Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Perfect Autumn Breakfast!

Hi! I'm Cyndi, and I'm a pumpkin freak!

I always have been, always will be. I LOVE all things pumpkin. I don't think I've ever met anything pumpkin I didn't like. Heck, I've even started making my own pumpkin spice lattes at home which involves LITERALLY putting pumpkin in your coffee. Sounds gross, but tastes delish! And I've been eating the heck out of the pumpkin salsa I found at Whole Foods a few weeks back. I may even try to come up with my own homemade version!

I've been making pumpkin pancakes for as long as I can remember. Pancakes are great -- add pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, & ginger and they are even better. In the beginning, it was a dollop or 2 of pumpkin added to good ole Bisquick pancake batter, and then seasoned to taste. It wasn't wasn't very special - Bisquick did all the hard work.

Occasionally, I made my own pancake batter, but I usually started with a mix. It left less room for disaster. If I started off with a tried and true mix, the only thing that could go wrong was not having enough spice, or having too much. And then there was always the fact, that for whatever reason, pumpkin added to your pancake mix makes it take twice as long to cook. I can't explain it and I still don't really have a magical fix for that. One time they turn out perfect and the next I feel like I have to overcook them on the outside in order to have the middles done.

After I had my first child, working extra fruits & veggies into just about every single meal became priority number one. Adding pumpkin to just about everything I baked was an easy fix for that. So what was once something I did about half the time in the fall, became something I did every time I made pancakes. Zach loved them, and I loved that he was getting the extra nutrients. It was a win-win.

Once he got a little older, I started calling them "pumpkin pie pancakes". Granted, he ate every last bite when I left the word "pie" out. But something about being a mom and making breakfast sound like dessert was so much fun! To me they sounded more appetizing to a 2 year old. And from there the old standby of Bisquick with a couple spoonfuls of pumpkin thrown in at the last minute....evolved.

If I was going to call them "pumpkin pie pancakes", they should at least have all the same ingredients, right? I mean, would pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving taste just as good if it were made out of skim milk instead of evaporated milk? And it would have to be brown sugar instead of white. And I always prefer my pumpkin pie to be a little heavier on the ginger than the other typical spices found in "pumpkin pie spice". So shouldn't MY pumpkin pie pancakes be a little gingery?

My recipe has probably changed as least half as many times as I've made them. As most of you know (and as I've even stated in this blog), I'm horrible about measuring stuff. I'm even worse about writing down what I did and keeping it in a safe place so I can recreate any dish that my family ends up going ga-ga over. In fact, a lot of you have asked for this recipe. And I bet between all of you who have it, there is at least 3 different variations going around. It's the way I roll. I try to perfect stuff and I give out the latest version. My apologies for not passing out versions 1.2 and 1.3 to those of you who were giving the original.

And just like many cooks today, I have made efforts to make things healthier. I'm always searching for ways to get more nutrients into my family, while cutting out calories and fat. And most importantly, without sacrificing taste. I do all I can to make my cooking healthy, but at the same time I whole-heartedly believe in "all things in moderation".

Since we've been having autumn weather for over 2 months now, the pumpkin pie pancakes have been made many a time recently. So I've had plenty of time to tweek. And plenty of time to keep track of the ingredients, and even the quantities I used! So here is the latest version of the recipe. Feel free to tweek it yourself. I probably will next weekend. You can always ask me if I've made any changes for the better!

Pumpkin Pie Pancakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup quick cooking oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup flax seed
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup evaporated milk
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup melted butter

In a large bowl, mix together flour, oats, wheat germ, flax seed, baking powder, spices, and brown sugar.

In another bowl (or what I usually do, is measure the milk into a large 4 cup measuring cup, then mix the rest of the ingredients into the measuring cup. This way, you can use the measuring cup to pour the ingredients on to the griddle!), mix together the pumpkin, milk, egg, vanilla & butter. Combine wet & dry ingredients (you do not need to mix until there are no lumps!)

Melt a pat of butter on griddle over medium-low heat (or spray cold griddle with non-stick cooking spray). Pour about 1/4 cup of batter at a time onto the heated griddle (I usually make about 4 pancakes at a time). Let cook until bubbles form on the top of the pancake, then flip. Cook another 2 minutes.

Serve with REAL maple syrup. It is SO worth it. :)

Yes, I realize the sight of brown sugar, REAL BUTTER, and even eggs may make some of your hearts go pitter-patter. And I also realize that some of you would never eat "health food" like wheat germ and flax seed. Believe me, there isn't much you can do to this recipe to either make it healthier or less healthy that I haven't done. So let your imagination run wild. You can simply omit the "healthy" stuff, just note you will probably need a little less evaporated milk. And yes, the brown sugar can be substituted with white, or even honey, Splenda or omitted entirely. The butter can easily be replaced with applesauce (which I do a lot, especially if the dinner the night before was a little high in cholesterol!) The egg can even be omitted (you may want to add extra baking powder, or a little baking soda.) If you want a more normal pancake consistency, you can use just 2 cups of flour and no oats. Or 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose, and 1/2 cup of whole wheat (or even 1 cup of each!)

Since I want the masses to enjoy my recipes, I posted the version that comes out the tastiest, while still having some of the healthy stuff that is important to me. Feel free to adjust the recipe as you see fit. Most importantly, have a great autumn morning!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Healthy Muffins

I've been thinking about posting the base muffin recipe that I've been using recently for a long time. But today, I actually had TWO different friends ask for muffin recipes, so I figured what better time to blog!

There really isn't a backstory to this recipe, with the exception of me wanting a healthy breakfast choice for my family since I make muffins at least twice a week. So this post will be short & sweet.

I'm not even sure where I got the original recipe, as I've been using which ever one I found and tweeking it for years. I have added bananas and fresh/frozen berries to this recipe and it always comes out great.

You can easily substitute whole wheat flour (I often do, or at least substitute half whole wheat/half all purpose). But note, you will need some additional liquid (either another splash of orange juice or a little milk.)


Orange Honey Muffins

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 ground flax seed
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 Tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Prepare a regular 12 muffin tin with muffin papers or a light coating of cooking spray.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, oats, flax seed baking powder, and salt.

In a small bowl, beat the egg and add to the dry ingredients. Add juice, honey, oil and vanilla. Mix ingredients until just combined and moistened.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full.

Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out dry

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


OK, I feel a little silly talking about Japanese dumplings on Cinco de Mayo, but I got a request so here goes!

Japanese potstickers, or Gyoza, have been one of my favorite foods for as long as I can remember. Fortunately, my kids and husband love them too. They have become one of my favorite things to cook with the kids. They love mixing up the filling and even making the dumplings themselves. Granted, they don't end up being the fanciest looking little things when they are done, but they are still VERY tasty.

Like I'm sure you're figured out about me, I don't always follow the recipe. I have the ingredients memorized, but sometimes I just throw them together using varying amounts. And you can easily eliminate some of the ingredients if you're not a fan of certain flavors.

Here is my base recipe. It is a culmination of 2 recipes -- one that was in a cookbook that I received from a Japanese friend and another was given to me by a friend. And then I tweeked it a little to my own tastes. This recipe is heavier on the ginger & green onions than either of the two original recipes and I know garlic isn't a very common ingredient in gyoza. So again, feel free to adjust or eliminate ingredients to suit your own tastes:

  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 3/4 cup Napa cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 cup carrot, shredded
  • 2 green onions, diced
  • 2-3 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled & grated
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, grated
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • gyoza or wonton wrappers (typically 30-40 are needed for this recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying (additional may be needed)
  • 1/2 cup of water, plus 1-2 teaspoons of soy sauce per cooking batch


Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the shredded cabbage for 3-4 minutes. Remove and place into a bowl of ice cold water, remove once cooled and drain on paper towels.

In a bowl, combine the ground pork, cooked cabbage, carrot, green onion, ginger, garlic, egg, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

Put some water in a finger bowl. Put one gyoza wrapper on prep surface in front of you. Wet all the edges with water. Place about a teaspoon of filling in the middle of the wrapper. Fold the sides up, and then pinch the edges to seal. If using gyoza wrappers you'll have semi-circles, and if using wonton wrappers, I usually just pinch all four corners together making a little purse. Continue with the rest of the wrappers until the filling is gone.

To cook, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy frying pan over medium-high heat. Add approximately 12 gyoza and cook for 2 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom.

Add 1/2 cup of water & 1-2 tsp of soy sauce to the pan. Cover the dumplings and let simmer until the water is absorbed (5 to 7 minutes). Repeat until all gyoza are cooked.

One shortcut I have found I like better is to put the carrot, green onion, ginger & garlic into the food processor and grind it all up together. It saves the hassle of grating/shredding/chopping everything individually. This mixture mixes in with the ground pork more smoothly in my opinion.
These dumplings are awesome served with a Thai Peanut dipping sauce.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Greens the kids will love!

All 3 of my kids like vegetables (for the most part). I've never had a problem getting them to munch on fresh veggies, especially with some yummy dip. While each has had their moments where they don't seem to want a certain veggie, it's not a general dislike for vegetables. The boys have each had a phase where they flat out insisted they didn't like a vegetable: Zach hated peas from birth until very recently; Gabe quit liking cooked carrots about the time he turned 3 1/2.

Zach also had a major dislike for all things potato (with the exception of french fries, of course) from birth until just the last 6 months or so. And Gabe, being the perfect little brother, has decided that sounds like a cool dislike to pick up right where Zach left off. Words cannot describe how aggravating it is for Mommy to have to sit and watch him push what used to be one of his favorite foods around his plate, refusing to even try it. Grrr.....

But fortunately, my kids have veggies they absolutely LOVE. Funny enough it's the veggies that most kids don't like til they are adults, if even then. All 3 go nuts for roasted asparagus, which surprises me to no end (I know some kids like them, but as a collective whole I hear about kids that won't touch any veggie at all except raw carrots & celery, so it surprises me to know end that all 3 love them!) And they will all ask for spinach. Yes, spinach. And without Mommy having to mention Popeye's name (ok, bad example, I doubt they'd even know who Popeye is!) They love creamed spinach and especially something we call "Spinach Squares".

Spinach Squares are something I discovered long before I had kids, and are without a doubt one of my favorite ways to get my greens. A co-worker brought them to a potluck, and they reminded me of something that I'd made before (but had lost the recipe). They were such a hit at the potluck, I think everyone demanded the recipe.

Over the years, I have changed up the recipe slightly to fit my own tastes (would it be on my blog if I hadn't changed it up a bit???) and I've made several variations over the years to fit the menu. But one thing never changes, all 3 kids will eat way more than their fair share. And it does my heart good to see the veggies disappear!

Spinach Squares (original recipe)

1 stick of butter or margarine, melted
3 10oz packages of frozen, chopped spinach, thawed & drained
1 pound of jack cheese, shredded
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1 tsp of baking powder
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350. Mix all ingredients well and put in a greased 9x13 casserole dish. Bake for 35 minutes. Let cool 30 minutes before cutting. Cut into 2 inch squares.

Now, like I said, I change it up a little to suit my tastes. I never make them without a little fresh ground black pepper - I'm not really sure why it wasn't included in the regular recipe. I always add some fresh ground nutmeg, something I always do with spinach or cheese dishes. And I have found I actually prefer the flavor if there is some cheddar in there. I've made them with the mexican blend shredded cheese (usually the cheddar/jack blend), all sharp cheddar (probably my favorite), 1/2 a pound of jack & 1/2 a pound of cheddar, all colby jack, and even mozzarella. You really can't screw them up.

If I'm taking them a potluck or serving as an appetizer or buffet item, I typically cut them in bite size squares. I also have a tendency to throw in a little crumbled bacon if I've taking them to a party/bunco, just to get that little extra yumminess!

I have cooked these in a throw away pan and taken them to friend's who have had a baby more times than I can count. And as some of you know, this is the perfect freeze-ahead item when you are having a baby! Those of you who have been pregnant with me, know that I make about 12 batches of these and freeze them so I've got ready made side-dishes for when I'm too busy with a newborn to care about cooking! And even if you aren't expecting, they are a great addition to your meal plan if you like to freeze ahead. (Note: When I freeze ahead, I typically split the recipe into two 8x8 throw away pans so we don't have quite so many to eat at once.)

The possibilities are endless! Hope your kids (and you) enjoy them as much as my family does.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A little Irish for St. Patty's Day.....

Sorry for neglecting the blog. Between illnesses and house-hunting, I haven't been doing a lot of fancy cooking. When I'm always throwing stuff in the crockpot or cooking my easy, standby meals, it's hard to find inspiration to share with all of you. But I've been meaning to get back on track!

I've had several requests for my corned beef & cabbage recipe in the last couple weeks. I think most of my friends know that I always make corned beef for St. Patrick's Day and New Years Day, as well as several other times a year. It's without a doubt one of my favorite meals. And with the exception of Gabe possibly having a "I don't like cabbage day" (thankfully those are rare), all 3 of my kids will even ask for seconds when I fix it.

Now for the record, I'm not Irish. At least not much. My great-grandfather's last name had a "Mc" in it, so quite possibly there is a little in the mix. But not enough for me to claim Irish heritage. My love of corned beef comes from my grandmother from England -- "Nanny" -- as I discussed in the yorkshire pudding post. Or maybe my mom. Which ever one first decided to make corned beef the traditional New Year's meal in our family.

Sorry to disappoint, but I don't usually corn my own beef. I have before. And I probably should every time (to eliminate preservatives, nitrates and all that yucky stuff). But I don't. One of two things happens when I buy a corned beef: I either forget to buy one til the last minute (when it's too late to do one myself) or I find one on really good sale. The latter is the case this year. Whole Foods had theirs on sale last week for a too-good-to-be-true price last week. And with the 'no preservatives', 'no nitrates', 'no growth hormones', 'no antibiotics' label, I figured it was a great alternative to trying to have my own done in time. Especially when St. Patty's day falls on a Wednesday this year.

Corned Beef & Cabbage

1 3-4 lb corned beef (including the spice packet)
10-12 red potatoes, cubed
1/2 pound of baby carrots (or regular carrots, peeled & cut into sticks)
1 small onion, diced (optional - I've left it out and didn't really notice a difference)
1 small head of cabbage, cored & chopped

First I trim off quite a bit of the fat. You certainly don't have to, but I figure I'm not going to eat it, and it is just as flavorful without letting the meat & veggies boil away for hours in all the excess fat. Give the beef a good rinse (if using a prepackaged one, it will be covered in this hot pink colored jelly stuff that, believe me, you won't want to cook). Put beef in the bottom of a good stock pot (I use my good Le Creuset pot). Add cold water to cover the beef. Add the seasoning packet (note: you can use less if you like your veggies a little less flavorful or you can leave it out entirely if you like a little bit easier clean-up!) Bring to a boil. Let it cook at a heavy boil for about 10 minutes, then use a spoon to skim off the "stuff" that cooks out of the meat. Then reduce heat, cover, and let cook for about 2 1/2-3 hours (or recommended time on our package). Remove meat and place it on cutting board. Add cabbage, potatoes & carrots, and cook until potatoes & carrots are fork tender. Slice corned beef. If you want the meat HOT, place the meat back in the broth with the veggies til ready to serve.

Yes, it's that simple. :) Without a doubt to easy to not enjoy it several times a year.

I have corned my own beef a couple of times. The last time I used Alton Brown's recipe from Food Network http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/corned-beef-recipe/index.html It was long enough ago that I honestly don't remember if I eliminated or changed any ingredients. But I do remember that it was a really good alternative to going the easy route.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Speaking of letting the kids create their own recipe.....

It's funny that my last entry was about my mom letting me take the reins in the kitchen, since yesterday my kids took charge of the cupcakes.

My oldest came across a cake mix in the pantry yesterday and wanted to make cupcakes. So as I was pouring the dry mix into the bowl, my just-turned-3-year-old picks up the box and counts the eggs in the picture. Then says, "One egg for Zach, one for Gabe, and one for me!" Now, I've never been one to let my kids crack eggs very often (those organic eggs get expensive!), but I figured in the spirit of making cupcakes together on a snowy day......sure why not.

So I helped her crack hers, then let the boys do their own. It was about the time Gabe dumped his egg in the bowl that he announced he wanted strawberry cupcakes. Almost instantaneously, Zach said he wanted cream cheese frosting. Well, no matter how I stretched my imagination, I just couldn't come up with a way to make strawberry cupcakes from ingredients in the house. So I offered the compromise of making chocolate-cream cheese frosting since the cupcakes were going to be boring old yellow (well, butter-recipe yellow, but still just yellow to my little dessert lovers.)

Gabe suddenly changed gears and asked for orange juice, just as I was measuring the 2/3 cup water to put into the cake batter. So I stopped to get him some oj, and he said, "Orange juice has water in it, can we put it in the cupcakes?" And I thought that sounded like a brilliant idea.

So after all the kids chiming in, our butter cupcakes turned into orange vanilla cupcakes. And I figured since our cupcakes were turning into an experiment, I would do the unthinkable and use the whipped "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" that I had on hand. This was technically my daughter's suggestion who grabbed the tub when I said I needed butter, and refused to accept that hers wasn't what I needed.

Yes, like all bakers, I have REAL unsalted butter on hand. But to be honest I've used enough real, unsalted butter in my cooking recently that my cholesterol level has probably gone from "very healthy" to "one foot in the grave" just since Thanksgiving. So I figured why not play around and see what happens. After all, I'm still learning to bake at an altitude of over 6500 feet, now is the time to play around.

So in went the orange juice, vanilla extract (dangit - I just remembered I have actual vanilla beans I should have used!) and tub butter. (OK, sidebar, are any of my Grey's Anatomy friends now envisioning Izzie eating an entire tub of butter right now?? LOL) And the 4 of us took turns whipping them up as I fully expected a disaster to come out of the oven. I even took the advice of a friend who told me to never, EVER bother with high altitude directions. That part certainly makes life easier.

Much to my surprise, we created the absolute moistest cupcakes I have ever put in my mouth. Granted it was probably a fluke -- some strange combination of the altitude, sub-freezing temps and massive fluffy snowflakes saturating the air around the house that attributed to this experiment actually turning into something heavenly. But hey, I'll take it.

And it just goes to show that you can always doctor up a cake mix to make something your own. It's easy to feel like you've made something homemade just by changing one ingredient.

Orange Vanilla Cupcakes

1 box Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Yellow Cake Mix
2/3 cup orange juice
1/2 cup tub margarine (please, feel free to use the REAL stuff!!!)
3 eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Mix & bake according to package directions.

And if you desire......

Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting
(I usually double this recipe)

1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick REAL unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup dutch cocoa powder

Whip together til fluffy

Monday, February 8, 2010

My Very First Actual Recipe

Years ago, when I was like 8 or 9 (maybe 10), I was helping my mom make dinner for my dad for his birthday. She had bought some chicken leg quarters. She pulled down ALL the spices from her spice cabinet. She let me sit there smelling them & tasting them til I created my own recipe for the chicken. I'm not really sure how long it took me, but I do vividly remember standing there at the counter intently deciding what spices made the best combination for my dad's special meal. After much consideration, I decided on "Rosemary Coriander Chicken".

My mom and I then covered each piece of chicken in salt, pepper, rosemary & coriander. Then she pan fried them in a little oil & butter. The chicken was incredible and my dad LOVED it. It quickly became a staple in our house after that.

The funny thing about my recipe is it never got referred to as just "chicken". I never asked "What's for dinner?" and had my mom reply "Chicken" or "chicken quarters". It was always called "Rosemary Coriander Chicken".

I have made it several times for my family, especially at our last house in Texas where we grew a rosemary bush in the front yard. But I didn't realize til this week that I had gotten out of the habit of calling it by it's full name.

In fact, I hadn't even decided on how I was going to cook the leg quarters until I opened my spice cabinet and saw the brand new bottle of coriander that I bought a couple weeks ago and I suddenly craved it. Eating it always gives me the chance to think about my childhood and remember my dad. I knew I'd have to tell the kids we were having "Rosemary Coriander Chicken" for dinner. Zach especially got a kick out of the fact that I wasn't much older than him when I created the recipe all by myself.

Now, I don't dare google it. I'm sure somebody out there somewhere has come up with the same idea. I'm sure somebody has coined it as their recipe. So my apologies to whoever if this comes out sounding like I straight plagiarized it. But I do know I created this from my heart. So if someone else has created the same exact recipe, well that just means they have really good tastes. :)

Rosemary Coriander Chicken

4 chicken leg quarters (chicken/thigh combos)
salt, pepper, rosemary & coriander to taste (enough to sprinkle & cover both sides)
2 Tbsp of olive oil
2 Tbsp of butter
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
additional pat of butter (optional)

Remove skin from chicken quarters (you can leave them on, but I remove them in an effort to be a little healthier). Rinse chicken in warm salt water, then rinse again in clean water. Pat the chicken dry. Evenly sprinkle the chicken with coriander. Sprinkle rosemary on the chicken and salt & pepper to taste. Heat the oil & butter over the stove in an oven safe pan.

Place chicken in the pan. Cook til the bottom side is nicely browned. Then flip to brown the other side (5-6 minutes each side). Once both sides are browned, put a lid on the pan. You can either turn down the heat and continue to cook it on the stove, or transfer the pan to a 350 degree oven. Cook for an additional 30-40 minutes. Chicken can be served as is or with the following pan sauce.

Deglaze the pan with a 1/2 cup of white wine. Scrape up all the 'bits' off the bottom of the pan. Allow wine to simmer til it cooks down by about half. Turn off heat. Stir in a small pat of butter. Sauce goes great over roasted potatoes if you desire!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Batter Pudding anyone?

Or as you Americans probably call it, Yorkshire Pudding.

Funny, even though Yorkshire is the proper English name for it, my very proper English grandmother always called it Batter pudding. In fact, I have to force myself to call it Yorkshire pudding when I'm talking to "yanks" about it.

Growing up, I always thought I was the only kid who had Yorkshire pudding on a semi-regular basis. After all I was the one with the grandmother who was actually born and raised in England. That always made me feel a little different, a little special. It still amazes me to learn how many of my adult friends actually like Yorkshire pudding.

My grandmother was an incredible cook, which probably makes all of you who know anything about English cooking laugh a little. Yes, I know English cooking has a reputation for being bland and not worth the price of admission. But Nanny, as she was known to me, could make food delicious. While she could do just as good on American fare, she would still make her old English favorites all the time. While my mouth still waters for some of her fish & chips or her bacon pudding, I must admit I don't miss the jellied tongue she made every year for New Year's.

She grew up during the depression. She was forced to drop out of school at 14 and get a job to help keep the family afloat. And it was while preparing meals for her mom, dad and two little sisters that she learned to cook so well. And I can still hear her voice, with her English accent telling me how much her Daddy loved her batter pudding. How even as a teenager she could make the best he'd ever tasted.

She had been making them for so many years by the time I came around, that she would laugh if I ever actually asked her for a recipe. I made the mistake one time of asking her for the recipe for her "baby's head" (the English terminology for a steamed suet pudding) and it took her almost an hour to give me approximate ingredients and a visual of what consistency I was aiming for. Then she had to call me back when she remembered she actually had a recipe of sorts written down.

So, sans recipe, she made her batter pudding by "feel". And that's the way she taught my mom. And it's the way my mom explains it to me every time I want to make one and call her up and ask her about specific quantities. So I have finally given up on looking at a recipe, and I just go by feel. And in an effort to not risk screwing it up, if my mom happens to be here when I want one for dinner, I let HER make it.

The important thing to remember about Yorkshire pudding is that they will not always be consistent. Even my grandmother would occasionally complain (or more appropriately shout, "Ah, bloody hell!") about the fact that hers fell, or never rose in the first place. My mom still jokes every time she puts one in the oven that crossing fingers & hoping it rises is the most important ingredient.

So bearing that in mind, I can give you the "recipe" that worked for me tonight. TONIGHT, I paid attention to how much flour, salt, etc I put in the bowl so I could share the recipe without simply googling someone else's recipe for you. But as I learned from my Nanny and my mom, I can't promise results.

Yorkshire (Batter) Pudding

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup of milk (probably could have used a splash or two more)
1 egg, beaten
1-2 Tbsp meat drippings

For the batter, mix ingredients in a bowl thoroughly (you want it to be the consistency of very thin pancake batter). If you happen to have an egg beater (the little hand mixer with the handle that you manually turn), use it and make my grandmother proud. But if you're like me, just use a fork. :) Set the bowl aside for at least 30 minutes to an hour so it can rest and come to room temperature.

Once your meat is done and removed from the oven, spoon drippings into a glass pie dish. (Note: pie dish is the right size for this amount of batter, you can always increase the ingredients and make a larger pudding.) Place dish in a 450 degree oven for about 10 minutes to get it hot. Remove dish from oven and pour in the batter. Return to oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes. Let cool slightly, cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Note: If you're fancying Yorkshire pudding, but aren't making a roast, you can use shortening or oil in the bottom of the pie dish instead. And if you want individual popovers, you can always make them in muffin tins.

Adding a few twists......

OK, so years ago I had this great idea for a cookbook. I thought it would be a lot of fun to write a cookbook (and maybe even sell a few). But I really truly have always believed my recipes are just tweaked versions of other people's recipes. Now I know Simon Cowell preaches you should always "make it your own", but I couldn't see having Emeril Lagasse or Rachael Ray sue me because my recipe was just a wee bit too much like theirs. So my idea for the cookbook was to give people ideas versus recipes.

But it got too convoluted. There was no actual THEME to the book. I just couldn't see making it marketable since it wouldn't really appeal to the crowd that wanted to cook everything in less than 30 minutes or to the crowd that was so in love with butter they only wanted Paula Deen type recipes. I had a million random tips I wanted to share and I wanted it to make sense.

My first idea for the book was to show frugal shoppers how they could plan ahead and incorporate some time saving into that 10-pound family pack of ground beef they bought to save money. It would involve freezing some raw, making some freezable meals, and cooking a meal now that would allow some leftovers. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a cooking show than a cookbook.

But of course, all my random ideas were still a bit too convoluted for a cooking show. There wouldn't be a theme whatsoever. Show #1 would be the ground beef idea. Show #2 might be about making homemade baby food (something I did for all 3 of my kids). Show #3 might be about incorporating lots of veggies into a meal (bare in mind this was a few years before Deceptively Delicious came out). Show #4 may be about how to make homemade chicken stock, how to freeze it, and a good soup recipe to make at the same time that could utilize some of that freshly made stock. Show #5 may be "do ahead steps" for stay-at-home moms who were very hands on with their kids, yet wanted to put a good meal on the table. See.........way too convoluted. So I finally just gave up on the idea.

But since I now have this blog, and a few of you have already asked me via email for some of my tips, tricks & stock recipe, I figure I can finally do what I thought about doing years ago. And it might actually be appreciated in this format. Random tips intermixed with recipes. There won't be any rhyme or reason to it. Posts will probably still coincide with what I'm making in my kitchen that day or questions I get asked from friends.

Sorry, for rambling. Not exactly a recipe is it?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Well since I mentioned it on FB, I thought I'd add the recipe (no pics since I managed to mess up my ankle before cooking dinner last night. Cooking with all my weight on one foot is difficult enough without trying

to take decent pics at the same time! LOL)

I make this soup a lot since we have a lot cooler nights than I'm used to. Soup really warms you up on a cold, snowy night, and it's something you can add some spicy salsa to in order to really heat you up. And most importantly the kids like it (even though Gabe will invariably take 2 hours to eat a small bowl, acting like it's going to eat him, yet saying, "Mmmm" after ever bite. Go figure!)

Here is my original "recipe". I wrote this down years ago after I made it for a neighbor who had a baby and she wanted the recipe. I kept it on hand in case I was ever drawing a blank or was making a special trip to the store for specific ingredients. Thankfully I did since I've given it to at least 3 friends on FB recently.

But like I said in my last post, I don't really 'do' recipes. So every batch I make is tweaked usually. I am a firm believer in make do with what you have and don't rush back out to the store because you are missing one ingredient. And I'm also a firm believer in chalking recipes full of veggies for nutritional value. You'd be amazed how a kid may start to like a veggie they "hate" just because it tasted really yummy in a certain meal. Just don't tell Gabe I sometimes hide a finely chopped carrot in there.

This is the crockpot version. This recipe fills a programmable crockpot to the brim, so you'll have to adjust accordingly based on the size of your crockpot. However, I usually make it in my Le Creuset stockpot and let it simmer. I'll give you those instructions as well.

Chicken Tortilla Soup (Crockpot)

1 lb boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
1 lb boneless/skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
2 15 oz cans diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
2 15 oz cans ranch-style beans (if you substitute regular pinto beans, additional spice will be needed)

1 zucchini, diced
1 onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper (I usually use red to add some color & sweetness), diced
3-4 tsp chili powder
1-2 tsp cumin
bunch of cilantro, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
10 oz box frozen, chopped spinach (just put in frozen)

Throw all ingredients in the crockpot and cook on high for 4-5 hours or low all day.

Serve with shredded mexican blend cheese, sour cream, fresh cilantro & crushed tortilla chips (or hot, fresh tortillas from a local mexican restaurant. Believe me, the special trip makes a BIG difference!)

Stockpot version:

Sautee chicken in oil. Remove from pan. Sautee veggies about 5 minutes (if spinach is thawed add it at this point, if still frozen add when you add the broth). Add tomatoes & beans. Cook another 2-3 minutes. Add broth, spices & meat. Put lid on it and simmer about 45 minutes.

There are many other options as well. This recipe works GREAT with a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Or leftover roasted chicken from another meal. What I do most often is just use the chicken that I used to make my homemade chicken stock, also using this fresh, homemade stock for the soup. And the veggies are optional as well. If you aren't feeding kids (or if they like things really spicy) you can always throw in a jalapeƱo or two. Tonight I threw in some celery & carrot since I had it on hand. Like I said, Gabe isn't too fond of cooked carrots and will use that as an excuse to not eat. So I take the time to chop it really, really fine.

What Would Cyndi Cook?

That seems to be a question I get asked a lot. Whether it's asking me to post a recipe for something I mention on Facebook or actually emailing me asking me for ideas, I don't think a day goes by that I don't help at least one friend out in the kitchen department.

For starters, let me say I'm not an expert by any means. Just because my FB status says, "Cyndi is making pot roast for dinner", it doesn't mean that mine will taste as good as your grandmother's or that you'll even like my recipe. I do have failures. I do have flops. I do quite often find out that one of my kids apparently doesn't like the same stuff they liked the week before. But I love to cook, so I keep on cooking. And when the house smells really good, I tend to let all of facebook know what I'm fixing.

The idea of a blog called "What Would Cyndi Cook" came from a conversation I had with a good friend, Sarah. It was on my FB wall, so some of you may have lurked as the conversation took place. Basically she told me what ingredients she had and asked for some ideas. I joked that if everyone saw it they would want me to start a website where they could ask me what they should fix for dinner. Now, as nice as it would be to be able to help everyone out like that, I can't risk getting 50 requests for a meal plan while I'm trying to simultaneously cook my family's dinner, referee for 3 hungry kids, observe homework, help put together a puzzle, and start another load of laundry. But the idea of having a weekly challenge or something is under advisement. We'll just have to see where the blog leads.

But if you find yourself in a serious bind, you can still always ask as you have in the past.

I don't really follow recipes, so don't always expect me to be able to give you perfect measurements. So don't be surprised if my entry doesn't always include a formal recipe (you can always respond and say, "Hey, give me the recipe!") Don't be surprised if you need to add more salt. As Rachael Ray always says, "this isn't a recipe, it's more of a method". I don't think I've ever followed a recipe to a T, unless it was something I was baking (I occasionally do stick to a cake or muffin recipe). So consider this blog more of a place to come for ideas - either for what to do with the chicken breasts you thawed out this morning or what to add to your shopping list for tomorrow.

But in order to make this a true cooking blog, I thought I'd share a meal plan from last week:

I was telling my husband what meat options we had in the freezer, and he thought a roasted chicken sounded good. So on Sunday, that's what I did. I didn't google any recipes, I just thought about different "methods" I'd seen on Food Network. I took about 1/4 stick of unsalted butter and heated it in the microwave for about 25 seconds. I basically wanted it the consistency of room temperature butter, but warmer. I added about 4 cloves of freshly chopped garlic, a couple pinches of Kosher salt, and several grinds of the peppermill. Then with my hands, I smooshed (yeah, not a word, but you get my drift) all over the chicken -- up under the skin and on the outside (trying to get all the garlic under the skin so it didn't brown too bad during the cooking process). Then I hit the outside with a little more salt & pepper. I baked it in the oven at 375 for about an hour & a half. The skin came out really crispy. Actually it came out TOO GOOD. I've never been a chicken skin girl, even when I wasn't watching my waistline, but I ate about 1/2 the skin while I was waiting for the chicken to cool off enough for the kids to eat it. It was THAT good.

I served it with roasted broccoli & roasted potatoes (both tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper & chopped garlic.......and the potatoes with some diced onion as well).

I also took advantage of knowing I'd have leftover chicken and planned ahead for Monday's meal. I bought some fresh pizza dough (or you could use the refrigerated in a tube if you want). I sauteed up some onions, garlic, & red bell pepper in olive oil. I rolled out the pizza dough, covered it with some pizza sauce, cut up left over chicken from the night before, the sauteed veggies & some mozzarella cheese, folded it over and made calzones for dinner. They were a huge hit with the kids, who needed a kid-friendly meal after humoring Mommy and pretending to love roasted broccoli the night before.

In the future if I'm actually posting a real recipe, I'll try to plan ahead and take pics as I cook. You know, so it looks like some of those more widely followed cooking blogs. :) But for now I just thought I'd throw out an idea, so you can see how easy it is to plan 2 meals from 1 chicken, and even get the chance to use up some ingredients from your fridge. After all, the calzone would be just as yummy if it had been a mushroom, spinach & cherry tomato one!

Happy Cooking!