Thursday, February 28, 2013

Adding to "QUICK AND EASY" Ideas!!!!

Ruthy here! So for those of you who are NOT writers, you're about to take a ride on the wild side of quick meals, great taste and time-saving steps which is what writers do to pump up production of books...

Tomorrow we kick off our annual March Book Push with "SPEEDBO" our version of "Book-in-a-Month."

Our job at the cafe is to provide water, coffee (hydration and wakefulness necessary to the cause) desserts and great tips on how to GET IT DONE!

I've loved cooking for a long time. But now, with a full time job and a wonderful writing career, time is scarce....



It's all good because there are tons of quick, delicious recipes that get the job done. First I examine the parameters:

Seven days....     7

Dave's only around on five of them for supper.

Down to five days now:  

I don't eat breakfast. (That makes morning easy-peasy, right? Except my little peeps DO eat, so I don't worry about what's going on with the day job. I examine the writing time only and target that.)

Instantly I've minimized my worries and woes.

Five nights: I elect Dave to procure food for two of those nights. That's the partnership part of the extra paycheck.... And he loves the extra paycheck!!!!

So I've whittled my week down to three nights because the two nights that Dave isn't around I'll grab a salad or a salad or a salad.



Geez, Louise, anyone can come with something quick for "three measly nights"

With  a little help from your friends!

This past weekend I slow-roasted 3 humongous, ginormous chuck roasts in the oven. Here's how:

Place large chuck roasts in big roasting pan. Sprinkle liberally with pepper, salt, garlic, and dried onion. Cover tightly. Roast at 275° for a day or so, adding water now and again as needed. The entire house smells like you're a master chef, and you're literally doing nothing but working on a manuscript.

Use one pan of meat to make pot roast. Add in potatoes and carrots, re-seal (add more water for broth if needed ) and return to oven. Raise temp to 350° and cook for an hour to an hour and a half.

Let the other pans cool somewhat, then (using your hands, it's so down-home-country FUN!!!) pull the fat from the meat...


and then pull the very tender beef into pieces. Toss them into a big bowl. Add two bottles of Famous Dave's Rich and Sassy Barbecue sauce... (or your personal favorite)....

And then toss into freezer bags for quick, thaw-and-heat deliciously wonderful hot beef "Q" sandwiches.

We like ours on grilled Kimmelwick buns, a big fave up here from the German immigrants. Kimmelwick buns are chewy hard rolls covered in sea salt and dill seed. Just a wonderful taste, to die for.

So from those chuck roasts we have three meals of frozen Barbecue Beef (that I'll put up against anybody's, anytime!!!) and a delightful pot roast dinner.

I also used the juices/drippings to make beef gravy. I froze that and I'll use that for either biscuit pie or to make hot beef sandwiches later in the month. 


Happy Last Day of February!!!!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pineapple Ricotta Custard

Hello, everybody!!

                                        You know I love anything in a ramekin.
 It just makes everything so much more elegant. Or maybe it's because they match, and I usually don't have enough matching bowls. And there's portion control, too, so I could make a point for it being HEALTHIER. :)
I've made chicken pot pies.
Spinach lasagne.
Blueberry pie.
 Lemon souffle.
And I wanted to make a dessert, but keep the portions small so I went looking... OH MY!
 Mini pineapple upside down cake!! But I think these would defeat the purpose of having something small. They look really, really yummy and really, really fattening.
So, I thought about what would have a good protein boost, use natural sugars, and no flour.
(At least Matt Groenig,the creater of the Simpsons, understands me. Did you know his dad was named Homer? And was raised in a Mennonite, Plautdietsch-speaking family? Yup. You'll never look at Homer Simpson the same way again.)

Anyway,  I had some ricotta left over and I remembered eating a wonderful ricotta dessert when I lived in France. It had pineapple and cinnamon and was soooo creamy and delicious.

I had those things. Ta-DAH! Magic pantry! And magic fridge. Don't keep ricotta in the pantry. That would be gross.
I found this recipe online but it had heavy cream. Something I didn't have... and didn't really want.

2 pounds ricotta cheese (drained)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 large eggs
So, this is what I did.
Preheat oven to 450F (what's that sign for degree????? Well, now that I've wasted five minutes, you can just draw it on the screen with a Sharpie. :)

I mixed 1 lb ricotta, 3/4 cup sugar, 4 eggs, 3 tsp vanilla, 1 cup whole milk together until creamy. Then I reserved 6 whole rings of pineapple from the can, chopping the rest and adding it to the custard mix.
It looked a little soupy and I was wondering if I'd just ruined a whole pound of ricotta and some delicious pinapple. Fill each ramekin about half full.
Top with a pineapple.
Add more of the custard to completely cover the pineapple and then add a SPRINKLE of cinnamon. Yes, that's not quite the way it should be. Anyway. You get the idea.
Bake for 10 minutes at 450, then lower it 350F for another 15.  Here's one that's finally cooled enough we can eat it.
They did take a long time to cool off.

Here my 7 year old stakes his claim on the pineapple ricotta custard cup of his choice. I don't think anyone will jump that Fisher Price fence and dare Mr. Transformer to a Lego Ninjago firestick duel.

But I could be wrong.

So, until next time, keep experimenting with new things... Right until March rolls around and Speedbo begins because then we'll be doing the super simple, crazy easy dishes so we can WRITE LIKE THE WIND!
I thought I was starting a historical romance (to follow All The Blue of Heaven) and then jump directly into the sequel to Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits...

But I've changed direction! I'll leave you wondering until next Wednesday, when we're officially started on Speedbo. :)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pie Crust Blues

Tex here. A few weeks back, Ruthy did a post on quiche (click here to see it) which got me to craving quiche. So after a few days of thinking about nothing but quiche, I decided to make my own. To do this, I started with one of those refrigerated pie crusts that are already rolled out. They're good, they're easy, and...well, they're easy.

The quiche was great, the crust was great, nuf said.

So Saturday, I decided to make that mouthwatering treat again. Except I didn't have any refrigerated pie crusts. And I wasn't about to run to the store. I'll just make my own.

Epic failure.

I've tried countless times to make my own pie crust, but I can never get them to roll out right. I made sure my ingredients were cold. I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and put in the fridge for thirty minutes. I was careful not to add too much flour or water.

I don't get it. Why can I not do this?

Ruthy would say it's because I didn't use her never-fail pie crust (recipe here), which is probably true. Nor did I go back and look at Jan's pie crust demo (click here to see it and be a better person than me).


Alas, on the second try, I finally got the crust rolled out enough to fit in the pie plate. I didn't care much what it looked like because, like people, it's what on the inside that counts. So until I can master the art pie crusts there's only one thing left to do.

Let them eat cake!
(This gorgeous creation is courtesy of my daughter, Rachel and her little helper on the right.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Prepping Your Kitchen for Speedbo!

It's almost here! The biggest, busiest, book-writingest month of the year!

March is the official month for Speedbo, and your opportunity to write a novel -  a whole novel - in just one month!

Woo hoo!

(And if you aren't Speedbo savvy yet, here's where to get the scoop: SPEEDBO)

Now, the big thing about Speedbo is that we authors want to stick our bottoms in a chair, our fingers on the keyboard and write, write, write...but you know, every once in awhile, reality intervenes. Things jobs...children...dogs....

Cutest Corgi puppy ever!
And believe or not, our families actually expect food.

Even when we're writing.

The Cretans.

But never fear. Your friendly neighborhood Yankee Belle Cafe comes to your rescue once again. All through the month of March we'll be wowing you with easy, quick and family pleasing recipes to keep everyone's tummy filled.

Between now and Friday, though, there are things you can do to make the month's cooking duties even easier.

The key is preparation. Just like you get your character sketches done, or your outline written, or your research explored, you can do things to get your kitchen ready for the onslaught.

Here are some basic preps I do:

1. Ground beef. A lot of recipes start with a pound (or two) of ground beef. BROWNED. We all know the drill. You're ready to cook, your children are starving (or you are!), and you're looking at an extra 10-20 minutes cooking time. Here's the hint - one day this week, when you're browning ground beef for dinner anyway, throw in an extra pound or two...or ten. After it's cooked and drained, put it in freezer bags (about 2 1/2 cups equals one pound), and save it for those last minute casseroles. You can pull one out the night before and thaw it in your fridge.

2. Chicken. How many casseroles and soups call for "2 cups cooked chicken, diced"? Tons. Almost as many as want you to brown that ground beef. I buy chicken breasts on sale (or in a huge amount at Sam's Club). Put the breasts on a baking sheet and bake them in the oven for about 45 minutes. Once they cool, cut them up and freeze the cooked meat in freezer bags - put two cups in each bag and you're ahead of the game.

If you want to use whole chickens instead of breasts, the same principle applies. Cook them off, debone the bird, and freeze the meat. You can make stock at the same time - a double plus.

And if you happen to have a turkey in the freezer, all the better. Pull it out today, cook it on Thursday, and you have enough meat for casseroles all month.

3. Onions. Chopping onions is one of those time consuming chores that'll just make you want to forget about cooking. Cut up a couple onions at a time and freeze the chopped pieces. You can use what you need straight out of the bag.

4. Cheese. If you don't buy the bags of pre-shredded cheese at the store, you can make your own. Your food processor is great for this. You can shred a whole pound in just a few minutes.

Warning: only use your food processor for the harder cheeses. Velveeta doesn't shred well. Not at all.

These are only a few ideas, but I'm sure you have more! What are some of your favorite do-ahead cooking tips?

I can't believe I almost forgot this! Make sure you don't neglect stocking up on the most important food group of all!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

I kept the title simple because these are simply delicious, simple cookies to make and they are crazy expensive to buy in stores.

So here you go, this recipe is actually from the cooking website and it's my favorite recipe for these cookies. All credit goes to them, but what you'll love is the EASE of making these.... and the amazing mix of taste and texture that make this cookie a keeper!

These also ship well and freeze well. I always do double batches for this crew and I'm always happy to throw a few in the freezer. For single batch recipe go HERE.


4 sticks butter, softened (2 cups)
1 1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons almond extract (I increased both the vanilla and almond to two teaspoons)
5 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
2 cups coarsely chopped white chocolate

Ruthy note: I used the Hershey's white milk chocolate mini chips and they worked great. I love their texture and they are great in cookie baking. One of my faves! Also, I was low on brown sugar so I improvised by adding a 1/4 cup molasses to 1 1/2 cups white sugar and mixing with a fork until you have... wait for it!!! BROWN SUGAR!!!!  :)

Mix with fork and you get this:

Brown sugar! Voila!

In large mixing bowl cream together butter and sugars until smooth. ( I may or may not have added the eggs at this step and mixed like crazy, but that's because you should always... READ THE RECIPE FIRST.  OOPS!!! Anyway, they came out fine... wonderfully fine, in fact!)

Add eggs, one at a time and mix after each addition. Combine flour, salt and baking soda, stir in gradually.

(I have a dough hook for mixing these heavy doughs, and that worked great.

Stir in nuts and white chocolate.
mmm... Macadamia nuts..... WHERE'S THE "LOVE" BUTTON????

And now for the white chocolate chips.... :)

Bake at 350° until golden brown, about 9-10 minutes.



(I love that link to that youtube video.... the expressions on the shoppers faces: Priceless!)

Ready for the oven!!!

This is a random but beautiful picture of my friend Lisa who's fight against breast cancer earned her a spot as a heroine in a book..... But the real Lisa didn't know that I may or may not have had some FICTIONAL FUN at her expense....  The real Lisa is NOT A YANKEE LOVER!!!

I know, can you believe it???? What is the matter with her????

The fictional Lisa???? Oh, baby, she LOVES THE YANKEES!!!!  :)

I love when I have complete control and possible world domination!!!  And how cute is that baby, waiting for a cookie??? That's Joslyn my "first cousin once removed" who comes to visit me and I get to feed her and cuddle her and teach her fun things... Like how to avoid electric sockets and NOT EAT THE PARTS TO BATTLESHIP!!!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program!!!

Don't they look wonderful? And they taste that good, too!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Parmesan Crusted Chicken (Hellmann's)

Missy, here. And someday, I'm going to share southern fried chicken with you. But since my family doesn't really like it (I know! Difficult to believe, huh?), I decided to make something I thought they'd like better.

So I went for a recipe I've seen on Hellmann's ads in magazines. Click here for the original.

But here's my version...

The recipe calls for 4 chicken breasts. But I had tenderloins in the freezer. So I just baked a little shorter period of time. The Bob Evans you see in the photo was a quick mac and cheese we had for a side dish along with broccoli.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix together:
1/2 cup mayo (Pssst...Don't tell Hellmann's that I used Duke's mayo!)
1/4 cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese

Pat chicken dry and spread the mayo-cheese mixture on top.

Be careful if you thaw it in the microwave! Don't let the edges start cooking like I did this time!

Sprinkle with Italian style breadcrumbs (about 1 tsp. each for full chicken breasts, a pinch for tenderloins). I only had plain bread crumbs, so I sprinkled a tiny pinch of Italian seasoning on top of each.

Bake 15-20 minutes depending on the size of your chicken. I did 15.

So quick and easy! The cheese melted and the crumbs got a bit crispy. Very yummy! And the family loved it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Longing for Spring!

The Yank here, and I have a confession to make.

Snow has lost its charm.

These are my friends Bob, Stacey, Cole, Brooke and Megan...

Aren't they CUTE???

Being tired of snow in late February is not an unusual circumstance for this lover of winter.

God wants us to embrace much and employ moderation. I'm thinking turnabout is fair play when it comes to winter.

Winter is like pregnancy... YOU LOVE KNOWING YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE A BABY....

But by the end of month eight, you're ready to be done.

So today we're thinking spring.


Bearded Iris in front of my side porch...
These are from Great-Grandma Blodgett's garden. They love sun, they don't like their tubers planted to deeply, (they like to "breathe") and these babies have been with me for decades!
And then there are:

Gardens with cute kids.... This is my cover model for upcoming characters Sonya and Dorrie Cabrera McKinney, regulars in the "Kirkwood Lake" series. The girls are identical twins with VERY DIFFERENT personalities...
And that just makes things more fun!

How stinkin' adorable is she??????

And then there's this:
We could be expecting Golden Retriever and Golden Doodle puppies this spring...
Time will tell.
I love puppies! I love teaching them, caring for them, seeing them get born and how beautifully
their mamas care for them.
Puppies make me smile...
And when the puppies are done with the cute fence I have for them...

Puppy cages with multi-purpose usage.... Caging children cannot possibly be illegal, right?
Not when they have a LADDER!!!

Summer foods.... In September I long for mashed potatoes... soup.... roasts.

I'm ready for grilled meat without standing in a crazy snowstorm to cook it.

(Come July I'll be whining about the heat, so it's really okay to ignore me now...)

Pasta salad....
Oh, yum. Why does it taste better in summer????
Burgers and dogs...


Sigh... 'Nuff said!

So here's where I'm at right now.... I'm still making soups, poring over these:

And dreaming of planting.... weeding.... trimming... picking and eating, LOL!

What is it that you like best about spring?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fancy Nancy Makes Cookies

Hi everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is back and I'm yearning for something fancy.

 Have you ever seen these children's books?
Fancy Nancy books (by Jane O'Connor and illustrated by Robin Priess Glasser, published by Harper Collins) are geared to preschool girls, but my boys love them, too. A little girl who has to do everything in the FANCY way. She even throws out little French phrases, so I've got a warm spot in my heart for Nancy.

  I know it's Lent and we should all be eating bread and water. But what about Sunday? What about visitors? What about... that ending on Downton Abbey??

RIGHT?? Sometimes we need a little fancy to get us through the week.
So, instead of the usual chocolate chip cookies, I decided to make some Fancy Nancy cookies.
 These aren't particularly hard to make, but they're definitely not your average after-school cookie.
When I brought out the recipe, Edna accused me of being influenced by Goldie, the new teacup. Was I going to make everything ten time as complicated as normal, just to be showy? Then again, is showy all bad?
Maybe... Maybe not. Let's try it and see.

Preheat oven to 350F.

 So, the base of the RASPBERRY CRUMBLE COOKIE is a standard shortbread.
1/2 pound butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp oure vanilla
2 1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt

Mix all these ingredients until just combined. Form into a ball and take 2/3 and pat into the bottom of a 9X13 pan. Leave a bit of the shortbread for about 1/2 inch of dough going up the side.

Spread your raspberry jam (most of a jar, if using all raspberry) on the bottom. I had some apricot, so I used that, too. Spread it to about 1/2 from the sides.

Now, the other 1/3, mix with 2/3 cup granola (no dried fruit, it will burn). This will be the topping.
The original recipe has 3/4 sliced almonds but I couldn't find them anywhere. I may have pulverized them for a pie crust. I don't remember exactly. Anyway, they weren't in the pantry. :P
Break the granola-shortbread dough into small pieces and sprinkle on top. Bake about 45 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.
Here they are, cooled and cut and ready for the tea party. Edna relented and said that Goldie and her friends were invited to the festivities, so in the end we did have a wonderful time together.
I'm gearing up to start another historical romance, set at the turn of the century and these old-style crumble bookies were just what I needed for plotting.
Who am I KIDDING?? I do not plot.
But in honor of Speedbo (Seekerville's version of NaNoRiMo), I'm definitely thinking... deeply... about plots while I eat cookies.
Of course, I also will be 'plotting' while I refurbish this old trunk I found super cheap. The canvas can't be saved, but I'm hoping to strip and laquer the pine underneath.
Edna is pretending to be uninterested, but she keeps shooting glances at this handsome trunk. Who can blame her?? But he does need a bit of perking up.

Until next time, indulge in a bit of fanciness to get you through the week!