Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix Up

I love chocolate chip cookies. And one of the many things I love about them is that the dough is so versatile. Last week I wanted to make some cookies, but couldn't decide what kind. So, I started with my regular chocolate chip cookie dough, then mixed things up a bit.

My basic chocolate chip cookie recipe is as follows:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1/4 cups all purpose or bread flour

You know the drill. Beat butter and shortening together, then add sugars and beat until well combined. Add eggs and mix well. Now add your flour, half a cup at a time, salt, baking soda and cinnamon and mix well. If you were making regular choco chip cookies, you would add 2 cups chocolate chips and 1 cup chopped nuts, if desired. But here's where I threw in a few variations. 

I scooped out my plain dough onto baking sheets, then let my imagination take over.

First, I had some leftover Christmas M&Ms that I wanted to use up. So, I pressed those into the first dozen dough balls.
I was really in the mood for  pecans, so I pressed some halves into several. Oh, and I do like just the plain cookies, too, so I left a few as is.
However, number one son would balk if there weren't some tried and true chocolate chip ones.
And to make sure hubby was happy, I made sure there were a few with pecans.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 8-11 minutes, depending on your oven and how crisp or soft you prefer your cookies.

And voila!
A people-pleasing,
 pot pourri...
...of Toll House goodness.

Everyone was happy and the cookies were gone in no time. Which is good, because the more they eat, the fewer that are left for me. 

So how do you like your Toll House cookies?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Welcome Spring with Vanilla Cream Cheese Bundt Cake

If you've been around the cafe for a while, you might remember this equipment fail from November:

I was trying to make this Caramel Apple Cake. And while the cake was delicious, it didn't look so pretty.

So yes, I did put a new Bundt pan on my Christmas list, and my favorite middle son gave me this beauty on the big day:

Sometimes better equipment is all you need!

Daughter Carrie gave the new pan its first test with this delicious cake. The light vanilla flavor with a bit of tang from the cream cheese makes this the perfect dessert for spring. It would make a great base for strawberry shortcake, too, if you weren't already addicted to Grandma's recipe :)

This recipe is from a website called http://www.rockrecipes.com/. They have tons of good looking recipes over there, and once I get a minute to breathe, I'll have to browse a bit longer than I did the other day.

Here it is:

Vanilla Cream Cheese Bundt Cake


for the cake batter:

1 1/2 cups sugar
8 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
1 cup butter
3 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

for the Vanilla Cream Cheese glaze:

2 cups powdered sugar (aka icing sugar)
4 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 teaspoons milk


Preheat your oven to 325°.

Cream the sugar, cream cheese, butter and vanilla together well.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

Stir together the flours and baking powder, and then gently fold the dry ingredients into the batter until everything is smooth and creamy.

Bake in a well greased and floured Bundt pan (or two parchment lined loaf pans) at 325° for about 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Or use the touch test: press down lightly in the center of the cake. If the cake springs back, it's done. If an indentation remains, bake a few minutes longer.

Cool completely before frosting.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Glaze

Beat all the ingredients for the glaze together very well until very smooth. Add more of less milk to get the glaze to the proper consistency which should be relatively thick but not quite pourable.

Spoon and swirl the glaze on top of the cake and let it drip down naturally.

And try to restrain yourself to one piece!

In other news, spring has officially arrived in South Dakota!

In addition, I recently purchased a new camera. I'm taking a research trip to western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana in a few weeks, and I hope this new toy takes fabulous pictures. I played with it a bit last weekend when we went to Custer State Park. 

One thing you'll notice from these pictures is that even though the crocus, daffodils and Pasque flowers are beginning to bloom, we don't have greengrass yet.

No, that's not a typo. Greengrass. All one word. The Hills and prairies are still brown.

Okay, Thatcher was not at the park. I was fiddling with the camera settings :) Besides, I had to include him in this post. Today is his birthday!

Which means it's also Jeter's birthday! Happy birthday, you handsome dogs!

One reason for the new camera was to make it easier to get distance shots like this...

...and this one, looking east at sunset.

And close up shots, like this one...

...and this one. Yes, he is standing near what you think he's standing near. That's where the insects are!

I'm very happy with the way this one turned out - with no danger from trying to get too close:

But this last one surprised me. This would have been a big white splotch with my old camera:

It's amazing to see what you can do with the right tools!

What new tool or equipment has made your life easier lately?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Easy POSOLE for the last leg of the writing journey!

Hello, everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is back and I've got a repost from a few years ago.
It's almost the end of Speedbo and I'm very close to writing the end to my second Cane River Romance! (Even though I never officially signed up for Speedbo, it's really hard not to join in when everyone you know has taken a month to write until their arms fall off.)

When I'm working hard on the end of a book, I try to cook something that everyone will like. I don't have time to prepare multiple dishes. I just go for the favorites! And posole is a big favorite in our house.

  Posole! Say it with me! (Oh, pronunciation? Po-ZO-lay.)

So, here we go: (gratuitous shot of our attempt at Jan's garlic cheesy twist bread. Mmm.)

One whole medium onion chopped with three cloves of garlic minced, 2 TBS olive oil, sauteed in the bottom of a soup pot.
Add two cans of tomatoes and 1 tsp salt. (These are our tomatoes from the garden, I added two quarts, and the sea salt was a gift, yee haw!  I don't think it made much of a difference, but it was fun to pretend we were in Sicily... cooking posole.)
Hominy. 50% off. I have no idea where this came from, but it was in the pantry. Probably planted by my husband. This was a huge can, but even with this, it seemed a little short on hominy. So don't add a small can unless you're hoping to get a bowl without any. Add 6 cups of water or chicken broth. If not chicken broth, you can season with bouillon. If not bouillon, just let the chicken gently boil with some salt and a tsp of thyme, it will be good anyway.

At this point, you'll get it to a rolling boil, including 4-5 chicken breasts. Some recipes call for a deli chicken deboned. But who can buy a deli roasted chicken and save it for posole?? That sucker would be 'deboned' within minutes in this house. So, some frozen chicken breasts (which NO ONE wants to see) into the pot, boiled, and then simmered for 30 minutes.

During the final phase, you add the CUMIN powder. I put that in caps because don't think you can add oregeno and get away with it. That would be something else entirely.

Cumin is related to caraway which is related to parsley which is related cilantro which is related to feet. It smells a little musty, but in a good way. Cumin powder- 3 tsp. You can add some hot sauce at this point, but I didn't.
Here's a dish for one of the kids. It smells delicious!!
 Usually, there is shredded cabbage and corn chips, but I just plopped some lettuce and sour cream on there and called it good.
  So, I hope everyone is happy about their word Speedbo wordcount! True to form, I spent the first two weeks milling around, and the last two writing like I was on fire, for a total of 67K new words this month. 
More than that, I love this story, and these characters! The Pepper in the Gumbo was my favorite of all of my books until I wrote this one. Now I'm in love with a whole new crew. I'll post the cover when it's done but so far... I'm all heart-eyes. 

  Until next time!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Tips for Making Perfect Fudgy Brownies

Missy, here. I almost forgot to post! So fifteen minutes before my regular posting time, I decided to share a couple of tips. One I've used for years. The other, I figured out recently.

I'm going to show you how to make the best fudgy brownies (as opposed to lighter, cakey ones) with a brownie mix. And hey, if you like brownies cakier, then just ignore this post. :)

You can use this method no matter what brand you buy--Pillsbury, Duncan Hines or others.

The first tip I'm recommending you use comes from the back of the Duncan Hines box.

No matter what the mix says, I add:

1 egg
⅓ cup water
⅓ cup canola oil (vegetable oil)

Mix with a spoon until just blended.

And here's the really TOP SECRET tip. Free to you! (You're welcome.) :) Okay, the secret to really good, fudge brownies:

Spread into a greased rectangle pan. Not a full size cake pan, and not a square pan. Mine is 7.5 x 11 inches. It makes PERFECT brownies. (By the way, I spray my pan with Pam.)

Bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes. You can't test brownies for doneness like you can cakes. So just trust me on this if you're using my size pan.

Now enjoy the best ooey gooey brownies ever!

Sorry, no photos. These got eaten almost instantly. I won't tell you how many people contributed to the eating. :)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Antipasto-Style Pasta Salad (No One Says: Where's the Meat???)

We often make Italian pasta salad for parties, picnics, showers, etc. It's a family favorite, but I've learned that my family...

And Dave's...

Are not afraid to let their preferences be heard when it comes to what they like in their pasta salad. Meat...

And more meat!

And cheese.

And more meat!

Kav, darling, my veggie version of this includes celery and carrots (steamed slightly so old folks don't break dentures!), cauliflower and broccoli florets, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes (love 'em!!!) and artichoke hearts.

I had a helper while making this so the pics are slightly discordant. Blame Finn. Note that he had to keep grabbing the only GLASS item on the table. The little jar in front is McCormick's Salad Supreme seasoning, this is the amazing seasoning that gives my pasta salad the Oh My Gosh quality folks love.

This version for the combo birthday for Elijah (age 5) and Ol' Dave (aged more than 5) was the carnivore special! And I always make it a day or two ahead, giving the seasonings and dressing time to blend. This intensifies the taste, and that's a wonderful thing!

Here's the list of ingredients, but honestly, the key to great pasta salad is using tons of seasoning... think antipasto tray, layered, then seasoned.... and a favorite Italian dressing (home-made or bottled) and a ton of Parmesan cheese.

1 lb box of pasta (I use Rotini), cooked, cooled quickly and drained. Cook al dente, keep a little firm
2 cans black olives
2 large jars artichoke hearts, seasoned
1 pound high quality ham, cubed
1 pound high quality salami, cubed
1/2 pound high quality pepperoni, cubed
1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, cubed
1 cup (give or take) Parmesan cheese (I use grated because shredded gets gummy after sitting)
Approximately 24 oz. Italian salad dressing.
1 full jar Salad Supreme seasoning (more is never a bad thing with this stuff.)

Finn's like: "Um, you took all my breakable playthings, Grammy. 'Sup wi' dat???"

Layer everything.

Pour on the dressing.

Bright and rustic??? Bright and rustic???? I'm wondering about this, but okay.... I consider myself bright and rustic!


Here's the cookie cake our friends Dave and Jen (different Dave) gave my Dave for his birthday:

How sweet are they? Do you think it took long for our crowd to demolish this?  Nom, nom, nom..... !!!

And because there's no sign of spring up here (yes, still dustings of snow) here are Mary Ruth and Megan making a cut-and-paste garden.... because we can make our own spring, thank you very much!

And because Christmas should be in our hearts all year long, this is Brody's rendition of the Nativity Set.... And, in his words, he faced everyone out so you all could see them smile when I took the picture.

:)  What a sweetheart of a kid.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Spring Fevers

This is my youngest grandkidlet, Miss M, who loves to be helpful and share tasks like washing dishes and making Easter decor.

She also likes to share germs like the bug she got from her brother. After visiting Wednesday, she was laid low with a combo respiratory/stomach bug on Thursday. Guess who got the same bug on Saturday? But I wouldn't trade the hugs and kisses for anything.

Getting sick in the Spring is a bummer. When my middle sister and I were little, Ann was felled by the evil chicken pox. Being the oldest, I really gave her a hard time about her spots and her covered in calamine lotion look. One day, Mom was giving us a bath. She gave my back a long stare, called my Dad in to look at me. I knew what she was going to say so I preempted her with "I love dem chicken pox." The itching was miserable but missing out on a beautiful Spring was worse. At least, my sister was happy I got my just reward!

Back to now! Never have I been so glad to have a back up blog recipe. Because I sure don't want to eat, let alone cook right now.

After visiting our favorite Irish pub earlier last week to avoid the crowds, ManO and I hunkered down on St. Paddy's Day. We always watch Waking Ned Devine.  It's tradition!

But we needed a meal to honor the Irish in both of us. We can trace our both our roots back, knowing immigration dates and villages ManO came from. So I thought of ingredients:

Potatoes:  The Potato Famine motivated our ancestors to move to the US. I'm not sure I would have been that brave.

Something Green:  Broccoli, one of my fave superfoods, was the perfect color for St. Patrick's Day.

Irish Cheese:  Oh, Dubliner, how I love thee.  Ignore the price! It was on sale for the holiday.


I quartered Yukon potatoes, tossed them in olive oil and roasted them for 35 minutes at 425.

Then I tossed in the broccoli to roast another seven minutes.

Then shredded Dubliner went over the veggies and back in the oven until melted.

To serve I topped with sour cream and a bit of bacon, because you know bacon makes everything better. But it was also a frugal meal, reminding us that meat was for the wealthy. 

Add a salad and it's a perfect light meal for early Spring.  

So are you suffering from one of the Spring fevers like allergies, viruses or March Madness? Do you think children are missing out getting the chicken pox vaccine rather than the real thing? How did you celebrate St. Patrick's Day? And do you have the Irish in ya?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Building a Better Burger

Tex here, and, you know, my husband and I watch a lot of Food Network. Chopped and Diners, Drive-ins and Dives are two of our favorites. In DDD, Guy Fieri travels the country, introducing viewers to, well, diners, drive-ins and dives and the fare that they offer. Not an episode goes by that I'm not drooling over something or thinking, "I should make that."

So when we decided to do hamburgers this past weekend, I wasn't content with just the same ol', same ol'. No. I wanted to shake it up a bit.

Then I remembered my friend who processes her own deer meat and how she mixed ground uncured bacon (at least that's what she called it, but I think it was probably just pork belly, which is where bacon starts) with venison. Now that was some good eatin'. 

Well, I had bacon and I had lean ground beef. Why not give it a go.

So I pulled out the grinder attachment for my mixer and ground up a 12 oz package of bacon. Actually, I thought I had a pound, which I was going to add to three pounds of ground beef. Since I didn't, though, I cut the ground beef back to about 2 1/2 pounds. Basically, I wanted a 3 to 1 ratio.

Then I added the ground bacon to the ground beef (93/7),
And mixed it all together with my hands. Yes, they were clean. 
Then I balled the meat into 6-8 oz portions.
Once my skillet was nice and hot, I'd throw on a ball or two, immediately flattening them with a metal spatula, sprinkle just a tiny bit of Montreal Steak Seasoning (don't need salt since its in the bacon) and let them cook 3-4 minutes before flipping them.
Then I toasted some sesame seed buns for those who wouldn't know a carb if it hit them in the face.
Me, I simply topped mine with thin-sliced Monterrey Jack cheese, onion, mayo, mustard, ketchup and, finally, a bit of lettuce.
The result?

Oh. My. Word. 
This could possibly be one of the best burgers I have ever eaten. The amount of bacon was just right. Its flavor didn't take over, simply married with the ground beef , creating a flavor profile that should not be missed.

Will I be doing this again?
You betcha. I can hardly wait until next time. And I can't wait to do it with venison. Sorry, Kav. ;)

What are some your favorite experiments in the kitchen?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Winter Vegetable Soup with Garlic Twist Bread

We're on the downside of March with only one more week left of this year's Speedbo (Seekerville's annual writing challenge - go here for details. It isn't too late to sign up!).

Even though it's spring for our southern peeps, we're still enjoying cool (i.e. cold) temperatures in the north, and even a little (or a lot of) snow. So before soup weather disappears, I thought we'd take a rerun look at one of my family's favorites. I hope you enjoy these recipes from 2012!

This soup is one of those you can make with almost any veggie – except potatoes. If you add potatoes, then it’s potato soup, right?

Here’s the official recipe:

Winter Vegetable Soup

¼ cup butter
2 medium sized turnips, chopped
1 rutabaga, chopped
2 parsnips, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 ½ quarts stock – chicken or vegetable
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme, or one sprig fresh thyme
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup heavy cream
2 cups kale
1 Tablespoon each, butter and olive oil

In a large soup pot (I use an 8-quart pot), melt the butter. Add your turnips, rutabaga, parsnips, carrots and onions.

Cook on medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. After the 30 minutes, add your stock, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper and cayenne. Bring it all to a boil, and then reduce it to a simmer and cook for an additional 30 minutes or so until the vegetables are soft.

When your veggies are nice and soft, it’s time for the blender. (If you used fresh thyme, remove the sprig now.)

If you have one of those handy immersion blenders, this is the time to put it through its paces. Just stick it in the pot and blend until the soup is smooth.

I don’t have one of those, so I put the soup – about a quart at a time – in my big blender and blend away. As each part gets done, I put the blended soup in a large bowl and do the next batch until the whole pot of soup is nice and smooth. Then I return it to the soup pot and put it back on the stove on medium heat.

While the soup is coming back up to temperature, tear the kale into 1-inch pieces. 

Heat butter and olive oil in a skillet until melted. Add the kale and stir to coat. Add salt to taste. Cook at medium heat, stirring, about 3 minutes. Cover the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and let the kale steam for about 5-7 minutes, or until soft.

While the kale is cooking, add the cream to your soup and let it heat slowly. You don’t want to heat it too quickly or let the soup boil or the cream will break.

Serve the soup in bowls with a nice dollop of kale for a garnish.

Now, soup for dinner begs to have bread on the side, and the fresher the better.

For this yummy Garlic Twist Bread you need:

one loaf of bread dough
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 teaspoon dried Basil

The garlic twist idea comes from my friend Martha Greene. Check out her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/MarmeeDearAndCompany.

Since I make my bread six loaves at a time, it’s easy to use one lump of dough for this recipe…

OR, you can buy a loaf of frozen bread dough from the grocery store…

The main thing is to have bread dough ready to go.

On a baking pan (greased or lined with baking parchment), spread your dough out into a rectangle, about 9 inches by 12 inches.

On this rectangle, spread 2 Tablespoons softened butter. 

In a bowl, mix together 2 teaspoons minced garlic, ¼ cup parmesan cheese, ¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese and 1 teaspoon dried basil.

Spread this mixture evenly over your dough.

Now, roll up your rectangle from the side, jelly-roll style.

Next, cut the roll up the middle.

If you don’t have a pair of kitchen shears, buy one. They’re way too handy not to own a pair.
Oh! When you’re cutting, stop just before you get to the end!

Now, carefully twist the two halves of the roll around each other. This isn’t as easy as it looks, but it works.

Warning: you’re going to make a mess. Just put any spilled filling back on top of your bread.
Brush the top of the loaf with an egg beaten with a tablespoon of water, then sprinkle with sesame seeds. (This step isn’t crucial to the recipe, but it sure makes the loaf look professional!)
Let it rise for about 20-30 minutes, and then bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until nicely browned on top.

Mine got a little browner than I wanted – my oven doesn’t keep an even temperature, but I’m shopping for a new one. My dear husband insists we make the purchase before the Christmas baking season...

Now, doesn’t that look like a great cold-weather meal?

I hope you enjoyed our flashback. I'll be making this for my family this week or next, whenever the next chilly evening comes around - because in a couple months, it's going to be too hot for soup, right? 

Meanwhile, if you're a writer, how is your Speedbo month going? 

My word count doesn't match my goals, but I did meet today's editing deadline. Even though I haven't worked on my WIP as much as I planned, I have put in steady days of work all month long. 

And if you're a reader, aren't you glad your favorite authors have been working so hard???