Archive for November, 2008

FAIL: Elfin Shortbread Cookies

November 24, 2008
Okay..so I discovered these cookies via Tastespotting, and the woman who posted them had such a rockin’ picture of them, I HAD to make them. And I decided to make them this weekend as a “trial” for whether or not I’d make them for Christmas.

Thank goodness I did. If I’d have had this much trouble with them while baking a dozen other kinds of cookies, I’d have had a meltdown.

Mine did not come out nearly as cute as Elle’s. She does warn in her post that if you work the dough too long, it’ll turn pink from the sprinkles. I was aware of this.

But if I HADN’T worked the dough that long, it would’ve remained in crumb form, rather than ball form as requested. It fought me on being a ‘ball’ right down to the end, to be honest.

I don’t know — was it the temperature of my butter? I used cold butter, like I always do for shortbread.

The only thing I can come up with is — I don’t have a food processor. Maybe it really does help this recipe come together??
Regardless…I don’t think I want to fuss with this one again for Christmas.
Elfin Shortbread Cookies
(Elle’s New England Kitchen)
1 1/4 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 TB red and green sprinkles
Directions
– If using a food processor:
– Pulse the flour and sugar until blended.
– Add in the butter until it all resembles fine crumbs
– Add the sprinkles and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. (Don’t overdo it, or the dough will turn pink from the red sprinkles like mine)
– Remove to a lightly floured surface and knead a few times until the dough forms a ball.
– Pat the dough out into an 8×5 inch rectangle on a parchment lined baking sheet.
– Cut the dough into 1/2 inch squares, and separate them on the baking sheet. (A bench scraper works really well for cutting them.)
– If you’re not using a food processor:
– Mix the flour and sugar in a medium bowl.
– Cut in the butter until you get fine crumbs, stir in the sprinkles and knead until smooth.
– Continue with cutting and baking the cookies
– Bake at 325 degrees F for 12-14 minutes, and then transfer the cookies on the parchment to a cooling rack.
– Store in a tightly covered container at room temp for up to three days or in the freezer for up to three months.
-This is supposed to make about 160 little cookies, but neither Elle nor I got that many!

And sorry for all of the really bad pictures lately — our new kitchen has terrible picture lighting! I guess I’m going to have to make a lightbox after all.

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Menu Mondays

November 24, 2008

Well folks — it’s time! It’s Thanksgiving week!
Since we just moved into our house 3 weeks ago, I’m not hosting. (Secretly, I am thrilled about this. I love cooking — just not when there’s pressure to perform!)

We’ll be headed back to my hometown to have Thanksgiving with my family. Which makes this week short…

Sunday: Shortbread Cookie Bites (as a trial for whether I want to make them for Christmas), Tacos with Rice/Black Beans for dinner
Monday: Steak and steamed broccoli
Tuesday: Taco leftovers
Wednesday: On the road — headed for Butler, Pa
Thursday: Thanksgiving with Mom and Grandma — 3 generations sharing a kitchen (SAVE ME!)
Friday: Still in Butler visiting family

I do have a project for the (few) readers I have, though…

I’m trying to decide which types of Christmas cookies I’ll make this year. I’ll have to make them all the weekend prior to Christmas, though, because I can’t take any time off from work that week to do so.

So… what’s your favorite Christmas cookie? (And if it’s one that keeps well for 1 week+, even better!!)

Zuppa Toscana

November 23, 2008

I’m not a terribly huge Olive Garden fan, but I DO love their Zuppa Toscana soup.

DH had mentioned he was hungry for “soup, salad, and breadsticks” so instead of trying to wrestle our way into the constantly-full-takes-no-reservations Olive Garden in our town, I just made it at home!

This soup was very tasty. I liked it better than the restaurant version since I could control the fat and salt involved.

I pre-cooked the sausage on Sunday, and tossed it in a container in the fridge. Then all I had left to do was the basic ‘soup’ aspect on Tuesday, and while it simmered I chopped up our salad and tossed breadsticks in the oven (since it was a weeknight, Pillsbury saved the day on the breadsticks). Worked out to be a great weeknight meal.

The original recipe only served 3 people. I’m not even going to post that recipe here, because when I make soup, I make way more than that (regardless of the soup). I doubled the recipe, we ate it 2 nights for dinner, with some left over for lunches (or freezing, if that’s your preference).

For the original “serves 3” recipe, click the Recipezaar link below.

Zuppa Toscana
(Recipezaar)

1 lb. spicy sausage — we used turkey sausage (original recipe calls for sausage in cups. who measures sausage in CUPS!?)
4 medium potatoes, cut in half length-wise and cut into 1/4″ slices
1 large (2 small) onion, diced
12 slices bacon (we omitted. i don’t need sausage AND bacon in my soup)
3 teaspoons minced garlic — we used jarred preminced (don’t worry if this smells mega-strong when it’s cooking. the garlic flavor will mellow out)
4 cups kale leaves, cut in half then sliced (I chose about 12 kale leaves at the store, and ended up tossing them all in)
4 tablespoons chicken base(bullion)+2 quarts water (I used 8 cups of chicken broth instead)
2/3 cup heavy cream

Directions
– If sausage is in links, remove from casings. Cook sausage until done and set aside.
– Cook bacon and onion over medium heat, and when bacon is crisp, take it out of the pan and leave the onion in. Add the garlic to the onion and cook1 minute (Since I omitted the bacon, and my sausage was already cooked and in the fridge, I just put a little olive oil in the bottom of my stock pot, and sauteed the onion in the olive oil until soft and transparent. Then I added the garlic and proceeded on)
– Add the chicken base, water, and potatoes; simmer 15 minutes
– Crumble bacon and add crumbled bacon, kale, and cream
– Simmer 4 minutes, then serve.

This was DH’s first time with kale, and he’s decided he likes it. Anybody have good recipes that use it??

Cinnamon Roasted Almonds

November 19, 2008

Check out my crazy 1962 countertop. Nice amoebas, eh?

Okay, important stuff first. You must make these. Don’t like almonds? Use pecans. peanuts, cashews. WHATEVER. Just make it.

You know when you go to the fair, or sporting events, and they have the roasted nuts covered in cinnamon sugar? Well, this is the homemade version. And they.are.awesome!

I daresay they’d even be a cute food-related gift for the upcoming holidays! Put them in a nicely decorated jar, and you’re ready to go!

I will warn you I had trouble finding a big bag of plain almonds. People tell me the warehouse clubs have them, but I had trouble with my grocery store and Walmart. Just a warning!

And I think 4 cups of almonds is just shy of 1.5 lbs. If that helps.

Cinnamon Roasted Almonds
(Kara’s Kitchen Creations)

1 egg white
1 tsp water
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups whole almonds
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

Directions
– Beat the egg white, water, and vanilla in a large glass bowl until frothy.
– Stir in the almonds to coat
– Mix the brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt and cinnamon together and sprinkle over the almonds, stirring until well coated.
– Pour onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
– Bake at 250 degrees F for 60-90 minutes, stirring occasionally

You want the almonds to be toasted, but don’t let them burn!

Gundy’s Breakfast Casserole

November 17, 2008

I was in the mood for something “different” for our weekend breakfast this week, and when I came across this recipe at Pennies on a Platter I thought it fit the bill! (Plus, it made a lot, so I hoped I could take leftovers for breakfast during the workweek!)

This casserole was good, but it wasn’t as good as I’d anticipated. I used frozen hash browns (the recipe didn’t show a preference) and they stayed a little mushy under all that egg. I also think it needs some kick…this is definately a base recipe, and probably some peppers or hot sauce would be awesome with it.

It was tasty — I just think the eggs, sausage, and hash browns would’ve been tastier as three separate entrees.

Gundy’s Breakfast Casserole
(Pennies on Platter)

16 ounces hashbrowns or tater tots (I used frozen shredded hashbrowns)
1 cup sour cream
1 cup cream of xxx soup (I used chicken)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used a mix of cheddar and a mexican blend)
1 diced onion
1 lb. breakfast sausage (I used turkey sausage links, and chopped them up finely. I also put them in uncooked…I keep thinking it’d be a better consistency if they’d have been cooked)
10 eggs
3/4 cup milk

Directions
– Spray casserole dish (I used a 9×13) with cooking spray and place hashbrowns/tater tots in the bottom of the dish.
– Mix together sour cream, cream of xxx soup, cheese, onions, and sausage
– In a seperate bowl, beat eggs and mix in milk
– Combine egg mixture with the sour cream mixture and pour over the hashbrowns/tater tots
– Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes (or until done).

First Wedding Anniversary

November 17, 2008
Today is our first anniversary. It’s hard to believe we’ve been married a year…and bought a house within that year, as well!

Menu Mondays

November 17, 2008

Hopefully a pretty normal week before the holiday craziness begins!

Sunday: Gundy’s Breakfast Casserole and Cinnamon sugar almonds
Monday: Out to dinner for our anniversary
Tuesday: Steak, broccoli, pasta
Wednesday: Soup, salad, and breadsticks night (Zuppa Toscana soup, fresh salad, garlic breadsticks — who needs the Olive Garden?!)
Thursday: Spaghetti
Friday: Leftovers

More "Green" Cleaning

November 16, 2008

I have a few more “green” or natural, cleaning recipes to share with you — but these are the ones I haven’t had a chance to try yet.

If you try any of them, let me know how it works!

Window Cleaner
16 oz. spray bottle
Club Soda

– My notes say this is very good for interior windows and mirrors. Depending on what has been used in the past, you may experience streaking the first time or two of use. Once the old film from previous products is gone, the glass will sparkle.

Dust to Dust (Furniture Polish)
Olive oil (light)
Vinegar
Lemon Essential Oil
Water
16 oz. squirt bottle

– Put 2 teaspoons olive oil in the bottle, add 20 drops essential oil, and 1/4 cup vinegar. Fill the rest of the bottle with purified water. Shake well. Good for weekly dusting or mopping. Shake before each use.

Leather Polish
Olive oil
Vinegar
8 oz. Squirt bottle

– 2 parts olive oil and 1 part vinegar. Shake well. Cleans and conditions leather couches, car seats, purses, jackets, and books. Shake well, squirt, then rub. Buff dry with a soft cloth.

Brass and Copper Cleaner
Flour
Vinegar
Salt
Large plastic or glass bowl and spoon

– Mix 2/3 cup vinegar and 2/3 cup flour. Stir until smooth. Add 1/2 cup salt and stir until mixed.
– Spoon the mixture onto copper pots. You want a nice sticky/smooth layer to stay on the metal. Leave on at least 2 hours or even overnight.
– This goop will turn green when it is working
– Rinse off and wipe clean. Finish with a tab of olive oil to prevent further tarnishing.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Liquid Castille Soap
Baking Soda
Vinegar
Tea Tree Oil
Water
22 oz. Squirt bottle

– Mix 1/2 cup liquid Castille soap and 2 cups baking soda together. Work out any lumps with a fork.
– Dilute with 1/4 cup water and add 2 tablespoons vinegar to make foam. Add 1/2 teaspoon tea tree oil, mix, and pour into a 22 oz squirt bottle. Shake well before using.
– Squirt the cleaner inside the toilet on and under the rom and on the seat. Use a high quality toilet brush inside and a sponge for the rims and seats. Rinse with a scented vinegar if you like.

Tub and Tile Cleaner
Baking Soda
Liquid Castille soap
Vinegar
Water
22 oz. squeeze container

– Mix 1 2/3 cup baking soda with 1/2 cup liquid Castille soap in a bowl. Dilute with 1/2 cup water. Add 2 tablespoons vinegar last. Stir until the limps are gone. If you can pour into the container easily then you have the right consistency. Shake well before using.

Room Deodorizer
Mix in a clean spray bottle:
4 tablespoons baking soda
1 quart warm water

– Spray into the air, or onto carpets.

Citrus Surface Cleaner
1/2 cup Borax
1/2 cup Baking Soda
2 teaspoons sweet orange essential oil

– Blending Procedure: using a small food processor, process the baking soda and borax until smooth. Add the essential oil and process further until smooth and free of lumps.
– Store in a glass or heavy plastic airtight container
– To use, dampen dirty area, put on gloves to protect your skin and nails. Scoop Citrus Surface Cleaner using your chosen cleaning utensil (rag, paper towel, etc) and clean the area until sparkling. Use more mixture for stubborn stains, less for minor stains.

Antiseptic Soap Spray
Liquid Castille soap
Purified water
Tea Tree Oil
16 oz trigger spray bottle

– Fill the bottle almost full of water and then 3 tablespoons liquid castille soap. Add 20-30 drops of tea tree ol. Shake to mix.
– Squirt on laundry, doorknobs, bathtub, toilet seats, etc.

Floor Cleaner
White distilled vinegar
Water
Essential oil
16 oz. squirt bottle

– Equal amounrs vinegar and water, 15-20 drops essential oil (reccommend pure peppermint)
– Squirt onto the floor and mop or clean with a rag. Also can be used to cut soap scum in tubs and sinks.

Laundry Detergant Powder
In a large bucket with a lid , mix the following:

Equal amounts of washing soda (NOT baking soda. Washing soda is sold in the laundry aisle), and borax (reccommended ratio: 3 boxes of washing soda to 2 boxes of borax, to make it equal)
2 cups baking soda
4 bars grated Fells Naptha soap
drops of essential oil (reccommended: cedar wood, lavendar, eucalyptus, pine, spruce, and tea tree all mixed)

– Mix well with a large spoon, or close lid and shake
– Reccomended amount for use: about 1/8 cup per load.

Laundry Detergant Liquid
1 cake of soap (must be vegetable-oil based)
1/2 cup washing soda
1/2 cup borax
8-10 liters water

– Heat water to dissolve ingredients. Allow to cool before use. Glycerin can be added. Use vinegar in the rinse water.

Fabric Softener
2 cups vinegar
2 cups baking soda
4 cups warm water plus essential oil

— No amount is given with this recipe per load!

Spicy Orange Air Freshener
5 drops orange essential oil
2 drops cinnamon essential oil
4 oz. distilled water

– Put distilled water in a spray bottle, add essential oils and shake well. Spray as needed in rooms or at your work desk to refresh the air.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

November 13, 2008

I’ve said before how much I love Picky Palate. But I don’t care, I’m saying it again — I love Picky Palate!

She always takes nice photographs, and her meals are fantastic for weeknights.

This week I made her chicken cordon bleu casserole. DH says it’s tasty, and to put it “on the rotation” — we have a winner, ladies and gents!

I used all mozzerella and cheddar tonight, because it’s what I had on hand…but I reeeeeeeeally think the shredded Swiss would make it taste more like actual Chicken Cordon Bleu.

And, as always…casseroles don’t photograph well. Just trust me, it’s tasty and it’s quick (with a little prep work).

Cheesy Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole
(Picky Palate)

6-8 servings

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1/2 lb. diced ham
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken breast
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
14 oz. can chicken broth
3 cups cooked rice
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup mozzarella or swiss cheese (I think I would recc: 1/2 cup mozz, 1/2 cup shredded swiss)

Directions
– Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
– Heat oil in a large, rimmed skillet over medium heat
– Add onion and bell pepper; saute until softened, about 5 minutes
– Stir in garlic, ham, and chicken, cook for an additional 5 minutes
– Melt butter then stir in flour, salt, and pepper until combined (I melted the butter in the microwave and just added it to the pan)
– Slowly stir in chicken broth until well combined
– Stir in cooked rice, then transfer to a 9×13 baking dish.
– Top with cheddar and mozz/swiss cheeses
– Bake 20-25 minutes. Cover the dish with foil for the last 10 minutes for oozing cheese

Another Blake Win!

November 12, 2008

Okay, so, I know I’m SUPER late on this.
I won letter trays from Sillycone Inc via BlakeMakes — gosh — a month ago?! But my trays arrived right smack dab in the middle of the moving process.

Today, I’ve unearthed them from a pile of unpacked kitchen items.

They’re so cool!!!

According to Sillycone: “…colorful, educational, flexible and nonstick.Make Ice, Sidewalk Chalk, Jello, Butter, Soap, Shortbread Cookies, Chocolate, Muffins, Candles…is oven safe to 550 degrees F and (-50F)…” as well!

I haven’t had a chance to make anything with them yet, but soon!

I received the letters, but they also make numbers and symbol trays. Too cool!

Thanks again Blake and Sillycone!