Catching Up

WHERE HAVE I BEEN?

Between a nasty sinus infection, a cat who decided to develop asthma, and a huge project at work, finding time to blog was next to impossible.  But here I am.  I made it.  Let’s catch up!

Muffins (Baked Milk Challenge): The muffin game is still going strong over here.  Emily won’t touch a bowl of oatmeal, but she LOVES oatmeal muffins.  My last three batches have all been variations of oatmeal muffins.  Emily BEGS for her “muffies” and it’s hard because she’s only allowed one every couple of days.  We’ll have to do this until January and then we’ll retest her IgE levels.  In the meantime, she likes to “help” me bake.

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Cooking: YOU GUYS, I’ve finally started cooking pork chops!  First I followed this recipe for Glazed Pork Chops, and last night I used Shake & Bake (shhhhh…).  My hubs is grateful to be eating something that’s not chicken, and Emily appears to be a big fan of pork.  YAS.

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Other shenanigans: I’m plotting a ginormous organizing spree at home.  (Side note: Since when is “ginormous” considered an actual, proper word? I think I missed a memo.)  I have a list of small projects that will hopefully make life in a small house more tolerable.  I started a Pinterest board for home organization and I’ve got items in my Target and Amazon carts stacking up.  It’ll be a ridiculous amount of work but worth it in the long run!  I’ll be taking before and after photos and I’ll be sure to share my favorite organizational hacks.

Lastly:  Let’s talk cheese.  Or, “cheese.”  I have a handful of vegan “cheese” recipes to try for Emily, but since my last two cashew-based cheese attempts were flops, I’m emotionally scarred and I’m afraid of trying again.  We recently tried Heidi Ho, a plant-based “cheese” I found at Whole Foods, and both Emily and I enjoyed it but it’s so…damn…expensive and it doesn’t have a long shelf life.  I’m not ready to admit defeat yet, so I’m gearing up to try a new vegan cheese recipe.  If you have one that you think is foolproof (remember who you’re dealing with here), please share!

So there’s a few weeks worth of stuff crammed into a 400-word post.  Now that my cat and I are both breathing again, I’m hoping to be back here this weekend.

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Don’t Forget the Broth

I have this way of just…screwing up in the dumbest of ways.

A couple of nights ago I made this Orange Beef Stir Fry (sans mushrooms) I found on the Allergic Living website.  Although I did read through the recipe before cooking it, I have to be honest that I’ve been slacking on my mise en place lately.  I could give you every excuse in the book, but what it comes down to is that I tend to convince myself that skipping this step is saving me time.  Not only is that wrong–so, so wrong–but this is what got me into the most trouble all those years ago when I started cooking.

Long story short, when I was finished cooking this recipe I regarded the appearance of the stir fry with serious confusion.  The sauce didn’t seem very sauce-y.  It was gelatinous and somewhat chunky from the cornstarch.  It was three times thicker than I expected it to be, and it was white with a soft yellow tinge–nothing like the gorgeous brown stir fry sauce shown in the picture of the dish on the website.

I dipped my finger in and took a quick taste.  The flavor wasn’t bad.  It might not have been the consistency I’d expected, but it wasn’t awful.  I called out that dinner was served, and we all sat down at the table to eat.

Although it didn’t taste bad, and my husband and daughter were both eating it, I couldn’t shake the fact that something was off with the sauce.  Then it hit me:  THE BEEF BROTH.

I’m guessing the 3/4 cup of beef broth I was supposed to add with the cornstarch/orange juice mixture would have made a huge difference in the outcome of this dish. When I realized my mistake, I sheepishly admitted it to my husband, who did a horrible job of disguising the fact that he’d known something was off.

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Snot sauce, anyone?

I have vowed to myself to return to my mise en place ways.  This cannot happen again.

Also this week, I made Cinnamon Roll Bread for Emily’s week 9 baked milk challenge. It’s gorgeous AND terrifyingly delicious.  Swaps I made for allergies:  vanilla almond yogurt in place of the plain Greek yogurt, and a flax egg in lieu of the real egg.  This bread truly tastes like cinnamon rolls.  It’s dangerous to have a whole loaf of it calling my name from the kitchen.

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My husband will be away with a friend on a camping trip this weekend, so I have a rare opportunity to “cook outside the box,” so to speak.  He hates all the good foods like sweet potato and quinoa and avocado, which means the kiddo and I will be trying out some different things while he’s away!

Chicken Pot Chicken Pot Chicken Pot Pie

It’s FINALLY FALL, Y’ALL.

Okay, technically I’m writing this post on the last day of summer.  But it’s been cold, rainy, and windy, and I’ve been wearing scarves and sweaters.  As far as I’m concerned, fall has begun, and that means it’s time for comfort food cooking.

Comfort food around this house isn’t as easy as it used to be.  Most of our favorite comfort foods involve cheese, heavy cream, butter, and eggs, which are all off-limits when cooking for my family.  My daughter, Emily, has multiple food allergies.  She can’t eat dairy, eggs, peanuts, or pumpkin.  Peanuts and pumpkin are easy enough to avoid in our own house (in fact, peanuts in any form do not even enter this house), but milk and eggs can be tricky.

I’ve been in the mood for chicken pot pie.  Can you imagine cooking chicken pot pie without milk and/or eggs?  Well, I went for it.  I made up a recipe on the fly using our go-to substitute ingredients, and as with many things I cook these days, I kept my expectations low.  Here’s what I did:

1. I made a basic white sauce using dairy-free margarine, flour, and unsweetened rice milk.  When it started to thicken, I tossed in a chicken bouillon cube and sprinkled in some pepper.

2. Once the sauce had thickened to my liking, I added a couple of cups of shredded chicken and half a bag of frozen mixed veggies and kept on the heat until the sauce was warm.

3. I spread out a Pillsbury pre-made pie crust into a glass pie dish.  Strangely enough, these pie crusts don’t contain dairy OR eggs.

4. I dumped the sauce/chicken/veggie mixture into the pie dish and covered with another crust.

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5. I baked for 20 minutes at 450 degrees F.

The verdict?  My daughter cleaned her plate, if you don’t count the green beans she thinks are evil.  I had to go back for seconds.  My HUSBAND, who never goes back for seconds, especially not when I load up his dinner full of vegetables, went back for seconds.  The best damn pot pie I’ve ever made, and without any dairy or eggs.

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Say something about my dirty stovetop–I dare you.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get too cocky.  This is a rare victory for me.  *Has traumatizing flashback to the last time I tried to make vegan Alfredo sauce*  It is nice to have a good ol’ comfort food recipe to file away for later use, though.

Earlier this week I also baked a loaf of Dutch Apple Bread.  This one I actually made as a part of Emily’s six-month at home baked milk challenge.  Two months ago, her IgE numbers for casein (milk protein) dipped low enough that her allergist thought she could possibly tolerate baked milk.  When milk is baked, some of the milk proteins bake out. We started out with a baked milk challenge done at the allergist’s office so she could be monitored in case she went into anaphylaxis.  Unfortunately, she failed the challenge; she reacted to the milk, but it was a mild enough reaction that her allergist asked us to give her half of a muffin or slice of bread three times a week to help her body build up a tolerance for the protein.  The muffins and bread must contain a specific amount of milk so she’s getting enough, but not too much, exposure to those proteins.

LONG STORY SHORT…I baked bread.

I started out with this recipe, but I made several modifications.  First, I didn’t make the glaze.  Considering I have to make these things for Emily weekly, I figured she didn’t need all that extra sugar.  I did opt for a light sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar on top.

Second, I omitted the walnuts.  Emily is only a year and a half old, so I’m still cautious about choking hazards.

Third, I added half a teaspoon of cinnamon to the dry ingredients.  Just ’cause.

Lastly, I substituted ground flax for the eggs.

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That brown goop?  That’s “egg.”

THIS BREAD IS SO DAMN DELICIOUS.

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All in all, I feel pretty good about this week’s creations.

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Rolling in Dough

Over the weekend, I was bit by the baking bug. It happens quite rarely, but when it does…oh boy.

And of course I didn’t start off with something easy. On Sunday morning, I drank a cup of coffee for a burst of energy and then stepped right into my bread-makin’ shoes. (Note: I didn’t actually have any shoes on while I made bread. I did, however, bust out my trusty pink floral apron.)

Right off the bat, my husband had little faith in me. I can’t say I blame him. He’s more familiar than anyone with my work in the kitchen. But he had good reason to be weary of my bread’s success; I was making a mixed-grain bread that called for quite a bit of whole-wheat flour, which is notoriously more difficult to bake with than your standard all-purpose flour.

The husband went out for a mountain bike ride and I got to work mixing and kneading…and kneading…and kneading. Honestly, longest six minutes of my life.

And when my husband returned home, look at what I got to gloat about:

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He was quite impressed. Truthfully, it was too early to be genuinely impressed, as I hadn’t yet tasted it. Luckily, the first bite validated my ability as a baker; I baked one seriously delicious loaf of bread! I was telling my coworker about it, and in a surprised tone she asked, “You made your own bread? Like, with a bread machine?” Let me tell you how good it felt to tell her that I did all the dirty work by hand: it felt goooooooooooood.

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That same afternoon, I made these Oreo Cheesecake Cookies:

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I’m pretty sure this was the simplest cookie recipe I’ve ever used, and the cookies were to die for. I took them to a family get-together that evening, and within five minutes, they were gone. Every last one of them.

I recently posted a rant about my food looking nothing like the pictures in the recipes I find online, and what made me happiest about these cookies is that mine looked exactly like the pictures in the original recipe. FINALLY.

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Have you baked anything good lately?

Chili Tweaks and Homemade Cornbread

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A few years ago, I found the easiest chili recipe and I’ve made it several times over, always using a different kind of salsa. I make it probably once a month, and I almost always serve cornbread on the side.

Cornbread from a box.

From a Jiffy box, to be exact. We’re not even talking fancy Marie Callender’s cornbread mix. We’re talking 48-cent Jiffy cornbread.

I’ve considered making homemade cornbread, but laziness (and shame) have always taken over and driven me to purchase the boxed mix. But since part of my cooking journey is to rid my kitchen of as much boxed stuff as possible, I finally went through with making cornbread from scratch!

But first, back to the chili. As I said, I’ve made this same chili recipe numerous times. I’ve got it down to perfection. I almost don’t even need the recipe anymore. I wrote this down in my recipe notebook a LONG time ago, and unfortunately I don’t have the teensiest clue where it originated from. If I ever find it, I promise I’ll edit this post and link to it.

Ingredients

1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 16-ounce cans of kidney or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2.5 cups salsa
1 4-ounce can of diced green chiles
2 teaspoons of chili powder

Steps

  1. Cook the ground beef, onion, and garlic in large skillet until beef is browned. Drain.
  2. Add the beans, salsa, chiles, and chili powder. Bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook, stirring frequently, for 20-25 minutes.

I repeat: it’s easy, and I’ve perfected it. No mistakes. No disappointments. It was a combination of bravery and confidence that influenced me to make some alterations this go-around.

First, I swapped out the ground beef for some stew meat chopped into half-inch pieces. Second, I used homemade salsa. And third, I eliminated the green chiles because I completely forgot about them at the grocery store.

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I wasn’t horribly impressed with the salsa I made for use in the chili. It was the same recipe I used in a recent post, but it didn’t really have that “chili” flavor I was going for. So, I cracked open a can of tomato sauce and poured half of it in, and I added about 2-3 extra teaspoons of chili powder for good measure.

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While the chili cooked, I started on the cornbread. I used a recipe from my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was almost as effortless as the boxed Jiffy mix. My only mistake was melting the butter, and then whisking in the milk and eggs and letting it sit for a few minutes while I tended to the chili. By the time I poured it all into the flour/cornmeal mixture, the butter had become wax-like. I frantically stirred the batter in an attempt to break it all up. It must have worked, because the cornbread was fabulous!

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The chili I was worried about? Also fabulous! I was a little saddened that I used a salsa recipe with no chunkiness to it, as that’s one of the things I love about chili. Next time, I’ll still make my own salsa, but I’ll try a different recipe that doesn’t puree it down to that sauce-like consistency. The taste was still wonderful and I’m proud of myself for taking a bit of a chance and seeing it pay off!

Do you prefer chunks of beef, or ground beef in your chili? I think it’s a tie for me, but it was a nice change from the typical chili I make. 🙂

Ninjas and Gingahs

Christmas was quite good to me this year. My parents’ gifts to me and my husband were a Ninja Mega Complete Kitchen System and a set of embarrassingly nice steak knives. I’m not lying to you when I say I almost cried when my husband unwrapped the Ninja set. As soon as we returned home, we packed our old blender and its components into a box and threw it in the big trash can in the garage.   Good riddance.

I haven’t yet cooked anything that requires the use of the new steak knives, but my Ninja is almost the coolest thing I’ve ever owned. All of this is to say, you might expect it to make some appearances on the blog in the near future. I mean, the things that system can do!

For Christmas, I was tasked with preparing dessert. My father is a diabetic and a dialysis patient, so his diet is extremely limited. Since gingersnaps are among his favorite cookies, I chose a recipe from the DaVita dialysis website for some soft ginger cookies. Remember my recent post about my peppermint cheesecake cookies that tasted delicious but fell horribly flat? Well, I’m happy to report that I actually learned something from the experience. Here’s what I did differently with the ginger cookies:

  • Used butter softened at room temperature—not butter melted in the microwave.
  • Was ridiculously careful not to overmix the dough.
  • Chilled the dough in the fridge for several hours before baking it.

The cookies were so, so soft and didn’t fall flat at all! YAY!

Fresh out of the oven...

Fresh out of the oven…

Cooled, but not flat!

Cooled, but not flat!

Once they cooled, I transferred 28 cookies into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. After Christmas dinner, the five of us—my husband, my stepson, my parents, and myself—busted into the cookies as we played Aggravation. By the time the game was over, only four cookies remained. Five people, 24 cookies…you do the math.

Now, I will leave you with the Barf of the Week, courtesy of the above cookies:  Diarrhea Dough!

If only real diarrhea smelled this good.

If only real diarrhea smelled this good.

Amateur Candy Cane Pounder: or, Peppermint Cheesecake Cookies

Although I love to bake, I don’t do it very often. One reason is that it’s usually time consuming, and the other is that it would soil my plan of maintaining a healthy body weight. I typically channel my inner baker only for birthdays and holidays. And—oh my—Christmas is just around the corner!

I hadn’t thought much about baking any Christmas goodies yet this year. But I’ve been watching the Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network, and…well, try watching that show without getting a deadly craving for baked goods. Yesterday I finally made a date with Google to find a yummy recipe.

In an ideal world, I would have baked a cake. I LOVE CAKE. But the husband doesn’t care for cake, and for some reason I decided to be a nice wife and bake something we’d both enjoy. (Santa, are you taking notes?)

I settled on some Peppermint Cheesecake Cookies. My husband has been buying enough candy canes to warrant purchasing stock in Ferrara Candy Company, and everyone in my house just loves cheesecake. Win!

After a trip to the store to pick up some missing ingredients, my stepson asked if he could help bake the cookies. Ten years old and still wants to help me bake cookies—heart, please don’t melt! Of course I took him up on the offer.

The recipe calls for peppermint baking chips, which—of course—I couldn’t find at the grocery store. Why is there always ONE stupid ingredient you can’t find? Well, I’m an improviser if nothing else, so I purchased a ginormous peppermint candy cane for making my own peppermint chips.

The kiddo and I prepped the ingredients and while he mixed the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and pudding mix, I readied the candy cane for smashing.

Shit just got real.

Shit just got real.

I’m here to tell you, the way to a ten-year-old boy’s heart is to give him a candy cane and a mallet.

Before I tasked my stepson with the smashing of the candy cane, I took the first whack to make sure it would work. I hit it far too hard and sent shards of peppermint flying in every direction. Oops.

I think I broke it.

I think I broke it.

I gave the mallet to my stepson and instructed him not to hit too hard, and he gladly went to work breaking up the candy cane into little shards. While he created our impromptu peppermint chips, I mixed the flour into the batter until it made a nice, buttery cookie dough.

Boys and their tools...even in the kitchen.

Boys and their tools…even in the kitchen.

After several minutes, the candy cane was completely smashed but most of the shards were still pretty large. When we tried to smash them into tinier bits, they flew outward and landed on the floor, which excited my puppy to no end. Finally, I told my stepson to stop because I was tired of intercepting the dog’s consumption of the peppermint. Only then did the little light bulb come on. AHA!

I scooped up the peppermint shards and tossed them into my mini food processor. Within seconds, we had perfectly tiny peppermint bits to fold into the dough. What did I ever do without my food processors?

Eat my dust.  No really, it's delicious.

Eat my dust. No really, it’s delicious.

The dough made 24 beautiful cookies. After an agonizingly long cool-down, I split one cookie into thirds and we all taste-tested it. Delicious!

Yum times infinity.

Yum times infinity.

The only thing that disappoints me is that in the pictures in the recipe, the cookies are nice and puffy and look perfect—yet my cookies fell very, VERY flat. They still taste glorious, but damn it, I want my cookies to stay puffy!

I found this thread on Chow about preventing cookies from falling flat and it looks like there are several reasons mine turned into pancakes. For instance, I softened my butter a bit in the microwave and the bottom of it (but not the whole stick) straight-up melted. Since I had the kiddo do most of the mixing while I was measuring ingredients, the batter might have been over-mixed. Lastly, in hindsight I realize I probably should have chilled the dough a bit longer before sticking it in the oven.

Still, the cookies taste amazing. I guess I’ll just have to make another batch next weekend and see if I can make them stay puffy.  😀