Monday, March 30, 2009

Fridges and Fish Cakes

This is my fridge. Does it look like yours? Is yours covered in artwork, schedules, chore charts, menus, and random magnets? Is it decorated not only on the front, but also on the side? Is it also piled high on top with boxes of crayons, a flashlight, the lighter, and breakfast food that someone in your household has claimed as theirs?
I'll tell you what...we've sold three homes in three states, and the first thing any realtor says upon walking in my kitchen is: "Good Golly! And clean off that fridge!!"
But when my fridge is clean and atheistically pleasing, I am a mess. Because, like most homes with kids...the fridge is the central gathering place for my family. I have message boards and white boards and calendars ALL OVER MY HOUSE...but the fridge is still where the core of information for my family is.
And one of the most important things on my fridge is my menu.
Every two weeks, I sit down with cookbooks (both on-line and off), and plan out a menu.
There are some things...usually low-budget, no-frills necessities that make the list every two weeks...things like "Breakfast for Dinner", or "Macaroni N Cheese Casserole". Those get used on nights that are extra busy and I don't want to have to concentrate to cook.
There are some things that I make to use up an ingredient or item I have that isn't normally a staple...or sometimes, because something is on sale and I buy it and then have to plan a meal around it.
That probably happens more often than I want to admit.
And I always throw in a couple things that I've never made before...because I need variety.
Then I arrange my menu and organize my meals. There are many factors to my method of organization. The obvious ones are things like trying and avoid having 7 straight nights of ground beef in a row. Then there is arranging the easy items for the busiest evenings. And then there is the consideration I give to my husband to make his favorites on nights that he will actually be home for dinner.
After all that, I print it up and post it on the fridge. It looks something like this:
(You'll notice that there's A LOT of chicken on this menu. That's because I apparently forgot that I already had a couple bags of chicken breasts in my freezer and then I went and bought MORE. Hey - I may be organized, but I'm not perfect).
Anyway - while I'm making my menu, I'm also simultaneously making my grocery list. That way I know exactly what to get. I buy almost everything...there are some things, like milk and eggs, that need constant replenishment over a two-week period. And there are others, like asparagus, that I'm not using until Easter Sunday...way at the END of my I will be waiting until later to maintain optimum freshness. But everything else, I buy.
I'm only telling you this because it has helped IMMENSELY with the grocery budget to keep a menu and build a list off it. I find I am much less inclined to spur-of-the-moment shopping. I also have less food waste...because it keeps me closely in tune with what is in my fridge and pantry.
Now I just need to master coupons...
Tonight, we're making Fish Cakes for dinner. It is a simple dish than I can only make when Jason works because he HATES tuna (yeah - I have more picky-eater issues with the grown-ups than the kids in this house). It has something to do with his family always being really tight and his mom making Tuna Casserole WAY TOO OFTEN.
Anyway - whether he likes it or not, tuna MUST be made...because it IS cheap, and easy, and for many families (not mine), it is the only fish kids will eat!!
I like to try new tuna recipes, and I discovered this one about a year or so ago. My kids LOVE crab cakes, and this is just a version with tuna. I got the recipe off, and they have variations that you can use for ALL KINDS of canned fish...from crab, to salmon, to shrimp. I recommend checking it out.
To stick with the kid-friendly theme, I'm serving this with carrot sticks and ranch dressing, and a big bowl of strawberries that were INSANELY marked down for quick sale at CostCo. There is no need to double, as the recipe will make 12 cakes.
1 package Stove Top stuffing mix for chicken
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup mayo
2 cans (6 oz.) tuna, drained, flaked
2 TBS. sweet pickle relish
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1. Mix everything together in a big bowl.
2. Shape into 12 patties. You can use a hamburger press to make evenly sized patties, but I'm just not that anal. Form your patties tightly into a ball in your hands, and then press flat (ter). Place on a plate and cover. Refrigerate for 1 hour. You can make these in advance and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Another random tip? I find that if I spray the patties on both sides with PAM, they hold their shape and brown more evenly.
3. Heat a large nonstick skillet. Add a small amount of vegetable oil to heat and fry the patties. Add the patties to the skillet in batches. (This is where a deep-fryer would come in handy. I am wishing VERY hard for Mother's Day...)
4. Cook 6 minutes or until golden brown on both sides, turning carefully after three minutes. And in case you're wondering why mine are more DARK brown than GOLDEN brown...I had to take care of a skinned knee and got distracted. They are still YUMMY!!!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Amish Friendship Bread

or, The Saga of The Never-Ending Amish Friendship Bread

Amish Friendship Bread.

We love it. It makes great yummy bread. It gives us an excuse to talk to people and share our wisdom. It's kinda fun to mush the bag.

We also hate it. After a while, people see you coming with a big Ziploc baggie and they turn away and run in the other direction...fearful to be given yet another starter. Then we feel guilty about throwing it away. So we keep making more.

And therein lies my dilemma.

I've had Amish Friendship Bread hundreds of times. I know the blessings...and the dangers. But still, even after ALL my Amish Friendship Bread experience...I got caught in a doozie of an Amish Friendship Bread predicament.

I received a starter from a friend. I happily nurtured it for 10 days and shared it with others, baking a batch and keeping a bit of starter for myself. When the time came to split the starter again, I did...but I put off passing it around to friends. I put it off so long that it was time to split it again. So - that's what I did...I split it again...and promptly forgot to share it again.

Now I have 10 bags of Amish Friendship Bread starter on my counter...all ready to be split again. And truthfully - I don't have that many friends (maybe I should get off the computer and get out more?). So, I resolutely decided to bake ALL THE AMISH FRIENDSHIP BREAD...and freeze it.

Just for reference...each bag makes 4 batches. Each batch makes 2 loaves. Two loaves x Four batches = Eight loaves per bag. Eight loaves x Ten bags = 80 loaves of bread.


So, in honor of my massive 4 day baking extravaganza, I am posting the recipes for Amish Friendship Bread Starter and Amish Friendship Bread, along with all it's variations.

Just beware...Amish Bread is for SHARING (hence the "friendship" in it's name). So you better pass it along. Or have a really big freezer.

Amish Friendship Bread Starter

1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup milk

Combine yeast and water in a ceramic or glass bowl (no metal), or in a gallon-size Ziploc baggie (my fave). Dissolve yeast by letting stand 10 minutes. Add milk, sugar, and flour to mix and stir with a wooden spoon (no metal), or in the case of a baggie, mush well. THIS IS DAY ONE.

Amish Friendship Bread

Day One - The day you receive the bowl/bag or make the starter. DO NOTHING.
Day Two - Mush the bag or stir with a WOODEN spoon
Day Three - Mush the bag or stir with a WOODEN spoon
Day Four - Mush the bag or stir with a WOODEN spoon
Day Five - Mush the bag or stir with a WOODEN spoon
Day Six - Add 1 cup each - sugar, milk, flour
Day Seven - Mush the bag or stir with a WOODEN spoon
Day Eight - Mush the bag or stir with a WOODEN spoon
Day Nine - Mush the bag or stir with a WOODEN spoon
Day Ten - Combine in a large bowl:

The batter
1 cup flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup milk

1. Mix with a WOODEN spoon. Pour four scant 1 cup starters into Ziploc baggies. Label and date the bags. Keep one for yourself. Give the other three away with a copy of these instructions to your friends and relatives.

2. To the small amount of remaining batter in the bowl, add:

1 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla
3 large eggs
1/2 cup of milk

Stir thoroughly. When well-mixed, add:

1 cup granulated sugar

3. In another bowl, mix:

2 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 large box vanilla pudding or 2 small boxes
2 tsp cinnamon

4. Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients a little at a time, mixing well after each addition, until all ingredients are combined. Grease two large loaf pans, and coat with cinnamon-sugar mixture instead of flour. Pour in batter evenly. Sprinkle tops with additional cinnamon-sugar. Bake at 325 for 1 hour.


To make Chocolate Amish Friendship Bread:

Omit cinnamon and cinnamon-sugar dusting from recipe. Substitute chocolate pudding for vanilla pudding. Add a small bag of chocolate chips after batter is all blended.

To make Butterscotch Amish Friendship Bread:

Omit cinnamon and cinnamon-sugar dusting from recipe. Substitute butterscotch pudding for vanilla pudding. Add 1-1/4 cups butterscotch chips after batter is all blended.

To make Vanilla-Caramel Amish Friendship Bread:

Omit cinnamon and cinnamon-sugar dusting from recipe. Add 1-1/4 cups butterscotch chips after batter is all blended.

To make Banana Amish Friendship Bread:

Omit cinnamon and cinnamon-sugar dusting from recipe. Substitute Banana Creme pudding for vanilla pudding. Mush two small or (1 large) VERY ripe bananas and add after batter is all blended.

To make Lemon Amish Friendship Bread:

Omit cinnamon and cinnamon-sugar dusting from recipe. Substitute lemon pudding for vanilla pudding. Sprinkle tops with white granulated sugar OR, after removed from oven, while still warm, poke all over with holes and pour a mixture of 1/3 cup lemon juice and 2 cups powdered sugar over the top to create icing.

To make Coconut Amish Friendship Bread:

Omit cinnamon and cinnamon-sugar dusting from recipe. Substitute 1/2 coconut milk for regular milk. Add 1 cup finely shredded coconut to batter after it is all blended.

To make Cinnamon-Raisin Amish Friendship Bread:

Add 1 cup raisins to batter. To create a cinnamon-raisin ribbon, pour 1/4 of the batter in EACH loaf pan. Sprinkle heavily with cinnamon-sugar mixture and raisins. Add the remaining batter evenly on top of the cinnamon-raisin layer.

PS - I don't do nuts in my baked goods - but you can use them in any of these variations. Macadamia nuts would go well with the coconut, poppy seeds would mix well with the lemon, and walnuts and pecans will go in just about any of the variations, or the original.

PPS - After 4 days, I ended up with 40 loaves of bread. I had accidentally killed another batch because I was chatting on the phone and missed some key ingredients. After that, my starter died, and I had to throw the rest away.

And I wasn't sad.

Not one bit.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ham and Potato Casserole

I have a complaint.

I love this casserole. It has less than 10 ingredients, and everybody eats it...and ham and potatoes and cheese were INVENTED to go together.


To me, a casserole should take, like, 2 pots to make. Maybe a 2 pots and a bowl. And that is INCLUDING the casserole dish it's baked and served in.

This one takes too many pots.

See...there is the pot to cook the onion and celery. And the pot to make the white sauce. And the pot to boil the potatoes. And then there is the knife to dice everything and the grater for the cheese. And then there is the casserole dish.

I hate dishes.


This casserole is good. It's basic. Although it takes lots of pots, it's not hard (if it was, I wouldn't post it). And it's comfort food.

Here in the jungle, we need A LOT of comfort.

It's scary, sometimes. There are strange noises, and weird crawly things, and people speak foreign languages.

So we need to be comforted.


And nothing does it better than...

Ham and Potato Casserole

1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onion
4 TBS butter
4 TBS flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups milk
1-1/2 cups of cheddar cheese, plus more for topping
3 pounds potatoes (use Yukon Gold and skip the peeling), diced

1. Put celery and onion in a pot and just cover with water. Boil until soft. Put potatoes in another pot and boil until just tender. Drain and set aside.

2. While onions and celery and potatoes are cooking, in another pot, make a White Sauce with butter, flour, salt, and milk.

( don't know how to make a white sauce? Oh, okay...melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and stir until smooth. DO NOT BURN. Add salt. Add milk ALL AT ONCE, and stir slowly until thickened to desired consistency...for this recipe, aim for a medium thickness. Whatever you not let boil.)

When white sauce is to desired consistency, add cheese, a little at a time, and stir until melted. Add more until sauce is cheesy.

3. Pour white sauce into pot with onions and celery...stir until smooth and creamy. Add more cheese if desired. Sauce should still be thick.

4. Combine potatoes and ham in casserole dish. Pour cheese sauce over everything, and mix together thoroughly. Add additional cheddar cheese as a topping if desired.

5. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand 10-15 minutes for sauce to thicken. CAUTION!! HOT!!

Courtesy Deborah Noel of Plainfield, Illinois

Friday, March 6, 2009

Beef and Broccoli Lo Mein

It's tough economic times out there. People are cutting back on little going out to eat on a Friday night after a long week at work.

But that's okay - 'cause you can make faux restaurant take-out at home. Like this yummy Chinese Take-Out knock-off...

Double if feeding a big family...otherwise, serves 4.

Beef and Broccoli Lo Mein

8 ounces thin spaghetti, broken in half
1 tsp dark sesame oil
1 tsp vegetable oil
3 cups chopped broccoli
1-1/2 cups thinly sliced onion
1 TBS peeled and minced fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
12 ounces sirloin tips, cut crosswise into thin strips
3 TBS beef broth
3 TBS soy sauce
2 TBS brown sugar
1 TBS oyster sauce

1. Stir spaghetti into a pot of lightly salted boiling water according to package directions. drain noodles well, then return to pot and toss with sesame oil.

2. Heat vegetable oil in wok/ large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli and onion and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes.

Add the ginger and garlic and continue stirring while mixture cooks for another 30 seconds. Add the sirloin and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes until no longer pink.

3. In a small bowl, mix the broth, soy sauce, brown sugar, and oyster sauce. Add the soy sauce mixture and the pasta to the wok/ skillet and continue cooking, stirring often, for 1-2 minutes, or until everything is heated through. Serve Lo Mein HOT!

courtesy Family Fun magazine

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lemonade Extravaganza Cake w/ Strawberries

When we first moved to Las Vegas, a woman in our ward sent this cake over with some Cool Whip and strawberries as a way to welcome us to Nevada. It was SO GOOD, that I tracked her down on Sunday and had her scribble the recipe on the back of a program.

It is my FAVORITE cake to make, serve, and eat in the Spring and Summer...because it is especially good COLD...just like a frosty glass of lemonade. But if you can't wait until it's chilled, that's okay is also yummy warm.

And it's so'll say: "Oh, I can do that."

Lemonade Extravaganza Cake with Strawberries

1 package lemon cake mix (I like Duncan Hines Lemon Supreme cake mix)

1 small box lemon Jell-O
1-1/4 cup water
3/4 cup oil
4 eggs
2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
Cool Whip
2 pints strawberries, sliced
1/4-1/2 cup granulated sugar

1. Slice strawberries and place in bowl. Add 1/4 cup-1/2 cup granulated sugar and mix well. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and put in fridge for later, allowing strawberries to maturate.

2. Mix cake mix, Jell-O, water, oil, and eggs. Grease a 10" x 12" pan, and pour cake mix in. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until done.

3. Remove from oven, and while still warm, poke cake all over with a fork. Mix lemon juice and powdered sugar until well-blended and pour over top of cake. Spread until it drips down sides and smoothly covers entire top.

4. Let cake cool. If desired, chill several hours. To serve, cut into cubes and top with Cool Whip and strawberry slices, and garnish sides with additional strawberries.

Courtesy Sister Avina of Las Vegas, Nevada

Apple-Cheddar Soup

I was all ready to start Spring around here. I've been perusing my favorite Spring and Summer recipes, making menus and preparing grocery lists...

...but these last several days, we've had a late cold snap...with temperatures in the morning feeling quite frosty...which in "Florida-speak" means somewhere in the upper-50's or lower-60's. Cold enough to wet my whistle for another great fall recipe, anyway. And after making that yummy Apple-Sausage Rigatoni several weeks back (, I had to make another apple favorite that my oldest daughter, Kaitlyn, has been requesting.

In most potato recipes, I try to use Yukon Golds. They are creamy and smooth, and not nearly as starchy as regular Russets. Not only that, but they have such a smooth skin, you can often skip peeling them...a rather tedious job in my kitchen.

Another substitution for this recipe has to do with the green peppercorns called for as a garnish. I've checked everywhere local...and I can't find them. Only a standard peppercorn medley...but no green peppercorns on their own. So I skipped them this time...but they make a lovely if YOUR local store has them, please don't hesitate. We substituted with red pepper flakes, which compliment the apple sweetness nicely.
(*WARNING* This soup is slightly SPICY. The potatoes and cheese give it comfort, the apples give it a delightful sweetness, and then - POW!!! - suddenly you need a sip of water. It's not "fire-in-your-mouth" spicy...but just a head's up for all you pansy's out there...)

This recipe makes enough for 4-6 side-dish servings. I am serving it as the main course, along with a spinach salad and buttermilk biscuits, so I need to double it...

Apple-Cheddar Soup

1/2 cup chopped onion
1 TBS butter
2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and diced (or use Yukon Golds, and skip the peeling)
2 cups apple cider
1 tsp. snipped fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme, crushed
1/2 tsp salt
Dash cayenne pepper
1 medium cooking apple, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup milk
2 TBS all-purpose flour
4 oz. sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded (1 cup)
Fresh apple slices
Green peppercorns

1. In a large saucepan, cook onion in hot butter over medium heat until tender. Stir in potatoes, cider, thyme, salt, and cayenne pepper. Bring to boiling, reduce heat. Simmer, covered, 15 minutes.

2. Add chopped apple. Simmer, covered, 5 minutes until potatoes are tender.

3. In a small bowl, combine milk and flour; stir until smooth and add to soup.
Cook and stir until bubbly. Slowly add cheese, whisking until cheese is melted.

4. Divide soup among serving dishes; top with apple slices and peppercorns.

Courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Grilled Italian Sausage and Peppers

After a long day of grocery shopping and errands, this is the perfect no-fuss dinner. I like it best 'cause I don't cook it. My hubby is the Grill Master in our home...and there is nothing more manly than a man and his grill. Just standing next to the grill is intimidating for a girl like me...there is WAY too much testosterone emanating from it. But my man is right at home....

We made a couple changes to this recipe that were born out of our location. It's kinda hard to find those hard brat rolls here in sunny South Florida. So we improvised, getting big, soft Bolillo Rolls and slicing them halfway through for our sausages. I LOVED the soft, chewy texture. It was WAY better than Brat Rolls. My only complaint was that we bought the smaller Hot Links Italian sausages, as we noticed that our kids had trouble eating a big 'ol LumberJack Smoked Italian Sausage last time, and there was a lot of waste.

I don't like food waste. It's a pet peeve of Jasons', too - being that he runs a multi-million dollar restaurant and all.

The problem with waste is not only that I feel like it's money AND food wasted, but that I feel I have to make up for it by finishing my kids food for them. Jason helps. And while his metabolism can handle it, mine can not. Hence my beach ball figure.

Anyway - back to the sausage complaint...Bolillo Rolls are BIG...bigger and fluffier than Brat Rolls. So they actually would've cradled a LumberJack Smoked Italian Sausage perfectly. But the smaller Hot Links we purchased got kinda lost in the bread. At least it was really good bread, and no one complained. And my kids were able to polish a whole one off. Kate even had two.

Sides should stick with the whole grillin' theme - we had corn-on-the-cob and baked beans. Our new favorite baked beans are the Bush's Grillin Beans , Bourbon and Brown Sugar Flavor. YUM.

(And yes - I know how to make baked beans from "scratch", but I get the same results {almost} with Bush's, and it saves so much time that I am totally cool with the substitute.)

Double for bigger families or extra-hungry people...

Grilled Italian Sausage and Grilled Peppers

2 medium bell peppers (red, green, yellow or orange), cut into strips
1 med. onion, sliced
1/4 cup Italian dressing
4 Italian Smoked Sausages...big LumberJack ones, or smaller Johnsonville ones, or if you're really healthy, try those Boca Meatless Italian Sausages
4 Brat Rolls, or, in my case, Bolillo Rolls

1. Preheat grill to medium heat. Make a foil pouch out of heavy duty aluminum foil, and place peppers, onions, and dressing inside. Close pouch tightly. (You can also buy ready-made foil pouches for grilling...but I usually just use what I have).

2. Grill 15 minutes or until veggies are soft and juicy, turning bag at least once to get all sides. Meanwhile, grill sausage as directed on package.

3. Fill sliced buns/rolls with sausage and peppers. Add other condiments as desired, like shredded cheddar and the usual relish.

Viola! It's dinner!!