Monday, December 17, 2012

Black Magic Cake

So I am addicted to Pinterest... imagine that.  I find the most amazing looking recipes and pin the heck out of them.  Some are as good as they look, some are meh.  One of the best I have come across so far is Black Magic Cake.  I think everyone with a Pinterest account has this on their food board. 

I was looking for something sweet to make my husband feel better after suffering through a dinner of spaghetti squash (It was amazing by the way, but there was no dead animal in it so he was disappointed) and I saw this cake calling my name.  It was super simple to make, no creaming of butter and mixing dry and wet together separately, however, it has a long list of ingredients.  It was 100% worth it.  This is a fantastic cake.  I tweaked it a little to suit my taste, a little less sugar and more coffee flavor.  I will give you my recipe as well as the link to the original.  So, if you have to redeem yourself after a sub-par meal, whip one of these up.  I guarantee all will be forgiven!

Black Magic Cake
1-3/4 c. flour
1-3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 c. coffee + 1/2 tsp. espresso powder
1 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. oil
1 tsp. vanilla
Combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a stand mixer.
Add remaining ingredients and beat two minutes.
Pour into greased 9"x13" pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.
When cool, frost.
1/2 c. butter, softened
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
3 c. powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. espresso powder
Combine all ingredients and beat until fluffy.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Easy Initial Bag

It is the time of the year where I am scrambling to finish all my Christmas gifts.  Right now I have two sweaters, a pair of socks, a chenille blanket and a carry-all (Want to make one?  Look here in the works.  My cousin's girls are very into crafting, so along with some fun crafty items, I wanted to make them bags to tote around their projects as they work on them.  Unfortunately, I have a million other things to do, so making them from scratch was not an option.  I decided to fancy up ready-made bags.  I kept it simple and quick, but still fabulous.  Here is how I did it.

First I printed off huge letters.  I just used Word and blew them up to 600-ish.  Whatever took up the whole page. 
Then I traced them onto my fabric and cut them out.  Be sure to place the letter face down on the back of the fabric.  I know from experience you don't realize it is backwards until you have completely cut it out, and it really sucks to have to make another one.
I used fabric glue to hold the letters in place, and machine stitched around the edges.  Don't use too much glue, you just want to hold it in place while you sew.  You could stop now and have a super cute bag.  I opted to make removable bows to up the cute factor.
Using a hot glue gun, I made a loop of my ribbon and glued it together in the center.
I cut a piece to wrap around the center and made a pleat in each end, putting a dot of glue in the fold to hold it in place.
Wrap that around the center and glue each end at the back.
Last, glue on the tails and a barrette (this makes it easy on and off).  Done!
I clipped my bows to a handle.  Easy peasy!


Friday, December 7, 2012

Salted Chocolate Topped Honeycomb Candy

My mother used to make candy when I was little.  I have fond memories of her fishing the little ball of whatever she was making out of a glass of water and giving it to me to try.  Candy making was always a happy occasion...  until I grew up and realized candy making is a pain in the...  well, if you've tried to make candy you already know.  Thermometers, hard ball, soft ball, not to mention the constant threat of dropping a pot of boiling hot sugar on myself or one of the littles (yes, I immediately go to worst case scenario, death by candy making).  Happily, I found there are quite a few candy recipes that are quite foolproof.  This is one of the easiest and fastest recipes I know.  It makes a crispy layer of almost butterscotchy candy topped with a slightly bitter chocolate layer, cut with the salty crunch of sea salt.  If you and mother nature are hanging out this week, this is the perfect fix.  Sweet, salty and done NOW!

Salted Chocolate Topped Honeycomb Candy

1/2 c. sugar
4 Tbsp. dark corn syrup
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. bittersweet chocolate chips
sea salt
Tear a square of parchment an have ready on counter beside stove.
Combine sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan. 
Place over medium heat. 
Without stirring, heat until boiling. 
When it looks golden and syrupy and very bubbly take off heat and QUICKLY whisk in baking soda.  IMMEDIATELY  pour onto parchment.  DO NOT TRY TO SPREAD.  Let cool.
While honeycomb is cooling, melt chocolate.
Carefully pour chocolate into the center of the honeycomb and spread to edges. 
Sprinkle top with salt. 
Let harden.  Break into bite sized pieces.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cheesy Quinoa

I love quinoa.  I like the little pop you get in every grain, I love how quickly it cooks.  I love how diverse it is.  I love to say it.  "Keen-wa".  Fabulous.  I found a recipe that used quinoa in place of the pasta in mac and cheese on Pinterest (where else, right?).  I was saddened when I followed the link and found that it contained evil ingredients such as low-fat cheese and soy milk.  Really?  What did mac and cheese ever do to her?  I do realize that quinoa is an extremely healthy ingredient, but it also tastes fantastic.  I cannot say the same for soy milk and low-fat cheese.  Anyhoo, I made up a version I would be willing to eat, even though it has a pretty decent nutritional value.

Cheesy Quinoa

1 c. quinoa
2 c. water
1 c. milk (I used 1%)
1-1/2 c. shredded sharp cheddar
2 eggs
4oz. (1/2 block) low fat cream cheese
garlic powder
hot sauce

Combine quinoa and water along with 1/2 tsp. salt in pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until water is absorbed (10-15 minutes).
While quinoa is cooking combine milk, eggs and cheddar cheese.
Add cream cheese to cooked and still hot quinoa and stir to combine.  Add in milk mixture.
Add salt, pepper, garlic powder and hot sauce to taste.
Spread in greased 8" square baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Frosty Date Balls

I love the holidays.  I love the decorations, the time with my family, the music...  Mostly I love that I can bake copious amounts of cookies without judgement since most people assume I am passing them out as gifts.  Snort.  I guess I do start with good intentions, but they fly out the window as soon as the oven timer goes off.  Since this is the season of giving, I felt I should stop being so stingy, so I have decided to share my cookies with you...  Unfortunately, the Internet does not yet transmit baked goods, so all I can offer you are the recipes.  Shoot.

Frosty Date Balls
1 stick butter, softened
1/3 c. powdered sugar, plus extra for rolling
1 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla
1-1/4 c. flour
1/8 tsp. salt
2/3 c. chopped dates
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
Cream butter and sugar.
Stir in water and vanilla.
Add flour and salt and mix well.
Stir in dates and nuts.
Roll into generous 1" balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes until set, but not browned.
While warm, roll in powdered sugar.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Where Have I Been?

So I flaked.  Well, maybe it was laziness.  Lack of motivation?  I was just tired.  Really, REALLY tired.  I have missed quite a few months on here, but I have spent those months working on a HUGE project.  Would you like to see it?

Hopefully a picture of my sweet new baby boy will forgive all.  I am back.  I am breastfeeding.  I am hungry.  Be warned.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Baby Blanket Marathon

So as I stated in an earlier post check it out here, I am a baby blanket making machine.  My family and co-workers are clearly fertile and I had four baby blankets to make in a very short time.  I posted the first one I made and you can see it by clicking the link above.  The blanket I am going to post now is one of my favorite blankets I have ever made.  That being said, it was kind of a pain in the ass.

I had this great idea to make a hybrid crochet/fabric quilt...  great idea, lots of work.   HOWEVER, it was awesome and dare I say, worth the effort.  I will give you the basics of how I did it.  I recommend trying it for someone you REALLY love!

Crochet Granny Quilt

What you need:
completed granny squares
matching yarn
fabric (I used 1.5 yards which was not quite enough, but that was all that they had so I made it work)
crochet thread in a coordinating color

What you do:
The first thing I did was make up a square in my desired granny pattern.  Using the dimensions from that square, I decided how big I wanted my blanket and determined how many crochet squares I would need as well as how may fabric squares I would need for the blanket.

Once I knew what I needed, I made all my granny squares.  This was the easy part.

Then, I made fabric squares the same dimension as the granny squares, adding 1" to the width and height to allow for a 1/2"seam allowance all the way around.  Be sure to cut two for each square that you need.  Layer two squares, right sides facing, and sew three sides together.  Clip the corers, turn and press.  Turn in the seam allowance on the fourth side to the inside of the square.  There is no need to stitch this edge, it will be closed in the assembly of the blanket.  Repeat with the remaining squares.

Now for the fun part.  Sewing together the squares.  In case you didn't catch it, that was sarcasm.  This is what sucked.  I did not feel that I could accurately sew them together with a machine, sooooooo, I stitched them together by hand using a thin crochet thread.  I did a basic running stitch, and used a coordinating color.  THIS WILL SHOW ON THE FINISHED PROJECT!  Take your time, it will be worth it.  I also made sure to stitch the corners of the fabric squares together where they meet for added stability.  I also did this with the crochet squares to prevent stretching.

Once the squares are all stitched together, it is time for the edging.  Since the fabric squares do not have holes to get the crochet hook into, you need to blanket stitch across their edges.  I made sure to count how many edge stitches I would get in each granny square and did an equal number of blanket stitches in each fabric square so it would be a smooth transition all the way around.  Use the same color yarn you will be using for the first row of edging when doing the blanket stitches.  I did three rows of border, each a different color, around the blanket.  At the corners, I duplicated the corners of my granny square pattern.

Weave in any loose yarn ends and holy cow you are done.  It is a labor intensive process, but for the right person, a labor of love.  Mine definitely went to a deserving and appreciative recipient.  That is all a girl can ask for.
***Like this blanket?  Check out my Crochet Backed Quilt or my Quilted Granny Square Blanket .

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Easiest Ever Baby Blanket

It appears I have extremely prolific friends and family and I have to crank out four baby blankets by the end of the month.  When I have this many to do at once, I turn to the classics.  This is one of my favorite patterns to use.  It is simple and fast as it is worked with two strands of yarn at once.  I have made a number of blankets like this and they all turn out fluffy and soft and beautiful.  I have made them with all types of yarn, in all color combinations.  This particular blanket is made with 4 skeins of Vanna's Choice and 2 skeins of Red Heart (the regular worsted kind).  My mother and I are both big blanket makers and when Vanna's Choice came out we LOVED it.  It was soft and smooth and easy to work with and the colors are great.  HOWEVER, we have found it is just not durable.  Isn't that the way it always goes?  So, for this blanket, I combined it with the sturdy, yet a little rougher Red Heart, in the hopes of creating a blanket that is soft, but can stand up to frequent washings (baby puke anyone?). 

This is a very common pattern.  I did not invent it.  I am not sure who did.  Every knitter knows it...  well that is a blanket statement and probably not true.  MANY knitters know it and use it on everything from dishcloths (awesome) to... duh, baby blankets.  I highly recommend it for a first project, it is that easy!  Happy Knitting!

Easiest Ever Baby Blanket

I used 2 skeins Red Heart worsted weight and 4 skeins Vanna's Choice
Size 13 circular needles
tapestry needle

** This blanket is knit holding two strands of yarn together as one**
Cast on 5 stitches
Row 1: knit
Row 2: knit 3, yo, knit to end of row
Repeat row 2 until desired size (The blanket is knit from corner to corner.  To check size, measure from starting corner, up one side to meet needles.  I like about 36", but you can go bigger or smaller, to suit your taste)
Decrease row:  knit 2, knit 2 tog, yo, knit 2 tog, knit to end of row
Repeat decrease row until 5 stitches remain.  Cast off and weave in ends.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Green Beans, Country Style

When my parents got together it was city meets country.  My mom's mother made things like clam chowder, lamb and custard.  My dad's mother made things fried in lard, potato pancakes, and apple pie, made with home grown apples.  There is something to be said for both styles of cooking and I feel that I had the best of both worlds.
Of the many ways my grandmothers' cooking differed, green beans seemed to be one of the more hotly debated.  My mom grew up on steamed beans and my dad grew up on a much longer cooked version.  They are polar opposites.  One is bright green, fresh and slightly crisp.  The other is softer, almost fall-apart, and usually combined with other ingredients and eaten as a full meal.  While I love haricots verts with meatloaf or pot roast, when I want a comforting, easy dinner, I go directly to my dad's roots.
So, if you want a ridiculously easy, country style, family supper, try your beans the country way.

County Style Green Beans
1 ham hock, 1-1.5 lbs
small potatoes
4 cans green beans
1-1/2 c. water

Add the ham hock to a crock pot.  Mine was frozen.  That was how I put it in, because I am lazy.  It was just fine.
I found the most beautiful fingerling potatoes at Sam's Club, but you could use red potatoes or mini Yukon gold.  I prefer small potatoes that you don't have to peel and chop.  One, because they don't get mealy then and two, because I am lazy.  Duh. 
Rinse the potatoes and add to the pot with the hock.
In a perfect world it would be July and I would have fresh picked green beans from the garden.  Since it is not a perfect world, we must turn to the trust canned bean.  I have tried frozen beans, but they tend to fall apart.
Drain and rinse the beans and add on top of the potatoes and hock. 
Be sure to add the ingredients in the order I say.  I know what I am doing and there is a method to my madness... usually.  Potatoes are the hardest to cook so they need to be on the bottom where they can get the most heat.  The ham hock needs to be in the middle of everything so it can flavor it all. 
Add the water, sprinkle on some pepper (no salt, the ham is salty enough) and pop on the lid. 
Cook on high for 4-5 hours.
Once the time is up, pull out the ham hock and shred up the meat, throwing away the fat and bone.
Gently stir the ham into the beans and potatoes.  The key to keeping the beans together is not over-stirring.  Put the lid back on and keep warm until it is time to eat.

I love hot corn muffins on the side.  Drool...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fluffy Frosting

My people are not big on icing.  Let me be specific.  My people do not like butter cream icing.  It is so sweet you can almost detect the sugar granules (I'm sure some people think that is the best part).  As a result, I only made cakes topped with chocolate frosting, not necessarily a bad thing, but a little monotonous. 
A few years ago, for my daughter's fourth birthday, she wanted a blue cake...  hmph.  I scanned the internet and came across one of the best recipes I have ever found.  Jello cake.  The cake itself is not such a big deal (even though it is good).  The frosting, is the real story.  It is smooth and creamy and light.  Sweet, but not too sweet.  It can be made in any flavor instant pudding you can find.  It only takes four ingredients and all you do is dump them in and turn on the mixer.  Uh-may-zing.

Fluffy Frosting

1 envelope Dream Whip
1 pkg. instant pudding (4 serving size)
1-1/2 c. cold milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Dump everything in a mixer bowl.
Whip on high speed until fluffy, like light pudding.

That.  Is.  It.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chocolate Chip Crunchers

Here is another of the recipes my grandma brought me from her book.  These were by far my family's favorite.  My husband who is a man of few words said they "are good... really good".  If you knew him you would understand that meant they might possibly be the best cookie he had ever eaten.  One thing I did find was they are best the first day they are made.  The cornflakes hold their texture really well, but after a day or so, get more of a stale crunch with chew texture.  Don't get me wrong!  That did not stop me from eating them, I just wanted to give you the heads up.  Happy baking!

Chocolate Chip Crunchers
1 c. butter, melted
1 c. white sugar
1 c. brown sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
2-1/2 c. flour
2 c. crushed cornflakes
2 c. chocolate chips

Melt the butter in a large pot.
Add in the sugars and stir, set aside to cool slightly.
Once the mixture is cool enough, stir in the baking soda, salt, vanilla and eggs.
Fold in the flour, followed by the cornflakes and chocolate chips. 
Chill the dough until firm.
Roll into walnut sized balls and flatten on a parchment lined baking sheet. 
Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. 
Cool on sheet 2 minutes then move to a wire rack and cool completely.

Mondays With the Maid... on Tuesday

So yesterday was a little hectic.  Seven loads of laundry, bathroom cleaning, Kumon, homework and a trip to urgent care hectic.  Long story short, I forgot Monday's with the Maid.  So here it is Tuesday and I owe you.
I saw this great printable for a cleaning schedule on Pinterest.  I never understood how some people's homes were always clean.  I think this might be the secret.  Unfortunately, it did not fit my needs, so I decided to make my own.  After about an hour, I realized I have forgotten EVERYTHING I learned in my high school computer class.  I am sure I can and will figure out how to make a spreadsheet with only four columns and two rows, however with a cranky toddler and laundry to finish, today is not that day.  So, I did what any one lacking the proper computer skills would do (such as my grandmother, only one of them, the other could probably have it figured it out), I did one by hand and scanned it.  In your face technology!  Here is my basic form:

I wanted to give you a blank version in case you were so impressed you felt the need to print it out and use it as your own (I do realize that possibility is slim).  I work Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, so I plan to keep those days basic with the heavy cleaning done on the other days.  The schedule you saw above, had the dishes and clutter being done every day which I thought was a great idea.  Here is how I organized my days:

I am going to make a nice printable version for you to fill in yourself.  Hopefully by the end of the week.  No promises though!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chocolate Covered Cherry Delights

I do my grandmother's hair every week.  Frequently, when she comes in, I have baked goodies to share with her.  She lives alone and baking can be a very dangerous sport when you are the only one available for consumption.  For the past few weeks, she has been telling me about a book she was reading.  The main character is a baker and they actually give some of her "world famous" recipes in the book.  Some of them, my grandmother told me, sounded really good.  Then, this past week, she brought me copies she had made of her three favorite cookies in the book.  Subtlety is not my family's strong suit.  What's a good granddaughter to do?  Make the cookies of course.

All the recipes were easy to put together, no mixer required.  All of them were yummy, but this was the most unique of the bunch.  It was also my grandma's favorite so I had to post it first.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Delights
1 c. melted butter
2 c. sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. cocoa powder
3 c. flour
2-10 oz. jars maraschino cherries (I needed more)
2 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. sweetened condensed milk

Melt the butter over low heat in a large saucepan.  As soon as it's melted, take it off the heat and
add the sugar.  Let this cool a bit.  You are adding eggs to it and don't want to scramble them.  Don't cool it to room temperature or the sugar will begin to recrystallize and you will have to re-warm it.
Once cool enough, stir in the egg.
Followed by the baking powder, baking soda, salt and vanilla.
Stir in the cocoa and the flour. 
The dough will be very stiff and a little crumbly.  Chill till firm.
While dough is chilling, pour chips and milk in a small saucepan.  You could do this over a double broiler, but I'm lazy so I warm it gently over low heat and stir the whole time.  I used semi-sweet chips and they seized up as they melted so I had to add some cream just to smooth it out. 
As it melts you will add some of the cherry juice to thin it out to a nice consistency.  You want it thick enough to dollop on the tops of the cookies without having it run down the sides, almost like frosting.
Once the dough is chilled, roll it into walnut sized balls and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
Make a deep indent in the center of each cookie with your finger.
Add a cherry to each indent and top each cherry with a dollop of chocolate sauce.  Be sure to cover the cherry but don't let it run down the sides.  I used a small spoon to smooth mine around. 
Now bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack. 
This recipe will make about 5-6 dozen.  These taste just like a chocolate covered cherry. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Easy Fried Rice

My people do not like to eat leftovers so I have learned to disguise them, otherwise I get the stink eye.  Sometimes I can sneak them into my husbands lunch with no complaints, but not often.  Last weekend we went to our favorite Chinese restaurant and ended up with quite a bit of leftover white rice.  Of course I couldn't just leave it there, all alone, with no one to love it.  The next day I had to give it a make-over so someone would eat it (they're flighty) and what better way than fried rice. 
This is a VERY versatile dish.  You can use any left over rice, brown, white, jasmine, whatever.  Add whatever veggies you have on hand or even chicken or steak.  It is a great way to clean out the fridge and trick everyone into thinking you worked really hard!

Fried Rice

leftover rice
leftover or fresh veggies
leftover chicken or steak (optional)
soy sauce 

This is not so much a recipe as a technique.  All the ingredients and amounts at your discretion.  I will tell you how I did mine and give you some tips and ideas along the way.  First heat up some vegetable oil in a non-stick pan or wok over medium high heat until shimmering.  If you are using left over, pre-cooked vegetables heat the oil to smoking.
I used fresh veggies, so they had to cook a little.  I wanted my oil just to shimmering so I could cook them longer and not worry about them burning.
Add the vegetables.  If using fresh stir them frequently and cook until done.  If using pre-cooked veggies, stir constantly and heat through. 
Toss in the garlic and stir constantly about 30 seconds.
Add in the rice.  I used frozen peas and they cook quickly, so I added them at this step too. 
Now is when you would also add the cooked, left over meat.  Crank the heat up to high and start stirring.
Try to break up all the rice as you stir.  Add in some soy sauce.  You could also add pepper flakes or ginger if you wished.  My people would not have liked me.
Once everything is hot, scoot it to the sides and make a spot in the center.
Crack an egg in the center and start stirring in immediately, keeping as much of it out of the rice as possible.  Scramble it up into small pieces.
Then stir it into the rice.  Check the seasonings and add more soy sauce if necessary.

So yummy.  Maybe I'll come up with a good spring roll recipe to show you to go with it!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mondays With the Maid-best cleaning product ever!

So.  It is time for the first official installment of Monday's With the Maid.  As promised I am going to share my favorite cleaning product with you.  You will be a little shocked and probably not believe me.  It's okay.  It's happened before.  But let me tell you, everyone I have ever told about this product who has tried it became a believer.  You will too if you give it a chance.  Here it is:

Notice it is almost gone?  I use it for everything.

I first heard about this cleaner many, I mean a couple of years ago when I first started doing hair.  Hairstylists use it to get color out of their clothes.  I started using it for that purpose and then figured if it got color out it could probably do anything.  So it became a personal quest to see what all I could accomplish with this product.  The maker has some suggestions:


It is meant to be diluted a certain amount for different uses.  All are listed on the back of the bottle.  I am a no nonsense kind of girl.  I generally use the stuff straight. 
This stuff is... well... awesome.  They named it well.  I have used it on any kind of stain a husband or child or pet can make on clothes (my husband is a chemical engineer so he can make some pretty interesting stains) or carpet or upholstery.  I have removed Sharpie from carpet without damaging the rug.  I have gotten poop and vomit stains out of carpet and clothing.  I use it with my carpet cleaner on hard to get out spots and pee pee smells (gross).  All I do is spray it on and using a shoe covered foot, rub it into the spot.  Then I wait a few minutes and do it again.  I run over it with my carpet cleaner filled with clean hot water and 99% of the time a miracle happens.
Here is the really incredible part.  It is sold at dollar stores for $1.  That's right.  A buck.  Insanity.  You can also pick it up at Walmart.  If you have people or pets I highly recommend getting this and starting your own personal quest to see what you can remove with this awesome (groan, I know, I had to) product!

Friday, March 2, 2012


So today was going to be the first day of Fitness Fridays.  However, I feel like crap and don't necessarily feel like getting my picture taken doing some sort of humiliating muscle toning move.  So, Fitness Fridays will begin next week.  Today, I am posting a recipe I found in my newest issue of Cooks Illustrated.  If you are a foodie and don't already subscribe to this magazine, you should.  They take recipes and perfect them.  Sometimes it's worth the effort (like this granola) sometimes it's not (the steps they use to make refried beans is ridiculous). 
This granola is amazing.  If you like granola and have never made it yourself, you should try it.  It is easy and totally worth the effort (not to mention it is soooooo much cheaper).  You can also easily change the ingredients to what you have on hand (as I did), or to suit your tastes.  Try it cold or hot in milk, on top of yogurt or just by itself out of hand.  It is crispy and slightly sweet and nutty... and wonderful!

1/3 c. maple syrup (not pancake syrup, there is a BIG difference)
1/3 c. packed light brown sugar
4 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. vegetable oil
5 c. old-fashioned rolled oats (I have never found a container that says "rolled" only "old-fashioned")
2 c. nuts
2 c. dried fruit

Whisk together maple syrup, sugar, vanilla and salt in a large bowl.  I also added about 1 tsp. cinnamon because I like it.

Next whisk in the oil.

Fold in the oats and nuts until thoroughly coated.  I used half sliced almonds and half chopped walnuts.

Pour into a rimmed baking sheet that is lined in parchment paper.

Press down with a spatula to compact the granola into a solid type layer.

 Bake on the upper middle rack at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.  Break apart into pieces and stir in dried fruit.

Beautiful.  A thing of glory.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sour Cream Walnut Bread

I am lucky enough to have a family that is very proud of it's heritage.  As a result, I know quite a bit of my lineage (there may be rumors of French royalty, in your face!).  I also have quite a few recipes from family members who are long gone.  These recipes use phrases like "a good amount" or "in a warm oven".  I'm sure back in the day, everyone knew what this meant.  Unfortunately, not so much now.
For our family cookbook, my Aunt Anne translated a couple of these recipes and last night I made one.  Holy Cow!  It is really good.  Now I want to look through the old recipes and translate more to try!  In the meantime, here is what I made last night.  It is a quick bread that is slightly sweet and beautifully nutty.  It is amazing with a little butter smeared on it.  I am thinking of whipping up a maple cinnamon butter to go with it next time...

Sour Cream Walnut Bread
1 egg
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. sour cream
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. walnuts

Combine the egg, sugar and sour cream in a large bowl (I also added a splash of vanilla, cinnamon would be yummy too).

Whisk this together.  This is what I love about old school recipes.  These women didn't have a Kitchen Aid mixer so they are all made to be mixed by hand and they can be thrown together easily without hauling out the power tools.

I put my walnuts in the food processor and pulverize them because I do not like big chunks of nuts in food, but I like the flavor.  If you do this be careful not to process them too long or you will have nut butter.  If you do like big nuts, (I heard what you just thought, and you have a dirty mind)  chop them by hand.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder.

Add half the flour mixture to the sour cream mixture and blend.

Add the other half of the flour mixture and stir until mixed completely.

Fold in the nuts

and spread the batter in a well greased loaf pan.  Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour.  You will be tempted to take it out sooner.  DON'T!  It is not done and the center will collapse and you will have to put it back in the oven to finish cooking and then cool it upside down to try to get the center to pop back up.  That's what I heard anyway.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mondays With the Maid

If you are a mother or wife, chances are real good you are also the maid.  I don't mind really.  I am a little OCD and my husband is a little not OCD.  To him, doing laundry means washing clothes and drying clothes.  All of them.  Mixed together.  On high heat so it is done efficiently.  Luckily I learned this about him very early on while we lived separately and before he could ruin an expensive bra, or cause jean depression (we have all suffered needlessly from this ailment caused by jeans being put in the dryer).  Cleaning house means moving everything to a different spot where no one will see it, including me.  As a result of this (as well as the fact that he works like, sixty hours a week and I work like, eighteen),  I am the maid.

Little known fact: I was previously married.  It did not go well (hence the previously).  After the divorce, a good Samaritan left this book
on my mothers porch.  I'm sure this anonymous donor was someone I knew who may or may not have critiqued my mother's housekeeping skills... ass.

The book did not have it's intended effect, as my mother and I laughed and continue to laugh about it to this day.  I kept the book because it is full of good ideas (and some comical ones), and I keep the book (and enjoy it) out of spite.  I have found it extremely gratifying to enjoy things simply out of spite.  Try it sometime, you might be surprised how enjoyable it can be.

I have decided to continue my spiting (I was surprised it was a word too!) of this someone who may have also critiqued my housekeeping skills (and I'm sure is positive I currently live in squalor) by starting Monday's with the maid.  I will share tips from the book my mother received as a gift (snort).  Sometimes they will be good and sometimes they will be laughable.  I will also share things I have learned along my housekeeping journey (Do you know how to get Sharpie out of carpet?  I do.).  Next Monday I will introduce you to the best cleaning product I have ever used.  Period.  You should check it out.  I bet you will be shocked and use it everywhere just to see if it will work... and it will.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Chicken Fried Steak with Brown Gravy

I love to cook, but even those of us who enjoy spending hours in the kitchen need some quick and easy recipes.  This is quick and easy as well as family friendly (we all know this means our husbands will eat it, the kids are not really the issue). 
Chicken fried steak was not something I ever had as a kid.  Probably because my dad wouldn't have eaten it (see!).  As an adult, I battled vegetarianism.  When I was pregnant with my second child (a boy) I became a raging carnivore.  This of course made my husband love me more than ever (not the fact I was growing him a son, the fact that I made beef, like, all the time).  It was during this time, I discovered chicken fried steak.  It was easy and meaty and my daughter could smother it in A-1 (she is always looking for things to drown in that stuff). 
So if you are looking for a simple and easy steak(ish) dinner try this sometime.  I'm positive the man in your life will love you more than ever once you make it.

Chicken Fried Steak
1-1/2 c. flour
1 Tbsp. seasoned salt
1 tsp. pepper
4 cube steaks
4 Tbsp. oil
2 Tbsp. butter
2-1/2 c. low sodium beef broth

Mix the flour, seasoned salt and pepper together in a shallow dish (I use a pie plate).

Dredge the steaks in the flour mixture and let rest on a plate for 5-10 minutes.  You will notice as they sit, that the flour starts to absorb the juice from the steak and the steaks get damp again.  This is when I dredge mine a second time.  This gives them more crunchy coating.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering and add the steaks to the pan.  After a few minutes they will be nice and brown on the bottoms and the tops will look like this.  Flip them over and give them about 5 minutes on the other side.  If they are browning really fast, turn the heat down.

While the steaks are frying, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.

Dump in about 3 Tbsp. of the flour mixture you dredges the steaks in and whisk together.  It will get kind of pasty.

Add in the broth in small amounts, whisking after each addition until smooth until you have added all the broth.

Heat the gravy to a boil and then turn the heat down low to keep it hot until the steaks are done.

Look at that!  The steaks are done!  Put the steaks on a paper towel lined plate to let the extra oil soak off for a minute

then serve immediately with gravy (and, as I prefer, mashed potatoes).