Saturday, April 30, 2011

New Hello Kitties

It's been a while, but I finally got around to photographing more of my collection. Who needs half a dozen Hello Kitty bags? I do, apparently. My favorite of these bags is probably the red one in the photo at top right. I bought that back around 2004.

I couldn't resist this line of Hello Kitty kitchen products. This is a set of melamine mixing bowls, a set of 3 kitty shaped cookie cutters, and what I guess to be a box of sandwich bags (the writing on the box is entirely Japanese, so I can't be sure). Baking and Hello Kitty: two of my most favoritest things coming together!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

We Have Lift Off!

This is my first year gardening. I'm doing a combination of container and conventional gardening, trying to figure out what works best for our space, and what I can handle. My conventional garden is not ready yet, and hot weather is approaching, so I used my containers to get a head start on the season. I planted leaf lettuce and onions. Leaf lettuce is between 2 and 3 dollars per pound at the local grocery store. I got my lettuce seeds for 30 cents per packet. The math is pretty irresistible.

I'm experimenting with both self-watering and regular planters. I was worried the self-watering planters might be a gimmick, but I'm impressed with the results. The planter on the right is self-watering and the planter on the right is not. This is the lettuce. For the onions, I see almost no difference in performance between the two kinds of planters.

What kind of gardening adventures are you having today?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cheddar Crackers

I love snacks like cheez-its, but I'm trying to avoid the chemicals in processed foods. I figured I could bake something similar from scratch, and I came up with this recipe. I'll never buy a box of commercial cheese crackers again!

  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded*
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1-3 tbsp milk
  • kosher salt
1. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer. Add in the cheddar and mix until combined. Add in flour and salt. Mix until pea-sized crumbles form.

2. Now, that our ingredients are combined, the goal is to get the batter to come together into a dough ball. Add the egg. If dough is still too dry and crumbly, add one tablespoon milk. Mix on high speed. Continue adding milk, one tablespoon at a time, mixing on high speed between each addition, until your dough comes together. Once dough is finished, shape it into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

3. Split refrigerated dough into two pieces. Roll out each piece to a thickness between 1/4 and 1/8 inch. The thinner the dough, the crispier the cracker. Cut dough into small squares with knife, or use a mini cookie cutter. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the crackers as close together on the sheet as you'd like; these actually shrink up a bit when baked. Sprinkle the top of each cracker with a bit of kosher salt.

4. Bake for 10 minutes in a 375 degree oven. The crackers are done when they start to brown on the outsides. Times can vary depending on how thick you rolled the dough and the how big you cut the shapes, so it's good to keep an eye on these. Allow to cool and then transfer to an airtight container. Enjoy!

*Pre-shredded cheese is great for some things, but not these cheddar crackers. The additives used to keep the cheese sticking together in the bag also keeps it from melting properly.

Source: Cats and Casseroles original recipe

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Everyone loves bunnies!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Double Chocolate Crackle Cookies

Mmm... chocolate. One picture hardly seemed like enough.

These cookies are popular around Christmas, but I see no reason not to enjoy them year-round. The recipe calls for Dutch-process cocoa powder, but I used natural (Hersey's to be exact) and had no problem. These cookies have a dense texture and taste to them that reminds me of a devil's food doughnut. They'll definitely help fix any chocolate cravings you might be having!

  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 c. white chocolate chips
  • 1 c. powdered sugar
1. In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Using an electric mixer, mix in melted butter and eggs. Don't be alarmed if your batter seems stiff and crumbly, that's the nature of these cookies. Turn off the mixer when it appears all the ingredients are well mixed.

2. If your batter is still crumbly at this point, use your hands to bring into a ball. Kneed the white chocolate chips into the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.*

3. Roll dough into small balls. Coat the balls with powdered sugar. Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees in a preheated oven for about 10 minutes. Allow to cool fully before eating. Makes about 24 cookies.

*Just a side note: The purpose of chilling the dough is to prepare if for being rolled into balls. In general, a cold batter with make a better sphere. However, since this dough is fairly stiff on its own, you're probably ok to skip refrigeration if you have a cold kitchen, or are just in a real hurry. I refrigerate, but I'm a sucker for following the rules.

Source: Food Network Magazine, December 2010, vol 3, no 10.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Recipe Monday: Lemon Chicken Bake

For home cooking, there's no method of preparing chicken I prefer over baking. When I started cooking, three years ago, I couldn't cook chicken on the stovetop without burning it, drying it out, or both. I ruined entire pans trying to emulate Rachael Ray and her propensity for sauteeing chicken in extra virgin olive oil. Baking chicken, on the other hand, is easy to master and very unlikely to start a fire.

In this recipe, scallopini chicken breast is coated in a heavenly lemon butter, breadcrumbs, and then baked. I compare the taste to chicken piccata without the capers.

  • 1lb thin sliced chicken breast
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice (1 lemon should do it)
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 c. Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1. In a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add in lemon juice, zest, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

2. Transfer lemon butter to a shallow dish. Dip chicken pieces in butter and then coat with bread crumbs. Place chicken in a non-greased 13 x 9 glass or ceramic baking dish. Drizzle any extra lemon butter over the chicken.

3. Bake at 350 degrees in a preheated oven for 20 minutes. Use a meat thermometer to make sure chicken reaches 160 degrees in thickest part. If using a dark colored metal pan or baking sheet instead of glass dish, check after 15 minutes.

Source: adapted from Allrecipes

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

I get a kick out of this photo, because I thought I was being just such the little photographer staging my breakfast scene. I was packing everything up when I realized I hadn't even bothered to turn on the overhead light in the dining room. And are those crumbs on my cutting board? Oh my. Well, that's what I get for operating a camera before I've had coffee.

Speaking of coffee, what's a better companion for your morning cuppa than a nice slice of fresh-baked cinnamon raisin bread? I love, love my bread machine. However, I rarely use it to bake a loaf from start to finish. Most often, I use to to make dough balls that I then shape into rolls, buns, pizza crusts, ect. The reason I avoid baking loafs in the machine is the size of the bread pan, which produces over-sized slices too large for a sandwich. But larger slices compliment this breakfast bread perfectly. I've made this recipe in the neighborhood of 50 times, and it has never failed me.

  • 1 c. plus two tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3 c. bread flour
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 yeast, quick active dry or bread machine
  • 3/4 c raisins
1. Be sure to put the ingredients in your bread machine in the order determined by the manufacturer. For most machines, you'll want to start with water first. Cut softened butter into cubes and add next. Now add dry ingredients, starting with the bread flour and saving yeast for last. When adding the flour to the bread pan, I like to make sure it covers the surface of the water, sort of creating a floating barrier so that the remaining ingredients don't fall into the water.

2. Set your bread machine to run it's basic loaf cycle. Set it to a medium crust. I've done light crusts with this recipe in the past, and have found a darker crust recipe makes for better slicing.

3. Add the raisins at the Raisin/Nut signal. If your machine does not have a Raisin/Nut signal, as mine does not, add them when the machine starts kneading the dough for the second time.

4. After machine has finished, remove bread and allow to cool on a rack overnight. Wake up the next morning to a delicious breakfast!

Source: Betty Crocker Best Bread Machine Cookbook

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Recipe Monday: Yankee Bastard Cheese Grits

I'm not native to the land of the grits, northern girl that I am. In fact, I'd never tasted grits until I decided to make them. It didn't go well, but I was committed to making it better. And so I tried dozens of batches until I came up with this cheesy combo. It's now one of our favorite things, and my husband requests it regularly. Since it's so easy and quick to make, I'm more than happy to oblige.

I'm quite certain my version of cheese grits would be enough to make a proper southern cook faint a little. I do it all wrong. I gather from my research that "real" cheese grits are to be baked, something I saw as an unnecessary extra step, especially if you're trying to get breakfast on the table lickity split. I use quick-cook grits rather than their more revered stone ground cousin because of availability issues. That said, if you can look past the inauthentic-ness of things, I think you'll find these grits are worth it.

  • 2 1/4 c. water
  • salt for the water
  • 1/2 c. quick cook (not instant) grits
  • 3 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 c. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 c. pepper jack cheese, grated
1. In a 2 quart sauce pot, lightly salt the water and let it come to a roiling boil. Add the grits and bring the water down to a medium-low heat. Stir grits for about 30 seconds, until boiling subsides a bit, and then cover. Continue cooking the grits over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

For grits newbies, if you are unsure whether your grits are done, give them a quick taste. If you feel like you are chewing on half-cooked rice, it could probably use another minute or two. Grits are done when they are soft.

2. Turn the heat down to low. Add your cheeses, starting with the cream cheese, making sure each is melted and well-combined with the gits before adding the next. Serve immediately.

What's great about this recipe is that you can tweak it to accommodate whatever you have on hand. I've used mozzarella, swiss, and even processed American cheese slices. I've never received a complaint, although the recipe above is our favorite combination. I like to serve these grits with scrambled eggs topped with salsa. Yum.

Just as a side note, I've included a picture of what my "half cup" of cheddar cheese sometimes looks like. We're cheese fiends over here. If you want to increase the amount of cheese in this recipe, you'll get nothing but respect from me!

Source: Cats and Casseroles original recipe

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cocina De La Familia

Cocina de la Familia, by Marilyn Tausend with Miguel Ravago, Fireside, 1997.

I could eat Mexican-American food all day, every day. I grew up in a town that thrives on it, and, to me, a plate of enchiladas is more of a comfort food than a roast with mashed potatoes. And I'm always on the look out for good cookbooks that feature this cuisine I love.

Cocina de la Familia is the result of its author's travels across the country, exploring the food of modern Mexican-American families. What she discovered was a dedication to roots and tradition, with an American twist. Out of necessity, immigrant families changed their recipes to accommodate what's available in American supermarkets. Pork lard becomes crisco, stronger chilies are sacrificed for the more ubiquitous jalapeno. Most of the recipes in the book have substitution recommendations, making it a good option for those without access to more authentic ingredients. Cocina de la Familia is not a well-known cookbook, but I love it, and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Oodles Noodles Casserole

There are dozens of versions of this casserole floating around out there. I've seen this called Yankee Doodle Dandy, Sour Cream Noodle Bake, and Ground Beef Casserole. I call mine Oodles Noodles because I add extra noodles in order to satisfy the bottomless pit that is my husband. I'll do anything to get leftovers.


  • 5 c. medium egg noodles
  • 1 lb ground sirloin
  • 1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1/3 c. cream cheese, softened

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill a large stock pot with water and let come to a boil. Add in noddles.

2. While noodles are cooking, brown ground sirloin in skillet over medium-high heat. Drain excess fat. Add tomato sauce and season with salt, pepper, and onion powder.

3. In small mixing bowl, combine cream cheese and sour cream.

4. Drain noodles and transfer them to a 9 x 13 baking dish. Layer the beef and tomato sauce mixture on top of noodles. Dot the top of the casserole with large spoonfulls of the cream cheese and sour cream mixture. Smooth out, being careful not to disturb ground beef layer underneath.

5. Bake in preheated oven,uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until heated through.

Source: Cats and Casseroles original recipe

Monday, April 4, 2011

Show and Tell

This weekend, we went to our first estate sale. I'm not much of a thrift shopper, although I totally aspire to be. We happened to pass an estate sale in our neighborhood and figured, why not? Turns out the lady who had lived in the house was crafty, but none of her grown children were. I wound up getting 70 skeins of dmc floss for a dollar. I don't do a ton of stitching, but I've been meaning to change that.

Notice the photo shoot crasher in the background? Sundae loves the camera.

I photographed part of my Hello Kitty collection this weekend. It's now up on my Hello Kitty collection page. Each item in my collection has a story, but I'm not sure I want to write the War-and-Peace-length novel it would take to tell them all. But I might select a few special items from time to time and go into more detail about them.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fools!

I took this photograph from my front door window this morning. A cosmic April Fools joke. It almost never snows here in March, even, let alone April. It's kind of freaky, really. If locusts come raining down next, I'll be sure to update.

The good news is that this weather is perfect for cutting the 176 squares I need for my Spring Fling quilt.