Making Baking Easier 

When most of your cooking / baking takes place on the weekends, which mine always do, anything you can do to make it easier goes a long way towards motivation. So this is something I learned from my mom. Ever Christmas my mom would make loaves and loaves of banana nut bread – it was like an assembly line. She was only slightly famous for her banana nut bread. Everyone wanted to be on the list. It wasn’t Christmas without her banana nut bread and I still make it every year since I finally got it right. Lord, that took a few years because the temperature has to change during the baking process, but I never had the timing or the temperature. Thanks mom. Can’t really blame her, I think this recipe was in her blood in a certain way. Once I figured it out, I would take it to Fred and he was happy. And it is just something I need at Christmas, but sometimes I make it in the summer because it has been six months since I’ve had it last. Guess that means it is time to make one this summer. DD_0206

Okay, back to making baking easier – my mom would always prep her dry ingredients ahead of time. Then all you had to do the day baking is get your butter and eggs out and it is super quick to mix everything up and boom! you are done.

So by Thursday night I like to have my plans for the weekend baking finalized and then measure out all my dry ingredients and put them in zip top bags to make the weekend baking easier. And once it is easier bake, it makes motivation happen. To be honest this also makes weeknight baking, when I’m in the mood, easier to just put something together to make me, The Boy, and the test kitchen happy.

I think my office and students would prefer to be called my test kitchen rather than my guinea pigs.  But I also want my friends to challenge me to try new things. 

So this is what I do on a Thursday night … get ready for my baking weekend. Yep.D&D_1950

It really works and makes life so much easier. Thanks mom!

Get it Right – my favorite kitchen company.

Several years ago I saw a New York Times posting on great kitchen things to give for Christmas. The one that caught my eye was Get it Right spatulas. I had pretty much your every day crappy spatulas at the time – you know – too big, stained easily, couldn’t put in the dishwasher because of wood handles, etc. and so these were really intriguing. They were pharma grade silicon, all one piece (no wood handles), in pretty colors and I had finally found an ultimate spatula that fit my small hands.* So I ordered a couple. And then a couple more. And then a few more. Shipping was free if you spent a minimal amount – no brainer. I really do need to get the bacon spatula if no other reason than just to say I have a bacon-colored spatula. Someone has a sense of humor and I appreciate it.

When I am in a baking mood, I can really go through spatulas and the GIR spatulas were dish washer safe – hell – they were safe up to 464 degrees F. I bought colors to go with my kitchen and then with my mood – first it was lemon yellow, and lime green, and orange – all my favorite colors and my favorite citrus. Then when winter turned bleak I ordered grey and black. Finally when spring started to come around again, a robin’s egg blue.

Well, this past year Get it Right had a kickstarter for there newest venture – a ladle and a spoonula – a cross between spoon and spatula – so I signed up. I have never been disappointed in anything from them and once again, I went the citrus route – orange and green. This was my Christmas present to me. And I know I made a good deal of it and I do love supporting a company that I feel like I’ve been with from the beginning. To be a bit of a dorky food geek – this is my football team. dd_1743

The coolest thing is that I have recently seen America’s Test Kitchen endorse them and use their spatulas in there show – how about that.  Get It Right has lots of other things too, but these are just my favorites. Please check them out – you will be really happy you did.

*This was important for me. I really have small hands and some spatulas are just too difficult to work with.

Sausage & Eggs

When I was young I had all kinds of allergies. Lord knows that is the truth. I had to go through food allergy testing to see what I was allergic to after my fish incident that sent me into anaphylactic shock at 5 years-old after dinner one night – lips turn blue and throat closed up. So I had to be tested to see what other things I was allergic to. 

Mostly just trees, grass, mold, dust mites, dogs, cats, air in general, but eggs seemed to be a problem too. So my mother never really feed me eggs. Nor did I get the MMR shots as a kid, nor did I get flu shots – No vaccine built in an egg. I did finally get the MMR to go to university, had to – they do not let you in otherwise, but by then I was about 25 then.

But no matter what, the only time growing up that I had eggs was this non-recipe recipe. And I guess that is why this is the only time I eat them now.

It is one of my favorite things, um, ever. 

Basically, you cook a pound of sausage in a skillet and then scramble up a few (4 or 5) eggs and then cook them in the grease left by the sausage. This, to me, is pretty much heaven on earth. My mom made this for us for dinner – not breakfast. I don’t think she used hot sausage, but I always use hot sausage for any recipe that calls for breakfast sausage. In my head there is no other kind. Don’t get me started on sage sausage (blech) or lord help us, maple sausage (I love maple syrup w/sausage, but maple flavor in sausage – that is just too strange to be believed).dd_2016-12-25-14-13-50

I am pretty sure I just told you how to make this. It is quick, easy, and amazingly good. My mom had good handle – a very good handle –  on what was good. And this is good in spades.

It is a favorite Christmas breakfast (not dinner) for us – or maybe just me. Well – sometimes you just want what you want and everyone else has to go along with plan. I am pretty sure no one complained.

2015 – Parmesan Shortbread – Nigella
2015 – Fusilli with Artichoke Hearts and Parmesan Cream

Vanilla Taffy

I have never posted this recipe. It is a family recipe that is so special to me. It may mean nothing to anyone else – probably will not. But this is one of those handed-down recipes for something not many people make at all … and there is a story to it.

My mom made this every winter, not every Christmas because this recipe depends on the weather. There has to be low humidity and in the South that usually will only happen sometime between late December and late February. So this did grace the Christmas Eve party on occasion -yes, but there was no guarantee. It is North Florida after all. We oftentimes wore shorts on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This was a recipe from my mom’s mom, Daisy, and my mom would describe how Daisy made it in the winter* and then to get the taffy hard they would toss it in the snow. We never were able to do anything like that, but it is kind of cool to understand where a recipe really comes from.

To be honest, I have never seen a recipe like this. Most people, when they think of taffy, think of salt water taffy which is soft,  but this is not. We (me and the Boy) have taken to calling it crack because when you pull it right and put enough air in it, it gets opaque and, well, looks like crack – at least the kind I have seen on Cops  (read: have no practical experience in the real stuff, but from TV, I can totally see it).DD_9068

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 Tbs butter
1 tsp vanilla

Necessary – candy thermometer – not kidding. Necessary.

Place sugar, water, corn syrup, and cream of tartar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Then cook without stirring until candy thermometer reaches 266 degrees.

Remove from heat and add vanilla and butter and stir until dissolved. Pour onto sil-pat lined baking sheet. When still hot, but cool-ish enough to pull, pull small bits in cords until opaque – you will burn at least your thumbs, but probably a couple of other fingers in the process. Twist into ribbons and lay on wax paper-lined baking sheet. When hard, break into pieces (just drop on baking sheet and see what happens) and wrap in cut waxed paper, or if you want to be fancy, wrap in pieces of parchment. We used waxed paper growing up, but I have taken a liking to parchment in the last few years.  

*They also butchered a pig each winter. Something I completely understand, but an not likely to be involved in.

2016 – Tomato Soup with Spinach and Mozzarella

Sausage Balls – Cook’s Country

It just would not be Christmas morning without the ubiquitous sausage balls. I love these and eat them from Christmas through January. And then I’m done. I feel like if I made them any other time of year they just would not be special. That may be stupid, but it is how I feel.

My mom made the bisquick version and I did the same for a long time. But honestly, that was the only time I used bisquick and I would end up throwing it out at a certain point between the holidays. Seemed wasteful so when I came upon this Cook’s Country recipe, I knew I had what I needed. This is no more complicated than the bisquick version either. Dead simple.

So once again, one of my favorite Christmas treats, for breakfast, of course. With grape jelly, that goes without saying. Fred always liked mustard with his, but I eat sausage balls like I eat sausage biscuits with grape jelly. I find that I am not the only person to do that and that makes me less like a strange one. I get that mustard works, but I love the sweet with the hot sausage. Then again, I also like maple syrup with hot sausage and that does not make a lot of sense, unless you are me.dd_1705

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne
2 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
8 ozs hot breakfast sausage
4 ozs sharp cheddar, shredded on the large holes of a box grater
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the food processor, pulse the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper an cayenne until combined. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal about 12 pulses. Add sausage and cheddar and pulse until combined, about 8 more times. Place mixture in a nice sized bowl and stir in buttermilk until just combined.

Wet your hands and roll dough into 1 1/4 inch ball (about 1 Tbs each). Space evenly on baking sheet and bake until golden brown between 20 – 22 minutes, rotating baking pan halfway through. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm. With grape jelly. Yum.

You can make these ahead and bake, cool, and then freeze and just reheat in the oven at 200 degree for 15 or so minutes. Just test one and see if it where you want it to be for reheating.

24 December 2014

24 December 2016 – for Christmas Day brunch/lunch

 

 

 

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

We have a relatively new Christmas Eve tradition.  Christmas Eve fondue night. It makes a lot of sense to me – an easy, quick dinner that’s best with friends. With fresh bread, apples, grapes, and cheddar fondue, I was looking for something a little savory to go with it that would bring a different flavors. This recipe has the benefit of being able to make it ahead of time and bake when your ready. dd_1702

1 16 oz package bacon, cut into thirds
1 8 oz package pitted dates
4 ozs cheese – bleu, goat, Brie – whatever sounds good, yes Brie that is what we did
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp chili powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil and arrange wire baking rack on top. Spray lightly with cooking spray.

Stuff each date with cheese and wrap with bacon and secure with a toothpick. Place on rack, seam side down. Stir together brown sugar and chili powder and sprinkle mixture over dates.

Bake 20 – 25 minutes until bacon is crisp. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving. Because if you do not wait it will be very bad (serious burns).

I love any dried fruit wrapped in bacon. Or pretty much anything with bacon (See: baked beans). I was really pleased with this recipe and plan to make it again since the container of dates I bought had enough to do the recipe again.

And believe it or not, if you let the left overs sit out and get to room temperature, they are not shabby like that either. Yes, I did do that. I’m that person.

2016 – A Year Ago – Lime Sugar Cookies

 

Overwhelming 

If you follow food online this is the most overwhelming time of the year – between Thanksgiving, or maybe even Halloween, and New Years.

I get so many emails in my gmail account* with “29 recipes for dressing,” or the “best pecan pie,” or, heaven-forbid more recipes for Brussels sprouts – I am sorry there is not enough bacon in the world to make those things taste good. They should be called what they are, nasty little cabbages. Do not care how you shave them for a raw salad or what you roast them with. Am not doing it. Um, ever. 

The whole holiday food situation is just overwrought.

It is just a bit overwhelming and I think the best thing you can do it avoid it as best you can. Which is what I do around the holidays – avoid as best you can.

It reminds me of the traffic in our neighborhood that basically goes to hell in a hand basket between mid November and mid January because we are centrally located – which seemed like a good idea when we moved here, but when you cannot get out of your own neighborhood for about three months, you realize, it is not a good thing.

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Cranberry Relish – an easy tradition

Maybe that is why traditions become so important. They dial down the stress. You have recipes you know work and that you know your family and friends love, so it takes the pressure off. With the caveat that you don’t try to add too many new things in a single year – that way, friends, is disaster. Again, something I am prone to do, but am working on it. So far this holiday season I think I have done an admirable job.

I think the most important things are the things that make you happy. That is what all the holidays are about and that is why I always make M&M cookies for Christmas.

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Yep – M&M Cookies for Christmas

* and this is my fault.