Sunday, December 15, 2013

Polar Express Cookies and Holiday Movie Night

Well hello, friends.  What a lovely day it is outside here in San Antonio--60*F and sunny.  It didn't freeze last night, but came close.  It was a perfect Saturday night to watch my favorite Christmas movie with Matt and the girls: The Polar Express.

If you didn't know already, my oldest daughter is 8 and has autism.  She has only, in the past two years, been able to sit through even a 30 minute show...and every year, we make popcorn or some other snack, have cocoa/drinks, turn off all the lights with just the glow of the Christmas tree in the background, snuggle in sleeping bags, and watch this wonderful movie...
 Sorry about the terrible photo quality here. 

...And every year, she gets up after about 15-20 minutes and goes and does something else for a while, kind of coming and going throughout.

Not this year.  This was apparently the magic year for Feebs and attention span records.  She watched the entire movie, save for the last 7-10 minutes when she fell asleep.  It brought tears to Matt's and my own eyes, as we realized the significance of just watching a movie all the way through. Such a big step.  Little Sister adored the movie as well--she is 5, almost 6, and was really diggin' the part with Santa.

I've made these wonderful little cookies every year--"The Polar Express" Cookies.


 Matt found them on the back of a Sun-Maid raisin box, and they're quite delicious.  The cornstarch in the powdered sugar does something to the outside--it creates a sort of crisp shell that gives way to a chewy chocolatey center.  We did change just one thing--we add 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Next year, we're going to change one more thing, and that is to replace the raisins with dried cherries and see how that is.  Matt is very excited about that (cherry lover!).

Two tips for these cookies: do not overbake or they will be too crispy and that doesn't work well.  The second tip is roll them LIBERALLY in the powdered sugar. They will get that snowy look.


Here's Little Sister, ready to help.  Yes, she has drawn tiger stripes on her face.  Frankly, I'm just glad she limited them to her face...

Creaming the butter/sugar...like watching paint dry. The end product is so delicious, though!  


 the dough is ready to scoop!


rolling in powdered sugar...

...and the finished product!


Yummy POLAR EXPRESS COOKIES!  Chocolatey, sweet goodness. 

I highly recommend for those awesome special occasions with your family.  Here's the recipe so you can make them, too!


POLAR EXPRESS COOKIES

1/2 cup of butter, softened
1 2/3 c. sugar
1 T. vanilla
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/3 c. milk
1 c. raisins
optional: 1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
powdered sugar, about 1/2 cup in a bowl for rolling/dipping

Combine butter, sugar, and vanilla; beat until light and fluffy (about 5 min).  Blend in the melted chocolate.  Combine flour, baking soda, and salt; add to chocolate mixture alternately with milk,  Stir in raisins and chocolate chips. Refrigerate dough for an hour.  Preheat oven to 350*F.  Grease cookie sheets (I use parchment paper).  Shape dough into balls and dip/roll liberally in powdered sugar.  Place on cookie sheets.  Bake in upper 1/3 of oven for 12 to 15 minutes.  Do not overbake.  Makes 3 1/2 2-inch cookies. 

Enjoy!




Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving Transgressions and A Swerve Sweetener Review

Happy Monday, Happy December!  Back to the grindstone until the 20th (for me, anyway!).  Enjoy the latest update and as always, feel free to share the link.  If you don't know about Swerve, you can find them online.
They're a sweetener that uses erythritol.  Fantastic for use in chocolates since it doesn't cause the usual tummy trouble that other chocolates do using mannitol, maltitol, sorbitol, etc...!



Monday, November 25, 2013

Went to my Doc's Office...and Weight Loss!

Here's a little about my appointment today, my weight loss this week, and my plans for Thanksgiving.  Thanks for watching!


Friday, November 22, 2013

Problems With My Band...Again

Despite my bummer situation right now, I'm down 4 lbs from Monday...so yay for that...but hopefully, I'll get my band issue worked out.  It is getting tiring, though...




Thursday, November 21, 2013

Update for Nov 21...

Howdy, friends.  Just posting my video update from yesterday!


Monday, November 18, 2013

Starting Over...After Weight Loss and Slight Regain

Well, kiddies...here I am, in all my glory.  Remember that it was 7:45AM, I was working on my second cup of coffee, in pjs, and no makeup.  Might as well start with low expectations and work our way up, no?

Are you excited to start Induction again?

No, because it means I've screwed up somewhere.  But also--yes, because I know it works and I know I can do it.

Lowest weight: 186.  Current weight: 212.  Goal weight: 175.

So here we are at Day 1.  See you in a few days.


Monday, February 18, 2013

My Grandma's Old-Fashioned Custard

Let me tell you some things about my fantastic Grandma Byrd (aka the Ole Biddy).

(Audrey Mae James Byrd in 1916)

#1: She was born 5 months after the Titanic sank.
#2: She was hilarious and had a great laugh.
#3: She was an independent woman who knew how to spend money.
#4: She could COOK.  Like you cannot believe!
#5: She could do all sorts of handiwork--embroidery, knitting, crochet, you name it.
#6: She taught me how to whistle.  She was the BEST whistler!

We really want to focus today on #2 and #4.  My favorite memories of my Grandma are her getting so tickled at stuff and just cackling away.  This was usually done when she was in the kitchen, and everyone usually migrated toward that area if she was there.  She was a great conversationalist and had a story for almost everything she ever cooked or baked.

Which leads me to one of the Hubby's favorite desserts: her blissfully simple custard.


One other man springs to mind that loved her custard--my Dad.

Grandma's custard recipe is old but it is very simple.  Custard, or to purists, crème moulée, is any type of sweetened custard thickened with eggs only.  There are variations of custards, from pastry cream used to fill éclairs, all the way to savory custards found in quiche.  We are sticking with the basics.

For this custard, you will need the following:


5 eggs (I use organic, grade AA, large or extra-large)
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 c sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 cups of whole milk

(If you have almond extract, I highly recommend adding about 1/8 tsp.  If you don't have it, don't sweat it.  It just makes the vanilla a bit more pronounced.)

You do need a little (or big, whatever!) strainer like the one in the pic, or a piece of cheesecloth.

Preheat your oven to 325*F.


In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, salt, and extract(s).  Set aside.



In a medium sized saucepan over low-med heat, scald 4 c. of milk, stirring often.  Scalding means to bring it to just under a boil.  If it is steaming, you know it is ready.  Do not bring it to a boil!   You can use a thermometer if you want--let it get to 180*F.


Whisk milk into egg/sugar/salt mixture, quickly.  Stir all together.


Pour over strainer into individual custard cups, corningware ramekins, or similar ovenproof bakeware that have been placed in a bain marie (water bath--hot water about half-way up the outside of the cups or dish).  You can also go the easy route, and just put it in a 2 quart casserole.  Keep in mind the individual cups will cool faster.


I sprinkled cinnamon on some and fresh grated nutmeg on others. You can then place the entire dish, uncovered, in a preheated 325*F oven for 40-45 minutes.

How do I know when it's ready?

You will take a sharp knife and just stick it right down in the middle of the custard, as if you were testing a cake.  It should come out clean, like this:


This may not look clean to you, but it is.  If the custard was not set, the knife would be covered in pudding.

Take them out of the water bath immediately to cool on a rack. Let cool completely.

You can serve them at room temperature, or you can chill them.  If you go the fridge route, be sure to take saran wrap to the top of them, be sure to press the saran down directly on top of the custard to prevent the top from being too thick.

mmmmm....eggy creamy goodness. 



See?  I told you it was simple!  And, there's so many ways you can go with this basic custard.  You can turn it into a brulée by firing up a little sugar on top with your kitchen welding equipment; if you don't have a torch you can put them on a cookie sheet and stick 'em under a broiler (be sure to watch them carefully).  You can also drizzle caramel over the top and call it a flan.  Something else that is really outstanding is Smuckers Boysenberry Syrup with just a couple of fresh blackberries. 

I hope you enjoyed this step-by-step; but I really hope you enjoy the custard.  I am happy to share it with you!


Drinking the Grape Kool-Aid

My Mountain Laurels are blooming.


Aren't they lovely?  Clusters, much like fruit, of purple and lavender blooms that smell like grape kool-aid.  No kidding!   They're fantastic.  We have three shrubs in our backyard, and today is the day they decided to pop.  I am so excited.  This is when I love macro.  My camera may be old, but it can really put out some stunning images sometimes!

Just wanted to share!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day for Teachers

I found an adorable idea on Pinterest not too long ago.  It was a gift for teachers for Valentine's Day--a bowl full of fruit with cute little stickers on them.  I thought that was a great idea for Paige's Mother's Day Out group--teachers and admins--since they were going to be eating a lot of chocolate today. The fruit could be a healthy alternative.  Because, you know, everyone wants to be healthy on Valentine's Day. LOL.

My sister-in-law Jennifer sent me a template for me to use with my plain sticker paper (just use a paper punch when you're done printing).  I went to H-E-B and bought $26 worth of Honeycrisp apples, $5 worth of Clementines, and then drove to Hobby Lobby where I paid less than $9 for a cute basket with a handle.

Here are my beautiful apples after being washed thoroughly:

Honeycrisps are so big and delicious!  Green stems mean super-fresh.

...and yummy, easy-to-peel California Clementines. 

here they are, all finished.

The oranges say "Orange you glad you're my Valentine?" 

The apples say, "You're the Apple of my Eye".

This was for the entire staff, or roughly 20 people.  A creative, simple, inexpensive gift that you could actually do any time of the year.   They loved it!

Here's some free printable fruit tags: http://welovebeingmoms.blogspot.com/2012/04/fruit-tag-printables.html and you can buy sticker sheets from this gal here, for just $8! http://www.etsy.com/listing/91198330/48-naturally-sweet-fruit-stickers-food?

Pin this for next year!  You won't regret it.  BTW, did I mention I am having a contest next week?  I sure am...stay tuned!








Sunday, February 10, 2013

America's Test Kitchen, Revisited: Devil's Food Cupcakes With Vanilla Crusting Buttercream Frosting

I made these a few years ago.  I have not really had the opportunity to make them again because I have two little girls that like vanilla cupcakes better than chocolate.  I have to tell you, though, that they are really divine.  They have such a rich, heavy, dark chocolate taste to them and they bake up lovelier than any box mix.  The recipe comes from America's Test Kitchen. I made these for Valentine's Day, and as you can see here, for the festive occasion, I chose to color my homemade crusting buttercream a lovely shade of pink.


Here's the recipe, in case you'd like to make a surprise for your sweetheart.

For the cake:
 
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups boiling water
4oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 tsp instant espresso powder
10 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and preheat to 350F. Grease 2 12-muffin tins. Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the boiling water, chocolate, 1/2 cup cocoa, and instant espresso together until smooth. 

2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-6 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat until incorporated.

3. With the mixer on low, beat in 1/3 of the dry ingredients followed by 1/2 of the chocolate mixture. Repeat with half of the remaining flour and the remaining chocolate. Beat in the remaining flour until just incorporated. 

4. Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared muffin tins (2/3 to 3/4 full), smooth the tops, and gently tap the pans on the counter to settle the batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 20-25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. 

5. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cakes, then flip them out onto wire racks. Peel off the parchment and flip cakes right side up. Let cool completely before frosting, about 2 hours. 


CRUSTING BUTTERCREAM:


  • 1/2 cup solid high ratio shortening 
  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 1 tablespoon of meringue powder
  • 1 teaspoon Clear Vanilla Extract (or extract of choice)
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (1 lb.)
  • 2 tablespoons milk

In a large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla and milk. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating on a slow speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. Keep bowl or covered with a damp cloth until ready to use, or it will begin crusting. Refrigerated in an airtight container up to two weeks. 

If you don't have high-ratio shortening, you can substitute with Crisco and about 2 T. half-and-half or heavy cream (or until your icing is at the right consistency). 

This is a great week for sweets!  Enjoy!


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"Sweethearts": Chocolate Chunk Brownies

Brownies!  The very word conjures up images of my first attempts at baking from a box mix.  Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker.  The best brownies always came from a box, growing up.  Nowadays, I like to make my own. Callebaut is my favorite cocoa powder; I use it in a lot of my cooking and baking.  It has a lovely, smooth and heavily chocolate flavor, thanks to the dutch process of adding alkaline powder (potassium sorbate) to raise the ph of the cocoa and make it less acidic.  It mellows the chocolate and allows deep flavor and color to come through in sauces, candy, and mousse/puddings, where typical American style cocoa does better with baking in cakes and cookies.  When I make my Texas Sheet Cake, I use American cocoa for the cake and Callebaut for my icing.  It really does make a difference, and is delicious!

For brownies, I like to add chunks of bittersweet chocolate (Ghiradelli 60% cacao chips) to the batter.  The brownie is sweet enough on its own; what I try to accomplish by adding chips/chunks is change the texture and deepen the chocolate flavor.

If you have a heart-shaped cookie cutter, you can really come up with a cute way to surprise your loved one, whether it's your hubby, boyfriend, kid, teacher, or friend!

(my recipe is adapted from a 1983 issue of Sunset magazine)



  • Dark Chocolate Chunk Brownies

  • 1 bag of Ghiradelli bittersweet 60% cacao chips
  • 1/2 cup (1/4 lb.) unsalted, organic butter, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 3  extra-large eggs 
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

  • Preheat oven to 325*F. 
  • In a small saucepan, combine half the chocolate chips and the butter. Heat over low heat until chocolate is melted. Stir until mixture is smooth. Turn off heat. In a bowl, with a wooden spoon (not a mixer! you don't want cake!), beat eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla until smooth. Add chocolate mixture and stir until well blended. Add flour, about a third at a time, stirring after each addition just until blended. Add remaining chocolate chips and mix just until chunks are evenly distributed.
  • Scrape batter into a 9" square pan lined with parchment paper (overlapping on sides so you will be able to take brownies out later to cut). Bake in a 325° regular (or 300° convection oven) just until surface develops a thin crust and a fingertip pressed very gently in the center leaves a soft impression, 20 to 25 minutes; take care not to overbake. Cool completely in pan on a rack, at least 1 hour. Lift brownie out on parchment, peel off parchment, and set brownie on a board. Cut into shapes.  My heart cookie cutter is big, so I can only make 4 large hearts and then I cut the rest into small bite-sized squares.  Dust powdered sugar lightly on top and place in a wax-paper lined tin or small basket to give to the lucky guy, gal, or kiddo! 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sweets for Your Sweetie: Cranberry-Orange & White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Well, I'm down to 253.  So I am officially 39 lbs down since my surgery almost two years ago.  It's been a long tough road of learning what healthy eating is, and how to change my perspective about the way I eat and the way my body processing things.

So now that I've gotten that out of the way, allow me to show you what an indulgence looks like:


This is not your ordinary average cranberry cookie that you've no doubt seen all Christmas long. Oh, no.  This is a collision of three different flavors that somehow, by the goodness of Mother Nature, blend together in a sublime pop of deliciousness the moment it is crushed between your molars.

^^flair for the dramatic.

The first thing you must do is soak about 3/4 c. of Ocean Spray Craisins (or other dried cranberries).  Soak them, you say?
Yes. IN HARD LIQUOR.
Now that I have your attention...
:-)

Soak the dried cranberries in 1/3 cup of Orange liqueur.  This can be Curaçao, Patron Citronge (my favorite), Grand Marnier, Cointreau, et al.  Soak them overnight if you can...but if you can't, then cook them in the liqueur in the microwave for about 30-40 seconds, then let sit for two hours.  You will need to drain them just before using.

The reason you are soaking them is twofold:

1. to plump them up
2. to give them flavor

They will NOT taste like alcohol.  I promise.  The alcohol evaporates during the overnight soaking, and the baking process helps with that as well.

In a medium bowl, stir together:

1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Set flour mixture aside.

In a larger bowl, cream 1/2 cup of butter until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes on medium). 
Add 1/2 c. sugar, and 1/2 c. light brown sugar
Add 1 tsp. vanilla
Add 1 egg
Add 2 tsp. orange zest (approx. 2 med oranges' worth)

Mix until blended. 

Slowly add flour mixture until incorporated, then add:

1 c. uncooked oats (Quaker, etc)
the soaked & drained Craisins
5-6 oz white chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli)

stir or mix until incorporated.

Using a level scoop (I use the medium scoop from Pampered Chef but you can also use 2 level T. for each cookie), space cookies 2" apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or using a silpat.

Bake in a preheated 350*F oven for 10-12 minutes. Yield is about 28 decent-sized cookies.

Cool on a rack and then put in a super duper cute box with ribbon, a mini galvanized pail, or kraft paper bag and give away as gifts to teachers, hubbies, ungrateful children, etc!  Me, I gave some to my daughter's bus drivers as a surprise treat. Save some for yourself, too.  Gotta be sweet to yourself, right?






Friday, February 1, 2013

Good Reasons to Stop Using Your Debit Card and Start Paying in Cash

It is a published fact that people on average spend more when they are using their debit cards. Just do a Google search and you'll find numerous articles on the Art of Overspending with a Debit Card.

I am the budget-keeper in our household.  This is a weighty responsibility for me, as I never really was  one to balance my checkbook (back in the days when we all had checkbooks to balance).  I have always been more of a "I'm pretty sure I have that in my account" kind of gal.   And, I usually did.  This was back when I was single and had no family to take care of.

Fast forward several years, and I have the same attitude, but with a debit card.  My kind of bookkeeping is dangerous to one with a debit card.  Groceries are $208 and I only have $140 in cash?  No problem!  Put it on the debit card.  Later on, I marvel that I am still are walking around with $140 in my wallet and I haven't spent it yet.  I believe they call this "delusional".

After doing a bit of research, I've decided to stop using my debit card at the grocery store for the entire month of February.  Yes!  Another 30 day challenge.  I love them--they keep me on my toes!  I am also  severely restricting my budget.  I don't know if anyone even reads my blog but if you do and you use Mint.com, you know what I am talking about when I say the fear of God was put into me when I noticed huge chunks of my monthly spending on the "pie chart" diagram was devoted to H-E-B, SuperTarget, and Walmart.  I thought, with horror, that one family of four could not possibly spend $800 in January and $1200 in December....on GROCERIES???  I had to go back and look at my spending habits, so I reluctantly logged in to my bank account and re-traced my steps.

I began to notice a pattern.

I'd spend $175 at HEB and you can tell that's my weekly grocery shopping.  Two days later, however, I'd be at SuperTarget picking up 1) things I can't get at HEB and 2) about a thousand other things I don't need.  That bill would be a little lower, but still, between $40 and $80.   That wasn't my only pattern; the other one was that one of us--either Matt or myself--was at a grocery store of some kind twice or three times a week.  That's almost $300 on groceries a WEEK!  And that doesn't count our trips to Costco, which effectively, run us about $300 for the month.

The debit card makes all of this possible for a spender like me.  I have to reel myself in if I am to be the savior of our household accounts.  So, I'm going to experiment.

$150 per week, cash only.  Debit card stays home.
Costco is once a month, cash only, $200.
Coupons are acceptable but only for things I actually use (4 cans of Aqua-Net for $1 do not count)

I've already spent $50 at the grocery store this week.  The guy looked at me like I was crazy when I was counting some coins out.  I realized I must look like an old batty woman.  I don't care, though.  I earned my stripes and I will stand there and count what I must so that I can rehabilitate myself.  He'll just have to wait!

Hey, patience is a virtue.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lazy Sunday Suppers

After having a very full Saturday, and getting to see my wonderful sister- and brother-in-law (and their fabulous boys) we stayed at home Sunday.  Scratch that--correct it--stayed in BED on Sunday.  Well, most of it.  The girls came in and woke us up at about 9ish.  We all slept in because we got home so very late last night.  Both of them rolled over us about twenty times ("Mommy.  Mommy.  Wake up.") and finally Darling Daddy got up and got them some breakfast, and put some bacon in the oven. Don't know about you, but bacon cooked in the oven on a cookie sheet is the ONLY way we make bacon around here. After that, the little sillies were off to play Legos and random assorted games.  I've been having so much trouble with my lap-band and allergies (inflammation-wise) lately, but today I was armed and ready: I took an Allegra and 3 ibuprofen.  I was bound and determined to get something down the ol' gullet today.  No real luck at noon, so at about 2pm I took 4 more; that was the magic number, apparently, and did the trick.  Only took about two hours to kick in, so we all packed up in the mini and headed to Target.  Headed over to my favorite section--the frozen seafood--and stared at all the delicious (and relatively inexpensive) flash-frozen goodies.  I bet you didn't know that most of Target's Archer Farms brands of fish/shellfish are caught right here in the good ol' USA and are wild to boot.  If you didn't know that the flash-frozen seafood is actually more fresh than what you get at your grocery store, I invite you to check out the episode of "Good Eats" about flash-frozen foods.  Alton Brown is a big advocate. I recommend any pacific salmon they have; it is absolutely delicious.  I almost got that when a bag down below caught my eye.

Archer Farms Wild Caught Key West Pink Shrimp.

*drool*

I've bought them before and they cooked up beautifully.  For $13, and a pound of some of the most delicious shrimp on the planet, it was hard to beat.

And here is what I made with my delicious shrimp!


Shrimp and Grits.  For less than $5 per person.  And soooooo incredibly easy.  And....GLUTEN FREE!

Grits are just about my favorite food.  Shrimp is just about my favorite food.  Add salt, butter, and bacon fat?  It's pretty much heaven.  I'm sure of it.

My cookie sheet from the bacon cooking was put to good use.  Matt had poured almost all of it into our bacon fat keeper thingie (it's an old peanut can), but there was still plenty of fat and cracklins on the sheet, so I threw the shrimp in one layer down on the cookie sheet and added more butter, then a little kosher salt, black pepper, and garlic salt.  Be generous with the salt; shrimp need a lot of seasoning.  I put them in a 350*F oven for 20 minutes total.  10 on one side, then I flipped them for 10 minutes on the other.



Next, I whipped up a pan of grits.  Again, use your salt liberally.  Grits need it.  I use about 1T salt in a pan of water that is enough for 6 servings (a 3 quart pot).  Do not fear the Morton Girl and her umbrella walking in the rain.  She is saying, "More salt, please."  Forget that "When it rains, it pours" nonsense. Nobody wants to hear all that.

Then I took a low soup bowl, and served up some o' dem grits.  I then scooped up some shrimp, and of course the lovely butter/bacon mixture and placed it on top.  You can see how the butter escaped to the rim of the bowl; it is lovely to spoon that over the grits and take a bite.  Oh my.

How cheap and easy can one dinner be?  There's a joke there somewhere.

The ultimate in Lazy Sunday Suppers...hope you enjoy it!  More to come with Sunday Suppers soon!





Friday, January 25, 2013

Fast Comfort Food: Chicken & Dumplings

Well, I'll tell you. *sigh* I was sure glad it was Friday when I woke up this morning.  Even though Monday was a holiday, the entire rest of the week was as slow as molasses in....well, this month.  It seemed like all my energy was sapped last night, and I was NOT interested in cooking anything.  I almost picked up the phone to order from my favorite hole-in-the-wall Wok Inn...but as I looked in my fridge, I realized I had too much food to go to waste.  The Mattman had pulled apart a rotisserie chicken for me a few nights ago and it was just sitting sadly in a freezer bag.  Waiting for the perfect recipe.  I went to the pantry and surveyed my domain.  Grabbed some stuff and put it on the counter.  I realized I had not made Chicken and Dumplings all winter long--kind of strange for me, but let's face it, it's been a strange winter. *eyeroll*



Chicken and Dumplings is something my fantastic Grandma, aka the Ole Biddy, taught me to make.  Making my own stock, cooking down the chicken, getting the spices just right--all leading to a frothy stew upon which to dunk some raw biscuit dough, waiting for those last few minutes until you bite into a light fluffy cloud...pure comfort...she was the master.

I didn't have time for all that.  It was close to 3:30.   I'm what you call a protagonist.  You might know what I'm talking about.  If not, you're probably shaking your head.  Like my sister is doing right now.  Hey.  Don't judge.

I was going to have to cheat, and it had to be good.  Good enough to pass the test: The Husband Test.  You know--you take some shortcuts, maybe with a meatloaf.  You find something quick and easy on Pinterest.  Not your usual, but hey, you use whatcha got.  He takes a bite, and gives a look.  Not disapproving, but not a-pproving, either.  You frown.  The gig is up.  He knows.  "I couldn't find veal at the market this time," you say, attempting to justify your choice, silently cursing The Frugally Frolicking Wife's Blog.  "Oh, well, it's still good..." he replies, eating it all.   You stare in disbelief.  He damn well better like that Crock-Pot Coca-Cola Cobbler you made.  The thing was re-pinned at least 11 times, for crying out loud.

So, if you don't want that to happen, DO THIS.  Okie dokie, then.

Go in your pantry.  Make an assessment.

Do you have a ton of chicken broth?  It's a good start, if you do. If not, get what you have and grab some chicken bullion.  I had 1 32 oz container of chicken broth, but I grabbed two bullion cubes.
I also got a can of cream of chicken out.
Black pepper.
A can of sliced carrots...
and minced garlic (you can use garlic powder, too).

Oh yeah...not in the picture: a bay leaf.



From the fridge, I took:

1 rotisserie chicken, cut/torn up
butter
a little bacon fat, about a T. (you can use oil instead)
2 ribs of celery
1 small onion

In a large dutch oven (I have my mom's fantastic oval shaped one...which means more surface area for more dumplings...just sayin') heat up your butter/bacon fat/oil concoction over med-lo heat.  Here's the reason why you need some oil with your butter:  butter has a low smoke point.  This means that the milk solids in the butter will begin to burn at lower temps.  If you add a higher-smoke point oil (bacon fat is great, but safflower, grapeseed, or peanut oil is good too) it will raise the smoke point of the butter.  Why butter?  It gives great flavor, of course! Hello, butter?  Yes.  Hello, butter.

Dice up your onion and celery and throw it in the dutch oven.  Cook for about 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent.  Add garlic and about 1/4 tsp of black pepper (I eyeball it.).  Add the bay leaf.

Now add the broth, or water,  enough to equal about 1/3-1/2 of the way up the pot, or approximately a gallon and a half of liquid.  For every pint (16 oz) of water I added, I set aside one bullion cube.  The reason I did that is because you do not want to add a bullion cube to water that isn't boiling.  It won't dissolve, and there are few things grosser than taking a big ol' spoonful of chewy bullion in your mouth.  Blech.

Bring the stew to a boil over medium heat.  Now add the bullion.   Make sure it's dissolved.  Add the carrots.

Pick apart your chicken in chunks, big and small, throw 'em right in.

Cook it all as long as you want on low heat.  If you're ready to go ahead and put in your dumplings, then the soup needs to be simmering/low boiling.

Make drop dumplings using Bisquick or my favorite, Pioneer Baking Mix.  It's generally about 2 cups of mix to 2/3 c. milk.  I also add a little dried parsley, but that's mainly for my own personal touch.  Like sprinkles on a cupcake. lol.

Drop your dough by a large spoonful all over the top of the stew.  Put a lid on. Cook for 5-8 minutes, and everything should be ready to eat.  All in all, despite my ramblings here, it should take you 30-40 minutes from pantry to table.

I probably ought to proofread this; honestly, I'm so tired.  I've probably typed up something that will result in a combination of lasagna and pickled pig's feet.  My apologies if so.  But if it actually comes together like it did in my head, give me a shout and let me know how it works out.

Happy Friday!



Thursday, January 24, 2013

Make Valentine's Day Special For a Friend

More Valentine's Day cookies--and these are GLUTEN FREE!



I used Claire Robinson's (of Food Network Fame) recipe as my base.  It has very good reviews on Food Network: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/claire-robinson/flourless-peanut-butter-cookies-recipe/index.html

Take your cookie dough and roll into a 2" ball.

Roll each ball in coarse sugar.

Bake as directed.

When out of oven, top each one in the center with a Dove Promise Heart-Shaped Milk Chocolate.

Wait forever for cookies to cool and chocolate to re-set.

Wait.

Get a glass of milk ready.

CHOW DOWN!

Oh, wait--no.  Don't do that.  You're baking these for a friend.  So don't chow down, just gently nibble at one or two.  Eyeball the rest.  When the chocolate is totally 100% cool...package them up in a cute little take-out container:


or antique pyrex dish.


Super cute!

Hope you enjoy...!


Hey, it's almost February. Whaaaaat?

Have you heard about the Corn Pasta they sell at Trader Joe's?  Wow.  It's pretty darned good and it doesn't fall apart.  I made mac-and-cheese á la Alton Brown last night using the TJ Corn Penne and it was AH-MAY-ZING! Woowie!  Held together, tasted delicious, and what's more--both of my daughters scarfed it down.  A success all around!

I can't believe it is almost February.  January just blew by.  We are definitely warming up here in San Antonio, but my heavens, all of the weathergeeks on TV would have you believe that winter is over.  Historically, February is Texas' coldest month, IMHO, so this should be interesting to see how it plays out.  Still, both girls had on t-shirts and jeans for school today and no jackets of any kind.  I am hoping we have a normal February, rain-wise, so we have carpets and carpets of blue all over the Hill Country this spring.  Have you seen Texas in the spring?  No?  You have to come see.  Nothing but bluebonnets as far as your eyes can take you.  It's quite an event; families and their photographers out on the sides of highways taking pictures in seas of bluebonnets. They are everywhere.  I didn't even know this practice was somewhat odd until a friend who is NOT from Texas (herein known as the "Friend NFT") said, "Why in the world would you get out on the side of a highway to take a picture of your baby in some flowers? So dangerous!"  I hushed her and had to re-think our friendship there for a minute.  Next thing you know, she's posting pictures of herself with her daughter in bluebonnets on the side of the road.  I shoulda known.  Of course, I had to call her and mock her for her earlier sentiment, because that's the kind of friend I am.

What I'm getting at is this: come on, bluebonnets.  I'm ready for you.  Where will you be the most abundant?  Just another month and a half and we'll find out.

I forgot to mention what I am cooking tonight for dinner.  I have a pretty good amount of rotisserie chicken that the Mattman pulled apart for me.  I realized as I was meal planning that I had not made a big pot of Grandma Byrd's chicken & dumplings all winter long.  So--there you have it.  The easiest C&D on the planet: rotisserie chicken, celery, carrot, onion, and a ton of chicken broth, with floating puffy clouds of Bisquick on the top.  I really don't know why I don't make it more often.  It's so simple and comforting and reminds me of my Grandma. *sigh* I think of her every single day, I'm sure of it.  She was such a fun lady!  She taught me three valuable things: #1 Driving fast is fun, especially when you're old #2 Men are not the end-all, be-all and #3 Food is freaking amazing and you should enjoy it.  The Ole Biddy* was very, very wise.

*Ole Biddy is a term that was lovingly bestowed on my Grandmother...by herself. She encouraged family to use it, often signing birthday cards to her sons-n-law and other relatives "O.B.". For years I thought she believed she was a tampon.





Friday, January 11, 2013

Valentine's Day Treat for Friends - Raspberry Sugar Hugs

I've been experimenting with some fun little treats for my friends and my daughters' friends.  I've always loved Peanut Butter Blossoms--the yummy, sweet peanut butter cookie with a chocolatey Hershey's Kiss perched right on top.  They're absolutely delicious!  Naturally, when I saw the limited-edition Raspberry Hugs version of the Hershey's Kiss...well, my mind was reeling at the possibilities.

I present to you...Raspberry Sugar Hugs!


Aren't they purdy little things?

They're super easy.  Use your favorite sugar cookie mix or recipe...
Roll into 1" balls...
and coat in sprinkles from your favorite Valentine's Day palette.

 

Bake as directed (do not let cookies brown) and take out to cool for a few moments.  Unwrap several Hershey's Hugs...

and place one in the center of each cookie.  Then wait.


When you can't stand it anymore (or about 5 minutes), heh heh...transfer each cookie to a cooling rack.  You will see that the Hugs do an amazing thing--they flatten out into beautiful buttons of glistening white chocolate with raspberry stripes.  If yours don't completely flatten right away, just be patient.  They will eventually.  You can help out if you feel confident enough by picking up the cookie just about an inch off the rack and "dropping" it back down on the rack.  That should do it.

Take a toothpick and swirl it through the Hug...it should make a little design.



Voilá!  Pretty little button cookie.  Delicious, as well! 


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Time's a-Wastin'...

(channeling June Carter Cash with my title)

I've been gone a while.

I had to go through a bit of a personal, mental transformation.

I had to learn to forgive myself.

I had to learn to rely on the Lord.  Every day.

I had to learn to banish negative things like jealousy (really, such an ugly word, isn't it?).

I had to learn I am on my own path and that I am successful and can stand on my own.

I still have much to learn...

But I am here.

I've had the lap-band for almost two years now.  I've lost a total of 38 lbs, or roughly 30% of the weight I needed to lose.  I lost 30 lbs within the first four months and after that it was a terrible struggle just to get one pound off of me, even with a personal trainer twice a week.   I've worked very hard to get health issues like my thyroid and PCOS in check in order to lose more weight, but they have worked against me for the most part.  I've still managed to get 8 more pounds off in a year and I look forward to the challenges of 2013 and watching another 8 pounds come off.  Every. pound. counts!  Every pound means my hard work is paying off.  No one ever guaranteed that I would lose weight like others; no one ever guaranteed I would lose weight at all.  I had to work through my disappointment and realize I am still a success story, just an unconventional one.

I would never, ever say I regret getting the band.  Quite the contrary. It has forced me to look at my life and the way I eat so totally differently than I had anticipated; it has forced me to face some mental demons I had/have and banish them from my life.  It's a reminder to me, every day, that I cannot do this without God's help.

If you are still here, thanks for reading.  I look forward to writing more about what my struggles have been and what I've been able to do in the last year.  Maybe it can help you, too.