Friday, April 4, 2014

Birthday Treats


In our last episode, Silver was an only dog, as my foster had gone to a home. Since then, I've fostered and adopted a new boy--Tigger, formerly known as Clem (raced as Flying Clemenza). He's a big, goofy, clingy dog. His current name--and he's earned it--can be attested to by anyone who comes to my condo.

The wonderful thing about Tiggers
Is Tiggers are wonderful things.
Their tops are made out of rubber,
Their bottoms are made out of springs.

Dense rubber between his ears and a tendency to boing! around the house over the least little thing-- Yep, that's him. And he's orange--sorta--with black stripes (technically, he's a red brindle). SEGA has a meet and greet tomorrow morning, and tomorrow will be Tigger's 7th birthday, so I decided to make dog treats to take to the meet and greet.

I started with this recipe. I have an adorable, bone-shaped cookie cutter I bought once in a moment of optimism. (Time to 'fess up: I've got at least a dozen cookie cutters--bone, dog, dog house, stars, bells, Santas, sleds, wreaths, candles, etc. "Optimist" doesn't begin to cover it.)

I have all the ingredients on hand. (I wasn't paying attention at first, and the first ½-cup of flour was all-purpose flour; but I woke up, and the last cup was whole wheat.)

Everything went together well. The dough wasn't runny or too dry. I floured everything I was supposed to flour (and a few things I wasn't--I have a tiny kitchen with no counterspace--prep work is done on top of the stove), rolled out the dough (maybe not enough flour on the rolling pin, but not too bad), cut the shapes with the cookie cutter.

And then I tried to pick up the shapes to put them on the parchment paper. It was like trying to pick up bone-shaped blobs of peanut butter with your fingers and keep the shape. I tried pulling the excess dough from around the shapes so I could get to the shapes better. No. Not happening. So I went to Plan B. (Of course there's a Plan B. If I'm cooking, there has to be.)

I grabbed a teaspoon and starting spooning out the dough. Filled one cookie sheet (small kitchen, small oven, small cookie sheets), quickly put parchment paper on a second sheet and filled it. Started to put the smallest sheet into the oven on the bottom rack. You know how you use parchment paper because stuff doesn't stick to it? Well, it doesn't stick to anything, either, and it started sliding and deposited a couple of cookies on the bottom of the stove. (The preheated stove.) I got them out, smushed them back onto the parchment sheet and got the cookie sheet on the bottom rack, then put the larger cookie sheet on the top rack. (My preheated oven lost about 75 degrees during this.) Next time, I may put a dab of cookie dough between the cookie sheet and the parchment paper in an attempt to glue the paper into place. I baked both sheets for 25 minutes, and now the cookies are sitting in the stove to cool and get crunchy.

The recipe said to space the cookies on the parchment paper with 1"-2" of space, so I expected the cookie dough to flatten and spread as it cooked. Well, no. My round teaspoons of dough are hardening into round, brown lumps that look like, um--- Well, dog owners can guess what these look like. I doubt the dogs will care, but next time, I'm taking a fork to the tops of these things before I put them in the oven. (By the time I thought of flattening these with a fork after they cooked, the treats were too solid to smush. But now I know why bakers flatten the tops of cookies with a fork.)

I wound up with a half-can of pumpkin left, most of a jar of unsweetened applesauce, and most of a 32 oz carton of chicken broth. I'm freezing two ice trays of broth--more-or-less 2 teaspoons of broth per cube--and I've refrigerated the pumpkin and applesauce. But tomorrow afternoon (after the meet and greet) I might bake another batch of these to use up the pumpkin. The treats are freezable, and I can pull out some now and then for the dogs. If I make more, I'll skip the whole floured pan and rolling pin and cookie-cutter part. I'll go straight to dropping them with a teaspoon, mashing the tops with a fork, and maybe baking them all on one cookie sheet now that I know they can sit closer together since they aren't going to spread out.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Early November

Okay. I bought a large saucepan, a smaller saucepan (with a lid). And I bought a roasting pan.


Today, I redid the pumpkin mac and cheese I blogged about last time. Silver got to hog the dog bed (foster dog has gone to a new home) while I cooked, and I followed the recipe exactly, using the cheeses called for (gruyere probably is in your grocery's deli section, not the dairy section) and even using mostaccioli pasta (it's nothing to get excited about: it's like straight elbow macaroni--no bend in the arm). Good news and bad news on the dish.

Good news: you can taste the pumpkin--a little. And the taste of the dish is okay, except--

Bad news: reserve some cheese or add additional cheese to the recipe so you'll have some to put on the top of the dish. Otherwise, you get a dish where macaroni shows blankly on the top, and the cheesy sauce is all at the bottom. The macaroni can even get overcooked while you were waiting for what the recipe calls "golden and bubbly." Last time, since I couldn't get all the cheese in the little saucepan, I put the rest on top of the dish and that looked fine. This time the macaroni looks (and is) naked.


The other thing that's strange is that the recipe calls for you to cook the butter-flour-milk-pumpkin sauce, then take that off the stove and add the cheeses and spices. Then, once the cheese has melted, you add the pasta. The problem, though, is that once you take the sauce off the burner, the 10 ounces of cheese you add just won't melt. It gets soft, but it doesn't melt unless you put the pan back on a low heat.

In the past week, I've made more chili. You know how there's a toxin in red beans--phytohaemagglutinin--that can give cramps and gastric distress if the beans aren't cooked hot enough and long enough? I've been assuming that canned red beans are safe (since preparation instructions on the can just call for heating the ingredients--not cooking the beans for a long time), but that assumption may be wrong. On the last two batches of crock-pot chili, the first serving straight from the crock-pot has given me real stomach problems, but the leftovers--microwaved before serving--have not. At first I couldn't figure out why a batch of chili would--and then would not--give me stomach trouble. But now I'm wondering if the crock-pot is failing to get the canned beans hot enough, but microwaving leftovers is correcting the problem. The next time I make crock-pot chili with canned red beans, I think I'm going to microwave the contents of the can for a couple of minutes, then dump the beans in the crock-pot to cook with the rest of the ingredients. Now that the weather is finally getting cooler around here (highs in the 60s all next week), the chili is a very nice meal. I used one can of tomato sauce, two cans of red beans, two cans of black, and a pound of ground beef (browned before it goes in the crock-pot); also onion, garlic powder, salt and pepper (I may add dried red pepper next time, if I remember). I used spicy-hot V-8 juice for the extra liquid needed in the pot.

I also made meatloaf with Mother's recipe. A friend had suggested using oatmeal in place of the two slices of bread Mother's recipe calls for. The first time I tried that, it didn't occur to me that I shouldn't use my whole-grain oatmeal. The second time, I ran the whole-grain oatmeal through the food processor first. Much better result. I also used a couple of cornbread muffins. I usually make a couple of batches of those (sweet cornbread) to eat with the chili. (They're from a Betty Crocker mix: add the mix, one egg, some milk, and some butter. The package makes six muffins.) I wind up making one batch the day I make the chili, and maybe using a muffin or two in the meatloaf right away; then, when the last of those muffins are gone, I'll make another batch to go with the last of the chili. The meatloaf is definitely comfort food for me--even more than the chili is--and I look forward to the leftovers as much as to the first serving. (My lovely microwave has a "reheat" button that heats the serving of meatloaf just right--without my having to estimate a time based on the serving size.)

Freelance work has been busier until last week (and will be busy again soon), I've been getting foster dog off to his new home (as he trampled on my last nerve), and I've been getting Silver and me ready to be a therapy team. I've got some therapy prep work I've got to do in the next week, I have some freelancing, and I'll probably have a new foster dog in about 10 days. (We don't have any boys needing foster homes, and Silver probably may not welcome a girl.) Having leftovers I can pull out of the refrigerator or freezer on the spur of the moment has been useful. I just need one or two days a week when I can cook for a couple of hours without big distractions. Today was the macaroni. Tomorrow, I'll go out and run some errands and pick up canned beans and some ground beef and muffin mix and try to get some chili and meatloaf done Monday evening.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Oh, yeah... (~sigh~)

A friend talked about making pumpkin mac and cheese for dinner the other night. It sounded wonderful, so I Googled to find the recipe.


The recipe? There are several. I picked this one--and immediately tampered with the ingredients.
  • 3 cups mostaccioli or penne pasta, uncooked; I used elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups 2% reduced fat milk
  • ¾ cup canned or fresh pumpkin puree; I used canned
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack Cheese; I used 4 oz sharp Cheddar
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Comte or Gruyere cheese; I used 4 oz more of sharp Cheddar
  • ½ cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg (optional); I used this
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
Then I followed the directions.


When I first thought about making this, I realized I needed a pot large enough to cook pasta in. I bought a 6-quart stockpot last week. It's got a perforated insert that makes draining water from your pasta really easy, and it worked just fine.

But I didn't think about needing a sauce pan. To make the sauce, I pulled out my largest sauce pan, which isn't large at all. By the time I added two cups of milk and ¾ cup of pumpkin, there was no way I was getting 2½ cups of cheese in there too. So I put in as much as I could, and carried on with the recipe. Once I got everything in the baking pan, I put the rest of the cheese on top.

No room for more cheese

The oven was predictably unpredictable about temperature, but it's less critical in a dish like this since everything but the cheese actually was cooked before it got combined in the dish to be baked. All I really had to do was leave it in the oven long enough for the top to color up a bit.
It tasted wonderful. But it didn't taste very pumpkin-y. I think my sharp Cheddar cheese may have had a stronger taste and overwhelmed the pumpkin; or perhaps the recipe just needs more pumpkin. I think sometime I'll look up other pumpkin mac and cheese recipes and compare their ingredients to mine to see if it's the cheese or the amount of pumpkin--or both--that muffled the pumpkin taste.

But it looked lovely, and I've got leftovers in the fridge.

And I've added "2 qt sauce pan" to my shopping list.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Chili today...

...and hot tamale.


Today's chili is
1 pound of browned ground beef
1 can of red beans
1 can of black beans
1 tablespoon of chili powder
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
The onions I had left from this week's meatloaf
And--instead of cans of tomatoes--enough V-8 juice to cover everything in the crock-pot (about half of a 48-ounce bottle).
Cooked in the crockpot on high for 3 hours, low for another hour.

And I made more cornbread muffins. Tonight's chili came on two of the muffins. I've got four more muffins and plenty more chili for leftovers.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Comfort Food

I made meatloaf tonight from my mother's recipe:

Mix 2 slices crumbled bread (see note below)
½ c milk
1 pound ground beef
1 egg
¼ c chopped onion
1 t salt
½ t sage

In a shallow pan, shape into loaf.

I chopped two onions and stored the extra for when I make chili later this week. And I didn't have bread; I don't like to buy it because I rarely use more than a couple of slices before the loaf turns green. I used leftover cornbread I'd made over the weekend.

Mother's meatloaf is good--but nothing spectacular. But what I have always loved is her sauce. I was always disappointed by meatloaf in a restaurant, because it came with a tomato sauce topping or with brown gravy. Mother's sauce is more like a homemade barbeque sauce--sweet and tangy:

6 T brown sugar
½ c ketchup
½ t nutmeg
1 t dry mustard (or 1 T prepared mustard)

Cover the meatloaf with the sauce and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes.


* * *

Skillet Cornbread

My mother used to make cornbread in her little cast-iron skillet. Once I got my skillet properly seasoned, I wanted cornbread. I followed the recipe on the instant cornbread, but my temperamental oven betrayed me. Not hot enough, then too hot, then not enough. When the timer dinged, it looked right and was firm on top, but it wasn't cooked all the way through, and it stuck to the skillet. (Scraping it off the skillet left some gouges in the new finish. It'll need to be seasoned again before I use it. I'm not sure skillet cornbread is worth that much effort. I can use the same recipe and make cornbread muffins.) Anyway, it tasted fine, and I wasn't worried about the undercooked part in the middle since I was planning to use some of the cornbread in the meatloaf anyway.

* * *

The other day, a friend mentioned making pumpkin mac and cheese for her family. I thought it sounded good, and I have pumpkin galore around here. All I needed to get was pasta. So I did (and got some extra cheese), got home with the pasta and suddenly realized: I didn't have anything to cook the pasta in. I have microwavable bowls, but there are no instructions on the pasta for microwaving. (It probably could be done--using the timing for, say, boil-in-bag rice--but it might not be very good.) The only cook-on-the-stovetop pots/pans I owned were an 8-inch skillet and a couple of tiny sauce pans you could heat a can of soup in.

I'd had my eye on a stockpot, so I went out Monday and bought one. It's an 6-quart size with a lid/insert to help with draining pasta. I got the brick-red colored pot. It won't match my kitchen stuff, but I'm going to go for a Crayola color scheme: gold stove and hood, cobalt tea kettle, beige crock-pot (with aqua and orange--sort of University of Miami/Miami Dolphin colors)--and now a brick-colored stockpot.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Cooking has progressed. I finally managed to make the orange muffins without screwing them up. Sorry, no pictures. Most of the muffins have been eaten. But I really got them right. The batter was nice and lumpy and light, probably because I blended the liquids longer and didn't stir the livin' daylights out of the wet-plus-dry mixture. (Options: Demerara sugar, butter rather than oil. And a well-scrubbed orange.)

I've broiled two steaks. Butter, garlic powder (or minced garlic), ground black pepper. Nothing fancy, but it's been a long time since I had steak. Medium-rare, at that.

I've microwaved chicken breasts: a little lemon juice in the dish, mayonnaise on top of the breast, then garlic powder and ground black pepper. The mayonnaise keeps the chicken breast from drying out, and it disappears into the chicken with cooking. Seven minutes at #7 power was perfect; no pink left, 165F on the thermometer.

I bought a package of muffin mix. Chocolate chip muffins. Sounds good, but it was disappointing. They're white muffins with chips. My mouth wanted chocolate muffins.

On the other hand, I've made 3-2-1 microwave cake with a Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge cake as the second flavor. What you get is a chocolate angel food cake. (I think you're destined not to get a regular cake consistency. It'll have to be angel food.) So what I really want to do is combine the chocolate angel food with the chocolate chips in the muffin, because chocolate angel food is surprisingly disappointing, too. Next time I buy ingredients for the microwave cake, I'll remember the angel food consistency and try to plan better.

I've got a package of chicken thighs in the refrigerator, and I'm going to look around for an interesting recipe. I bought this cookbook, which has lots of good basic info including a list of typical pantry items to stock and advice about shopping for vegetables and stuff.

My microwave cookbook is going to be a problem. It was written in the days when "full power" meant 650 watts; my microwave is 1100 watts, so I can't just use the times and power settings from the book. But the book explains what wattage it means at each setting and tells how to calculate what wattage you're getting from your microwave at different settings, so I could set up a conversion table. (So much for the one cookbook I owned that was published in this century.)

And remember this?

Cast-iron skillet

After seasoning, it looks like this:


Of course, recipes I've found for skillet cornbread have been for bigger skillets. I may make one of the cornbread mixes designed for a larger skillet and just bake in two batches--at least, as a trial.

And my oven is requiring some supervision. Sometimes 50 degrees above the recommended temperature is right; sometimes it gets too hot, sometimes not hot enough. This isn't terrible since I'm usually still in the kitchen for a while after I put something in the oven; I go ahead and wash dishes and blender and stuff.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Orange Muffins 2. Kathy 0.

Muffin batter
No, my floor isn't so clean you can eat off it. Why do you ask?

Yes, It's a Mix

But it's an excellent one.


I've always loved sweet cornbread--the kind you can eat as if it were cake. This mix fills the bill. You add milk, an egg, and 2T butter and bake at 400F for 16 minutes. The recipe has alternate instructions for baking a pan of cornbread or cooking a skilletful. (Cooking a skilletful is why I want to get my cast-iron skillet properly seasoned.)


Of course, in my oven, 400F is a little over 450F on the dial. Since I wasn't busy with other stuff at the time, I just sat in the floor with a flashlight in front of the oven. I could shine the light in to monitor the temperature, so I could watch and adjust the temperature without having to open the door.


I've eaten two of the muffins. I think the others will probably wind up under leftover chili in a couple of meals.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Crock-pot Chili (from craftaceousperiod--Scraplyn on Ravelry)

The other day, Craftaceousperiod posted her recipe for crock-pot chili.


When I was growing up, chili always had beans. We never even called them "red beans" or "kidney beans". At our house, they were "chili beans." So I wanted to add beans to this recipe. I didn't have a bag of dried beans to cook, but I did have a couple of cans, so I added one can to this recipe. (There's a toxin in some beans--especially bad in red beans--that can be a problem if the beans aren't cooked at a high enough temperature. Crock-pot cooking generally won't get hot enough, so red beans need to be cooked separately, then added to the crock-pot. Or you can just open a can...)

I had a large onion, rather than a medium one (from my store's "locally grown" produce section). I like onions, but I started chopping this thing and it seemed to go on forever. I used a little more than half of the onion; I chopped and refrigerated the rest.

My skillet (for browning the beef) wasn't large enough to do all the beef at once. I did it in two batches. The good news: the front left stove-top
burnerelement worked just fine. (And it only took me 13 years to test that.)

Not so fine was the state of the spoon rest I had on my stove. I put the metal tongs on the rest for a moment, and they melted a spot. Really? The spoon rest--and its cheap kitchen gadget black plastic brethren--are in the trash now. (The back of the pieces said heat-resistant to 400F. Um, I don't think so--) I've put an old Corning ramekin on the stove to serve as a spoon rest. It's shallow, so spoons won't fall out of it, and it's nice, safe Corning that's rated for inside the oven.

I used to have a set of double-ended measuring spoons, and the bowls of the spoons were shaped like this:

I don't know what happened to those spoons, but I'm definitely going to shop for a new set of these. It's silly to have fat, round spoons that won't fit into a spice bottle.

And I learned that if you start cooking at 3am, your dogs won't bother to get out of bed to see what you're doing in the kitchen.

I have some boil-in-bag rice I'll cook in the microwave to put the chili on. I have the plain white rice, Jasmine, and Basmati, which I bought just to try them out. The Jasmine is lovely, and I can eat it plain and unseasoned. I'm not as fond of straight Basmati, but it should be just fine under the chili.

● ● ●

Chili over Basmati rice, with shredded cheddar and sour cream

The chili is very good. The spice combination is good--not too hot.

For me, though, maybe less of the crushed tomatoes. Despite stirring the crock before it started cooking and again before I dished up, I'm encountering some mouthfuls that seem to be plain tomato, without the seasoning.

I've had a bowl (for breakfast). I've turned off the crock-pot and I'll let the contents cool some before I package them for the freezer and the refrigerator. Meanwhile, the little nap I had between 5:30 and 8:15 (when the timer for the chili went off) is not going to get me through the day. I'm going to take another nap while the chili cools enough to be put away.


(Mostly) well-behaved foster boy came over when I had the chili. I told him "no," and he laid down as close as possible to nap. Move over, Peter, and I'll join you.

Note: After I ate a serving of about 1¾ cup, I let the chili cool while I took a nap. When I woke up, I packaged four batches of leftovers. Each package was 2 to 2½ cups so this made about 10 cups of chili.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Orange Muffins

florafloraflora posted a link to orange muffins.

They tasted (and still taste) lovely, but I didn't get them right.

I read--and immediately forgot--florafloraflora's note about thoroughly scrubbing the orange. The recipe calls for a whole orange. I used a whole, peeled orange. I've been back and checked my bag of oranges and it has a note about the pesticide and food-grade wax--very tiny print--so it's just as well I peeled the orange. (And you'd expect a warning on the recipe about the need to scrub the orange.) I've written up the recipe to have it handy in the kitchen (rather than on the laptop), and I've added a note about scrubbing the orange in the future.

I pre-heated the oven to 375F. Because the last time I used it (a year ago?) to heat a frozen pizza the pizza cooked in the expected time, I didn't check the oven thermometer. That will come back to bite me.

I got the wet ingredients (sans orange peel) blended in my old Oster; I used oil rather than butter. I got the dry ingredients mixed in a large bowl. I started folding the wet into the dry and things fell apart. Literally.


My trusty rubber spatula broke. I retrieved the pieces from the bowl and reassembled them on the counter to be certain they were all there. I tossed the pieces in the trash and immediately made a note on my shopping list. I did the rest of my stirring with a spoon. Deenbat, I saw your note about making sure my new spatula is rated for high temperatures. Will do.

I added the wet ingredients to the dry slowly, but I seemed to have an awful lot of wet stuff. Is that simply because of the lack of orange peel? Because my results didn't look anything like her photo (on this blog--down just before the raisins); mine looked like a pourable cake batter.

And I discovered that my old blender container leaks at the bottom, where you screw the glass onto the spiky part. I'm pretty sure I had it tightened properly, so I may need to get a new rubber gasket. (A new gasket after 30 years doesn't seem unreasonable.)

So I dribbled my "batter" into paper liners in my old muffin tin. (I used to use the tin to sort tiny items--beads or buttons or stamps.)

You know how bad things go in threes? Spatula broken, blender leaking. It's time for number 3.

I opened the oven and popped the muffin tin in quickly, then closed the door right away to keep the heat from escaping. I set my timer for 15 minutes. Since I was moving quickly, I didn't stop to check the oven thermometer. I got the door closed without the red light coming back on to indicate the oven needed to reheat.

I washed my dishes, and resisted the urge to peek in the oven. Fifteen minutes later, timer went off, and I opened the door to slightly risen batter. Another five minutes on the timer didn't help.


I took the muffin tin out and got a good look at the thermometer. Under 300. (Where the thermometer hangs in the oven--it's hanging from the top rack, dead center--you can't really see the temperature while there's a pan in the oven. Is there a better location? I've always been reluctant to hang it at the front of the oven or over to the side because then it doesn't reflect the temperature where you're actually cooking.) I let the tin sit on top of the stove while I reset the temperature. I finally wound up with the dial set at nearly 450, and the thermometer crept up to 375. I put the tin back in for another five minutes. When I took it out, I didn't have tall, fluffy muffins, but they at least were cooked through (knife came out clean). They're very moist and taste wonderful. They just aren't right.


I'll take another stab at the recipe, probably later this week. (I've still got oranges.) I might try butter rather than oil this time. I'll make sure the temperature is right, which might help the muffins get taller. But any ideas why my batter was so wet? Any other recommendations for this recipe?

Question: When a recipe calls for brown sugar, do you usually get dark brown? Or light? I got dark, but I might try Demerara on my next attempt at this recipe. (I love the sound of that name: Demerara. In Mrs Miniver, isn't that what the air warden cum grocer--Mr Foley--is trying to sell the family in the basement during the first black out? --That, and Italian sardines?) Anyway, I bought some Demerara recently to have as an alternative to white sugar for sweetening.

Question: Are there guidelines for choosing which oil you use in a recipe? I used Vigo extra virgin olive oil since that's what I have, but now I'm seeing bad on-line reviews for it. (Vigo makes most of the beans-and-rice packages I've bought, and of course they recommend their own oil. Maybe I should use it on savory but not sweet dishes?) It's not as if anyone sells something labeled "cooking oil". Also--I do have coconut oil. (I bought it for the dogs--it's good for them--but I always forget I have it.) But maybe I should use butter?


Question: And when a recipe calls for butter, do they mean salted? Unsalted? Or does it matter?

Question: Why do the makers of kitchen canisters not make a canister that will hold a 5-pound sack of flour? I have a full canister--and a left-over half-bag.