Monday, February 28, 2011

Signs of Spring

Yesterday, my first dafadil of the season bloomed!  This is the first sign that spring is just around the corner - or so I think! 

Here she is!  Miss Spring emerging from the browness of winter!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cranberry Cinnamon Nut Swirl Bread

Are you ready?  It's a lot easier to make this delicious bread than it appears!  And it's oh, so yummy!  The secret is making good use of a bread machine.

Place the following ingredients in the pan of the bread machine:
  • 3 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup of sugar (this is a sweetened bread, so I use more sugar than if I were making regular bread)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 packet of yeast is placed in the yeast dispenser on the machine (I like using the fast rising kind to save a bit of time)
Then set the bread machine to the dough setting. The machine will turn off after the kneading cycle and not bake the bread. Now it's time to wait!

When the timer goes off, remove the dough from the bread machine.  Spread flour on a smooth surface.  Divide the dough in half to make two medium sized loaves of bread.  Place the dough on the floured surface and roll out with a rolling pin. Spread a generous amount of butter over the surface. I find the back of a spoon works great!

Next, spread about half a cup of powdered sugar over the butter.  You can use more or less depending on how sweet you want your bread to be.  Sprinkle a generous amount of cinnamon over the sugar.  Add dried cranberries over the cinnamon.  Then add nuts - for one loaf, I used sliced almonds and for the the other, chopped walnuts. Both were absolutely wonderful! Raisins also work well instead of the cranberries.

Roll the dough with the filling inside.  To roll tightly, stretch the dough slightly as you go.  If the loaf is longer than your pans, just tuck each end under.  Place each loaf in a generously butter loaf pan with seam side down and spread butter over the top of the loaf. This keeps the crust softer.  Cover with a towel and place in a warm area.  


When the loaves are about double in size, it's time to bake! Place both pans in a preheated 350 degree oven until golden brown - 35-40 minutes.

Remove from the pans, slice and enjoy!

Enjoy this bread fresh from the oven with a bit of butter.  After it cools, it makes excellent toast.  It can also be made into french toast but dipping in an egg and milk mixture and cooked on a griddle. It also freezes well.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cheesy Potato Soup

This soup is so easy and so very good!  It has few ingredients and not many steps so it can be made quickly - a great dish for living small!

First, put about a tablespoon or so of butter in a pan and let it start melting.  Chop about half a small onion into small pieces. 

Put them in the pot and cook over medium heat until they begin to soften. While they are cook, peel and chop about 4 medium potatoes.

I cut some of the potato pieces smaller than the others.  The smaller pieces will cook faster and softer to thicken the soup and the larger ones will remain chunky. Add the potatoes to the pan and cover with water. 

I usually turn the heat up and bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat. Simmer until the potatoes are soft.  Mash some of the potatoes with the back of the spoon against the side of the pan until the soup is the consistency you like.

When the potatoes are done, add a can of chicken broth and bring to a boil once again.  Once the soup has reached a boil, turn the heat down to medium and add about a cup of milk. I use 2% milk because that is what I always have on hand. Now for the cheesy part!  I cut about 2 inches of Velveeta from the loaf and chunk it up and put it in the pot.  I also add a couple ounces or so of sharp cheddar. This is the time to taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Usually, the Velveeta is salty enough! Also, it you like it to have more of a cheesy taste, add more cheese!  Once the cheese is melted, dish is up and it's time to eat! The black spots you see in the picture is the extra black pepper I sprinkle on before eating.

Variations and Suggestions:  Adding ham makes the soup heartier.  Also, crumbling a bit of bacon on top add new flavor. A big dollop of sour cream is also good!  I have also used other types of cheese  or no cheese at all.  The thing about cooking small is that we learn to use what we have on hand.  Also, my recipes are easily adaptable for anyone to make them suit their individual taste.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Chicken and Dumplings

Making good chicken and dumplings isn't some secret recipe that only few know!  They can actually be quite easy and quick.  I prefer the Southern style-more like a thick noodle over the fluffier, drop biscuit style.

Since I cook small, I am going to tell you how I make enough for 2 or 3 meals.  To make a larger batch, just start multiplying!  First, place a nice sized chicken breast in a pot with about a quart of water.  You can actually use whatever pieces of chicken you prefer or have on hand - I just most always have boneless skinless chicken breasts in the freezer.  I find no need
to thaw the chicken first.  Bring the water to a boil and simmer until the chicken is done.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the broth and place on a cutting board to cool a bit so that it is easier to handle.  Then add salt, pepper and sage to the broth.  Taste the broth and season until you're satisfied that it's right.

Put a heaping cup of all-purpose flour in a bowl.  Add about a teaspoon of salt and two nice pinches (maybe 1/4 teaspoon) of baking powder. Add a couple tablespoons of vegetable (or olive) oil and an egg.  Stir together.  Add enough milk or water to make a nice soft (not sticky) dough. 

Spread about a quarter cup of flour on the counter and put the ball of dough on the flour and pat out into a flat disc.  Roll with the rolling pin until it is a bit less that 1/2" thick.  I cut my dumplings with a pizza cutter. 

I like them to be a small bite size - but that is entirely up to you!  Once they are all cut, I stir them around in the remaining flour so that they are floured on all sides to keep them from sticking together while they are being cooked.

Now, cut the chicken into bite size pieces and put them back into the pot.  Bring the broth to a gentle boil and drop the dumplings in.  I scoop the rolling flour up with them as it will help the broth thicken into a light gravy.  Add the dumplings a handful at at time stirring after each addition.  Cook about 10 minutes or so until they are done.  Just test one occasionally and when you think they're done, they are.  Keep in mind that this style dumpling is the consistency of a fat noodle and will be rather heavy. 

Dish up and enjoy!  I often sprinkle a bit more pepper on top - but then I like pepper!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Asian Inspired Chicken & Cabbage

I found a recipe online that sounded really good but I didn't have exactly the ingredients it called for plus it made more than one serving.  So, it was time to utilize my experience to make this recipe work within the realms of my pantry and smaller requirements.  It worked so well and was so good, I just had to share!

Steps I took to make this dish:

  1. In a small bowl, mix 2-3 tablespoons (I measure by eye!) of Hoisen Sauce with about a teaspoon of minced garlic and a generous sprinkle of ginger
  2. Spread this mixture over a boneless skinless chicken breast and place in a baking pan sprayed with cooking spray.
  3. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees on a meat thermometer.
  4. While the chicken is cooking, coarsely chop about 1/4 cup of onion.
  5. Heat about a tablespoon of cooking oil in a small frying pan and saute the onion.
  6. Chop some cabbage into small pieces.  When the onion is soft, put the cabbage into the pan with it.
  7. Stir often to prevent it from burning.  Cook until it softens - I like mine to still be a little crunchy.
  8. Season with a bit of black pepper and a few dashes of soy sauce - I use the low sodium kind.
  9. Plate up and enjoy!
This is a meal I will most definitely cook again!  Next time, I think I'm going to try wrapping the chicken in foil to cook.  The hoisen sauce burned a bit on the pan.  It was easily cleaned but I didn't enjoy the aroma! I also think that the chicken may maintain more moisture and cook a bit faster. 

SMALL LIVING TIP: When a recipe calls for something you don't have on hand, look for a substitute.  For example, this recipe called for bagged coleslaw mix.  I didn't have the bagged mix but did have a head of fresh cabbage.  Had I not had the minced garlic on hand, I'm sure a few shakes of garlic powder would have given the sauce a nice hint of garlic.