frozen in my arms that I chose out of the freezer as I made my way into the house from my vehicle. Balancing my purse, travel coffee mug, the mail and that night's dinner, I walk into the kitchen and usually deposit all on the counter in one fell swoop and begin to make magic with the frozen 'something' in my arms.

Our family dinner time is 6:pm so I have 1 hour to make whatever will be served that evening. There are many hints and tips to doing this well - serving hot, healthy and a variety of foods - and using the crock pot is one that I admittedly under-utilize. I'm just not a 'crock pot' kind of person. Especially with todays crocks which tend to get too hot since the government stepped in and changed the requirements due to unfounded fears about food poisoning due to foods cooked at low temperatures for long periods of time. Over the past 10-12 years I've found the newer appliances tend to burn the food on the outside and not cook it on the inside. Roasts don't have a chance to cook correctly and get tender like they do in older slow-cookers and soups with any sort of ingredients such as cheese, potatoes and other things that settle to the bottom will burn. It's very strange to have your slowcookers on 'low' and find your chili burning on the bottom while the top is still cold.

Three 'newer' crocks and slowcookers verses two of my 'older' style from the late 80's and early 9o's and I'll chose the older. They cook evenly.

Another note: If you are using an older recipe or a traditional recipe, be careful about cook times. You can't cook Grandma's roast recipe in a newer appliance for 10 hours like the old days. That same roast will be done in 6 and ready to burn due to the higher temperatures mandated by the government.

Now that I'm done ranting and raving (ha ha) I'll just say; I have a roast in the crock-pot with whole potatoes surrounding and a bit of water in the bottom. The spices this time around are simple;

salt
fresh ground pepper
MSG
onion powder

I felt like going back to basics today.

Tonight when I get home I'll whip up some beef gravy, add some bread and perhaps some steamed broccoli and while the rain pours outside and the wind blows, our family will sit around the table to a hot meal.
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10/28/09

Freezing Jalapeno's

One of the late producers in my garden is usually the jalapeno plants. My tomatoes, peppers and jalapeno's seem to really get a burst of productivity in August and September and for that reason I consider September my 'salsa' making month. However this year I didn't have the amount of tomatoes I wished for so I took to freezing most of my peppers and jalapenos. I love this though as I always have green peppers, red peppers and jalapeno's on hand for cooking and the garden harvest lasts me all year long.

When it comes to freezing produce it has to be quick and easy or I won't do it. I have and do freeze green beans and corn which are a little more labor intensive with blanching and such, but when it comes to jalapenos it's as simple as washing, cutting off the tops, scraping the knife around the inside to remove the seeds and popping them into a freezer baggy or a ZipLoc container as you can see in the photo. I typically chop half of them with my food chopper and freeze them ready to add to Mexican casseroles, nacho dips and more while I keep others whole which I can then dice, chop or stuff. The jalapeno will be more limp than crisp after the freezing process breaks down the cells but the flavor is there and when chopped for soups, stews, casseroles and dips, you would never know they were once frozen.
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A Fast and Easy Side to Many Meals: Cheesy Garlic Bread



The pace of my current life is fast and dinners are often rushed as I exit the truck after a long day at work and stop by the freezer to grab something for dinner even before I enter the house. Often still in high heels and pearls, I whip up something for dinner, and with teenagers in the house it has to be healthy and filling. Often times a side of cheesy garlic bread fits the bill. Whether it's a pan of lasagna, steaks on the grill or shrimp alfredo, a simple garlic bread brings it all together. Best of all? No recipe needed!


Cheesy Garlic Bread

French or Italian bread, sliced
butter, softened
garlic - fresh minced or salt/powder
dried or fresh parsley
parmesan cheese, grated
mozzarella cheese, shredded
mayonnaise



I have found using a ratio of 1 stick of butter to a loaf of French bread works well. Placing the butter in a bowl, use a rubber scraper or spoon to mix in about 2-4 teaspoons of minced garlic (depending on your family's personal taste for how strong they like the garlic flavor). If you don't have fresh garlic use about a teaspoon of dried garlic powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt. I like to add about 1/4 - 1/2 t onion powder as well. Add a dollop or two of regular mayonnaise and mix in about 1/2 cup grated parmesan and a little mozzarella or use just one of them. Again - you know what I'll say; Play with your food!! Use what you have on hand and improvise. Don't be scared.

Bake at 350 or 375 until melted and just turning golden brown. I like to broil them under the broiler for a minute or two to finish them off and get them toasty. Serve with a variety of meals!
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10/27/09

Product Review: Coldstone Creamery Cupcakes

Last month I purchased Coldstone Creamery's cupcakes for a birthday at work. Oh how I only wish I could tell you they looked as amazing as their product photo!

At $14.99 for just six (6) cupcakes, they are pricey but they looked so incredible I had to give them a try. The version I bought was the Sweet Cream style; a Belgian chocolate cup, yellow cake, fudge and sweet cream ice cream topped with white frosting and a chocolate curl. Contrary to the photo, the cake in the bottom of the 'real' version was about 1/4" inch thick. Just enough to keep the bottom of the chocolate cup from getting soggy I suppose but you could barely see the cake at all. I know there was a dollop of fudge but it was invisible (probably soaked into the cake) and the ice cream was tasty but it was much smaller than the big scoop in their product photo. The frosting was creamy and delicious and they did have curls on top although they were more broken and in pieces than the perfect picture (of course!). The taste was delicious though - from the ice cream to the frosting. It was a bit messy to eat so have napkins ready!

Would I buy them again? Yes. And I plan to! This time however I want to purchase them for my family, and will try the Cake Batter Deluxe version. At $15 a pop they are a bit too expensive but if you watch the Sunday coupons and internet specials and can find a $3 off coupon, they are worth trying for a special occasion.

Bottom Line? Thumbs up for their creamy deliciousness!
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10/23/09

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies


Last night my husband was thrilled to come home from work and see I had made even more cookies; Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies. This is a recipe I've been making for about 15 or 20 years but I change the chips in them, using whatever I have on hand. Sometimes mini M&M's, other times chocolate chips, toffee chips, white chocolate chips... anything you want! Last night it was peanut butter chips. Yum! I didn't take a new photo of the cookies last night as I've already photographed them a number of times over the years. Here is a picture of them from my files from a few years ago to show you how they look.

Chewy Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

1 c real butter
2 c sugar
2 eggs
2 t vanilla
2 c flour
3/4 c cocoa
1 baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 c peanut butter chips

Cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Don't over mix. Add the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt all at once and slowly start the beater to mix it in together. Stir in the chips. Drop by tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 8-9 minutes. They will be puffy and moist when they come out of the oven. Let them set for 1-2 minutes, remove from the pan to cool completely. They will flatten as they cool. If you like a crisp cookie, bake them 1-2 minutes longer.
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10/22/09

Bloody Finger Halloween Cookies - An Annual Tradition!



I am winding down my week's 'vacation' which is actually a 'staycation' as I took the week off from work but no plans to do anything but get caught up with my family, my home and my laundry! Today I have a pound of butter on the counter just waiting for my attention... to be made into Halloween Cookies! Which kind will I make? I'm not sure but it may be the ever-popular 'severed finger cookies' that my teenagers love.

If you've been a long time reader of my blog you may remember the Severed Fingers Cookie recipe I posted three years ago (you can find the original post here.) Well, it's that time of year again, so let's do a repost! These cookies taste so good! It's a delicious sugar cookie, but with the almonds for fingernails and the food color for blood, it's the perfect Halloween cookie for your next teen or adult party.

Severed Fingers Cookies

1 tablespoon red food coloring
30 almonds
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup butter, at room tempature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 pinch salt
1 2/3 cups flour

Place food coloring in a shallow bowl. Toss the almonds into the bowl with the food coloring and stir them until the color is evenly distributed. leave them in the bowl and stir them every so often until the color is as dark as you like.

Separate 1 egg. Set aside the white.

In an electric mixer combine butter, confectioners' sugar, granulated sugar, and salt. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Add 1 whole egg, the extra yolk and the vanilla. Beat until smooth. Add the flour, and mix on low speed just until incorporated. Wrap the dough in plastic, and chill until firm, 20 to 30 minutes.

Divide the dough in half. Work with one piece at a time, keeping remaining dough covered with plastic wrap and chilled. Divide the first half into fifteen pieces. Roll each piece into finger shapes, 3 to 4 inches long. Pinch dough in two places to form knuckles. Score each knuckle lightly with the back of a small knife.



Transfer fingers to parchment lined baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough.
When all fingers are formed, brush lightly with egg white. Position almond nails; push into dough to attach.
Bake at 350 about 12 minutes.






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10/21/09

A Basic Lasagna Recipe to Start You Off

I think lasagna is one of those things like... chili; everyone has their own 'version' they have tweaked to make it their own. You start out with a basic idea and then add, delete, embellish with things you know your family likes or doesn't like, or that you think might be good, want to use up something in the refrigerator or a friend shares their secret ingredient with you.

What you need however, is a basic idea to start with. So let's make a simple, basic lasagna that any busy Mom or wife (or husband!) can throw together if you have an hour 'bake' time before dinner. There are many variables from the kind of cheese you use, to the kind of meat and even the spices. Don't be scared you are using the wrong one - play with your food! Lasagna is pretty hard to screw up.

This is enough for a large 9X13" pan - which will feed a large family or if you have a smaller family serve half and freeze the other half for a future meal!

A Basic Lasagna

1 package dry, flat lasagna noodles (9-12 noodles depending on how thick you want to make it)
1 jar (30 oz. or so) spaghetti sauce of your choice
1 egg
30 oz. ricotta or cottage cheese - or a mixture of both (2 containers of ricotta is 30 oz.)
3 cups (about) of shredded mozzarella, some Parmesan and even a little cheddar if you wish
2 t dry Italian blend spice (or use a mixture of oregano and basil if you have them instead)
1 salt
Garlic: fresh or powdered - just about a teaspoon. I like to use some garlic salt too
Optional: Meat - a pound of ground beef or Italian Sausage (hot or mild)
Optional: Diced tomatoes from your garden or a can, an extra small can of tomato sauce, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, etc.


Brown the ground beef or the Italian sausage. If I have any tomatoes to use up I sometimes throw them in as well. Add the sauce to the meat and let that simmer while you mix the cheese layer. If you feel like adding a small can of tomato sauce, some onions, mushrooms, green peppers or shredded carrots, etc. be sure you simmer the sauce until the firm vegetables are softened or cook them in a bit of water first in the microwave to soften them.

In a bowl mix the ricotta and/or cottage cheese with the egg, a teaspoon or so of fresh garlic or garlic powder, the Italian spice mixture, and about 1 cup of the mozzarella.

In a large 9X13" pan place about 3/4 cup of the sauce. I like to line my pans with heavy duty aluminum foil but you don't have to. Spread the sauce around a bit and lay 3 dry noodles down to cover the bottom of the pan. Pour about 3/4 cup of sauce over, top with about a cup of the cheese mixture and sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese. Now add another layer of dry noodles, meat and cheese. And a third layer. If you have enough ingredients and noodles make a fourth layer. End and stop with a nice layer of sprinkled shredded cheese on the top - mozzarella with parmesan is a good mixture. I like to sprinkle the top with just a bit of Italian spice mixture or even parsley.

Using the spaghetti sauce jar, fill it with a bit of water (about 3/4 cup) and swish it around and then pour it around the edge of the noodles in the pan. Cover the entire pan with aluminum foil to seal. Place in a 350-375 degree oven and bake about 45-50 minutes. Uncover the foil and continue baking about 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and it's bubbling and golden brown. Let the lasagna set for 10 minutes before slicing so it has time to 'set up'. This is a good time to make some garlic bread to accompany it as well as a salad.


Browning the Italian Sausage - I added some small tomatoes from the garden too


A basic sauce you can embellish with whatever your family likes

End with a top layer of cheese
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10/20/09

Potato Soup

Although I have my own made-up version of a potato soup that our family loves, I saw this one online and wanted to add it to my files to try this fall or winter. It was called "Machine Shed" potato soup which may be a reference to the Machine Shed restaurant that is popular in Iowa. I've never actually been there so I don't know, and since I didn't name the recipe I'm not sure of the similarities either! What I DO know however is the cold weather is setting in, the clouds are turning our sky to the color of mushroom soup (hmmm, that sounds delicious!) and a hot soup and fresh loaf of bread will be perfect in just a couple weeks!

Machine Shed Potato Soup

2-1/2 lbs. baby red potatoes, quartered
3 stalks celery, diced
1 qt. water
1 qt. milk
1 tsp. black pepper
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 lbs. bacon, diced (raw)
1 jumbo yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup chicken base
1 tsp. salt
1-1/2 sticks margarine
1 cup whipping cream

Boil potatoes for 10 minutes; drain and set aside. In a large, heavy pot sauté bacon, onion and celery over medium high heat until celery is tender. Drain the bacon grease. Add milk, water, chicken base, salt and pepper. Heat over medium high heat until hot, but not boiling. In a large heavy saucepan melt margarine and add flour; mix well and allow to bubble; stirring for 1 minute. While stirring soup, stir in the flour mixture slowly; continue stirring until thick and creamy. Stir in parsley, potatoes and cream. Garnish with some shredded colby cheese, bacon bits, chopped green onion. Serve hot.
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10/19/09

Pumpkin Pancakes

Many Autumn recipes call for canned or pureed pumpkin. Quite a number of those recipes leave with you a bit of pumpkin left. Not enough to make another recipe with but if you are like me, you don't like to waste any food so scrap it out out of container or bowl and you try to find a recipe you can add it to. Couple that frugal nature with something else occurring in nature right now... chilly mornings. Fall is in the air! What better time to treat yourself or your family to pumpkin pancakes?

Pumpkin Pancakes

1 1/4 c flour
2 T sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t salt
1/8 t nutmeg
tiny pinch of ground cloves

Mix 1 egg
6 T pumpkin puree
2 T melted butter
1 c milk

Fold the wet into the dry. Heat a buttered skillet over medium heat. Use about 1/4 cup batter for each pancake. Cook 2-3 minutes on one side until the air bubbles are numerous and popping. Flip. Cook another 2-3 minutes. Serve with butter and syrup.
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10/18/09

Peeling a Hard Boiled Egg Giving You Problems?

Then your eggs are too fresh.

Seems too simple really, doesn't it? But those in the know know the trick is not luck, pins, knife pricks, vinegar, cold water, hot water or standing on your head, spinning in a circle three times or mumbling magic words. It's as simple as using eggs that have sat in your refrigerator at least a week.

Take a pan of water, put it on the stove top and place your eggs in it. Turn it on high and bring it to a full boil. Turn it down to a simmer, or some people even turn it off and immediately place a tight fighting lid on it. Let it set for about 12-15 minutes. Drain and fill with cold water a couple times to cool the eggs down. Refrigerate them until needed. Crack and roll on the counter a bit, and... peel. Nice large chunks of shell peel directly off. I like to peel mine under running water as it quickly and efficiently removes all traces of shell in mere seconds. Eat or slice for serving or making deviled eggs.

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10/12/09

Easy and Quick Shrimp Alfredo (the secret is cream cheese!)

Super EASY Shrimp Alfredo

1 lb. raw shrimp - peel and clean (your choice of size, I like medium - not too small)
2 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T dried parsley or 1 T fresh, minced
1/2 stick butter (1/4 c or 4 T)
8 oz. cream cheese - block style, cut into cubes or slices
1 1/2 c milk or cream if you have it
3/4 c parmesan cheese
*optional: 1 c chopped broccoli, cooked

In a pan on the stove heat the olive oil over medium. Add the garlic, shrimp and parsley and cook just until they start to turn pink. (This is only 1 or 2 minutes, don't over cook!). Remove from heat and to the same pan add the butter and cream cheese. Break up the cream cheese with the back of a spoon or whisk and when it starts to blend and melt, add the milk or cream. Continue stirring or whisking smooth over medium low. It can slow simmer but do not boil. All you are doing is melting the cream cheese into the sauce. As soon as it's smooth, add the parmesan and if you are using them, add the cooked, chopped broccoli pieces. Remove from heat and add the shrimp. The heat will continue to cook the shrimp, which is why you don't want to overcook it earlier. It will be more liquidy or runny than you think it should be but as it sits over the pasta or sits while you finish bringing everything to the table it thickens up. Let it sit 7-8 minutes before serving. Serve over pasta of your choice with a side of garlic bread and a salad. Delicious!


Remove from heat as soon as they start to turn pink....

Mixing the sauce...
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10/11/09

Hashbrown Potatoes - Perfect for Chilly Autumn Nights




Yet Another Recipe for Hashbrown Potatoes

32 oz. frozen hashbrown style potatoes
1 onion, chopped
2 (10 oz) cans of cream of chicken soup
1 (8 0z) container sour cream
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Mixing everything together, season with salt and pepper and if you wish, you can sprinkle the top with shredded cheese. Cover and bake 1 hour.
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Lemon Meringue Tart

When I was a child I grew up in the heartland of America we had a very basic base of foods my mother (and every other kids mother that I knew) made regularly. Very 'meat and potatoes'. While desserts were not common place in our household, when they were it was chocolate cake, banana cake or perhaps cookies - although my Mother will be the first to admit she can't make cookies. She doesn't even try anymore. One thing I did not grow up eating in any form is lemon. My Mom didn't like it and we didn't have it. No pie, no desserts, no tarts, cookies, bars or even lemon based foods like lemon chicken. Chinese food in the Midwest in the 80's consisted of Chow Mein from a big can you open and heat and serve.

So imagine my surprise to grow up and love.... lemon. This is like a Pavlova dessert only without the fresh fruit and you don't have to make a round cake of meringue, you simple spread it in a tart. A cheater's version if you will.


Lemon Meringue Tart

4 eggs, separated
¼ t cream of tartar
1/8 t salt
1¾ c sugar, divided
½ t vanilla
2 t grated lemon peel
½ c lemon juice
1½ c heavy cream
½ c powdered sugar
*raspberries to garnish if you wish

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar and salt till soft peaks form. Beat in gradually ¾ cup sugar till stiff but not dry. Stir in vanilla. Spread over bottom and sides of greased 9-inch pie pan. Bake at 275º for 1 hour. Let stand in oven till cooled.

Combine yolks, peel, juice and rest of sugar. Cook over simmering water, stirring constantly, till thickened. Let stand. Beat cream and powdered sugar till stiff. Spread half on meringue shell, spoon in custard and spread remaining cream over. Chill at least 3-4 hours. Use tiny raspberries or little mint leaves to garnish if you wish.
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10/8/09

Too Hilarious Not to Share! Kate Gosselin (Mom of 8) Fights off photographers with her special MOM POWERS!

As a Mom my sense of humor may have been warped somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd child but the average sex jokes and most of the skits on tv and interview couldn't get me to crack a smile. However - you give me good "MOM" humor and I'm all over it. When I saw this clip this morning from NBC and Jay Leno I couldn't resist...


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French Toast Bagels

We all sometimes get in a rut with our grocery buying and when it comes to bagels, we have 'our' kind. Onion. Once in a great while I have to get plain because my 13-year old likes the mini-bagels for after school snacks and they only come in the 'plain' style but for the most part I grab onion bagels because it's the kind our family loves either toasted or warmed in the microwave with a schmear of cream cheese, or topped with cream cheese, turkey or ham and lettuce, tomatoes, etc. for a sandwich that is far more filling than the same made with bread.

So, what possessed me one today to put the onion bagels back and reach for.... 'French Toast'? Yes, French Toast Bagels made their way into my grocery cart and all I could think of was how amazing they were going to taste toasted, with just a tiny bit of cream cheese spread and melted on the surface. So, imagine my surprise when I tried it and... hated it so much I gagged and spit it into the garbage. About a week later, feeling guilt for buying them and hating them I tried again. No way. Blech. And my family wouldn't touch them. Plain, onion, egg, even wheat... but a sweet bagel? They just don't have any fans in this house.

They were banished to the back of the refrigerator where they sat for a week before I decided one morning to treat them as 'French Toast'. I mixed up a simple milk and egg wash with a bit of vanilla in it and dipped and soaked them. I cooked them as I would a slice of bread in a pan and topped them with a huge mess of syrup and real butter. The end result? Delicious!! I had found away to salvage those poor, neglected French Toast style bagels. If any of my readers also bought them and gag when trying to eat them with cream cheese, give syrup and butter a try. Lots of sugar and calories, but oh so good on a cold Autumn morning.
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Baby Steps to Freezer Meals: Once A Month Cooking

My long time readers know I preach 2 things over and over again;

1) Play with your food - use a recipe for guidance but make it your own
2) If you're going to make one... make
two.

When I was a newlywed and went from cooking meals for a family of six to just cooking for my new husband and I, more often than not it was a 'pan' of something or a 'pot' of something as I knew how to cook for 3 teenage brothers... but I had never had to cook for just
two people before! I think this is when I truly started to do what I called "make ahead cooking" because I would make and then freeze half of the lasagna, the stuffed pasta, the soups and casseroles.

Ten years later I was a busy Mom of three and had taken my 'make ahead cooking' to a higher level because it saved me time and money as well as making it oh-so-easy to serve delicious, homemade meals even on the busiest night of dance, soccer and girl scouts. It was also around this time that more Moms were discovering the joy of freezer meals and cooking in bulk, and idea's like Once-A-Month-Cooking were born.

For those who would like to attempt once-a-month-cooking or at least a one or two week cycle to start out with baby-steps, there is a great book that will take you from the planning stages to the grocery list you'll need to the prep-work time line and all the way through the final stages of how to warm it up or cook it on serving day. It's called Once-a-Month Cooking Family Favorites by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg.

Filled with 1 month cycles, two 2-week cycles, as well as a gourmet, summer and even a gluten-free cycle of recipes, you have the tools you need to buy, prep, freeze and refrigerate for future use. You may try Adobe Chicken, or perhaps Country-Style Ribs or Lime-Grilled Mahi Mahi. My 'test' recipe from the book was a delicious version of a chicken-pot-pie on page 79 that was perfect for the chilly Autumn days we have here in the heartland. If you are willing to give it a try but not willing to invest in the book quite yet, the authors are offering a free one-week-cooking cycle on their website, once-a-monthcooking.com

I hope you find this interview with the authors as interesting as I did; how did they get started and what are their favorite recipes from the book?

Q&A with Mary Beth and Mimi on Once-a-Month Cooking™:

You were the first to publish a book about bulk freezer cooking, and many others have come after you. How did you think of this concept—and what made you feel it would work for so many women?

Mary Beth: Mimi developed this method at a time when we were writing articles together. She wanted me to call The Denver Post to see if they wanted us to write an article about it. I thought Mimi was crazy, and asked her to call. When the paper sent a reporter and photographer to her home within a week to do a food feature, we knew we were on to something. We’ve found over the years that Mimi’s three reasons for creating the strategy—to save time, money, and make possible good times at the table —resonate with most families.

Mimi: As a mother of three young children, I wanted to streamline my life without taking away from the things I loved. At the time, I was working with Hmong refugees in Denver, trying to sell their handwork.

I studied my days by writing down how I spent my time in 15-minute increments. And I found I was wasting the most time in the kitchen. I remember the day I decided I would cook until I ran out of the food I had on hand. I put all the dishes I had prepared on the dining room table. When I counted 30 meals I was ecstatic, because I knew I didn’t have to cook dinner again for a month. Every month for the next year I used the method, once for me and once with a friend, so I was able to perfect it. If someone was having a baby, I’d say “You buy these groceries, and I’ll prepare you a month’s meals.” It became the gift I gave my friends.


What are your top three favorite recipes in the new Once-a-Month Cookbook Family Favorites—and why?

Mary Beth:
1. Country-Style Ribs (This slow cooker entrée provides great aroma-therapy!)
2. Corn Soup with Basil, Avocado, and Crab (This delicious soup proves that frozen entrees can be both elegant and delicious.)
3. Penne in Cream Sauce with Sausage (My son Drew keeps asking me when we’ll have this one.)

Mimi:

1. Lemon Chicken (It’s so fast and tasty! Great for unexpected guests; it can be on the table in ten minutes.)
2. Uptown Joes (Great for picnics or ballgames in wide-mouth thermos.)
3. Beef Pot Roast (I love this one for its smell. There’s nothing like coming into a house that smells good.)

What wisdom could you offer to the busy woman who has never tried this method?

Mimi: Even preparing two of any entrée at one time will show you how much time this technique can save! In the beginning, try this technique with a friend who can help you with the many tasks, even just answering the door, the phone, taking care of the kids, and making sure the ingredients are ready. The first time you try this, I’d recommend trying the free, downloadable one-week cycle from our website once-a-monthcooking.com or a two-week cycle from the book to get used to cooking in bulk. And don’t try to shop and cook on the same day if possible, to conserve your energy.

You say that anyone with a side freezer can implement the Once-a-Month Cooking plan—how do you make it work?

Mary Beth: I’ve frozen even the month’s-worth of entrees without a separate freezer. But I have to clean out the freezer before my cooking day, and I freeze most entrees in plastic bags, which can be squished flat or wedged into corners.

Beyond the obvious rewards of reducing food prep time, hassle, and grocery bills, what are you hoping Once-a-Month Cooking Family Favorites will do for busy families?

Mary Beth: My hope is that this technique will make it possible for families to spend more meals together around a table. The family dinner is a simple concept with profound, measureable advantages for children and parents. We relinquish it too easily to busy schedules. I want other families to discover that a warm meal and good conversation are simple, valuable gifts that anyone would enjoy. Mimi: and I truly believe there isn’t any other family activity that is more meaningful or productive.
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10/4/09

Breakfast Casserole

With the thousands of recipes that I have, it always makes me smile that when I glance through my online files to find something that sounds delicious, more than likely, I've jotted it down from an issue of Southern Living. It's amazing to me that they can produce and publish so many incredible recipes that are truly things that people want to make over and over again because they are conducive to real life.

This Breakfast Casserole is an oldie but a goody. Grandmothers and Great Grandmothers have been making it for years but if you haven't tried it yourself, it's time you do. It's perfect for company as it's made the night before so there is no last minute rush in the morning.

Breakfast Casserole

1 (8-ounce) round Brie or Swiss, shredded (2 cups)
1 pound ground hot pork sausage
6 white sandwich bread slices
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
7 large eggs, divided
3 cups whipping cream, divided
2 cups fat-free milk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
chopped green onions, grated Parmesan cheese

Trim rind from Brie, cut into cubes, and set aside. Cook sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring until it crumbles and is no longer pink; drain well. Cut crusts from bread slices, and place crusts evenly in bottom of a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Layer evenly with bread slices, sausage, Brie, and Parmesan cheese.

Whisk together 5 eggs, 2 cups whipping cream, and next 4 ingredients; pour evenly over cheeses. Cover and chill mixture for 8 hours.

Whisk together remaining 2 eggs and remaining 1 cup whipping cream; pour evenly over chilled mixture. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until casserole is set. Top with green onions, Parmesan, etc. if you wish.
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How to Keep an Onion

Years ago I read an article that interviewed top chef's and asked them how to keep an onion in the refrigerator that has been sliced. The answer seemed to be to use a plastic wrap and wrap it tightly to avoid odors and keep the onion fresh.

I remember guffawing and wondering if these 'top chefs' have ever even saved half an onion before in their life? Wrapping an onion in plastic wrap does not stop the odors and does not keep it fresh. The moisture ruins the onion quickly and the scent of onion permeates the open foods around it.

Once again, Grandma knows best. Dig out some old church cookbooks from long ago and read the hints and tips pages. Grandma knew to wrap the onion in aluminum foil and now you do too.

I actually own two 'onion keepers' which are thick plastic, half a circle (half an onion) shaped containers that seal tightly and do keep the scent of the onion from spreading to other foods but they also seal in so much moisture that the onion spoils within a few days. If you are a long time reader of my website you'll know that I love aluminum foil for wrapping my lettuce and celery to keep it fresh for a month... add onions to list of foods to wrap. It's a natural odor barrier and will keep the onion fresh for a week or two.
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