Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Air Is Chili

Last week was miserably cold here, speaking as a southerner of course. When I say miserably cold, I mean that when you go outside your hands and feet get cold, and you really need to wear a coat at night. If I have to wear a coat that classifies as being miserably cold to me, and it's time to make something really warm and soothing for dinner.

I'm still working on perfecting my chili, and I'm happy to say that I'm getting closer. My beef and beer chili had a good flavor, but not nearly the thickness I wanted so I studied and compared a few recipes and brought out the bits and pieces of each that I thought would bring me closer to my perfect chili. Taking a tip from my neighbor who recently entered and took something like fourth place in a local chili cookoff, I added tomato paste to thicken it up. And I've noticed a few recipes with cocoa powder on the ingredient lists, but cocoa powder in chili? What's that all about I wondered. I decided to find out, but I knew my Big, Bad Dad would have something to say about the addition. I figured if I could sneak it in he'd be none the wiser, and I was right. He didn't utter a word about tasting chocolate in his chili. I guess sometimes it pays to be sneaky because the addition of the cocoa powder seemed to add a nice depth of flavor.

thick & meaty chili

Thick and Meaty Chili

1 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
1 tsp. baking cocoa
1/2 tsp. red pepper sauce
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 small can tomato paste
2 cans (14 1/2 oz.) red kidney beans, undrained
Shredded Cheese (optional)

1. Cook ground beef in 3 quart saucepan over medium-high heat until beef is brown; Drain. Set aside and cook onions and garlic in same pot on medium-high heat, until onions are translucent. Return beef to pot.

2. Stir in remaining ingredients except tomato paste and beans. Heat to a boil; Reduce heat to low.

3. Add tomato paste, stir until completely combined. Add beans and stir in. Cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until to desired thickness. Serve in a bowl with shredded cheese if desired.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

A Daring Baker I Am!

So I've seen this cute little logo on lots of blogs for months now and always wondered what it was. Turns out there's this really cool group called the Daring Bakers. And now I'm one too! I've completed my first DB challenge and really enjoyed it. The assigned recipe for November was potato bread. I've baked a few loaves of yeast bread here and there, but I've got minimal experience especially when it comes to the whole kneading by hand thing. I find the thought of kneading by hand to be the most intimidating part of bread baking. I always worry that I won't have enough flour, or I'll have too much and I won't knead enough, or I'll knead too much and the bread will be tough. Well I decided to suck it up and just give it a try.

focaccia potato bread

The bread was good, but I didn't love it. Maybe that was due to my lack of experience or maybe I would just prefer a different type of bread? Your guess is as good as mine. I chose to make a standard loaf of "sandwich bread" and a loaf of focaccia, and I was most pleased with the focaccia.

potato bread

I'm open to any tips or suggestions you experienced bread bakers have. Stay tuned for next month's Daring Baker challenge!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gobble 'Til You Wobble

My, my my..sweet potato pie!!

Well, the turkey is in the fridge waiting to meet it's fate of being the delicious centerpiece to our Thanksgiving feast tomorrow, cornbread is in the oven - step one of making the dressing. And to top that off, the house if filled with the aroma of freshly baked sweet potato pies. I'm not sure what I look forward to more, the baking and cooking that lead up to Thanksgiving or actually getting to eat all the food, glorious food. It's a tough call. And whatever you do, please don't dare ask me what my favorite part of the meal is because I have no idea.

From my kitchen to yours, I want to wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving. And please, whatever you do, gobble 'til you wobble folks. I know I will.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Yummy Spicy Goodness

Once the Halloween decorations are taken down and we begin talk of turkey my food cravings change, as do my baking habits. I begin to crave warm, hearty stick to your ribs comfort foods. And I put the chocolate chip cookie recipe aside for a while. I put the brownie and cupcake making on the back burner momentarily, and I start making gingersnaps, soft and chewy they are sooo good! Come Thanksgiving and my house is filled with the wonderful smell of sweet potato pies. And lest we not forget my famous boiled oatmeal cookies, and there's always a batch of gingerbread or two in there somewhere. I got a jumpstart on the gingerbread baking this week. I don't have a tried and true recipe yet so I went to my standby, allrecipes. Overall I was pretty pleased with the recipe. It made a nice moist gingerbread with a good flavor, I think the spice amounts could benefit from being tweaked. I also prefer my gingerbread with lemon sauce, but I thoughtlessly forgot to buy lemons, and my craving wouldn't allow me to wait for the sauce so I decided to take my gingerbread straight up this time.

Old Fashioned Gingerbread

Old Fashioned Gingerbread

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
1 cup molasses
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9 inch square pan.

In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the egg, and mix in the molasses.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Blend into the creamed mixture. Stir in the hot water. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake 1 hour (I found mine was done after baking for approximately 35 minutes.) in the preheated oven, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan before serving.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Collecting My Coins

I do a lot of blog browsing, and with all the wonderful food blogs out there I'm constantly stumbling onto new ones. With all those food blogs comes the discovery of many new recipes and the reminder of quite a few others that I already know and love, but maybe sometimes let fall to the back of my mind. One of those new recipes I found recently was over at Janet Is Hungry. I can't recall how I found her blog, but Janet has a recipe for baked zucchini coins that immediately caught my eye.

sqaush & zucc coins

I love, capital L-O-V-E zucchini, and I thought this recipe would work perfectly with crookneck squash, another one of my favorites. For forever since I can remember fried squash has been one of my very favorite foods, but being that it's DEEP FRIED I try to refrain from eating it very often, so when I found this recipe it seemed like the perfect concept. I simplified the recipe a little, using storebought breadcrumbs and added a dash of Montreal seasoning. I've made the recipe twice and the first time around I loved it, but my Big, Bad Dad had a minor complaint and a few suggestions. He didn't care for the seasoning, saying the inclusion of sage in the spice blend made it taste like "Thanksgiving". "What's wrong with that???" I ask! Big, Bad Dad's suggestion? "Next time I think it would be better if you just breaded them in plain cornmeal." So that's what I did, but take my word for it, you should not, not, not use just cornmeal. Unless of course you want your zuccs and squash to taste like uncooked cornmeal. Yeah, not a good flavor, but at the last minute we stuck them under the broiler so they weren't a total loss. From here on out, it's breadcrumbs all the way in this recipe for me.

Baked Squash and Zucchini Coins

1/2 plain breadcrumbs
Montreal seasoning to taste
1 zucchini
1 yellow squash
1 egg
olive oil

1. Mix breadcrumbs and seasoning on a plate.

2. Beat egg in a small bowl.

3. Slice zucchini and squash into 1/4" thick coins.

4. Dip zucchini and squash into egg and then into breadcrumb mixture.

5. Coat a parchment lined cookie sheet with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Arrange zucchini and squash coins on cookie sheet and back at 425 for about 10 minutes per side, until golden brown.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Happy Fall Y'all!

While the beautiful and vibrant foliage has given the appearance of fall, the chilly, blustery weather typical of the season has been an on-again off-again thing for us over the past several weeks. But it seems that we are finally settling into the season, with nighttime temperatures starting to fall into the 30's and the North Carolina mountains receiving a rather abrupt snowfall just a few days ago. Can I just say, thank goodness I don't live in the mountains right about now?

You may remember, a few weeks back I tested out Beef and Beer Chili in anticipation of the forthcoming chilly weather, no pun intended. Well, earlier this week as I started to accept the fact that I must begin waving a sad goodbye to my cute tank tops, shortsleeve blouses, adorable capris and oh-so loved shorts of summer and start dragging out my sweaters, scarves, gloves and other cold weather clothes I developed a craving for something hearty and warm you straight to the bone. I could think of nothing better than soup, so I whipped up a batch of my easy Au Gratin Potato Soup. My inspiration comes from a very similar recipe I found on Allrecipes. My changes were pretty simple and fairly minor but changed the flavor a bit and took away some of the fat and calories, but left the soup lacking nothing in my opinion. I don't think I'm too far off in saying that either, as I got no complaints or criticism from my Big, Bad Dad, he even went back for seconds.

au gratin potato soup

Au Gratin Potato Soup

4 medium red skinned potatoes, cubed
1 (5.5 ounce) package au gratin instant potato mix
1 (10.5 ounce) can condensed chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup milk (2% is suitable)
crumbled cooked bacon (2 strips per bowl)

In a large saucepan or pot, combine potatoes, au gratin potato mix, chicken broth and water. Add more water to cover if necessary. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 40 minutes. Stir in cream and heat through. While soup is cooking, prepare bacon, drain grease and crumble. Serve with bacon crumbles on top.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Etc, Etc

I've got a few bits and pieces to cover, but sorry y'all, no new recipes today. There are a few coming though, so keep checking.

The past few weeks have not been marked by adventures in the kitchen, atleast not when it comes to baking. Recent weeks have been filled with sweets as usual, but I've been gravitating to some of my tried and true recipes: my best ever, big, fat, chewy chocolate chip cookies, and as a prelude to Christmas, boiled oatmeal cookies. For those of you who haven't read previous posts about the boiled oatmeal cookies, you MUST check them out. They are a long standing holiday tradition in my family, and as odd as the recipes name sounds they are utterly addictive and delicious.

In blogging news, I've joined the ever growing list of bloggers that makes up the Foodie Blog Roll. If you aren't already a part of it check it out!

Sammy says..

And last, but definitely not least, in family news I want to send out a HUGE and belated happy birthday to my Sammy baby. He turned 6 on November 2nd. It's hard to believe he's already that old. And in a matter of weeks Stumpy will be turning 4. My boys are growing up so fast!

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Halloween, The Recap

With all three of my children covered in fur and having four legs there was no trick-or-treating for us this year. There was also sadly no dressing up simply because I never found just the perfect costumes for my boys, and believe me, I searched. There is also an on-going debate in our house as to whether putting clothing on a dog for any reason other than warmth is appropriate. I say there are certain circumstances where it is suitable, such as they just look to freakin adorable not to dress them up. The Big Bad Dad? He has his feet firmly planted in the belief that dressing up a dog for more than warmth is completely stupid and degrading. Psssh, whateva.

halloween cookies

So, we were sans costumes and opted not to pass out candy to trick-or-treaters. And before you even think it. NO. I'm not the Grinch who stole Halloween. Having the doorbell ring and opening the door every five seconds would be pure and total chaos in my house. We would have had to lock the kids in their rooms in an effort to keep them from licking the trick-or-treaters to death. And Duncan. Well, let's just say Duncan would have lovingly stolen candy from each and every child who rang our doorbell.

jack-o-lantern cupcakes

I had to get in on the holiday somehow though, and ever being the baker I use every occassion possible to whip up something sweet. I made a batch of chocolate cupcakes with buttercream, and some sugar cookies decorated with royal icing. All of which were old standby recipes, no experiments, but as my Big, Bad Dad says, sometimes ya just gotta leave well enough alone. So that I did. My weeks have been busy, looking back, I can never seem to remember with what, but nonetheless all my projects seem to leave me short on time lately, the cookies and the cupcakes included so they didn't turn out to be my most adorable or my most creative. But they tasted great and still received high praises.

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