Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chicken Challenge Final Results

After all the talk about what can a cook do with one chicken, I thought it would be nice for everyone to see the complete breakdown of meals produced during the Chicken Challenge. I have to say, I am quite happy with the results and my family loved eating the new food. Hopefully those of you reading this found some ideas that will work for your kitchens too!
Final Results:
29 cups chicken broth-use this for soups, sauces, chilis and pastas--basically in place of water
19 egg rolls
2 chicken pot pies
1 Linguini with Chicken, Broccoli, & Sun Dried Tomatoes in Alfedo Sauce

Meals Produced:
1 Egg roll dinner for 5 people
3 Egg roll lunches for one
1 Chicken pot pie dinner for 5 people
1 Chicken pot pie lunch (1 person)
1 Chicken pot pie in the freezer for another meal
1 pasta dinner for 5 people
2 pasta lunches (1 person)
Total of 9 meals!

Total Cost of these meals about $13.49!
This includes all ingredients for each dish. Not too bad!!
Chicken $3.62
Cabbage $1.19
Carrots $.75
Soy Sauce $.10
Egg $.18
Wonton Wrappers $1.89
Flour $.32
Butter $1.14
Peas $.10
Potatoes $.30
Sun Dried Tomatoes (homemade) $1.15
Alfredo Sauce $.50
Linguini $.50
Rice $.50
Pineapple $.25
Vinegar $.05
Brown Sugar $.10
Ketchup $.10

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge for February: Tiramisu

Like so many other members of the Daring Bakers, I was both pleased and a little nervous at the prospect of making tiramisu completely from scratch for the February challenge. This particular version of tiramisu contains no fewer than four separate recipes--homemade mascarpone cheese, zabaglione, pastry cream, and ladyfingers! Not to mention sweetened whipped cream as well. It took some time to prepare the main components, let most of them chill, and then to assemble the final dish. The best aspect of the challenge, for me, involved successfully making some nice ladyfingers. The mascarpone cheese process was pretty interesting, too.

What did I really think of my tiramisu once it was done? Well, while the final product was intriguing and tasty, I must admit I had some reservations about it. The fluffy filling contains citrus zest, for one thing, and that particular flavor profile was slightly too evident, I thought. Were I to make a tiramisu again, I think I'd omit the citrus zest, and refrain from mixing the mascarpone cheese, zabaglione, pastry cream, and whipped cream all together. It seemed to me there was just a little too much going on in this creamy mixture and some of the qualities of the individual components got lost in the shuffle. (I wonder if anyone else who did this challenge may have felt that way too? Maybe it was just me . . . )

I veered from the recipe below by using coffee and a little Kahlua in the zabaglione sauce, instead of port wine or Marsala, and I also used coffee mixed with a bit of Kahlua to soak the ladyfingers.

All in all, though, I must say I thought this challenge was well worth my time, and I learned some useful lessons while preparing it. Many thanks to Deeba and Aparna for conceiving this challenge and sharing it with us!

(While the photos below are mine, the blurb and recipes come directly from the Daring Bakers website.)
* * * * * *

"The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession."


(Recipe source: Carminantonio's Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11 2007 )
This recipe makes 6 servings

For the zabaglione:
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar/50gms
1/4 cup/60ml Marsala wine (or port or coffee)
1/4 teaspoon/ 1.25ml vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

For the vanilla pastry cream:
1/4 cup/55gms sugar
1 tablespoon/8gms all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon/ 2.5ml vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup/175ml whole milk

For the whipped cream:
1 cup/235ml chilled heavy cream (we used 25%)
1/4 cup/55gms sugar
1/2 teaspoon/ 2.5ml vanilla extract

To assemble the tiramisu:
2 cups/470ml brewed espresso, warmed
1 teaspoon/5ml rum extract (optional)
1/2 cup/110gms sugar
1/3 cup/75gms mascarpone cheese
36 savoiardi/ ladyfinger biscuits (you may use less)
2 tablespoons/30gms unsweetened cocoa powder

For the zabaglione:
Heat water in a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, place a pot with about an inch of water in it on the stove. Place a heat-proof bowl in the pot making sure the bottom does not touch the water. In a large mixing bowl (or stainless steel mixing bowl), mix together the egg yolks, sugar, the Marsala (or espresso/ coffee), vanilla extract and lemon zest. Whisk together until the yolks are fully blended and the mixture looks smooth. Transfer the mixture to the top of a double boiler or place your bowl over the pan/ pot with simmering water. Cook the egg mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, for about 8 minutes or until it resembles thick custard. It may bubble a bit as it reaches that consistency. Let cool to room temperature and transfer the zabaglione to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

For the pastry cream:
Mix together the sugar, flour, lemon zest and vanilla extract in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. To this add the egg yolk and half the milk. Whisk until smooth. Now place the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from curdling. Add the remaining milk a little at a time, still stirring constantly. After about 12 minutes the mixture will be thick, free of lumps and beginning to bubble. (If you have a few lumps, don’t worry. You can push the cream through a fine-mesh strainer.) Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

For the whipped cream:
Combine the cream, sugar and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer or immersion blender until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Set aside.


(Source: Vera’s Recipe for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese)
This recipe makes 12oz/ 340gm of mascarpone cheese

474ml (approx. 500ml)/ 2 cups whipping (36 %) pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized), preferably organic cream (between 25% to 36% cream will do)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a wide skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering. Pour the cream into a medium heat-resistant bowl, then place the bowl into the skillet. Heat the cream, stirring often, to 190 F. If you do not have a thermometer, wait until small bubbles keep trying to push up to the surface. It will take about 15 minutes of delicate heating. Add the lemon juice and continue heating the mixture, stirring gently, until the cream curdles. Do not expect the same action as you see during ricotta cheese making. All that the whipping cream will do is become thicker, like a well-done crème anglaise. It will cover a back of your wooden spoon thickly. You will see just a few clear whey streaks when you stir. Remove the bowl from the water and let cool for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese in the cheesecloth or press on its surface (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time). Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours. Keep refrigerated and use within 3 to 4 days.

(Source: Recipe from Cordon Bleu At Home)
This recipe makes approximately 24 big ladyfingers or 45 small (2 1/2" to 3" long) ladyfingers.

3 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons /75gms granulated sugar
3/4 cup/95gms cake flour, sifted (or 3/4 cup all purpose flour + 2 tbsp corn starch)
6 tablespoons /50gms confectioner's sugar,


Preheat your oven to 350 F (175 C) degrees, then lightly brush 2 baking sheets with oil or softened butter and line with parchment paper. Beat the egg whites using a hand held electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gradually add granulate sugar and continue beating until the egg whites become stiff again, glossy and smooth. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks lightly with a fork and fold them into the meringue, using a wooden spoon. Sift the flour over this mixture and fold gently until just mixed. It is important to fold very gently and not overdo the folding. Otherwise the batter would deflate and lose volume resulting in ladyfingers which are flat and not spongy. Fit a pastry bag with a plain tip (or just snip the end off; you could also use a Ziploc bag) and fill with the batter. Pipe the batter into 5" long and 3/4" wide strips leaving about 1" space in between the strips. Sprinkle half the confectioner's sugar over the ladyfingers and wait for 5 minutes. The sugar will pearl or look wet and glisten. Now sprinkle the remaining sugar. This helps to give the ladyfingers their characteristic crispness. Hold the parchment paper in place with your thumb and lift one side of the baking sheet and gently tap it on the work surface to remove excess sprinkled sugar. Bake the ladyfingers for 10 minutes, then rotate the sheets and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the puff up, turn lightly golden brown and are still soft. Allow them to cool slightly on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then remove the ladyfingers from the baking sheet with a metal spatula while still hot, and cool on a rack. Store them in an airtight container till required. They should keep for 2 to 3 weeks.

To assemble the tiramisu:
Have ready a rectangular serving dish (about 8" by 8" should do) or one of your choice.
Mix together the warm espresso, rum extract and sugar in a shallow dish, whisking to mix well. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese with a spoon to break down the lumps and make it smooth. This will make it easier to fold. Add the prepared and chilled zabaglione and pastry cream, blending until just combined. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Set this cream mixture aside.

Now to start assembling the tiramisu. Working quickly, dip 12 of the ladyfingers in the sweetened espresso, about 1 second per side. They should be moist but not soggy. Immediately transfer each ladyfinger to the platter, placing them side by side in a single row. You may break a lady finger into two, if necessary, to ensure the base of your dish is completely covered. Spoon one-third of the cream mixture on top of the ladyfingers, then use a rubber spatula or spreading knife to cover the top evenly, all the way to the edges. Repeat to create 2 more layers, using 12 ladyfingers and the cream mixture for each layer. Clean any spilled cream mixture; cover carefully with plastic wrap and refrigerate the tiramisu overnight. To serve, carefully remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the tiramisu with cocoa powder using a fine-mesh strainer or decorate as you please. Cut into individual portions and serve.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chicken Challenge Phase Three-Linguini with Chicken, Broccoli & Sun Dried Tomatoes in Alfredo Sauce

Tonight is the last night of the Chicken Challenge.  Like the other chicken recipes I presented, this isn't a fancy recipe, just an easy "go-to" meals for busy weeknights. It is quick to prepare, easy on my budget and very very tasty!   The beauty of alfredo suace is that so many other foods pair with it nicely.  Since I only had one cup of chicken left, I had to stretch this meal in order to feed all five of us.  I added some frozen broccoli and about 3/4 c of the sundried tomatoes I recently made.  Delicious I tell you!  Even my two broccoli hating boys finished thier servings which always makes a mama proud :)

Linguini with Chicken, Broccoli & Sun Dried Tomatoes in Alfredo Sauce
Recipe Source: A Cook's Quest

1 box pasta
1 jar of alfredo sauce (or you can make your own)
1 c cooked chicken, chopped
3 cups of broccoli
3/4 c sun dried tomatoes drained and chopped

Boil pasta.  When almost done, throw in the broccoli to cook until crisp tender.  Before draining the pasta reserve about 2/3 c of the pasta water.  Drain pasta and brocoli.  Return to pot.  Add chicken, sun dried tomatoes, alfredo sauce and some of the reserved pasta water.  Mix with tongs.  If needed add more pasta water to thin the sauce.  We like saucy noodles, while some people don't so do what you like best.  Serve with your favorite side.  We got a full dinner for five people and enough left overs for two lunch servings.

I haven't figured out the total cost of this dish yet. I am guessing about $2.00 because the pasta sauce was only .50 and so were the noodles.  The broccoli was cheap and I made my own tomatoes.  I will post the total cost of this Chicken Challenge tomorrow night with all the details of each meal.

Spring Thaw

Quote of the Day:
from The Message, Psalm 31:23-24
Love God, all you saints;
God takes care of all who stay close to him,
But he pays back in full
those arrogant enough to go it alone.
Be brave. Be strong. Don't give up.
Expect God to get here soon.

Up here in the North Country, the Earth is still frozen.  Ice and snow are thick on our drive-ways and by-ways.  Our paths are treacherous. Our patience is thin.  We're longing for spring.  And, yet, before we see the first blooms of tulips and smell the fragrance of lilacs, we must endure the spring thaw. 

I'm from the Red River Valley of the North.  As I mentioned in my molecule post, this river flows north.  The spring thaw is a huge threat.  As the river ice melts, it has nowhere to go.  As the snow becomes water, it flows out, but not away, it pools in low lands and fields and farms.  It becomes the enemy and your instincts for fight or flight kick in.  My parents, sister and husband stayed on the farm and fought...and somehow won the battle of the flood of 2009.  My best writer-mama-pal fled to my house.  I'm preparing floor space and heart space right now.  The snowbanks are high.  The ice is thick.  Danger is looming.  And, yet, we long for spring.

I see barriers in relationships like the frozen ground all around me.  Although people long for deep, intimate relationships, they remain in a frozen state.  It's easier, they think, to stay cold and form ice sculptures on their exteriors that look "all good."  And, yet, they long for the spring thaw.  What if, the warmth of friendship started to melt that ice?  What if, God blew the fire of his love into our hearts and we began to thaw?

Darkness, death, suffering all come before the dawn of Easter morning when the lilies are in bloom.  The sun warms our faces, and we feel joy in God's deep, intimate relationship.  Jesus walks that dark path with us.  He knows our every pain, our every joy, and our deepest longing.  He wants us to have deep, intimate relationships.  What does that feel like?  I suspect it's like longing for spring, despite the fear of the flood.

Journaling Prompt: What are your deepest longings?  How do you remain frozen?  What if your heart started to melt?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chicken Challenge Phase Three-More Cooking (Ellie's Pot Pie)

The same day that I let my friends and family know of this little blog, my friend Ellie sent me one of her favorite recipes.  I have been waiting for the perfect time to try it out and the Chicken Challenge was perfect. 

When I eat chicken pot pie there is something very heart warming and reminiscent of childhood. It is comfort food, the kind of food someone makes because they want to not just because they have to.  A pot pie takes time, preparation and the desire to make something that is just very good from very simple ingredients.  The vegetables float in a rich gravy that is studded with pieces of moist roasted chicken all wrapped in a crust that soaks up the flavors of each ingredient.  It is flexible in that each cook can use the ingredients he or she loves and no two pies will ever be exactly the same.   Like I did with the egg roll recipe yesterday, I am posting Ellie's recipe exactly as she gave it to me, and I will add my notes to at the bottom.  I hope you enjoy!

Chicken Pot Pie
Recipe Source: Ellie
Put 1 whole chicken in the crock pot all day. Let the chicken cool, take it out and remove all the meat from the bones and coarsely chop. Save the juices. Cut up about a cup of both celery and onions, sauté these in a couple tablespoons of butter. Set Aside. In same pan melt about another 4 tablespoons of butter and add around 4 tablespoons of flour. Whisk together over medium heat stirring constantly. Slowly add milk, probably about 2 cups. Also add around a cup of the juices from the chicken. You will end up with a thick white sauce/gravy. Salt and pepper to taste as you go. It’s very easy to under season. Add the chicken, celery & onions, and throw in a bag of frozen veggies ( I usually put in mixed carrots, green beans, and corn). Preheat the oven to 350. Make or buy a pie crust and put in a pie pan…Pour your filling in and then put a crust on top. Poke a few holes in the top, cover with foil and bake for around 35-45 minutes until the crust is golden brown. It has a lot of butter in it, but it’s very easy and yummy! Sometimes I like to double the recipe and freeze one for later on…They freeze and re-bake very well.
**Cooks Note--I had to make some changes to this because I am working to stretch one whole chicken for multiple meals and also be cost effective.  I made the following changes with great success:

I used three cups of shredded chicken
1/2 bag of peas
2 chopped carrots
3 diced potatoes
1 yellow onion

I reduced the butter to 4 T for the whole recipe.  I used three cups of broth and 3/4 c of milk, and I made my own crust.  I baked my pie at 375 F for about an hour because it was cold from being in the refrigerator over night.

This recipe made two pies so I had one for the freezer and one for dinner.  Sadly, there were no left overs beause my husband and oldest son devoured every last crumb but two meals from one recipe still makes me happy.

Pie Crust for a double crusted pie
1 stick of butter
2 cups of flour
ice water

Cut the butter into the flour until evenly distributed.  Add ice water 1 T at a time until the dough comes together  (about 4-6T).  Form into a disc and refrigerate 30-40 minutes.  Divide in half and roll out.  Place crust in a pie pan, fill with desired filling and top with the second crust.

Name the one place you should never put your camera....

We all have those moments when we look at an object and think, "I should move that," or "that's not a good idea," and for whatever reason we don't move the item or we keep doing whatever it is we just told ourself not to do.  And inevitably, at least for me anyway, I regret not listening to myself because whatever "it" is does happen and things go very wrong.

Case in point--my camera. No it wasn't the Pentax that my sister in law owns that takes amazing photos every time and makes even the most inept people like myself feel like real photographers, but it was a nice little digital camera that I loved using.  It was easy to operate, took pretty good pictures and helped make my food look good enough to eat, so why I put it in the windowsill of my kitchen window I will never know.  I am clueless as to why I didn't move it the instant I thought, "hmmm, maybe that isn't a good place to put that." 

It at all started so normally.  I had placed a bowl into the sink, and began filling it with hot soapy water so I could use it for my next recipe.  The day had been beautiful and I had the window open.  As I stood there I reached up and started to close the window...yes the same window, with the same windowsill that my nice little camera was sitting on.  Before I realized what was happening, there was a splash.  At the same time soapy dishwater shot straight into my right eye. The situation at hand was rapidly going from bad to really really bad.  Slightly blind now, I used one hand to try and grab a dish towel to wipe my face and with the other hand reach into the sink for my camera.  Ouch!  Hot water!  With a stinging eye and a slightly burned hand I managed to fish my camera out of the suds and turn off the faucet.  My husband then emerged, and watched me use one hand to dump rice into a bowl, rip the memory card out  of the camera and toss it into the grains hoping, that like a cell phone, the rice would pull the moisture out of my such luck. The moisture got in, my camera doesn't work anymore and the only good thing is that my memory card was salvaged along with all the memories on it.

So next time you have that little thought don't ignore it.  Move the object, close the door, stop doing what ever it is your are doing and listen to yourself.  Oh, and most importantly, don't put your camera in a is a very bad idea!

Triple-Chocolate Chip Cookies and a Snow Fortress Extraordinaire . . .

Last Monday didn't turn out as I'd expected. But that was okay, because a couple of things--one of them quite remarkable--were created here instead. It all commenced when I came down the stairs at about 6 a.m. that morning and found my husband, who was preparing to leave for the airport on a business trip, reading a message on his Blackberry. Glancing toward me, he announced with undisguised disdain, "They've cancelled school. We've got barely two inches of snow on the ground, and they've called a snow day. Ridiculous!" And with that he finished his preparations, kissed me goodbye, and drove off.

No sooner had he left than the sky was awash in a whirlwind of plump white flakes. As the morning advanced, it became a deluge--picture an explosion in a flour mill. My own plans had been to spend a good chunk of the day studying for the midterm exam scheduled to take place in my retail baking class the next day. I'd figured it would be nice and quiet here, and I'd be uninterrupted while both my boys were in school. No dice on that front. I couldn't complain, though, and didn't envy my husband having to drive to the airport in a blizzard and then wait around for an ice-covered plane to take off.

What to do? Well, as you and I both know, there is something about a snowy day that strongly impels bakers to bake, so I determined I'd just go with the urge, make the most of it, and cram for my midterm--about which I was not too worried--that evening. That decision led to these dusky hued, espresso laden, chocolate saturated cookies. More about them in a moment.

What were my kids doing while I was baking? Building the mother of all snow-forts, in our front yard, with a bunch of my oldest son's closest friends. Readers, if the fate of America rests on the stamina, smarts, creativity, and joyous optimism that teenagers like these seem to possess in spades, then I think we're probably going to be okay. Yes, I suspect that us anxious Baby Boomers may actually be able to rest easy.

Over a period of perhaps four hours, ten or eleven kids erected a structure that easily exceeds the size of my dining room, out of enormous snow-bricks--each brick a foot thick and a couple of feet long. With four stalwart walls standing at least five feet tall all around, the fort was impenetrable to even the fiercest snowballs. Passing cars slowed to a crawl as their drivers first gaped in astonishment, and then grinned openly, at the spectacle. It was something alright, a snow castle extraordinaire. As I aimed my camera and snapped away at the laboring kids, I kept thinking, "This is the one snow-fort they're going to remember and talk about for the rest of their lives, hands down."

Luckily for me, besides playing in the snow, these kids also like mega-chocolatey cookies.

About the cookies . . .

This recipe hails from the 2009 Holiday Baking issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine, and it's no ordinary cookie formula. This cookie is a delivery device for profound chocolate intensity. I've never seen anything quite like it. It relies on an almost grotesque quantity of chocolate--both unsweetened and bittersweet melted in the batter, and semisweet in the chips--for its very existence. The flavor is so derivative of the very essence of the cacao bean that it's almost painful. People who don't like chocolate will hate this cookie. Seriously.

It contains, comparatively speaking, a puny amount of flour at just half a cup, but a sufficient number of eggs to help hold everything together. The texture of the cookies is mostly soft, a little chewy, and not at all crunchy even after a couple of days. The recipe calls for a couple teaspoons of instant coffee powder, but I used the opportunity to try out the little jar of King Arthur Espresso Powder that I recently ordered. I used just one judicious teaspoon of that, since it's pretty concentrated stuff.

Rather than give away all of its secrets, I'll let the recipe speak for itself. Before I completely clam up, though, two things to keep in mind: Be sure, as the recipe indicates, to let the dough sit for 20 minutes or so (and this does not mean in the fridge) before you portion it onto cookie sheets, and be absolutely sure to let the cookies cool almost completely on the cookie sheets, not on cooling racks. Those are critical points for success.

Triple-Chocolate Chip Cookies

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

1 and 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces (it doesn't have to be softened)
2 tsp. instant coffee powder (I used barely 1 tsp. of instant espresso powder)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. table salt
1 and 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Melt the bittersweet chips, unsweetened chocolate, and butter in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir it frequently, until the chocolate is completely melted, smooth, and glossy. Remove the bowl from the pan and set it aside to cool slightly.

Stir the coffee/espresso powder and vanilla extract together in a little bowl until dissolved.

Beat the eggs and sugar in a large mixer bowl, using the paddle attachment., at medium-high speed until the mixture is very thick and pale, about 4 minutes.

Add in the vanilla and coffee mixture and beat until that's fully incorporated, about 20 to 30 seconds.

Reduce the speed to low, add the chocolate mixture, and mix until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and table salt. Take your large mixing bowl off of the mixer. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture, and the chocolate chips, into the batter.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit out on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes until the batter firms up. Don't chill it. It's going to look very thick and shiny, kind of like brownie batter.

Using a portion scoop (I used a #40 scoop, which holds 2 Tbsp.; you can always make the cookies larger or smaller, though, as you please), place the cookies 2" apart on your baking sheets.

Bake until the cookies are shiny and cracked on the top, about 11 or more minutes.

When the cookies appear done, let them cool completely on the cookie sheets, which are placed on top of cooling racks. Don't try to transfer the cookies directly to the racks while they're warm or they'll just crumble apart; wait until those babies are cool!

Recipe full disclosure! This recipe appears on pages 4 and 5 of the "Holiday 2009" issue of Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking issue. The article, "Triple-Chocolate Cookies," in which it appears, was written by Stephanie Alleyne.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, just click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Salt and Vinegar Potatoes

I have already professed my love of vinegar a few times on my blog, so it will be no surprise to most of you that I tried these potatoes. Everyone in my house, even my little guy, loves salt and vinegar potato chips—you know the kind, thick and kettle fried, heavy with salt and infused with vinegar flavor. When you eat too many of them your mouth begins to hurt a little bit but you can stop because they just taste so good. These potatoes aren’t crispy; they are soft and delicious bites of tartness. Perfect served hot right out of the oven or cold from the refrigerator, they are addicting and a perfect way to make an easy snack.

Salt & Vinegar Potatoes
Recipe Source: Martha Stewart

Kosher Salt (I used regular table salt)

Slice potatoes ¼ to 1/8 inch thick. Place in a saucepan and cover with white vinegar. COVER and turn your exhaust fan on—very important unless you want your whole house filling with the smell of vinegar. Bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer until potatoes are fork tender, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat, and let potatoes steep in the vinegar 30 minutes.

Drain potatoes very well of vinegar. Toss with oil, and salt. Place in a single layer on a broil safe pan. Broil until light golden brown. Turn the slices over and cook the other side until brown. Remove from oven and salt again if desired.

**Cooks note—I imagine if you sliced these thin enough you could achieve a baked potato chip type of texture. I think I will also try slicing them very very thin, boiling, then frying them to try to get that crispy feeling of a chip**

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chicken Challenge Phase Three-Time to Cook! ( Chicken Egg Rolls)

Ok, we're here.  Phase three--cooking actual meals.  I guess, the chicken broth from phase two could be a meal, but I don't consider broth to be a mouth watering, appetite satisfying, type of food.  Up first in this phase, are Egg Rolls, a perfect place to use some of the chicken I made for the Chicken Challenge.  Egg rolls are something I love to eat, but hate to pay for.  I mean, come on, they are just veggies and some meat, wrapped in a wonton wrapper and fried.  Why do they have to cost an arm and a leg?

I found this recipe at A Thrifty Mom, the author Sarah is amazing at making her budget stretch and I knew I wanted to make this recipe as soon as I saw it.  Sarah told me, "I came up with it as a twist on my Mother in laws recipe for Fried Wantons....I love egg rolls but hate to pay over $1.50 each for them at our local take out restaurant. I realized they would be rather simple to make...and you can feed a whole family at a fraction of the price." 

Egg Rolls
Recipe Source: A Thrifty Mom

**Cooks Note-I am posting this recipe exactly as I got it from A Thrifty Mom.  The only change I made was to use 2 cups of chicken in place of the sausage for the Chicken Challenge**

You will need :

One package of egg roll wrappers ( found in produce section at most stores)
Bag of Shredded cabbage or one small head, cut into fine shreds
4 green onions chopped
3/4 cups celery chopped
1/2 cup shredded carrots ( super fine I use a veggie peeler, to shred them)
1 -2 cup cooked sausage ( I only use one cup but if you like more meat add 2)
2 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 large egg (raw)

Mix above ingredients together in bowl

Add filling to the middle of the egg roll wrapper. Fold bottom corner up and pull towards bottom, till snug.

Fold corners in to make it look like a little envelope. If you rub a little water on the corners it till make them stick closed.

Roll up, try to keep as tight as you can. Add a little water to the end to keep the flap shut.  Do this with the whole package of wrappers.

At this point you can deep fry, pan fry or bake them in the oven. I pan fried them ( about a minute on each side). We like our filling to still have a little crunch so we do not cook the veggies ( it cooks enough when pan frying) …but if you want to you can stir fry the veggie filling for about 3 minutes before you add it to the wrappers. We like to eat ours with Sweet and Sour sauce, wasabi paste, and honey. Hope you enjoy!
 Sweet and Sour Sauce
Recipe Source: A Cook's Quest
1 small can of crushed pineapple
2-3 T Ketchup
1/4 c vinegar (white or apple cider)
1/3 c brown sugar
2 T cornstarch
1/4 c water
Combine all ingredients, bring to a boil and a cook until desired thickness is reached. 
Total Cost about $5.70 or .30 each
We added rice as a side dish to these and got one dinner and three lunches (two for me on for my husband) from the left overs.  Four meals for under $6.00 can't be beat!!

Chicken Challenge Phase Two-Chicken Broth

Now that you have all your chicken set aside and some wonderful chicken bones, it is time to move on to phase two--chicken broth. I think making homemade chicken broth is my favorite part of cooking a whole chicken. The price for one container of chicken broth doesn’t seem outrageous by any means, but when I can make 29 cups of broth for drastically less (I’m talking less than one dollar) I have to admit store bought chicken broth is outrageously priced. Let’s also not forget all the excessive salt, "natural" flavors and MSG that many brands add.

I use chicken broth for everything. I cook rice with it, I add it to gravies, sauces and even boil pasta in it for any easy side dish; then there is the obvious use--homemade soup. It is an easy way to add depth of flavor to any dish, not to mention it looks pretty cool to de-glaze a pan even if it is only chicken broth that you use. So let’s start boiling some bones and making all of you look awesome!
Chicken Broth
Recipe Source: Your Grandma, My Grandma, and every cook who learned to cook before there were pre-made boxes and cans of convienence foods in every grocery store.

Rough chop 1 onion, some celery, a few carrots and a handful of garlic cloves. You don’t even need to peel these items. Just give them a good wash, run your knife through them a little bit and set them aside.

In a large stock pot, heat 1 T oil. Add in the chicken neck, giblets, if you swing that way, and rough chopped veggies. Oh, don‘t forget some salt, just a teaspoon or so for now. Allow everything to brown slightly. Remember, all that browning will add extra flavor to our final product.

When everything is brown and smelling delicious, add the chicken bones to the pot and as much water as your pan will hold. This is when it is important to have a big pot (thanks Anisha for letting me borrow yours!)Stir everything as it heats so that all those yummy brown bits can join the party and add flavor. Add more salt, we are shooting for flavor here, not just cloudy water. Bring it all to a boil and let it remain at a steady boil for 5-10 minutes. Then reduce the heat, cover and allow to simmer about an hour.

Check your broth at this point. Taste it. Does it taste good? Yes, then you are done seasoning. If the answer is no, adjust your seasonings. Usually I still need some salt and pepper at this point. Continue cooking covered. Once everything tastes good, and it resembles something you would want to add to your recipes, remove it from the heat and allow to cool down. When the broth is at room temperature, strain to remove all the bones and veggies, then put the broth into the refrigerator and allow it to chill completely.

Once chilled, all the fat will be solid and at the top of the stock. Using a slotted spoon remove all the fat and discard. Pour into freezer safe containers and freeze for later or use right away. (If you don't have freezer containers, you can use ziploc bags.  Freeze flat for easy stacking later.)

I was able to get 29 cups of chicken stock!  I reserved 3 cups for the recipe Ellie gave me and froze all the rest. At the store, if you were buying the cartons that hold around 4 cups, it could cost you upwards of $18-20.  I made all of this for the cost of the veggies.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chicken Challenge Starts Here...

So, in order to make great chicken recipes you have to start with a chicken.  When whole roasting chickens go on sale I buy at least two or three at a time.  My family's favorite way to eat them is roasted in the oven.  They become golden and delicious with crispy, salty skin.  We could eat this meal many times a week,  however, when cooked this way, the meat doesn't go very far.  Thanks to a recipe from my friend Ellie when I started this blog, I was inspired to see how far I could stretch the meat from one chicken.  I will share her recipe later, first we have to cook some chicken!  Below you will find Phase one of the chicken challenge explaining the step by step instructions to get you started. Yes, there are phases because I didn't feel like making everything in one day, but if you want to, it is completely doable and not hard at all!!
Phase One--Preparing the Chicken

1. Buy a chicken at least 5 pounds and at a great price.
2. Remove the neck (a must) and giblets (if you want them) from the body cavity and refrigerate.
3. Rinse and dry your chicken.
4. Season liberally with whatever you like best.  I used half an onion, 5 garlic cloves and 1 sprig of rosemary stuffed inside the cavity, and salt, pepper and seasoning salt on the outside. 
5. Place in a crockpot and cook on high 4-5 hours.
6. When cooked through, remove chicken and chill overnight or until cool enough to handle.
7. Once chilled, remove all the meat from the bones. Discard the skin.  Set the bones aside  (Yes this step is a little messy but you will find out just how much meat is truly on a chicken once you do it).  At this point you can freeze all the chicken or you can start preparing meals.  My chicken was 5.25 pounds and I got almost 6 cups of meat off of it! 

In Phase Two I will explain what that chicken neck is for!

A Cook's Quest Chicken Challenge!

Not too long ago, even after I started couponing and really watching our food budget, I was a chicken waster. I would roast a lovely chicken to golden perfection, stuffed full of fragrant herbs and veggies and rubbed with butter, then serve it to my family along with the appropriate side dishes. To some this may not appear to be a crime, but to a cook on a budget it is a very serious offense. There is a lot more to a chicken than picking the breast meat off and letting the kids fight over who got the chicken leg last time and who gets it this time (why can’t chickens have three legs? It would help my family out a lot!).

I have in the past, on occasion, ok, only one time actually, used a chicken to its full potential. I roasted it, served a meal, then took the rest of the meat off the bones for another meal and then boiled the bones to make my own chicken stock for another delicious meal of some kind. But, I never did it again even though I had plenty of good intentions and I have no idea why not. One chicken can easily feed a family of five over multiple meals and it seems silly to waste what could feed my family.

What is the point of this confession you ask? Well all this examination of my conscience made me come up with the Cook’s Quest Chicken Challenge (say that one really fast) to try to prevent my friends and loyal readers from becoming, or remaining, chicken wasters. Over the next few day I am going to share with all of you what I can do with one five pound chicken and hope that it inspires you to think of creative ways to use budget friendly protein choices in ways that can stretch your dollar.  See you soon!

Lemon-Vanilla Tart Revisited

This morning I was telling my friend about the Lemon Tart calamity and she told me to try using Meyer lemons next time for the candied lemon slices.  There is less pith and rind, so there isn't that bitterness that regular lemons have.  When I can find Meyer lemons I will try this recipe again and let everyone know how it turns out!

Humor Blogfest 2-22-2010

Quote of the Day:  On Monday, I'll be hosting the Whoops! Blogfest, a festival of gaffes, blunders and embarrassing moments from your work-in-progress, a favorite author, film or YouTube. - from Laurel's Leaves.

So, I decided to particpate.
This clip is from chapter one of my current WIP.  The setting is a farm in Minnesota, Dec. 1941.  Kathryn and Rose are cousins, 17-18.  They are having a conversation on the party line telephone. 
"I'm back," Kathryn shouted at the mouthpiece as she moved closer to pick up the receiver and hold it to her ear.

"Oh, good," said Rose. "Mom is already looking at me like I've been tying up the phone line too long."

"Who would need to make a call this late at night?" Kathryn asked.

"Well, we all know that the Swenson's are asleep," Rose said. Kathryn could hear the smirk in her voice and a breathy exhale. "But, before I hang up, could you tell me quick what you got for problem seven on the senior biology homework? Did you understand it in class?"

"I didn't at first, but Ned helped me figure it out just as class was ending."

"How nice that he's started sitting by you now," Rose said with a hint of teasing.

"Stop it, Rose. He's just being nice. The handsome doctor's son isn't interested in a mousy-haired old farm girl like me."

Rose chuckled. "You never know."

Kathryn felt her cheeks get hot and touched her curlers again. She heard coughing in the background. "Does your Dad have that awful cough that's been going around?"

"No," said Rose. "He's fine. He's already gone to bed. Mom is giving me the time's up sign. I thought that cough was from your dad."

"No, Dad's out delivering wood to Miss Bell, the new school teacher. Seems she was afraid that she'd run out before Monday, then the elementary kids would have to sit in a cold schoolhouse." The girls were silent a moment, listening to the background sounds, a shuffling and the cough again, but more distant.

"Maybe," said Rose a little slower and a little louder as if speaking to someone hard of hearing. "I wonder if people maybe don't go to bed as early as they say they do."

There was an intake of breath on the line, then a click.

"Someone was rubbering," said Kathryn.

"Nosey neighbors," said Rose. "I'll bet it was Mrs. Swenson."

Kathryn heard her Aunt Tallie in the background, "You can't say anything on the telephone. You never know who's listening. Time for bed, Rosie.  Tell Kathryn she should hang up and go to bed, too."

Journaling Prompt:  Who do you think was listening in?  Have you ever eaves-dropped?  Do tell.  Or, do you know someone was rubbering on your conversations?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lemon-Vanilla Tart

My favorite fruit for dessert is lemon. Lemon cake, lemon cookies, lemon meringue pie, lemon bars you get the idea. When I stumbled across this recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens magazine it instantly caught my eye. The candied lemon slices on top of this tart looked beautiful and after reading the instructions I was surprised that all the steps were pretty easy. I don’t normally make desserts likes this tart but the whole point of this blog is for me to try new things right? Right.

The tart itself was fantastic. Crispy flaky crust full of buttery goodness topped with a creamy filling flavored with heavy doses of lemon and vanilla. How can any of that be bad?

The downfall, sadly there is one, came with the candied lemon slices. Yes, they were easy to make. Yes, they were beautiful, golden yellow gems. Yes, they smelled heavenly as they cooked. BUT, they tasted terrible! Everyone has seen, heard or read the advice regarding the pith of citrus fruits. It is bitter. That is why when zesting the rind you only take the colored parts. Well there was no way to avoid the pith on these candied lemon slices, and unfortunately once I placed them on the tart, that bitterness leached into the top layer of the filling. Next time, yes there will be a next time, I will top the tart with powdered sugar and forget about the candied lemon slices. This time around though, I just scrapped the top little bit off and enjoyed a slice of lemon tart...afterI threw away the candied lemon slices.

Lemon-Vanilla Tart
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens by A Cook's Quest
Tart pastry
½ c cold butter
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
Dash of salt
1 eggs yolk
1 T ice water

2 lemons
½ c sugar
1 T all-purpose flour
2 eggs
¼ c melted butter
1 ½ T real vanilla

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in the cold butter, until the pieces are the size of small peas. Mix together the egg yolk and water. Add to flour mixture. Add 2 to 4 T more water, 1 T at a time until all the dough is moistened. Shape the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.

Heat oven to 450 F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to an 11-inch circle. Wrap the pastry around a rolling pin. Ease the dough into a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Trim the edges even with the pan. Line the pastry with a double thickness of foil. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove foil. Bake 5 to 6 minutes more or until crust is gold. Cool on wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350.

Finely shred 4 teaspoons of peel from the lemons. Set aside. Squeeze enough juice from lemons to measure 6 T; set aside.

In a medium bowl combine sugar and flour. Add eggs and beat with and electric mixer on medium speed for 3-5 minutes or until the mixture is light in color and slightly thick. Stir in lemon peel, lemon juice, butter and vanilla. Pour into the pastry shell. Place tart pan on a cookie sheet.

Bake 20-25 minutes or until filling is set and lightly browned. Cool on wire rack. Top with candied lemon slices or powdered sugar if desired.

Candied Lemon Slices
Line a cookie sheet that has sides with parchment paper. Cut 2 small lemons crosswise into 1/8-¼ inch thick slices. Arrange in a single layer on pan. Sprinkle lemon slices with ¼ cup sugar. Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven 45-50 minutes or until lemons are almost dry and covered with a sugary glaze. While still warm loosen from parchment paper to prevent sticking.

Total Cost- Inexpensive probably less than $3.00
If you have butter, sugar and eggs on hand this recipe is very inexpensive. The lemons cost me .25 each so $1.00 total there. The butter was about .50 and I'm going to guess the rest at around $1.00-1.50.

Roasted Red Pepper Bean Dip

One of the ladies at work was nice enough to bring hummus and pita chips to work on Friday. I love hummus and found myself wanting more once the weekend started. Traditionally made with chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon juice and sometimes flavored with ingredients like spicy jalapenos, roasted garlic and red peppers hummus is a creamy, delicious concoction that tastes wonderful on just about anything from carrot sticks to tortilla wraps. Well, I didn’t have any chickpeas or tahini on hand so I decided to try making my own dip that had the feeling of hummus and could satisfy my craving. The result was this tasty combination that my kids devoured and I found myself sneaking into multiple times when no one was watching. Don't be afraid to play with the flavors.  You can easily use something other than peppers to add flavor, add whatever you love.  This would be a great dish to take to a party or a potluck and is very easy on the checkbook!

Roasted Red Pepper Bean Dip
Recipe Source: A Cook's Quest

1 c red pepper, roasted and chopped or you can use jarred
1 can Great Northern beans, drained
4 oz cream cheese (I used non fat)
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp finely chopped rosemary
Juice from ½ lemon, or enough to get the desired consistency
Salt and pepper to taste

If you are roasting your own pepper, brush the outside of the pepper (I only needed one because mine were very big, but you may need two) with a small amount of oil. Place on a grill or under your broiler, turning so that all sides get charred and the pepper is soft. Remove from heat and place in a brown paper bag or wrap in foil. This will allow the steam to help loosen the pepper’s skin.

Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, slid the skin off and remove the seeds and stem. Chopped and place in your food processor or blender. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until the consistency you like (I like mine pretty smooth).

Cover and refrigerate at least an hour to allow flavors to blend. Serve with veggies, bread, or pita chips (see below to make your own).

Makes about 1 ½ cups of dip

Pita Chips

Cut pita bread into triangles of desired size. Toss with a small amount of oil (the amount will depend on how much bread you have) and sprinkle with salt. Bake in the oven at 425 F until light brown and crispy.

Total Cost $2.77
Red Pepper .50
Beans .37
Cream Chesse .50
Garlic .05
Rosemary .25
Lemon juice .10
Pita Bread $1.00

Friday, February 19, 2010


Quote of the Day:  A Poem by Shel Silverstein


Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I'm dumb in school?
Whatif they've closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there's poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don't grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won't bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don't grown in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems swell, and then
The nighttime Whatifs strike again!

These Whatifs are worry Whatifs.  What are your main Whatifs?  Does it help to worry about them?  This week, The Journaling Woman wrote about frogs and worry.  Something about leaving the worry to the frogs, which makes me smile, and feel less worried.

Over at Mystery Writing is Murder, the guest blogger reminded us that using Whatifs in our writing is a good plot strategy.  I was working with some Fourth Graders this week and talked to them about Whatifs in their stories. 

Suppose you and your buddy are going camping.  You get set up and realize that you've forgotten your matches.  What are you going to do?  That's a problem, but Whatif a big storm blows in and collapses your tent? 
"Ya," one said, "and it traps you inside." 
"And," another chimed in, "You hear a bear outside scratching around because he smells the food that is also trapped inside the tent with you." 
Now, you've got it!

I can't wait to read that story!  Even if they all write from that same brainstorming session, they will all come up with different stories. 

Whatifs are worrisome in real life, but good in story plotting.  Does that mean that the things that make us worry create interesting stories?

Top Reasons Why Visiting a Fourth Grade Class is Great:
1.  They still love having parents show up, especially for mashed potato and turkey gravy day.
2.  They are a caring bunch.  I suspect it's hard for them to write in a mean character.
3.  They seem to still like school and have a love of learning.
4.  When I read my Highlights contest entry to them, they applauded and told me I should be a winner.
5.  When I told them that I had about 250 pages in a novel written, but wasn't done yet, one boy said, "I'd read 600 pages!"  (melt my heart)
6.  And, I got my best "date" offer so far - "Oh, I wish you could stay for recess."  (Aww.)

Here's a couple of Fourth Graders who look like they're ready for a cold winter.  That, or they're auditioning for the sequel to Fargo.

Journaling Prompt:  Make a list of your Whatifs - then throw them away!  Or, describe a time when kids brought out the best in you.