Saturday, December 31, 2011

Spice Run & a Resolution

We had a whirlwind trip to Pittsburgh this week--and I was able to squeeze in a pilgrimage to Penzeys Spices, only 5 blocks from our hotel.  What a great store!  I loved that it was just a spice store.  Except for spices and cookbooks, there was nothing else around.  No pots, pans, grill tools, freshly-ground coffee, oven mitts, or other stuff.  I like all that other stuff, but it was very refreshing to be in a single-purpose shop.

I found the selection to be amazing and the prices very reasonable.  And what a cute shop!  Look at all the cool stuff I got!

I found 2 "kits" that were a good value.  One contained bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and 2 whole nutmegs.  That's the bag in the upper left.  The other kit had 4 small jars of ginger, ground nutmeg and 2 kinds of cinnamon.

In addition to those, I bought a tube with 3 vanilla beans, one more kind of cinnamon (there are 4, plus a blend, to choose from!), extra ginger (we go through a lot of ginger here), charnushka seeds (for rye bread), lemongrass, gumbo file, Dutch-process cocoa, chipotle powder and a jar of "baking spice" that was a total impulse and tastes great in coffee.

Penzeys has a store in Philadelphia, and I'm already starting a list for my next field trip!

My New Year's Resolution for the kitchen, now, is to rearrange my cabinets to make room for these new spices.  That'll have to wait until everyone's back to work and school, because I'm going to have to pull everything out.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Creamy Mac & Cheese

When is a mistake not a mistake?  When it turns out that you like the finished product better than it would have been otherwise.  That's what happened with tonight's mac-n-cheese.

I've got this recipe for homemade mac-n-cheese that my older kids really love.  It's easy, and pantry-friendly, and that's what I needed tonight.  And that's the recipe I thought I had turned to in my recipe binder that's in the kitchen.

But no...I'd mistakenly turned to another one.  I didn't realize it until the white sauce was well underway.

We liked this version even better!  So here we go:

Creamy Mac & Cheese

Print Recipe

3/4 pound small shell pasta, cooked al dente and drained
3 TBL butter
3 TBL flour
2 cups milk
pinch of nutmeg
freshly ground pepper (I used a pepper blend with cayenne and black pepper)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 cups finely-shredded cheese (Cheddar-Jack is good)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
panko for topping

Melt butter in a heavy saucepan.  Stir in flour until mixture is thick and golden.  Whisk in milk and seasonings slowly and continue to stir until mixture begins to thicken.  Stir in cheese.  After cheese melts, fold in the soup.  Mix in the pasta, then pour into an oiled 9X13 casserole dish.  Sprinkle panko over the top.  Bake 20 minutes at 375, uncovered.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kitchen Wishin'

I'm one of those people who would be perfectly happy to get a whole bunch of kitchen stuff for Christmas.

Now, a vacuum cleaner would be another story, but I love to cook and bake, so cooking gifts are great for me.

I saw this awesome measuring cup/digital scale over at TidyMom. Great for those international recipes!

Here's a multipurpose cast-iron Dutch Oven with skillet cover!  How cool is that?  One pan (plus lid) does the work of two.

Since I actually managed NOT to kill my herb garden this year (and had a bumper crop of cilantro), this Microplane Herb Mill would help me make use of all the herbs I froze for use this winter.

And, yeah, 'cause I definitely have my "geek moments," the cookbook I'm wishing for this year is Cooking for Geeks.  It promises to satisfy my curiosity about what makes recipes work--and NOT work!

What's on YOUR kitchen wish list?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Honey Butter Dinner Rolls (Bread Machine)

I wasn't even planning to bake yesterday, let alone bake bread, let alone try a new recipe, but when I looked over the Secret Recipe Club reveal, I found these Honey Yeast Rolls over at The Pajama Chef.  Then I realized that if I got started right now, we could be enjoying those rolls with dinner.

Of course, I changed things up a bit.  First, I made the dough in the bread machine.  The other change I made had to do with Sarah's comment that the rolls were "dense" in texture.  She got 12 rolls out of a recipe that contains 4 cups of flour.  That didn't seem like much, and I wondered if adding some vital gluten to the dough would help things along.

I'm pretty sure the gluten was the key here; the dough was beautifully elastic and they baked up nice and airy. I wound up with 2 dozen small rolls, but dinner rolls ARE supposed to be small.  With the honey butter on top, they are deliciously sweet.

Here's the recipe as I made it:

Honey Butter Dinner Rolls at Cook and Count--with nutrition info!

A certain child who lives in this house has declared these the "best rolls ever!"

Monday, December 05, 2011

Secret Recipe Club: Apple Cinnamon Muffins

It's a great time of year for apples, and baking anything with apples and cinnamon makes the house smell so good!  Naturally, though, when you get a bag of apples, there are always a few in there that have a bruise or imperfection and the kids don't want to eat them out of hand.  Those are great for cooking, though, as you can trim around those spots.  I bought way too many apples to make a Thanksgiving pie, so I used up two nice big Rome apples in this recipe for Apple Cinnamon Muffins, which I found over at No Reason Needed. This is my Secret Recipe Club pick for December.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup orange juice
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 cups chopped, peeled tart apples (I used 2 Rome apples)
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
Demerara sugar for sprinkling

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Set aside.  Mix beaten egg, orange juice and melted butter, then stir into the dry ingredients until just moistened.  This will be a  VERY thick batter.
Fold in apples and walnuts.  Fill paper-lined muffin cups (I used an ice-cream scoop since the dough was so thick).
Sprinkle with Demerara sugar.  Bake at 350 until muffins test done; begin checking after 20 minutes.  It took mine 28 minutes to finish--think I might have overdone it on the apples a bit--the ones I used were REALLY big.

THINGS I CHANGED: I doubled the cinnamon from the original recipe, added nutmeg, added the walnuts and topped the muffins with Demerara sugar for a little extra crunch.

COOK'S NOTE: I was glad to read the note on the blog post (separate from the printable recipe) that said "don't let the lack of liquid ingredients scare you!"  I was SURE I would need more liquid, but these muffins turned out very moist--fiddling with that would have been a disaster.

SURVEY SAYS: These muffins were moist and tasty, full of nice big chunks of apples! They're great for breakfast or anytime.

I love how the recipes as this blog are all shown in printable format.  No Reason Needed is a family blog and recipe blog all rolled into one.  Recipes are uncomplicated and family-friendly!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Organizing the Shopping List

There's something to be said for good old pencil and paper sometimes.  Sure, I've got tech gadgets--and there's an app for just about everything these days.  But my best planning (and meal-planning) tools are my planner, a spiral notebook, a binder clip and a pencil.

I get the planner through Family-Centered Press, and it's got space for everything.  Monthly grid, plenty of weekly space, and even menu or lesson-planning pages (I use the lesson pages for lists and reminders).

I get the spiral notebook at the supermarket during the back-to-school notebook sale.  I haven't had to pay more than 15 cents for a spiral notebook in years.  And I get about a year out of a notebook--doesn't get any more frugal than that!

Last week while I sat at the rehearsal for the play Little Brother is in, I was busy with my calendar, planning out dinner ideas for December.  I needed to work around his rehearsal schedule, his sister's schedule for a different play, Cub Scouts and a couple of church events.  I needed to include meals that were easy to make, and I wanted to make some favorite dinners for Big Brother when he gets home from college in 2 weeks.

So I sat there with my pencil and planner and figured all this out.  And today when I went to the grocery store with my notebook, I wished I'd had that planner with me so I could look for deals on things I'll need to make those meals for the month ahead.

While I stood on the checkout line--of course, the slowest line ever--I figured out a way to bring the menu plan along even if I'd left the planner at home.

I printed out the monthly menu calendar at Canny Women and trimmed it to fit the inside cover of my notebook, then just taped it in.  After that, I penciled in all the dinner choices and even started listing groceries I know I'll need to make those meals--though I've got most of it already in the freezer and pantry.

There's a reason for the pencil--it's erasable!  That's important when things suddenly come up and get in the way of the plan.

I can't forget to bring my menu plan to the store if my shopping list is written in the same notebook.


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