Saturday favorites

I’ve been collecting a few suggestions…in the spirit of paying it forward these are some things I’d recommend to everyone! 🙂

Getting ready to do some baking. I never get tired of playing in the kitchen! That’s why I hauled my Kitchen Aid mixer to this little apartment, along with a few other essentials. Here are a mix of my current favorites, both savory and sweet, tools and foods.

  • Parchment paper – what a difference this makes in baking. Easy clean up. I particularly love using parchment paper for baking brownies…leave a generous margin of paper hanging over the sides of the brownie pan and just lift out the brownies when baked. Easier to cut brownies out of the pan. When I first tried parchment paper, I was frugal, using it only for certain things.  Now it comes out almost any time I turn on the oven.
  • Silicone baking pans – I’m only beginning to use these, but what I’ve used so far I like. The added bonus: you can shape all sorts of stuff in these…handmade soap or other crafts. Multi-purpose!
  • Cauliflower “mashed potatoes” – I’ll admit when I make this version of the traditional mash I add a little butter and sometimes sour cream to the mix…the flavor is so good I hardly notice the substitution of cauliflower for potato. Best tip: if you want a little more body to your “mash,” add a small potato or two to the head of cauliflower. You’ll still have a lower carb dish, but it will be a little sturdier…maybe a good step down from the all-potato mash.
  • Big wide shreds of parmesan…I can sometimes find this wide shred in the grocery, usually in the specialty cheese section, but if you can’t find it, buy a gorgeous big hunk of parm and use a vegetable peeler to make your own wide, luxurious shreds to top pasta bakes, salads, or whatever needs a little more cheesy goodness.
  • A new favorite, I’ve only recently been roasting garbanzo beans, aka chickpeas. Delicious and simple. Start with two cans of garbanzo beans, drain and rinse. Spread the beans on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, chili powder, or any seasoning that strikes your fancy. Bake/roast at 400° for approximately 30 minutes. I say “approximately” because you may want them to be more or less crunchy. My advice is to check the beans after the first 30 minutes and decide if they’re done to your taste. They’re like popcorn, only better. Good for snacking, and making salads more interesting.
  • Seattle Bakery Cracked Wheat Sourdough Bread…if you can find this brand, buy it! The sourdough flavor comes through with the crunchy nuttiness of the cracked wheat…delicious toasted with jam, or use for the perfect grilled cheese. This bread comes in a big round loaf. Beautiful.
  • Burrata cheese: If you haven’t tried this, you must do so, asap! It’s wonderful, that’s all.
  • My new favorite way to prepare salmon: searing. I used to bake salmon, if I wasn’t grilling, thinking it was the best way to keep it healthy. But I always have trouble with the timing. It seems like I pull it out too fast, or just past the perfect done-ness. I tried pan searing the fresh salmon we caught last weekend, and it was perfect. Just put a little olive oil or butter (ok, I always choose butter) in your pan, and when the pan is hot, place the salmon and season. I turned the fillet once, and got it just right. Not overdone, and the texture was perfect. Outside got a little color, and the inside was medium rare. Never baking salmon again!
  • Homemade Magic Shell: (this is just fun!)
    • 8 ounces of chocolate (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips)
    • 2 tablespoons of coconut oil

    Place coconut oil in double boiler over low heat and melt. Add chocolate chips to double boiler with the oil. Gently blend chocolate into coconut oil until smooth.  Let cool for a few minutes and then drizzle on your favorite anything. Perfect for dipping fruit. Bananas, strawberries, and grapes are my favorites. Made some frozen dipped bananas recently and can verify: highly edible! Also perfect for ice cream.

In the digital world, check these out…well worth exploring.

  • PicMonkey – a fun and easy photo editor…there’s a free version and a paid version, both are great. Good for creating printables or almost anything. Look here.
  • Best way to sell online…I call it a digital garage sale. Check out your local Facebook sale site. The one for Ketchikan is called Ketchikan SaleCycle, it’s a closed group for local residents…an amazing resource if you need something, or if you’re selling. I sold most of my furniture in the move last fall, and a lot of miscellaneous household items…made over $13,000 in just a few weeks. Of course, eventually I’ll have to replace some of those things, but it was a fantastic way to sell without doing a huge one day event that might or might not have gone well. And it’s fun too…actually sort of addicting once you get going. I like it better than Craigslist. I think most communities have a local Facebook sales group. Find the digital garage sales in your area and get ready to clean out!

And finally, some random suggestions:

  • A new favorite exercise…the Perfect Fitness Ab Carver Pro…It really works!
  • Looking to be inspired to say “No!” more often? I can’t say enough about Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. I read it a few months ago, and I’m still drawing on it as I consider choices.    I’m one of those people who finds it difficult to say “no.” Recognizing that saying “no” actually honors the real priorities of my life helps me to be strong in the face of my built-in need to please. Not always easy for this Southern girl/woman to do, but I’m trying to be more thoughtful and deliberate about my answers.
  • RSVP Endurance kitchen products: I love these tools. You can find them on Amazon or in specialty kitchen stores. They’re not too pricey, but all the ones I’ve tried are good. Very good. This is a brand like Oxo…great value for the money, and whatever they make is quality. The tools are a pleasure to use.

And finally, a smile for the day:

Organic Donuts

Enjoy your weekend!   ~ Sheila

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Colorado Maple Bran Muffins

So, Saturday morning needs something more than cold cereal or a yogurt. Some weekends that means pancakes or the Southern treat of grits and sausage. But today I’m falling back on an old reliable that combines comfort and just a wee nod to the healthy side of baking. I made bran muffins, a slightly adjusted variation of the classic recipe that can live in your fridge for several days, allowing you to produce a warm breakfast treat in a matter of minutes.

I used to make this one regularly for my kids. These muffins are one of my son’s favorites, always on the menu for those rare occasions when he has a chance to visit us in Alaska. Brings back good memories of chilly Colorado mornings and the aromas of coffee and maple in the kitchen. Delicious!

Colorado Maple Bran Muffins
 
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder + 1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups Kellogg’s All Bran Cereal
1 1/4 cup milk OR buttermilk (use whatever you have on hand)
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil OR melted butter
1 tablespoon maple flavoring
1 cup raisins
 
OR

You can use Kellogg’s Raisin Bran cereal in this recipe instead of the All Bran Cereal and raisins…just add 3 cups of the Raisin Bran cereal in place of the 2 cups of All Bran and 1 cup of raisins.
 
 
Stir together flour, sugars, baking powder, soda, and salt.
 
In large mixing bowl, combine cereal and milk. Let stand about 5 minutes.
Add egg, oil OR butter, and mix well. 
Add flour mixture, stirring until ingredients are combined. Add raisins if using the All Bran/raisin combination. 

Ooey gooey batter

Ooey gooey batter

 
Spray muffin tin with cooking spray, or use cupcake papers. Spoon batter into pan and bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Serve warm with butter. YUM!
 
The batter will keep well in the fridge for several days. If muffin batter has been in fridge for a few days, add a little more baking powder and soda (about 1 teaspoon each) to help muffins rise when baked.

If you want to make this recipe more healthy, replace 1/4 cup up to 1/2 cup of the AP flour with wheat germ, flax seed or flax meal. You can also replace the butter or oil with applesauce or a ripe banana, and add nuts for some crunch factor. It’s a pretty forgiving recipe and can take almost any substitution you throw at it. But the basic version is tasty too. Just keep in mind if you mix it up, you’ll need to watch baking times closely and adjust if necessary.

Mmmmmm....

Mmmmmm….I see raisins peeking!

 

Enjoy!

Fresh picks

I’ve been on my own the past couple of weeks, back in Alaska to do a little work for income, and to have a little work done on the house. I’m focused on policies and grants for one clinic, and filling in for the medical staff coordinator at the local hospital. The variety keeps me on my toes, keeps me learning and productive.

On the home front, the house and deck were power washed and some of the paint was refreshed. With a house that’s almost 100 years old, there’s always some project in the works. The replacement glass for my cracked front window has arrived and I almost had that replaced yesterday. But no, the weather didn’t cooperate. We had a gale of a storm and had to postpone until June. My hedges and trees are all trimmed up, and I have a new lock on my fuel oil tank. So I’ve marked off a few of my to-dos.

But it’s not all been work. There’s been cooking too! Or at least some cooking, and some prep for future yumminess.

Last week I bought a king salmon, the first one of the season. Here’s that beauty:

Alaskan King

Alaskan King

Thank goodness it came without the head and tail and guts. I don’t need any of those, although I hear I’m really missing out by not making fish head soup. But someone else can enjoy that delicacy. I’ll just content myself with the non-head parts. I’m taking some of the fish I vacuum sealed and froze down to California for a little Memorial Day grilling. See, I know how to get ready to camp. 🙂

Ready to freeze

Ready to freeze

I couldn’t resist trying my hand at smoking some of the fresh king. I borrowed a Little Chief smoker and researched a brine recipe. Here’s my finished product:

Smoked to perfection!

Smoked to perfection!

The smoked salmon makes a great dip. I can’t give exact amounts, but try blending smoked salmon and a block of cream cheese to a chunky paste in a food processor. Some people add onion or other seasonings, but I like just the salmon and cream cheese. Serve with water crackers or whatever dipper you like. Easy and delicious!

I made a quick pickled salad this week. You could use any firm vegetable. I used diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes (cut in half), diced red onion, and diced baby bell peppers. I made an oil and apple cider vinegar dressing and seasoned it with a little sugar and salt and pepper. Again, no measurements…just mix to taste. (You’ll want enough dressing to coat the veggies, but not so much that they’re swimming in it.) Chill in the fridge to give the veggies time to absorb the flavor of the dressing. It’s a cool and crunchy light lunch or dinner.

Healthy lunch!

Healthy lunch!

Beautiful and simple

Beautiful and simple

And last but not least, I harvested my rhubarb this week. Rhubarb is a late comer to my life. I discovered it about a decade ago and immediately fell in love with the tartness and the way it pairs so well with other flavors to make amazing desserts.

I started my rhubarb crop here in Ketchikan with one plant a friend gave me. This stuff is hardy. You plant it and forget about it. Two or three times each summer I have enormous leaves and stalks that demand attention. The rhubarb is planted behind the hedge in my front garden, and when I begin to see the leaves poking out above the hedge, I know it’s time to harvest. You can cut the plant down to the ground and it grows right back. Let me just say, here and now, this is my kind of gardening! Seems indestructible, impervious to weather, and I literally do nothing but cut it back a few times a year.

I should have made a photo of the plant, but I wasn’t in blog mode when I was in harvest mode, so you’ll have to google “rhubarb” if you want to see the the full glory. I’ve been told that rhubarb likes cooler climates, which is probably why I first met it in Colorado and renewed my acquaintance here in Alaska. My grandmothers, who grew most fruits and vegetables known to man, didn’t grow rhubarb, so I assume it would not do well in the heat of a Mississippi summer. Which explains why I missed out on this taste for so long.

The edible part of the plant is the stalk, which looks a lot like celery, except it is a deeper green and has shades of red and pink as well. You cut the stalks off and remove the large leaf that grows at the end of the stalk. Then you wash and dice. That’s it! You can use the fresh rhubarb to make all sorts of dishes. I see savory recipes and I’ve even tasted a couple. But I’ll admit, I just use it for desserts and sweets.

You can make rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb jam. You typically see rhubarb paired with another fruit, and the classic choice is strawberries. Yes, yes, that’s a good flavor. But do yourself a favor. If you can get your hands on rhubarb, pair it with orange. Orange zest, orange marmalade, orange juice. Nothing. like. it.

Here’s my rhubarb journey this week:

From 1 (!) plant!

From 1 (!) plant!

 

You cut the long stems off the base of the plant and have these celery-like stalks. They’re even a little stringy like celery. The only thing I do is wash and chop. You’ll have different widths but honestly I can’t detect any difference in texture or flavor once the rhubarb is cooked down, so I use the small tender stalks as well as the monster wide ones.

Chopped!

Chopped!

I used a little for a sweet treat (reward for my two weeks of work!) and popped the rest into freezer bags. It’s the easiest thing to freeze. I just chop and bag. No need to blanch or prep in any other way.

Ready to go

Ready to go

And now, just to whet your appetite!

Dessert for two: (or just me 🙂 )

Butter the bottom of a small baking dish. Spread a layer of chopped rhubarb and lightly sprinkle with brown sugar. I added a couple of teaspoons of orange marmalade, then topped the fruit with a crumb mixture. The crumb mixture is a combination of quick cook oatmeal, brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a couple of tablespoons of butter. Spread the crumb mixture on top of the fruit and bake at 350, about 25 minutes, or until the crumb topping is lightly browned. Voila! Dessert, or snack, or whatever you need to call it to eat it as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Rhubarb and orange layer

Rhubarb and orange layer

Crumb topping

Crumb topping

All I need is ice cream!

All I need is ice cream!

If you want to mix in other goodness, add nuts or raisins. You can also do this with strawberries or apples instead of the marmalade. I just happen to like the orange, so that’s always my first choice to pair with rhubarb.

Happy start to the summer! And happy Memorial Day! Thank you to all the people who’ve given so much to freedom and our way of life. Remember them while you’re enjoying family and friends this weekend, and find a man or woman wearing the uniform to thank.

 

Playing with my food

Pumpkin love

I’ve been playing, enjoying a stretch of nesting. I can’t really get into cooking if I’m only passing through my kitchen. I need a little time to dig in and be inspired. Usually that involves a craving that needs satisfying or curiosity about a new recipe. I have to have enough time at home to justify the effort of shopping and cooking. Because, let’s face it, if we’re only passing through, leftovers are going to be a problem. You can’t fully engage in the kitchen and be on the run at the same time. The weeks we’re living in out-of-town clinic apartments do not inspire experiments; those weeks demand convenience. But home plus time equals satisfaction. And this week satisfaction is stirring a sauce and baking goodness.

I just made a delicious butternut squash lasagna. Yes, I’m continuing my affair with the butternut. It’s versatile and tasty. Who knew this would be my new favorite base for soups and hearty casseroles? The more I work with squash (should that be squashes? not sure about the plural form) the more I find to do with them. You can cook them almost any way…roast in the oven, simmer in water, steam, microwave.

And here’s my latest trick: you don’t have to de-seed before cooking. (If you’re simmering squash on the stove top for a soup, it’s probably best to de-seed and cube the squash first.) The minimalist method works well for oven roasting or microwaving. You can literally put a whole squash in the oven, crank the temp to 400 degrees, and bake away. Baking time will vary depending on size of squash. Check for tenderness after about 45 minutes. Cook longer if the squash does NOT pierce easily with a sharp knife. When the squash is tender, remove from heat, cool, then peel and remove seeds, reserving the cooked squash for your recipe.

I haven’t tried microwaving a butternut or acorn squash, but it works like a charm for the spaghetti variety. Just pierce the spaghetti squash a few times with a sharp knife to release steam during cooking. I microwave in increments of 3 to 4 minutes so I don’t over-cook. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the squash and the power of the microwave. The intricacies of prepping spaghetti squash are for another post, but I thought I’d throw in this cooking method as a freebie since I’m on the general subject.

Let me just add that if you’re looking to entertain yourself on a slow night, cook up one of these babies and then cut it open and begin to shred the squash with a fork. I’m probably going to regret admitting this, but I am fascinated with the process of turning spaghetti squash into something that looks just like pasta. Now you’re either going to feel sorry for me and wonder how spaghetti squash can be so exciting…or you’re going to check it out and be equally enthralled by the pasta-look-alike squash. Whichever it is, it can be your little secret.

Roasted lasagna beauty

Roasted lasagna beauty

Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna

Ingredients:

1 3-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1-inch chunks.
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
4 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic
1 small onion, diced
1 small yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 cup chicken broth
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh snipped rosemary
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup shredded Parmesan Cheese
8 oz Ricotta
Shredded Mozzarella, about 2 cups
Fresh lasagna noodles or no-boil lasagna noodles
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 400.
Lightly grease a baking sheet and set aside.
Combine chopped squash, olive oil, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl and toss to coat.
Spread the squash in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.
Roast the squash in the oven for 40 minutes, stirring once or twice, until soft.

(OR…just cook the squash whole in the oven as described above, and then peel and cube for the sauce after squash is baked.)

While the squash bakes, make the sauce.

Heat butter over in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add garlic, onion and bell pepper and cook until veggies are tender.
Whisk in flour.
Slowly add broth and milk and season with salt and pepper.
Cook and stir frequently until thickened and bubbly, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove squash from oven and reduce oven temperature to 375.

Add chopped butternut squash, rosemary and nutmeg into sauce. You can blend with an immersion blender if you want a smoother texture for the filling.

Butter a 3-quart casserole dish.
Spoon sauce over the bottom of prepared baking dish.
Layer three or four noodles on top of sauce.
Top noodles with a layer of Ricotta and shredded Mozzarella. Top with 1/3 of the Parmesan.
Ladle sauce on top of the noodles.
Repeat layering of noodles, sauce, Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses two more times.
Pour whipping cream over entire dish.
Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.
Cover dish with foil.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until bubbly.
Uncover and continue to bake for 10 more minutes, or until top is lightly browned.
Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
Cut and serve.

Ah, my new favorite comfort. So beautiful, so filling, so satisfying. This is a dish to look forward to all Monday long!

My dinner

October dinner

What’s a yummy dinner without a little sweet treat to finish? This recipe for brownies is tried and true. I just adapted a favorite dessert to make individual bites. I made 1/2 recipe of Hershey’s Fudge Pie, then scooped spoonfuls of batter into a silicone pan. Little tastes of heaven! I have ideas for this little jewel. I can think of lots of recipes that would be perfect to make with this shape. I’m not always a fan of silicone baking, but this is a winner.

I’ve shared this recipe before, but in case you missed it, here it is, in all its glorious chocolatey-ness.

Hershey’s Fudge Brownie Pie, or “Brownies Bites”

Reward for a Monday

Reward for a Monday

Ingredients:

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Hershey’s Cocoa
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)

Instructions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch pie pan.
Beat eggs; blend in sugar and melted butter. Stir in flour, cocoa and salt. Stir in vanilla and nuts.
Pour into prepared pie pan.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until almost set. (Pie will not test done in center). Cool; cut into wedges.
Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Ugly Chocolate Cake

I’m craving chocolate. And not just any chocolate. I need chocolate cake. And not just any chocolate cake. I need the Ugly Chocolate Cake, aka, Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake. Yep, the one off the back of the Hershey‘s Cocoa box. No upscale dark and expensive chocolate need apply for this job. But I promise you, somehow, unbelievably, the chocolate flavor in this cake is so good…well, one slice just won’t do the trick. You’ll need a little more, and maybe a little more after that. This cake is that good. This is a dense, moist, solid cake. No lighter than air texture here…this one has body, it has presence. And it has frosting. The frosting is just as wonderful as the cake. Well, make it and see for yourself.

Oh, and the “Ugly” title came from baking this at high altitudes, when we lived in the foothills above Denver. I always had trouble with getting the cake to turn out picture perfect, so we began calling my creation the “Ugly Chocolate Cake” because there was always a bit of frosting camouflage needed to make the layers look just right on the cake stand. But it was a label given with affection, and since the looks didn’t affect the taste, no one minded if the name wasn’t elegant.

You can get this off the back of the cocoa box, but why would you? I can tell you, that print is pretty small! So save yourself some squinting, and just copy from here:

Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake

Chocolate goodness!

Chocolate goodness!

Skill Level: Beginner Prep Time: 15 Minutes

Ingredients

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

“PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” CHOCOLATE FROSTING (recipe follows)

Directions

1 Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

2 Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3 Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with “PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” CHOCOLATE FROSTING. 10 to 12 servings.

VARIATIONS:
ONE-PAN CAKE: Grease and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Heat oven to 350° F. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely. Frost.

THREE LAYER CAKE: Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost.

BUNDT CAKE: Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube pan. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes. Cool 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Frost.

CUPCAKES: Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.

“PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” CHOCOLATE FROSTING

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine 2/3 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

Enjoy!