Saturday, May 30, 2009

Apple Chips

Healthy it really a snack if it's healthy?

It doesn't seem like it. Snacking is my downfall.

Pretzels, candy, cookies, pretty much anything on the counter can end up in my stomach during the afternoon.

I've been trying to find healthy snacks. I like dried fruit, but it is so expensive!

Here are my apple chips - a tasty snack - and a good way to use up some of the 10 lbs of apples I bought on sale a couple weeks ago.

I'm such a sucker for sales.

Apple Chips a la Martha Stewart (1 serving (about 20 chips), 3 hours)

1 apple, unpeeled (preferably Granny Smith or Ida Red)
1 c sugar
1 c water
1/2 TB oil

1. Preheat oven to 175. Combine sugar and water in medium saucepan. Simmer over medium heat, until sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, core and halve apple. Slice into almost paper-thin pieces using knife or mandolin.

2. Place 5-6 apple slices in sugar water. Simmer for 20 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon and place on wire rack to drain. Repeat with remaining apple slices.

3. Lightly brush 1 baking sheet with oil. Arrange apples in single layer. Bake apples until crisp, about 2 1/2 - 3 hours.

*Store chips in airtight container for up to 2 days.
*You can double this recipe by using two apples. You do not need to increase the sugar water solution when doubling the recipe.

Cost: Storemade: $2.98 for a bag (3 servings), Homemade: $0.10 for 1 serving

Homemade apple chips are a satisfying snack. These chips are sweet, yet retain some of the tartness of Granny Smith apples. I was impressed with how the chips did not curl or discolor. In the future, I would make more apples at the same time to make the process more worthwhile. Plus, these are definitely cheaper than storemade chips!

My inspiration: Martha Stewart's Healthy Quick Cook Book (but mine don't look quite as nice as hers)

Today's Lesson: Always cook with contacts in or glasses on. Otherwise you might end up putting in only 1/3 the amount of flour needed for chocolate chip muffins and 3 times the amount of lemon juice needed for an apple pie. The muffins turn into buttery, sugary blobs. The pie tastes more like lemons than apples.

You will not be getting either of those recipes

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pita Pockets

Stuffing pita pockets is tough.

The fillings won't fit.
Everything looks smashed in.

Sometimes the whole thing busts open.

I quit buying them to avoid feeling like a failure. So when I saw this recipe at Tammy's Recipes, I was excited to try it out.

It was everything she claimed!

Homemade Pita Pockets (8 pockets/16 halves, 2 hours)
1 c warm water
1 TB oil
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
3 c flour
1 1/2 tsp yeast

**If you have a bread machine, put all ingredients into bread machine in order listed. Use the dough cycle. Then skip to Step 3.**

1. Combine water, oil, salt, and sugar. Mix in 1 cup of flour and yeast. Add remaining flour and knead to make a soft dough. (Add additional flour if necessary.)

2. Place dough in bowl, lightly oil the top, and cover. Set in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour, until almost doubled.

3. Punch down dough and place on lightly floured surface. Divide dough into 8 balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball into a 6-7 inch circle. As you roll out dough, place rounds on lightly floured surface and cover with a towel. Let rise for about 30 minutes, until slightly puffy. (They will still be thin) While rising, preheat oven to 500.

4. Place 2-3 rounds at a time, side-by-side, on a cooling wire rack. Bake for 4-5 minutes until puffy. Remove from oven as soon as any brown appears on the top.

5. Remove from oven and wrap breads in a damp kitchen towel to keep them soft. Allow breads to completely cool.

*Pitas can be refrigerated in a ziploc bag for 2-3 days.
*This recipe can be halved with great results.

(You do not want your pitas to have dark brown spots on the bottom like in this picture. They will be stiff. If this happens, lessen the time in the oven.)


Cost: Storemade: $2.98 for 6, Homemade: $0.55 for 8!
These homemade pitas were surprisingly simple to make, especially with the bread machine. I will definitely continue making them. They were also delicious! They were so soft and pliable. I was able to fill the pitas easily without any cracking or breaking. The hole was plenty big! There was no comparison to storemade pitas.

Plus, it was fun to watch them puff up in the oven.

My inspiration: Tammy's Recipes' Homemade Pita Pockets

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Peanut Butter Brownie Cups

Gooey peanut butter and chocolate with a warm brownie?


So wonderful that I wish I had a tupperware container with a lock and key. Then I'd give Andy the key to take to work so that I don't eat 4 of them tomorrow.

They are much better than anything at the store. Plus there's an innate satisfaction derived from making them yourself rather than sticking refrigerated dough on a cookie sheet.

Peanut Butter Brownie Cups (12 cups, 1 hour)
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c unsalted butter, softenend
1 TB water
1 3/4 c chocolate chips, divided
1 c peanut butter chips, divided
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 c flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 c creamy peanut butter

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease or spray 12 muffin cups.
2. In large bowl, microwave sugar, water, and butter for 1 minute or until butter melts. Stir in 3/4 c of chocolate chips until melted. Stir in vanilla and egg. Blend in flour and baking soda. Allow to cool to room temperature.
3. Stir in 1/2 c of chocolate chips and 1/2 c of peanut butter chips. Spoon batter by heaping tablespoonfuls into muffin cups.
4. Bake for 13-15 minutes. The middles will still look soft. Place tin on wire rack. Centers of brownies will fall while cooling. If not, tap center with teaspoon to make a hole.
5. While brownies are still warm, microwave peanut butter in small bowl for 45 seconds. Stir. Spoon a heaping teaspoonful into each brownie center. Top with desired amount of remaining chocolate and peanut butter chips. Allow to cool in pan. Eat warm from pan!

*All mixing can be done by hand


Cost: Homemade: $2.60

These were definitely best eaten warm. The brownie is moist and rich. The peanut butter middle just melts into the brownie. I loved the look of the chips on top. Since I had extra melted peanut butter, next time I will drizzle it over the brownie cups to add a fancy touch These would be perfect to take to a party. Clearly there are no health benefits and not much of a cost savings, but the taste makes me forget about that stuff anyways!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Whole Wheat Waffles: Take 2

Andy got home late from work, Noah was covered in hives, and supper was half-done.

I hand Andy a piece of whole wheat waffle. "Eat this. It has a chocolate chip in it."

He eats it.

Me: "How was it?"

Him: "Fine. Why?"

Me: "It's whole wheat. I didn't get plain batter done for you. You can either eat these with us or make a frozen pizza once the kids are in bed."

Him: "I'll eat these."

WOW. I think I would have fallen over in shock if I wasn't holding a hivey baby.


After supper, "How were your waffles?"

"Pretty good."

PRETTY GOOD???? I got PRETTY GOOD for whole wheat waffles? Again, I would have fallen over in shock if I wasn't holding the still hivey baby.

The Brewer game distracted him from what he was eating, but it's still amazing. Here's the recipe for these terrific whole wheat waffles:

(He doesn't know they had applesauce in them. I figured that might put him over the edge.)

Whole Wheat Waffles (10 square waffles, 20 min)

1 3/4 c whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 TB baking powder
1 TB sugar
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites
1 3/4 c milk
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla

1. In large bowl, mix flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. In small bowl, beat egg yolks, milk, applesauce, and vanilla. Add to flour mixture all at once. Stir until blended.

2. In separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Gently fold whites into batter. Do not overmix.

3. Pour batter into waffle iron sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Cook until done, about 3-5 minutes.

*To keep waffles warm while making the batch, heat oven to 200 and place cooked waffles on wire rack.
*Waffles can be frozen and reheated in a toaster. If planning to freeze waffles, cook waffles for slightly less time than usual.


Cost: Storemade: $3.39 for 8, Homemade: $0.75 for 10

These homemade waffles win! I am thrilled to find whole wheat waffles that actually taste good! Of course, their taste isn't quite as good as regular waffles, but they're much better than any other whole wheat waffle recipe that I have tried. They have the texture of regular waffles, not cardboard. Their color is more golden than the usual dark brown of whole wheat. If you eat them with chocolate chips or strawberry sauce like we did, you definitely won't know much of a difference. For the cost savings and health benefits, this is now our go-to waffle recipe.
My inspiration: adapted from SparkPeople
This post is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday

Saturday, May 23, 2009

No-Rise Pizza Crust

I used to buy this Pillsbury pizza crust almost every week. It's easy to use and tastes decent, too.

Then I started experimenting with making my own crust.

This recipe is seriously idiot-proof, kid-proof, whatever you want to call it. Plus it's quick, easy, and requires only 5 basic ingredients.

It's my standby recipe for pizza crust, and we make it almost every week. It requires yeast, but no rising or kneading time.


No-Rise Pizza Crust (1 large pizza, 30 min)

3 c flour
1 package active dry yeast (.25 ounce)
1 tsp salt
1 TB sugar
2 TB oil
1 c warm water

1. Preheat oven to 375. Combine flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Mix in oil and warm water. Spread out on pan or roll and place on pizza stone. Top as desired.

2. Bake for 25 min.

*Can use half all purpose flour and half whole wheat flour. There is not a noticeable difference in taste.


Storemade: anywhere from $1 for a cheap bag mix to $5 for a nice Boboli-type crust
Homemade: $0.56

Homemade wins. This crust is neither automatically thick nor thin. I like how this crust lets me have some control by how thinly I roll it and what I bake it on. The recipe makes more than enough dough for my pizza stone. It can be made quickly and doesn't need to be baked before adding toppings. Nothing beats this pizza crust recipe for ease and simplicity!

My inspiration: see comments at this link for variations on this crust

Friday, May 22, 2009

Banana Pineapple Bread

I compulsively buy bananas every Sunday. Especially when they look so sunny and yellow. I just can't resist them.

But they're not as appealing to me at home. So they sit on our blue kitchen counter until they get brown

and then browner

and browner.

Until I'm worried that they're rotting and my family is disgusted.

And then I throw them out.

(Lots of people do this, right?)

So I'm trying to find more creative things to do with brown bananas. This banana pineapple bread is definitely a winner.

Banana Pineapple Bread (2 loaves or 6 mini loaves, 70 min)

3 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 c white sugar
1 c brown sugar
1 c oil
2 tsp vanilla
4 medium bananas, mashed
1 c crushed pineapple, drained

1. Preheat oven to 350. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
2. In large bowl, beat eggs and sugar. Add oil, vanilla, banana, and pineapple. Mix.
3. Add flour mixture to large bowl. Stir until combined. Do not overmix; batter should be lumpy.
4. Pour into 2 greased and floured loaf pans. Bake regular loaves for 60 min, mini loaves for about 40 or until toothpick comes out clean.
*Brown bananas work best since they are sweeter than yellow ones
*This bread can be frozen

Yes, I know you can't buy banana pineapple bread in the store. I'll just compare it to banana bread.

Storemade: $3.29 (1 loaf from the grocery bakery...or $3.99 for a sliced loaf)
Storemade: $2.00 (1 loaf from a box/bag mix)
Homemade: $1.10 (1 loaf)

Homemade banana bread ALWAYS wins with me for both taste and cost. This banana pineapple bread is a tasty way to add variety. The pineapple adds a fun, distinct sweetness to the bread. I think it would taste even better with walnuts or some coconut sprinkled on top. (Unfortunately, Anna won't touch it if I put nuts in it) I will definitely make this again. Anna kept asking to have it as her dessert!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Buffalo Chicken Fingers

Chicken fingers, strips, tenders, nuggets.

I'm sure I'm missing another name for cut-up chicken.

It doesn't matter what you call it. Put some breading on it, and my husband is happy.

These are his favorite homemade chicken fingers.

Or chicken strips?

Either way, they help dull his weekly (daily?) urge for fast food.

Buffalo Chicken Fingers (4 servings, 30 min)

Nonstick cooking spray
3/4 c crushed corn flakes
3/4 tsp seasoned salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 eggs
2-3 TB cayenne pepper sauce (aka hot sauce)
1 1/2 lbs boneless chicken breast tenderloins (about 3 breasts' worth)

1. Preheat oven to 425. Line baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Combine crushed corn flakes, seasoned salt, and pepper in bowl or large bag. In separate bowl, whisk together eggs and hot sauce.
3. Dip chicken in egg mixture; coat with corn flake mixture. Place chicken on baking sheet. Spray chicken with nonstick spray. Bake 20 min or until golden and cooked through.

*To save money, I don't buy the tenderloins. I cut up regular boneless chicken breast.
*Can be served with chunky blue cheese salad dressing for dipping
*Adjust hot sauce to your tastes


Cost: (for 4 servings)
Fast Food: $12.00
Storemade: $5.99
Homemade: $3.49
Homemade wins. These are a regular at our house. They were the first meat that Anna ever willingly ate! They are crispy, yet the chicken stays tender. The hot sauce and seasoned salt adds a kick which trumps other homemade chicken strips.
We used to go through at least a storemade bag of chicken a week, which put a serious dent in the grocery budget. These are a much better bargain. Plus, I like knowing that I'm eating actual chicken breast rather than ribmeat and other strangely textured bites that pop up in bags of chicken.

My inspiration: adapted from Kraft Foods magazine recipe

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rhubarb Bread

(I know they don't sell rhubarb bread in stores. I just enjoy this recipe so much that I have to share it.)

I want to grow rhubarb in our yard.

Andy says we need to grow grass first.

Thankfully, my mom has an over-abundance of it. She gave me a bagful - and her rhubarb bread recipe.

She always made the best rhubarb bread. I hated rhubarb until I tried it in her bread.

P.S. Did you know rhubarb is a vegetable??? I always thought it was a fruit.

Rhubarb Bread (2 large loaves, 80 min total)

1 1/2 c diced rhubarb
1 c sugar
1 c brown sugar
2/3 c oil
1 c sour milk (1 c milk + 1 TB vinegar)
1 egg
2 1/2 c flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla

1/2 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 TB butter

1. Preheat oven to 325. Sprinkle 1 c sugar over rhubarb and set aside while making the rest of the batter.
2. In large bowl, mix brown sugar, oil, sour milk, and egg. Add flour, salt, soda, and vanilla. Mix well. Fold in sugared rhubarb.
3. Pour batter into two 9x5 greased and floured bread pans.
4. Cut butter into sugar and cinnamon for topping. Sprinkle on top of batter. Bake for 55-60 min.
*Optional to add 1/2 c walnuts
*If using mini loaf pans, bake for 50-55 min.

Cost: Homemade cost me $1.08 to make two loaves. Most storemade quick bread mixes cost about $1, but only make 1 loaf.
This bread is delicious. It is an incredibly moist bread with a crunchy topping. It has the perfect balance of sharp rhubarb and sweet sugar. I think I'll be making this bread every year now... I just need to grow some rhubarb of my own!

My inspiration: An old recipe card of my Mom's, listing Sandra Geilfuss as the creator
This recipe is linked to more rhubarb recipes at Tammy's Recipes In-Season Recipe Swap

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tortilla Chips

Someone should start a blog: 365 Tasty Things to do with Ground Beef. I would be a huge fan.

Because ground beef is cheap, and tacos get boring every single week (I should know, I made them every week for months.)

Variety is good.

So are these homemade tortilla chips. They're are a great alternative to taco shells and complement salsa, too.
Homemade Tortilla Chips (Varies, 15 min)

Flour tortillas
Oil cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 400. Lay out tortillas on cutting board. Spray each one with cooking spray. Sprinkle tortillas very lightly with salt.
2. Turn tortillas over. Spray again with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt.
3. Place tortillas in a stack. With a pizza cutter, cut stack into four wedges or quarters.
4. Lay quarters on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 6-8 min or until crisp.

*Easy on the salt! You can also use seasoned saltor Mexican seasoning.
*Tortillas can also be cut in eights for smaller chips.
*Chips can be cooled and stored in airtight container or plastic bag.
*Use as many tortillas as necessary. I generally use 2 tortillas for each person.

Homemade wins. They are much healthier since they are baked instead of fried and have less salt and oil. That does make them less addictive, though.
Homemade tortilla chips are cheaper than a bag of chips or storemade taco bowls. They work great for taco salad or tacos, although they are a bit messy. They are simple to make. My 2 year old loves helping!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rice Krispie Treats

Crispy or sticky?

I like them sticky, Andy likes them crispy.

At least you have that choice when you make them.

When you buy them, you're stuck with the same thing every time. And no matter how hard I try, I cannot like store-made Rice Krispie Treats. They have a strangely chemical taste.

It can't be replicated at home.

The homemade ones are better anyways.

It's a classic: Rice Krispies, Marshmallows, and Butter.

Rice Krispie Treats (12 bars, 10 min)

6 c Rice Krispies (or any crisped rice cereal)
10 oz (4 c) mini marshmallows
3 TB butter or margarine

1. Put butter and marshmallows in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Stir. Microwave 1 more minute.
2. Add Rice Krispies. Stir until evenly coated.
3. Press into 9x13 pan.

*This makes more sticky treats. To make them crispier, increase the amount of cereal.
*To help pat them into the pan, coat hands with butter and press by hand.

Cost: Storemade: .50 - $1.00 for one bar, Homemade: $1.59 for a 9x13 pan (equivalent to 10-12 storemade bars)
Homemade definitely wins. They are simple to make, and there are none of the chemical-tasting preservatives. You can change them to fit your tastes. And the best part is you can add leftover Christmas sprinkles!

My inspiration: The Rice Krispies box

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wendy's Frosty

Aren't 99 cent menus great?

They make me feel all excited like I'm getting a bargain.

Except Wendy's 99 cent Frosties. They are pathetically small.

So I was intrigued when I came across a recipe to make them at home.

The ingredients are REALLY intriguing! No ice cream!

Frosty (Chocolate Milkshake) (4 10 oz servings, 5 min)

1 1/2 c cold water
1 1/2 c dry milk powder (the powder, not reconstitutued)
2/3 c sugar
1/4 c cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
2 TB oil
A 5-second squirt of cooking spray
1 to 1 1/2 trays of ice cubes

1. Put all ingredients into blender, including the 5 second squirt of cooking spray.
2. Blend for 2 full minutes. Pour and enjoy!

** 5/22 Update: If you have extra, freeze it in popsicle makers. It makes great fudgsicles!

Cost: 99 cents for a tiny one (6 oz?) at Wendys, 25 cents for a 10 oz homemade one

Homemade wins. They are cheap and easy to make with basic ingredients. They have a surprisingly rich chocolate taste. Plus, there are none of the inherent problems with milkshakes: the consistency battle and the icy chunks. This homemade Frosty doesn't have the exact smooth texture of a Wendy's Frosty, but it is definitely simple and delicious.

My inspiration: this site also gives variations and tips

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Vacuum Sealer

I came so close to getting one of these.

It was on sale at Kmart, and I had a coupon.

I was psyched.

I went to Kmart.

I forgot it.

Now every time I discover freezer burn on a bag of mystery meat or vegetables, I think, "Man, if only I had remembered to get the vacuum sealer at Kmart."

My life is pretty rough, eh?

Now I have my own vacuum sealer.

It's called a straw.

And it works wonders.

But be careful not to suck up raw meat.

Items Needed:

Ziploc bag

1. Put food in bag.
2. Zip bag shut except for small opening.
3. Put straw in opening. Suck out air.
4. Remove straw and finish zipping bag.

Cost: Ziploc Vacuum: $6-10, Straw: Free from McDonald's!
The straw does the job. It definitely isn't perfect, but it's plenty good enough for short-term freezing (a month or so). It's a huge improvement over my frosty bags of shredded chicken waiting to be tossed into a pot pie (or thrown away). No need to spend money on the Ziploc Vacuum and its special bags, unless you're freezing for months in advance.
But I did get light-headed after sucking air out of 8 bags of strawberries.
This post is linked to Tammys Recipes

Monday, May 11, 2009

Honey Wheat Bread

I'm fascinated by this concept.
Wheat bread that's white?

I wonder if I could trick my husband Andy into eating it.

He is a staunch White Bread Only eater.

After our daughter Anna was born, I read an article about the health benefits of feeding children whole grains. It stated that if children grow up eating wheat bread, they will prefer the taste of it over white bread.

So I tried it with Anna.

Now she's 2 (and a half) years old, eating wheat bread, and doesn't know the difference.

Now that I'm making my own bread, I've wondered if I could get Andy to compromise...

So I tried this one with half white flour, half wheat flour.

Honey Wheat Bread (1 2 lb loaf, 4 hours)

1 2/3 c water, room temperature
2 tsp butter or margarine, softenend
1/4 c honey
2 tsp salt
2 1/4 c whole wheat flour
2 c bread flour
2 tsp yeast

1. Add water, butter, and honey to bread machine bowl.
2. Add flours and salt.
3. Make a well in the flour. Pour yeast into the well.
4. Snap bowl into bread machine. Select wheat cycle and desired crust. Start!

*The original recipe also called for adding 2/3 c slivered, toasted almonds with the dry ingredients. The bread was delicious without them, but they would add some crunch to it.

Cost: Storemade cost $2.29, homemade cost exactly $1.00
Overall: This homemade bread wins. I tried the Sara Lee loaf when it first came out and remember thinking, "Hmm, this is okay tasting, but nothing special." This homemade loaf definitely wins in both the taste and cost categories. It was best warm out of the bread machine.
Andy tried it. He said, "It's okay. It's still too dark." He is a man of few words when it comes to food. I thought it was excellent bread. It was soft, yet hearty - a perfect blend of wheat and white. Contrary to Andy's comment, it was a light-colored bread. It wasn't as good with grilled cheese as the white bread, but the honey in it made it a perfect compliment to peanut butter. I would be satisfied eating this bread every week. Time will tell if Andy will feel the same...

My Inspiration: Oster Bread Machine manual, modified

Click here for a link to anything you could possibly want to know about White Wheat bread. It made me want to hunt down some white wheat flour and try it out.

A couple people have asked about making the bread recipes by hand instead of a bread machine. I'm working on finding out if there's a reasonable way to do it!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

In celebration of Mother's Day, I took the day off!

All things in moderation. As much as I love cooking from scratch, there's definitely a time and place for storemade foods.

This weekend we had fast food, cookies made from a bag mix, and Pillsbury pizza crust.

All things in moderation.

But don't worry, you have much to look forward to this week! Banana-pineapple bread, stuffing, microwave popcorn, something with chocolate, and honey wheat bread, which I'm eating right now!

The honey wheat bread is so delicious, I'm going to go get a second piece.

And eat it plain.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Taco Seasoning

Folded-over, half-empty packets of taco seasoning.

I used to find them all over my pantry, often hard as a rock from sitting behind the oatmeal for two months.

Not anymore!

I've been making my own taco seasoning for a few months now.

Cost: .75 at the store, .20 at home
This tastes just like the packets of taco seasoning. It's cheap and easy, especially when made in bulk. I often cook only 1/2 lb of ground beef, which makes homemade seasoning even more practical. No more half-empty packets sitting in the pantry!
Most packets of taco seasoning also contain MSG (monosodium glutamate), a controversial additive known to trigger migraines. By making it at home, I don't have to worry about buying a brand without MSG.

Taco Seasoning (makes equal to 1 oz or one packet, which seasons 1 lb of meat)

1 TB chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

For taco meat:
Cook taco meat. Mix spices in cup or small bowl. Drain taco meat. Add spices to meat. Stir in 1/2 TB cornstarch or flour and 2/3 c water. Simmer until thickened.

*To save time, make the seasoning in bulk and store in an airtight container. Use 2 1/2 - 3 TB for each pound of meat.

My inspiration

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Chocolate Chip Muffins

I love cheap muffin mixes. Dump it in a bowl, add milk, and it's set to go.

It can't get much easier than that. And they even taste good!

So, how much more time would it take to make them from scratch?

About 5 minutes, if you have a baby in one arm.

Probably half that time without the baby.

Cost: Storemade: 99 cents for 6, Homemade: 90 cents for 14
I'm calling it a tie. I think "muffins-from-a-bag" have a slight edge over homemade's flavor. Plus, they're effortless. But I have a crazy obsession with trying to make my own. I've tried every chocolate chip muffin recipe. Every batch ends up too dry or flavorless. This recipe is the best combination of ingredients so far. The sour cream keeps them moist and adds subtle flavor. (My husband never knew they had sour cream.)

The muffins pictured are from this recipe, but they did not have the topping or mini chips. They still tasted good, but I am definitely going back to the mini chips and topping!

Chocolate Chip Muffins (14 muffins, 25 min)

2 c flour
1/4 c white sugar
1/4 c brown sugar, packed
1 TB baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
3/4 c milk
1/3 c oil
1/4 c sour cream
1/2 c miniature chocolate chips

Topping (optional)
2 TB brown sugar
3 TB white sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400. In large bowl, combine flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt.
2. In small bowl, beat egg, milk, and oil. Stir liquids and sour cream into dry ingredients just until moistened.
3. Fold in chocolate chips. Fill lined or greased muffin tins about two-thirds full.
4. If desired, mix brown sugar and white sugar for topping. Sprinkle on top of muffins. You wil have extra topping left over.
5. Bake 16-18 min. Cool for 5 min before removing to a wire rack.

*Sour cream can be omitted. The muffins won't be quite as moist.
*Regular chocolate chips can be used, but miniature ones make the muffins have a more consistent taste.

My inspiration: Bits and pieces from every recipe I've seen - this recipe is truly my own!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I had a rough day in college, I'd sit down in the dimly lit "underground" and buy some Otis Spunkmeyer cookies.

Maybe that's why I gained 20 lbs in college.

These cookies taste like the Double Chocolate Chip ones.

Except they aren't perfect circles.

(Yes, I used chocolate & white swirled chips in the pictured ones)

Cost: Homemade (At college, I'd pay $1 for 3 little ones. I made 18 of them for $1.)
Overall: Homemade
Not only are these good for rough days, they'll quench any chocolate craving. They have a wonderfully rich chocolate taste. They puffed up in the oven. I expected them to fall when I took them out, but they retained some puffiness. These cookies are best eaten warm, yet they stay soft for a couple days. Considering the price of Spunkmeyer cookies, these were a bargain!

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies (4 dozen, 45 min)

1/2 c butter, softenend
1/2 c shortening
1 c white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
2/3 c cocoa
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 c chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In large bowl, beat butter, shortening, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until light and fluffy (at least 30 seconds).
3. In medium bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add to butter mixture until combined. Add chocolate chips and mix well.
4. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 min. Cool for 3-5 minutes before removing to wire rack

*It is easy to overbake chocolate cookies! Take them out when they appear mostly set.
*If you don't allow the cookies to cool on the sheet for long enough, they'll fall apart on your rack
*I use 1/2 c butter and 1/2 c shortening. I find it helps them retain their shape and softness, but you could sub any combination of margarine, butter, and shortening.

My inspiration

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Apple Brown Betty

I love a good apple dessert. My mom has made some great pies and crisps that are stuck in my memory.

I've been craving them for weeks.

Months actually, since it started as a pregnancy craving.

And Noah is now 3 months old.

I won't settle for a "fake" apple pie. By "fake", I mean with canned apple pie filling. Whoever invented it disgraced the whole concept of apple pie.

In the middle of my apple pie thoughts, I came across this recipe. I'd never even heard of an Apple Brown Betty. But I had semi-stale wheat bread and bruised apples sitting around that were calling my name.

Do not make this if you're the only one around to eat it.

You will gain 5 lbs.

It's that good.

Cost: Home
Convenience: Home
Taste: Home
Health: Home (although all that butter and sugar probably cancel out any benefits of wheat bread and apples!)
This homemade apple dessert melted in my mouth! I had had doubts about how bread crumbs would taste, but I was proved wrong. The carmelized apples and crispy bread combined perfectly. I stood over it with a spoon. I loved how easy it was to throw together and its use of basic ingredients. Fast, easy, semi-healthy, delicious, using common ingredients? It doesn't get any better.

Apple Brown Betty (4-6 servings, 1 hour)

3 apples, peeled and sliced
7 slices whole wheat bread, cubed
1 1/4 c brown sugar (divided)
1/2 c butter (plus some for greasing pan)
4 TB water
1. Preheat oven to 375. Grease pie pan with butter.
2. Layer the brown sugar, apples, and bread. Do this by sprinkling 1/3 c brown sugar in pan, topping with 1/3 of your apples, and then sprinkling 1/3 of the bread on. Do it 3 times.
3. Slice butter and place slices all over the top.
4. Sprinkle with water and 1/4 c brown sugar.
5. Cover with foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil for last 5-8 minutes. Take out when top is browned and crisp. Serve hot.

*Amounts can be approximated - use up to 1/3 c brown sugar for each layer and 3/4 c butter on top if you want
*Best served hot with whipped cream or ice cream
*Don't be afraid of cubing your bread. Just stack it up and cut it up. It doesn't need to be neat.

My inspiration (Go here! Great pictures and step-by-step instructions. Note: I decreased the amount of butter and sugar from this recipe.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Waffle Showdown Part 2: Classic Waffles

Leggo my Eggo!

I just realized what that means. Wow, 26 years of thinking it had some connection to Lego toys.

Leggo = let go.

The Waffle People claim that for exceptional waffles, the egg whites must be beaten until stiff and then added to the batter last.

Hold a mixer for 3 straight minutes, bounce a fussy baby, and sing "Lollipop"? I don't think so.

Buy me a Kitchenaid.

Otherwise this recipe works whether or not you beat the egg whites.

Cost: Home
Convenience: Store
Taste: Home
Health: Home (although neither are very nutritious)
Homemade easily wins. These were foolproof to make. They were light and tender on the inside, crisp on the outside. I had intended to make these for my husband and eat whole grain ones myself. After trying these, I had to make some for myself. While I like the texture of Eggos, the homemade ones seem much more "wholesome". Next time I'll experiment with substituting half whole wheat flour and half applesauce for the all purpose flour and oil to add some nutritional value.

Classic Waffles (12 square waffles, 15 min)

2 eggs
1 3/4 c milk
1/2 c oil
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 c all purpose flour
1 TB sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1. Beat eggs until fluffy.
2. Add remaining ingredients and beat just until smooth.
3. Preheat waffle iron. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Pour batter into iron. Cook until golden brown.

*Only cook till light golden brown.

P.S. Anyone know a trick for getting a waffle to be just one color and not varying shades of brown? Look at my picture again if you need a visual.

Waffle Showdown Part 1: Whole Grain Waffles

Whole grains.

I'm trying, I really am.

I think we need to compromise.

Oatmeal, popcorn, a scoop of flaxseed or wheat germ here and there are all great.

But replacing all purpose flour with whole wheat flour is totally different territory. Generally, I've done it in moderation. Instead of 2 c of all purpose flour, we use 1 c all purpose and 1 c whole wheat.

I'm happy with that.

So I crossed the line last night and made whole grain waffles. I LOVE Kashi whole grain waffles, so I was hoping for something similar. I used a recipe with great ratings.

Cost: Home
Convenience: Store
Taste: Store
Health: Home
Kashi wins. There's a reason they hire professionals to make whole grains taste good. These homemade waffles were light and airy, but tasted like cardboard. I even tried adding cinnamon and diced apples. I ate a couple and threw the rest away. Maybe I did something wrong? If I ever feel adventurous and try this recipe again, I'd take out some of the flaxseed. The recipe had great reviews, so try at your own risk. Otherwise we have our first store-made winner: Kashi waffles!
(Note: I put chocolate chips in Anna's waffle - she ate it without hesitation. But lately she's a bottomless pit. I'm not sure she tastes food anymore.)

Whole Grain Waffles (12 squares waffles, 15 min)

2 eggs, beaten
1 3/4 c milk
1/4 c canola oil
1/4 c unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla
1 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c flax seed meal
1/4 c wheat germ
1/4 c all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 TB sugar
1/4 tsp salt

1. Whisk together eggs, milk, oil, applesauce, and vanilla.
2. Add remaining ingredients. Beat until smooth.
3. Preheat waffle iron. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Pour in batter. Cook until crisp and brown.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pizza Crust

1,000 frozen pizzas.

That's a lot of pizza.

That's also a conservative estimate of how many my husband has eaten.

Now he's limited to 5 each month. I hit the 5/$11 deal at Woodmans and when they're gone, they're gone.

I'm a mean wife.

But I do make homemade pizza. I'm eternally searching for the perfect pizza crust. Great taste, little effort.

This recipe made 2 pizzas for us. The first night I thought the crust was just okay. The second night I liked it a lot.

Maybe I was just hungry, but it's worth a try.

Cost: Home
Convenience: Store
Taste: Home
Health: Home
Homemade wins every time in my world. Storemade wins in my husband's world. But he's an addict. I liked the ease of using the bread machine (you can make it by hand, too). The crust rolled out easily. I baked it on a pizza stone, and the edges had the perfect crisp. The honey gave it a subtle sweetness, which I liked more than traditional recipes with sugar. I'll definitely make it again, but I'm still searching for a homemade recipe that my husband will like more than frozen.

Mitch's Basic Pizza Dough (2 medium pizzas, 2 hours total)

3 1/2 c flour
1 c warm water
2 TB yeast
2 TB honey
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

1. Pour water, honey, and olive oil into bread pan.
2. Add flour and salt.
3. Make a well in the flour. Pour yeast into well.
4. Snap pan into bread machine, select Dough setting, and push Start! (1 1/2 hours)
5. Roll out crust on floured surface. Poke holes in it with a fork to prevent bubbles. Add sauce, cheese, and desired toppings.
6. Cook at 400 for 15-20 minutes.

*Can be made by hand - see link below

Today's Bread Machine Lesson:
Pay attention. Otherwise you might end up dumping honey into the actual bread machine rather than the bread pan. This will make a huge, sticky mess and add an extra 20 minutes.

(yes, I did that)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cinnamon Sugar

They sell this!

I've always made my own.

And ended up with a ginormous amount because I couldn't get the ratio right.

So today I looked it up. And figured I'd blog about it so I could remember it next time.

Use homemade. It's cheaper, period.

Cinnamon Sugar (1 old spice container-full, 2 min)
1/2 c white sugar
1 1/2 TB cinnamon

** 5/22 Update: We prefer our cinnamon sugar to be a bit more "cinnamon-y", so I use closer to 2 TB of cinnamon.

IHOP Pancakes

Living in one of the most segregated cities in the U.S., there are 2 places where you'll find an equal mix of people.

IHOP and Walmart.

Nothing like good deals and pancakes to bring the world together.

It's amazing that people gladly pay about $3.99 for 3 pancakes which cost pennies to make.

Not that I have anything against IHOP. I just know that for my family of 4 to eat there, it's going to end up costing us close to twenty bucks.

These homemade pancakes really do taste like IHOP pancakes. (But I won't vouch for them having any nutritional value.)
Cost: Home
Convenience: Home
Taste: Equal
Health: Store (only because you'll eat fewer in the store than at home!)
Homemade wins. I can make these in less time than it would take the waitress to serve us. It's a two-step recipe, which always appeals to me. My family devours a whole batch in record time. I don't make them regularly since they're not too healthy, but they are a good treat on a Saturday morning.

IHOP Pancakes (about 20 pancakes, 15 min)

1 c flour
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 heaping tsp baking powder
1 c milk
1/4 c oil
1 egg

1. Combine dry ingredients.
2. In separate bowl, whisk together milk, oil, and egg. Slowly whisk together dry and wet ingredients until combined. Do not overmix. Batter should be slightly lumpy.
3. Heat skillet to 375. Pour 1/4 c batter onto skillet. Flip pancake when edges are brown and batter is bubbly.

*Use a nonstick skillet or griddle. Do not grease it. If you grease it, the pancakes will not look like IHOP pancakes.
*Great with chocolate chips