Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Recipes? What Recipes?

I just sat down tonight and realized that I haven't posted a recipe since the Oatmeal Bread.  Honestly cooking has been the last thing I had time for this week.  It has become so bad, that my nine year old son is reading recipes and giving me suggestions for items he wants to see resting on the table.  They have all had to eat left over soup and, believe it or not, even fast food for dinner...not something that happens in this house very often.

What is the cause for all this crazy talk of fast food and leftovers?  SCHOOL...and I'm not talking about the kids going to school after Spring Break, I'm talking about ME going to school.  Yes, for some reason I decided to add one more thing to my schedule and what better than 10 credits at the local college while working full time?  Maybe for some the idea of returning to college is absurd but  I have to admit, I have missed it and I can't wait to get on track.

So, please be patient with me.  I have to get my groove and then I will once again be cooking away, if you don't hear from me for a few days no worries...anything longer than that and my family may be holding my hostage, tied to the stove until something edible emerges!!

So This is Challah . . .

When I first decided to make challah, I thought of it simply as a beautifully braided, golden loaf of bread. To me, it was a baking challenge that I wanted to conquer--just one among many other such baking challenges. Of course, not being Jewish (yeah, I confess--I'm Presbyterian), and knowing almost nothing about the mystery and symbolism of this very special bread, I approached it as I tend to approach all recipes. That is, like a little research project. First, I hunt for and examine quite a variety of formulas. Then I narrow it down to what I feel are the best choices, based on certain general criteria and, finally, I select the recipe that I'll actually use. From there I pick the day I'll do the baking, and make sure I have all the needed supplies.

What I don't typically do, however, is give a great deal of thought to the history and cultural weight that may accompany whatever it is I'm planning to prepare. Challah, though, gave me food for thought--no pun intended. You see, my older son, Charlie, happened to comment to a close friend of his, who happens to be Jewish, that I might try making challah. Interestingly, according to Charlie, this fellow--who probably knows that I bake all the time--responded with mystification and essentially remarked, "Why would she want to do that?" That's pretty much all I know about his response, but it set me thinking--thinking and wondering.

So I did a bit of extra research, because I wanted to know just what I was dealing with, and I'm glad I did. I think I understand, now, the origin of and the sentiment behind the question posed by my son's friend. I understand that this bread's history is deep, rich, and laden with symbolism. For an awful lot of people, it's not just something to eat. Not just another egg-bread recipe. It's an important part of a complete way of life. I understand that.

This is special bread, and I loved making it.

About the recipe . . .

In scouting out a recipe, there were zillions of possibilities to choose from, but in the end I figured I'd better pick something rock-solid reliable, so I opted for the challah in the 2009 book, Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. I don't believe that this is the kind of cookbook that lets people down; I recommend it.

I chose to use honey in these loaves, versus sugar or agave nectar, and I slightly reduced the amount of vanilla in the recipe. (I think this was, in fact, the only challah recipe I saw that includes so much vanilla, let alone any vanilla at all.) The recipe also calls for no fewer than 8 to 10 egg yolks. That's a lot of eggs, but they're a big part of what characterizes this bread to begin with so they're well worth it, and they lend a lovely color to both the exterior and interior.

This challah smells glorious while it's baking, and I loved how shiny and burnished the crust looked when it came out of the oven. I kept going back into the kitchen to gaze at it as it cooled on the counter. For a first-timer with challah, I think these loaves turned out pretty well.

I reworded the instructions here and there for brevity, and within them I focused on making this with a mixer. Also, I adjusted the ingredient list to reflect the specific preferences that I chose, in cases where Reinhart offered ingredient choices. Please note, this is a recipe that requires the dough be made one day, and chilled at least overnight. The slow rise during the long chilling period brings out the best flavor.

This stuff makes fantastic toast. Fantastic.


This makes 2 large loaves.

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

2 and 1/4 cups of lukewarm water (about 95 degrees)
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. instant yeast
8 to 10 egg yolks (6 oz. total)
5 Tbsp. vegetable oil (I used canola)
4 and 1/2 Tbsp. honey (I used clover honey)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
7 and 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour (I used King Arthur)
4 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1 whole egg, mixed with 2 Tbsp. water, for egg wash

Combine the water and yeast in a mixing bowl and stir with a whisk to dissolve. Into this, add the yolks, oil, honey, and vanilla. Whisk lightly to break up the yolks, then add in the flour and salt. Using your mixer, with the paddle attachment, mix on the lowest speed for 2 minutes. The dough will be coarse and, per Reinhart, "shaggy" (Mine didn't look shaggy exactly, but it did look sort of rough.) Rest the dough for 5 minutes in the bowl.

Remove the paddle attachment and put the dough hook on your mixer. Mix on medium-low speed (my mixer will only do bread dough on low speed!) for 4 minutes.

Using a bowl scraper, plop the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, then dust the top of the dough with flour.

Lightly knead the dough with your hands for 1 to 2 minutes, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking. The dough should be soft, supple, and tacky but not sticky (mine felt exactly like this, lo and behold!).

Form the dough into a ball, put it into a clean lightly-oiled bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Immediately refrigerate the dough, overnight, or for up to 4 days. (I just did the overnight thing.) It will double in size in the fridge. (Mine doubled alright, and was pressing against the top of the plastic when I went to take it out the next day.)

On the day you're ready to bake the bread:

Take the dough out of the fridge about 2 hours before you plan to bake.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Gently dump the dough out on a lightly floured work surface and, using a bench scraper or a sharp knife, cut it into however many pieces you will need. If you're making two simple 3-strand braided loaves, cut the dough into 2 big chunks, then cut each of those big chunks into 3 small equal-sized chunks.

Roll each piece into a cigar or torpedo shape. After doing this with each piece, go back to the first piece and roll it out further into a long rope that's 10" to 14" long. Do this with all of the pieces, and try to make them even in length.

To braid each loaf :

(There seem to be a few philosophies on how to do this; the method below is just the way I chose to do it--simple as can be, no fuss, no muss. There are countless examples available online that can show you how to do this a variety of ways, if you're interested.)

Lay three strands of dough side by side and pinch the dough strands together at the top. Braid the strands just as you would braid someone's hair, starting at the top and going down. Braid snugly but without stretching the strands too much. Pinch the ends together at the other end of the loaf and tuck the pinched edge under the loaf. Transfer each braided loaf to one of the parchment-lined baking sheets.

The photo just below is a simple 3-strand braid. The one below that, is a simple 3-strand braid that's been topped by a smaller 3-strand braid! Do it however you like!
Brush the entire surface of each loaf with the egg wash.

Let the egg-washed loaves rise at room temperature for about an hour; they will not rise very much. About halfway through the rising time, when the first coat of egg wash has mostly dried, gently brush on a second coat, being careful not to press on the dough. If you like, you can sprinkle on poppy or sesame seeds at this point (I left my plain, as you can see).

About 15 minutes before baking, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pans. If the loaves are getting too dark too quickly, lightly lay a sheet of foil over them. Bake for another 15 minutes or so. (Mine were done quickly, since my oven can be unpredictably hot; Reinhart suggests leaving the bread in for up to 30 minutes, but if I'd done that mine would have been quite burned.) When they're done, the loaves will sound hollow when thumped and they will have reached an internal temperature of 190 degrees. (I used the thermometer to make sure mine were done; rich breads like this can look like they're done on the outside way before they're done on the inside.)

Cool the loaves on wire racks for about an hour before slicing.

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

Publishing Changes

Quote of the Day:  You don't choose a story, it chooses you.  You get together with that story somehow; you're stuck with it.  There certainly is some reason it attracted you, and you're writing it trying to find out the reason. - Robert Penn Warren

That's what it is for me, dear reader friends.  The story is calling me and I must write it, my drama Coffee Shop Confessions.  As I'm about to fall asleep, I wake myself with a piece of dialogue that will fit my Lolly character.  Or, I'm having lunch with friends, and we're talking cars or kids or waxing or breastfeeding, and I whip out my stack of notecards and write "scene idea" at the top.  It's like I've been sent to an oxygen bar and have been sucking in new energy with every breath.  Scriptfrenzy starts tomorrow (April 1)!  I have my notecards filled, my laptop charged, and my coffee card ready.  Let the writing begin!

Before I go, I'd like to share a great newsletter post from Hope Clark.  She has a blog and an online newsletter, in which she wrote this great insight on the changes in publishing.  This is for anyone interested in the publishing world as a writer and a reader.  Books aren't dead.  Even cats still love them.  But, we shouldn't be afraid of the newest ways to get our words out to people.  Enjoy the pic of the twins and Matilda enjoying storytime, and Hope Clark's words.

Used with permission from Hope Clark.  (You will all enjoy the youtube video that she shares.)


In case you've not surfed the publishing news lately, this YouTube video came out entitled The Future of Publishing. It's amazing people from newbies to seasoned agents and publishers. Make sure you watch it all the way through in order to glean the effect.
Bottom line is that reading material is here to stay. Unless you live under a rock, you've heard all the controversy and hoopla about electronic reading devices, ebook contract squabbles between publishing houses and Amazon, ebook pricing and ebook release strategies.

Yes, it's time you understood about ebooks. No, you don't have to go crazy, but just like you must digest the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing, you need to realize the nature of ebooks. They are a separate negotiable item these days - another rights issue. Don't care to study the details? Land an agent. Don't care to use a literary agent? Then bone-up on ebooks, because you'll have to decide how you want your book presented to the world.

People on list groups, blogs and chats get a little flustered about ebooks, as if publishing is on the brink of destruction. It's not. It's modernizing. Do you realize that the evolution of the paperback book consumed the entire decade of the 1930's?

Albatross Books originated the concept but failed. Penguin picked up the baton and ran with it four years later, and a few years after that Pocket Books sprouted through Simon & Schuster. In the late 30's they were faddish, and accepted.

Point is that publishing methods will change over our lifetimes.

Why get hung up on whether you'll publish hardback, paperback or electronically? Consider them all. Welcome them all. Offer to be open to any and all methods.

Same goes for selling. You can't sell online without understanding how Amazon works, how electronic books work, how platforms work. You can't sell via bookstores without understanding returns, distribution, retail and wholesale values. Part of the fear and uncertainty comes from lack of understanding. Educate yourself
and remove the doubt.

Embrace all manner of the written word. Be willing to sell your words via all channels. The point is to write and spread your stories across the masses. Who cares how they buy it?

No, publishing isn't dead, as so many cynics have expressed of late. Publishing is growing. Some of us are just enduring growing pains.
Journaling Prompt:  What kind of books would you download onto your electronic device?  Do you have the latest greatest e-reader?  Do you want one?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Oatmeal Bread

Since starting this quest, I have developed a love of making my own bread.  Dinner rolls, bread sticks, biscuits,  cinnamon name it, I want to make it. There is nothing that can replace the smell of bread baking, well eating it does, but in the smell category baking bread draws everyone in.  It is homey and comforting.

When I smell bread baking, I am reminded of being a child watching my grandmothers make delicious breads for huge groups of people.  Grandma Doris, was famous for her cinnamon rolls and parker house rolls.  Not one family gathering passed without one of these recipes being passed around the table.  Her hands moved so quickly that I couldn't quite figure out how she shaped the dough, all I knew is I wanted to eat them as soon as possible.  Grandma Betty was a restaurant owner, specifically a cafe, and she made the best breakfasts of anyone I know; included in those breakfasts was always, always, the fluffiest, flakiest biscuits I have ever seen in my life.  No matter how hard I try I have not been able to replicate them nor do I think I can. Even if there were a recipe written down that I could follow, there is just no way that I or anyone else could make them the way Grandma Betty did. 

As my Oatmeal Bread was baking, I smiled and thought about both my grandmothers.  They taught me so much and I appreciate it all.  Without them allowing me into their kitchens I wouldn't have been exposed to baking bread. This recipe, that sent me down memory lane is a great bread recipe.  It tastes like wheat bread, but isn't dense or heavy.  The oats add great texture and more flavor than I could have imagined.  I hope you enjoy!
Oatmeal Bread
Recipe Source: Oh Sweet Basil

1 Cup Oatmeal
2 Cups Boiling Water
1 pkg Yeast
1/4 Cup Warm Water
1/2 Cup Molasses or 1/3 Cup Honey
2 Ts Salt
1 Tb Butter or Vegetable Oil
5 1/2 Cups Flour (We do 2 1/2 Cups Wheat and 3 Cups White)

Place the oats in a large bowl and pour boiling water over the top. Let stand 15 minutes or until luke warm.

Dissolve yeast in 1/4 Cup warm water. Add molasses or honey, salt, and butter or veggie oil.

Work in the flour until the dough just comes together. Place on a floured surface and knead until smooth.

Let rise until doubled (usually about an hour), punch down and form into loaves. Let rise until doubled again.

Bake at 375 for 40-45 min or until done. You can usually lightly tap the top and the bread should be sounding hollow when it's done.

Cafetorium Transformation

Quote of the Day:  Matthew 18 (The Message)
18-20 Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I'll be there.

To follow up on Thursday's Post, I did play for Palm Sunday worship service.  We are a newer Lutheran church in our area, a smaller congregation, and we gather at the middle school cafetorium on Sunday mornings for worship.  Yesterday, it was the site of a chess tournament.  Three of my boys played in the tournament, one earned a medal.  They all played great and had fun.  The one who didn't play, enjoyed being an individual, having free time, and reading a good book.

From chess boards, and serious concentration on Saturday, to a worship space on Sunday, this space is filled with the Holy Spirit.  With just a few symbols of our faith, a cloth over a folding table, candles, scriptures, and a piano, we come together as a congregation.  Members took speaking parts as we read out loud the script of the drama to the cross.  Verses of hymns broke up the dialogue, and I felt the Holy Spirit working through my playing, through the words spoken, through the fellowship of my faith community, and the spirit of this place. 

We had a larger attendance than expected, so I had to think fast for additional communion music.  I played a piece called Song of India, but you can only repeat and tag back so much.  When I saw that the servers ran back for extra communion wafers, I pulled out Beautiful Savior, our sending hymn. 

Monday, this space will be a cafeteria again filled with middle schoolers.  They will be loud and rough, or meek and quiet.  They'll spill milk on the floor and flirt with that girl or guy from math class.  They'll be thinking about grades and friends, and wishing for summer vacation, and worrying about their families, and trying to be grown up, but needing to be just kids.

And, the spirit lingers on.

Journaling Prompt:  How was your weekend?  Did you have any spirit moments?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Gnocchi in Cream Sauce

Gnocchi (pronounced nyō'kē) is a recipe that I had never even considered preparing....ever.  I had a myriad of reasons, they look too time consuming, they must be hard to prepare, potatoes in pasta sounds weird, you get the idea.  But, after seeing gnocchi recipes on every good Italian site or in every good Italian cookbook I was finally convinced that maybe, just maybe, there was something to these little potato pastas. 

I was waiting for the perfect day to try my hand at this new dish.  When my parents offered to take the kids for a few days over spring break I decided it was time.  Not only would I have the time with no interruptions to make the dish, but then my hubby and I could have a special dinner together when he got off of work.  So I stopped at the store after work and made the choice to put these gems in a cream sauce made with heavy cream (it's a special ocassion don't give me too much flack,) ham and peas.  I was hoping for asparagus, but I went into sticker shock at the price this week and opted out.

After baking the potatoes to crispy loveliness, mixing the dough, and then rolling and shaping the pasta I had a meal that I was very impressed with and that both my husband and I devoured.  The gnocchi were like pasta, but like a dumpling too.  They were tender morsels of potato dough goodness that paired beautifully with the creamy rich sauce created by the cream.  This is yet again, a dish that can be adapted to whatever you want.  Add gorgonzola cheese instead of parmesan, or use marinara sauce instead of cream sauce and add some fresh summer veggies for a healthier version.  It is all up to you, your budget, and most importantly your taste buds.  Enjoy!

Recipe Source: A Cook's Quest
Makes 2-4 servings depending on size.  This recipe can easily be doubled, tripled, etc. for larger families.

4-5 medium potatoes, scrubbed clean
1 cup flour
1 large egg
salt and pepper
1-2 tsp garlic powder

Ham (4 oz diced)
Frozen Peas, (about 6 oz)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1-2 cloves of garlic
Heavy Cream

Bake the potatoes at 425 F until cooked all the way through.

Cut potatoes in half, and using a fork scrap the inner flesh of the potato into a bowl. (Don't throw the skins away.  I have a recipe coming that will use them in a new way.  Wrap them in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator or freezer.) Try not to mash the potato, but almost shred it into the bowl so the potatoes stay light and fluffy.  If you have a ricer or food mill you can also run the potatoes through it for a more uniform size.

Add flour, salt, pepper and garlic powder and toss gently to combine.  Make a well in the center, and add the egg.  Carefully combine all the ingredients until well combined.  Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead gently and form into a ball.

Cut the dough into fourths.  Roll each fourth into a long rope about 3/4 of an inch in diameter.  Cut the rope every 1 inch to make the individual gnocchi.

Next come the fun part.  Putting the ridges on the pasta.  It takes a little bit of practice, but I decided that I personally prefer them to look a little "rustic" and luck for me, I am good at that method!  Using two forks, place a piece of dough between them and roll gently.  The tines of the fork will create indentations on the pasta which will help hold the sauce.

Heat a pot of water or chicken broth (my preference) to boiling.  Drop the gnocchi in.  You will want to do this in batches so the pot doesn't become over crowded.  Gnocchi are called the smart pasta because they sink when first placed in the boiling liquid, but float to the top when almost done. 
After the gnocchi float to the top, continue simmering 2-4 minutes until done all the way through. Drain well.

While cooking the gnocchi, start your sauce.  In a pan, saute ham until it starts to brown.  Add garlic and cook for a minute stirring constantly to prevent it from burning.

Add the cream and allow to simmer gently, stirring often.  Add the cheese, and frozen peas continue simmering until the cream has thickened to your liking.  Add in the gnocchi and heat for one minute.  Plate up and enjoy with someone you love!

Total Cost $4.32
Potatoes $.25
Flour $.08
Egg $.13
Seasoning $.02
Cream $1.39
Ham $1.40
Peas $.50
Garlic $.05
Parmesan $.50

Friday, March 26, 2010

Exciting Announcement!!

I just wanted to direct everyone to my side bar, directly above my profile.  I was asked to be featured by Key Ingredient, on their food blog describing my desire to make tasty food on a super tight budget.  Talk about surprised!  Having your blog "found" and noticed isn't an easy feat since there are about a million (give or take a few,) food blogs and websites on the internet.  The feature is located here if you would like to check it out.

In case you haven't seen Key Ingredient before (there is a link on the side of my blog) it is a group of food bloggers that have posted their recipes.  On the site you can search by ingredient, save recipes and even post your own.  Go check it out sometime!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Beautiful Savior

Quote of the Day:  1 Thessalonians 5:11 (The Message)

9-11God didn't set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we're awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we're alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you'll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you're already doing this; just keep on doing it.

(A little finger flair as I accompany my little sister's beautiful voice at a concert, summer 2009.  Music of the '40s, like Change Partners and Dance, Moon River, and Sisters)

Last summer my little sister, Joy, traveled from her home in Portland, OR to Minnesota to visit and do a concert.  She asked me to accompany her.  At first, I was excited to do it, but the closer it came, the worse I felt.  I had lost my self-confidence and didn't know where to find it.  (Sort of like Little Bo Peep and her sheep.)  I've been playing the piano since I was seven years old.  I started playing for the early morning church service at my little country church when I was in the 7th grade.  I accompanied my school choir, countless soloists in voice and band, and yet, I'd lost it.  I continued to play even when I didn't have anything to practice for, while I was having babies, plunking out a few tunes in between feedings and diaper changes.  I could always play the piano, no matter what my mood or situation.  It's what saved me from the pit.

Then, I had a few set-backs.  My ex-husband used to say that my playing gave him a headache.  After I divorced that negative voice, I put myself back out there on the piano bench at my church.  I did not get the support there that I needed.  In fact, I was literally told that I was not good enough.


Do you know what awful damage those words do?  Do you hear them in your own head?  Do people in your life say them to you?

They're wrong.  They're mean.  They're coming from their own damaged souls.

I told my little sister that I couldn't do it.  "Maybe your old accompanist is available," I said.

"No, Mary," she said, "You're the one.  I want you to accompany me.  You are good enough.  You need to be the rock."  The accompanist is the support for the singer.  In this case, the singer was the support for the accompanist.  My eyes mist up even as I type this.

I'll be playing piano for Palm Sunday service at a new church where I'm honored, appreciated and told, "Of course, you'll play."  I was a little nervous about playing.  I suggested that someone else might be better equipped.  I mean, Palm Sunday is about the most important worship service.  It tells the whole story of the One who walked the broken road before us.  Who carried our burdens on His shoulders, and who came back from the darkness to reclaim life and give us hope.  Who am I to play out that message?

But then, I heard it, the voice that says, "Of course you can."

Journaling Prompt:  Can you be that voice, the rock, that supports another person? Have you heard it?  Listen for it.  It's for you, too.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Barbecue Bacon Meatballs over Pasta

I love meatloaf, especially my Dad's and I love meatballs.  One day I realized that meatballs are essentially the same concoction of meat, filler and seasonings as meatloaf and I decided to take my favorite meatloaf recipe and put it into meatball form.  This recipe was born and it was quite simply a delicious idea; one that I am going to repeat with my Dad's recipe and others like it.

Ok, so enough with my undying  love of meatballs.  This recipe is simple, fast and very kid friendly.  I love the smoky/salty flavor from the bacon paired with the sweet tangy flavor of the barbecue sauce.  Match it up with noodles, rice or your favorite potato dish for a quick weeknight meal. 
Barbecue Bacon Meatballs

Recipe Source: A Cook’s Quest

1-1½ pounds ground meat (beef or turkey work best)
¾ c quick oats
½ c milk
1 egg
¼-½ c grated onion
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp pepper
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3 slices bacon fried and crumbled
3T Jenn’s Barbecue Sauce +1/2 cup for later

Combine all ingredients except ½ c barbecue sauce. Form into balls and place on a cookie sheet or press into a loaf pan if you make the meatloaf version.

Meatballs: bake at 350 about 20 minutes until cooked through. Coat with remaining ½ cup barbecue sauce and serve over egg noodles.

Meat Loaf: Place loaf pan in oven, on a cookie sheet to avoid spills. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes to an hour (this is going to depend on the depth of your pan.) During the last 15 minutes, top the meat loaf with the remaining barbecue sauce and continue cooking.

**After baking meatballs, freeze on the cookie sheet.  Once solid, place in freezer bags and store in your deep freeze.  When ready to eat, thaw them in the refrigerator, microwave 2-3 minutes or warm through in the oven and then top with sauce.

**I freeze the meatloaf before baking.  Top with a double layer of foil and freeze.  Thaw, then place in the oven and bake as directed above.

Total Cost: $3.46
Ground Beef-$1.30 (it had a coupon, plus it was on sale)
Oats $.08
Milk $.09
Egg $.09
Onion/Seasonings $.10
Bacon $.45
Barbecue Sauce about $.35
Egg Noodles $1.00

Tips and Tricks from one Cook to another...

There are many ways to cut costs on food, whether you are a single person or a large family. All it takes is a little bit of time, and a small amount of planning. Until I really started examining my family’s spending habits I didn’t understand how I could be spending so much money at the grocery store. Once I decided to utilize the resources around me, sales, coupons, and local vendors, I found out that saving money on food is not as hard as I thought it was.

You don’t have to be a Coupon Queen or have vast supplies of food. I am a cook that has quite an array of stock piled ingredients, mostly whole foods like beans, pasta, rice, frozen veggies, canned veggies, sugar, flour, and proteins because I find that if I have those staples on hand along with fresh ingredients such as milk, eggs, veggies and fruit all the time, I can easily make a meal. What each Cook does is personal to their lifestyle, but below are some of the tricks I have learned.
Buy ingredients on sale and buy multiples. Keep doing this and you will always have the staples you need on hand.

Shop, then plan meals based on what you have. This helps me avoid unnecessary purchases and keeps me on budget. However, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan for special meals once in a while.

Use ordinary ingredients in new ways. My Alfredo Chicken Stew, Pineapple Meatballs and Turkey Meatball Ciabatta Sandwiches all use staple ingredients in different ways.

Be willing to make substitutions. Use rice in place of pasta, ground turkey in place of beef, and peas instead of carrots. Just because you are out of an ingredient doesn’t mean you can’t add something in its place.

Be excited and open to trying new recipes. My absolute favorite roll recipe, French Bread Rolls, came as a result of running out of eggs. I had planned on making a cinnamon roll recipe, but couldn’t since I had no eggs for the dough. Instead of tossing everything I just searched for something new and I am so glad I did!

Buy local or grow your own. Most areas have farmer’s markets and stores that offer local products. Utilizing these places helps your pocket book and also your local economy. Growing veggies doesn’t require a lot of work and at the end of the summer you have a lot of fresh food that only cost pennies.

Learn to make restaurant favorites. There are websites out there dedicated solely to dissecting major chain restaurant recipes, do a search for that favorite pasta dish or chocolate cake you might be surprised to find you can make it yourself.  Even easier, smaller restaurants will sometimes give you the recipe….it never hurts to ask!

• Most importantly, make food that sounds good to you. Don’t buy ingredients you won’t use or don’t like.

One Little Thing: Lemon Yogurt Mini-Bundt Cakes . . . with Limoncello Glaze

What is it about having a miniature cake to call your own?

Nothing so common as a cupcake, mind you, but an accurate-to-scale mini version of a bigger cake. Something about being in possession of such a diminutive gateau seems to confirm what you, hopefully, already knew about yourself. If that dinky cake could speak it would surely remark, "Hey, you must be extraordinary because you merit your very own tiny cake. You are worthy."

It's a positive development that we Americans, somewhere along the way, reached a stage of gustatory evolution wherein we began to appreciate carefully constructed and painstakingly detailed individual dessert items, versus huge layer cakes predictably blanketed in sugary American buttercream. Cakes that are designed to serve a dozen or more people are good, oh sure, and they have their place. But let's face it, they exist to feed the masses. They don't care who you are, particularly.

The mission of a super-sized cake doesn't involve catering to the different tastes of each person in a crowd. On the contrary, everyone gets the same thing. A huge cake lives to serve by being sliced up equally. Take it or leave it. One size fits all. You don't like frosting? Gosh, that's tough. Scrape it off with a plastic fork and don't forget to dump your soggy paper plate in the trash on your way out. Not a pretty scenario.

So when the craving for a sweet possesses you, don't you find it reassuring to have the option of selecting one single-serving dessert--modestly portioned, artfully prepared, and seemingly unique? Of course you do. After all, sometimes all you want is one little thing.

It's all about choice . . .

Which brings me to today's lemon yogurt mini-bundt cakes. Neither complex nor time consuming to make, these baby bundts are delightfully presentable. Ultra moist and very tender, this cake falls on the texture spectrum somewhere between a butter cake and a soft pound cake. You can make these as 12 mini-bundts, or 24 cupcakes. (If you're brave, you can try it as one large bundt, too, but doing that apparently makes this recipe less predictable and more prone to producing a dense/fallen cake, just fyi). You can choose to make the tangy-sweet, limoncello glaze thin enough so that most of it demurely soaks in (as I did), or mix it thicker and slather it on as a flashy embellishment. You're the driver.

See? It's all about choice. I love having choices. I know you do, too.

About the recipes . . .

I adapted the cake and glaze recipes from Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America, a volume that's on own my short list of highly admirable cookbooks.

What did I alter? Well, instead of using buttermilk in the cake (the book's recipe is called "Lemon Buttermilk Cake") I substituted Greek style plain yogurt, along with a few tablespoons of milk to smooth it out.

And, there's no limoncello in the CIA formula, but I suspected that it would tag along perfectly with the existing flavors, so I added a smidgen into the cake batter in place of some of the lemon juice, and also used it with lemon juice in the glaze. (A popular Italian liqueur, it's such tasty stuff. If you've never tried it, you might want to get some, but if you prefer not to use it you can always omit it from the recipe entirely and go with all lemon juice. The cakes will still be luscious.) I also reworded, and slightly revised, the instructions.

Lemon Yogurt Mini-Bundt Cakes with Limoncello Glaze

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

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Liberally coat with baking spray, or thoroughly grease and flour,  pans for 12 mini-bundts, or 24 cupcakes. 

2 and 2/3 cups All-Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
1 and 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
4 eggs, large
1 cup and 1 Tbsp. plain Greek style yogurt
3 Tbsp. milk (I used 2 percent)
5 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 to 1 cup confectioners' sugar
4 Tbsp. limoncello (lemon flavored liqueur)

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another small bowl, stir together the yogurt and the milk just until smooth.

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and lemon zest for about 5 minutes, until smooth and light. Stop to scrape the bowl periodically.

Add in the eggs one a time, still at medium speed, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Mix well after each egg.
On low speed, add in the flour mixture alternately with the yogurt in three additions. Mix just until incorporated. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 2 minutes more, until the entire mixture is smooth and light.
Add in 3 Tbsp. of the lemon juice and 1 Tbsp. of the limoncello. Blend just until evenly mixed, no more than 30 seconds.

Portion the batter evenly into your pan(s); smooth the top of the batter.

Bake until the center of each cake springs back when pressed lightly with a finger, and a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean. This will be about 15 minutes for mini-bundts or cupcakes (if making minis or cupcakes, don't wait for the exposed part of the cake to look golden brown; golden around the edges is enough).If you've made the cake in mini-bundt pans, let them cool for about 10 minutes before inverting the pans onto a cooling racks to remove the cakes. If you've baked cupcakes, give them no more than about five minutes in their pans before carefully removing to a cooling rack.

To make the glaze, mix the confectioners' sugar, 2 Tbsp. of lemon juice and 3 Tbsp. of limoncello in a small bowl and stir until any lumps are completely gone. If you'd like the glaze thicker, just stir in a bit more confectioners' sugar until it's the texture you prefer.To apply the glaze, place the cooled cake(s) on a cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Using a spoon, drizzle the glaze liberally over each cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Let the icing set for about 15 minutes before moving the cakes.If you like, serve each cake topped with a little unsweetened whipped cream and some lemon zest curls. Yummy.

Update from Jane, January 2013: 

Dear readers, 

I have heard from dozens of bakers who've tried this recipe since I first posted it almost three years ago. About half of them love it and got great results, and about half had cakes that were extremely dense and disappointing. Based on reader feedback, it also seems like this recipe is more predictably successful when made in mini-bundt pans, versus one large bundt pan. So, that's something to consider before giving it a whirl.

In light of the inconsistent results, if you still want to try it in one large bundt pan, I am recommending (especially if you don't bake bundts regularly) that you visit this link before you start the recipe: 
How to Bake the Perfect Bundt Cake (
It contains helpful hints on baking with bundt pans and may help you to achieve success with this formula as one large cake. Nordicware is the original creator of the bundt, and they are the true experts. I trust their advice. 

Thanks very much for visiting and for providing me with honest feedback. It's always appreciated.

Keep on baking!

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