Impulse buying for the win!

I decided to count my cookbook collection the other day. I stopped counting at 200.

I didn’t think that sounded like a huge number. The looks I’ve gotten from friends and colleagues suggest that they don’t agree. Apparently, in an informal poll of eight people, 10 is an acceptable number of cookbooks.

Acceptable is boring.

The following recipe comes from one of my newer cookbook purchases: Six Sisters’ Stuff: Family Recipes, Fun Crafts, and So Much More. It was recommended to me by the lovely folks at amazon.com and it’s one of those recommendations that has worked well.

(Unlike the side ponytail I tried in eighth grade. Yikes!)

The broadcast and print journalists recently moved to a new newsroom at work, so I made brownies to celebrate. The bathroom renovation may not be finished (I’m getting quite the workout running up to the second floor to use their bathroom), but we have treats!

Just don’t spill a crumb on the new carpet.

Mom’s Famous Chocolate Marshmallow Browniesbrownies

  • 1 cup margarine (2 sticks)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 (10-ounce) package of miniature marshmallows

Soften margarine and blend in sugar and cocoa. Beat together and add 4 eggs, one at a time, mixing after each one. Add flour, salt and vanilla and mix well.

Spread on large (10x15x1 inch) greased cookie sheet. Bake 22-25 minutes at 350. Remove from oven and cover entire top with 1 package of miniature marshmallows. Return to oven for 3 minutes, until marshmallows are soft and puffy. Cool and frost with chocolate frosting.

Mom’s Chocolate Frosting

  • 1 stick margarine (1/2 cup), softened
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla (depending on your taste)
  • 3 tablespoons of cocoa
  • 2 to 3 cups of powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients with a hand mixer until smooth. Add more powdered sugar or milk until you reach desired consistency and spread on top of bars.

Recipe courtesy of Six Sisters’ Stuff: Family Recipes, Fun Crafts, and So Much More by Six Sisters Stuff

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Game on!

I’m a planner.

I like making lists, I like doing research and, yes, my family’s vacations include an itinerary.

That’s why my kitchen table was covered with paper and cookbooks the other day. We were having some friends over for Game Night and I was looking for snack ideas. This wasn’t a formal dinner or even a potluck, but I think get-togethers, no matter how casual, are all about the food.

Over the years I’ve hosted Thanksgivings, a wine tasting, Memorial Day cookouts and Super Bowl parties. I had a get-together for the Olympic Games opening ceremony and presented an awesome spread for a Halloween party.

The pumpkin cheesecake was made to look like a Jack-O-Lantern.

Before each event, my husband asks me not to go overboard. (I think he’s having a hard time letting go of the 96 mini cupcakes I made for a friend’s baby shower.) My friend Cecelia has been known to text an hour before the party with two words: Stop cleaning.

I love them both, but I know myself. I decide on an idea and I go with it. And yes, I usually go overboard, but it’s a great way to try new recipes. If it doesn’t work out, I open a bottle of wine and everyone still has a good time. Most of the parties I host end up with everyone in the kitchen, sitting around the table and munching on olive and rosemary focaccia, red-eye deviled eggs or miniature fried tacos.

Bonus: My family dines on leftovers the next day.

Miniature food was the theme for Game Night. I made tiny cupcakes, mini cheesecakes, individual pizza and – because it’s National Peanut Month – Baby BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches. Roasted peanuts added to the coleslaw give the sandwiches an added crunch.

BABY BBQ PULLED PORK SANDWICHESBBQ pork sandwich

Ingredients for the pulled pork

  • 1 2-pound pork butt or shoulder
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup root beer
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, lightly crushed

Ingredients for the fixings

  • ½ cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts
  • About 2 cups BBQ sauce
  • 12 Hawaiian rolls, sliced in half
  • About 1 cup coleslaw

Put pork, broth, root beer, onion, bay leaves, and mustard seed in a slow cooker on low heat for about 6 hours or until the pork is tender.

Remove meat and discard liquid. Using 2 forms, shred the meat. Return shredded meat to the slow cooker and keep on low heat for 10 minutes or until you’re ready to serve.

Toss pork, peanuts and BBQ sauce together in a large bowl until combined. Fill each roll with about ¼ cup pulled pork and 2 heaping tablespoons of slaw.

Makes 12 sandwiches

Recipe courtesy of Tiny Food Party!: Bite-sized Recipes for Miniature Meals by Teri Lyn Fisher and Jenny Park

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a tortilla!

I’ve started reviewing the cookbooks I receive at work on my work blog. To do this right, I have to make several recipes in each cookbook.

My life is hard.

Jessica Harlan’s “Tortillas to the Rescue” (Ulysses Press; Aug. 28, 2012) is the first cookbook I reviewed. This book promises 100 quick-and-east recipes, all using tortillas.

Guess what?

It’s pretty awesome.

I usually have a package of flour tortillas in the cupboard. I buy them for taco night, but I’ve been known to snack on one while watching TV or looking in the fridge for dinner idea. It never occurred to me that the tortilla I was gnawing on could be used to make a Southwestern Chicken Caesar Salad, Portobello, Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Fajitas, or Mexican Meatloaf.

This past weekend, I made the Calexico Burrito for myself and the PB&J Quesadilla for the kids. Both were quick, easy and delicious.

Again, my life is hard.

PB&J QUESADILLA

  • 2 small (6-inch) flour or whole wheat tortillas
  • 1 tablespoon crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon jam

Spread the peanut butter on one tortilla. Spread the jam on another. Press the two pieces together to make a sandwich.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Place the quesadilla in the pan and cook until the tortilla begins to get toasty and the filling is warmed, about two minutes on each side. Remove from the pan and use a knife or a pizza wheel to slice into wedges.

NOTE: If you’re packing this for a lunch, don’t cook it.

Recipe courtesy of “Tortillas to the Rescue”

You had a baby! Here’s some granola!

I’m not going to say that, exactly, but I did make some granola for my friend Jennifer. She had a baby last month and my copy of “The Good Neighbor Cookbook” says granola is a quick snack sleep-deprived moms can grab when the baby is fussing to keep them functioning during late-night feedings.

Cookies can be grabbed on the go too, but health experts keep telling us we can’t live on cookies alone, so I made the granola.

Was it a success?

Yes and no.

Success: I think it tastes good.

Not a success: It was not so easy to cut into bars. In fact, I may need to crumble it all up and tell Jennifer it’s to put on top of yogurt.

OK, so this food gift is no longer pretty or convenient. Thank goodness it’s the thought that counts.

(It doesn’t hurt that I made her a chocolate and caramel cake, too.)

CRANBERRY GRANOLA BARS

  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/4 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-by-13 baking pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides.

Spread the oats, almonds, coconut, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring once, until lightly golden, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Decrease the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the syrup, sugar, oil and salt, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the toasted oat mixture and cranberries and stir to coat. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, firmly pressing down on an even layer with a rubber spatula.

Bake in the oven until golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Let cool completely on a wire rack, at least two hours. Grabbing the ends of the parchment, lift out the granola and slice into bars. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Recipe courtesy of The Good Neighbor Cookbook

Best cookbook ever?

So it’s been established that I have a lot of cookbooks.

A lot of cookbooks.

But this isn’t about me.

My brother-in-law expressed an interest in learning how to cook. He already experiments in the kitchen and, according to my sister, some experiments have turned out better than others.

He’s never followed a recipe and while part of me is secretly jealous — I could never be that loose in the kitchen — another part believes the fun part about recipes is tweaking them until they suit your tastes.

The pun was totally intended.

He asked me to recommend a cookbook and I drew a blank. Do I go with something all-encompassing like The Better Homes and Garden Cookbook, a classic like The Joy of Cooking or something with a lot of pictures? I love The Joy of Cooking, but the lack of pictures always throws me. I like seeing what the dish is supposed to look like when it’s finished.

I recently gave my sister-in-law the Anyone Can Cook cookbook from Better Homes and Gardens. She is not a kitchen person, so she wanted something that would teach the basics. My brother-in-law, though, seems more advanced.

His birthday is in a few weeks. What cookbook should I give him?

Best Mother’s Day Ever!

Some women want jewelry.

Some want flowers.

My family gave me new sports socks, a gift card to Scheels and a bookshelf.

I couldn’t be happier.

My daughter and I ran a 5K Mother’s Day morning, then gorged ourselves on burgers and pie — my husband grilled — followed by a three-hour nap.

And then I played with my cookbooks.

A place for every cookbook. The cat is not impressed.

Best Mother’s Day Ever.

So many cookbooks, so little time

My husband, calling from some airport (because I forgot where he’s flying to this weekend): What are you up to?

Me: Playing with my cookbooks.

My husband: Again?

Here’s the thing. I love to make things neat. When I feel overwhelmed, I clean. It helps to have control over something, you know? 

It’s been established I have a lot of cookbooks. And I have been trying to organize those cookbooks for the past year, ever since my baker’s rack fell apart by the sheer weight of all the books. We have a huge pantry and so they fit in there just fine, but they aren’t accessible. If I can’t see them, I won’t use them.

I moved a bunch to one of my kitchen cupboards, and that worked for a few months, but then I bought some more cookbooks, and  I was dealing with the accessible issue again.

I am very much a reader, as is my husband and our children. Our house looks like a library, with bookshelves everywhere. For the most part, I like it. I don’t want to buy another bookshelf for my cookbooks, so I started moving things around. I ended up clearing off one bookshelf for my cookbooks and while it worked, I wasn’t happy with it because they weren’t in order. Baking cookbooks were fixed with dinner cookbooks, ‘secret recipe’ cookbooks were mixed with holiday recipe books.

That probably wouldn’t bother most people, but I have a Type A personality. Those who know me understand.

The before picture.

So today I took out all my cookbooks, again, and reordered them on the bookshelf my husband bought me for my birthday. It’s one of those cube bookshelves, with nine spaces for books, and I organized each cube by a cooking/baking subject.

And after.

We’ll see how long this works before I decide to change things again.

Cleaning off my bookshelf

One of my resolutions for 2011 was to actually read the cookbooks in my extensive cookbook collection. If I have one that doesn’t have a lot of recipes in it I like, I will make copies of the recipes I want to keep and give the book away.

Here is the first cookbook that will no longer be crowding my bookshelf:

It’s not a bad cookbook. Actually, there’s some interesting information in it. The history of each name brand item is provided before several recipes featuring the brand. I found this interesting, but I’m kind of nerdy that way.

While the book is really intended for a British audience (Camp coffee, Colman’s mustard, Marmite and Vegemite are featured — I had to Google them to learn that they are international), the book does feature some American favorites like Coca Cola Cake, Philly Cream Cheesecake and Skippy peanut butter.

Very few of the recipes, though, appealed to me. When it comes down to it, aren’t recipes the reasons we own cookbooks?

I thought so.

Let me see your casserole

Me: I’m making chicken spaghetti for dinner tonight.

My husband smiles at me but he’s thinking ‘What the hell is chicken spaghetti? Why do I have to eat it? What do I say if I don’t like it because you got really mad that time I didn’t compliment the pumpkin pie you made and only admitted defeat hours later when you tasted it and realized you left out the sugar.’

Out loud he says ‘OK.’

Chicken spaghetti is yet another recipe from The Pioneer Woman. Seriously, if you don’t read her blog, you must start. Right now. If you don’t follow her on Twitter, rectify that mistake immediately. Buy her cookbook and write her a thank you note for creating it. Be sure to mention me so we can become best friends. I’ll visit her ranch and watch as she makes onion strings without sirens blaring.

She’ll be the one to give me that pony I’ve been asking for …

Anyway, chicken spaghetti. It’s a casserole. I don’t make casseroles. I don’t know anyone who does, actually. But I think more people would if they had this recipe.

 

This isn’t the prettiest picture in the world, but didn’t your mama ever tell you that its what’s on the inside that counts? And inside of this is cream of mushroom, cheese, onions, green pepper and chicken all surrounded by yummy noodles, just begging you to snuggle in your pajama pants and watch The Office  reruns while enjoying a plate of the deliciousness. In fact, fate will make sure it is Jim and Pam’s wedding episode, which makes the evening even more perfect.

Me: What do you think?

My husband: This needs to be part of the dinner rotation. Every week.

Well done, Pioneer Woman. Well done.

(P.S. Can my pony be a girl? I want to name her Isabella.)

Organization 101

Sticky notes are my friend.

I buy them by the gross when they are on sale (this is not that much of an exaggeration) and use them to tab the recipes I hope to make someday.

It is not uncommon for me to go through a pad of sticky notes in one sitting, which leads to another problem. How do I track all my ‘I want to make this someday’ recipes?

Real Simple has suggestions for this very problem. My favorite is to write the recipe title (or a name you’ll remember) on an index card, along with the book or magazine issue it is in and the page number. Then you file the cards alphabetically in a recipe box, dividing it into sections like Breakfast, Desserts, etc.

So simple! (Hence the magazine name.)

I went to Bed, Bath and Beyond last week for a recipe box and discovered that they don’t carry them. Apparently ‘Beyond’ has a stopping point. Who knew? Luckily, Hallmark was nearby and had what I needed:

From now on, any recipe I have tabbed and eventually make will be noted on an index card and filed in my recipe box. Eventually all of these tabbed pages will be index cards. The cards will also note what, if any, changes I made to the original recipe and reactions to it (mine, my husband’s, our children, etc.)

Until that happens, though, I will enjoy these cool sticky tabs Cecelia mailed me for my birthday:

Does she know me or what?