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Monday Musings: Childhood inspiration, revisited

14 May

I have never forgotten this childhood book.

I’ve always been a reader and I’ve always been someone who loves to cook, especially when it comes to baking. To me, there is nothing more exciting than reading a new cookbook and dreaming about all the new things I want to make. There is also nothing as relaxing for me as being in my kitchen with no place to be in a hurry, baking the day away. Additionally, I love the challenge of a good cooking contest, having entered my first ones back in the days when I was a young Girl Scout, entering and sometimes winning their annual “Girl Scout Bake Off.” I’ve also married someone who loves to cook, and together we turn some amazing meals out of our kitchen, and we enjoy creating great meals together. These are all passions that we have passed along to our children, who all love to cook and to bake, starting off when they were very young. They too have entered cooking contests over the past years, and have often won, which have given them some amazing opportunities, attending special events, such as luncheons with the First Lady or with our state’s governor.

When I was young, I remember reading a book called “Ginnie and the Cooking Contest.” It was written by Catherine Woolley, and I have remembered this book forever, since the time I read it, until now. I have never, ever forgotten it, and I have remembered very specific parts of it very clearly. It was a book I really loved, and it definitely inspired me in many ways. The book was published in 1966, and if I had to guess, I might have read it in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. As my kids have grown up, I have always talked about this book and referred to it, and I often think of it when I’m baking in my kitchen or thumbing dreamily through a delicious new cookbook.

This book was just as I remembered it.

A while back, I tried searching the internet for this book, but I didn’t find it. Then later on when I talked about it yet again, my daughter found it for me on Amazon. I mulled it over in my head for quite a while before deciding to purchase it. Once I hit the “order” button, I was instantly excited, and I couldn’t wait for the book to arrive.

Last week, it finally came. I was so excited to open it up, it looked exactly like I had remembered, and this authentic vintage copy that I’d ordered had crisp yellow pages. My only disappointment was that the company I’d ordered it from through Amazon had put a UPC code sticker right across the front of the book, which I thought was just a terrible thing to do to a vintage book. I was able to peel it off carefully, and only a little stickiness remained. I could deal with that.

I decided to read it again, knowing that I was between books and that this one would not take me very long to read.

I settled in to start reading one night, and I was so happy. The story was exactly as I remembered it to be. I read along all over again as Ginnie decides to take a risk and enter a cooking contest, needing to create a menu and choosing one item from it to prepare for the contest. I got excited myself, as she poured through cookbook after cookbook, trying to choose a contest-worthy recipe. My mouth watered as she considered her choices, and I was surprised by some of the more vintage recipes that were being made then, that aren’t made now, such as a chicken loaf, for example. I followed step-by-step as she made a homemade bread for the first time ever, and I could almost smell the aroma that she described as it filled her kitchen. I smiled as she read aloud recipe after recipe from a cookbook to her little babysitter charge, knowing I’d read cookbooks aloud to my own kids as well.

I knew that this book had inspired me, I knew that I had read it and never forgotten it, but I truly had no idea just how much it had influenced my life, even to this day. I was so glad that I’d ordered it to read it again.

I’ve been inspired to read even more.

That said, I was inspired again, when I recently covered a story for work where middle school students were given the opportunity to hear a picture book read aloud every single day of the school year so far, and on Thursdays, had the opportunity for a “Throwback Thursday” book choice, a chance to request a favorite from their own childhoods. I thought the whole concept of revisiting childhood books we love was a great idea, and the teacher I spoke with said her students loved hearing the picture books read aloud.

In somewhat of a twist on that idea, I decided that there were some books that I’d never gotten to read, like “The Phantom Tollbooth,” for example. Published in 1961, this book was given to my daughter by my mom in 2010 as it was about to turn 50 years old in 2011. I decided that I would like to read that book too. Another book I’ve decided to read is “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” by Kate DiCamillo. It is not a book from my childhood, but it is a book that one of my daughters read and loved so much, I was sorry I never got to read it. Kate DiCamillo is a favorite author in our family and I follow her on social media. The number of people that she posts about who stop her to talk about this book have really inspired me to read it. It was one that we saved as a “we can never give this book away,” book, and my daughter found it for me right away.

I’m excited to read these books, even though I am a grown adult, and I look forward to being inspired by them, as much as I was by “Ginnie and the Cooking Contest.” I am amazed by how much that book influenced me and helped to fuel my passion of cooking and baking over the past decades. I am looking forward to seeing how these “new” books will influence me in the days and maybe even for decades to come.

It makes me wonder, do you have a childhood book that has stayed with you forever? If so, share it in the comments. I’d love to know what some of my readers’ favorites are.

 

Monday Musings: It’s not always about winning

30 Apr

This recipe took at least five tries and a lot of perseverance to perfect.

Early this winter, I saw a cooking contest pass by in my newsfeed on social media. A local New England applesauce brand, Simply Wholesome–recently re-branded with a new name: Our Family Garden– was sponsoring a cooking contest. The participants would receive a six jars of their applesauce (two each of three different varieties) and they could submit as many recipes as they wished, as long as they utilized the applesauce in their recipes, which had to be previously unpublished, original recipes.

We love cooking contests here, we have won several of them between us, and I decided to enter the contest. The winter months are a little bit slower for me work-wise than the spring and there was enough time allotted for some trial and error as I went about figuring out how to create an original-never-been-published-before recipe.

My box of applesauce arrived within a few days of letting them know I’d be entering the contest. I was shocked to find six, full-sized samples of applesauce in the box, along with a jar of their blueberry jam as a gift for entering.

I had already decided that I wanted to try to create an apple pie type of muffin with a streusel topping. I just had to come up with a recipe and incorporate the applesauce. I began researching basic muffin recipes so that I could see what ingredients I needed and approximately how much of each  it takes to make a muffin, a muffin. Then, I added in their cinnamon applesauce, at first adding it in just to the actual muffin mix, to give them the apple pie flavor I was hoping for. As I created my streusel topping, my youngest daughter, who was home and doing a lot of cooking at the time, suggested that I add the applesauce to the topping as well. I thought that was a brilliant idea. I was creating a topping that included brown sugar, butter, quick oats, and now the applesauce too. My entire recipe was gluten free, using gluten free flour and gluten free oatmeal as well.

I made the muffins, following the recipe I’d come up with. We waited with great anticipation for them to come out of the oven. It was very exciting as we watched them cook through the window of the oven.

This wasn’t quite the result I’d been anticipating.

As we looked inside though, we saw a big mess. The muffin topping was oozing all over the place. They tasted delicious, but they were a mess. The topping was oozing and the centers were sinking.

Hmmm…not really contest-worthy.

I hadn’t thought about the fact that this really might take more than one try.

My family said the muffins were good enough to try again, so I did.

Again, and again, and again, and again.

Now I’d gone too far in the other direction.

I was determined to get this recipe right. Although the first time I made them they were too wet, by the fourth time I’d added in flour to the topping and now they were too dry, and my kids were beginning to dread coming home to the latest “after school snack” or waking up to a Saturday breakfast “surprise”  of apple pie muffins—again.

“What did you do to them,” one of the kids asked in distress this particular time. “Go back to the way they were, at least they tasted good.”

I was starting to run out of time and out of willing tasters.

I talked with my mom multiple times to get her opinion, and I thought and thought about my recipe ingredients and what seemed to be working and what didn’t.

What was I doing wrong??

Over and over in my mind I thought about all of the times I’d learned about scientists and how their hypotheses weren’t always right and how their experiments didn’t always work the first time around and how the learning takes place in the trial and error process, not necessarily in getting it right the first time around.

I was feeling like a kitchen scientist, albeit a weary one. How long did these scientists take to perfect their experiments??

The contest deadline was coming up. I’d had about two months to get this recipe right and I was not going to give up. I wasn’t even in it for the win any longer, I was in it for the personal satisfaction of accomplishing this task of creating my own recipe for the first (and possibly only) time ever. I wanted it to be good, I wanted my husband and kids to like it and be proud of me, and I wanted to get it right. I like to get things right. I like to give 110 percent all the time.

I gave it one final try. I adjusted my ingredients one last time. I begged my family to give them one last taste.

“I hope you get them right this time, they’re good, but I don’t think I can eat another one any time soon,” my oldest daughter said.

If I didn’t get the topping right this time, I really thought I might give up.

I put what I hoped would be the final batch in the oven, and I held my breath, literally. I’d added in raisins to one of the trays on the advice of my mother and two of my kids who like them, and left one without, for the one who doesn’t.

I watched them cooking in the oven. The topping seemed to be doing what it was supposed to be doing, spreading out without oozing over, and didn’t seem overly dry.

Could it be that I’d finally gotten the right balance of every ingredient down??

It seems that it could. I’d figured it out. I think I cheered out loud.

I pulled them out of the oven, and everyone took a bite. Again, I held my breath and waited for their responses.

Five thumbs up from my family.

Perfection.

Apple Pie Muffins with a Sweet Streusel topping for the win.

Except I didn’t win.

Not exactly.

I didn’t win one of the top three cash prizes that seemed attractive at the time I started out in this process.

But, I won a lot more than that. I can proudly say that I have created a recipe, my very own recipe, that was delicious, and most importantly I did not give up. I never anticipated this would take this long. I generally don’t have the patience to stick with something this long and see it through, but I could not let this one go, and I’m glad I didn’t.

Additionally, I have to say, we fell in love with this applesauce. I submitted a second recipe to the contest for Zesty BBQ pork chops which also utilized one of the varieties of applesauce, and my kids were going through the six jars like crazy, each variety was just as good as the last. I always have been a homemade applesauce kind of girl, and I have never purchased an applesauce my family has loved this much. I’m glad that we don’t live far from the Big Y markets in Massachusetts where it is going to be on the shelves under the new branding. It’ll be worth the ride just over the state line to get more. Not to mention, I recently ordered a case of their jams, as my youngest daughter finished the entire jar of blueberry jam on her own. When I heard that there were two other varieties, I decided to place an order for them.

In the end, I gained much more from this experience than I ever imagined I would have, and I have no regrets about entering, or about not winning.

Sometimes it just not about the win, it’s about the journey.

Apple Pie Muffins with Sweet Streusel Topping
by Jennifer L. Cowart

Apple pie muffins
*to make gluten free, use 1:1 gluten free all-purpose baking flour

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ tsp salt

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1/3 cup Touch of Honey Applesauce With Cinnamon

2 apples peeled, cored and diced
Optional: use only one apple and add in 2/3 cups raisins.

Sweet Streusel Topping
*to make gluten free, use gluten free oats and gluten free flour.

¼ cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup quick oats (not instant) uncooked
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup Touch of Honey Applesauce with Cinnamon

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray 24 muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray.

2) In a large bowl whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

3) Add in eggs, milk and applesauce. Mix until well combined.

4) Add diced apples (and raisins, if desired) and mix well.

5) Put approximately two tablespoons of batter into each muffin tin, until ¾ of the way full. Set aside. **If there are empty muffin tins, fill with water, ¾ of the way full.**

6) In a separate bowl, mix together streusel ingredients.

7) Add one teaspoon of topping to the top of each portion of batter, spreading across top of batter.

8) Bake for 15-18 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of muffins comes out clean.

Best served warm.
Makes 18-24 muffins.

Finally!

 

Fun Friday: Low-fat Lemon Pound Cake

6 Apr

This was a winner last year, so we brought it back for an encore performance this year.

 

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post about a new dessert we tried (and tried again) for our Easter meal. In it, I referred to the fact that I also made a second dessert, so today I thought I’d share that one with you. It’s one that can be made all year long, and it’s gotten rave reviews from my family for two years in a row.

Last Easter we did not host, but we did contribute to the meal, and one of the items we contributed was a dessert. I am not even sure now, how I found this dessert from Angel in the Kitchen, but it was fitting for a springtime, Easter meal and it was one we’d all like, as well as one that I could easily transform to be gluten free by switching out the flour for the Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 baking flour that we use here.

When I read through the recipe, I was a little bit nervous because it used real lemon juice and lemon zest, and I’d always been a cheater and used a bottle of lemon juice in my recipes. I was also nervous because the directions start with, “Unload your dishwasher,” and states that this is a five-bowl recipe. So there was that. Additionally, I doubled my recipe both years in order to make two pound cakes—one for the potluck party after church on Saturday night and one for Easter dessert on Sunday. So for me that was ten bowls because in this case, with this particular recipe, it was easier for me to make two of everything than it was to try to figure out splitting it into two at the end.

It was a multi-bowl recipe, but it was worth it.

I have to say, it’s a fabulous dessert, and it gets amazing feedback each year, whether from our immediate and extended family or from our friends at church, and no one can ever tell it’s gluten free unless I tell them. The use of the fresh lemon juice and lemon zest are what make the difference, and it also makes our house smell delicious as I’m squeezing the juice and grating the lemon for the zest.

My one change that I had to implement was in regards to the glaze. Both years I had to increase it. I tripled it this year, in order to have what I felt was the right amount on top of the cake, even though a lot drips down to the plate below.

I used two lemons, one per cake, and it did not make the 1 ½ tablespoons of zest, but it made enough to make it work, and it makes plenty of juice to make what is needed for the cake and the glaze.

I encourage you to give this recipe a try. It’s not fast and easy, but it’s not incredibly hard and it’s worth every step, every bowl, every minute it it takes.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Happy Birthday Don and Alexandra!

23 Mar

So what’s the best birthday gift *you* ever gave someone?

ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 23, 2012

Today is a very special day.

Today is Alexandra’s birthday.

Today is also Don’s birthday.

That makes me the best wife ever because seven years ago for Don’s birthday at 1:22 am I gave him our third daughter.

I know, I know, best gift ever, right?! It’s hard to top that one though, so I don’t really try. I’m back to t-shirts, pajama pants and stuff like that for his birthday gifts.

Alexandra’s First Birthday 2006

Since sharing his birthday with his daughter, Don has been blessed with getting to have a Snoopy party, a My Little Pony party, a Dora party, a Purple party and this year…Hello Kitty. Technically they’re not his parties obviously, but you see what I mean.

Birthday crowns all around on Alex’s second birthday.

Thankfully, my parents have this neat tradition that they started with us where we celebrate the adult birthday parties at their house each year and we “kids” get to choose our meal and our cake. I choose….well I won’t tell you what I choose until it’s my birthday this summer. But Don chooses a totally opposite type of meal and cake than I would choose, so I guess it’s good that we each get a chance to choose our own, to choose what we like. Don chooses meatball sandwiches (made with my mom’s homemade meatballs and gravy) with lemon cake for dessert. It’s probably the only time all year we have it and he really enjoys it.

Therefore, today I thought I’d share with you the recipe for Don’s birthday cake of choice each year, the lemon cake. It’s really yummy, I particularly love the corners.

***********************************************************************************

LEMON CAKE

A cake *just* for Daddy!

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup oil

1/2 cup water

2 beaten eggs

Duncan Hines Lemon Cake Mix

1 can lemon pie filling (divided)

DIRECTIONS

In bowl by hand, mix together oil, water, eggs, cake mix.

Add 1/4 can of lemon pie filling into the mix.

Put into greased 9×13 dish.

On top, distribute the rest of the pie filling.

Bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees.

When cool, glaze with:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar mixed with 1 Tablespoon lemon juice. Add a little hot water if necessary.

THE BIRTHDAY TWINS CELEBRATING THEIR SPECIAL DAY IN 2016

 

 

Barbecued roast beef and a new Cave Tools product

20 Mar

New recipe and new tool!

Recently my husband and I ate dinner in a local restaurant that was new to us. We shared two meals, one of which was a barbecued beef brisket. It was similar to the pulled pork that we often make at home, but yet it was different because of the beef that was used, and the flavor was intense. We loved it so much we decided to try to make it here at home, using our Instantpot to cook the beef.

Luckily, we had a new Cave Tools product to try out, a set of two stainless steel shredding meat claws. They were going to be perfect for the meat that we would be making that night. The handles were sturdy and strong, and came with textured non-slip handles and plenty of space for our hands, thanks to the extended knuckle space. Interestingly, they are shaped like a bear’s paws, which provides a really good grip on the meat you’re working with.

We used the claws to hold the meat with one hand and a knife with the other to slice some of it off.

The claws can be used in a variety of ways and we definitely made us of them when we lifted the meat out of the Instantpot, when we shredded it, and even when we decided to slice off a portion to taste, we used the claws to hold the meat with one hand and the knife with the other.

These meat claws were fantastic for shredding the roast beef.

They’re also great for shredding the meat, which we did for most of it, since we were looking for a pulled beef consistency at the end and we planned to shred it, return it to the Instantpot for a bit longer, and then take it back out for serving.

Once the shredded meat was finished cooking, having the claws in hand for removing it from the Instantpot was key. They were helpful in scooping out good-sized amounts of meat at a time from the pot.

These stainless steel claws are available two ways. You can find them on Amazon.com here, or on the Cave Tools website here, but be sure to use the discount code MEATCLAWS on the Cave Tools site to receive a discount of 15% off.

 

Putting the meat back into the Instantpot was easy with the meat claws.

Be sure to read all of the care and safety information in your box when you get your tools. You’ll be sure to smile when you read the reference to “Wolverine” in the safety instructions!

As with all of their products, this one comes with a Lifetime guarantee and you can return it at any time if you are not 100% satisfied. Although we love a company that stands by their products, we won’t be utilizing that any time soon, as we already have plans to make use of these meat claws again soon. They’re definitely going to be a go-to tool in our kitchen from here on in.

To make the barbecued roast beef, saute an onion on the saute setting with olive oil and garlic. Add in a cup of your favorite barbecue sauce. Add in 1/4 cup of water to cut the sauce a bit. Whisk the sauce for consistency. Put in your roast, cook it on the manual setting for an hour. Do a quick release, remove the roast beef and shred it with your metal claws. Place the beef back into the Instantpot for another ten minutes on manual. Remove when done. This can be served as a sandwich or just as is. We did a little of each.

Ready to eat! There were hardly any leftovers and we can’t wait to make this again!

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals

7 Mar

Ratatouille has become a favorite meal of ours.

Welcome to the month of March! It’s been quite some time since I posted a two-week menu plan, and I thought this week might be a good week to do one.

We are marching into spring and it’s about to be our busy season at work and at school so I am reveling in this relative calm before the storm. Over these two weeks however, two of our kids are booked just about every night for “tech week” as they prepare for this weekend’s upcoming theater performances and next weekend’s drama festival competition. Therefore, we are not necessarily eating all together as we usually do, but rather in a group of three, and then a group of two later on. They come in starving at about 9:00 p.m. and their first question is always, “What was for dinner?” as they look to reheat whatever it is that we had. They’ve eaten, but it’s usually between when school ends at 2:00 and when their theater responsibilities begin at 4:00.

That said, here is our list of meals for these two weeks.

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

SUNDAY: Shaved steak and cheese sandwiches with tomato salad and steak fries
MONDAY: Burritos and quesadillas
TUESDAY: Chicken, broccoli and pasta
WEDNESDAY: Ratatouille
THURSDAY: Cranberry chicken
FRIDAY: Opening night for theater! Out to dinner
SATURDAY: Grilled kielbasa kebabs (this is a new meal, so look for it to be featured in the future!)

SUNDAY: Pulled beef brisket (this is a new recipe, so look for it to be featured in the future!)
MONDAY: Grilled teriyaki chicken breasts
TUESDAY: Spaghetti with tuna sauce
WEDNESDAY: Nicoise salad
THURSDAY: Leftovers
FRIDAY: Homemade Pizza
 

Hopefully this inspires some meals for your next two weeks of meals!
Have a wonderful week!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: a couple of new-ish recipes for you

14 Feb

Dinner is cooking!

Happy Wednesday and Happy Valentine’s Day!

As I mentioned recently in one of my posts, the past few weeks have been challenging and therefore, a little bit of a blur for me. If you asked me what was for dinner yesterday, there’s a good chance I can’t remember and if you ask me what’s for dinner tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I don’t know yet. We have shopped, we have a list of meals, but we’ve been a little less planned out than we normally are and I’m trying to keep a lot of balls in the air at the moment. Everyone has hectic weeks and months though, so I’m sure you can all relate.

That said, we’ve had a couple of surprisingly delicious meals in the past couple of weeks and I did want to share them with you. They’re kind of new, but not really. New-ish, I guess. One I have posted about before, and one I never have, but we’ve eaten it before.

First, I will share with you the recipe we’ve had before but not for so long that I have never posted about it on my blog before. It is the one shown here to the left, and to the right and it might make a perfect Valentine’s Day meal for you!

It was so good to have this meal again. I hope we don’t wait another two decades to make it again in the future!

Many years ago when we lived out of state and in apartments, we used to make a pasta dish that we loved. It had a pink tomato cream sauce and pasta, along with chicken or shrimp and sun-dried tomatoes. For some reason we fell out of the habit of making it, for about 20 years. A recent new meal that we tried out sparked a memory of that recipe, and we put it on the list of meal requests for the following weeks’ menu. We didn’t have a specific recipe for it, and my husband put it together as he went, but this recipe from Allrecipes.com is a similar one. Some use vodka in their sauce, making it a true Pink Vodka sauce, but  we did not and we enjoyed it just as much.

Next, I will share with you another rediscovered recipe, but this one was made a little bit more recently, but not by much!

This meal was so delicious and even better the second day as the flavors settled in.

Last week my daughter was asking me how chicken could be made with brown sugar. It was something she had seen (I think on television), but the two ingredients didn’t seem to go together in her mind. I told her that they did in fact, go well together and that I was pretty sure I’d made at least one brown sugar and chicken recipe in the past. I was pretty sure I would find it on my blog, and sure enough….I had two! When I looked them up this week, they both looked so delicious that I decided to scrap any meals that I might’ve pulled from our Two Weeks of Meals choices, and make one of them instead. One of my other daughters was home at the time and I let her choose the one she wanted. She ended up choosing this Brown Sugar and Lemon Chicken recipe that I’d last made in 2012. I had everything for it except a real lemon. Instead I had a bottle of lemon juice that I felt would suffice. It would mean no lemon zest on top, but I felt that we would still enjoy the meal either way. I was right. This chicken was so incredibly most and delicious, it melted in my mouth. I could not believe I hadn’t remembered this recipe sooner, although I was glad that I’d remembered it sooner than the tomato cream pasta recipe above.

I could not wait to eat this for lunch again the next day!

I served this meal with rice and a veggie saute that our oldest daughter loves, just a simple mix of zucchini and squash cooked in the cast iron skillet. It was a hit with everyone except the daughter who originally asked about chicken and brown sugar, who really only likes chicken on a wing or in a nugget, but I’m still glad our conversation sparked this memory for me.

In case you’re wondering, here is the other brown sugar and chicken recipe, it’s also from 2012. It’s one I’m hoping to try again in the near future and it also calls for garlic, which is another favorite of ours.

I hope that these blast-from-the-past meal memories have provided you with some meal memories of your own and that you find an old recipe you’d forgotten all about. If not, feel free to give our recipes a try! I can promise you won’t be disappointed.

Have a wonderful rest of your week!