Monday, December 29, 2008

Crazy Cake

Merry Christmas!!!!!
This may seem a few days late, but I was reminded yesterday that it is still Christmas.  Christmas Day may be past, but we are in the 12 days of Christmas and should still be celebrating.  On that note, here is one of my favorite cake recipes from childhood.  My mom would occassionally make this when we would have company or go to someone else's house for dinner.  We called it Crazy Cake, but it is listed as "Wacky" Chocolate Cake in the church cookbook.
Crazy Cake
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup cold water
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp salad oil
1 Tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into an ungreased pan.  Make 3 holes in dry ingredients and put in each hole the oil, vinegar, and vanilla.  Pour over this the water.  Mix with fork but do not beat.  Bake 25 to 35 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
The recipe lists an 8 or 9 inch square pan or a loaf pan.  I last made it in a 10 inch round oven-proof skillet and a friend of mine has doubled the recipe and made it in an 9x13 inch pan.  I let the cake cool and serve it dusted with powdered sugar.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Nut Roll Follow-up

The nut rolls are done and I thought I would share the results, visually that is.  Did I mention that this was only my second time making nut rolls?  I did?  Good.  I rolled the dough a bit thin in spots, so we had some ruptures.  However, they taste the same regardless (trust me, we've sampled) and that is what matters.  I have learned something for when I make them again next year.  A good treat and a note for improvement is a good day in my book.  I took some pictures to share, ruptures and all.

Nut Rolls

One of the holiday foods that I came to count on growing up was nut rolls.  My mom and "aunt" (Mom's best friend since college) would get together each year to make nut rolls while us kids played.  They also made cookies (I won't attempt the name for I am sure I will spell it wrong, but if I am allowed to post it, I will).  I eventually started to help on this baking day, but usually with the cookies, a job that I readily accepted.  A few years ago my sister and I figured we needed to learn how to carry on this tradition.  We asked Mom for the recipe and made nut rolls on our own for the first time.  I have not made them since because Mom usually makes sure to bring one with her each year (probably fearful she will not get in the door without one).  However, Mom's visit was early this year.  Therefore, today we will be making our own nut rolls.  Christmas breakfast has had its changes throughout the years, but nut rolls are a staple and will remain one as long as I can continue the tradition.  Mom actually has a list of people that she gifts them to every year and I know that they have come to anticipate this as I have.  Incidentally, my mom and aunt are baking their nut rolls today as well.  We may not be together in person, but we are baking together nonetheless.  Thanks for the tradition!
Nut Rolls
2 pkgs active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp salt
1 egg
1/4 cup soft butter or margarin
6 cups flour
Pour water into bowl (rinse bowl with hot water).  Sprinkle yeast over water and dissolve.  Add sugar and salt.  Add egg, butter and 3 cups flour.  Beat with mixer about 2 minutes or till smooth.  Add another cup of flour gradually while beating.  Knead in last 2 cups flour - about 5-10 minutes - until not sticky.  Let raise 1 1/2 - 2 hours or until double in size.  After raised, punch down, divide into 6 sections.  Roll each one out into a rectangle about the size of a cookie sheet (a couple of inches shorter than the longest side).
2 lbs English walnuts - ground very fine
12 oz granulated sugar
12 oz brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 stick melted butter or margarine
Enough milk to get to spreading consistency (1/3 - 1/2 cup)
Mix together.  Divide into 6 parts and spread on each section of dough and roll.  Let raise 1 1/2 hours or until double in bulk.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes or until brown on top.  Brush with butter on top.  Cool.
Personal Notes:
  • How important is this tradition in our house?  Mixers are purchased for the ability to handle kneeding the dough.  Personally I have a kickin' 5 quart Kitchen Aid Mixer that I absolutely love.  If you want to want a good upper-body workout though, you can always do it by hand (smile).
  • My mom shared this with a friend who does half a batch and uses her bread machine's dough cycle for the dough.
  • These freeze well for a month or two, so if you are good at planning ahead this is an option.
If you decide to try these, I hope that you enjoy them as much as we do.  Merry Christmas!
Also on the Christmas breakfast menu is a tradition that we started a few years ago.  It is a fruit salad made from locally grown fruit that I either pick myself or purchase at a farmer's market and then freeze to enjoy on Christmas morning.  It is a delicious reminder of the crops of the past year and a preview of what lies ahead after the cold of winter.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Healthy, Money-Saving Cooking Tips

This is a list of healthy, money-saving cooking tips that I share when I speak to groups about cooking.  I have collected these tips through reading and my own cooking experiences.  I am constantly adding to it and I will try to post new ideas as I come across them.  I hope this list is as helpful to you as it is to me.
  • Use Dry Milk:  I don't use this for my regular drinking milk.  I tried to substitute it and it did not go over well.  However, my mom's family used this regularly at one point when my grandma was concerned over the cleanliness of the local dairy's milk bottles, so it can be done.  I mainly use it in recipes that call for milk.  It takes 1/3 cup dry milk and 1 cup of water to get a cup of milk.  When I make muffins, I'll add the appropriate amount of dry milk to my dry ingredients and then use water instead of milk when mixing the wet ingredients.  I also use it for white sauces and cream soups.
  • Buy fresh and in-season foods.  Personally, I try to shop the local farmer's markets and community supported agriculture to support the local economy (when I can).  To find a farmer's market or CSA near you, visit the Local Harvest web site.
  • Watch for and take advantage of sales.
  • Make a white sauce instead of using creamed soups in recipes (I'll post a good substitue for condensed soups later.  It can be found in the More with Less cookbook).
  • Avoid processed foods.
  • Use more recipes that call for beans (canned or dried).
  • Use foods wisely (i.e. use leftover bones to make your own broth).
  • Use broth instead of water for rice for added nutritional value.
  • Make your own broth from meat bones and carrot, onion, and celery scraps and freeze it for use in future recipes (another recipe I plan on posting later).
  • Freeze leftovers for future meals/lunches instead of letting them go to waste in the fridge.
  • Use more rice.
  • Use less meat.  As a culture (American), we tend to eat more meat/protein than we need to.
  • Eat more grains, fruits, and veggies.  I know, we hear this all the time!  If you take a close look at your food prices though, you will notice that pound for pound these are cheaper than meat.  Yet we over-eat meat and eat too few fruits and veggies.
  • Cook from scratch as much as possible.
  • Buy in bulk and cook multiple meals at once, or double/triple a recipe and freeze extra for future meals.
  • Snack less and snack on healthy foods when you do snack.
  • Reduce desserts.  They increase your grocery bill and we eat more than we should as it is.  Try saving them for special occassions.  If you are really craving a dessert, try fruit.  It will help satisfy your sweet tooth and it is a healthy alternative.
  • Purchase store brands over name brands.  The quality is frequently the same.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Breakfast Casseroles

With the holidays approaching, I thought it might be a good time to share some easy crowd-pleasers.  Breakfast casseroles are a wonderful way to feed a group both at home and at a gathering.  Here are two of my favorites:
This is from our friend Peggy.  She made this as the cook on a mission trip and I was so happy to see it in the church cookbook.  Thanks Peggy!
Baked French Toast
1 loaf white bread
1 dozen eggs
2 cups milk or half & half
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
4 tbsp. butter or margarine
Tear bread into pieces and place in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.  Scramble eggs and stir in milk.  Pour over bread.  Cover and let soak overnight.
Next morning, mix together cinnamon and brown sugar.  Sprinkle that and nuts on top of casserole.  Melt butter and pour over top.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 1 hour or until center is set.  Cut into squares and serve with powdered sugar or maple syrup.  Enjoy!
Personal note:  I use whole wheat bread as well.
This next one is from my mom.  She had this at a morning meeting and thought to get the recipe for me.  It has been a hit everytime I have made it.  It did not come with a name, so I made one.
Cheese Danish Casserole
2 pkgs crescent rolls (preferably the “big and flaky” variety)
2 8-oz pkgs light cream cheese
1 cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter
2 Tbsp cinnamon sugar

Spread one pkg of crescent rolls in bottom of 9”x13” pan. Mix cream cheese and sugar together. Spread over the crescent rolls in the pan. Lay out other pkg of crescent rolls atop. Melt butter and drizzle over all, then sprinkle with about 2 T cinnamon sugar. Bake at 350 for 20-30 min.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Close Moon

I hope that you were able to step outside to see the moon tonight.  This is the closest it will be to Earth all year, so it is the largest that it will appear.  I took this from the backyard at dinnertime as the moon was peeking through the trees and clouds.  

Year's Biggest Full Moon Lights Up Sky

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Crockpot Candy

This is another great homemade gift recipe.  Thanks to Monica, who shared it with me!
Crockpot Candy
1 16oz jar dry roasted peanuts, unsalted
1 16oz jar dry roasted peanuts, salted
1 12oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 4oz bar German Chocolate, broken into pieces
3 lbs or 2 planks white chocolate bark, broken into pieces
Put ingredients into crockpot in order listed.  Cover.  Cook 3 hours on low.  Do not remove lid.  Turn off and cool slightly.  Mix through.  Drop by teaspoonfuls on wax paper.  Let cool thoroughly.  Makes approx. 170 pieces.
Personal note:  Do not cook much longer than the 3 hours instructed.  Trust me!  I ruined my first batch by cooking it too long.