Kitchen Tip

When cooking a meal that includes browned hamburger meat (like tacos or casseroles) try this trick:

Get out a large, deep bowl. Find a somewhat flat, small bowl that will fit nicely in the bottom of the larger bowl, and place it in the bowl upside down, ensuring that the small bowl is well fitted to the sides of the larger bowl.

Pour in the browned hamburger meat and place in a warmed oven for 10-15 minutes. The grease in the hamburger meat will slowly drain, running under the bowl and into the space created under it.

You will be amazed at the amound of fat that drains from the hamburger!

Scoop out the hamburger, making sure that you do not disturb the small bowl (and the grease) that rests in the bottom and proceed with your recipe.

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The end of January found me anxious to clean out, clean up, get rid of, get new – in other words, get going. I am in the middle of a gigantic undertaking. There is evidence of some major slacking on my part, little nooks and crannies in my house that have remained stagnant. In my world, stagnant is not a good thing. I like change. I like my scenery renewed, often. Yet, here and there I am finding little corners of sameness that need dealt with.

For instance, behind the door in my bedroom there is a series of shelves that have always held books and whatnots. These shelves have held everything from our do-it-yourself books, to reading books, to cookbooks (there until this morning), to candles, to various other things that needed to be parked somewhere. All of these years, being used the same way, until today, when I looked at the space with new eyes. I am in process of changing that area, as we speak.

Speaking of cookbooks, I have a serious problem. The space that used to hold my vast collection is now a pantry. Which means, for the past 2 1/2 years, my cookbooks have not really had a home. When you own as many cookbooks as I do, that is not good thing, they seriously need a home. The fact that I own so many cookbooks is also a serious problem, but we won’t talk about that. My cookbooks are my constant companions. I read and enjoy my cookbooks, like others read their favorite fiction. (I love my collection of fiction, too, don’t get me wrong.)

Anyway, for a bit of time now, there’s definitely been a mess. An overwhelming mess, to be sure, but a good mess. My son, who is very smart, sums it up like this, “it’s like a Rubic’s cube, you first have a real problem, until you get all of the little cubes exactly where they belong”.

Did I mention how smart my son is?

When I finally get my cookbooks organized, I’m going to share some of them with you and share a recipe, or two, from each cookbook. Something to look forward to. It may take me awhile to get this done, because I keep retreating into my favorite corner, cookbook in hand.

I’m easily distracted, but boy, am I happy.

Valerie

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I recently came upon a hand-written verse that I found when I was a young mother, one that spoke to me then and still speaks to me now. I had scribbled the words out hastily on a small piece of pink paper, obviously in a hurry, wanting to keep a small reminder for a day that would surely one day come. I knew, when I first read the words, that at some point in the future I would long for each precious day again and hoped that I was going to live those moments fully so that there would be no regrets for lost time, lost chances. I didn’t know then, that for most of us, there will always be longing, always be regrets, always be that day when we ask ourselves “did I do okay and did I do everything I should have?”. When we are living our lives, especially in our youth, we think we will never forget the details, thinking instead that we will always remember each and every funny, sad, happy moment.

As we age, we then discover that isn’t always the case. Little details we thought we’d never forget escape into thin air, becoming dust in the wind. While we might not be able to easily recall every thing we file away in our minds, all it takes sometimes is the sight of a child’s barrette, a song on the radio, the voice and laugh of a grandchild and we are re-living an earlier day or moment.

My husband and I have reached that time in our marriage, when we often ask each other “remember . . . . ? ” and then tell a forgotten story. We smile and say “oh yeah!”, adding our own bits and pieces to the puzzle. We have learned an important lesson – that the person who lived through it with us will help us remember the things we thought we had lost. We only need the spark of another’s memory to help us bring our own memories to the surface, because thankfully it is really all still there, resting in the background and waiting for a good time to shine.  That makes that person next to you all the more important, all the more valuable, doesn’t it?

The time which passes swiftly by,

won’t stop to hear us though we cry,

for days long gone and smiles missed,

for damp curls that we should have kissed,

before they went away.

Sometimes we get a second chance,

to give that needed tender glance,

to touch and hold and share a sigh,

for time it passes swiftly by.

I don’t know who wrote these words, at the time that I found them the author wasn’t important to me, it was the words that I loved. So to the author I say “thank you”, perhaps your words made me more aware. Reading this verse now, I know that the words apply not just in regards to our children, but each and every loved one we share our lives with. We may find ourselves regretting lost moments and times that we weren’t fully present, fully listening. In most cases, we give what we can, to each moment, each person. Can we do better? Of course we can. Is it okay that we fall short at times? Of course it is.

The important thing is that we realize that we are all in this together, living and doing our best. I love that I can look back on earlier times and feel confident I gave it my best shot. To all young mothers out there reading this, maybe this verse will speak to you, too. Let the dust gather a bit. Hold your babies. Listen to your kids, have meaningful conversations with your teenagers, give them the time they deserve, and while you’re at it, take good mental notes – maybe even write a few things down.

For time, it passes swiftly by.

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If you like muffins, you’ll love these. If you don’t like muffins, you’ll like these. I love muffins. I love these muffins. Full of banana flavor with texture from the oats and spice from the cinnamon and nutmeg, and topped with more sweet cinnamon goodness – these muffins are just sweet enough and not too sweet.

                          Perfect with a cup of coffee or hot tea. Perfect for breakfast. Perfect for lunch. Perfect for snacking. Perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up. Perfect in a gift basket.

Perfect. Little. Muffin.

 

 

Muffins

1 1/4 cups unbleached flour

1/2 cup quick-cooking oats

1/4 cup sugar

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

pinch of salt

1 cup (2-3 med) mashed ripe bananas

1/2 cup buttermilk*

                                                                                              1 egg, beaten

3 tbsp canola oil

2 tsp vanilla

Topping

1 tbsp sugar

1/4 tsp cinnamon

*Exchange 1/2 milk plus 1 tbsp buttermilk powder for fresh buttermilk

Adapted from a recipe by C&H Sugar.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners. In a medium bowl, add all dry ingredients and stir with a whisk to combine. In a small bowl, combine and mix thoroughly all of the wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until just combined and dry ingredients are moistened. Stir together the sugar and cinnamon for the topping and set aside.

Fill muffin liners 2/3 full. Sprinkle each muffin with sugar-cinnamon.

Bake for 14-18 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

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                           Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas . . .                                                  perhaps  . . . means a little bit more.     ~ Dr. Seuss

Santa

My husband, the quiet soul, had his début as Santa this year.  I have to admit I was unsure about how it would go. He didn’t talk much about it before hand, just agreed to do it and went on with his days. We each asked him, a little nervously, if he was ready. He just laughed and said “yes”.

As I was helping him into his Santa outfit, something happened.

It was just my husband and I in the room, and as we slipped on the beard and the wig and then the glasses, I was hit with a feeling so strong, it almost knocked me to my knees. I had to take a second to catch my breath, but I was too late, because the breath became a sob. I couldn’t control it.

 As Santa stood before me, I didn’t see my husband. I saw my Dad. My Dad, as Santa.

In an instant, I was hit with the most profound sense of loss and longing.

My husband, poor guy, asked “what’s wrong?” and I choked out a tearful, “I miss my Dad”.

That was it. The entire time we worked to get him dressed as Santa, I tried unsuccessfully to stop the tears.  I couldn’t stop the overwhelming sadness. I lost my Dad years ago, but looking at Santa brought a new wave of loss.

Through the tears, we also laughed. My husband was getting really hot in the costume and his glasses were starting to fog. Each time I bent to put on his boots, my nose started dripping. We struggled to get the pillow to stay where it needed to be. It was pretty comical.

My Dad played Santa for years for his grandchildren – my kids and my nieces and nephews. He loved doing it. Since our grandchildren have just gotten old enough for Santa, this year was the first for our family to re-new the tradition.

I gathered my wits and dried my tears. It was time for Santa to make his appearance. I raced upstairs. Santa arrived at the front door, ringing his bells with a jolly “Ho, Ho, Ho”.

I looked at one of my daughters and then the other. Tears were running down their cheeks and they were obviously upset, but smiling through their tears. My son was showing distress but keeping it together.  They felt it, too. Their Grandpa had just shown up in the room.

After a very successful and joyous visit, Santa made his exit, ringing his bells as he left.

Our granddaughter was shy at first, but thrilled.  She proclaimed, after he had left, “I like Santa!”. The one-year old was curious and smiling. The 5 month old had no idea who the new visitor was, but looked intently at the jolly old man.

My husband had somehow managed to sound nothing like himself. He sounded nothing like Grandpa. He sounded just like Santa. He looked just like Santa. For a short time, my husband was Santa. It was magical . . .

and it was, for those who remembered,  much more than that.

Santa didn’t just visit the kids this year, he visited my daughters, he visited my son, he visited me. We were transported to an earlier time, an earlier place, where we had our Dad and our Grandpa with us again.  We cried because we missed him, we cried because we again felt his love. We cried because we each felt the loss of family. We hid our tears from the kids to ensure they felt nothing but excitement and joy.

My husband had an opportunity to take over for my Dad and play Santa, for his grandbabies. My daughters got to show their husbands a little of what they experienced as children. I, again, had a moment in time with my father.

My husband did an amazing job as Santa. There was a twinkle in his eyes, long into the night.

My Dad was in the room with all of us this Christmas Eve, just as sure as Christ’s love surrounded us.

Merry Christmas, Dad. Your spirit and love live on. We love you and miss you.

 

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Think German Chocolate Cake, without the cake. Think German Chocolate Frosting, in a cookie.

It’s a cookie. No, it’s a candy. It’s a cookie that tastes like candy.

It’s a cookie that causes the person eating it to roll their eyes, moan and say:

 

“oh my gosh” (socially acceptable version).

 

This is one lovely, delectable cookie.

Be prepared to swoon.

German Chocolate Macaroon

 

German Chocolate Macaroons

1 pkg. sweetened, shredded coconut (14 oz), divided

1 cup finely chopped, toasted pecans

1 can sweetened,condensed milk (12 oz): 1/3 cup for cookies, the rest for topping

3 egg whites

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

4 tbsp butter, melted

2 tsp pure vanilla

Topping:

4 oz sweet chocolate, chopped

Sweetened, condensed milk (see above)

Dash of pure vanilla

For the Macaroons:

1.  Mince 1 1/2 cups coconut in a food processor.

2.  Transfer minced coconut to mixing bowl. Add remaining coconut and pecans;  toss to combine.

Coconut-Pecan Mixture

3.  Whisk together 1/2 cup sweetened, condensed milk, egg whites flour sugar, butter, and vanilla in a bowl with a pour spout.

4.  Gently mix egg white mixture into coconut and pecans until combined. Chill dough for at least 1 hour, or up to 24 hours.

5.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees, or 375 degrees for high altitude. Line baking sheets with parchment or Silpat. Scoop dough onto prepared baking sheets with a #60 cookie scoop (about 2 tsp), spacing 1-inch apart.

Scoop Macaroons

6.  Bake cookies until brown on base and golden on tops and edges, 16-18 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks.

For the Toppings:

1. Cook remaining sweetened, condensed milk in a double boiler until slightly thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour, 15 minutes.*

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2. While sweetened, condensed milk is thickening, melt sweetened chocolate in microwave, in 35 second intervals until chocolate is halfway melted. Stir to continue melting.

3. Drizzle and spoon chocolate over tops and sides of macaroons.

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4. When sweetened, condensed milk has thickened, add a dash of vanilla, stirring well.

5. Drizzle thickened condensed milk over macaroons.

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*Note: Recipe called for 45 minutes over double boiler to thicken, but it took much longer for the condensed milk to thicken (over an hour). The extra time is worth it. I suggest starting the process while you are making the macaroons, instead of waiting until the cookies are baked.

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Thank you to Cuisine Holiday Cookies magazine for a delicious recipe! (I eliminated the shortening in the chocolate topping, increased the vanilla in the cookies, and added the dash of vanilla to condensed milk topping).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chicken Wings

 

15-18 Chicken Wings, washed and patted dry

Canola Oil

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Place prepared chicken wings skin side down onto a rimmed baking sheet which has been greased with a small amount of canola oil. Bake for 20 minutes, turn each wing over, and continue baking until both sides are golden brown, approximately 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce:

1/2 cup ketchup

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup vinegar (I use white wine vinegar)

3 tbsp soy sauce

1 garlic clove, minced finely

Pinch of salt

1/4 tsp Pepper

 

Measure out all ingredients into small saucepan. Whisk to combine. Heat over medium heat until sauce comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer while chicken wings are baking, stirring occasionally. Sauce will thicken and reduce.

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After last turn and when chicken is golden on both sides, remove chicken from oven, reduce heat to 350 degrees. Carefully drain fat from baking sheet. Pour sauce over chicken wings. Turn each wing over, ensuring both sides are coated in sauce. Return pan to oven and bake sauced wings for 10-15 minutes, or until sauce is sticky and wings are tender.

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 Transfer wings to serving dish and pour sauce over to coat.

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It’s Sunday. The Sunday following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. A Sunday in which I am seeking comfort. There probably will be many unanswered questions as to why something so horrific can happen in our schools and to our children.

Friday, I was busy trying to get my Christmas wrapping done and I could not hang around the TV watching the day unfold. Yesterday, we had a birthday in the family and I was lucky enough to be very busy. Busy cooking and cleaning and getting ready for the celebration we would have, except none of us really seemed really ready to celebrate. Being together was nice, despite the snow that threatened to put a damper on the nights’ festivities, by way of icy roads.  The snow, with its cold, biting sting, was actually very beautiful, and fitting, in a way. We needed a change. A break in the usual. I’m not complaining about the weather; I have loved the mild, warm fall we have had.

It was just time for snow.

As a family, we have all been affected by the news.

How can you not be?

So celebrating took on a different tone this year. It became less about a birthday and more about togetherness.

Today, I had the time to watch and hear about some of the details. Those details sent me right back into the kitchen. I did the only thing I knew to do, I baked. The house was scented with pumpkin and cinnamon and vanilla. It was all I could do to offer up a tiny sense of saneness, amid such an insane tragedy.

Our thoughts and prayers to all of the families and friends affected by this day. We are all deeply, deeply saddened.

 

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Pumpkin Bread

2 cups canned pumpkin

3 cups sugar

1 cup water

1/2 canola oil

2 tbsp softened butter

4 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

3 1/3 cup unbleached flour

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

3/4 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp nutmeg

 

Combine pumpkin, sugar, water, oil, butter, vanilla, and eggs in a large bowl (or the bowl of your mixer). Beat until well mixed. Set aside. Stir together remaining ingredients in another bowl. Slowly add to pumpkin mixture, beating until smooth. Grease and flour two 9″x5″ loaf pans, or 6, 5 1/2″ x 3″ mini loaf pans. Divide batter between pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 to 65 minutes, or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 10 to 15 minutes; invert bread onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Makes 2 loaves or 6 mini loaves.

Adapted from Coming Home by Gooseberry Patch

 

Our spirit can never be taken from us for it is the part of us that is eternal. It is the part of us that goes on forever.  All the people we know who have left the planet are still here in pure essence and pure spirit.                  

                             They always have been, they are now, and they always will be.                                                

Our spirit, our soul, and the very essence of who we are is always safe, always secure, and always alive.

~ Louise Hay

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In a saucepan, combine water with tea bags and cinnamon sticks.

Bring to boiling. Remove from heat, cover,  and let stand for 5 minutes. Discard tea bags and cinnamon sticks.

Stir milk, sugar or honey, vanilla, ground ginger, and ground cardamom into hot tea. Cook and stir over medium heat just until mixture is heated through. Do not boil.

To serve, pour hot tea into warmed mugs.

If desired, sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon and add a cinnamon stick to each mug.

A cup of comfort.

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