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Posts Tagged ‘cookbooks’

Once upon a time, I figured everyone knew how to make biscuits.  Making a batch of baking powder biscuits was required in order to pass junior high home-economics.  Back in those days, the only options were homemade, canned or Bisquick.  The second two options were definitely not equivalent to homemade biscuits, especially for eating fresh out of hand.The Betty Crocker Cookbook circa 1980

As a wife and mother, I faithfully made my own biscuits from scratch, never thinking much about it.  In fact, I splattered up that familiar page in my Betty Crocker Cookbook and had to pencil in the proportions when the page stuck to the one next to it and pulled off the text when I pried them apart.

Then I discovered that some many of my friends and kitchen comrades really do rely on canned or Bisquick for biscuits.  And some really sneaky ones used frozen biscuits.  I was skeptical, but after trying a few I had to admit the frozen ones were nearly as good as scratch, and arguably a whole lot more convenient.

However after several years and several bags of frozen, I’m reverting back to scratch.  Why? For starters, you pay for convenience – $3 to $4 for a bag of 12 biscuits.  Given that there’s maybe a dollar’s worth of ingredients in a dozen biscuits (and that’s being generous), I can make a whole lotta dough for a little, uh….dough.

And then there’s the “you are what you eat” aspect.  Reading the back of the bag bears little resemblance to the recipe’s ingredients list.

So if you’ve never made biscuits, allow me to share my favorite recipe with you.  I’ve modified it slightly from the original.

(Almost) Betty’s Baking Powder Biscuits

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4  teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons butter (cold)
3 tablespoons shortening (room temperature or cold)
3/4 cup milk (whole or 2% are best; skim or Sweet Acidophilus will work, but the result will be slightly less tender)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 450. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder and stir together.  Add the butter and shortening and use a pastry blender to cut them in until the mixture resembles the texture of coarse cornmeal.  Add milk and stir gently just until mixed through (do NOT overmix.)

Flour a countertop or large cutting board and plop the dough out. Flour your hands and sprinkle a little flour on top.  Gently flip and flop and fold the dough over on itself a few times – four or five at most.  Pat out with your fingers to 3/4 inches thick.  Use a biscuit cutter or thin-lipped drinking glass to cut the biscuits as close together as possible. Place close together (almost touching) on ungreased baking sheet (a Silpat sheet works great) and gently scoop up remaining dough, pat to 3/4 inches again, and cut remaining biscuits.  Should make about a dozen 2.5 inch diameter biscuits.  You can also form your dough into a square or rectangle and cut square biscuits, which prevents re-rolling the dough. Either way, your mileage may vary slightly from mine.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until tops are golden brown.  Serve with ham, sausage, gravy, bacon, and/or butter, honey, jelly or jam of your choosing.

To make buttermilk biscuits, decrease baking powder to 2 teaspoons and add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda; substitute buttermilk (or milk plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice) for the milk in the original recipe.  All other instructions and ingredients apply.

And I guess great minds think alike. As I was typing up this recipe, I noticed Christy Jordan posted a recipe for sure-fire buttermilk biscuits with a photo tutorial, to boot.  It’s worth taking a gander if you’re new to biscuit making.  I think I’ll give her recipe a try the next time I make biscuits.  And I hope you’ll try making a batch from scratch.  It’s a little effort, but a lot of reward.

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Pepper steak is one of those Americanized “Asian-style” foods, kind of like chop suey.  Its origins are murky, but it is tasty.

When I was growing up, we occasionally enjoyed a canned version of pepper steak.  I remember being impressed that it was actually two cans in one; a smaller can on top held the beef and gravy, while the larger can on the bottom contained the vegetables.  There were no Chinese restaurants in my childhood, so we didn’t eat a lot of Asian cuisine.  Pepper steak was an exotic culinary adventure, bean sprouts and all.

As the cook in my own family, I’ve also purchased the two-can pack and fixed it with some rice for a fast meal every now and then. But setting aside the convenience factor, there are some downsides to it:

1.  It is somewhat expensive to feed to a family (especially with two hungry boys);
2.  It is full of preservatives and the meat is of questionable quality; and
3.  It is more than a little soggy.

Many years ago, I came across this recipe in one of my books of recipes contributed by a civic group in the town where I grew up.   It works well and is nearly as convenient as the canned version. (The rice is going to take a while to cook, no matter what, so I prepare this while the rice is simmering in the pan.)  I have added more vegetables to it than the original called for, and I prefer at least one red pepper when they’re available – it lends a sweetness the green peppers lack.  A plain white onion can be substituted for the scallions in a pinch, but the green onions are recommended.

Green Pepper Steak and Rice

Ingredients:
1 pound sirloin steak, cut into strips (I often use flat iron or flank steak instead)
1 tablespoon (or more) paprika
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons butter or oil
1 cup diced green onions, including tops
2 green (or red) peppers, cut in strips
1 can bean sprouts, drained (or half a package fresh sprouts)
1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 can sliced mushrooms, drained (or 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced)
2 large fresh tomatoes, diced
1 cup beef broth
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3-4 cups hot cooked rice

Directions:
Sprinkle paprika on beef slices and allow to stand while preparing other ingredients.  Heat large skillet and quickly saute beef strips and garlic in butter or oil.  Add peppers, onions, sprouts, water chestnuts and mushrooms; cover and continue cooking until vegetables are wilted – about 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes and broth, cover and simmer 15 minutes.  Blend water with cornstarch and soy sauce. Stir into steak and cook until thickened. Serve on a bed of hot rice.  Makes 6 servings.

Happy cooking!


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The recipe collector: one year later

A year ago, I expressed angst over the decrepit state of my recipes here.

Remember? 

I gathered notebook, sheet protectors and everything I needed to finally get them organized and usable without worrying about more spatters and drips defacing them.

I gathered up everything I needed.  Except the resolve to actually follow through.

Yes, it’s true. I moaned and groaned and then put them away. And kept tugging them in and out of a shelf in my kitchen hutch…loosely stacked, in that miserable, torn folder, for almost a year.

Finally one day last month, I decided it was the last time I was going to gently coax the slippery stack of papers and slips of paper out, plop them on a flat surface and frantically look for the proverbial recipe-in-the-haystack.

No more.

Enough.

Finis.

Done.

I started out slow. (Don’t want to pull a muscle or anything.) My first act was to go through the stack and pull out the recipes I use the most. Those were tucked into their own sheet protectors and loosely organized according to cookbook etiquette: appetizers, soups and stews, main course, side dishes, yeast breads, quick breads, desserts, cookies, candies and miscellaneous. (Who decided that was the proper sequencing of cookbooks, anyway?)

After the heady rush of success at my minor accomplishment, I took a Sunday afternoon and spent a  few hours going through my somewhat organized (but very dated and floppy) binders, pulling out favorites from there. And rediscovering some recipes I forgot I have – many of them I have tried, others I still want to. (Chantilly Carrot Cake, coming up!)

I would definitely say this is a “work in process” – I still have a folder (much smaller) of loose recipes.  They are untried (but high potential) recipes, grouped together by subject; you can see them at the top of this photo. Yes, they fit in this slim and trim holder, with room to spare!

And -tucked away out of sight are my old notebooks, which I think of as a “bone pile” – I will continue to pick over them until everything is either test-driven or passed over so many times I finally have to accept they are rejects.

I know I could organize my “keeper” recipes electronically, and that would probably be better, considering that the entire world is slowly migrating to to e-reading.

But there is something very appealing about touching and seeing paper recipes, especially when they are hand-written or original clippings from newspapers, magazines and food labels. I’m not quite ready to give up that sensory experience, even for the sake of efficiency.  Having them encased in sheet protectors means it is very easy to keep this notebook handy and if splatters or spills happen, it only takes a swipe with a damp cloth to clean them up.

So how’s your recipe collection?  Organized, or not?  Online, or not?  Do tell.  Inquiring minds want to know!

Happy organizing,

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I heart my Kindle. It’s one of the best gifts Mr. Official has ever gotten for me, and he’s given me some pretty awesome presents over the years.

Not only do I have couple Bible versions, some insightful self-help type books, scads of novels old and new (reading Jules Verne and Rudyard Kipling for the first time as an adult was an absolute delight), but I also have several cookbooks in my carry-everywhere gadget.

And not too long ago, swimmer girl and I were doing a little sunbathing at the local pool and when she glanced over, she exclaimed, “Seriously? You’re reading a COOKBOOK? REALLY????”

To which I smiled sagely and said that indeed I was. Doesn’t everyone READ cookbooks like they do novels? If not, you should.

Anyway, this was “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker: Recipes for Entertaining” and I bookmarked a few of the most-promising sounding recipes to try. One good one is this one, even though I haven’t actually used my crockpot to make it. Irony, I know.

If you have purchased bean dip in the chip aisle, you know how expensive those precious little jars and cans are. And while I think the Tostitos Zesty Bean & Cheese Dip is pretty awesome, a jar can get slurped up in a hurry around here.

This recipe makes a dip that tastes a lot like the Tostitos dip, and with just a few inexpensive ingredients, you have enough dip for a crowd.  Or refrigerated and doled out into ramekins for warming up a serving at a time, it can last several days. Well, theoretically maybe it can last that long. We can go through it in a hurry.

Since discovering this recipe, I’ve made three batches, including one last night for Bunco as a side dish/dip (I doubled up on the beans in order to lighten it up and make it more side-dish appropriate.   Each time I’ve made this recipe, the results disappear pretty quick.  That, plus the fact it’s easy to make clinches its spot as a go-to recipe in my book!  (Whether that proverbial book is an eBook or my notebook of clipped recipes, which is now much neater than it’s been in years.   Speaking of which, I’ll show off some before-and-afters soon.)


Creamy Refried Bean Dip

Ingredients:
1 16-ounce can refried beans*
1 cup picante salsa (we like homemade or medium-hot Pace Picante best)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
4 ounces cream cheese, slightly softened
2 cups shredded cheese (any combination of cheddar, Monterey jack or pepper jack)

Directions:
Mix all ingredients together. Place in small crockpot to heat up (or microwave for 3-4 minutes, stirring every minute.) Serve with corn or tortilla chips.  Makes approximately 3 cups of dip.

*To make some jazzed-up refried beans to serve as a side dish, just double the beans for a big batch, or cut everything else in half.   It still has some zippiness without being too heavy on the cheese.

Happy dipping!

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Recipe of the Week: Broccoli-Raisin Salad

Our annual recipe booklets – cute, huh?

This recipe is among my very favorite salad recipes, and the dressing is the same one I use for regular coleslaw.  This recipe is made extra-special by the fact it came from one of my past Secret Sisters at Highland Heights.  

Susan usually makes this salad – and many other yummy foods – for us when we converge on her house for an annual paperback book and DVD swap.  It was also the recipe she submitted for our 2008 recipe book, which focused on salads.  (This year’s book will be all about brunches, and promises to be full of exceptionally delicious recipes, too!)

Susan’s Broccoli-Raisin Salad

Ingredients:
2 cups broccoli, chopped
12 strips bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
1 red onion chopped
1 cup raisins
1 cup sunflower seeds

Dressing:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Directions:
Mix broccoli, bacon, onion, raisins and sunflower seeds.  Mix dressing together separately and pour over broccoli mixture; toss to coat.  Serves 8.

I have doubled (and even quintupled) this recipe for large gatherings; in fact, I made it for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday party last summer, and it got rave reviews.  If you’re making it ahead, I recommend mixing the dry ingredients together in one bowl and blend the dressing in a separate container. Refrigerate both until ready to serve; combine and toss just before serving.

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