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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Treats for the kiddies

I was a TJ's this week, and as usual, I had to stop by the demo area to see what they were cooking up. It was different this time, the lady said she was making something that her mother used to make for her when she was growing up. I think she called them cookies, but they were more like little donuts or fritters. Very simple...went something like this:
Take some premade pizza dough (usually found in refrigerator or deli section of store),
tear off little "bits", about 1 or 2 inches in size, fry them up in some oil (not olive...I think I'd use grapeseed) until they're browned on both sides, and top with what you want! They used chocolate syrup and powdered sugar. Other ides...cinnamon, sugar, jam, agave, etc.
See, so simple but they were delicious! I haven't made them, but I think I will at some point. The boys would love them and could help make them. TJ's sells whole wheat pizza dough...I wonder how that would taste? Hmmm...I just may have to try that out and let you know.

Thinking about treats for the kiddies, it reminded me of a recipe from a cookbook my sweet grandmother gave me when I got married. It has a recipe in it called "Instant treat for the kiddies." Let me back up. This cookbook is one of those cookbooks that has all those wonderful recipes from the good Christian women from the Extension Homemaker Council of Fannin County , GA. That's where Blue Ridge is. This book was printed in 1971, so all the women went by their husband's name, such as "Mrs. Homer Turner" or "Mrs. Dave Murphy." It cracks me up. Some women broke from tradition and listed the recipes under their names. I have to wonder if they were secretly looked down upon for that. Plus, many of the recipes call for lard, oleo, cheese whiz, or ritz crackers. I'm sure all staples of a good "Southern" pantry at the time, although they make me want to have a heart attack.
I bet many of you have a cookbook just like this, one that's been handed down, or purchased for a fundraiser, or just given to you. I treasure mine, because even though it was printed in 1971, I didn't actually get one until 1996 when I got married. I always grew up with the book, since my mother has one. As a kid I'd just "read" the cookbook for fun, looking for a cookie recipe I might be interested in making. Apparently my grandmother, Leslie, purchased many of these books, deciding that when her granddaughters, present and future, got married, she'd give them each one as a gift.
The inscription in mine says (in her sweet handwriting):
Jennifer, I hope you enjoy this cookbook and make a real good cook. I bought it a long time ago especially for you. I thought you might need it sometime. Grandmother." Bless her sweet soul. My Mamaw was an amazing woman. She worked so hard, was a farmers wife (my grandfather was also a schoolteacher), an amazing cook, always took such good care of her family, never gossiped, helped other families out even if she barley had enough for her own family, wrote poetry, and get this...she married her schoolteacher! There was a 15 year age difference! She really was amazing and I wish I had had more time with her on Earth. Imagine Caroline Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. I treasure my cookbook because it's a little tangible piece of my Mamaw.
So, back to the recipe "Instant Treat for the Kiddies".
It goes like this:
1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup milk
dash of salt
Mix all ingredients and bring to a boil. Spread on soda crackers and serve immediately.

Funny...my mother never made this for me that I can recall. I can't tell you if it's worth making or not. Seems to me I'd like to make the TJ's treats. I may have to save this recipe for a rainy day when I'm desperate to do something out of the ordinary.
I'd like to hear from you on this. Do any of you have any good "treats" that you whip up for your little ones? Something maybe a little out of the ordinary? Or something that was made for you when you were little. Speak up! Even if you're a lurker to this site. I'd love to know!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I have to be proactive this week. Considering the amounts of sugar, sweets, candies, white bread, etc., I consumed over the weekend, and the fact that my birthday is this coming Friday and I have several outings planed that involve eating out, I have to take action! Cake is my weakness. I love it and have no control when there's good cake around. Since David will be out of town on my birthday, we're celebrating as a family tonight. We're going out to eat and the boys have gotten me a chocolate cake from the best cake place in town...Piece of Cake.
Not a "bakery" in the sense of artsy creations that don't taste good.
More of a homemade style cake that your grandmother would make. But man, oh man, the cakes are out of this world.

So far I have a good start to the week. It's Tuesday, and I've already been to the gym twice, worked out for an hour each time and did the sauna each day, so I feel good about all that.
And last night's dinner was really good. I wish I had pictures. Like I said, I totally ate junk over the weekend, so I wanted something really healthy and whole to eat for dinner. I made a huge salad with fresh artisan greens, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, celery, cucumbers, onions, green onions, artichokes and chickpeas. I'm in a big salad mood these days. I wanted to fill up on that and then just have a small portion of dinner. That's just what I did. I've been serving mine and David's dinners on smaller salad-sized plates to cut down on portion sizes.
What I made was the Parmesan Chicken and Rice Casserole from CL March 2008. The verdict...it's a keeper! I modified it of course. I used chicken breasts, instead of chicken thighs. Half and half instead of whipping cream, 1 cup broth instead of 2 (And I think I could have even decreased it a little from that), and I added 3 slices of cooked bacon to give it more flavor.


Don't let that picture fool you. I grabbed that from the website...not one of my own.
I'll be making this again for sure. It's also good enough to make for company.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A good start...chicken stock

Two nights ago, I was sitting on my deck while the boys ate dinner, enjoying a nice glass of red, watching the sunset, hearing the birds sing, and absolutely loving the warmth of the day. There was just a small taste of spring in the air. I started to remember what it looks like at my house in the summer. A small glimpse of the coming months.
It's a different scene this night. As I drank my coffee this morning, I watched the snow fall, and this evening, the fire I've made is crackling away in the fireplace, I'm enjoying another glass of red, Pride and Prejudice is on the TV, and the smell of my homemade chicken stock is filling the house.
Which brings me to my reason for posting.
With cold weather here yet again, I've been craving some warm food. Mainly, Chicken and Dumplings. Now, all my life, I've never really cared for the dish. I've always thought it to be congealed, and the dumplings mushy or slimy. It wasn't until I tried my friend Kim's recipe for chicken and dumplings that I found I really liked it. With this recipe, it's more like a thick chicken stew.
And to get a head start (I'm actually making them for lunch tomorrow), I wanted to make my chicken stock, since it's the base of the recipe.

Here's what I did...
Took a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken (whole), put it in a heavy dutch oven, covered with water, and set it to boil on the stove. As the water was heating up, I added two sliced carrots, sliced onion, celery, a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme and about 1 teaspoon of herbs de provence. I let this concoction simmer for at least 2 hours.

As I type, the stove is off, the chicken has been removed to a cutting board to cool and the broth is also cooling. What I'll do in a bit is strain the broth, so I'm just left with a simple clear liquid, pull the meat (the nice pieces anyway) from the bone and place back in the broth, cover and refrigerate until tomorrow morning.

There's a good start for several uses. A nice chicken broth. Even without the meat, you've got a great start for chicken noodle or chicken and vegetable soup, chicken tortilla soup, or whatever you need a good chicken broth for. And if you picked up a rotisserie chicken, or happen to make roasted chicken for dinner, just use the bones and whatever pieces you didn't eat to make your broth with.

On to the dumplings. Here's the basic recipe for what I'll make...
In a heavy pot, melt about 2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil) and sauté diced carrots, onions, garlic, and celery until soft and fragrant. Add about 1/3 cup of the chicken broth and 3 to 4 tablespoons of flour to make a thick paste. Slowly add more broth, a little at a time, until gone. You can also keep adding more flour to thicken a bit, if desired. Depending on how much you want to make, you may need to add more chicken broth (store bought) if you have some. Season with tarragon. Add the shredded chicken to broth. Slow cook for 1 to 2 hours. Bring to a boil, drop in 1 bag wide egg noodles (dumpling size) and cook for 10-12 minutes. Turn back to low. Add 1 can evaporated milk, or if you really want to go for it, use 1 1/2 cups half and half. Cook to a slow boil again and serve, or simmer until ready to serve.
You really can't mess this up, and you can add or take away ingredients depending on what you desire. As you can see, it turns out more like a thick chicken stew. I'm going to serve it with some garlic bread. My mother in law is coming over for lunch tomorrow, so I wanted to serve something really good.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sunday Supper

Man, I wish I would think to take pictures of my meals. Honestly, when I'm all finished cooking, and the food is hot and on the plate, my first thought isn't "Well, look at how nice that is. I should take a picture of it." No, instead my thoughts are more like "Someone get the napkins, forks, drinks for the boys...turn off the tv, wash hands, wipe the cat hair off the table. I'm starving. Let's eat." That's reality. I will try to take more pics, but when I do, I know that means that when I do have time to post about a meal, I'll then have to find the cord that connects my camera to the laptop, load the pics, and all that other technicality that involves adding a pic to a post. Sometimes it's just easier to report about my kitchen happenings and let you use your imagination. But, I know we're an image driven society, and even I like to take a gander at what people's meals actually look like. Pioneer Woman does a great job of that.

Moving on...
When I was growing up, we had a pot roast each and every Sunday. My mom would get the crock pot out and get the roast cooking before we left for church and by the time we arrived home, the roast (always a chuck roast), potatoes, carrots, and onions were ready and the entire house smelled heavenly when we opened the door. Sometimes we had company join us, but mostly it was just us, the family. I soon took the heavenly smells for granted. I watched while other families got to go out to lunch after church. I always envied the families that would go to Picadilly together. I just knew those kids were getting the cool jello and whipped cream desserts that I would have killed for as a youngster. We rarely got to go out because my mother always had the roast on.

And the roast...I really hated it. Because it was always a chuck roast, there was so much fat sticking to the meat. I'd spend most of my time trying to cut the little globs off each and every piece before I'd take a bite. And I know I did my fair share of complaining to my mother about it. When I think about her getting the roast ready in the mornings, along with getting 4 kids ready for church, not to mention that she bought the roast because it would feed the family on a budget...I cringe to think of my complaining about it. Once I was a teenager, I joined the other kids out at Dairy Queen, Rio Bravo, or wherever the youth group kids ended up. My days at the family table for lunch were few and far between.
I really didn't make peace with the pot roast until I was married. I started to crave that heavenly smell in my own little apartment, and realizing the ease of cooking in a Crock Pot for a married full time college student/part time job holding girl, me and the pot roast made amends. It also helped that I learned that there were other cuts of meat that are not as fat as a chuck roast.

I've been nostalgic lately for Sunday suppers. I've said for a few years now that I'd love to have a meal waiting on me when I got home from church and I'd love to be able to invite others to join us. It a way of feasting together...breaking bread and enjoying a day of rest. Lets face it...as a mom, sometimes it's more restful to prepare a meal and serve it than to go out to a crowded restaurant and entertain two wiggly and loud boys while trying to carry on a conversation with someone that you really want to give your undivided attention to. That's mentally exhausting. I'd like to focus on family and those relationships closest to us and ones that I'd like to develop more.

That's what we did today. Our longtime friends, Dave and Kara, joined us after church up at our house. That's a commitment since we already live about 30 minutes from church, but they live north of town as well so I don't think they minded the drive.
Instead of a pot roast, I did a pork tenderloin recipe I found online, and threw it in the Crock Pot along with tons of baby carrots and sliced onions. I turned it on high at 8am and it was all finished when we arrived home (that heavenly smell!!). I'm not a huge pork eater, but I do like a good tenderloin and I usually buy pork that's all natural (no hormones, etc.). I also planned ahead and assembled Emma's candied sweet potatoes (from the Mitford Cookbook). They only take about 20 minutes to cook so while they were in the oven I also cooked some baby lima beans, honey grain rolls from TJ's and some sweet tea. This was definitely a meal that I didn't even consider snapping a picture of...we just wanted to eat!

And eat we did! I may be biased, but it was tasty! Of course, it was a typical "southern" meal considering the amount of butter used..but hey...we eat well during the week...it's o.k. to have an indulgence day.
The pork was very tender and flavorful. The carrots were so sweet, like candy, and I think they were my favorite item of the whole meal. And the candied sweet potatoes lived up to their name. Very good...almost like dessert. I loved every bite and will definitely be making this meal again in the future. But I have to say, it wouldn't have been the same if it was just the 4 of us on a Monday night. Somehow food tastes better when you're in good company. I wonder what would happen if we all made more of an effort to have Sunday supper at home and open our doors to our friends or neighbors. Just to take it easy for a day and enjoy each other's presence. I personally think it's a great way to get relaxed and refreshed for the week to come.