Monday, December 27, 2010

No Cooking Today

That's right, I took the day off.

Today was kind of stressful. That's a lie: It was insanely stressful, and I took the day off from cooking.

I'm now thinking that was a bad choice. Cooking always makes me happy, and it makes me feel like I've accomplished something. So, on days when I choose to "take a break" I usually end up feeling like I do now--like I should have cooked.

At least I would be going to bed having eaten a real meal and not feeling so...underacheiving.

Oh well, there's always tomorrow. I have plenty more recipes that are begging to be tried.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


I've been thinking about Grandma a lot this last week. I cut my hair, and it's now an updated version of the way she liked it best. It snowed, and I have avoided driving as much possible. And I cooked.

I cooked and baked enough to feed an army...or seven.

I baked six dozen cookies in Grandma's apron on Christmas Eve day, and I thought of her often as I gave up trying to tuck my hair behind my ear and put on a head band.

This was my first Christmas attempting the big meal. I planned for ham, yams, two kinds of stuffing, green bean/red potato casserole, corn, fresh bread, and shells and cheese and the only thing that went awry was the ham didn't cook as fast as the directions said. But I had built in extra time just for that particular annoyance, so it wasn't devastating.

In addition to the ginger bread cookies (I'm a terrible decorator)

I also baked a ginger bread cake

and made mini lava cakes (which no one ate because they were too full from the meal).

All-in-all, I'd declare the day a success. I hope that my family enjoyed eating the meal that I enjoyed cooking, and I might even ask to cook for the big family gathering next year. Here's to hoping.

I hope your Christmas was as wonderful as mine. Until next time, good luck in the kitchen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Recipe 4: Panko

I love chicken. Bonus: my family will eat chicken just about any way I make it. So, chicken is a good investment for us. The trouble is, chicken gets boring. There is really only so much that can be done, because at the end of the day, it tastes like chicken.

Last night, I tried a brand new breading called Panko breading. I saw a commercial for it for the first time last week and then saw it at the grocery store just a few days later, so I decided to give it a try.

So, last night, while Daddy held the new baby, the four-year-old watched a famous alien, and the rest of the family rested, I began my experiment.

Right away, I knew Panko had the potential to be great. The Asian-style breading has large pieces of crisp breading, perfect for extra crunch and no seasoning added. The flavorless base is perfect for me because I get to decide spices. Also, from one bag of Panko, I can have 2-3 full meals that don't all taste exactly the same.

To begin, I heated the oven to 425 and generously coated a broiling pan with cooking spray. Then I was able to move on to the fun part: picking my spices.

I toyed with the idea of adding lemon pepper to the breading mix and spraying a little lemon juice on top of the chicken, but I decided to play with the idea of Parmesan chicken.

I combined:
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tsp Oregano
1 tsp Basil
1 tsp Parsley
1 1/2 Panko bread crumbs
salt and pepper (to taste)
in a mixing bowl.

After coating the chicken breasts in eggs, I coated them generously with the Panko and laid them out on the broiling pan. I then topped them with some extra breading for even more crunch and popped them into the oven. Cooking time varies widely on chicken because of oven temps and breast thickness. Last night they took about 20 mins.

While those were cooking, I julienned some fresh carrots and diced white and red onions and a green pepper. Those I just seared on med-high heat in olive oil, salt and a bit of butter. I also added some canned potatoes that I had quartered for a bit more filling food.

I pre-sliced the chicken and portioned out the veggies into each plate (mostly because we were eating in the living room). I placed the chicken on top of the veggies and served up a meal everyone loved.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Recipe 3: Stew

There are a few great things about good stew. First of all, stew is completely customizable. Second, the leftovers are even better than the first servings. Here's a great one sent to me courtesy of


  • 2  teaspoons  canola oil
  • 8  ounces  boneless center-cut pork chops, trimmed and cubed
  • 1  cup  chopped onion (about 1 medium)
  • 3/4  cup  chopped green bell pepper
  • 2  teaspoons  bottled minced garlic
  • 1  tablespoon  chili powder
  • 2  teaspoons  ground cumin
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8  teaspoon  ground red pepper
  • 1/4  cup  no-salt-added tomato paste
  • 1  (15.5-ounce) can golden hominy, rinsed and drained
  • 1  (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1  (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4  cup  light sour cream


Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add pork to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in chili powder and next 4 ingredients (through red pepper). Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in tomato paste, hominy, tomatoes, and broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Serve with sour cream.

I doubled up on pork and hominy and threw in two cans of diced chiles and a can of corn for texture and a bit of natural sweetness to balance out the spice. Although my 17 year old brother didn't even try it (this is not a new phenomenon) the rest of the family enjoyed it.

Personally, I loved it. The spices were definitely not our typical cuisine and so it gave me something warm and different to look forward to for lunch today. It being another cloudy, cold winter's day just added to the soupy appeal. Yum.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Break for Some Tricks

I love cooking. Therefore, I love cooking shows. Not only is it entertainment, I get to learn new tricks of the kitchen to make my cooking life a little easier. I'd like to pass some of those on to you now.

Cracking an Egg
America's Test Kitchen on PBS taught me these tricks.
1.) Crack Eggs on a FLAT surface
     I know it's counter-intuitive, but the reason it works is because you gain access to the egg, but the inner shell membrane remains intact and keeps the eggshell from creeping into your bowl.
2.) Use eggshell to retrieve eggshell
     Anyone who has chased a piece of shell around a bowl of squishy egg guts knows it isn't easy. They simply do not want to come. For whatever reason, though, the shells are attracted to each other and allow you to lift stray bits right out!

Softened vs. Melted
There is a difference. Over heating butter leads to wet dough and shapeless cookies.

Chopping and Onion
Neatest trick ever!
Video version
1.) Slice the onion in half.
2.) Set the onion on your cutting board sliced side down.
3.) Cut following the natural sections of the onion but only go 3/4 through.
4.) Make horizontal cuts 3/4 of the way through as well.
5.) Then set your blade on end like you would normally chop and chop away.

This has saved me many frustrating hours in the kitchen, I assure you.

Hope these tips help you as much as they have me!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Recipe 2: Candy Cane Cookies

I promised you tales of success, and now I shall provide.
I would first like to offer my thanks to Betty Crocker, or at least to the people who printed a holiday baking guide with tear-out recipe cards in her name. They're great.
Candy Cane Cookies!

This is a definite party-friendly cookie. It's easy to make, cute, festive and has a refreshing, unexpected taste that people will remember!
Things I learned while making Candy Cane Cookies:
1.) There is such a thing as Peppermint Extract
2.) It's more fun to hand someone a Candy Cane Cookie and watch them try it than it is to explain what it is. They look like sugar cookies. It's a nice trick.
These cookies are very easy to make as long as you don't follow the recipe card exactly. Here is my modified version.
1/3 cup butter, softened
1. Heat oven to 375 °F. In a large bowl, beat butter, shortening and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.
2. Beat in egg, peppermint extract and food dye of your choice (if you want to color the cookie). Read below for more options
3. Take about ½ tablespoon of dough in your hand and roll into a long, even line. Place on cookie dough sheet and form into a cane.
4. Bake 5 to 8 minutes or until edges just start to brown. Immediately move to cooling rack (BE CAREFUL, the tips break off).
5. Follow directions for melting almond bark. Coat entire cookie evenly.
6. Put a few drops of any food dye into a dish. Take cheap (replaceable) paintbrush, dip in dye, and paint on stripes!
¼ cup shortening
½ cup sugar
1 egg
1 ¼ cups flour
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp peppermint extract

Food coloring
Vanilla-flavored candy coating (almond bark)

The original card makes two mistakes. First, it tells you not to add the peppermint extract and red dye until the dough is formed which creates issues with even distribution of color and pepperminty goodness. Then, it tells you to use a fancy cookie dough press to make long strips of dough which you later form into canes.
I can tell you that adding the peppermint extract during the mixer phase makes things much more consistent. I can also tell you that my mother has a fancy cookie dough press and it was terrible for this project. They are designed to make flat cookies, not dough lines. Rolling the dough by hand and forming individual canes is much easier.
In my first batch, I dyed the dough as prescribed, however, I found that I liked the crisp texture of the hardened almond bark combined with the soft cookie so much that in my second batch, I coated the entire, non-dyed cookie with white almond bark and painted the stripes on. It sounds taxing but it looks a lot better and I thought it was easier.
I found it difficult to make consistent, attractive lines with melted almond bark. Not so difficult to take a little food dye and a tiny paint brush and have at it. Plus, it allowed me the freedom to use a bunch of different colors. Something my 4-yr-old thoroughly enjoyed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Recipe 1: Truffles

About a week ago, I found 15 "holiday" baking recipes I wanted to try, and I dove right in. Tonight I experienced my first failure. (I promise to tell you about the successes later but those stories aren't nearly as interesting).
I made truffles.
I did not like the truffles.
They were a lot of work.
They tasted like giant Hershey's kisses with cinnamon.
That is the short version. Here's the long version.
I am always looking for chocolate recipes that I can make at home because my oldest son has a peanut allergy and is thereby severely limited in the kinds of chocolates he can have. Honestly, even finding safe baking chocolate presents a challenge. Anyway, I found this really appealing truffle recipe. The picture on the card looked awesome, anyhow.
It was a lie.
There was a lot of work involved.
1.) Melt chocolate with butter
2.) Stir in whipping cream, vanilla and cinnamon
3.) Refrigerate for one hour, stirring every 5 minutes
4.) Form into balls
5.) Refrigerate for an additional hour
6.) Eat a big Hershey's kiss
I was rather disappointed. I wanted something light, fluffy and amazing. I got something huge, clunky and too rich.
On another note—my son LOVED the recipe. Next time I intend to give him some baking chocolate slightly melted with powdered sugar on top.

An Introduction

I suppose I should first explain the name and reason for my blog.
My grandmother passed away a little more than one year ago. I thought I knew her pretty well in life as we shared many afternoons baking in the kitchen and later, sharing long, winding conversations about all manners of things. One of the most surprising discoveries since her passing, though, has been our very similar sense of style. It's odd how a colorful piece of costume jewelry can bind two people together across the span of heaven and earth.
Anyway, along with a cherished ring, a gorgeous dress and some other odds and ends, I received 3 gorgeous, practical aprons that had once belonged to her. And I love to wear them. Every time I tie a vintage ribbon around my waist, I hear my grandma's distinct laugh as she teases me for insisting on baking a cake from scratch. Each time I slip a recipe card into a simple, single-button pocket, I recall her absolutely care-free assurances that sugar is easy to clean up and a decent mess is an entirely necessary part of a good batch of brownies.
Not every memory I have is so glowing, but the ones revolving around the kitchen are…and she is my inspiration for sharing all of this with you. I hope you enjoy my anecdotes on culinary exploration as much as I enjoy exploring.
And I hope there is an echo of someone happy and carefree in the kitchen where you cook too.