Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hillbilly Housewife

Last week someone mentioned looking into the Hillbilly Housewife to find ways to extend your food budget. I can't say the site has completely impressed me. I find it has far too many ads but then we all have to find ways to cut costs.
I subscribed to the newsletter which has far too many - buy me moments. I understand that the author has a number of books that you can buy to learn to stretch your budget. I don't mind that but when everything becomes an ad then I'm totally turned off.
I did take some time today to explore the site. I think there is some rather good information. I liked her recipe ideas and just barely started exploring them all. The cooking is more southern which is a nice change. I feel she uses too many canned foods but we all do what we can to make our budget stretch.
It's not the first budget site I have explored but the first I have felt was worth a mention here.
When it comes to budgeting or stretching dollars there's no real new information but there's a lot who profit from offering to sell you how they got rich (btw - you buying their product is what made them rich).
This week has not been a great week for posting here at Rock and a Hard Plate and I am sorry. I'm in a bit of a funk. I'm stuck between the two places and trying to figure out which way to go. There's a lot of talk about Monsanto and all the GMOs in our diet. Monsanto helps reduce the cost of our food but at what cost to our health. It reminds me that I need to be more cautious when I look at our diet. We've been eating more processed foods this month - it has saved us a ton of money (we still have money left in our food budget which never happens) but I don't feel good. I'm tired and foggy which leads me to not having great posts. I'm coming up with a new plan and better ideas. There has to be a good way to bring all the parts of our life together - food, health, money, etc. We'll find it - we're not giving up.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Let's Move is First lady Michelle Obama's response to the obesity epidemic that is sweeping our nation. While the information here is still valuable information, I find her approach to be the same as everyone else's and not a real solution to the problem. I am currently writing a letter in response to her approach and will post that here soon.
With that aside, I appreciate the effort and will only focus on the positive aspects of the site.
There are 5 main sections of the site - about let's move, food and nutrition, physical activity, steps to success and join let's move.
The about section includes information on what obesity means and how it is affecting our children. I believe this is a real issue. We are getting fatter and our children are getting fatter. We eat poorer quality food and move less. The rest of this section is how Let's Move came to be and all the hoopla around the movement.
The food and nutrition is further broken down into 4 sections - Healthy Moms, Healthy Families, Healthy Schools, and Healthy Communities. I'm a little disappointed with the title Healthy Moms but it's about eating well during pregnancy so Dad's can't really be included. I like this approach - it's not just a family problem, it's a cultural problem and Let's Move takes that into account.
Under her Healthy Schools, Michelle Obama has started a program to help schools develop better menus with higher quality nutrition. Again, a step in the right direction.
The Physical Activity again breaks down - family, school, community.
The Take Action offers worksheets and charts to help individuals and groups to become more healthy - focusing on more than one aspect of health.
Join us allows the viewer to connect with groups in their area or to start one.
This is a good basic site to visit and offers parents a chance to see what changes are coming. I believe in supporting this cause because it is the individual that makes the change. If we show that we want this, then the world will fall in step. We can't get the USDA to change the foods they offer school districts if we don't speak louder than the companies that serve them now. We make the change, we can't wait for someone else to make the change for us.

Monday, February 27, 2012

It's all in the juice

Knowing where your food comes from sounds easy. Orange juice comes from oranges - end of story. That's not true. Understanding the processing of our foods gives us better perspective of what we are putting into our bodies.
Oranges are a one season crop - they are prolific in the winter in the Southern states. That means one harvest for juice manufacturers. However, the demand for orange juice is year round.
The solution was easy - juice all the oranges, place them in large vats, suck all the air out and wait for the supply to dwindle before filling up more containers. The problem with this is the juice lost it's flavor with the air. Well that, coupled with the American public's need for consistency.
You see, not all oranges taste the same. Some are sweet, some are a little tart. Each vat would have it's unique combination of oranges but that's not good for a company - they need each bottle to taste the same.
Enter flavoring. After sucking all the life out of the juice, the companies add flavoring to the orange juice to make it taste like their orange juice should. That makes for a consistent product. The really tricky part - they don't have to label the flavoring on the package. Due to the type of flavoring they use, the FDA does not require it to be disclosed.
I learned this a few weeks ago from an article on secret ingredients in our food that we don't know are there. Every time I learn a new trick that manufacturers use on us to make the food less expensive to make it confirms my need to eat more natural and to produce my own food.
So I juiced oranges this weekend. I have, now, just over a gallon of orange juice in my fridge.
Back in January, I bought a box of tangerines from bountiful baskets. The cost was $15 for about 40 pounds of oranges (if I remember correctly). It was a great deal and I thought it would give my teenager a healthy snack. Well, we didn't count on getting more oranges and citrus from the baskets over the next three baskets. Pretty soon, I have a huge bowl of oranges/tangerines on my counter and over half a box of tangerines on my porch. We were getting sick of them. I ate an orange a day for most of February and the pile never seemed to go down.
I borrowed a juicer from my mother and went to work.
Before I cut up the oranges for juicing, I zested about 20 of them, giving me about 1 quart of large zest pieces. I saved about another quart of peels (2 quart sized bags full of large peels) to put in the garbage disposal or for potpourri. Then I juiced. The hardest part in juicing oranges is peeling them. All in all, it took me about an hour.
I made orange tapioca. It didn't come out perfect but it was fun and I'll try it again tonight to see if I can make a shareable recipe. However, I did learn something - cheap canned orange juice tastes a lot like homemade orange juice. Which got me wondering - are they actually 100% natural with no added flavors? That just might be true. That flavor we associate with cheap orange juice might actually be the true flavor of orange juice. I may have to contact Western Family and ask them.
I will say - I won't be buying any orange juice in the bottle or carton any more. It's time to learn to appreciate the fruit as nature intended.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

New Diet Drug

For some, this is a repetition of every arguement I have ever given for weight loss and the obesity problem in the US.
This morning on GMA, they were discussing a new weight loss drug that has been approved by the FDA. Apparently it was not approved and then they changed their minds. The list of side effects from this drug are severe but they felt that losing weight was more important because of these this drug is to only be used by those morbidly obese. If you look up what is considered obese - it's not that much weight. It doesn't take long before the charts list someone as obese and even shorter to go from that to morbidly obese.
It makes me crazy when this subject comes up and people start saying things like - all it takes to lose weight is xyz. The truth is - it's not that simple. I am a fat person and I will admit that my weight has steadily gone up over the years. Four years ago, we lived in the country. To eat out was a major affair so I had to make every meal. We rarely purchased quick foods because our life allowed me to stay at home most of the time. We grew a decent garden and I canned or froze the excess. We had neighbors with gardens so we could swap with them. I walked because it was easy.
Then we moved to the "city". We live in an apartment. I can have a small garden plot for a price but the last two years have been fairly unsuccessful (the first year due to poor soil conditions, the second to poor weather conditions). I no longer have a large pantry space so I have to be careful of what I store and our budget has reduced drastically due to the extra cost of living in the city. I, also, don't walk much any more.
The other problem was that we now had easy access to fast food. In fact, I can feed my family more food at a fast food restaurant than I can making something from scratch on some occasions. That's where the real problem lays.
I have to depend on my grocery store for food at this point in time. I have $100 a month that we get in food stamps. Our income is so tight that we are struggling to come up with the extra $30 a month to purchase a bountiful basket so we can have produce. We have very little extra funds for groceries.
I go to the store with my $100.
I prefer whole grain bread to white bread. I can buy a loaf of white bread for $1. If I am lucky I can purchase a healthy loaf of wheat bread for $2.50. Note that I said healthy. I can buy a wheat bread for $1 which is usually the same brand as the white bread but the ingredients tell me it's not really wheat bread. I struggle to find a wheat bread that has whole grains not just a little wheat flour so they can call it wheat bread. Some of the best breads can cost up to $5 for a loaf.
I can make bread at home. I can usually find all purpose white flour for about $2 for a five pound bag. Wheat flour - no less than $3 and I have paid up to $7 to have a five pound bag.
Let's talk salad. I can pick up a bag of iceburg lettuce salad for $1 on many occasions. If I find a good sale I can pick up spinach or romaine salads (which are more nutritionally dense) for $2.
The leaner the hamburger - the higher the cost. A store, not in our community, is currently advertising their great hamburger price for 81% lean hamburger - $2.49 a pound. Chicken thighs and drumsticks have been about $1.25 a pound (don't even ask about boneless skinless chicken I cry every time I want to buy some).
Then add the research that everything we know about diet food is wrong. Skim milk is actually causing people to gain weight (or not lose it) because they add stuff to the milk to make it more appealing to the public. Artificial sweetners actually increase appetite and prevent the body from knowing it's full. Low fat diets actually cause people to consume more calories.
Most diets fail because they are meant to fail - that's how they make money. If everyone who tried a weight loss product lost all their weight and stayed thin - they wouldn't need diet products any more. Add that to the lack of access to inexpensive healthy foods and that's why we have an obesity problem.
It's hard not to be fat when your diet makes you feel sluggish and tired. You work harder so you can provide better food but then you are over stressed and have no energy. We have a society set up to make us fat and until that changes, I'm sorry to say, we will continue to be fat.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cleaning Grease for Soap

I know this will come in bits and pieces because I'm kind of slow when it comes to prepping for making soap. I save grease/dripping in canning jars and then store them in bread bags in the freezer. When the time comes I thaw them to clean out the particles such as bits of meat.

Depending on the soap I am making it can take up to 5 pounds of grease. I have two partially filled cans of shortening that has gone stale so I have plenty but I still wanted to use the drippings first.
I should explain that each solid fat has their own property when it comes to soap making. The softer your fat is at room temperature, the softer your soap will be. That is why it is never recommended to make soap with just liquid fat (oil). Drippings are often firm enough to make a good solid soap but we don't cook enough fatty meats to get enough for a batch of soap. These two jars have taken us nearly 2 years to collect.
Cleaning drippings is easy but it takes a lot of time (mostly waiting). I made the mistake of starting with a pan that was too large. I had expected there to be more fat than there was.
Fill your pot with hot water out of the tap.

Add the grease.

Heat the pot on the stove until the grease is all melted. Do not let it come to a boil because the foam will cause the particles to sit on the top of the fat.
When the grease is melted, put the pot in your fridge overnight. I put mine outside since it's really cold right now with a towel over the top to prevent stuff falling into the pot.
Now you will see that I had particles float to the top. I left the pot on the stove for just a little too long.

If you use the right sized pan, you can remove the fat, sometimes in pieces and scrape the top and bottom to reveal a fairly clean piece of fat. In my case, my piece came out rather thin. You may have to repeat this process several times to get the grease as clean as possible. Knowing this, I cleaned what I could off the bottom of the fat and placed it all in a smaller pot.

The cleanliness of the oil will depend on where you get your drippings. We keep a jar by the stove (in the really hot season we put it in the fridge to prevent it from smelling). You can use rancid grease. It doesn't make pretty soap but it's still usable soap. We save oil that we deep fried with (straining it before pouring into a canning jar). We use oil that has gone stale.
Soon, I'll post the instructions for turning that grease into soap. I have posted a laundry soap recipe previously.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Applesauce Oatmeal Cookies

I wanted to name these cookies Sunday Morning Breakfast Cookies but my husband didn't like the name. I loved it until I had a cookie the next day. The flavor just didn't stay the way I wanted it to so that whole Sunday morning feel was kind of gone. That's not to say the cookies weren't good because they are great. They are tasty and healthy which is the best combination you could have. I made these rather plain but they would benefit from some nuts and dried fruit (maybe even a chocolate chip or two).
I developed these cookies when my Dad said he needed a dessert for an activity. I made him some mint chocolate chocolate chip cookies so I didn't want to make something with chocolate to go with them. I wanted something different. We've been experimenting with applesauce chocolate chip cookies but why not try applesauce oatmeal cookies. The end result was great. They are sweeter than I expected them to be and, even with all the cinnamon, not overly spicey. They have great texture and are already on their way to being a family favorite. I dipped the cookies in a glaze made from orange juice and powdered sugar. I found that while the glaze added so much flavor when I first dipped, after the glaze dried all the orange flavor went away. I didn't measure the sugar when I made the glaze so I have no recipe to share for that but I don't really think the cookies need the glaze to taste good.

Applesauce Oatmeal Cookies
2 1/2 cups applesauce
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 TB molasses
2 eggs
2 teas vanilla
2 teas cinnamon
1/4 teas nutmeg
1 teas baking soda
1 1/2 cup flour
5 cups oatmeal
In a large bowl, mix together applesauce and sugar. Add the molasses and beat well before adding in the eggs. Add vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and baking soda. Mix until all incorporated. Add flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well. Stir in oatmeal. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 12 minutes.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dinner for Mama

I ended up all alone at home on Saturday evening. With a free evening I thought about all the things I could do but the first thing I did was made myself a beautiful dinner. There's something about creating a meal that does more than provide calories to the body. I offered up something that nurtured my soul as well.

I started with two boneless skinless chicken breasts. I knew going into this meal that I would have more than enough food for me but I wanted to have extra. I sliced the chicken into medallions. In my cast iron skillet, I heated oil from lime pickles, extracting about five slices to chop up for the meal. I masticated most of the pulp of a lemon (I reserved 4 thin slices to garnish the dish).
I fried the chicken in two batches in the oil so that they were a lovely yellow-brown (the oil contained turmeric which turned the chicken yellow).
I added the lemon and the chopped lime pickles and let the whole thing cook until fragrant and done thoroughly.
For the side dishes, I peeled the bottoms stalks of a bunch of thick asparagus. Laid them out on a baking sheet and drizzles sesame oil over them. I then sprinkled on a little kosher salt (more than actually stuck to the asparagus). Roasted them at 350 until they were tender.
As the chicken and asparagus neared done, I realized I needed something to balance the dinner. The chicken had a bitter, sour sort of taste to it (there are 4 main tastes - sweet, sour, salty, bitter). The asparagus would offer a salty taste so I needed something sweet. I did plan on serving pineapple but that can be sweet and sour and at this point I wasn't sure what I was getting.
I decided to chop up 2 small apples. I poured a thin layer of water in my saucepan and added the remaining orange glaze from cookies I had made earlier (just orange juice and powdered sugar). To that sauce I added the apples and cooked them on the stove, covered, until tender.
I, then, cut up the pineapple.
The end result was a meal that was more than satisfying, it felt elegant. My mouth delighted in the variety of tastes and flavors. The smells were amazing - sweet orange and apple, the bitterness of the limes mixed with the charred smell of meat (smelled better than it sounds), the sour tang of lemon and pineapple, and the salty spicy smell of asparagus in sesame oil.
I was so full but not painfully so.
It was a nice reminder to take time to cook a meal that satisfies more than hunger. My plate was filled with such beauty and love. A reminder that I need to do more for myself, take time to create and nurture.
The boys were a little disappointed but they had gone out for pizza and much needed boy time so they weren't too sad.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Double Chocolate Mint Cookies

It's been a blah week for me and I haven't been cooking. I whipped these up this morning. I have shared this recipe before but I made a few simple changes. What I got was a more natural (I would say all natural but I can't be positive with the chocolate chips). The flavoring is natural and it's really good. I purchased an all natural mint extract from Walmart but it's the Watkins brand. I can't wait to try more all natural flavorings and in the meantime need to come up with ways to use the artifical flavors that are still in my pantry.

Double Chocolate Mint Cookies
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 ¼ cup sugar
3 eggs
2 teas mint extract
1 cup cocoa
½ teas baking soda
1 ½ cup flour
2 cups chocolate chips
Cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well. Add cocoa and baking soda, slowly mix until smooth. Add flour ½ cup at a time. Mix in chocolate chips. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Paleo and Hunter/Gatherer Diets

I had the privilege to review a book called The Hunter/Farmer Diet Solution. The book doesn't come out until April 1st so I'm not going to talk too much about it but it got me thinking. The idea is that some people are Hunters and some are Farmers and that they should eat accordingly. I and my family seem to fall into the Hunter category.
Cool because I had two Paleo diet books from the library and maybe it was time to start eating a more Paleo or Hunter/Gatherer diet.
The idea behind the Paleo diet is that you eat what they would have eaten in the Paleo era. It's a gluten free, dairy free diet with some weird other rules. I didn't like the Paleo diet which was a shame because I loved the Hunter diet.
Neither diet has you counting calories, the concept is to eat like we should be eating if we lived in an era outside our own.
Interestingly enough, a group of friends and I have been discussing historical diets and I have been watching The Supersizers Go - a BBC show on historical diets (currently airing on the Cooking Channel).
All of this has gotten me thinking, which doesn't work with our American cheap diet experiment this month. We like to forage and are planning a year of learning to eat what we can find to help us maintain a food budget. That sounds a lot like living like a hunter/gatherer but we have access to a grocery store.
It's as if all this information is coming together to show me the perfect diet (not weight loss diet, just diet diet). I will have to use more modern storage to preserve what we acquire but maybe it's time to start getting rather serious about our foraging.
This year we are branching out and trying a different mushroom (as soon as we find it) or two if we are able to find them. We will harvest nettles and cattails this spring and search for wapato plants so we can harvest potatoes this fall. We may be picking arnica and other herbs for medicinal remedies. All this depends on us having the luck to locate these plants. We'll keep an eye out for more fruits and berries and nuts as the year goes on.
I still plan on making something with our acorns that are sitting in the freezer. I think I'll grind them up into flour and make acorn cakes.
We might get brave enough to hunt for wasp larvae and make the soup my son has been eyeing since he found it in a Native American cookbook.
I hope to find snails and learn to cook them.
It sounds kind of gross - some of these foods but I want to be a Hunter/Gatherer. I keep thinking about ways to grow my own food while living in an apartment. We've talked about raising guinea pigs for food since they breed rather rapidly (I know we had a ton when I was a kid) but I think they are cute and I haven't a clue how to turn them into food. My mom and I talk about learning to hunt and the problem is we are hesitant to take a life even though we have no problem eating meat and love meat.
So much to think about. Foraging might be a great way to stretch the budget but I also see it as learning a skill that may very well save our life some day.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chicken and dumplings

We've been experimenting with MSG. I know it has a bad reputation but I have since discovered that, like all "bad' foods, it's just misunderstood. MSG offers a flavor boost with less sodium than salt. It also has nutritents that salt doesn't offer and we can't get from many foods. There's a reason it's popular in Asian cooking but like soy it might now be something our bodies are used to. I'm sharing this because our chicken and dumplings were seasoned with MSG. If it makes you uncomfortable or you don't want to use it - use salt, no big deal. Just note it might take more salt than MSG.

Chicken and Dumplings
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 pound package of frozen mixed veggies (we choose carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli)
1 1/2 tsp msg
2 1/4 cups baking mix (homemade unsalted, if not homemade omit msg for dumplings)
2/3 cup milk
3/4 tsp msg
Chop chicken into bite sized pieces. Add to dutch oven or equally sized pot. Fill pot halfway with water. Bring to boil, let simmer for up to an hour. Taste stock, if not very chickeny you can add 1 tsp or so of chicken bouillion. Add veggies and 1 1/2 tsp msg. Let simmer for an additional 30 minutes, adding water as necessary to keep pot half full. Make dumplings - add baking mix and msg to a large bowl. Add milk, slowly, until the dough just comes together. Drop by spoonfuls into soup until all the dough is used up. It's okay if the dumplings touch or crowd. Cook for 10-15 minutes and flip over the dumplings. Let cook an additional 10 minutes. Serve soup with 2-3 dumplings.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A new experiment

Life in the northern states can be rough when it comes to food. For the winter months, much of our food has to be imported from somewhere. There is little here in the way of local fresh foods because of our short growing season and cold winters (that start in October and last until June some years). This makes eating on a budget really difficult. We've watched our limited home stores dwindle over the past 2 months. It's been hard to maintain a healthy diet on a tight budget. We did up our budget from $100 a month to $150 to accomodate 2 Bountiful Baskets every month and some additional bulk fruit/vegetable purchases. Our goal is to still keep the cost as low as possible but January did not come out as well as we hoped as we maintained our normal shopping patterns for our $100 budget (we got 2 bountiful baskets and 1 big box of tangerines with our extra $50).
So we thought we'd try something interesting while waiting for spring. Our new plan is to eat like a "normal" American. Attempt to feed our family on our budget without regards to nutrition.
Normally when I plan a meal, I plan nutrition first and then find a way to find a budget into my plan. This time we are budgeting solely based on cost. I'm not sure how this will work but I get tired of people saying they can do a better budget (no complaints here on this blog but I have seen it elsewhere) because they feed their families bean soup and top ramen. We didn't stoop quite that low even though I did buy some top ramen because my teen begged for it (who can resist eating something that comes out to 22 cents per meal or 44 when he's extra hungry).
We planned for a lot of soups. We swapped out our more expensive wheat bread for the cheaper white bread (with the hope I can find a recipe that makes the perfect loaf of bread). We bought family sized cream soups. We planned for lots of soup this month because it's cheap to make. Tonight we start with Chicken and Dumplings (one of the more expensive meals because I bought the ingredients last month to experiment with the baking mix). We have cheap cereals because we hit a great cereal sale.
The bountiful baskets will provide some variety while we try to stretch our budget further with package soups that were given to us.
We have onions and potatoes for more soups.
I may hate soup come March but we have to come with a better plan to get us through these winter months. I feel like a pioneer. Our harvest was not great last year and we're still learning all about the foraging (which had some good and bad harvests last year). we'll be stocking up on fish and crawdads (hopefully) this summer so the winter will not be so bad but we have to wait and see how the weather goes. Maybe this year my garden will grow like crazy.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Butter Mints

A local candy company makes very pricey butter mints but they are such a treat. That was until I learned to make my own. This is one of the few recipes I would suggest using the highest quality ingredients because they make a huge difference. The candies are slightly labor intensive but I believe you could use a mixer - I just haven't tried. The dough does get warm rather quickly, if it refuses to roll out - stick it in the fridge or freezer for a little bit. The taste is wonderful.
For an even better treat - dip these in chocolate.

Butter Mints
½ cup butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon cream or milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
Food coloring, optional
In mixing bowl, cream the butter. Gradually add sugar, cream and extracts. Knead into balls; add food coloring if desired. Flatten into patties or roll between two sheets of waxed paper to 1/8 in and cut into desired shapes. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Store in refrigerator.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Orange and Walnut Scones

I finally took some time last night to play with the bisquick mix I made this past weekend. I started with making biscuits. The recipe is easy - 2 1/4 cups mix to 2/3 cups milk. I used my homemade yogurt because we are out of milk and I was feeling too lazy to make up a batch of powdered milk. The biscuits came out nicely. I don't roll out my biscuits so I let the dough stay sticky (bake at 450 for 8-10 minutes). The texture of the biscuits was probably the best I have ever made. They crumbled just a little bit but held up to buttering and adding honey. My only complaint is they were a little bland. Of course, that made them perfect for toppings but eating just a plan biscuit was boring. I think that comes from not adding salt and plain shortening to the mix.
However, this boring mix was the perfect vessel for making an amazing scone. I had gone on the bisquick site to get the biscuit recipe and there were a number of scone recipes. I took the basic information and created my own scone. The only difference with my recipe and the plain recipe is the addition of orange extract and walnuts. (I did add yogurt instead of heavy cream.) Feel free to change the recipe to suit your needs and your cupboards. I plan on playing with it lots more.

Orange Walnut Scones
2 cups baking mix
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1 egg
1 teas orange extract
1/2 chopped walnuts
Combine baking mix and sugar. Make a well in the center. Add the yogurt and the egg. Mix well until the dry ingredients are wet, adding in the extract as you go. Mix in walnuts and stir to evenly incorporate them. Pat the dough into a large flat round (dust with additional mix to prevent sticking). Lay on baking sheet and pat flat (to about 3/4 inch to 1 inch thick). Cut into 8 wedges but do not seperate. Bake at 425 for 12 minutes.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Super Easy Cookies

It's one of those times of the year when baking seems to take over. There's parties and gifts all for one day - this time Valentine's Day. Want a cookie that is so easy and so versatile that it will make baking a joy no matter who many the kids say they need.
I love this recipe - it uses a cake mix. You can pick any variety and play with it. Some you can frost or add candies to, making a completely new cookie.

Easy Cake Mix Rounds
1 package cake mix
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease baking sheets and set aside. In large bowl, combine cake mix, oil and eggs. Drop dough by teaspoons onto baking sheets. Bake in oven 8 to 10 minutes. Let cookies cool slightly before removing from sheets.

PS - I still haven't forgotten about the baking mix. I just haven't had time but if all goes well I'll have recipes for you tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Old Fashioned Ginger Snaps

I had such plans for my evening that involved baking. We ate dinner and watched a movie. By the time it was over, I was falling asleep in my chair (it was barely 8 pm). There would be no baking for me. My husband so kindly made a gingerbread cake for me to take to my ladies night tonight. During the night, I was dreaming that I accidentally ate all the gingerbread - I guess I could smell it in my sleep - so I had to make cookies. Since I was unable to experiment with the baking mix, I decided to share a cookie recipe. Not just any cookie but a gingery snap that reminises of gingerbread and all those wonderful Christmas smells (which make me wonder why I didn't dream of Christmas, I remember going to sleep thinking the house smelled like it).

Old Fashioned Ginger Snaps
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup shortening
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the sugars, molasses, shortening, butter, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. In another large bowl combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, salt, cinnamon, and cloves. Pour the dry mixture into the wet mixture and beat while adding the water. Continue to mix until ingredients are incorporated. Measure a heaping teaspoon of dough at time. Roll the dough into a sphere between the palms of your hands then press the dough onto the cookie. Flatten to about 1/8-inch thick. Bake cookies for 10-14 minutes or until edges begin to brown and cookies are crispy when cool. Makes 120 (10 dozen) cookies.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Homemade Bisquick Mix

Making your own mixes opens up so many opportunities and makes it easier to cater to food allergies. This is a new experiment and I have not tried this gluten free but this week I hope to share things you can do with this mix. I have shared recipes in the past that use baking mix but this one simple recipe can open up so many doors.
Over time I will try for a gluten free variety and perhaps a Feingold version.
I will say that omitted the salt. We don't use salt at home and it seemed unnecessary.

Homemade Bisquick Mix
6 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup vegetable shortening
Add dry ingredients to a large bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter or a fork until resembles crumbs. Use fingers to break up any large bits.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Tapioca Pudding

We watched Thoroughly Modern Millie this week and that movie is not complete without a serving of Tapioca pudding. My mom gave me this quick and easy recipe which is so tasty. I can't wait to try it with other flavors aside from vanilla but I like the plain pudding so much I haven't been able to talk myself into making it lemon or orange.

Tapioca Pudding
1/4 cup small tapioca pearls
1/4 cup boiling water
3 cups milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Add tapioca to boiling water and let sit. Heat milk, eggs, and sugar in a saucepan on the stove. Whisk them smooth while heating over med-high heat. Add tapioca when the water is completely soaked up or after you have everything whisked smooth, which ever comes last. Stir constantly with a spoon until warm and thick. Add vanilla and mix well.

We serve right away because we are impatient. We ate this with cool whip and blueberries and it was so tasty.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Lemon Cake

I took some time off yesterday and totally spaced writing any blog posts. I like having home time be home time but I hate forgetting to keep up here. Today I am sharing a lemon cake recipe I created a few weeks back. I love lemon cake - so much so that I asked for it for my wedding. My mom makes an awesome cake with lemon cream cheese frosting but she cheats and uses a cake mix. Her frosting is a homemade cream cheese frosting with lemon extract. This cake is a little drier and denser than a cake mix but comes together just as easily. Note that I use lemon juice and extract. That gave the cake an extra punch of lemon. Lemon extract is finiky. It doesn't always come through. The best way to add lemon extract to a recipe is to stir it in with the eggs. The protein in the eggs helps preserve the flavor so it doesn't bake out.

Lemon Cake
1 cup butter
1 ¾ cup sugar
4 eggs
1 TB lemon extract
1 teas vanilla
¼ cup lemon juice
1 cup milk
1 TB baking powder
3 cups flour
Cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs, mixing lemon extract into eggs before mixing into butter and sugar. Beat smooth. Add vanilla and lemon juice. Add baking powder. Beat well. Alternate flour and milk as you add them into the batter. Pour into greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes or until firm.