Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It's been a busy year, how is it already October?!

I cannot believe it is already nearly mid-October! It's been far to long since I posted anything here.

Work has kept me extra busy (and landed me in ER several times at the start of the year), so it's hard for me to believe it's been nearly a year since I've posted!  I may have to find some things to backfill the blog a bit (ok, so it's cheating, but it may be needed).

I did perfect a lemon brownie recipe that I will post a bit later...and maybe back date to July. I'll be playing with it a bit more to test out a few flavor combinations I think might be a hit.

In the meantime, I will be a book signing event on October 28th at the Barnes & Noble in Muskegon, MI, along with several other really interesting authors from a broad range of genres. If you happen to be in the area and stop in, come visit me. I will have cookies!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Charlie Brown's Brownies - These are the Real Deal!

I thought I had lost my 1969 Peanuts Cookbook when I couldn't find it to fulfill a baking request from my brother.  A little over a year later, I found it! And discovered that the problem I'd had with the only recipe I could find online, the measurements were way off for some of the items.

My sincere apologies tot he Schultz family and Universal Features Syndicate, Inc. if I'm treading on a copyright issue, this book has been out of print for a long time and it's not available in my county's library system. Not one single copy.

So, in an attempt to be appropriate, I do not have the copyright to this recipe, the recipe belongs to June Dutton and the Schultz estate (I'm assuming). The Peanuts Cook Book was printed in 1969 by Universal Features Syndicate, Inc., with cartoons by Charles M. Schultz and recipes by Determined Productions, Inc. Both my sister and I were given a copy for Christmas that year.

On page 10 of this book was my all-time favorite brownie recipe. Charlie Brown's Brownies.  This is how it is written on page 10 of the Peanuts Cook Book:

(beginning quote, in case you can't see it)

                                                             1 stick butter (1 cube)
                                                             3 squares unsweetened chocolate
                                                             4 eggs, beaten
                                                             2 teaspoons vanilla
                                                             2 cups sugar
                                                             1 cup flour, sifted
                                                             1 cup chopped nuts

In a large bowl (over a pan of boiling water) melt butter and chocolate. Remove from heat and add beaten eggs, vanilla, sugar, sifted flour, and nuts. Stir well. Pour into greased baking pan. Bake at
325o for about 35 minutes. Center should stay moist. Cool before cutting. If they last an hour, you're lucky.
(end quote)

I tried to get the formatting as close to how it looks in the book as I could. Yes, the title in the book is in all caps.

To clarify "1 stick butter" equates to 1/2 cup of butter and "3 squares unsweetened chocolate" is 3 squares of baking chocolate.

Here's my updated ingredient list in today's terms and more detailed instructions for those that may be making these with kids.

1/2 cup butter, straight from refridgerator
3 squares baking chocolate, unsweetened
4 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups sugar
1 cup flour, sifted
1 cup chopped nuts, optinal (walnuts work best)

So here's you do this without burning the chocolate or butter.

  1. Grease and lightly flour an 8x8 baking pan (typical brownie pan).
  2. Pre-heat oven to 325o.
  3.  Get a big pan (I use a 5-quart pot and a large metal mixing bowl) filled with water and start heating the water to a boil. A very large double boiler is the ideal equipment, but few people I know now have those.
  4. Measure out the sugar into a medium sized bowl.
  5. Sift a cup of flour into the same bowl.
  6. Add the nuts to the bowl with the sugar and sifted flour. This will help with pouring.
  7. In a separate medium bowl, break all 4 eggs in and beat them with a whisk or electric mixer until throughly beaten.
  8. Add the vanilla to the eggs, no need to stir.
  9. Hopefully the water is boiling by now. Using a bowl that fits just inside the pot of boiling water, place the bowl in the water.. Alternatively, if you're really good with melting chocolate in a single pan, you can melt the chocolate and butter in about a 2-quart pot and have enough room for all the ingredients.
  10. Place the butter and chocolate in the bowl to melt. Stir continuously until the chocolate and butter are melted. A silicone spatula is best for this  task.
  11. Remove the bowl or pan from the heat. Dump in the egg/vanilla mix and stir lightly (less than 30 seconds), then add in the dry ingredients. Mix throughly.
  12. Pour the mixture into the greased and floured pan.
  13. Place into the pre-heated over and bake for 32-35 minutes (depending on your oven). The middle should remain moist.

I will try to get a picture to post soon. My brother doesn't like walnuts in his brownies so I make them without chopped nuts.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Check Yourself!

As the beginning of October is upon us, I've had too many stark reminders that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  Please check yourself, every month, and every year if you're of "that age" to get mammograms - this includes you men as well!

Don't be afraid to demand tests, don't hesitate to demand tests.

There are no tests yet for Pancreatic Cancer, but it has hit the mainstream with Steve Jobs death and hit home with my sister's diagnosis. The symptoms mimic many other illnesses, but if you are having unusual nausea or your skin is getting uncharacteristically itchy keep demanding testing. If your doctor won't listen find another.

Know your normal, trust your gut, and never be afraid to be your own best advocate.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

New Sewing Machine Project

I promise to post pictures soon, but I picked up another White 77 Series machine in a cabinet. This is an ultimate up-cycle. My friend will be taking the sewing machine, which not only needs some basic cleaning and a new rubber wheel, but also comes with the original books, buttonholer and accessories box! Pretty sweet deal for $12.00

The cabinet has been painted an awful butter yellow color, including all the hinges, and was not done "well". I've already sanded a patch off of the back panel and exposed a pretty blond wood color. I hope the rest looks like this, I'll find out.

I'll be using the cabinet as a video game console cabinet.  We needed something with drawers or doors that we could shut securely as our new puppy loves to chew everything, most particularly electrical cables. The borrowed kids will be happy to have all the systems in one place and a new flat screen TV.

Looking forward to what I hope is a quick sand and refinish project.

Friday, March 13, 2015

SuperGirl Has Left the Planet

Yep, our SuperGirl has left the planet after giving cancer a huge battle. She fought bravely, with true grace and dignity and she is desperately missed. My sweet friend leaves behind many who love, admire and adore her, but she left us with the greatest treasure, her daughter who is so like her.

In honor of her and to share with the world her favorite treat that I could make for her, I'm posting this recipe from the cookbook. Named for her so that she is truly immortal, in print at least.

SuperGirl's Chocolate Chip No-Bakes 

These were my sweet friend Shanon’s favorite cookies. She said they rock and I trust her opinion. Shanon fought all sorts of battles from fund-raising for Cystic Fibrosis and Susan G. Komen, to being a single mom of one of THE best young women on the planet, and cancer. Shanon is a local superhero who truly earned her nickname of SuperGirl.

I remember Grandma making a version of these that involved butterscotch chips and crunchy noodles. I think I may have gotten sick on Grandma’s version when I was a kid and that’s why I get nauseous when making these, I think no-bake cookies are more of a MidWest thing than a California thing as I never made no bakes until Shanon asked for some.

I searched around for several ideas and discovered that there are many versions of no-bake cookies out there. Most involve peanut butter and chocolate in some combination, so I took the ones that seemed the best, then made some changes and ended up with this recipe.

These are perfect for kids to make. No mixers involved and the use of a microwave helps avoid burning the chocolate. They also make the perfect cookies for dorm-bound college students.

Equipment needed
  • Silicone spatula or wooden spoon
  • Pyrex or microwavable mixing bowl - at least 2 quart (2.36L)
  • Cookie sheets
  • Wax paper (parchment paper or aluminum foil can be used in a pinch but it doesn’t work as well)
  • 2 teaspoons - as in regular silverware, not measuring spoons

Groceries Needed
     ½ cup butter
     ½ cup semi-sweet, milk or dark chocolate chips
     2 cups sugar
     ½ cup milk
     ¾ cup peanut butter, creamy
     3 cups quick (1-minute) oatmeal
     2 tsps vanilla

  1. Grab a few large cookie sheets and cover them with wax paper for dropping the cookies on. Don’t set these on a counter as the wax paper tends to get stuck to the counter top.
  2. Measure out the oatmeal into a bowl; this needs to be added quickly before the liquid ingredients set up.
  3. Place the chocolate chips into a microwavable bowl.
  4. Microwave the chips for 30 seconds. Stir the chips and repeat. Cut the butter into chunks after the second go-round and add to the melting chips, nuke for 20 more seconds, stir and repeat. When the butter is mostly melted, add the peanut butter and nuke for another 20 seconds. Stir and repeat until the chips and butters are all melted.
  5. Add the sugar and vanilla and stir until everything is dissolved. If it starts to get a bit too firm, nuke for 20 seconds.
  6. Add the oatmeal all at once and stir until everything is chocolate covered.
  7. Using 2 teaspoons, quickly spoon the dough onto the wax paper, shaping the cookies as you go. Let them completely cool before eating.
Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies.

Mary’s Secrets
  • Use mini-chips when possible as they speed up the melting process.
  •  If you’re making these in the summer months, place the cookie sheets in the fridge or freezer to get them to set up more quickly.
  • Place the finished cookies into an airtight container, keep in the fridge and they will last for a few weeks.
  •  If you forget to add in the milk before putting in the sugar, simply microwave the milk for 30-45 seconds to warm it up and it will stir in very easily.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mom's Cinnamon Rolls Made Easier

This recipe is based mainly off of my mom's old Betty Crocker recipe (from the old book published in the late 50's early 60's) with some help from more current recipes. I am no pro at using yeast and this recipe takes any fear of messing up the yeast completely away.

My first run through of the recipe I over-baked them and they were definitely too dry. My go to fix whenever I dry out a recipe is to use buttermilk in place of milk. I've found with time that the swapping out buttermilk doesn't necessarily overpower the original recipe – when used correctly.

These were a big hit at the diner we frequent, so much so even another customer was given one and couldn't get enough.

I am not a great photographer, but this is what they look like before they are iced. If I grab more pictures of the next batch, I'll put them up.

It's not as time-consuming as you might think to make these up. A big chunk of time is waiting for the dough to rise. The first rise takes about 1½ hours, the second rise takes 30 minutes, add in the time for kneading the dough, rolling and cutting the dough and you've got about 20-30 minutes of prep time.

Groceries Needed

For dough:
  • 3-4 cups of all-purpose or bread flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 ½ tsp. (2 packages) regular active or fast acting dry yeast
  • 1 cup very warm milk or buttermilk (120°F to 130°F) – see note below about milk
  • ¼ cup butter softened
  • 1 egg
  • Unwaxed and unflavored dental floss (for cutting, waxed and unflavored will do in a pinch)
For filling
  • 1/4-1/2 sugar or packed brown sugar – dark or light brown sugar works
  • 1 tblsp. cinnamon (I use about 3 tblsp.)
  • 2 tblsp. softened butter
For glaze
  • 4 tblsp. softened butter or cream cheese (or 2 of each)
  • 1 ½ cups powered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3-4 tblsps. milk (use regular milk for this)
Tips & Tricks
  1. Put 4 cups of flour in a bowl and “fluff” it using a fork or whisk, making sure there's no lumps. Homemade bread using yeast is the only time I bother to “fluff” flour. Spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level it off.
  2. If using regular milk instead of buttermilk, use 2% or whole milk. Don't go any lower than 2% fat, the dough needs the milk fat to work properly.
  3. Solid coconut oil can be swapped out for the butter, the fats are a good match for a substitution.
  4. Wash your hands and thoroughly dry them before starting on the dough, any additional moisture can throw the yeast out of whack.
  5. You'll need a warm spot for the dough to rise in. Winters in Michigan can make everything cold, so I usually set my oven to the Warm setting and let it go while I make the dough. Turn it off once it's done with preheating. If you don't have a “pre-heat” setting, let it go for about 5 minutes and then turn it off.

How I make the dough:
  1. In a large mixing bowl, put in 2 cups of the flour, sugar, salt and yeast.
  2. Lightly mix these together, no need for the mixer yet, a fork will do, just try to even the mix up a bit.
  3. Before turning the mixer on, add the warm milk, butter and egg.
  4. Now it's time for the mixer, mix everything on low speed for 1 minute, scraping the bowl frequently. It should be fairly well mixed.
  5. Bump the speed up to medium and beat for 1 minute, scraping the bowl frequently.
  6. Turn off the mixer.
  7. Add in ½ cup of flour at a time and stir in by hand using a sturdy spoon or silicone spatula. You want to add just enough to make the dough easy to handle, it will be sticky. I typically end up with 3 cups of flour total in the bowl. The rest will be kneaded into the dough.
  8. Grab a good sized board or clean counter surface and lightly sprinkle flour across it. I have a very large cookie sheet (16”x18”) that I use for this. It has a lip that I can drop down the edge of my counter to make it stay in place.
  9. Turn the dough out onto the floured surface.
  10. Gather the dough together in a rough ball, it may be sticky, you can lightly dust the top of the dough if it's really sticky.
  11. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, add more flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and springy. If you're not sure, you can put a bit of flour on a finger and lightly push into the dough, if the dough bounces back quickly you're done. If you're unfamiliar with kneading there are lots of videos on line with much better lighting and camera work than I can provide. Keep track of how much flour you've used, too much will make the dough tougher and dryer.
  12. Take another bowl (I use large Pyrex bowls for this part). Grease the sides of the bowl with softened butter. Put the dough in the greased bowl, turning it to grease all sides of the dough. Cover it with plastic wrap or a clean cotton towel. Let it rise in a warm spot (for me this is the pre-warmed oven).
  13. Let the dough rise for about 1½ hours.
  14. While the dough is rising, make the filling, mixing your pick of sugar (or you can use ½ regular sugar and ½ brown sugar for a sweeter kick) and cinnamon in small bowl with a fork or whisk. Begin softening 2 tablespoons of butter as well.
  15. The first time through you might want to check the dough at 80 minutes in. The dough should double in size. It's ready when you poke the dough (clean fingers please!) and the indentation stays.
  16. When the dough is done rising, deflate it by gently pushing down on the center of the dough with your fist.
  17. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (again I use my cookie sheet). Gently shape with your hands or a rolling pin into a 15”x10” rectangle. I usually start with the rolling pin and finish with my hands since my rolling pin is too narrow. If you like a thinner dough (more like Cinnabon rolls), roll the dough into a larger rectangle.
  18. Spread the softened butter across the entire rectangle, as close to the edges as possible.
  19. Sprinkle the filling across the rectangle, using your hands so spread it to cover all of the butter.
  20. Starting with the long end, roll the dough up tightly, tucking the ends of the dough into the roll. Pinching the dough works too, but I tend to tuck mine and pat the ends of the roll until they're flatted up. Think of a paper towel roll and you'll get the general idea of what it ends up looking like.
  21. The last edge should be under the roll for ease of cutting. Use your hands or fingers to continue shaping the roll until it's fairly even. Again, this doesn't have to be perfect and there are pletny of examples on line.
  22. Using about 12” of dental/ floss or a very sharp knife, cut the roll into 1” or larger slices. I like to cut mine about 1½” to 2” thick.
  23. Grease (with butter) and flour or use baking spray a 13”x10” pan. Other sized pans will work as well, so don't worry if you don't have an “exact” fit. Even an edged cookie sheet will fit the bill if that's all you have.
  24. Place the slices in the pan, leaving space in between, cover with plastic or a towl and place in a warm place to rise a second time. I typically turn my oven to warm while I roll and cut the dough, turning it off again before placing the rolls in the pan and use that as my warm place.
  25. The second rising takes about 30 minutes with the dough roughly doubling in size.
  26. After the second rising, pre-heat the over to 350° for metal pans, 325° for glass or aluminum foil pans and bake for 30-35 minutes. This will vary greatly depending on your oven and your pans. Mine take 32 minutes at 325° in the Pyrex pan.
  27. Remove the rolls to a cooling rack and cool for about 10 minutes. Drizzle glaze across the top if desired.

To make Glaze
  1. Throw the powered sugar, vanilla, butter and/or cream cheese in a bowl. 
  2. Mix together on medium speed, adding milk until it reaches the right consistency. 
  3. It should be significantly thinner than cake frosting. Mine tends to be a bit thicker than most glazes, but can still be drizzled using a spoon.
  4. Once it's at the right consistency, kick the mixer speed up to high or whip and mix for about 1 minute.

To reheat: microwave for about 15 seconds, or pop back in the oven for a few minutes on the warm setting.

How Mary Kneads

My great-grandmother taught me to knead bread and our mom let us help knead when we were little too. So here's how I do it.

Starting with the palms of my hands, I rock forward on the dough. If it's too sticky, I sprinkle more dough on top before picking up the dough and turning it. If the dough is sticking to the surface, I sprinkle more flour on the surface. I'm not super gentle with the dough, and I form it into a ball often. When I think I'm close, I'll pick the dough ball up and drop it on the floured surface. It should retain it's shape, if it doesn't I keep going.

Oftentimes I get my fingers more involved than other baker's suggest, but it all seems to work for me. I remember Dearie picking up her dough from time to time and simply working the ball in her hands, this was usually when the dough was still sticky. Dearie never measured, she just tossed stuff in and added more as needed. A true artist with bread!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Creamy California Blend Veggie Soup

If you're unfamiliar with the term "California Blend" when referring to veggies, it's broccoli, cauliflower and carrots (the carrots are usually in a crinkle cut). Thought I should explain that first before I get into this amazingly filling and rich soup.

The base recipe can be used for any kind of creamy soup really, so if you don't have California Blend veggies on hand, you can basically throw any of your favorite frozen or fresh veggies in and come out okay.

 First a peek at what it looks like when all is said and done (please forgive me, I am terribly deficient as a photographer).

This can be made in a crockport or a regular stockpot. The one thing I've learned is when using fresh veggies, you will need to cook it longer, so the crockpot is a bit more handy. With frozen veggies, it's fast enough to just use a regular stockpot. With the way my stove is I tend to use my 5 quart non-stick pan. Fair warning: this soup requires a LOT more stirring than my other soups to keep things from burning or sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Here's the cool warning: you can pre-make and fresh the creamy base for a quick "fill-the-crockpot-as-I'm-running-out-the-door-late-to-work-again" meal.

Okay, all warnings out of the way, then here's your grocery list.

Groceries Needed

  • 1 stick of butter  (1/4 cup)
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion  (usually 1/2 of a small yellow onion does the trick)
  • 2 cups diced celery  (take note of this 2-to-1 ratio when increasing this recipe)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup all purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup milk  (I actually used skim milk and it was still very rich)
  • 3/4 cup half-n-half or similar cream
  • 1 package frozen California Blend veggie mix (16 oz. or 24 oz.)
  • 1 garlic clove OR 1 tsp. dried minced garlic

  • 1 head fresh broccoli
  • 1 head fresh cauliflower
  • 1 bunch carrots or 12 oz. bag of crinkle cut carrots
(Some creamy soup recipes add sugar, I found the carrots add enough sweet to this.}

Stockpot Instructions

A 5 quart pan of any type will work, although for easiest cleanup, a non-stick pot is recommended.

Here's how I made this soup:

  1. Remove frozen veggies from the freezer to thaw a bit. If using fresh veggies, see the note below.
  2. Wash and chop a head of celery. If you end up with more than 2 cups don't sweat it. I really load mine up with loads of celery; I like the way it kicks up the flavor
  3. Peel and chop up 1/2 of the onion. Too much onion or it over powers the soup (experience talking here). 
  4. Put the stick of butter in the pot and turn it on medium heat. The butter will need to be melted before you add the celery and onion in.
  5. While the butter is melting, mince the garlic clove.
  6. Once the butter is melted add in the celery, onion and garlic. Sau the combination until the veggies are tender and the onion is translucent - this usually takes about 5 minutes.
  7. Add the flour, stirring it in well and cook for 1 minute.
  8. Add the broth, cream and milk and stir it until it is smooth. Don't forget to stir up from the bottom of the pan so the flour doesn't stick and then burn.
  9. Increase the heat until the broth is simmering. This will vary depending on your stove, for my old electric it was medium-high.
  10. IF you are making just the base soup, stop here, turn off the heat, and move the pot someplace to cool off. Put the soup into storage containers and freeze.
  11. Reduce the heat back to medium.
  12. Add in the vegetables and simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered.
  13. Serve hot, add salt and pepper to taste.
NOTE: If you are using fresh vegetables, cut them all before starting on the celery and onions. You'll want to cut the florets off of the broccoli and cauliflower, and slice up the carrots so you have round "pucks". If you can crinkle cut your carrots, even better. You'll need at least 1 cup of each cup up veggie, but adjust to fit your tastes. I tend to add more, especially with broccoli.

Crockpot Instructions

There are two ways to start the crockpot version, using some pre-made creamy soup from the freezer or starting fresh on the stove.

Here we go!

  1. If starting with a fresh base, complete Steps 1-8 from the Stockpot version first and then pour into the crockpot.
  2. If starting with a frozen base, place the frozen soup in the crockpot and put on medium until can be stirred.
  3. Once the soup can be stirred, dump in all of the veggies.
  4. Cook on whatever heat works for your timeline. I usually cook it for 8 hours, which is low heat on my crockpot. If I'm in a rush, I'll put it on high for 4 hours. Either time works fine for fresh frozen veggies.
  5. Serve hot and salt and pepper to taste.
 That's it. Way easier than I ever thought it would be. Wish I'd learned this earlier, I would have made a lot more home made soups with less salt and fewer preservatives.