Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sin Rolls

Sin Rolls. That's what I made for breakfast one day this past weekend.  I wanted something a little different than our standard weekend fare of eggs.  The eggs are always terrific.  I just wanted a little variety.

I don't go to the mall often but when I do I try to avoid the Cinnabon (Sin-a-bon?) store.  The smell calls to me like a siren.  It is futile to resist.  Let me tell ya: these cinnamon rolls are just as delicious (perhaps more) and much, much cheaper.

They're called "Quick Cinnamon Rolls." I guess quick is a relative term.  Quicker than what?  Opening a can of refrigerated cinnamon rolls and baking? No.  But better.  Way better.  These may seem to be a little bit of a pain in the buns but they really are worth it.

My worst problem was rolling these bad boys then cutting them.  I had a couple of small tears in the dough and they didn't look too pretty once I got them in the pan.  I was a little upset but when they baked up you could not tell there had been a problem at all.

This must-try recipe comes to you from America's Test Kitchens so you know it's good.
Oh my!  It's food porn. Avert your eyes. One thing that makes these buns stand out is the chewy, crunchy caramel coating that forms on the bottom of the rolls. It's really good.

I served these with cantaloupe and they kept us full for a long time.
Absolutely perfect with a cream cheese frosting.  These buns don't use yeast.  That's where the "quick" comes in.  It's more of a biscuit dough.  Also, if you don't have buttermilk just add 1 Tbs vinegar to your milk as a substitute.  It'll work just fine.

Quick Cinnamon Buns
from America's Test Kitchens

Instead of me typing the entire recipe here, I'm going to give you a link to another blog.  They have step by step pictures which makes it nice.

Things are busy over here at the Happy Texan household.  We're getting ready for a camping trip.  I'm getting the clothes ready and making a list (and checking it twice).  I also have to plan a menu.  Thursday night will be something quick (hot dogs?), Friday chicken and corn, Saturday steak and potatoes. Sunday come home.  I can.not.wait. for this trip.  Sitting around a campfire with the crickets chirping is hard to beat.  Of course, the roar of the air conditioner in the trailer at night isn't too bad either. :)  Roughing it. LOL

Monday, August 30, 2010

Spicy Chicken Enchiladas; Chocolate Sheet Cake

I said that this weekend I was getting back on the exercise wagon and I did!

Saturday morning I woke up way earlier than I would have liked to watch Chuck compete in a shooting tournament.  Fortunately there was a breeze blowing so it wasn't too hot.  You could almost feel fall trying to peak through summer.  Or maybe it was wishful thinking on my part. :)

Chuck did great but he was very disappointed to have come in third place.  There will be other competitions so he can claim that first place later.

That evening we went window shopping at Bass Pro Shops and a local grocery store where I added an enamel coated cast iron Dutch oven to my wish list and purchased a chimney charcoal starter.  Some women buy shoes, I buy cooking and camping stuff.

Sunday we had breakfast and then it was off for a 2 mile walk.  That's not very far but it was in the 90s and there was a storm threatening.  It started raining just as soon as we were leaving the park.  Perfect timing.

We got cleaned up then took Rachel to buy Band Hero for the Wii.  Fun game!!  It came with drums, a microphone and a guitar plus a Guitar Hero game.  I tried singing to YMCA.  Wow, I had no idea my voice really sounded like that.  The suffering my kids have endured in the car.  Poor things.  Not going to stop me though. :)  I also got to unleash my inner drummer.  That was a sight. hehe

Oh, and while shopping for Band Hero I bought an instant read digital thermometer.  No more guessing when those steaks and chicken breasts are done.  This will tell me!  A nice buy for only $10 at Wal Mart.  I think I'd rather pay $14 somewhere else than have to go to Wal Mart again.  It's a cultural experience. I think there was a People of Wal Mart convention going on.

Sunday I made some pretty yummy Spicy Chicken Enchiladas.  They weren't exactly spicy and they're not what I would call enchiladas but they were tasty.  The recipe is from Family Feasts for $75 a Week. I was hesitant to make these since I tried another recipe for brownies in the book that were a disaster (the recipe makes it sound like you should add eggs to the flour when that's a big no no. I'll try it again but add the eggs to the wet ingredients).
This recipe makes more of an enchilada casserole than rolled enchiladas.  The family seemed to enjoy it.  The recipe makes two casseroles so you can cover one with foil and freeze it for a later meal.  I tried freezing one then cooking it later and it worked fine except that a few places on top seemed dry.
This is the casserole right out of the oven.  Pair it with a salad or a big bowl of fruit and dinner is served.

Spicy Chicken Enchiladas
adapted from Family Feasts for $75 a Week

2 Tbs vegetable oil
4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1" pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced (I used onion powder)
3-4 cups frozen corn or two 15-oz. cans corn, drained
one 28 ounce can tomato puree or three 8-oz cans tomato sauce and 1 cup water
1 cup spicy salsa, plus more for serving (I ran salsa through blender to get rid of chunks)
1/2 cup store bought or homemade taco seasoning (I just used two packets reduced sodium seasoning)
Twenty 8" flour tortillas
4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
sour cream for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat oil in a very large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add half of the cubed chicken, waiting to stir until chicken begins to brown on one side. Stir chicken once, and let other side brown. Remove cooked chicken from pan, and set aside in a bowl.  Repeat with remaining half of chicken, and add to bowl.

In the same skillet, cook garlic, onion, and corn, stirring a few times until onion is tender, 5-7 minutes.  Add cooked chicken to pan, and stir well.

Pour 1/2 cup tomato puree into each of two 9x13 casserole dishes and spread to coat the bottom of each dish.

Add remaining puree to chicken in pan.  Add salsa and taco seasoning; bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Let it simmer 5 minutes or so.

While chicken simmers, put a double layer of tortillas in the bottom of each casserole dish.  Tear tortillas as needed to make them fully cover the bottom of each dish.  Once chicken mixture has simmered for a few minutes, layer one quarter of the mixture into each casserole dish.  Sprinkle 1 cup cheese over chicken in each dish, then add another layer of tortillas.  Divide remaining chicken mixture evenly between casserole dishes, and top chicken evenly with remaining cheese.

Bake casserole 30 minutes or until bubbly and cheese on top is nicely browned.  Let sit 10 minutes before serving.  Serve with sour cream and additional salsa.

Cover remaining casserole tightly with aluminum foil, label, and freeze up to 6 months.  To cook frozen casserole, thaw in refrigerator overnight and bake until casserole is bubbly, 30-35 minutes.  You can also cook it frozen for 50-55 minutes. (I cooked my casserole frozen and it turned out fine)

Earlier that day I made some chocolate sheet cake from America's Test Kitchens. This is good stuff and it really comes together quickly if you have the ingredients out and ready.
Mmmmm.  This is while the cake is barely warm and the icing hasn't quite set yet.  It was a little dry for some reason but full of flavor.  Of course, it's chocolate cake so everyone loved it.

Chocolate Sheet Cake

3/4 cup cocoa, preferably Dutch processed (I only had natural cocoa)
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used chocolate chips, no chopping necessary)
12 Tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter (!!!)
4 large eggs
 1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk (I was out of buttermilk so I added 1 Tbs vinegar to 1 cup milk and let set for 10 minutes)

Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting (recipe follows)

*Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees.  Grease the bottom and sides of a 13x9" baking pan.

*Sift together the cocoa, flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.  Heat the chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl covered with plastic wrap for 2 minutes at 50% power; stir until smooth.  Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl.  Whisk in the buttermilk until smooth.

*Whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until combined.  Whisk the dry ingredients until the batter is smooth and glossy.  Pour the batter in to the prepared pan; bake until firm in the center when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack until room temperature, at least 1 hour; ice with the frosting, if desired, and serve.

Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting

1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch salt
1 Tbs. light or dark corn syrup
10 ounces milk chocolate, chopped (I used chocolate chip, no chopping necessary)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) confectioners sugar
8 Tbs. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

*Heat the cream, salt, and corn syrup in a microwave safe measuring cup on high until simmering, about 1 minute, or bring to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat.

*Place the chocolate in a food processor.  With the machine running, gradually add the hot cream mixture through the feed tube; process 1 minute after the cream has been added.  Stop the machine; add the confectioner's sugar and process to combine, about 30 seconds.  With the machine running, add the butter through the feed tube. once piece at a time; process until incorporated and smooth, about 20 seconds longer.

*Transfer the frosting to a medium bowl and cool, stirring frequently, until thick and spreadable, about 1 hour.

*Things I did wrong:
1) used my stand mixer and beat the hell out of the cake ingredients instead of whisking by hand.
2) baked the cake for too long
3) didn't stir the frosting while it was cooling
STILL made an awesome cake.

It was a great weekend and it felt awesome to get outside and sweat a little.  I will be exercising a lot this week and especially next weekend when I get to go camping!!! I haven't had a camping trip since spring and it's way overdue.  The whole family is excited.  We got the last camping site at a local state park.  Of course I'll be posting pictures when we get back. :)

The thermostat is still on "bake" outside so I'll probably be doing a lot of my exercising indoors this week.  As long as I'm moving, right?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What Happens When I Don't Exercise and Don't Diet

With a title like that you'd expect to hear the worst. "I've gained everything back but I swear I'm going to really try harder this time." Gee, how many times have I said that before?

This summer I got really lazy with the exercise. I know I have and I don't really have a good excuse. It started out with an illness and then the full heat of summer rolled around but I still have an arsenal of workout DVDs and the Wii "games." So no valid excuse anyway.

I also stopped weighing myself obsessively. Seriously, I was stepping on that scale almost every time I walked past the thing. I'm wondering if I have some sort of obsessive personality. Hmmmm......

I also stopped counting every single calorie that I ate. Part of that obsessive personality trait, yes? It was so liberating! I just ate when I was hungry and didn't eat when I wasn't. What a concept! LOL

I also stopped going out to eat as much. Partly due to watching finances more closely and partly due to realizing I can make stuff just as good at home. And cheaper! But it's still nice to go out from time to time. There is an Indian buffet about 45 minutes from here that is totally worth the trip and I'm not going to spend all day in the kitchen trying to recreate their stuff. But a trip to Whataburger isn't as appealing as a last minute meal when I can make chicken marsala for less than what I'd spend on burgers and greasy fries.

I know I've gained a little weight but I also know it's not a lot because all of my clothes fit just fine. I have banished my scale to the closet but I dragged it out yesterday just to take a peak before locking it back up (I've become abusive to my scale but I'm seeking help). Wow! I gained less than 10 pounds. I know that's not an exact number but I couldn't remember exactly how much I weighed last time I checked. If I am remembering the numbers correctly, I think I gained 6 pounds.

I know that's nothing to be thrilled about and I'm not really. A gain sucks no matter how you spin it. But the good thing is that it's not a lot and I can work that off easily. The part that has me partially excited is that I've been eating real food and not counting calories and it didn't pack on the pounds like I would expect. If I just exercise I can still have my cake and eat it too!

This weekend I begin to incorporate exercise and get those pounds melting back off. But I'm so happy that I won't have to limit myself to low calorie stuff. I won't have to be obsessive. Yeah!!!

One thing that I've noticed is that by making food without a worry about calories, I eat less of it. For instance, I made a blueberry cobbler (recipe to come soon) but it's so rich that I am totally satisfied with only a small bit. Same thing with chocolate chip cookies: 1/4th is just fine to satisfy a sweets craving. When I make a sandwich with homemade bread I can usually only eat half because it's so filling.

So we'll see how it goes on my little eat-like-there's-no-such-thing-as-a-calorie diet/experiment. I'll have to make adjustments if I don't see some happy results with exercise incorporated. The only thing I feel guilty about is falling off my exercise wagon. But that is easily remedied.

OK. Coffee is brewed so I'm off of here. If I don't talk to ya before then, I hope y'all have a great weekend. Stay cool....it's going to be reaching some triple digits around these parts.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Five Star Chicken Marsala, Baby

Date night in the kitchen. There are more and more places offering a "Couples Cook" or "Date Night" cooking classes in the Houston area. I've been tempted to sign Chuck and I up for one but they always seem to be sold out way in advance. As of now, there are none available for a couple of months. Plus they run from $110-$200 per couple. Yikes! You do get some awesome dinners, a fun experience, and some recipe packs to bring home. For now, date night has to be at home.

Chuck bought The New Best Recipe cookbook (by the folks at America's Test Kitchens) for me a couple of weeks ago. Since every single recipe I've made from there has been exceptional, it has lovingly been upgraded to the title of The Bible. As in, the cooking Bible. But when I say, "I'm going to look for something in the Bible," everyone here knows what I'm talking about. I'm slowly becoming a Pastafarian.

One night I handed "The Bible" to Chuck and told him to choose anything in there for me to cook. He thumbed through looking at various things to tempt his tastebuds and settled on chicken marsala as soon as he saw it. It's a favorite when we go out to eat. But then he surprised by asking, "Can I help you make it?" Hell-to-the-yeah you can help me make it!

We got together in the kitchen and prepped all of the ingredients then proceeded to make the best chicken marsala I've ever had in my life. It was better than anything I've had in a restaurant. I'd even go so far as to say that it was one of the best dishes that's ever come out of my kitchen. It had mushrooms but even my mushroom-hating kids ate them up. I'm not a mushroom fan but I devoured them.

These are so rich and flavorful that Charlie and I were able to split a chicken breast and it was satisfying.

Served with a Greek salad and angel hair pasta for a terrific dinner. The Greek salad benefitted from some fresh mint and parsley tossed in along with kalamata olives, cucumber and feta cheese. The mint and parsley gave it a nice, complex flavor.

The chicken is only browned in a skillet then transferred to a 200 degree oven where it finishes cooking. That method means you don't have to pound out the breasts before you cook them. Because no one likes to have their breasts pounded. ;-)

Try this. Seriously. It's really not difficult and the results are fantastic. Pancetta is easily found in most grocery store delis. It's an Italian bacon that has been cured but not smoked. The mushrooms can easily be sliced in an egg slicer for even pieces. My grocery store did not have sweet Marsala and I didn't feel like going all the way to the liquor store so I bought cooking Marsala. It tasted terrible in the bottle when I sampled it. I added just a little bit of sugar to it to try to give it a sweet Marsala flavor. Next time I'm getting the real stuff.
Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts trimmed of excess fat
1 cup flour
salt and black pepper
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
2.5 ounces (about 3 slices) pancetta, cut in 1" by 1/8" pieces
8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced (about 2 cups, stems removed)
1-2 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 tsp tomato paste
1 1/2 cups sweet Marsala
1 1/2 Tbs. juice from a large lemon
4 Tbs (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 Tbs. minced fresh parsley

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position, place a large heatproof dinner plate on the rack, and heat the oven to 200 degrees.

Pat the chicken dry. Place the flour in a shallow dish. Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper to taste. Working with one cutlet at a time, coat boath sides with flour. Lift the breast by the tapered end and shake to remove excess flour; set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a 12" heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Place the floured cutlets in a single layer in the skillet and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, turn the cutlets and cook on the second side until golden brown and the meat feels firm when pressed with a finger, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer the chicken to the heated plate and return the plate to the oven.

Return the skillet to low heat and add the pancetta. Saute, stirring occasionally and scraping the pan bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits, until the pancetta is browned and crisp, about 4 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to paper towels to drain.

Add the mushrooms to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Saute, stirring occasionally and scraping the pan bottom, until the liquid released by the mushrooms evaporates and the mushrooms begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato paste, and cooked pancettta and cook, stirring constantly, until the tomato paste begins to brown, about 1 minute. Off the heat, add the Marsala. Return the pan to high heat and simmer vigorously, scraping the browned bits from the pan bottom, until the sauce is slightly syrupy and reduced to about 1 1/4 cups, about 5 minutes. Off the heat, add the lemon juice and any accumulated juiced from the chicken. Whisk in the butter, 1 Tbs. at a time, until incorporated. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.

The best.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cream Biscuits and a Walk in the Park

Sunday morning. The smell of coffee brewing a batch of fresh biscuits in the oven. The family stirs slowly and the dogs race to the door for their morning ritual. We're getting ready for a long overdue hike at Brazos Bend State Park.

Whipping up a batch of biscuits may not sound like a relaxing morning to you but it's not as bad as you think. These are cream biscuits. No, they're not low fat nor low calorie nor are they low carb. They're high flavor and will get you high praises with a minimal amount of work. And they're soooo much better than those canned biscuits from the store. Blech!

One trick to these biscuits is to get them into the oven as soon as you cut them. Don't let them just set on the counter. Cook 'em!

And notice how they even make their own little cut line across the middle.
Cream Biscuits

2 cups (10 oz) all-purpose flour
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. (You can find parchment paper in the same location of the grocery store where foil is located)

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add 1 1/4 cups of the cream and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough forms, about 30 seconds. Transfer the dough to the countertop, leaving all dry, floury bits behind in the bowl. In 1 tablespoon increments, add up to 1/4 cup cream to the dry bits in the bowl, mixing with a wooden spoon after each addition, until moistened. (It took me less than a tablespoon) Add these moistened bits to the rest of the dough and knead by hand just until smooth, about 30 seconds.

Pat the dough into a 3/4" thick circle and use a biscuit cutter or a drinking glass rim to cut the biscuits. It should yield about 8. Place the biscuits on the parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Once the hot biscuits are out of the oven, top them with a little butter or some jelly. Yum!

I went to the farmer's market in Alvin, TX called Froberg's. They have fruits and veggies at a much better price than what I'd find at the grocery store. They also have homemade jerky and smoked sausage and pies. I was so excited to see an East Texas favorite there: Mayhaw Jelly! Seriously, nothing is better on a biscuit than mayhaw jelly.

Mayhaw trees have little berries that you'll find floating in the backwaters and swamps of East Texas (and maybe other parts of the southern US) in the spring. It's a family tradition for some to go out in their boats and scoop up the floating berries with nets to bring home to grandmas who turn the bitter berries into a heavenly elixir. Some have also been known to make wine out of them. Now that's a good grandma!

Unfortunately, mayhaw jelly is rarely seen outside of the roadside stands of East Texas. From what I understand, the trees are being cultivated to grow in other places other than the swamp banks. I'm afraid that just might ruin a perfectly good tradition though. This stuff is so good that I might just have to host a giveaway soon.

After breakfast we filled up our water bottles and headed out to the trails even though it was hot. I just missed the great outdoors too much to spend another weekend cooped up in the air conditioning.

We hiked and stopped at a nice bench and shared some grapes and Chex mix and beef jerky. Trail food. Refreshed we continued out Sunday walk but only for 2 miles. It was just too hot. But it sure was good to get outside again. By the time we got back to the car and cranked up the AC to "Arctic Blast", the thermometer was threatening to climb to 100. Later it did get in the very high 90s. Come on, fall!!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Better Than Sliced Bread

You may have noticed that I've been doing a lot of not-so-calorie-friendly baking lately. And you may (or may not) be asking why.

I subscribe to Cooking Light and I like a good percentage of their recipes. It just seems to me that so many "diet" recipes lack flavor. They may ask you to use cheese that doesn't melt in order to save fat and calories. So many of the low cal recipes have been lacking in flavor and texture.

I had just assumed that's the way I have to live if I want to be able to wear cute clothes and lose the Jabba the Hutt body. Seriously, I had more rolls than a bakery. And I have lost a lot of weight. I'm certainly not where I want to be but on my way.

I want to eat good food and still have the body of a domestic goddess. I don't want to be limited in the kitchen. I really enjoy cooking. I've been hooked since I got married and realized that a way to a man's heart really is through his stomach. Well, at least that's the way it is with my man. I've never seen Chuck more happy or content than after he's had some scrumptious eats. All is right with the world and suddenly I'm the most perfect woman that's ever walked this earth. I like that kind of adoration. :)

Test formula: good food + moderation + exercise + more exercise = decent body and happy tummy

Making all of these homemade dinners does have a slight downside: "packaged" foods and most restaurant food now seems lacking. For instance, I bought the dreaded Hamburger Helper because I got it for $.80 on sale and some ground round for $1.50. Unheard of prices! I needed a quick dinner one night and cooked up my processed dinner and served it up. Charlie says, "Wait. This doesn't look homemade." LOL Hey, it was cheap and filled a void.

One of my favorite things to bake is bread. The smell that fills the house is heavenly. I see bread as almost a work of art. Think about it. You start out with some basic ingredients that on their own would taste terrible. But you do a little mixing and shaping and suddenly you have a beautiful loaf of fluffy wonderfulness.

See what I mean?
This is one loaf of two that the following recipe makes. Totally worth the effort.
And in case you are wondering what's on my windowsill, they are fossils and a trilobite and petrified wood. I love fossils and run out of places to put them. Oh, and there is a dodo bird carving that my mother gave me years ago. Being an extinct bird it gets an honorary spot with the fossils.

OK, back to the bread. Look at the texture. The most perfect grilled cheese....imagine it.
Beats the hell out of sandwich bread from the store.

This is easy to make. And you get two loaves. Give it a try.

Beautiful Bread

2 packages of yeast
3 Tbs sugar
1/4 cup shortening (oh come on, a little won't hurt ya)
1/4 cup butter
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup milk, warmed
6 cups flour, divided

Directions for this bread are unusual but correct. Dissolve yeast by mixing with sugar. Mix softened shortening, butter with water, salt, milk, yeast mixture and 4 cups of flour. Beat thoroughly. (I used my stand mixer with the paddle for this) Add remaining flour. Mix. Turn out on floured surface. Knead for 6-8 minutes. (I used the dough hook on my stand mixer) Place in greased bow; let rise until doubled in warm place. (I heated my oven for 10 minutes on 200 degrees then turned off. Makes a great place to let bread rise. Beware: this dough gets HUGE and needs a pretty big bowl) Punch down; let rise until double again. Shape into two loaves. Place in two 5x9 inch loaf pans. Let rise to top of pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until done. Brush top with butter.

Makes 2 loaves of bread.

And after baking bread and having dinner we all went to the neighborhood park to play and watch a gorgeous sunset. It's hard to beat a day like that. As a final note, I'd like to apologize to my friends who I haven't visited in a while. I haven't forgotten you. I just need to arrange my time better so I have some blog reading time. Hope you are all doing well and thanks for stopping by to visit me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Eats and Laughs

Monday was a typical Monday. Cooking. Chuck back at work. Etc. Etc.

I made a nice pot of chicken and dumplings that was terrific. I forgot to take a picture though. :( Next time I will because it's so good and makes a lot and is cheap and low cal. Oh, and it doesn't take long.

After dinner I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies for the kids and Chuck. I did have one because who can resist a fresh-from-the-oven cookie?! Oh, man. They were so soft in the middle and just crisp on the outside. Absolutely perfect and they don't take long to bake. Check out the recipe in this post.
A couple of days ago I made some absolutely divine chocolate pudding. I'm not talking about getting a box in the store and beating it with some milk until it surrenders. No, this is from scratch. Don't worry. It's not difficult and the results are worth it.
Chocolate Pudding
2/3 cup sugar
3 1/2 Tbs. unsweetened, cocoa powder
1/8 tsp. salt
3 1/2 cups whole or reduced fat milk (not skim), divided
2 Tbs. butter (optional)
4 oz. bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semi-sweet chocolate, broken up or coarsely chopped (I used chocolate chips)
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
In a large heavy saucepan, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, and salt until well blended. Add about 3/4 cup of milk, stirring until smoothly incorporated. Gradually stir in the remaining milk and the butter (if using). Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring. Constantly stirring and scraping the pan bottom to prevent scorching, continue cooking until the mixture bubbles and thickens slightly, 2-2 1/2 minutes. Immediately remove from the heat. Add the chocolate, stirring until it completely melts and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the vanilla.

Strain the pudding through a medium-fine sieve into individual pudding dishes or a serving bowl. (I skipped the straining and it was just fine.) If you wish to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, lay plastic wrap directly on the pudding. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 1/2 hours. Serve with dollops of whipped cream, if desired.

The pudding will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Variation: Chocolate Pie Filling
Make the recipe exactly like before but use 1/4 cup cornstarch. After adding the vanilla, strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a fully baked and cooled 9" pie shell. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours before serving. Serve generously topped with shipped cream.
Cookies are baked, cooled, and put away after some sampling by the family. Dare I see this is the best batch I have made yet?

Chuck and I get a glass of wine and I break out a new book from the library: Cake Wrecks. We were laughing so hard that I finally decided to film Chuck. His laughs are contagious. Watch a clip and enjoy. :)

Chuck laughing at the book Cake Wrecks.

(Pay no attention to the gun on the sofa. It's unloaded. Besides, it's Texas. That's just how we roll. Read a book and drink some wine with a trusty 1911 at your side. Nothing wrong with that.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hot Hot Hot

Hot. You've heard me say it before and you'll hear it again. It's too hot.

I've had hiking fever lately and there is a commercial for backpacks featuring the song Big Rock Candy Mountain that isn't helping things. Sunday we made plans to get up and go for a nice, looooong hike. By the time we walked out the door it was already 103 degrees. I kid you not.

Being somewhat adaptable, we decided to go to the mall. Oh no! I've become a mall walker.

On the way to the mall we were complaining about the heat and saw a guy running. On purpose! What was wrong with this man? Was he trying to impress people? Did he not know that if he waits until midnight it would be a mild 90 degrees? Perhaps the sun had fried his brain. Perhaps he was training for a family camping trip in the Sahara. I think he's crazy.

Arrive at the mall. Now I remember why I never go here. Way too crowded. I guess everyone is either a) doing last minute school shopping or b) looking for a place with AC to spend the day.

I did get to go to Williams Sonoma. I can't remember the last time I drooled in this store. It's so chic. It really brings out the inner gourmet in you, no?

Fell in love with a set of All Clad Copper core pans. Cha-CHING!!! $$!$$ This is on my "Only in My Dreams" wish list. You know, those things you really want but it isn't going to happen. Maybe when I win the lottery. I think you have to buy a ticket to win but I'm hazy on the details.

Also visited the Yankee Candle store. Found some Halloween stuff that I had trouble leaving at the store. Found some new scents for fall that I wanted to give a home. But I left them behind.

Passed a Godiva chocolate store. Some serious calorie dangers lurked in there. I count it as a win that I only stopped at the window to watch an evil temptress dip chocolate strawberries. She did it right in front of me! Shameless harlot.

We walked and dodged people and politely turned down kiosk vendors then left with a keychain from the Lego store. Good day.
I have to share Rachel's newest creation. It's a cake made to look like a pie. So cute. I have to brag. I'm a proud mom. :)
I tried my hand at homemade pizza. The crust wasn't difficult to make but it took a long time for the rising and I have never tried to form pizza dough. I learned that the right tools are essential. I did not have a pizza peel nor a pizza stone. I used a cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal and an old Pampered Chef clay baking pan as the peel and stone. It worked out ok.
VERY yummy and it made 3 huge pizzas. Much better than ordering out and cheaper too. To cut down on calories I used turkey pepperoni and a reduced fat mozzarella.
The recipe comes from The New Best Recipe book. Get this book. Every single thing I have made from here turns out terrific. Everything! The recipes have been tested to death so you know you're getting something that will turn out great.
Exercise: Does mall walking count? How about weeding the front yard in the rain? Shopping at multiple grocery stores? No? Blogging? :)

Monday, August 9, 2010

How to Save Money on Groceries and Still Eat Great!

I've been looking for ways to cut back on spending so we can add to our savings and enjoy the sweet life. One area that really pulls from the checking account is groceries. It's not like I can just buy a truckload of ramen noodles and be done with it. I have to find a way to save money but not eat like a college kid in a dorm. (or a newlywed. Chuck and I were so poor that we lived off ramen for a while. Paydays we got to have grilled cheese and Ramen)

I checked out a terrific book from the library called Family Feasts for $75 a Week. It had so many great ideas and recipes that I decided to try some of the tips and see how I would do.

I shopped the sale ads online (did you know you could do that?) for the grocery stores in my area and found the best deals on the big ticket items like meat, cheese, paper goods, milk, etc. I made my grocery list and a menu. Then I got online and did a coupon search for various items on my list. For example, I needed some Ronzoni noodles for a dish so I searched for "Ronzoni Smart Taste coupon." I found coupons for a lot of the items and then printed them out. You can also load coupons onto your Kroger card so you don't have to carry them around. Just be sure to print out a list so you know which coupons you have.

I got boneless chicken breasts for $1.99 per pound. 24 rolls of paper towels for $8. 24 rolls of double roll TT paper for $10. Pork loin chops for $.50 each. Ice cream for $.80. Some things I got free by using store coupons and the manufacturer's coupon I found on the web. In all, I saved over $100. YES!!! And I have enough meat to last the rest of the month. And I cut my usual spending in half, at least.

Good book. Check your library to see if they have it. You can also check the Amazon.com ratings to see what other people thought about it.

I'm not sure what it is but I got the urge to cook like crazy this weekend. Chuck had no complaints. :)

Saturday and Sunday mornings I made biscuits from scratch. One batch was from Pioneer Woman's cookbook that sweet Shelley gave to me when we met. The other batch was from The New Best Recipe cookbook which is HUGE! Both were good but I have to say the ones from New Best Recipe book were the easiest to make and best texture. The folks in that cookbook try several different ways to make biscuits and discuss the science behind the recipe then tell you which way works best. They've done exhaustive testing so you know you're making something that has been tested exhaustively. Sorry, no pictures. :(

I also made a batch of waffles using some Bisquick Heart Smart mix that I got on sale coupled with a coupon. The kids loved them!

Another trial recipe: macaroni and cheese from Pioneer Woman's cookbook. We weren't too impressed. :(
Chocolate chip cookies from The New Best Recipe book. These made me a hero to Charlie's friends who got to see them (and smell them!) come out of the oven. Then they waited around like vultures until they were cool enough to eat.

Not your normal cookie, these were the size of frisbees. Crisp around the edges but chewy throughout the cookie. Perfect. Seriously.
Just look at that. Hard to resist.
Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups plus 2 Tbs. flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled until just warm
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1-1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
* Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray with nonstick cooking spray. (I used parchment paper and clean up was a breeze and the cookies did not stick at all).
* Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.
* Either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until combined. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in chips.
* Drop by scant 1/4 cup portions spaced 2 1/2 inches apart. (I would suggest further apart. Mine grew into a huge mass that I had to separate once they were cool)
* Bake until the cookies were light golden brown, the outer edges start to darken, and the centers still soft and puffy, 15-18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the cooking time. Cool cookies on the sheets.
Is there anything better than homemade bread? Something about the smell makes the house feel like home. I used to always bake bread in the fall. I'd open the windows, turn on some Ray Lynch's Deep Breakfast CD, bake bread and enter my happy place. That was pre-kids. :)
It turned out perfect! It's really not difficult to make bread at home and the quality is far superior than anything you will find at the grocery store.
Look at it just begging for some butter.
I made a grilled cheese for Rachel using this bread and took a bite. Oh my dear lord. I've never had better.
Sandwich Bread
from The New Best Recipe book
3 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp salt
1 cup warm milk (about 110 degrees)
2 Tbs butter, melted
3 Tbs honey
1 envelope (about 2 1/4 tsp) instant yeast
*Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat to 200 degrees, maintain heat for 10 minutes and turn off oven.
*Mix 3 1/2 cups of flour and the salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Mix in milk, water, butter, honey, and yeast in a bowl. Turn the machine to low and slowly add the liquid. When the dough comes together, increase speed to medium and mix until the dough is smooth and satiny, stopping the machine 2-3 times to scrape down the sides and hook if needed, about 10 minutes. If it's still sticking to the sides of the bowl after 5 minutes, add flour 1 Tbs at a time (up to 1/4 cup). Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead to form a smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds.
*Place dough in lightly oiled bowl, rubbing the dough around the bowl to coat lightly. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in the warmed oven until the dough doubles in size, 40-50 minutes.
*Gently press the dough into an 8" square that's 1" thick. Roll the dough into a cylinder, pressing with your fingers to make sure the dough sticks to itself. Turn the dough seam-side up and pinch it closed. Place dough seam-side down into a greased 9x5" loaf pan and press gently so it touches all sides of pan. Cover with plastic wrap; set aside in a warm spot until the dough almost doubles in size, 20-30 minutes.
* Keep oven rack at lowest position and place other at middle position, then heat to 350 degrees. (Your bread is not in the oven at this time. It's still rising.) Bring 2 cups of water to a boil (I did this in the microwave) and put boiling water in a pan (I used another loaf pan) on the bottom rack in the oven and set the loaf on the middle rack. Back for 40-50 minutes or until an instant read thermometer says 195 degrees. Remove from pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Slice, serve and enjoy.
I wasn't finished baking yet. What had gotten in to me??
How about some Bodacious Bars? With a title like that it had to be good. :) They're definitely pretty.
Tasty as they are pretty. They're very rich so a little goes a long way.
Bodacious Bars
Coconut Bars
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbs. baking soda
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted, chopped
1 3/4 cups crushed vanilla wafers
1/2 cup flaked coconut
Chocolate topping
1/3 cup butter, softened
egg substitute to equal 1 egg (1/4 cup)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/3 - 3 cups confectioner's sugar
2 (1 oz) squares milk chocolate (I used 4 "fun size" Hershey bars which are .5 oz each)
For the bars, combine butter sugar, cocoa, vanilla, salt and egg in saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter melts and the mixture thickens, stirring to mix well. Remove from the heat and stir in the almonds, cookie crumbs and coconut. Press into an ungreased 9" square pan. Chill, covered, in the refrigerator.
For the topping, cream the butter at high speed in a medium mixer bowl. Beat in the egg substitute and vanilla. Add the confectioner's sugar gradually and beat until smooth. Spread over the bars. Cover and chill.
Place the chocolate in a sealable plastic bag. Set the bag in a cup of hot water until the chocolate melts. Clip a hole in a corner of the bag and drizzle the chocolate over the bars. Chill until serving time. Cut and enjoy.
I can hear it now. "Tsk, tsk! How do you plan to lose weight when you've used more butter than Paula Deen?"
A quandary: I love to cook from my cookbook collection but I want to lose weight. What do I do? Give up cooking? Give up on weight loss?
Neither. I just take a bite of the cookie then pass it off to someone else. Sample a sinfully good bar then move on. It's usually plenty and I don't feel deprived at all.
Plus exercise. An area I have been shamefully lacking lately. It's seriously hot here. 3 digits hot. I'm going to break out my DVDs and use those until it gets a wee bit cooler. I also have my Just Dance for the Wii which burns some serious calories. It's true! I tested it with my Bodybugg. I have other exercise "games" for the Wii and between all that I'll burn off my samples plus a whole lot more.
I also make substitutions in recipes to make them low calorie so my meals are usually very friendly to a girl trying to watch her figure shrink. Balance, my friends. :)
And with that in mind, I am off to have a bowl of Fiber One cereal that I paid $.75 for after coupons and buying on sale. :D

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Red Beans and Rice Recipe

This is a super easy recipe for those weeknights you don't really feel like spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Serve it with a salad and a Grands Reduced Fat Biscuit and you have a great dinner.
Red Beans and Rice

1 pound lean ground beef
1 large onion chopped or use dried minced onion to save time
1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 TBS chili powder
2 tsp salt (I used seasoned salt)
1 16 oz can tomatoes or tomato juice (I used tomato juice)
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups uncooked rice
1 can red kidney beans, undrained

Brown meat with onion and peppers. Add remaining ingredients except rice and beans. Remove from heat and pour into a 9x13 pan. Stir in rice and beans. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

Note: this is more like a pilaf, drier than usual red beans and rice, but full of flavor. We loved it!

In other news, I am doing so much better and have no more pain. Yeah! Guess I'm finally healed. How in the world did women go through that before antibiotics?

A few days ago I was talking about Chuck's job offer in Beaumont. Well, it's not going to happen. We would have to sell our house and since we refinanced it for a lower rate and rolled the closing costs into our mortgage, we now owe more than what it's worth. If I had it do over I would not have refinanced but that's another story. The point is that selling our house would be a major issue. I really wasn't too hip on the idea of moving anyway so it all worked out.

Just so you know, I'm ready for fall. I tried to walk outside yesterday but my shoes melted to the concrete. We haven't seen weather conditions like this since the dawn of earth. I may exaggerate a little but it's still hot. :) Come on, fall!

Monday, August 2, 2010

WARNING: This Post Contains Excessive Calories

You have been warned. There is a chance you will gain weight just by looking at these pictures.

But before we get to the pictures, let me tell you a little about what's been going on. You don't come here just to look at pictures, right? I mean, you do come to read about my oh-so-interesting life. I expect to get an offer for my own reality show soon. Not!

The weekend started out pretty rough. I thought I was having a nasty relapse with the UTI but then, after a little online reading, I discovered that the antibiotics I was using for the infection can actually cause me to develop another type of infection. If you are a woman (or my husband), you will probably know what I'm talking about.

The pain....oh my god! I had to go out to get Charlie's birthday gift and some groceries and the pain was making me sweat profusely. My shirt was soaking wet and I wasn't sure how I was going to make it.

For Charlie's gift, I traded in some games and a gaming system the kids weren't using at Game Stop. Unfortunately for me, those guys really enjoy games and like to discuss games. So this 30 year old dude with a long pony tail was talking about how he stayed up to 3am playing games. He knows all the release dates for systems. He keeps an XBox 360 just in case they release a game for it that you can't play on another system. He's telling me all of this stuff and I am growing weak in the knees from the pure pain. Sweat rolling down my back. The things we do for our kids.

Got to the grocery store and found my expensive medicine. At that point I would have emptied my meager savings just to get relief. Long story short, I'm doing much better now. Sunday wasn't too bad but Friday and Saturday were killer.

Sunday was Charlie's 1oth birthday. My baby!!! He's in the double digits! :(

The Dessert Gallery in Houston gives a free slice of cake on birthdays. They usually require a photo ID so I brought his birth certificate to get that cake. This place is so hard to resist. Look at all of the stuff came home with us.
That's a chocolate cake (for Chuck's mom), my cupcake, Rachel's coconut cream cake, Charlie old-fashioned diner cake, and Chuck's chocolate cheesecake. This place is dangerous I tell you! Stay away from there.

Go ahead. Try my cupcake. Lick the screen. You know you want to.
Charlie opened his gift. Look at the surprise on his face. LOL He got a PSP and a couple of games. The PSP is actually used (shhhhh!) but it looks brand new. He was so excited!
Rachel made his birthday cake. He loves playing the Mario game so she made a Mario cake. She really did an amazing job. I'm so proud of her. She's been trying to decide what she wants to do with her life. I suggested pastry chef.
She molded Rice Crispy Treats for the two pipes (?) and the Mario figure then covered them with fondant.

Yeah, Charlie was very impressed.
To really put it over the top she dyed the two layers and put chocolate frosting between them.

Charlie had a couple of friends over and Chuck's parents came. Chuck made hamburgers on the grill and we all had a great afternoon.
Saturday Chuck's parents took us out to Buffalo Wild Wings (per Charlie's request) for his birthday dinner. It's kind of a tradition that they take us out for our birthdays. I almost didn't make it because of the pain but I popped enough pills to make it through the dinner. Call me Super Mom. :)
Exercise? Not until I've taken all of this medicine and finally over all of these problems. And believe me, I'm going crazy. I want to get out there and sweat and hike. Soon.