Sunday, October 31, 2010

Crazy About Halloween Cupcakes

I still had a lot of leftover Wilton Halloween candy from my kit after I finished my Halloween cake, so I decided to bake some cupcakes. 

The Wilton kit came with lollipop sticks, and if I had been making the candy as an end product I would have used them, but since I didn't want to use lollipops on my cake I skipped that step.  The cakes are devil's food, appropriate for Halloween, with Halloween baking cups and decorated with the candy.  The entire project was quick, easy, and delicious.  And while I was tempted to keep them all to myself I of course couldn't do that.  Cakes, particularly cupcakes, are meant to be shared, so I gave them to my friends as a treat.

Have a safe and happy Halloween.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Cake - 2010

To me a cake isn't just a cake.  A cake is a blank canvas on which to tell a story, and nothing says "Halloween" quite like a decrepit graveyard.  I wanted my cake to tell the story of a graveyard so old and broken down even the dear departed buried there have had enough and want to escape.

The cake is a classic yellow with blackberry filling.  I also added purple and green Halloween sprinkles to the batter to give the interior that ghoulish look.  I made the headstones and the skeletons with Wilton candy molds, then I had a happy accident.  The pieces of candy broke when I was taking them out of the mold.  Brilliant!  Nothing makes a decrepit graveyard look even more decrepit than to have broken headstones and crumbling skeletons. 

This cake, like all the others before it, went over big with my Toastmasters Club.  They are rapidly becoming a spoiled bunch, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Happy Halloween.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Historic Recipe -- Low-Shortening and Apple Spice Muffins

Another historic recipe from Anna's Kitchen: a Compilation of WWII Ration Recipes...

During the war years fats were tightly rationed and in very short supply.  One technique for saving on fat was to render the leftover fats from cooking meats.  Another technique was to melt the fat off food wrappers.  Sometimes traditional recipes were modified to help conserve scarce ingrediants, such as the recipe presented here.  Today's health conscience cooks may find this recipe useful for those who wish to curtail their fat intake.  Enjoy.


1 1/2 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon melted shortening or oil

Sift flour once, measure, add baking powder, salt, and sugar, and sift again. Add egg, milk, and shortening. Stir only enough to dampen all flour. Bake in greased muffin pans, in hot oven (425 F) for about 22 minutes for large muffins, 15 minutes for medium muffins. Makes 8 to 12  muffins.


Mix muffins as directed above, adding 1/2 cup chopped, sliced apples with the egg, milk and shortening. Mix and turn into greased muffin pans. Sprinkle top with mixture of 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, and dash of nutmeg. Bake as above, allowing 20 to 25 minutes.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cooking From Scratch vs "Cheating"

I love cooking and baking.  I really do.  And if I had the time I probably would prepare everything from scratch, just like Grandma did.  However we live in different times.  In Grandma's day men were providers and women were homemakers.   Nowadays many women either don't have a husband to provide for them, or the economic reality is that she has to work outside the home too just to make ends meet.  It's not that we're lazy or slovenly, the simple fact is that many of us simply don't have the time, or the stamina, to cook all our meals totally from scratch like Grandma did.

I learned how to cook from my mother, who was a homemaker, but Mother had a social life too with her bridge game and her golf game.  She typically cooked our main course from scratch, and then she "cheated" by using frozen vegetables and Campbell's soup for her sauces.  Sometimes she would use mixes to make her scalloped potatoes too.  But even with all this "cheating" her meals were always wonderful.  Mother also used cake mixes and pudding mixes for making her desserts, however her famous German chocolate cake was made from scratch, but it was only made on special occasions.

I do much the same as my mother did.  I too buy frozen vegetables, and I use canned tomatoes and canned soups in many of my recipes, along with the occasional scalloped potato mix.  It not only saves time, it also helps prevent spoilage.  I simply don't have the time to go to the grocery store everyday for fresh fruits and veggies, and those canned or prepackaged items can last for quite awhile in the pantry.

I do, however, have draw the line somewhere.  Hamburger Helper?  No no!  I had to eat that crap when I was in college and didn't have time to cook.  Ramen soup is another college staple food I'm totally  burned out on, although I do have a fantastic recipe for making a cabbage salad with ramen soup.  That's the only time I'll buy the stuff anymore.

My point is this--if you have the time to cook everything from scratch that's terrific, but don't beat yourself up for using refrigerated pizza dough, Rice-a-Roni, canned gravy or cake mix.  This isn't Master Chef.   This is your kitchen and you have a life outside of it.

My thought for the day.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Favorite Barbecue Chicken

Living in southern Arizona means I live with the four seasons a little differently than most Americans.   It's well over 100 degrees here during the summer months so summertime grilling is simply out of the question.   Now that fall is in the air I can start grilling again, and my all time favorite dish for grilling is barbecue chicken.

One of my art professors in college taught me how to make barbecue chicken, and I've been using his technique ever since.  One of his secrets is to parboil the chicken for about 20 minutes before grilling.  And I don't throw the water away.  It may not be a true chicken stock, but my dogs sure love it poured on top of their dry dog food.

I prefer charcoal over gas.  To me it gives the food a more smokey flavor, and there's nothing more stress relieving than sipping a glass of fine wine while watching the coals light.

Once the chicken is properly boiled, and the coals have turned white, it's time to put the chicken on the grill.  Put the lid down and let it cook for a little while.  Turn the chicken over, brush on the barbecue sauce, let it cook some more, and repeat.  By the way, there are a number of different barbecue sauces on the market, but my personal favorites are KC Masterpiece, Bull's Eye and Sweet Baby Ray's.  For me, no other barbecue sauces will do.  Once the sauce is glazed and the chicken is seared it's time to take it off the grill.  (And if you need more time to prepare your other fixings simply put the chicken in the oven with the thermostat set on low.)  Dig in, but make sure you have plenty of extra napkins.  Barbecue chicken is as messy as it is tasty.  And by the way, cold leftovers make good eating the next day too. 

Got charcoal?


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Historic Recipe -- Half and Half Wheat Bread

While most of the recipes in Anna's Kitchen, my WWII ration recipe cookbook, usually take 30 minutes or less to prepare, the bread recipes take a bit longer.  While not difficult or complicated, these recipes are a process, as the yeast needs time to rise and the dough needs to be properly prepared before baking.

This recipe would be a fun, family-friendly weekend project.  Children love touching and feeling things, and with this recipe there are plenty of opportunities for them to do just that.  The final product is a good tasting bread that is dense, much like French bread, but without the hard crust.  You can also slice the bread for sandwiches to pack in the children's lunchboxes.


3 1/2 cups sifted enriched flour
3 cups un-sifted whole wheat of graham flour
1 cup milk, scalded*
1 cake compressed yeast, or 1 package granular yeast**
1 cup lukewarm water
1/3 cup molasses or strained honey
3 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons shortening

Sift flour once, measure; add whole wheat flour; mix well.

Cool milk to lukewarm. Soften yeast in small amount of water. Add with remaining water to milk. Add molasses or honey, salt and shortening. Add flour and work in thoroughly. Knead on floured board until smooth, about 10 minutes. Let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 2 1/2 hours. 

Punch dough down, let rise again in warm place for about 1/2 hour.

Divide dough into two equal parts and mold into balls; allow to stand closely covered for 15 minutes. Shape into loaves. Place in greased bread pans, 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 8 inches, cover and allow to stand until dough comes well about top of pans, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Bake at 400º for about 40 minutes. Do not store until cold. Makes 2 loaves.

*Scaling milk was used before the process of pasteurization. This step is no longer necessary.
** One package of dry yeast is one scant tablespoon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Quick Impromptu Spaghetti and Meatballs

In honor of Columbus Day I decided to make spaghetti, but I didn't have time to prepare my signature spaghetti sauce.   That's an all day affair, and I didn't have all the ingredients I needed.  So I took a deep breath and decided to wing it and see what I could come up with on my own, impromptu, with what I had in the pantry.  I ended up with a dish that took about 30 minutes to prepare and tastes delicious.   It's also easy on the pocketbook and would probably feed a family of four for $10 or less.


1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning blend
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 egg
1  pound extra lean ground beef
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 (14 1/2 oz) cans Italian style diced tomatoes
2 small (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
splash of red wine

Blend bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, black pepper, egg and ground beef together in a large mixing bowl and kneed until well blended.  Break off small pieces of meat mixture and roll into 1-inch diameter meatballs.  Place meatballs on a plate.  Pour olive oil in a large, deep skillet or saute pan.  Turn stove on high and heat the oil for about two minutes.  Add meatballs, reduce heat to medium, and brown, stirring frequently but very gently, until meatballs are browned on all sides. 

Add canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and a splash of red wine.  Blend well, being careful not to break the meatballs.  Once sauce starts to bubble reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  (If sauce is too thick add a little more wine or a small amount of water.)  While sauce is simmering prepare your favorite pasta according to package directions.  Yield:  Approximately 24 meatballs.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Pot Roast - Good Old-Fashioned Comfort Food

Pot roast was a family favorite when I was growing up, and I think just about every kid's mom made pot roast.  It's simply one of those good old American comfort foods.   It requires very little prep time, and just about anyone, regardless of their cooking skill, can whip up a pot roast.  Modern cooks have a few more options, such as using a crock pot instead of a roasting pan, and there are a few other variations you can use as well.

My mother never wrote down her pot roast recipe.  Some dishes are so basic they really don't require one.  So here's how I make a pot roast, and I'll bet it's probably very similar to the way the rest of you make your pot roast too.

I start by putting my roast in the roasting pan, and then I add chopped onions, carrots, and potatoes.  Red and russet potatoes work very well.   Then, depending on your taste, you can add celery, shallots, corn, squash, or lima beans, whatever vegetable you like.  One time I tried adding broccoli.  It tasted okay, but broccoli doesn't always smell so nice when it's cooking, and it left a strong odor in my kitchen.  Season the mixture with season salt and pepper.  You can also use celery salt, garlic powder, onion powder and parsley, whatever your favorite seasonings happen to be.

I prefer having my pot roast well done, so if I'm baking it in the oven I'll set the thermostat to 350 and roast it for about 15 minutes per pound.  However, I usually make my pot roast in the crock pot, so I'll start it in the morning and cook it on low all day.  Whichever method you choose, be sure to add about a half cup of water to your mixture before you begin roasting.   That way the roast will stay moist and not get too dry.

Here's another tip:  Leftover roast can be used to make tacos.  Place it in an iron skillet, add a little water and some taco seasoning blend, and break up the meat with a spoon as it's heating.



Saturday, October 9, 2010

Supermarket Sticker Shock

It's it just me, or has the price of food suddenly gone through the roof?  I went shopping at my neighborhood Safeway the other day and went into shock.  A box of brownie mix was over $4.00.  WOW!

I've been reading news articles lately about wheat shortages.  I even posted an article about it on this blog a few weeks ago.  Sometimes I really hate it when I'm right.  And since the economy isn't going to be getting any better any time soon, and since eating is a necessity, not an option, we need to start shopping smarter.  Here is my list of suggestions.

The Dollar Store.  The other day I went to the dollar store with a friend, and I was quite surprised at the selection.  The dollar store is a great place to stock up on staples like flour and sugar, canned goods, and other products like shampoo and soap.  This particular store also had milk, eggs and butter, and even some produce.  They also had a good supply of seasonings and olive oil.  The only downside was the selection on some items was limited, and others were only available in the smallest size.  No problem on the latter.  At $1 per item you can buy two or three and probably still come out ahead of buying the larger sizes at a regular supermarket.  And if you don't mind the off brands, instead of the nationally known brands, you can do well buying your canned food and staples at the dollar store.

Forget Brand Loyalty.  One of the things my mother taught me at a young age was to take your time and compare the prices.  She said that name brand items, even when they're on sale, oftentimes cost more than the generic or the store brands, and those generic brands are usually just as good.  My mother was right, and her advice is just as true today as it was years ago.  Think about it.  Advertising, particularly advertising on television, costs big bucks, and the food manufactures have no qualms whatsoever about passing that cost on to you, the consumer.  So forget brand loyalty.  They're not exactly being that loyal to you.

Coupons May Not be the Bargain That You Think.  Back when I was first starting out I took the Sunday paper, cut out all the grocery coupons, and lived under the illusion that I was saving money.  But when I looked closer I began to realize that coupons really weren't as quite good of a bargain as they appeared to be.  Sure, you can save some money, but go back an take a closer look at the store brand.  Chances are, even with a coupon, you'll still get a better deal buying the store brand instead of the name brand.

Watch for Sales.  I watch for sales in the fresh meat and produce isles.  Most meat freezes well, so don't be afraid to stock up when something goes on sale.  And if you do your own canning you can save money stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Grow Your Own.  Seeds are cheap, and if you have a yard, or even a small patio, try planting tomatoes or squash instead of daisies.  Every little bit helps.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Creamy Italian Style Tomato Soup

Here is a variation of my Last Minute Tomato Soup recipe from Anna's Kitchen.  It tastes like a soup that came from some fancy bistro, and it will certainly impress your family and friends.  I would also recommend it for a romantic dinner for two.  Just don't tell anyone it takes less than 15 minutes to make.  You're the only one who has to know.


1 can Italian style tomatoes
1 can evaporated milk - regular or fat free
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Blend canned tomatoes and milk together in a saucepan.  Turn heat on medium and add pepper.  Stir frequently and do not allow soup to scorch or burn.  As soon as soup starts to bubble remove from heat and serve.  If desired, garnish with parsley or basil.  Yield: Approximately four servings.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Historic Recipe -- Brains and Scrambled Eggs

Another historic recipe from Anna's Kitchen... 

One of the things that makes learning about foods from the past interesting is discovering that foods we may consider strange or exotic by today's standards were actually quite common with past generations.

When I was growing up my dad would make this from time to time for our Sunday breakfast.  It was about the only food I can recall my mother not liking.  In fact, she wouldn't even come into the kitchen when Dad was making it.  As a child this delighted me to no end, since Mom and Dad were always on us kids to eat foods we didn't like.

My father used to use pork brains instead of calves brains, but as grisly as this dish may sound to some, it was actually quite delicious.  And while calf or pork brains may not be available in most supermarkets today, you may be able to find it at a specialty store or butcher shop.


1 calf’s brain (about 1 lb)*
1/4 cup butter
5 eggs, beaten slightly
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
2 tablespoons tomato catsup
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
{lemon juice or vinegar}

Wash brains thoroughly and remove as much of the membrane as possible. Soak 1/2 hour in salted water. Drain and simmer 20 minutes in water to which 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar has been added for each quart of water. Drain and cook in cold water.  Melt butter in heavy skillet, combine brains with other ingredients and stir with fork until eggs are lightly set. Yield: 6 servings.

* Pork brains may also be used.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Linguine -- the Perfect Pasta

I don't know what happens to my pantry sometimes.  I seem to have a cornucopia of different pastas--penne, farfelle, spaghetti, fettuccine, and good old-fashioned egg noodles.  And as much as I love pasta, I just don't have that much space in my pantry.

Over time I've figured out what I think is the perfect pasta -- linguine.  It's so universal.  I can put just about any kind of pasta sauce on it; bolognese, Alfredo, marinara, and my signature spaghetti sauce. They all taste great on linguine.  This pasta has a good flavor and texture, but it's not so heavy that it's overpowering.  I can even break it into smaller pieces and use it in soups in place of noodles.  Okay, maybe I can't make a lasagna with it, but I can sure use it for just about any other pasta dish.  Best of all, just buying linguine, instead of all these other pastas, saves space in my over crowded pantry. 

My tip for the day.

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