Friday, February 27, 2009

Chocolate Truffles Giveaway Winner

Thanks to everyone who entered my very first blogging giveaway - it was exciting to read everyone's comments. I used to generate a random winner, and that winner was.....

Comment #13: Sadie! Congratulations, Sadie. You are the winner of your very own tin full of my homemade chocolate truffles. :-)

Send me an e-mail at sbasker_mk [at] hotmail [dot] com, with your shipping address. Also let me know what flavor and coating you'd like. Thanks for entering!!!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mayonnaise Muffins

I got a new cookbook at a thrift store today. Actually, it's definitely not new, but I'm pretty excited about it anyway. It's the Southern Living 1983 Annual Recipes book - the compilation of every Southern Living recipe from the year that I was born. Yippee!!!

As I was leafing through, wondering if I might find something interesting to make for lunch, I came across this recipe for Mayonnaise Muffins and fell in love. These are so easy and quick! I will definitely keep my universal muffin recipe for when I have specific ingredients I want to use, but this recipe is awesome for its sheer simplicity. And with only three ingredients (five if you don't have self-rising flour) it's super cheap too!

Mayonnaise Muffins
1 cup self-rising flour (or substitute 1 cup all-purpose flour [I used some wheat flour], 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder, and 1/2 tsp. salt)
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1/2 cup milk

Combine all ingredients; stir until smooth. Spoon batter into greased 6-cup muffin pans, filling two-thirds full. Bake at 425 for 10 to 12 minutes. Yield: 1/2 dozen (I doubled the recipe to make a full dozen).

So quick and easy! The muffins don't have a distinct flavor of their own, and therefore lend themselves splendidly to both sweet and savory accompaniments. Served with butter and jam, alongside carrot and celery sticks, they made a delicious lunch.

Don't forget to enter my chocolate truffle giveaway - you have until tomorrow (Friday) evening! :-)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

National Tortilla Chip Day

Did you know that Feb. 24 is National Tortilla Chip Day? It's also National Pancake Day but we had to pick and choose which to celebrate and tortilla chips won out.

What better way to celebrate National Tortilla Chip Day than to build up some super delicious nachos!!!! And we did it the only way we know how - cheap!

We started with the tortilla chips - purchase on sale for $0.89/16 oz. bag at Rancho Market (a local Hispanic market/store with incredible sales prices on stuff like chips and produce)

On top of the chips went the delicious cheesy sauce. We made this by heating up a jar of pasteurized process cheese sauce (we usually use a slab of generic Velveeta-like stuff, but they were out, so the jarred generic stuff it was). We added a can of tomatoes and green chilies (commonly called Ro-Tel, of course we used generic) and some bean flour (dried beans ground up in a wheat grinder), as well as chili powder and cumin for a hearty and flavorful cheese sauce.

Next up was some homemade guacamole, made from avocados that were purchased on sale at Rancho Market for $0.33 each. I mashed three avocados and added some lemon juice, parsley, minced onion, garlic, hot sauce, and salt.

After the guacamole came leaf lettuce, purchased at Ream's for $0.69 per bunch, and tomato - 4 lbs for $0.99 at Rancho.

Lastly came the cheese, $2.50 per pound on sale. Now, I know that somehow, somewhere I can get cheese for cheaper than that, but I'm having trouble finding it. Meanwhile, this was the cheapest we could get, and believe me, it's cheaper than we could get at Wal-Mart.

This fun, delicious meal cost us under $3, plus we have plenty of cheap ingredients left for other great foods later!

Don't forget to enter my giveaway for homemade chocolate truffles here. Giveaway ends Friday evening. :-)

Spaghetti Pie

This is a great dish to use up leftover spaghetti and sauce. Or you can make spaghetti and sauce specifically for this pie, because it's yummy enough to not wait until you have the leftovers!

Wo is me for I had to take these pictures in the awful evening lighting again!

Spaghetti Pie
About 8 oz. spaghetti, cooked
1 or 2 eggs (recipe calls for 2, I got away with using 1)
2/3 cup shredded cheese
Some thick and chunky spaghetti sauce (I used 1/4 lb. ground beef cooked with celery and carrot, then added tomato paste, diced tomatoes, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, and some brown sugar)
More shredded cheese (mozzarella) for topping

Combine drained spaghetti with egg and shredded cheese. Press into a greased 9-inch pie plate. Spoon spaghetti sauce over spaghetti crust. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. Remove foil and top with shredded mozzarella. Bake for an additional 3-5 minutes until cheese is melted. Slice and serve!

Don't forget to enter my giveaway for delicious homemade chocolate truffles here! It's open until Friday evening. :-)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Blog is a Year Old!

*****The Chocolate Truffles Giveaway has officially ended. Thanks to everyone who entered!*****

And I made a cake to celebrate!

It's hard to believe that I've already been food blogging for an entire year. I've come such a long way (especially in the quality of my pictures - check out this awful picture!), and have really enjoyed getting to know my fellow food bloggers and trying new recipes. This is an exciting thing for me!

Of course, go figure that after having the blogoversary button up on my blog for months, and looking forward to it for weeks, I actually forgot that it was today until earlier this afternoon. So I had to come up with a great recipe to post quick! I found what I was looking for on

Thirty Minute Yellow Cake
1/2 cup shortening (we're running low, I used margarine)
1 1/4 cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 cups self-rising flour (add 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder and 1/2 tsp. salt per 1 cup of all-purpose flour)
1 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan, or two 9 inch round pans.

Cream together the shortening and sugar. Beat in the eggs. Add the flour, milk, and vanilla, and beat to a soft smooth batter.

Bake 20 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

I actually didn't want a full-sized cake, so I cut the recipe in half and made 1 9-inch round layer. I frosted it with this recipe. I took the opportunity to test a tightwad tip I recently read about - substituting flour for some of the powdered sugar in frosting. I used all-purpose flour for about half a cup of the powdered sugar. The results were encouraging - it mixed up just as fluffy and creamy as it always does when I make it, and the flour took a bit of the edge off the sweetness. So I'll keep using flour for part of the sugar in frosting to save a few calories and a few pennies. :-)

As I was taking pictures, I suddenly became aware of the fact that there was about to be a native uprising - the kids were eying the cake like cannibals and looked as though they could strike at any minute.

So I wrapped up the picture taking, grabbed a fork, and we all shared a piece. Yum!

And now on to something even funner than a little cake with tightwad frosting. I'm so excited to present to you:


In keeping with my entire blogging premise, this giveaway will feature a tightwad offering - something I make myself. One lucky reader will win a tin of homemade chocolate truffles.

I have personally tested these truffles :-) and can honestly say that they are delicious and rich and thoroughly enjoyable! I will make them to your specifications, with your preferred flavoring and coating.

To enter, leave me a comment telling me which flavor you would prefer (plain chocolate, almond extract, lemon extract, mint extract, or maple extract) and which coating sounds best to you (cocoa, powdered sugar, white sugar, green sugar, chopped nuts, or coconut).

The giveaway ends on Friday, February 27 at 5:00 p.m. I'll announce the winner sometime between then and Saturday morning. Eeeee! I'm so excited to have a giveaway!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Stuffed Sandwich

This recipe is a cousin to the baked sandwich I posted about a while ago. It's a similar concept, but while the baked sandwich is filling wrapped in bread dough and baked, the stuffed sandwich is filling placed in a loaf of already-baked bread. It's simple and yummy!

Stuffed Sandwich
1 loaf unsliced bread (can use any type, we like homemade French bread)
Filling options:
-Cooked turkey mixed with frozen peas, shredded mozzarella, and enough white sauce to hold together (shown above)
-Browned ground beef mixed with shredded cheddar, cooked spinach or broccoli, and enough spaghetti sauce to hold together
-Cooked chicken mixed with drained pineapple chunks, shredded cheese, and enough barbecue sauce to hold together
-Etc. (Get creative!)

Slice the loaf of bread in half horizontally, so that you have a top half and a bottom half. Use a spoon to carefully scoop out the insides of the bread, leaving about 1/2 to 1 inch of crust all around. Set aside the insides to use for bread crumbs or bread pudding.

Combine filling ingredients and season as desired. Press filling into both halves of the bread. Put halves back together to form loaf again. Wrap loaf in foil and heat in 375-degree oven for about half an hour, till heated through. Slice and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Universal Muffins

Here's another great universal recipe from the Tightwad Gazette. This is one I have used many times - universal muffins. These make a delicious and inexpensive breakfast or snack.

Amy Dacyczyn says: Instead of sharing a single muffin recipe, I wanted to share the process of creating muffin recipes. This will allow you to use ingredients that are cheap in your part of the country, use up odd leftovers, and accommodate dietary restrictions.

The quantities listed are for a single batch of 12 muffins.

Grain: Use 2 to 2 1/2 cups of white flour. Or substitute oatmeal, cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, rye flour, or flake cereal for 1 cup of the white flour. Or substitute 1 cup cooked oatmeal, rice, or cornmeal for 1/2 cup of the white flour and decrease liquid to 1/2 cup.

Milk: Use 1 cup. Or substitute buttermilk or sour milk (add a tablespoon of vinegar to 1 cup milk). Or substitute fruit juice for part or all of the milk.

Fat: Use 1/4 cup vegetable oil or 4 tablespoons melted butter or margarine. Or substitute crunchy or regular peanut butter for part or all of the fat. The fat can be reduced or omitted with fair results if using a "wet addition."

Egg: Use 1 egg. Or substitute 1 heaping tablespoon of soy flour and 1 tablespoon of water. If using a cooked grain, separate the egg, add the yolk to the batter, beat the white until stiff, and fold into the batter (Amy later gives a better method for fluffing up batter with cooked grain, which I will give a little later).

Sweetener: Use between 2 tablespoons and 1/2 cup sugar. Or substitute up to 3/4 cup brown sugar. Or substitute up to 1/2 cup honey or molasses, and decrease milk to 3/4 cup.

Baking Powder: Use 2 teaspoons. If using whole or cooked grains or more than 1 cup of additions, increase to 3 teaspoons. If using buttermilk or sour milk, decrease to 1 teaspoon and add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

Salt: Use 1/2 teaspoon, or omit if you have a salt-restricted diet.

The following ingredients are optional. Additions can be used in any combination, up to 1 1/2 cups total. If using more than 1 cup of wet additions, decrease the milk to 1/2 cup.

Dry Additions: Nuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, coconut, and so on.

Moist Additions: Blueberries, chopped apple, freshly shredded zucchini, shredded carrot, and so on.

Wet Additions: Pumpkin puree, applesauce, mashed cooked sweet potato, mashed banana, mashed cooked carrot, and so on. If using 1/2 cup drained, canned fruit or thawed shredded zucchini, substitute the syrup or zucchini liquid for all or part of the milk.

Spices: Use spices that compliment the additions, such as 1 teaspoon cinnamon with 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or cloves. Try 2 teaspoons grated orange or lemon peel.

Jellies and Jams: Fill cups half full with a plain batter. Add 1 teaspoon jam or jelly and top with 2 more tablespoons batter.

Topping: Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on the batter in the tins.

Nonsweet Combinations: Use only 2 tablespoons sugar and no fruit. Add combinations of the following: 1/2 cup shredded cheese, 3 strips fried-and-crumbled bacon, 2 tablespoons grated onion, 1/2 cup shredded zucchini, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Spices could include a teaspoon of parsley and a pinch of marjoram.

To make muffins, combine dry ingredients, and then mix in wet ingredients until just combined; the batter should be lumpy. Grease muffin tin and fill cups two thirds full. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes (give or take 5 minutes).

Shorthand version:
2 to 2 1/2 cups grain
1 cup milk
Up to 1/4 cup fat
1 egg
Up to 1/2 cup sweetener
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Up to 1 1/2 cups additions

Later in the book, Amy wrote another article about using cooked grains without having to separate and beat the eggs. Here is an exerpt from that article (I used this method this morning with wonderful results):

I've experimented and found that I could use cooked cereals in my muffin batter with the aid of my blender. First, I mix all of the dry ingredients in a big bowl. Then I put all of the wet and moist ingredients in a blender. These could include: cooked grain (about 1/2 cup per batch), egg, milk, honey or molasses, peanut butter, pumpkin puree, applesauce, and/or banana. I've even added unused cookie dough and pastry scraps. I don't blenderize any moist ingredient that I want to retain its original texture, such as shredded zucchini.

After blending, I mix the wet stuff into the bowl of dry stuff.

I make a final adjustment to the batter by adding more liquid or flour.

The blender seems to whip up the egg sufficiently as well as helps to quickly combine hard-to-mix-in moist stuff.

How I did it this morning:
I had a container of miscellaneous cooked grain in the fridge. It included couscous, brown rice, and cracked wheat. You see, I had cooked and used each of them separately, then combined them one morning to make a combination hot breakfast cereal. So this morning I had about a cup of mixed cooked grain that needed to be used. I tossed the cereal in the blender with milk, egg, oil, and a banana. I mixed in a large bowl 2 cups flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 cup sugar, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Then I blended the wet stuff and added it to the dry stuff and baked in greased muffin tins (my batch made 15 muffins instead of 12). The result was a slightly banana-flavored, light and fluffy muffin. Blending the cooked grain in with the wet ingredients had an unexpected benefit - you couldn't tell by looking at the muffins that they included such bulky ingredients as brown rice and cracked wheat because they had been so nicely incorporated. Hooray!

The kids and I ate several muffins between the three of us (they were delicious with margarine and some homemade plum jam), then I tossed the rest into the freezer in zip-top baggies. They will come in handy for later lazy breakfasts! :-)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Jeff's Favorite Lemon Bars

Jeff loves lemon-flavored desserts. Lemon pie, lemon pudding cake (which we made for his birthday last year) and lemon bars all put a silly, happy grin on his face. This is the recipe Jeff always uses when the urge for lemon bars takes over. They are lightly crispy on top, gooey in the middle, and have a soft, cookie-like crust.

Lemon Bars
1 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups flour
4 eggs, beaten lightly
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup lemon juice
Rind of one lemon, grated (we skip this; despite Jeff's love of lemon, he detests zest)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x13 pan.

For crust, cream together butter and powdered sugar. Add salt and 2 cups flour, and mix well. Pat gently into greased pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

For filling, combine remaining ingredients. Mix well (the more you beat and the frothier it gets, the crispier the top - yummy!) and pour over hot crust.

Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes. When done sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut when cool.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Dinner - Lasagna and More!

This is the big meal that Jeff and I have been planning all week. Rather than going out to eat on Valentine's Day, Jeff and I prefer to stay home and have a delicious, home cooked meal that's just a bit more fancy than we do for everyday meals. Tonight our menu included shrimp appetizer, garlic bread, salad, lasagna, and flourless cake for dessert.

Shrimp Appetizer
This is a dish I have made for Valentine's Day ever since Jeff and I were dating. Our first Valentine's Day, I wanted to impress him with my wonderful cooking skills so I made a big spaghetti dinner with fancy salad, and included this special little appetizer. I received the recipe at a Laurel's activity as a teenager and had never yet found an opportunity to try it. Jeff and I both enjoyed it so much that we've had it every year since. And it's simple and quick. It's a little more expensive than I usually do, but I made some changes this year to make it more budget-friendly.

1 8-oz. package cream cheese
1 bottle cocktail sauce (this year I made my own; recipe to follow)
1 can tiny shrimp, drained (we found a package of small frozen shrimp for half the price and used that instead)
Buttery snack crackers (like Ritz, or the store brand)

Place cream cheese on serving platter. Pour cocktail sauce on top, and dump the shrimp on top of the sauce. Serve with crackers. Easy peasy!

Homemade Cocktail Sauce (from this recipe)
1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon red wine or other vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 to 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish (substituted mustard for the tang, and hot sauce for the kick)
1 teaspoon lemon zest (omitted)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine ketchup, vinegar, and butter in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until butter melts. Add horseradish, to taste. Add lemon zest and juice; chill.

I didn't look at the recipe before we did our weekly shopping on Monday, and so didn't know that it required horseradish. Apparently, horseradish is an important part of cocktail sauce - I didn't see a single recipe that didn't call for it. My version with mustard and hot sauce definitely tastes different, but Jeff and I agree that it tastes good nonetheless! And with the cream cheese, shrimp, and crackers, the taste difference became almost negligible.

Garlic Bread

I sliced the loaf of bread I made yesterday into nice thick slices. Then I buttered each and sprinkled with garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and Parmesan. I reassembled the pieces back into a loaf, and wrapped it with foil, then toasted it in the oven for the final 15 minutes of baking time with the lasagna. I should have heated it a bit longer, because it wasn't fully warm (the butter didn't even melt all the way), but we were really hungry so we dug in anyway, and it tasted fine.


This was just a simple lettuce and lentil salad with vinaigrette. Nothing special by itself, but in the context of the meal, it just rounded it out a bit.

I used this recipe from, making a few changes here and there to make it cheaper and easier. I rarely make lasagna with noodles, usually choosing to use rice instead because it's more inexpensive. For this special occasion, however, we chose to fork out for Wal-Mart brand lasagna noodles (I know, gasp, that's so expensive!) and I'm glad we did. This was a really yummy lasagna.

8 ounces lasagna noodles
1 pound ground beef (used 1/4 pound beef and 1 cup cooked cracked wheat)
1/4 cup minced onions
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 (32 ounce) jar spaghetti sauce (made my own with canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and seasonings)
1 (16 ounce) package large curd cottage cheese (used small curd, and added an egg to make it hold its shape better)
1 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded (got away with slightly less)

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente; drain (Several reviewers said you can just soak the noodles in hot tap water for 20 minutes instead of cooking them, saving energy and therefore money. They finish cooking in the oven).

In a large skillet over medium heat, saute ground beef, onions, salt and garlic salt until meat is brown. Drain excess fat, add spaghetti sauce (and cracked wheat) to beef mixture, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan.

Line bottom of pan with three lasagna noodles. Spread 1/3 of sauce mixture over noodles. Layer 1/3 of the cottage cheese over the sauce. Sprinkle 1/3 of the mozzarella over the cottage cheese. Repeat this layering process until all ingredients are used up.

Bake in the preheated oven for one hour (Cover with foil for the first 45 minutes, then remove foil for the final 15 minutes). Let stand for 10 minutes before serving (to let it solidify so it slices easily. We chose to eat our appetizer, bread, and salad while the lasagna set, so we weren't just sitting around waiting).

Flourless Chocolate Cake
I've been planning this cake almost all month. I found it on and thought it looked so decadent and rich that I had to try it! Perhaps, considering how much food we ate for dinner, it might have been better to have a light dessert, but I was insistent. It was this cake or nothing at all!

My favorite picture of the meal - this is the only picture I got in natural light, and it shows!

4 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate, chopped (used chocolate chips)
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Grease an 8 inch round cake pan (I used my springform pan, it's the only 8-inch round pan I have), and dust with cocoa powder.

In the top of a double boiler over lightly simmering water, melt chocolate and butter (or use the microwave). Remove from heat, and stir in sugar, cocoa powder, eggs, and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely (I think mine was a bit undercooked, it wouldn't come off the bottom of the pan. It turned out very fudgy and delicious, so undercooked isn't necessarily a bad thing). Slices can also be reheated for 20 to 30 seconds in the microwave before serving.

Just a note - this cake is supposed to fall. It rises a bit in the oven, gets kind of puffy, but then it falls and gets dense. Don't worry, that's supposed to happen. It's dense and fudgy and light and melts in your mouth and has got to be the most decadent dessert I've ever made!

And there you have it - our entire day of Valentine's foods! (In case you missed them, here's the links to our breakfast and lunch). I love holidays!

Valentine's Lunch - Heart Shaped Biscuits and Spicy Gravy

We enjoyed the heart shaped aspect of our V-Day breakfast so much we decided to include it in lunch as well. I was in charge of the biscuits, and Jeff made the gravy.

The biscuits were simple. I used my favorite biscuit recipe (the recipe included on this post) and cut them out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter. Since my heart cutter is larger than my biscuit cutter, I did have to cook the biscuits about a minute longer than suggested. They turned out very fun!

For the gravy, Jeff used a simple white sauce to start with, then dressed it up. He added shredded turkey and frozen peas, then went wild with seasonings, adding salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, celery seed, and turmeric (which gave the gravy a nice yellow color and a flavorful kick). This was a delicious meal (I absolutely love biscuits and gravy), and Zaylee was once again excited at the prospect of eating heart shaped food.

Valentine's Breakfast - Pink Heart Pancakes

Jeff made these cute pancakes this morning. Zaylee was so excited to get to eat pink hearts for breakfast!

Pink Heart Pancakes
1 large egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. oil
3 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2-3 drops red food coloring

Beat egg in medium bowl until fluffy. Beat in remaining ingredients just until smooth.

Heat griddle or skillet over medium heat or to 375 degrees. grease griddle with butter or oil if necessary.

For each pancake, pour slightly less than 1/4 cup batter from cup or pitcher onto hot griddle, in a heart shape. You can do this a couple ways: pour two circles right next to each other for the two bumps on top of the heart and then a smaller bit of batter between them to make the pointy end, or do a V-shape. Either way, the batter will round out and fill out any gaps. We found the V-shape to be a bit easier. Cook pancake until bubbly on top, puffed and dry around edges. Turn and cook other side until golden brown.

Example of heart made with two circles and a smaller dab of batter:

Example of heart made in V-shape:

Easy and fun! Stay tuned for more of our Valentine's treats. :-)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Homemade Bread

Jeff and I love homemade bread. Not only is it more economical than store bought, but we find that we just love the flavor and texture so much more! In fact, we don't ever buy bread products anymore, choosing instead to make our own breads, rolls, and even tortillas. We have a bread machine, and use it often. However, when my wrists are feeling up to doing the heavy-duty kneading (they are sensitive, and kneading makes them hurt if I'm not careful), I'll pull out this recipe formula and do up a loaf of bread entirely from scratch. Making the dough all by myself gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment - after all, bread baking is quite an undertaking.

This is a "universal" recipe from Amy Dacyczyn's Tightwad Gazette. I love using this book as a reference for all sorts of frugality, but I especially love the universal recipes. They are great because you can make something delicious using whatever ingredients you have on hand, and are especially good uses for leftovers. I posted a recipe for universal pilaf a while back, making a millet and ground turkey pilaf as an example. I also have already posted the shorthand version of the universal bread recipe, along with the Italian Herbed Tomato Bread I created with it. In this post, I'm going to give you the more detailed recipe for universal bread, quoted from The Tighwad Gazette. Hold on to your hats, this is neat stuff!

Universal Bread
These ingredients and proportions will make one loaf or two medium-sized pizza crusts. Remember that making double or triple batches and freezing extra loaves saves time and money.

Liquid. Use 1 to 1 1/2 cups. Water is the most common choice, but other possibilities include potato water, vegetable broth, milk, or fruit juice.

Oil and fat. Use up to 1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil, melted butter, or melted margarine. Fat-free bread has a chewy crust that many people like, but others prefer the soft texture that comes with the addition of fat. Fat also increases shelf life.

Yeast. Use from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon.

Salt. Use up to 2 teaspoons. Salt regulates the growth of the yeast, keeping the dough from rising too rapidly and having uneven internal structure. If you want to eliminate salt, experiment with other yeast inhibitors including cocoa, cinnamon, garlic powder, and onion powder.

Sweetener. Yeast doesn't require any sweetener to grow; it can feed off the flour. But sweeteners make the yeast grow faster, help the crust brown, and, of course, make the dough sweeter. Use 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar or 2 to 4 tablespoons honey for a regular dough; up to 1/4 cup sugar or 1/2 cup honey for a sweet dough. Honey will make your dough sticky even after kneading, so take care not to add too much flour while kneading.

Flour. Use as much flour as required to make a dough that's soft yet holds its own form - usually 3 to 4 cups. This will vary with the flour and the humidity. Choose from white, whole wheat, soy, rye, or other flours. White flour has the most gluten; flours such as whole-wheat, oat (made by grinding rolled oats in a food processor), soy, or rye have less. Gluten makes the bread light and fluffy, so unless you like dense bread, use no more than 1/2 cup total of low-gluten flour per loaf.

All of the following are optional. For the three kinds of additions immediately below, use just 1/2 cup of any category. Increase liquid by 1/4 cup for every 1/2 cup of dry additions; reduce liquid by 1/4 cup for every 1/2 cup of wet additions.

Dry additions. Dry milk powder, Parmesan or Romano cheese, raw rolled oats, wheat germ, or sesame seeds.

Moist additions. Grated cheese, mashed potatoes, cooked oatmeal, cooked vegetables, grated carrots, raisins, chopped apples, or dried tomatoes.

Wet additions. Pumpkin, applesauce, or pureed vegetables such as tomatoes or zucchini.

Herbs and flavorings. Use 1/2 to 2 teaspoons dried herbs (fresh herbs can be used but may color your bread green) or half a medium onion or 1 to 2 cloves of garlic, sauteed before being added to the dough. Sweet dough can be flavored with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and/or 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, cloves, or allspice.

Decorations. Make an egg wash with a beaten egg and a little water. Brush on the dough just before baking. Sprinkle poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or rolled oats on top.

Mixing and baking. Combine and heat liquid, herbs, sweetener, salt, fats/oils, and additions until tepid (95 to 115 degrees). Add yeast and stir. Add flour, one cup at a time at first, mixing well. As the dough thickens, add flour more slowly, stirring until the dough is kneadable. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, adding flour sparingly to keep the dough from sticking (too much flour will make the dough too firm and the bread bricklike). Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and allow to rise in an oiled bowl until doubled in bulk. Shape into desired form and place in greased pans or baking sheets. Cover and allow to rise again until the dough is not quite as large as you want the final product to be. Mist the loaves with water for a chewier crust. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven; rolls and breadsticks for 20 to 25 minutes, loaves for 30 to 35 minutes.

Shorthand version:
1 to 1 1/2 cups liquid
Up to 1/4 cup fat
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon yeast
Up to 2 teaspoons salt
Up to 1/4 cup sugar or up to 1/2 cup honey
3-4 cups flour
1/2 cup optional additions
Up to 2 teaspoons flavorings

With my latest loaf of bread, I went fairly basic, using 1 1/2 cups water, 2 tbsp. margarine, 2 tsp. yeast, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tbsp. sugar, 1 cup wheat flour and the rest white flour, and 1/2 cup cooked cracked wheat. I shaped it into a long loaf, like French bread. We'll use this loaf tomorrow to make garlic bread for our romantic Valentine's Day lasagna dinner (which I will of course post about after we've had it). :-)

One thing I've done with the dough after it has risen once, is I wrap it in cling wrap and foil and freeze it. Then I use it the same way one would use a loaf of purchased frozen bread dough. I just discovered this thread on the Taste of Home forum about ways to use frozen dough, and some of the recipes got me really excited! I have two loaves in the freezer right now, and I think I'll be using them in fun ways in the next while.

Over the years I've made this several times, different each time. I've decided to keep this post updated by adding a picture and description for each new bread I make using this formula. Cheers!

The kids have been calling this "Soup Bread." I used broth from some leftover soup as the liquid in this recipe. Subsequently, there are small flecks of vegetables, like tomato and carrot, throughout the loaves. The flour is half white and half wheat.

This version is ultra basic. I only used water, oil, salt, sugar, yeast, and a mixture of white and wheat flour. I tripled the amount and made four loaves at once (my loaf pans are on the small side)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Peanut Butter Blossom Bites

Since Valentine's Day is right around the corner, I've been in a cookie-making mood. I made some chocolate cookies the other day that weren't really great, and today I decided to try again. I saw a couple peanut butter blossom recipes that looked tasty (for those who don't know, peanut butter blossoms are basically peanut butter cookies with chocolate kisses pressed into them as soon as they're taken out of the oven). It really got me in the mood for making my own blossoms, but I didn't have any chocolate kisses. I decided to get creative and make miniature blossoms using small cookies and chocolate chips.

Peanut Butter Blossom Bites
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
Chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350, and grease cookie sheets.

Combine all ingredients. Drop dough in 1/2-teaspoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets (I was able to fit 2 dozen onto each 10x15 sheet). Bake in preheated oven 5-6 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately press a chocolate chip onto each cookie. Let sit a minute or two on the cookie sheet to solidify a bit, then carefully remove onto plates; the cookies will still be quite soft, I used a butter knife to lift them off the baking sheet. You can't really use cooling racks for these cookies because they're so small.

This recipe made just over 7 dozen cookies. By the time the last cookies were removed from the last baking sheet, we had already eaten 22 cookies. I use the term "we" lightly - Zaylee had two cookies and Thomas helped himself to about six (seriously, I turned around after taking pictures and he had snuck four right off the plate). As for the cookies...well, let's just say that Zaylee and Thomas and Jeff didn't eat them...

Seriously? Did I really eat fourteen cookies? Wow....

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Homemade Vanilla Pudding

"It has been said that frugality is a hallmark of a good cook. Some of the most talented practitioners I know are nearly fanatical about never wasting a morsel - chunks of stale bread are used for bread crumbs or bread pudding ... and vegetable trimmings invariably find their way into stock. This does not reflect a penurious bent so much as a love of and respect for food and its preparation. Cooking economically is part of the challenge of cooking well."--Pierre Franey

This morning as I was getting ready for breakfast, I noticed that the milk was going a little sour again. Why does that keep happening to us? I guess we need to drink it faster. Anyway, rather than just throw it out, I chose to use this milk on its last legs to make something yummy! Last time that happened I made it into yogurt. But this time there were only a couple cups of milk that needed to be used right away. So I decided it would be fun to make pudding for breakfast.

This recipe comes from, and is very delicious! It utilizes cornstarch as a thickener instead of egg. So it's cheaper, and I actually think I prefer the flavor of this pudding as opposed to an egg-thickened pudding; the cornstarch allowed the vanilla flavor to come through a bit more.

Homemade Vanilla Pudding
2 cups milk
1/2 cup white sugar (can be reduced if desired)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter

In medium saucepan over medium heat, heat milk until bubbles form at edges. In a bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Pour into hot milk, a little at a time, stirring to dissolve (typically you don't add cornstarch to hot liquid. But I trusted the recipe and did it this way. As long as you add it very gradually [like, a teaspoon or two at a time], and whisk continuously, there shouldn't be any problems with clumping). Continue to cook and stir until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Do not boil. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and butter. Pour into serving dishes. Chill before serving.

Actually, I served the pudding warm this morning, because I didn't think the kids would be patient enough to wait for it to chill. I sliced banana into the kids' bowls of pudding, but I ate mine plain. It would also be good sprinkled with cinnamon or nutmeg.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Southern Plate Giveaways

Speaking of Southern Plate (the inspiration for my baked sandwich post earlier this evening), Christy is hosting a whole month of wonderful giveaways on her blog in honor of Valentine's Day. Go check it out - she's currently giving away a gift basket full of lipsticks and lip glosses valued at $250! Ooh, I'd love to win that!

Baked Sandwich

I saw Christy's post on Southern Plate about how her family makes Baked Sandwiches, and it really got my mouth drooling! Jeff and I have been making loaves like this for quite a while, and in fact I'm surprised I haven't posted about these yet. We've gone through a variety of names for this dish - it started as "Supper in a Bread Loaf" and then was shortened to "Supper Loaf." Later we learned that it is sometimes called "Stromboli" and we called it that for a while. Then today Christy called it "Baked Sandwich" and I really like that name. So that's what I'm calling it now.

A baked sandwich is basically a loaf of bread dough rolled up around filling and baked. There are a variety of fillings that you can use - the only limit is your own imagination!

The fillings that Jeff and I have done most often are: cheeseburger style (ground beef, cheddar, and some optional broccoli or spinach), pizza style (pepperoni or sausage, tomato sauce, and mozzarella), and "aloha" style (barbecue sauce, chicken or turkey, pineapple, and cheese). That's the style we chose to do tonight.

To make a baked sandwich:

First you need bread dough. Christy uses a loaf (16 oz) of frozen bread dough, thawed. It's easy and convenient if you have room for it in your budget. Jeff and I usually make our own bread dough in the bread machine - we just put in ingredients for a one-pound loaf and run it on the dough setting. Tonight I used my easy pizza crust recipe, substituting pineapple juice (drained from the can of pineapples I used in the filling) for part of the water. It worked well; however, I prefer the flavor and texture of using regular bread dough.

Whatever bread dough you choose to use, roll it out into a big rectangle, just like you would for cinnamon rolls. Make sure it's not longer than the baking sheet you plan to bake it on.

Spread/sprinkle your filling down the middle of the dough, along the length. For the sandwich tonight, this step included smearing barbecue sauce down the middle, then sprinkling it with turkey chunks, pineapple tidbits, and cheddar cheese. Then fold the sides over onto the filling and pinch closed. See Christy's post for pictures of this step - I was negligent and didn't take any. You could also do this a bit more fancy and make a braid, like Marisa does. Or you can spread the toppings over the whole rectangle and roll it up jelly-roll style.

After rolling it up, transfer onto greased baking sheet, placing seam-side down (unless you braided it, then don't put the seam down). You can let the loaf rise for a while like Christy does, or you can choose not to. Jeff and I usually don't. Brush the loaf with egg if desired, and cut some slashes into the top to allow steam to escape (this keeps your loaf from bursting open while baking and letting all the filling leak out all over).

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until nicely browned and cooked through. Slice and serve!

Sorry that this post isn't very organized or specific. It's just that this dish can be made in so many different ways, and I didn't want to only post the way I did it tonight. We've made this so many times, with a large variety of fillings, and it has turned out delicious each time. Give it a try, you'll be glad you did!

Special bonus: the barbecue sauce I used in tonight's Baked Sandwich!

Barbecue Sauce
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (or 1 tbsp. dried minced onion)
1/4 cup vinegar
1 to 2 tbsp. sugar (I've had equal success with both white and brown sugar)
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. celery seed
Several dashes bottled hot pepper sauce
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp. salt

In saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes. This makes a tangy, robust barbecue sauce with a great flavor!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Easy Decadent Truffles

I'm going to a girls' night out with some friends, and each of us is supposed to bring something to eat. I've been seriously craving something sweet and chocolaty and decadent! So I made chocolate truffles. You know, even though I'm trying to lose weight and eat healthy and save money on food - I just have to splurge sometimes! Besides, we already had all the ingredients handy so I don't consider this to be much of a monetary splurge. Weight-wise, however...

Using this recipe, I made three flavors of truffles: plain chocolate, lemon, and mint. Each one was delicious!

Easy Decadent Truffles
1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened (I did use low-fat, so it wasn't quite as bad as it could have been...)
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips, melted
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla (or other flavorings)

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Gradually beat in confectioners' sugar until well blended. Stir in melted chocolate and vanilla until no streaks remain. Refrigerate for about 1 hour. Shape into 1 inch balls. Roll truffles in ground walnuts (or any ground nuts), cocoa, coconut, confectioners' sugar, candy sprinkles, etc. You could also choose to dip them in melted chocolate.

I separated the truffle into three batches after stirring in the chocolate. I put 1/2 tsp. vanilla in one batch, 1/2 tsp. lemon extract in the second, and 1/2 tsp. mint extract in the third. Then I chilled them separately. After shaping into balls, I rolled the vanilla-flavored chocolate in cocoa, I rolled the lemon-flavored chocolate in powdered sugar, and I rolled the mint-flavored chocolate in green sugar. I wanted to try almond extract rolled in ground walnuts. But I would have had to grind the walnuts myself and didn't feel like doing all that work. Of course, if I wanted to avoid work, perhaps I could have chosen a recipe that didn't include rolling out balls of chocolate by hand and rolling them in cocoa and sugar... Well, you pick your battles, I guess. :-)

Just so you know, this was rather messy work...

...but a lot of fun!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cottage Pudding

This is another recipe from the 1910 Economy Cookbook. I'm really intrigued with the concept of old-fashioned steamed or baked puddings. So this is another pudding recipe. Remember the fiasco with the Woodford Pudding? Don't worry, this one came out much prettier!

Cottage Pudding
Take 1 cup sugar, 1 cup milk, 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1 egg, 2 teaspoons baking powder sifted with 2 1/2 cups flour. Bake and serve with liquid sauce.

After mixing all the ingredients (I used part wheat flour in addition to all-purpose), I chose to bake this pudding in a shallow pan, rather than the deep casserole dish I used last time. So I greased a 9x13 pan and spread the batter in that. Searching the internet for other examples of baked puddings, I found that 350 degrees seemed to be a good baking temperature. Baking times ranged from half an hour to 3 or 4 hours. I set the timer for 30 minutes and decided to just check it with a toothpick at that point and go from there. The toothpick came out clean the first time.

So baked in a 9x13 pan at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, the pudding was done! I let it cool a bit while I prepared the "liquid sauce."

I looked at all the various sauces given for the puddings in the Economy Cookbook just to get a feel for what a basic liquid sauce would be. Most of the pudding recipes just said to serve with sauce or with cream, but recipes that included sauce called for things like sugar, butter, flour, and water or milk. I remembered seeing a good sauce that was very similar to these on the Taste of Home website, so I used that recipe. I liked that I didn't have to interpret the directions to modern day English!

Hard Sauce (hard sauce is what this kind of cake-or-pudding sauce is called these days!)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash ground allspice
1 cup cold water
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, flour, nutmeg, allspice and water until smooth. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat; stir in butter and extract. This can be served over pudding or spice cake.

This pudding was quite a bit easier on me emotionally than the Woodford pudding - it didn't give me any problems with abnormal growth and spillage. Still, I think I preferred the flavor of the Woodford. This one was good, but it wasn't quite as moist (it was rather cake-like) and seemed to be missing something flavor-wise. Perhaps I overcooked it - maybe it would be better checked after 20 minutes of cooking instead of 30. Even so, I consider this a successful delve into the cuisine of the early 20th century.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Homemade Yogurt in the Slow Cooker

The other morning as I opened the milk to pour over our oatmeal, I noticed that faintly sour smell that occurs when your milk is about to go bad. You know, it's not there yet, but if you let the milk sit much longer it will all have to be thrown out. Well, we still had about half a gallon left so I didn't want to waste it. I hopped online to look up recipes that use lots of milk, and saw that someone suggested making it into yogurt. I've had my eye on a particular yogurt recipe that uses the crock pot (how cool is that?!), but hadn't gotten around to it yet. This was my chance - that milk needed to be used!

I found the recipe on A Year of CrockPotting.

Homemade Yogurt
8 cups milk - she suggests using whole milk, but we had a combination of 2% and skim so I just used what I had
1/2 cup natural, live/active culture, plain yogurt to use as starter

Plug in crock pot (4 quart or larger) and turn to low. Add an entire half gallon of milk. Cover and cook on low for 2 1/2 hours.

Unplug your crock pot. Leave the cover on, and let it sit for 3 hours.

When 3 hours have passed, scoop out 2 cups of the warmish milk and put it in a bowl. Whisk in 1/2 cup of store-bought live/active culture yogurt (if you've used low fat milk, add 2 tbsp. dry milk powder as well to help it thicken better). Then dump the bowl contents back into the crock pot. Stir to combine.

Put the lid back on your crock pot. Keep it unplugged, and wrap a heavy bath towel all the way around the crock for insulation.

Go to bed, or let it sit for 8 hours.

In the morning, the yogurt will have thickened---it's not as thick as store-bought yogurt, but has the consistency of low-fat plain yogurt.

Chill in a plastic container(s) in the refrigerator. Your fresh yogurt will last 7-10 days. Save 1/2 cup as a starter to make a new batch.

She suggests blending the yogurt in batches with your favorite fruit, such as mango, strawberry, and blueberry. I chose to leave it plain until serving. I went to try it the morning it was done - and go figure, Jeff had finished off the granola for breakfast before leaving for work. Phooey. So the kids and I ate it with some sugar and cut up fruit.

My yogurt did turn out quite a bit thinner than I expected. Part of that is just the result of it being homemade, I think. But I also think I should have insulated my crock pot better. I wrapped it in two towels - but only on the top and sides. Next time I think I would wrap it on the bottom as well. Or instead of towels, I could insulate it with our electric blanket, turned to low. Or just move it into our room for the night, because it's warmer there at night than in the kitchen. Lots of options available.

One quick note - if you make yogurt and it doesn't set up - DON'T THROW IT AWAY!! There's no sense wasting an entire half gallon of milk just because it isn't thickened. There are several fun ways to use over-thin yogurt. Mix it with jam and freeze as popsicles. Or just mix it with jam and drink it down like those amazingly overpriced drinkable yogurts. Use it in smoothies. Add to soup in place of milk or cream. I'll be doing some of these with my thinner-than-usual yogurt, as well as just eating it. And I think I need to make some more granola.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Sweet Potato Meal

Every once in a while Jeff and I will buy a "fancy" vegetable that we normally wouldn't, just for variety. Our latest was sweet potatoes. I know, that's not really very fancy, but when you usually only buy potatoes, onions, carrots, and celery, sweet potatoes do seem pretty special. They sat around in the fridge for a while as I thought of how best to use this vegetable treat. This evening I decided to just serve them as baked potatoes - I've never had baked sweet potatoes before.

Actually, since they were prepared in the microwave, I guess I still haven't technically had baked sweet potatoes. I've had microwaved sweet potatoes.

Microwave Baked Sweet Potatoes
Scrub however many sweet potatoes you'll need to feed your family. We used three - one each for Jeff and I, and the kids split the third. Make somewhat large slits in each potato with a knife - the sweet potatoes have a tougher skin than regular potatoes, so fork pricks aren't quite enough. Then microwave them, one at a time. The cooking times are highly variable, depending on your microwave and the size of the sweet potatoes. Our microwave is old and cooks slowly, and the potatoes were medium-sized. I cooked each one on high for 8 minutes, turning halfway through. If your microwave is fast, only cook them for about 6 minutes. If the potatoes are really large, you can cook them for as much as 10 minutes.

As each potato finishes, cover with foil to keep hot while the others are cooking. You can top them with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, or if you are adventurous enough to depart from this conventional topping, you can make some Seasoned Butter.

Seasoned Butter
1/4 cup butter (or, of course, you can use margarine)
Garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, and ginger

I didn't really measure the seasonings, just sprinkled them liberally onto the butter. Then mush it up until well combined. This seasoning combination is one I got from a special-occasion Cornish hen recipe I've made a couple times. It's a unique and delicious flavor combo.

As a side dish, I made some delicious coleslaw. I didn't really use a recipe, just sort of threw stuff together. Measurements are approximate.

Half a head of cabbage, finely chopped
About 1/2 cup carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, also finely chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 to 2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. cider vinegar
1/4 cup milk

Combine cabbage, carrot, and celery in a large bowl. Combine mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar, and milk in a jar with a lid. Shake vigorously until well combined, and pour over vegetables. Stir well, and refrigerate until ready to serve.