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.

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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.


Friday, September 20, 2013

The Crock-pot Pot Roast

Sorry, not many pictures for this one. There's nothing special to look at, anyway.

The recipe was this one: To Die For Crock Pot Roast.

My roast was about 3 pounds, rather than the 4-5 pounds recommended in the recipe. And I added potatoes, carrots, and onions, none of which are in the original recipe (despite the photo from the website). A number of reviewers on refer to how salty their roast was. Mine wasn't salty. In fact, it needed salt--and it wasn't very flavorful.

My mistakes:
  • To cut back on the saltiness, I cut back on how much of the dry seasoning mix I used. I rubbed my pieces of roast (I'd cut it into quarters before I started, so I could divvy it up easily for leftovers) with the seasoning mix. Then I added the half-cup of water the recipe called for. I added vegetables. Then I took another half-cup of water, added some of the seasoning mix, and poured that over the vegetables. The crock-pot (it's a 3½-quart size) was full to the top.

    Now I know that crock-pot cooking will tone down the seasonings substantially, so you need to use more seasoning than you think--or partially cook the meal, then add seasoning.


  • I didn't cut my vegetables small enough, and they took an eternity to cook.

For the leftovers, I thawed/heated the roast and vegetables (and the liquid from the pot) for each serving. Then I put everything back in the crock-pot with more of the seasoning so that the seasoning might flavor the food and so that the vegetables would be more thoroughly cooked.

The vegetables did eventually cook, and the seasoning flavored both the vegetables and the meat. It never became too salty.

But by the end, you didn't taste anything but the seasoning. Onions, carrots, potatoes, and meat all tasted the same--"seasoned".

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So how do you make a crock-pot pot roast with all the vegetables and get the vegetables to cook thoroughly and to taste like themselves? Do you cook things separately and then combine them? (That sort of defeats the purpose of a crock-pot, doesn't it?) Or is a pot roast just something that isn't going to work well in a crock-pot if you want your roast to have vegetables.

Monday, September 16, 2013

What I've Got

I've got a mix of old and new here...and the old is very old.

This condo was built in the early 70s. The first owner was a bachelor who lived here until 2000. During his time here, he updated the refrigerator, water heater, and dishwasher. Since I've been here (from April 2000), I've replaced the garbage disposal, the water heater, and the kitchen floor.

That leaves the kitchen stove (and matching overhead exhaust fan/light).


I've Googled "vintage GE electric oven" and I think this model first came out in 1964. It's an undersized ("apartment" sized) stove with push buttons to control the elements. (I grew up calling those things "burners." Surprising how prophetic that term turned out to be when I was trying to cook.) I've never used the stove-top in the 13 years I've lived here. That pretty tea kettle? All I've ever done is dust it. When I want hot water, I've used the microwave. Not long after I moved in, I discovered that half the cookie sheets I owned wouldn't fit in the oven so I gave them away. All I have left is a couple of warped, stained sheets that don't fit comfortably; they scrape the walls from side to side, and if you put them in front to back, you can't close the oven door. (I think new cookie sheets will be on my wish list for Christmas. 17" x 18" is the limit; my current pan--that scrapes the wall--is 19" including the handles.) I've only ever used the oven to heat frozen pizzas. I don't know if the self-cleaning cycle works since I never got the oven dirty. (The running joke was, "I don't clean the oven. I just dust it.") I know the timer and clock don't work. And there's a light switch (front left corner of the door), but I can't find anywhere inside the oven that you could put a lightbulb. I have an oven thermometer hanging from the rack inside. I think the oven cooks pretty close to the set temperature.


On the top of the oven is a list of suggested cooking temperatures for various items. They have the temperature for cooking a turkey, which I'm pretty sure is a joke. You couldn't fit a turkey in this thing.


So I microwave. This microwave is about two years old, and it's wonderful. The sensors judge the proper time for baked potatoes, popcorn, reheating food, heating beverages. Built-in turntable. I love this thing--which is good, because if it lasts as long as my previous microwave lasted, I may be cooking on this for the next 14 years or so. Just to make things clear, household appliances generally like me. My TV was new in 2000. My washer and dryer were new in 1985 or so. I've never had to place a service call on any of those things--and I have dogs, which means lots of dog hair in the washer and dryer. (The only thing I have problems with is laptops.) My condo even has the original--circa 1970--air conditioner and furnace. And a home owner's warranty.


I have a 70s Rival 3100 crock-pot that I got from my mother. The 3100 is 3½ quarts. I also have the original handbook as well as a 1975 book called Crockery Cooking by Alexis Durrell. There's some rust on the crock-pot's outside metal, and this is not the original lid. Also, the ceramic inside can't be removed. But it works.


And I have a dehydrator: a 9-tray Excalibur. And The Dehydrator Bible--my one cookbook published in this century. I know I need to get some parchment paper to use in the dehydrator. I want to make healthy snacks for me--and for the dogs. (You can make your own yogurt? Really?)

Blender and Food Processor

In a bottom cabinet--because I don't have counter-space--I have an elderly Oster blender and a pre-2000 Conair food processor. I love that the Oster blender parts available in stores today will fit this old blender. And I used the food processor a few months ago, when I needed to grind kibble for an aging and finicky greyhound. (And yes, that box beside the food processor holds a springform cake pan. I used that many, many years ago to make a cheesecake. I haven't looked in the box lately, so there's no telling what shape that pan is in.)

Cast-iron skillet

I don't have a lot of pots and pans--and very little space to store them. I have the two cookie sheets that need to be replaced. A six-inch cast-iron skillet (souvenir of Pittypat's Porch restaurant in Atlanta, found in my mother's basement when she moved last January) that needs to be cleaned and seasoned. I have a small, no-stick skillet (the right size for scrambling eggs--except that I usually cook eggs in custard cups in the microwave). There's a small, battered, ugly saucepan the right size for heating a can of something or other; I've kept the saucepan around so I'd have something I could use in the fireplace in case of a long-lasting power outage. I have two Pyrex loaf pans, a 2-quart Anchor Hocking casserole with lid, and a Corning casserole dish (about 1½-quart, I think). All can be used in the oven or the microwave, but none of them are rated for the stove-top, so I'm going to need to invest in some sort of stove-top pot. (Double boiler?) I've got a set of 3 Corning glass mixing bowls (microwavable); and in one of the kitchen drawers I think I have a little hand-held mixer. I have plenty of measuring cups and spoons; also tongs, a strainer, a flour/sugar sifter, spatula and gizmos (potato/carrot peeler, egg separator, etc.).


And I have cookbooks. The New York Times Cook Book is dated 1990. The Microwave Cookbook dates to my first microwave oven (about 1988?). The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook is dated 1980. Keep It Simple is 1981. The Dehydrator Bible is 2009.

I need to learn about crock-pot cooking: Can you modify most recipes to work in the crock-pot? Is there a trick to knowing how much water to add, knowing whether everything can cook at once or some things need to be cooked separately?


For instance, I have packages of dried beans and peas and packages of rice. Can these cook in the crock-pot? I've glanced at the recipes, and they call for a tablespoon or two of olive oil (which I have) and some water. Do I change any of that to cook them in the crock-pot? I've made one dish in the crock-pot and was disappointed in it (that'll be another blog post), and right now I've got a potato, some minced onion, two tablespoons of water, and two tablespoons of a seasoning mix in the crock-pot on low.

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Please feel free to chime in. Do you have a favorite link for crock-pot recipes? Recommendations for what kind of pot I should look for for stove-top cooking? A favorite dehydrator trick? Talk to me here--or just talk back and forth to each other, and I'll eavesdrop. I have friends and relatives who cook. Help!


Also: I have some white sugar and some Demarara organic sugar. I have salt, black pepper, some red pepper, garlic powder, and a few other spices. I have white vinegar and Vigo olive oil. I don't have flour or cornstarch or things like that. I don't have pasta on hand (beyond boil-in-bag white rice, Jasmine, and Basmati). What kinds of staple ingredients should I lay in so I'll be able to cope with average recipes? (Please keep in mind that I don't know one flour from another.) I have a couple of empty countertop cannisters (the other cannisters hold buttons), so what should I put in the empties?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

What's Up

I'm 60 years old and single. I'm an adept microwaver of frozen meals. I'm a disaster at pretty much everything else in the kitchen. This introductory post will present some info about me. The next post will discuss the cooking tools I've got around here. And future posts will discuss my cooking efforts, what I did and where I strayed from a recipe. I invite comments, suggestions, and guidance from people who know more about cooking than I do. (That's pretty much everyone.)

My favorite kitchen appliance.

I work from home these days. I'd like to eat healthier than I do at present. My income is severely restricted and since I'm just cooking for one, I will be looking for recipes that freeze well or otherwise lend themselves to leftovers.

I have a sweet tooth, but I'm trying to cut back on sugar consumption. (That's cut back on sugar--not cut out sugar.) I'm not planning to bake cakes or fancy desserts, though: I don't need either the calories or the expense. When I want something sweet to eat, I'll settle for a granola bar, for oatmeal with maple syrup, or for a popsicle.

I've been a heavy-duty consumer of Diet Coke for decades. I'm trying to cut back on it, and for the last ten days or so have been drinking instant drink mixes--iced peach-flavored tea, tea with lemon, lemonade, etc. They're sweetened with aspartame, which I know a lot of people don't approve of. But the last thing I need is a lot of real sugar on my teeth, I drink almost constantly (no, not diabetes--it's been checked), and even if I move to drinking herbal teas or something, I'm going to be sweetening those drinks with not-sugar. And if you were thinking of recommending xylitol as a substitute for aspartame, you should know that I won't allow xylitol in the house: I have dogs, and xylitol--even in small quantities--is fatal to dogs.

Cutting out the Diet Coke means I'm getting less caffeine. I just heard a doctor tell my mother that the caffeine in about three cups of regular coffee is good for a person's mental acuity. (You can't imagine what a relief that was to my mother.) But the caffeine in tea and soft drinks doesn't work the same way; it has to be from coffee, and I don't like coffee. I've tried. With lots of milk and sugar, it's okay, but that doesn't help. I can drink the cappuccino mix, pseudo coffees that have the merest trace of actual coffee, but I'm pretty sure that's not what the doctor meant. (The doctor also recommended less white flour and refined sugar.)

I don't drink alcohol. Like the taste of coffee, the taste of alcohol is not something I've learned to enjoy, and the smell can make me quite queasy. (But, given my dislike of coffee and alcohol, how did I wind up with a bottle of Kahlua in my pantry? Every now and again, I'll drink a glass of milk flavored with a bit of Kahlua.) Anyway, there aren't a lot of cooking sherries or wines in my pantry.

I've got a mental block about things that have a gritty texture: strawberries and pears, especially. (And tomatoes.) Love the flavor and the taste, hate the texture.

And no raisins. Really. When I was a kid, I was anemic, and raisins are a good source of iron. The doctor ordered me to eat a handful a day. My mother's idea of a handful and my idea of a handful were very different things. If forced (by politeness) to eat something with raisins in it, I swallow the raisins without chewing them.