Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What's for Dessert?

I have to admit, I've been pretty lazy when it has come to baking.  My sweet tooth is smarting something fierce and the store-bought goodies just are not cutting it even though the lemon meringue pie from Eat 'N Park came really close in the tart versus sweetness test.

I guess I have to pull out some of my recipes and see what I can come up with to ease the hunger pangs.

Let's start out with a cake that my mother-in-law made almost every time there was an occasion to need one.  She called it the Yum Yum Cake and it was chocked full of so many goodies that it was hard to not to like it.

Even though I'm lactose intolerant, I'm a big fan of whipped cream and had a favorite bakery that made Whipped Cream Puffs every Wednesday.  I was so fond of them, I would buy two and eat those for lunch instead of having anything else.  What's even nicer is that these don't take a lot of ingredients.  The hardest thing about them is making sure that all of the moisture beads have baked off giving you that great crusty shell to be filled.

Of course, if you are making cream puffs, you just need to add chocolate icing to the top to make it an Eclair.  You can use custard filling or any whipped filling to give it some variety.

Apple cake ready to pour the caramel glaze

If you have more time and energy, my very favorite cake is apple cake with caramel drizzle poured over it.  This cake is even more decadent than Death by Chocolate.

Now that I have made myself totally hungry, I need to decide which it's going to be for tonight.  How about a vote from the audience.  Which would you make today?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Gnocchi or Stuffed Shells for Dinner

Gnocchi is the Italian form of Dumplings and is normally cooked in a tomato or cheese sauce.  The tomato sauce is basic and is not used for pastas. 

There is a knack for making homemade gnocci and I've linked you to the recipe. But if you aren't that adventurous you can buy the gnocchi at the store or the Italian Store and go from there.

This gnocchi is made from ricotta cheese and the ricotta gnocchi recipe comes from my web surfing.  This recipe sounds simpler to make and only takes an hour to make. 

making crepes

Now for stuffed shells you start with your basic crepe recipe.  Once you have your crepes you stuff them with Ricotta Cheese mixed with eggs and grated cheeses.  Put a spoonful of the cheese mixture onto your crepe and roll the crepe into a shell shape.
Crepes filled with ricotta and baked
  Place the shell into a baking dish and continue until you have your baking dish full.  Cover the crepes with your basic marinara sauce.  Cover your dish with foil and bake for about an hour at 350 deg.

Again, you can be lazy and just buy the large shells at the supermarket but you still have to soften them by boiling them part way before you stuff them.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Only God Can Make A Tree - Joyce Kilmer

To quote the poem:

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

This sycamore is majestically offering her branches to a dislocated and homeless robin family.

The tree in front of the offices was spreading roots below the foundation of the building.  It was decided that the tree must be cut down and cut down it was.  The only problem being that in the spring the robins would nest in that tree.

Hopefully the spreading leaves of the sycamore tree offered enough of an invitation to become the new home of the robins and that tree can become their new home.

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

We are once again bounding into spring when the tree will abound with buds for the coming season and to welcome back the robins.

What a wonderful example of what Joyce Kilmer saw in God's creation of a tree.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Doughnuts The Old Fashioned Way

As a child I remember my father would bring home a package of cake doughnuts, just plain old cake doughnuts with no powdered sugar, no chocolate, no cinnamon on them.  It was just a package of a dozen plain cake doughnuts.

You can still buy the packaged brands of these doughnuts or you can go to the supermarket and buy some from the bakery section.

There is Bella Christi Bakery in Aspinwall where they make a smaller version of these doughnuts right in their sales room as patrons are coming in to purchase baked goods.

It is very easy to make these simple doughnuts.  I prefer to use my deep fryer to make these but you can do it in a cast iron frying pan filled with 2-4 inches of oil with the flame set on high.

Mix 1-1/2 cups of flour with 1 c. sugar, 3 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, 2 tbsp. soft shortening, 2 eggs and 3/4 c. milk.  Blend on slow speed in your mixer and then stir in 2 additional cups of flour.

Put dough on well floured surface. Roll around lightly to coat with flour. Roll dough 3/8 inch thick. Cut with floured doughnut cutter.

Slide doughnuts into hot oil using a slotted spoon, turning them when they rise to the surface with a slotted spoon.  Don't use a fork to turn the doughnuts so that they don't get saturated with oil. Cook 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown on both sides. Remove carefully from oil with your slotted spoon. Drain the doughnuts on brown paper.  I use the paper bags from the grocery store for this.  Paper towels work just as well but are more expensive to use.

Serve plain, sugared, or frosted. When you are done with your doughnuts, you can make a batch of doughnut holes to use up all of your batter.

Enjoy our version of old fashioned doughnuts.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Cardinals Came to Visit

In the middle of last Winter season and I was having some issues at home that made me weary of the weather and the world in general.  I have heard it said that when you see a cardinal it is a visit from a loved one who has passed over.

Over the past 15 years my husband, youngest son and oldest step-daughter have all passed.  In December, my oldest son was struck down with a serious medical condition that made me anxious that he would also leave me.

I had two visitors.

A brilliantly-colored male cardinal was at my bird feeder and just sat there watching me.  A kind of peaceful feeling came over me as I gazed at him letting the knowledge that I had been visited by a loved one.

Male cardinal on solar light near my feeders

While I was watching. my eyes caught a movement on my porch which was darkened by the awnings being down.

There on my railing a female cardinal was trying to get from inside my deck to the feeders.  She finally found the way out and flew down to the ground below my main birdfeeder.

Female visitor on fence across the alley
When I looked out my side window, I saw her in my second bird feeder.

I had a strangely peaceful feeling for the rest of the day after receiving visits from my loved ones to let me know everything will be okay.

In March, my fears were realized and my oldest son left on his journey to join his brother and stepsister.  That left me with several challenges because his illness didn't leave him time to clean up his earthly responsibilities.  Since Easter there have been three cardinals visiting on a regular basis and this week we finally sold my son's trailer that was sitting in my yard as a reminder of his unaccomplished dreams.

The three cardinals have all been regular visitors with the addition newest of the male birds which I know because it's wings are darker than the other male's wings.  He comes to the feeder, cocks his head back and forth and watches me sitting in my chair on the deck as he eats the seeds I've put out for my feathered friends.

All is well again and I look forward each day to them visiting me one by one at the feeders.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Apples Fresh or Baked in Your Favorite Recipe

There are so many delicious apple varieties.  My Mom preferred Macintosh.  I like Northern Spy and Gala.  I find the apples with the best taste are the ones that are white spotted reds.  Just cut up and eaten by themselves is the healthiest way to enjoy an apple.

Apple juice is okay but I never acquired a taste for it and apple cider is way too pungent for my taste.  A glass of apple juice is also healthy.

Waldorf Salad is a fresh fruit salad that uses chunks of fresh cut apples. My Mom always kept apples in the house and loved this salad.   She would make this salad any time she had extra apples that were starting to go soft.

Jarred Apple Slices

When apples are plentiful, I would buy three bushels and then put up my own apples for the winter season so that I could make my favorite recipes.  Yes, the supermarkets now stock all your favorite brands of apples year round but I preferred to just make my own when they were falling off the trees.

Baked Apple
My Mom made baked apples but not the traditional way wrapped in pie crust like apple dumplings.  She would take the whole apple and core it.  Then she would place the apple on a pie pan and drizzle a mixture of sugar and cinnamon into the cored out space.  The house smelled so wonderful as she baked these in the oven. 

Apple Dumpling
Over the years, I have come to like the apple dumpling style that you can buy in most bake shops or at fine restaurants.  These apples are cored, wrapped in a pie shell dough and then baked.  These are served with a dollop of whipped cream or in a bowl with cream poured over them.  Again , being a plain Jane, I like these served by themselves so that I can enjoy the pie crust flavor and the apple.

Apple Fritters
My mom also made apple fritters,  These delightful little crisps were so delicious after a beef stew dinner or as a breakfast treat.

Glazed Apple Turnover
From my childhood, I remember the Duquesne Bakery Truck that would come around once a week.  apple turnovers.  These delightful apple pastries were also filled with a whipped cream to give it that extra flavor.  The quick recipe for these that I use from time to time is to make them using frozen puff pastry dough from the supermarket.
My favorite from their baked goods was

Making Apple Strudel
At Christmas time, I would pull out a jar of my apples I had preserved and make an apple strudel using either my sweet bread dough or puff pastry dough from the supermarket.  Admittedly, the puff pastry dough made a much better tasting strudel that had vanilla glaze drizzled over it.

There are so many different ways to use apples and so many different tastes.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Braciole (Stuffed Steak)

Individual Stuffed Breakfast Steaks (Braciole)
This week I lucked out and got a great buy on a whole round steak cut very thin.  As soon as I saw it I knew I was going to make braciole for dinner that night.  I'm not partial to round steak but I couldn't pass it up.  Normally when I make braciole these days I have it using thin cut breakfast steaks which are normally thin cut sirloin steaks.  I have found cuts of meat in one of our local supermarkets that are labeled for braciole.

Mixing Bread Stuffing

I prefer bread stuffing in my braciole even though my Italian mother-in-law usually made a meat stuffing for her braciole.  If you are being lazy and have boxed stuffing on the shelf, you can make the stuffing using the boxed mix and save what is left over after you stuff the steak as a side dish.  This gives you more stuffing, which is right up my alley.

Spreading Stuffing on Steaks
Once the stuffing is made lay out your steaks and line it with the stuffing mixture.

Wrapped Stuffed Steaks in Pan
Roll your steak into a log or in the case of the above where I used breakfast steaks into individual logs and then place them into a baking dish.  I have found that using skewers designed for grilling is a great way to keep the braciole rolled right during baking.

I normally bake my braciole in my oven at 350 deg. until the steak is browned and cooked through.  My mother-in-law used her cast-iron skillet and simmered them on top of the stove.  She had to keep a watchful eye on them and turned them as needed.

Braciole is not just a beef recipe.  If you can get the right cut of meat from the butcher, you can also do this recipe using pork.  Another form would be to beat chicken breast until they are thin and roll those up with stuffing.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Although my son is not as fond of spaghetti as I am, I like to serve this with a side of spaghetti and meat sauce.  If you pour some of the meat sauce over the braciole it add additional flavor to your meal.

Braciole with a side of Spaghetti

This whole recipe only takes about 15 minutes to prepare and another 30-45 minutes to cook.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Chicken Dinner Recipes

When I watch reruns of family movies, it's apparent to me that Sunday Dinner was more often some form of roasted chicken with all the trimmings.  Of course, in those days the chicken coop in the yard was more the standard practice.  So, the family would have more access to chicken than other types of entrees.

The popular summer dinner would be Fried Chicken Parts which took more time to prepare because the chicken had to be butchered and an assortment of wings, legs, thighs and breasts would be breaded and pan fried in lard.  The trick to not having a greasy mess was to put the parts onto brown paper to drain the grease off of them before being put on the serving dish.

In today's world, you can buy bags of chicken parts in the frozen section and make any of these recipes.  This week I saw an advertisement from a well known chicken provider for individual packets of chicken breasts.

Sesame Chicken

When I was at a family graduation years ago, my sister-in-law made a dish that was similar called Sesame Chicken.  These tasty chicken parts were moist and had the best flavor I've ever eaten and I'm not partial to chicken unless it's stuffed and roasted chicken.

Chicken Cacciatore made on top of the stove.

While we are using chicken parts, let's talk about an Italian dish that calls for chicken, Chicken Cacciatore.  I was very proud of myself when I made this dish for the first time and it came out so good using my own homemade Spaghetti Sauce.  I got lazy one time and tried to make this recipe in a crock pot, and to my horror, I had a pot full of chicken pieces and bones instead of the tasty lightly covered chicken in the sauce.  But, that's how you learn, trial and error.

Chicken Marsala
Chicken Marsala is a favorite of mine because I love mushrooms and wine sauce.  This one is just as easy to make as a baked chicken with that wonderful Marsala Sauce that it is simmered in at the end of the baking process.

Chicken coquettes

My mother's favorite for chicken was chicken coquettes with white sauce and peas.  Easy to make.

There are several casseroles that I could talk about that call for chicken parts but we will leave those for another article.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Meatloaf Burgers - Half the time of Meatloaf

Meatloaf is the most popular way to make and eat ground beef because of the goodies that make it a cut above an ordinary hamburger.  My son, Bill, who hated to wait for anything came up with this originally and I have to admit it takes nothing away from my meatloaf recipe especially since I love my meatloaf on a bun or slices of bread.

Using the same recipe as you would for my no frills meatloaf, you can cut your prep to table time in half.

This tasty form of the popular favorite only takes half the time to bake in the oven and can be eaten plain for dinner or as a meatloaf burger.
Tool used to form the ground meat patty

It just takes a handful of your meatloaf mixture to form your patty.  I use the egg tool to measure the patty.

Be sure to press down in the middle so that your burgers cook evenly and then put them onto a foil lined pan to cook at 350° oven for about 30 to 45 minutes.  Once the top is browned you can be remove from the oven.  I use the tool that is used to keep an egg in one spot in the skillet to form my burgers.

Now that you have the recipe and the instructions, it up to you if you want to wait the time it takes to make a full meatloaf or not.  Happy eating.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Darden Foods - Bahama Breeze in Orlando

While we were in Florida, I took a tour of a popular timeshare and was rewarded with $100 worth of Darden Food Gift Cards.  We normally visit Olive Garden when we have gift cards but being in Orlando we felt adventurous and decided to try Bahama Breeze instead.  Having fourteen in our party we called ahead to let them know what time we would be arriving.  The restaurant staff was very accommodating and were ready for our arrival.

So off we went in two cars.  Since there were four families each driver made two trips to take us from the timeshare to Bahama Breeze.  There is a driveway but the handicapped entrance is off to the side nearer the rear parking lot.

Once inside we waited in the lobby for the second car to arrive with the rest of our family with the son in the wheelchair floating back and forth to the porch area where he could smoke.  Once everyone was at the restaurant we were seated in a double booth area with the tables pushed together so that all fourteen of us could sit together in family style.  Even with us throwing off their arrangement with a wheelchair in the party and the need for a high chair, the staff made every effort to make our meal pleasant.

The menu boasted everything from a Cheeseburger that my son, Bill, ate and declared on Facebook to be the best cheeseburger he had ever eaten.  This is quite a boast since he is so particular about foods and places I shop for them.

Being a seafood restaurant my daughter and I selected the shrimp linguini with a side salad which I had no problem polishing off.  I'm not fond of alfredo sauce but there was just right blend of garlic in the sauce that it was just what the doctor ordered for me.

The rest of the family enjoyed a multitude of selections from the children's menu to a miriad of fish and chicken dishes.  Even with all fourteen of us eating the final bill only came to a little over $250.  To me that is affordable dining.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

First Signs of Fall Coming and the Cicada Song

Early August and we have had numerous minute natural changes in the the crops around the area.  The crops are starting to wither on the vines and the leaves are starting to look dry.  Birds are foraging more in the fields for those crops that have turned to seed.  I noticed that the string beans on a neighbors arbor are drying on the ends.

I hear the birds chirping and calling to each other in the yards around me that have family vegetable gardens.  They have taken a rest from my bird feeder and are enjoying the fresh bounty of the season.

As summer skies are lit up by the stars we had a summer display of shooting stars which I haven't seen since I was a Girl Scout at Camp Redwing in Mars, Pennsylvania.  I remember we took our cots out and lined them up around the campfire so that we were facing northeast and waited for the burst of stars to shoot across the sky.  Last year we were told by the news media when this would happen and it did.  I saw just one as I sat on my deck with a cup of coffee contemplating the vastness of the universe.

All of these tiny changes in nature herald the best sign of all that Fall in coming.  I sat out another evening and just as I was falling asleep in my deck rocker, I heard it.  It was a rasping sound.  It was ever so soft and not quite as loud as I have come to know the song of the Cicadas.  Locust is the familiar name that we have given to Cicadas.  These creatures are known to invade crops and destroy them by laying eggs deep into the stalks.  At hottest hour of the day the male Cicada makes a series of clicks that turns into a hum which becomes the distinctive sound of the creatures we call locusts.

The old wives tale is that Fall will start six weeks from the day you hear the first Cicada Song.  Listen this month for that familiar sound and count off the weeks until Fall is here.

Fond Memories of Putting Up Apples and Figs For The Winter

One of my fondest Fall memories was when we were raising our 7 children.  My husband and I would go to the Farmer's Market early in the Fall and buy 3 baskets of apples.

Apples from the Farmer's Market
I prefer 3 individual kinds of apples (Northern Spy, Machintosh and a green cooking apple which they now call a Granny Smith).  Then we would spend a Saturday sitting around the table peeling, coring and preparing the apples to be put into quart jars for the winter.

Except for the labor involved it is an easy task to prepare the apples so that we could make pies and strudels when there were no more apples.  Today that doesn't happen because the supermarkets carry apples of all varieties in every season but it was a productive day for us as a family.

The jars were prepared in the usual manner by boiling them and then setting them aside.  Once the apples were peeled and cored, they were cut into slices in a rather large bowl and sprinkled with about a third of a cup of sugar and a lot of cinnamon.  The bowl was then covered and put in the microwave for about 15 minutes.

Apples out of the microwave
When the apples came out of the microwave they were put into the waiting jars making sure that there was no air bubbles and set aside to cool.  Once cooled the jar was sealed.  Each jar of apples was marked with the date it was filled.  Once the jars had cooled and were sealed they were put on the shelf in what was once the butler's pantry off the kitchen.  That room stayed cool in winter and kept the jars perfectly.

Applesauce jarred for winter
After we had enough apples for pies and baked goods over the winter we would take the remainder of the apples and run them through the blender to make applesauce to be put aside for winter use also.  The applesauce was put into the jars in the same manner, making sure there were no air bubbles and set aside to cool before sealing.

The apple slices normally lasted until around Christmas time and would be used in strudels for the holiday.  If we were lucky we would have some left over and when the applesauce ran out we would reheat the apple slices and make them into applesauce.  In our family the request for homemade applesauce ran into all the holiday and family gatherings because they liked the homespun variety that I made which I called my "Mountain Sauce" which was almost brown from the abundance of cinnamon.

Figs growing on tree not ripened.
I never made this but my mother-in-law would take grapes and put them up into jams.  That recipe I don't have because it was never written down.  I also found a recipe for fig jam.