Friday, December 31, 2010

My 10 Favorite Posts of 2010

Happy 2011! I hope everyone is gearing up for another great year!

I wanted to start off the new year by sharing my 10 favorite posts from 2010. It is so fun to look back over the posts, almost as hard as it is to pick just a few to call favorites.

Curried Split Pea Soup. I'll be eternally thankful to this soup for showing me that split pea soup can be delicious and not scary.

How to grow your own Alfalfa Sprouts. Growing my own sprouts was such a fun--and tasty--experience, and looking at the pictures reminds me that my jars have been empty for too long.

Homemade Yogurt . Yogurt wasn't something I ever thought I'd make myself. I mean, who makes yogurt? I do now, and so can you. It's so easy and the yogurt is so, so tasty.

Mother Nature's Sense of Humor. Oh my goodness. This picture still makes me laugh.

Rosemary-Cheese Spritz Cookies. I never would have tried these on my own, so thank goodness for the Cookie Carnival because I would have missed out on something wonderful.

My Share Our Strength Bake Sale 2010. Founding Herriman Against Hunger and organizing our first bake sale for Share Our Strength was equal parts amazing and exhausting. I can't wait to start planning our 2011 bake sale!

Chocolate Sauce in Middle School. Teenagers are awesome--they have so much energy! I've been a guest presenter in the Foods classes at my daughter's middle school a few times now, and I love it more each time.
Steakhouse Meatballs. These meatballs make regular appearances on our plates. On our pizzas. In our soup bowls. I could do a whole series on different ways to use these bites of deliciousness. I should, yes?
Coconut Curry Soup. This soup is just so good. Not only is it one of my best restaurant knock-offs, it uses frozen cauliflower, something I didn't even know existed outside of bland frozen veggie mixes.

Super-Creamy Mac & Cheese. I knew there had to be a way to make scratch Mac & Cheese that was easy and creamy, and I was right. But the best part was when my teenager made it for me as a surprise for Mother's Day. There were flames.
Again, a most heart-felt Happy New Year to all of you. I look forward to many more posts about great food and the adventures in my life.



Thursday, December 30, 2010

Easy Beef Ragu with Fettuccine

Ragu is a rich, meaty sauce made with lots of red wine. I made this ragu extra easy (totally cheated) by using my favorite jarred sauce, Classico Tomato-Basil as a base. You can make ragu with almost any kind of meat; I made this with some of the ground beef I got in my beef order from Utah Natural Meat (read about my first beef order here). The smell in my kitchen as the sauce simmered was close to divine, and the taste was wonderful. Use whatever kind of pasta you want--my kids are on a fettuccine kick right now--and serve it with plenty of fresh Parmesan, please.

Note: You'll want to cover the sauce while it simmers or you'll have splatters everywhere. I like to use a mesh splatter screen like the one here. I bought my set of 2 (1 large, 1 medium) at Walmart for super cheap.

Easy Beef Ragu with Fettuccine
printable recipe

1 lb lean ground beef
1 medium onion, 1/4-inch diced
3 medium carrots, 1/4-inch diced
1 1/2 cups red wine (I used a Cabernet Sauvignon)
1 32-oz jar Classico Tomato-Basil pasta sauce
Cooked fettuccine or other pasta
fresh shredded Parmesan cheese for serving

1. Heat a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat.

2. Cook and crumble the ground beef just until it's no longer pink; drain any fat if necessary. Add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring often, until they are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the red wine, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until it's reduced by about half, 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the pasta sauce, bring it to a low simmer, cover with a splatter screen, and simmer until very thick. I let mine simmer for just over an hour, and actually needed to add a little of my pasta cooking water to loosen it up before serving; it just depends on how thick you want your sauce. You can use a regular, solid lid, but your sauce won't be as thick.

4. Toss the sauce with your pasta and serve with Parmesan cheese.

Sauce serves 4-6 people.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Your garbage disposal: Your friend, even when it's your enemy

R.I.P #1M.

The garbage disposal and I have a history.

When I was growing up my mother drove me nuts always telling me what not to put down the disposal. Why? I wondered--wasn't that what it was for? When I moved out on my own into a tiny, one bedroom apartment and had my own disposal, I put everything--banana peels, carrot scrapings, potato peelings--down my disposal (can you see where this is going?). By the end of the first week in my new place my kitchen sink was completely backed up. I called my landlord and he sent a plumber out to fix it.

I chatted with the plumber as he worked on the sink: Yeah, I'd just moved in; Wasn't it crazy about the sink; I couldn't imagine what was wrong. Then he started pulling out handfuls of potato peelings, muttering to himself about stupid people and the things they put down their sink.


I'd made a big pot of clam chowder for my first meal in my new place and I'd used lots of potatoes.

I was shocked. And horrified. And mortified. It was a good thing the plumber had his head under the sink because if he could have seen my face he would have known instantly that it was me, and not the previous tenant, who had shoved a bucket-load of potato peelings down the garbage disposal. Of course I didn't admit to anything--I was 19, on my own for the first time, and couldn't begin to pluck up enough courage [maturity] to admit that I was the guilty potato-peel party. After that episode I was very careful about what I put down the sink. When treated well, your garbage disposal is most definitely your friend.

A year later I married my first husband. He was in the Army, and 8 months later we were transferred to Germany. He went first, got himself situated and found us an apartment, and I followed a little later with our household goods. I remember him giving me a tour of our new apartment. The kitchen was so tiny, with just a fridge, a very small counter and a few cupboards, and a very small sink. I looked closer at the sink--no garbage disposal! What?! What are you supposed to do with all the stuff?!

When we were transferred to North Carolina three years later, one of my apartment requirements: GARBAGE DISPOSAL.

It's now almost 20 years after my potato-peel incident, and I'm the mother carefully guarding the garbage disposal, one of the VIPs of my kitchen: "Hey! Don't you peel that carrot/potato into the sink unless you're going to pick every one of the peels out and put them in the garbage!" But even with such close watching accidents do happen; the occasional spoon gets chewed up, and just the other week my 3 year-old dropped my earring down the sink.

And then there was this, our most recent garbage disposal casualty: my beloved decorating tip #1M. The #1M is a giant, partially closed, rounded star tip, and it's what I use for piping swirls of frosting onto the tops of cupcakes (because frosting cupcakes with a spatula takes 10x as long and doesn't look nearly as pretty). The partially closed star creates delicate, fluttery, ruffly ribbons of icing, but when pitted against the raw power of our disposal it became a bent, mangled mess.

I forgive you, my garbage disposal, because that's what friends do. And the next time I have to clean out a container of something that's been in the back corner of the fridge for too long and is no longer recognizable, I'll have payback.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cranberry-Apple Pie

Apple pie is my husband's favorite, and I wanted to try this apple pie with a twist--a cranberry twist. I got the idea for putting the cranberry on the bottom instead of mixing it through the pie from one of my Cooks Illustrated magazines (but I can't remember which one). The guy went through a zillion iterations trying to construct the perfect cranberry-apple pie, and the thing I remember most was that he decided he got the best flavor balance by putting the cranberry on the bottom.

This pie was so delicious. The thin layer of cranberry was the perfect compliment to the sweet, cinnamony apples on top. I used my regular apple pie recipe and a basic homemade cranberry sauce, but I'm sure you could use canned whole-berry sauce that you've crushed up. In fact, this pie is a great way to use up part of the cranberry sauce people always seem to need on their holiday table, but never eat much of.

And the topping....let's not forget about the topping. It was pure crumbly deliciousness. You could make this with a regular pie-crust top, but the crumb top is our favorite.

Note: you'll notice that I use a refrigerated pie crust. No apologies. I can make my own pie crust, but I think the Pillsbury pie crust is just as good (don't use a store brand--blech). If you have a scratch pie crust you love, by all means use that.

Cranberry-Apple Pie
printable recipe

1 pie crust from 13.8 oz pkg, softened according to package directions

for the apple mixture
8 medium apples, about 3 lbs (I like half Gala, half Granny Smith)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

3/4 cup fresh cranberry sauce (from recipe below)
**If you're using canned, whole berry sauce, crush the berries well with a fork or potato masher.

for the topping
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Line a pie plate with the crust, crimp the edges under, and put it in the fridge while you prepare the apple filling.

2. Core, peel, and slice the apples very thin, then cut the slices into 1 to 1 1/2-inch pieces. (I use an apple corer-slicer tool to this this; it peels, cores, and slices the apples easy and fast. I only use it a few times a year, but it's worth it's weight in gold.)

3. In a large bowl, combine the apples, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt, and toss gently to mix well.

4. Spread the cranberry sauce on the bottom of the pie crust. Spoon the apple mixture on top of the cranberry. I actually use my hands to do this because it's easier to get the apples packed in well.

5. In a medium bowl, combine all of the topping ingredients and mix well. Pick up a handful, squeeze it together in your hand to make a solid mass, and crumble it over the pie (I like to leave most of the pieces big). Repeat with the remaining topping.

6. Adjust your oven racks to the two lowest positions, and put a piece of foil on the lowest rack to catch any drips; heat your oven to 425.

7. Put the pie on the top-most rack and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the apples are tender with pierced with a sharp knife and the topping is browned. If the topping gets brown before the pie is done, cover it with a piece of foil while the pie finishes. Cool completely before serving.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Basic Homemade Cranberry Sauce

1 12-oz package fresh cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 10 minutes (the berries should be very soft and some will have burst). Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm. Use a potato masher or fork to crush the berries. Cool completely and store in the fridge.

Makes about 2 cups cranberry sauce.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Ridiculous Cupcake Maker

I don't normally pick on things like this--I'm usually content to shake my head and chuckle at the absurdity of [fill in the blank here]. But I decided this Cupcake Maker was ridiculous enough (up there with the Hot Dog Toaster) that I'd give it some special attention.

I saw one of these for the first time in last weeks JC Penny's Christmas sale catalog that came in the mail. After a quick Google search, I found that almost every maker of small kitchen appliances sells one. Which brings me to my one and only question: WHY? Why on Earth would someone want one of these?

Here are my top 5 reasons why this is a ridiculous appliance:

5. It must be a pain to clean. Just looking at the pictures make me cringe when I imagine cleaning each little cup without being able to submerge the whole thing. Granted, I'm making assumptions about the can't-submerge thing.

4. They take up precious real estate in your cupboard. I don't know about you, but I don't have extra cupboard space coming out my ears, and small appliances like these take up space I'd rather have for other things. Useful things.

3. You can only use it for one thing. OK, maybe you can use it for two things if you use it to make muffins, but it's still silly to have such a limited-use kitchen appliance. Most especially when you can accomplish the same exact thing with a cupcake pan and your oven.

2. It only makes 7 cupcakes at a time. What a waste of time! Can you imagine how long it would take to make a decent number of cupcakes? I know, what if you only want 7 cupcakes? Well, why make only 7 when you have to make a mess either way. And who ever only wants to make 7 cupcakes. Just saying. And (are you ready?) they are mini-cupcakes! Now, I thought the whole idea was bad enough, but when I realized they are mini-cupcakes I just about died. Bah! Who are they kidding?!

1. They cost an average of $30 (when you buy them on sale). All my offended culinary sensibilities come down to this: If you have $30 or more burning a hole in your pocket and you're hankering for a new addition to your kitchen armory, you should use it to buy a multi-tasking kitchen tool like a good knife or a nice sauce pan...or several cupcake pans that go in the oven. That you already have.


(photo credit: I snagged it off of

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Corn Pudding

This recipe for this corn pudding comes from a super lady who has been my friend since our freshman year of high school (how long that's been will not be discussed). It's a family recipe, passed down from her grandma, and my friend makes it whenever they have a big family get-together. After reading her posts about it on Facebook I finally asked her for the recipe. I'd never heard of corn pudding and my curiosity was piqued.

OK, I was a little scared, too. I mean, corn pudding could be anything, right?

Turns out this corn pudding was moist, creamy, just sweet enough, and delicious...especially when drizzled with honey, which my friend said she doesn't do, but I just had to do. And I loved the super thin, crispy top. Yum.

Note: The batter will almost come to the top of your cooking dish, but it doesn't rise that much (it "puffs" more than "rises") so don't worry about it overflowing.

Corn Pudding (from Trista)
printable recipe

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted and cooled to warm
2 eggs, beaten
1 15-oz can cream-style corn
1 15-oz can corn, reserve half the liquid
1 box Jiffy corn mix
1 cup sour cream (I used light)

1. Heat your oven to 350. Spray an 8x8-in or 9x9-in pan, or 2-quart casserole with non-stick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter and eggs until combined well. Add the cream-style corn, regular corn, and reserved liquid, and mix well. Add the corn mix and sour cream, and mix well.

3. Turn the batter out into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm (with a spoon).

Serves 6-8 people.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Shepherd's Pie

Backwards Shepherd's Pie. Inside-Out Shepherd's Pie. Deconstructed Shepherd's Pie. I wasn't sure if I could call this just "Shepherd's Pie", since it's not your typical construction. Your usual shepherd's pie goes like this: Make a meat filling. Make some mashed potatoes. In a baking pan, layer the meat filling and then the mashed potatoes. Sprinkle the potatoes with cheese. Bake the pie until the potatoes and cheese have browned slightly.

I really wanted some Shepherd's Pie, but I didn't want to take the time to bake it in the oven. Then I wondered why bake it in the oven in the first place; everything is already cooked through and hot, why not just eat it as is?

Turns out 'eating as is' was a great idea. The flavor was all there (and it was delish), but it was ready in half the time because I skipped the oven. Niiice :) You can add cheese if you want, but I was out.

Note: This is very loosely adapted from a shepherd's pie recipe in one of my Cook's Country magazines.

Shepherd's Pie (Inside-Out, Backwards, and Deconstructed)
printable recipe

2 lbs lean ground beef
2 large carrots, scraped, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 onion, diced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup milk (any fat content)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
Prepared mashed potatoes for serving
Shredded cheddar cheese for serving, if desired
Thinly sliced green onion for serving, if desired

1. Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until hot. Brown and crumble the ground beef untl no longer pink. Add the carrot and onion and cook until lightly browned, 5-8 minutes, stirring often. There will probably be some brown stuff stuck to the pan--this is good.

2. Add the flour and tomato paste, stirring well to coat the beef and veggies; cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.

3. Add the chicken broth, milk, Worcestershire sauce, and thyme; scrape up the browned stuff that's stuck-on the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until the sauce is very thick. Stir in peas and heat through.

4. Serve with mashed potatoes, and top with cheese and green onion if desired.

Makes 6-8 servings.

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