Thursday, November 05, 2015

Just Spiced.

Back in June, we celebrated National Doughnut Day. Today, November 5, we are told it is time to celebrate again. Two National Doughnut Days in one year? Who am I to argue?

For today's festivities, I made Spiced Cake Doughnuts. Not Pumpkin Spiced. Not Spiced Pumpkin. (There is a difference.) Just SPICED.

Several years ago, I was in enamored with all things pumpkin spiced. (And for the record, "pumpkin spiced" means that the spices used to flavor pumpkin baked goods are used. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, maybe a little ginger. No actual pumpkin is involved. "Spiced Pumpkin" includes the pumpkin, be it roasted, pureed, boiled, mashed, or a combination of any of those, AND the spices. Got it? NO real pumpkin in your pumpkin spice.) Anyway, I loved pumpkin spiced lattes, pumpkin spiced creamer, chocolate, cookies, and cakes. If it was seasoned with the spices of autumn, I was going to try it.

Then, one day, I had had enough. I don't know what happened, but pumpkin spice didn't do it for me anymore. Maybe it was the overkill of absolutely everything in the market place being labeled "pumpkin spice" from Labor Day through Thanksgiving. Maybe it was like the time that I realized that I do prefer butter to margarine. Just part of an evolving palatte. Who knows. I am just over Pumpkin Spice.

Thankfully, I am not over everything nice, as the Spiced Cake Doughnuts I made today are absolutely nice. No pumpkin required.

Happy National Doughnut Day, again.

1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk, plus 2 tablespoons
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tablespoon canola oil

Cinnamon Sugar for coating the doughnuts.

Preheat the oven to 325F.
Coat the doughnut pan with cooking spray. (I am quite liberal with coating the pan. There is nothing sadder than stuck doughnuts.)
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt.
Stir in milk, egg, vanilla and oil.
Beat together until well blended.
Pour batter into a zip-topped bag, manipulating batter to one corner of the bag. With the bag over the baking pan, clip one end. (Batter will start running out immediately.) Squeeze the bag to fill each doughnut cup about 3/4 full.
(You can skip the zip-topped bag, and just ladle the batter into the baking pan, but I have found the bag to be a less messy option.)
Bake 8-10 minutes until doughnuts spring back when touched.
While doughnuts are still warm, remove from baking pan and roll in cinnamon sugar (heat will allow the sugar to stick to the doughnut).
Allow to cool on rack, or enjoy will warm. (Yields 6 doughnuts)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Midlife Crises

Last week, I celebrated another birthday. It was a birthday that might mean I have officially hit middle age. It was also a birthday celebrated with multiple groups of friends and multiple dinners out, and some of the best blackened steaks, fettuccine, and bang bang shrimp I have had in some time. I also hit it big with home-canned pasta sauce, homemade wine, lots of silly cards, coffee, and purple hair.

Yep. I trudged into my first week of middle age with a midlife crisis that resulted in purple highlights framing my face.

As I have been busy catching up with canning tomatoes from the garden (and a large haul provided by friends), I have been wearing my hair up more often than not, and the purple isn't that visible. However, when I take the time to style and wear my hair down, I am often caught off guard when I pass a mirror and catch a glimpse. I. Have. Purple. Hair. It has to be a midlife crisis.

The drama hasn't been limited to just my brunette locks, I also had to mess with the recipe for a pan of Blondies. Friends were married the weekend before my birthday, and I helped with the wedding rehearsal supper. They had chosen a simple cookout menu and requested brownies and blondies for desserts.

Just like my hair, I couldn't leave those blondies alone. Chocolate chip bars were too simple. Butterscotch chips alone made them too sweet. And while white chocolate chips added some visual interest, they were also boring. Would it be a crisis to mix it up with ALL THE CHIPS? Well...maybe the crisis of middle aged spread after eating the entire pan.

Midlife Crisis Blondies - On My Plate Blog

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet, but if you prefer a sweeter bar, milk chocolate would be good.)
1-1 1/2 cups butterscotch chips
1-1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375F.
Line a 17x12 (half sheet) pan with parchment paper and coat any surface not covered by the paper (edges) with cooking spray.
Beat the softened butter with the sugars until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs and extract and combine well.
Gradually, stir in the flour, baking soda, and salt.
Add the chips to the batter.
Spread in the prepared pan. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until golden brown. DO NOT OVER BAKE.
Cool in pan completely before cutting. (4 dozen bars)

And...just in case you were curious about what a middle aged woman looks like with purple hair...

Friday, July 10, 2015

Cowboy Up

Cowboy Beans {on my plate blog}

During the summer, we host several cookouts and attend even more. One of my go-to no-real-recipe dishes for sharing at these events is Cowboy Beans. Inevitably, someone asks for the recipe. But, there isn't a real recipe. I make it up as I go along, adjusting the ingredients to fit what I have on hand and the tastes of whoever will end up ladling them onto their plates.

However, last time I threw together a pot of these delicious beans, I did snap some step-by-step pics with my phone. I didn't record amounts; it will vary based on the quantity of beans that are prepared. But, hopefully, No Recipe Cowboy Beans gives you an idea of how to create your own summer side dish.

 First, start with some bacon, some ground beef or pork (this time, I used pork), some onion, and some garlic.

Dice the bacon and fry it until crispy.

Remove the bacon from the pan, and to the bacon grease, add the ground beef or pork. Crumble the ground meat, add diced onion, and fry until the meat is cooked through and the onion is translucent.

When the onion is translucent, add minced garlic. Saute only a minute or so. Garlic burns easily and can be bitter.

After the garlic is cooked, you must decide if you will drain the grease from the pan. If there isn't a lot, leaving it gives the finished beans a great deal of flavor. However, if the added calories/fat are a concern, drain.

It is time to add the beans. I use 1 or 2 cans of Bush's prepared baked beans (Bold & Spicy) and several other cans of beans. Usually, I add black beans, navy beans, pinto beans, and or butter beans, but there is no hard and fast rule. Whatever I have on hand works. Drain and rinse all but one can of the plain beans.

I must stress that I believe Bold & Spicy are the only prepared beans to use for the best Cowboy Beans. Others work, but these have a great, not too sweet flavor and firm texture. In general, canned baked beans are often a can of mush, but not Bold & Spicy.

Stir the beans into the browned meat, onions, and garlic.

Now, it's time to start seasoning. I always add a little brown sugar (just a little, we don't like sweet beans), some molasses, and a good dose of cumin (for smoky depth of flavor).

Determine your favorite chili powder and add some. I throw in a few shakes of Ancho Chili Powder and a little Cayenne, but Chipotle Chili Powder is good, too (and even just plain old chili powder, if that is what you have).

Season with some freshly ground pepper, kosher salt, and a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce. 

Sometimes, I ease up with the kosher salt and add some celery salt or smoked salt.

At this point, I let everything simmer for a bit.

If after tasting, I think the beans are too sweet, I splash in some Apple Cider Vinegar to add a little sharpness and counter that excess sugar.

Adjustments for those who prefer truly spicy baked beans are to saute diced or sliced jalapeno with the onion and to shake in a few splashes of your favorite hot sauce.

And, that is, more or less, how I make No Recipe Cowboy Beans.
Cowboy up and fill up your plate.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Keep It Simple

Last week at South Dakota Magazine, I shared my mantra for summer entertaining: "Keep It Simple". Get-togethers with friends are about the friendship, and as I say in that article, nobody is giving bonus points for knocking yourself out. That doesn't mean that simple food can't still be delicious. You can find the super simple recipe for Smoked Salmon Pizza online with South Dakota Magazine. It is a fabulous combination of creamy, crisp, fresh, and salty. Excellent for sharing with friends and pairing with a cold summer beverage.

I believe that simple and delicious can be carried over into all of summer, even (or especially) camping. Recently, some old friends (old as in I have known them since elementary school...not that WE are old) and I made time in our busy summer schedules for a short camping trip. I packed up some staples for quick meals that were so simple, we hardly had to think about them. In fact, the biggest challenge we faced was when I realized I forgot to pack kindling, etc. for our camp/cook fire. (By the way, if you have an old atlas hanging around in your car, it does work well for kindling.)

Once our fire was roaring, I set a couple cast iron pans over the flames. Those pans heated up while I sliced a few vegetables as we continued our conversations. Shrimp was tossed into simmering salsa. Zucchini was sauteed with some other vegetables. A loaf of buttered French bread was heated. Dinner was done and was delicious.

I frequently repeat this menu at home in the summer, sometimes on the grill, and sometimes simply on the stove top. Shrimp, fresh vegetables, and salsa pair together so well. We love to dip the warm, crusty bread in the sauce of the salsa and leftovers can all be stirred together and served inside flour tortillas as burritos, or with corn chips as a hearty dip. Salsa Shrimp and Sauteed Summer Vegetables are the perfect way to Keep It Simple On My Plate.

2-4 tablespoons butter
1 pint salsa (I use my home canned Basic Salsa, but use whatever is your favorite.)
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

Melt butter in a heavy skillet (cast iron, if you are cooking over a campfire).
Add the salsa and bring to a simmer.
Add shrimp and simmer 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are opaque and cooked through.

olive oil
diced onion
diced peppers (red, green, jalapeno, whatever strikes your fancy)
1 clove of garlic, minced
kernels of corn cut from cob of one ear of corn
small zucchini, sliced
cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
salt and pepper (or Montreal Steak Seasoning, or whatever grill seasoning you love)

Heat oil in a heavy skillet (cast iron, if you are cooking over a campfire).
Saute the onions and peppers until tender.
Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
Add the corn and cook until warmed through.
Add the zucchini and saute until tender.
Season with salt and pepper (or seasoning of your choice).
Add the tomatoes, if using, and cook just until warm. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wiffle or Waffle

It is International Waffle Day, but for Nilla, our one-year-old Australian Shepherd, wiffle and waffle are all the same.

Last summer, the kids next door loved to play ball. However, due to the growing size (and batting power) of the children and our relatively small lawns, many stray balls found their way over the fence into our yard. Nilla was thrilled. Who needs popcorn when there are pop flies? Wiffle, or waffle? It was all the same to her. If she found the lost balls before I could toss them back over the fence, they were her snack.

I tried to tell Nilla that the leather of a baseball isn't really jerky and that while good waffles are crisped on the outside and light and airy in the middle, it is much different from a plastic wiffle ball. She wouldn't listen, and unfortunately, the neighbor kids lost a lot of sports equipment. I felt badly, but what could I do? Our puppy door is designed to allow the dogs to come and go as they please, and I have too many other things going on to have time to umpire every spontaneous ball game.

Maybe today, for International Waffle Day, I should make a big batch of Spiced Waffles with Maple-Pecan Syrup and toss them over the fence as a peace offering for Nilla's ball fetish. These waffles have a hearty texture and a sweetly spiced flavor and unless you are a part of the Australian Shepherd crowd, are a home run over snacking on a wiffle ball.
On My Plate Blog

(adapted from Fine Cooking)

2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt (I have used Greek yogurt and vanilla Greek yogurt with success.)
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs, separated
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup maple syrup (Come on; use the real stuff, not pancake syrup.)
1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped

Heat the oven to 200F, and preheat the waffle maker.
Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cloves. In a second bowl, combine yogurt, milk, egg YOLKS, oil, and vanilla.
Beat the egg WHITES to soft peaks.
Gently combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients until just combined. (Batter will be lumpy.)
Fold the egg whites into the batter until just incorporated.
Spray the waffle iron with cooking spray, and working in batches, cook the batter in the waffle iron until crisp and golden.
Place waffles on oven rack to keep warm; do not stack.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, warm the syrup. Stir in the pecans.
Serve the waffles with the warm syrup. (Yield: about 10 waffles)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Losing My Mind

There are days that I think I am undeniably losing my mind.

If I don't add it to a list, I will not make the purchase at the store. If I have to walk into another room or up and down the stairs, I probably won't remember what I wanted to do when I get there. If I start cooking something that needs to simmer, I had better set the timer to check on it later, or it will probably boil dry from neglect. I had to turn the alerts on my washer and dryer back on because even though I seem to constantly be doing laundry, without a reminder, the last load of the day will sit in the machine until it stinks with gross dampness. I probably won't remember your name when I see you; so if I seem stuck up or aloof, I am sorry. In the middle of conversation, a word will leave me completely and totally and I will stammer like an idiot. And, to top it all off, one day not that long ago, I couldn't figure out how to shut off the water in our basement shower. I swear that it took me five minutes of frantically cranking the handles one way or another with the water changing from hot to cold, but never stopping.

The recent push for public awareness of Alzheimer's and other dementia does raise my level of hypochondria. There is a history of some issues on one side of my family, and my husband's family is living with the heartbreaking challenge of a member's diagnosis. I worry that my slips could be some early onset warning signs.

And then, there are times when my forgetfulness is delicious.

While vacationing, one of our lunches was at a bistro with Golden Beet Borscht as the soup of the day. Served with a simple quiche and a fresh tossed salad, that soup was light and delicate, but still flavorful. I knew it was something that I wanted to recreate when I returned home, and after finding a recipe to play with, I began cooking.

I sauteed onions and garlic, added potatoes, beets, cabbage, and zucchini, and simmered all the vegetables in stock. Turmeric boosted the color while dill and lemon brought a brightness. A dollop of sour cream on top was a departure from the bistro's borscht, but was a great contrast for the rich, earthy vegetables. My pot of soup was exquisite, and I proudly thought that I had nailed it.

Then, I looked back at the photos snapped during that trip and see that the bistro's golden beet borscht was creamy. It was still a brothy and light soup, not thick like a chowder, but absolutely creamy. Perhaps instead of that dollop of sour cream on the finished soup, a splash of heavy cream was swirled through the entire pot? It was decidedly not like mine. I had not nailed it.

My soup isn't, after all, a recreation of what we savored on vacation. My memory has, yet again, failed me. However, it failed me in a very delicious way.

(Adapted from Blue Apron)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 medium golden beets, peeled and cubed
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/4 head of cabbage, thinly sliced
6 cups vegetable stock
1 small zucchini, cubed 
juice of one lemon
1-2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped (plus more for garnish)
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons sour cream

Heat olive oil in a large pot.
Add the onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until softened.
Add the garlic and heat just until fragrant.
Add the turmeric and cook, stirring, until toasted.
Add the beets and, again, season with salt and pepper. (May need to add a little more oil at the point to keep ingredients from burning.)
Cook, covered, but stirring often, until slightly softened.
Remove the lid and add the vegetable stock, potatoes, and cabbage. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
Add the zucchini, lemon juice, dill, and honey and simmer a few minutes more until zucchini is slightly softened.
Remove from heat and serve each bowl topped with a dollop of sour cream and additional dill for garnish. (Serves 4)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Alton Brown Fan Girl

Last month, Hubs and I found time to sneak away to catch Alton Brown's Live Tour. While I am not a fan of the competition shows that he hosts, I have always loved Alton's quirky style and his Good Eats productions with the Food Network. He has a special way of entertaining while educating, and the stand-up, food experimentation, and music of his show did not disappoint. I urge you to consider taking it in if the tour reaches your area.

Anyway, on this Alton Brown Fan Girl high, it was only natural that I gravitated to his Corned Beef recipe when looking to prepare my own from scratch for St. Patrick's Day. We have a few briskets in the freezer from the beef we have butchered, and instead of the purchased product, I thought it might be worthwhile to make our own. I was not wrong.

I did follow the recipe and brine the brisket for 10 days (rotating in the brine daily) in a large Rubbermaid in our fridge. Today, after rinsing, I brought the beef to a boil with the vegetables and reduced to a simmer for the entire afternoon...roughly from 1pm to 5:30pm. Periodically, I checked the water level, and did once add a little more liquid to keep it above the meat for the braise. Our corned beef was flavorful, and so very tender. Hubs declared it the best he had ever eaten. Seriously, it was Good Eats.

To make your own, check out the recipe here:

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