New Cookbook Review

The Homemade Pantry – 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making is a book I wish I had written and really wish I’d had back in the 70’s and 80’s when I was a stay-at-home mom. I did a lot of home cooking in those days, making my own bread, cereals, muffins, biscuits and all sorts of other things.

The writer, Alana Chernila, writes the recipes in a conversational tone and each chapter is begun with an anecdote from her own life experiences, as a child, a young woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, and when you put it all together you have quite a life story all mixed in beautifully with the recipes. I loved her honesty in discussing her family life. She is not a supermom with perfect children who eat every exotic and/or healthy thing she places in front of them. She deals with real life, real time constraints and very real (normal) strong-willed children. I felt like she could have been my friend and I’d have been happy to commiserate with her over child raising and cooking, while we grabbed a few minutes to have a cup of tea in a lovely cup.

The recipes…I have not tried a single one yet, but they all look fantastic and doable. “Pop Tarts” are the first on my list to try, and graham crackers, both chosen for the simple reason that I’ve never made either of them. I’ve made a number of her other items over the years – homemade bread, butter, granola, jam…..I’m not new to this party, but I’m eager to try her versions. If you ARE new to home cooking and baking, try a simple one and see how good it feels to cook something where you know all the ingredients that are in it because you put them there yourself!

Alana is also honest in recognizing that some of these things are NOT cheaper to make yourself, nor are they quick, but that the rewards are great. Each of us has to decide, on any given day, what is worth our time and the extra effort it takes to measure, pour, chop, slice, stir, whisk, mix, whip, fold, saute, roast and bake. Some days we can get ahead and make good things that will help get us through the days when we can’t keep our heads above water. We all have those.

This book was an enjoyable read for me and I read it straight through like a novel, instead of skipping all around looking for my favorites as I normally do with a cookbook. I am really looking forward to trying some of the recipes SOON.

I’m also enjoying Alana’s blog, “Eating From the Ground Up.” You will find the link on my Blogroll on the right side bar. Please go check out her entries about food and life. Enjoy!

Addendum: I got a chance to try Alana’s graham crackers and they were a success! The only thing I need to do is practice more even rolling and then get a fix on how long to cook for that thickness. I like them to be crunchy and some of mine weren’t because they were thicker. I also don’t care for having to measure them for cutting, which you need to do for consistency of cooking, as well as fitting together for peanut butter sandwich-ing purposes. ūüôā I might just cut them with round cookie cutters in the future to help with that. I definitely think they need the cinnamon sugar for the extra sweetness. But yes, they taste like the store-bought kind and even have the same texture. Bingo!

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Bread baking

I haven’t made homemade yeast bread in many years. ¬†Time is one reason, but really, if I make it, I eat it, and heaven knows I don’t need the carbs….or the butter that I will undoubtedly slather on it. I was always good at making it, from my very first loaf, and the first month I learned how to do it I gained 5 lbs. ¬†So there you have it.

I baked bread frequently, though, when I had a house full of kids.  It was an inexpensive way to dress up whatever cheap dinner was being made for 5 or more people.  I made plain breads, fancy breads, rolls, quick breads, muffins, etc.  I was a stay-at-home mom and it was my pleasure to do this.

I baked my first one in many years last week as a gift and since the recipe made two loaves, of course WE ate the 2nd loaf. ¬†I could do no less after poor Jim had smelled it baking, right? ¬†And then I promised him I’d make us our own batch soon, so today was the day.

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Can you smell it? ¬†Mmmmmmmmm……

Christmas was a fine time and now I have some organizing to do before beginning some projects.  I am truly hoping 2013 is my last year of being employed.  My plan is to retire at the start of 2014 and get on with the things I like to do and want to do.  Hope the economy lets me do that!

Happy New Year!

Chicken Enchiladas

We had rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and I took the leftovers off the bone and saved them for this recipe I found on Pinterest: http://joyful-mommas-kitchen.blogspot.com/2011/09/white-chicken-enchiladas.html

It was a big hit with both of us and I would happily add only two changes for you to try.¬† I added some sliced, caramelized onions to the chicken/cheese mixture, but I would add more.¬† I used a medium onion and I think a VERY large one would be better.¬† Also, the recipe calls for one very small can of chopped¬†green chilis and at least another half-can would be an improvement.¬† Or maybe just a little bit of¬†crushed red pepper flakes.¬† I’m not one who likes things very spicy-hot, but even I think this recipe is on the bland side and my timid palate would like more heat.¬† With those caveats, I give you the finished product.

We had the leftovers with oven-roasted, fresh, local asparagus¬†tonight.¬† What a fantastic combination!¬† Oven roasting is my favorite preparation of asparagus–easy and amazingly good.¬† I usually just use olive oil, kosher or sea salt, and fresh ground pepper before roasting, but I added some parmesan cheese tonight and…is there anything that isn’t improved upon by adding cheese?¬† Just sayin’.¬†

Have a great weekend!

Happy Birthday to me!

My most wonderful birthday gift just got installed today and I’m so pleased I could bust!¬† I’ve been wanting a pull-down cookbook holder for ages, so this year when my husband asked what I wanted for my birthday I was ready with an answer.¬† I looked at many models online and most of them were wood-trimmed¬†and expensive.¬† I don’t have anything else with natural wood showing in my entire kitchen.¬† All my cabinets are white and my accessories are either black, white, stainless or chrome.¬† Then I found this clear acrylic one and it was considerably cheaper than most of the others, so that’s what we ordered.¬† Hubby and I were very satisfied with the quality construction of it when it arrived.

It is nearly invisible when closed:

Isn’t that cool?

It just holds my larger cookbooks and my only teeny problem is that shadow on the top 1/3 of the page, but I think I can place a small light nearby that will fix that.¬† My oven is 10″ to the right¬†of the corner, which means I’m standing in that corner when I’m cooking.¬† This upper cabinet is to the left of that corner and¬†right at my left shoulder.¬† Perfect.

Chicken and Dumpling Chowder

I decided that, since I invented this soup, I could name it whatever I wanted and this seems to be a very accurate name.¬† I did something I rarely do when it comes to cooking–I winged it!¬† I knew what I wanted it to be and I used the experience I have in the kitchen to come up with something on my own.¬† I didn’t even think I had it in me to do that, but I did and we were both more than satisfied with the result.¬† I always use other people’s recipes so this is really a first for me. And here it is:

I had leftover rotisserie¬†chicken from the grocery store, boxes of store-bought chicken stock, frozen corn and frozen store-bought dumplings.¬†¬† I made a roux¬†first, since I like the slightly thickened soup one gets from homemade dumplings added to chicken stock.¬†¬† I knew it wasn’t going to happen with the frozen dumplings, so I made the roux before I added the stock.¬† I used 4 tbs. each of butter and flour, whisking while heating it for just a couple of minutes.¬† Careful not to burn this!¬†

¬†Then¬†I gradually added the stock, continuing to stir to prevent lumps.¬†¬† I used a very large box and a smaller box of low sodium chicken stock, which added up to about 9 cups, give or take a little.¬† Then I seasoned it generously with Poultry Seasoning and some extra Thyme, just because I like it.¬†¬† I kind of¬†eyeballed¬†this (like Rachel Ray!), but I’m guessing a¬†heaping tbs¬†of the poultry seasoning and maybe another tsp of the thyme.¬†¬† Adjust this for your own taste or use your own favorite combinations of herbs that you like with your chicken.¬† I did NOT add salt or pepper, as I didn’t feel it was needed.¬† Here’s why:¬† the chicken is loaded with both when they inject it at the store, so that’s going to be already in there.¬† Honestly, I thought it tasted fine even before I added the chicken.¬†

When this seasoned stock¬†was boiling, I added 2-3 cups of frozen corn.¬† Feel free to add whatever frozen or leftover veggies you prefer.¬† I only cooked that for a few minutes and then started gradually adding Anne’s frozen dumplings, about 20 or so I’m guessing, but it could¬†probably do with less than that. ¬† I cooked that mixture for 10 minutes and then added in the leftover chicken, cut up in small chunks.¬† It only needs to heat until the chicken is hot again, so I left this to simmer with a cover on it while my rolls baked.¬† By then the flavors were blended and this was a totally excellent soup.¬†

This all took less than an hour, because Jim had taken the chicken off the carcass ahead of time for me.¬† There was no chopping or long-term stewing for this soup and I would call it “semi-homemade” but no one will care when they eat it!

Sausage and peppers and mushrooms, oh my…

One night a few weeks ago we had this wonderful dish¬†thanks to a posting by one of my favorite bloggers, Anneliese, of Aesthetic Nest.¬†¬† I’m going to¬† include a photo of my own, but for better pictures and the complete recipe check that out at http://www.aestheticnest.com/2012/02/cooking-fettuccine-with-sausage.html#more

The results were great, but I did have a problem finding the type of sausage she called for and then had trouble removing the sausage from the casings.¬† I’ve seen this done on t.v. and they sure make it look easy, but my casings just broke into bits and I’d still be working on that if I hadn’t given up and done something different.¬† I sliced the sausage into pieces and saut√©ed them up, which worked out fine.¬† If anyone has a tip on removing these from the casings, please let me know.¬† Wish I could just find bulk sausage of the Italian type and then it wouldn’t be an issue.

So here’s my finished dish

We have enough leftovers to feed an army, so we’ll be eating it again one night and maybe sharing some.¬† Like nearly all of the “pasta and other stuff” recipes that I’ve tried, I think this one has way more pasta than needed.¬† If I make it again, I’ll cut it in half or maybe reduce by a third.¬† We like the other flavors and textures¬†so much and less pasta would make it healthier, since we are not using whole wheat pasta.¬† I’ve tried whole grain pastas and I just don’t care for the taste or the crumbly texture.¬†

I’d call this recipe a great success!

Pulled Pork Barbecue

I realize that all my posts in 2012 have, so far, been about food.¬† That’s because my projects have either been failures (had to completely un-crochet something that was nearly 1/2 done), something I can’t talk about because it is a gift, or something too boring to discuss (more of my cloth “paper towels” for someone else.)¬† So food it is!¬†

I found this recipe online for pulled pork made in the crockpot and it was incredibly good and easy. Check it out at http://southernfood.about.com/od/pulledporkrecipes/r/bl10512b.htm

I was looking for the easiest one I could find and this one also made the most, so I could share.  I slow cooked a pork shoulder overnight and I woke up a couple of times smelling it throughout the house.  It smelled incredibly good when it was only meat, salt, pepper, garlic salt and onion.  Then you drain off the juices, take out any noticeable fat and shred the meat.  Add it back to the cooker with vinegar and your favorite barbecue sauce and cook for one more hour.  Done!

I served it with baked beans and cole slaw, which is very traditional.¬† Here are the photos (wish we had “smell-a-vision.”)

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