Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category

Last night, preparing to welcome in 2011, I was pondering New Year’s Resolutions.  I still make them, though over the years I have learned to make concrete, do-able resolutions rather than broad sweeping ones like “get fit” or “get organized.”

In that vein, I started to contemplate.  I recently read some “best resolutions” in a magazine and one lady said she vowed to try 3 new recipes a week.  I thought, “that’s a bit too much, but what about one new recipe?”  Then I got to thinking, “I’d really like to clean my office out this year and make it more of a haven, but how to do that?  Maybe clean up and get rid of one thing a week?”  Could I do anything else, one thing at a time?  Eventually, my resolution crystallized into “one new thing.”  I plan to try to do at least one new thing per week this year.  It may be a new recipe or signing up for a cooking class or a new fitness move from a magazine.  Small or large, it doesn’t matter.

Then I thought a little further.  What would these new things do for me?  Hopefully they’d be good.  Maybe I should call it “one good thing.”  Then I thought, heck, good things happen every day, maybe I should resolve to take note of them.  That’s when I decided to go out today and pick up a  pretty journal to keep next to my bed and every night look back on the  day and make a quick note of the “one good thing” I could say about that day.  It’s not a gratitude journal, it’s just an acknowledgment that every day brings SOMETHING that’s good, no matter how tired and cranky and down we might feel sometimes.

Of course I will pursue “one new thing” as well.

What’s your New Year’s Resolution?


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I absolutely love the egg sandwiches you can get at various fast food joints.  This summer, my daughter and I have been on a huge kick, eating egg and muffin sandwiches for breakfast, sometimes snacks, and sometimes for lunch.  They are so easy to make and quite inexpensive.  For one sandwich, here’s all you need:

1 English muffin

1 egg

butter to fry egg

cheddar cheese (one slice just slightly smaller than your English Muffin)

one slice deli ham

Have all your ingredients out and ready to go.  Begin heating a small frying pan over medium heat.  Begin toasting muffin in toaster.  Butter your pan.  I just grab a stick of butter and swipe it quickly around your pan.  You can prepare your egg however you prefer.  We like ours scrambled.  I usually just crack the egg into the pan and scramble in the pan.  As the egg starts to set up, begin to scrape it into a pile about the size of your english muffin.  When muffin pops out of toaster, put the cheddar cheese on one side of muffin, then set the other side on top to start softening the cheese.  When your egg pile is set up enough to turn, flip it, and continue cooking until done.  Put egg on top of cheese on muffin, put ham on top of egg, put other size of muffin on your sandwich and you are ready to go!  Yum!!  I can make one of these in just a few minutes and my daughter says they give her a lot of energy to get her through a morning of summer PE.

Here are a few tips:

I shop for English Muffins at the day old bread store (where I also try to buy all my bread).  Last time I was in, they had Buy One Get One Free (BOGO) on English muffins and bagels.  You can’t beat 2 packs of english muffins or bagels for a total of 89 cents – less than 8 cents per muffin.  Stock up – bread products freeze great!

I buy a 2 lb block of cheddar at Sam’s club for about 5 bucks.  It keeps great and is good for snacks and cooking.  I probably use less than 1/2 an ounce of cheese on the muffin sandwiches, so the cheese costs about 8 cents per muffin also.

I really like the Egglands Best Eggs.  We were buying an 18 pack at Sam’s Club for about 3 bucks, but many of my magazines had 50 cent off coupons for EB eggs lately, so I clipped them all.  My Kroger doubles coupons, which results in a 12 pack of Eggland Best Eggs for 1.59.  That works out to about 13 cents an egg.  If you want to buy store brand eggs, you can often get them on sale for about a buck a dozen.

Finally, I have been buying Oscar Mayer prepackaged deli ham.  The round slices work perfectly for these muffins, which is the main use I have for the ham.  One 7 oz. pack can be found on sale for about 3 bucks or less.  There is probably at least 30 slices per container, so about a dime per piece of ham.  They usually have a long shelf life both before and after opening.

So, my total for a muffin would be:  8+8+13+10=39 cents.  Add a penny or two for butter and electricity for toaster and stove if you like.  Not too bad!



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Yesterday my daughter was bored and I had been toying with the idea of trying to make doggie brownies, so we headed out to do a little shopping.  Her destination was the bookstore and mine was the health food store nearby to buy carob for my dog brownies.  While at the bookstore, I decided to look at dog cookbooks, since scrounging the internet for recipes is not quite as relaxing as thumbing through a book.  I had a stack of about 5 cookbooks when my daughter was done finding what she wanted and so I had to do a speed selection of which one I was going to buy.  My daughter saw that one of the books had a section of Doggie Biscotti recipes, and she thought we should get that one, so I did.

Over to the health food store for a can of carob powder and some carob chips from the bulk food section and I was on my way.  It was too late to cook yesterday (and too hot) but I got started this morning after I took the dog for his walk.  My first recipe was adapted from one I found on the internet.  Here is a link to many good pages of dog recipes:


First I made Bacon Carob Dog Brownies.  These do have more sugar (in the form of a half cup of honey) than I typically would put in a dog treat, so I plan on trying to reduce that a bit the next time I make them.  I happen to have some leftover bacon grease and subbed that for about half of the oil originally called for.  I also have a ton of whole grain from a wholesome breadmaking phase so I try to use fresh ground whole wheat flour as much as possible, but if you don’t have that, all purpose works as well.  Just remember that dogs cannot tolerate chocolate, which is why this recipe uses carob instead.

Bacon Carob Dog Brownies

1 1/2 c. flour (I used whole wheat)

3 T. carob powder

1/2 t. baking powder

1/2 c. canola oil (I used about 1/4 c. bacon drippings plus 1/4 c. canola oil)

1/2 c. honey

2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350.  I baked these in a convection oven.  Grease an 8×8 baking pan.

In large bowl, mix oil and honey.  If using bacon drippings, melt first.  Stir in eggs.  Stir in dry ingredients until just mixed.

***  Note that if you have heated oil or honey (I have to heat honey sometimes to get it out of the jar), you should not add the eggs to the hot mixture or they will curdle.  If this is the case, add eggs AFTER dry ingredients.

Pour mixture into baking pan and spread evenly.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Unlike human brownies, I wanted these a bit solid, so I went the whole 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool for at least 10 minutes.  Cut the brownies into the desired size.  I cut first into 5 strips then cross-wise into 5 strips for 25 brownies.  These came out about 1 1/2 in x 1 1/2 in which seems a good treat size.  Let cool completely them put into container.  Use within a few days or freeze.


My second recipe came from the new cookbook I just bought:  The Everything Cooking for Dogs Book by Lisa Fortunato.  I modified her recipe slightly.

Peanut Butter and Carob Doggie Biscotti

2 c. flour (I used half whole wheat and half all purpose)

2 t. baking powder

2 T. carob chips

1/2 c. peanut butter (I used crunchy, so there were bits of peanuts in my finished biscotti)

1/4 c. water, plus up to about another 1/4 c. as needed

Preheat oven to 325 F.  I used convection very successfully.  Cover a cookie sheet with a sheet of parchment.  If you don’t have parchment, I suggest you buy some because it makes baking so much easier, but you can probably get by with greasing the cookie sheet instead.

Mix flour, baking powder and carob chips in large bowl.  In separate bowl or measuring cup, stir peanut butter and water together.  Don’t use hot water or it will melt the carob chips.    Add peanut butter liquid to dry ingredients and mix.  I found this mix to be very crumbly, so continued to add water until I got a dough I could handle that was not sticky.  Flatten dough with your hands into a disk, then put on cookie sheet and continue to press down and spread the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick.

Bake for 18-25 minutes until it feels dry and somewhat firm on top.  Take it out of the oven and let cool for a few minutes – I slid the entire parchment sheet onto a cooling rack.  When the baked piece is cool enough to comfortably handle (but still warm), slice into 1/2 inch slices.  A sharp knife works fine.  Author suggests a pizza cutter.  I then cut the long biscotti cross-wise into about 2-3 inch cookies.  Author suggests cutting them into 1/2 inch pieces cross-wise, but I have a big dog who only gets treats like these once a day.  Lay the biscotti back on the parchment on the baking sheet on their sides and bake another 15-20 minutes.  The biscotti should be nice and hard now.  Cool on a rack and then store in a container.

My neighbor is threatening to eat these instead of giving them to his dog, and my dog thought they were so good that after taste testing both varieties, he snuck up on the counter and treated himself to another biscotti when my back was turned for only a moment!



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Yosh was my dad.  Yosh was a straight-laced, standup guy who loved his family, loved to cook, and who died way too young.   “I think he was the best of all of us,” my darling Uncle Dial said to me somewhat wistfully last summer.

All my young life, I adored my father and I adored his  spaghetti and meatballs.  Ironically, he had a pot of sauce and meatballs on the stove the day he died.  In the ensuing months of sorrow, we ate the last tubs of my father’s spaghetti sauce and meatballs and that was the last we had them, since it was not my mother’s recipe.

Many years later, I asked my mom for the recipe.  She tried to recall it as best she could and I made the recipe she pieced together for me, adjusting over and over, but it was never quite there.  A few years before she died, I asked my mother where my dad got the recipe.  She thought he had found it in the newspaper and she did have a bag of recipe clippings saved that went back to the late 1960’s, so I spent hours at her condo patiently digging through every newspaper clipping, to no avail.

In 2006, my mom passed away.  As my sister and I were cleaning the condo, we came across that bag of recipes and my sister didn’t want them, so I took them home, where they sat for months.

One lazy Sunday afternoon, I grabbed a chair and started to sort through them.  Many hours later, I came across a recipe torn from a pasta box.  It was for spaghetti and meatballs.  The recipe called for Red Cross Spaghetti, a now-defunct Chicago pasta manufacturer, so presumably, the recipe came off their box.    I stared hard at that recipe.  “This could be it,” I thought to myself.  I paced over to my husband, “I’m going to make this.  I think it may be my Tata’s long lost pasta sauce.”  Tata is the Serbian word for father.  I started calling my full-blooded Serbian American dad “Tata” in high school after becoming friends with Vera, a full-blooded Serbian American in my school who lived two blocks away from me.  From freshman year in high school to this day, he was and always remains “Tata” to me.

So I made the sauce.  Incidentally, it took a little research to discover that a no. 2 ½ can used to be 29 oz.  A 28 oz. can works fine.    I tasted the sauce as it was cooking and it was a taste of childhood.  Oh my gosh, I think this is it!!  Of course, my dad was not one for fussy preparations and I am pretty sure his meatballs didn’t have fresh parsley in them, but for now, I am sticking with the original.

I haven’t had time to make it since then, but my recent foray into grinding my own meat and a fortuitous sale of pork loin at Kroger this week inspired me to try it again.  Fair warning, this recipe will nicely double, but do not triple unless you use a REALLY large stock pot.  I thought I would be perfectly safe using my huge enameled cast iron dutch oven, but as you can see above, it is filled to within about ½ inch of its life!  Not to mention that 3 lbs of meat (I only used 2 eggs and 4 slices of bread), made 57 meatball and 2 hours after the adventure began, my kitchen looked like a parsley bomb went off in it and I just noticed a piece of dried raw ground beef in the middle of my t-shirt.  Being a sucker for punishment, I decided dinner would not be complete without fresh bread, so I have French bread dough busy in the bread machine as I type.

This recipe, a recent family reunion, and a CD of family movies from a cousin have me a bit nostalgic for childhood.  The food, the stories, the pictures – they almost bring those loved ones back close enough to touch.  And that’s the best thing of all.  If we hold on to our family history, we hold on to all the ones who came before us, who made us what we are, and who filled our lives up.

Let me know if you try Yosh’s Sauce.  If you prefer, you can call it Red Cross Spaghetti Sauce and Meatballs, but to me, this taste was all my dad’s.

Best regards,


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This month’s Cooking Light magazine had a feature on hamburgers, and one of the recipes provided details on how to make your own fresh ground beef for really tasty burgers.  All you needed was some time, a cut of beef, and a Kitchenaid mixer with the grinder attachment.   The most time consuming part for me was digging all around my house for the box with the kitchenaid attachments we had bought when we bought the mixer.  They are infrequently used and had been put away SOMEWHERE after our kitchen remodel two years ago.  I had to comb the house for about a half hour before I found the dusty old box on the back of the top shelf in the furthest corner of the basement storage area.

Cooking Light‘s recipe suggested Brisket, but I did some research online that recommended cuts such as chuck steak as well.  A local grocery had boneless “English Roast” on sale for about $2/pound.    This cut apparently comes from the same area as chuck and looks pretty much the same as a pot roast cut to me.  I bought a 2.5 pound package.

Per Cooking Light‘s instructions, I put the parts of my grinder attachment in the freezer for about an hour.    The next time I tried this, I did not have time to chill the attachments and it didn’t seem to matter.   I cut the roast into strips that were small enough around to fit in the chute of the grinder.  They were about 3/4 x 1 inch and maybe 3-5 inches long.  I laid them all out on a cookie sheet and tossed them in the freezer for about 30 min to an hour.

Once the meat was partially frozen, I set the Kitchenaid with grinder attachment to speed 4 as specified by my manual.  Then I put a bowl under the grinder and started feeding the meat into the hopper using the wood plunger to push it through.  As the nice ground meat started to come out, I was reminded of a scene in Pink Floyd’s The Wall and started singing “we don’t need no education…”

I was able to feed 2.5 lbs of meat through fairly quickly.  Since both Cooking Light and my manual said to grind the meat twice, I dumped what I had in the bowl back onto the cookie sheet and ran it through the grinder again.  This is slightly messier than the first run, but still goes quickly.  I  then put the bowl of beautiful ground meat into the fridge to use for dinner.  All in all, I think i spent about 30 minutes prepping the meat, running it through the grinder, and cleaning up.

The first time, I made burgers from the meat.   I thought they were amazing but my family did not jump up and down as much as I thought I deserved:).  My husband suggested that next time I might try running the seasoning through with the burger on the second grind so that I wouldn’t have to mix so vigorously while making patties and could pat the patties a bit looser.

This week I made tacos with 2 lbs of ground English roast.  I trimmed off a bit of the fat, but left most if it to be ground in with the meat.  I always have trouble breaking up the big chunks of ground beef as I cook it, but this time I got a lovely fine crumble.  I did strain all the liquid and fat out, and in the morning, that bowl had mostly  gel and very little fat.  The tacos were terrific.

I can’t wait to try fresh ground beef for other recipes like sloppy joes, meatballs, and bolognese sauce.

Try it, I think you’ll enjoy it.


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My daughter had some friends over yesterday for an end of the year sleepover, and we had a family favorite that was a big hit with the girls.  It is a “make your own Calzones Party” and is easier than you think.  What you’ll need is a variety of pizza toppings/fillings and some easy to make homemade dough (recipe follows).  For fillings, I usually have shredded mozzarella, thinly sliced sweet peppers, mushrooms, sliced pepperoni, and my husband usually peels the casings off one or two hot italian sausages and fries the crumbles up for sausage.  I also put out a bowl of pizza sauce.  I buy a gigantic can of Ragu Pizza Sauce at Sam’s a few times a year and freeze the sauce in ziplock baggies, which I line up accordian style in a shallow plastic container.  So easy to pull one or two of them out.

First step is to prepare the pizza dough.  The recipe that follows makes 4 calzones.  Yesterday I doubled it to make 8.  I have a large Zojirushi Bread machine that I make my dough in using the quick dough cycle and I was happy to see it handle the double recipe easily.  While dough is rising, prepare all filling ingredients and set out on a large work surface such as a kitchen island, counter, or table.  Preheat oven to 425 F.  Have 1-2 cookie sheets ready.  I put a piece of parchment paper on mine to keep the sheets clean, make sure the calzones won’t stick, and to give me a place to label each person’s calzone by writing on the parchment with a sharpie:).

When dough is ready, working on a floured surface, divide dough into the number of calzones you are making.  Roll out to a circle about 6-8 inches in diameter.  Each person should then fill their calzone by putting toppings on one half, leaving about a 3/4 inch edge clean for sealing.  When calzones are filled, dampen the edge around filling with a finger dipped in water, then fold over the top half and seal by pressing all around edge with a fork.  Poke a few holes in the top with fork.  Carefully transfer each calzone to a cookie sheet and label the parchment so you know whose calzone is whose.  If you don’t use parchment, you can poke initials in the top with the fork or otherwise do something to mark each one.   I can usually fit 4 calzones on my largest cookie sheet, but it is close, you may want to use 2 cookie sheets for 4 calzones.   Bake at 425 for 18-20 minutes. (these work great in my convection oven at 400 F also).  Allow to cool for at least 5-10 minutes before attempting to eat – they are HOT inside!


Calzone Dough (makes 4 calzones)

1.5 t. yeast

1 c. warm water

2.5 c. flour

1/2 c. cornmeal

1 T. sugar

1 t. salt

2.5 T. olive oil

Use whatever method you would normal use to mix and knead ingredients for bread or pizza dough.  I use the quick dough cycle on my bread machine.




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For those of us who cook most of our family meals at home, menu planning can help save money, time, and frustration, but sometimes it is hard to find the time or initiative to get a meal plan going.  In the past, I have used weekly or even monthly menu plans, but as our family gets busier, they have fallen by the wayside.  I have also noticed that it is not always easy to track if you are having variety in your menu (my family often accuses me of cooking nothing but chicken!) or to remember to make old family favorites.

I have spent the last two years teach Excel skills to college students in my job as a visiting faculty, and this summer decided to use a spreadsheet to track my menus.  It gives me a good way to see if we are getting variety, and also to remember old family favorites or to know when we actually cooked the leftovers languishing in the fridge.  Here is an example of my spreadsheet (you can click on it to see the full size version – use your back button to come back to this page when you are done):

The beauty of this list is that I can sort it in a variety of ways if I want.  For instance, sort by protein type to look for ideas for chicken.  Or if it is a special day for a certain family member, sort to find their favorites.  Another thing that sometimes happens at our house is that one family member may miss a dinner due to other plans and on that day, we try to cook something that person doesn’t like.  So we could sort by the “hated by” column to find dinners to make when someone is absent.  I often forget where I have the recipe saved for some of our infrequent dinners, so there is a column to help with that as well.

You could customize this however it works best for you.  You might want to add a column with costs, so that you can find cheap dinners when you need to.

As I always told my students, Excel is an amazing tool and you can do so much with it, both within your career and in your life.  Let me know if you find this idea helpful.



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