Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Trader Joe's Report

Trader Joe's is one of my all-time favorite places to buy groceries. What it lacks in selection it more than makes up for in quality, unique offerings, and price. If you haven't been and have one nearby, GO! Sometimes, instead of going out to dinner we'll show up at TJ's and put a meal together. (I know. We need to get a life.)

My visit this past weekend was mainly in preparation for a lunch with some friends, including one who is allergic to most soy ingredients. I had no problem finding some great options. At the store they were sampling Seasoned Pork Roast I with Barbecue Sauce and Sweet Potato Tots, and I liked both enough to purchase them for our lunch. The meat is microwaveable in the bag it comes in and is REALLY good. The tots tasted fine but never got crunchy.

For dessert, I thought we'd try the gluten-free brownie mix because it specifically said "soy free." If it was good, my friend would have a good brownie mix to use. I can't say that anyone enjoyed them. They had a good texture but a weird initial taste. In the end they tasted chocolatey, but weren't worth it unless it was your only option (she can make brownies from scratch).

Other purchases that day included crescent rolls (that I used to makes pizza pockets), cinnamon graham crackers, and Speculoos Crunchy Cookie Butter (amazing stuff that I used to make cookies - another post on that coming soon). All-in-all, it was a pretty successful trip. I always find fun treats at Trader Joe's!

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pizza Casserole

This recipe isn't fancy or technically challenging, so if that's what you are looking for, you're on the wrong blog - at least for today :-) I found this recipe for pizza casserole on Pinterest and have made it several times with my own twists.  This is a classic example of an easy recipe to change up to fit the tastes of your family.  This, for us, involved the addition of everything we like on pizza - onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms, multicolored rotini noodles instead of egg noodles, and a "lightening-up" with the use of Italian seasoned ground turkey and turkey pepperoni.  I also threw some Parmesan cheese in with the mozzarella to add a little more depth to the flavor.  The casserole is very family friendly, since you can modify it for your kids' tastes, and is definitely husband approved!

If you add vegetables, like I did, you might want to saute them until they are a little soft before adding them to the casserole, but you can probably just throw them in raw.  With my additions, here are the layering steps:

1) Put a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of the casserole dish.
2) Add half the noodles.
3) ...half of the meat
4) ...half of the vegetables
5) ...half of the remaining sauce
6) of the noodles
7) ...half of the cheese
8) of the meat
9) of the vegetables
10) of the sauce
11) of the cheese
12) ...pepperonis (it only takes half of the package)

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ham Steak and Red-eye Gravy

Have I mentioned how much I love America's Test Kitchen? Well, I do. I get a weekly email from them, and one time I noticed a link at the bottom that asked for volunteers to test recipes. Um, YES! I clicked on the link and never heard a word. That was months ago, but last week I finally got my first recipe - ham steak and red-eye gravy.

I have to admit, I wasn't exactly jumping for joy. I love ham and had heard of red-eye gravy, but I wasn't really excited about gravy with coffee in it. It turns out, red-eye gravy isn't so bad - at least not this recipe! In fact, it was really good.

The recipe used butter - which never hurt anything - and instant espresso powder - which gave the gravy a deeper flavor.
This is usually a breakfast food, but I made it for dinner and served it with biscuits and baked sweet potatoes. Another side benefit to testing this recipe is that I got to test out the great flat whisk my sister gave me for Christmas. Turns out it really is good for making gravy!

The unfair part about this post is that I can't share the recipe with you. But I will say that, if you do try to make red-eye gravy, make sure it has butter in it and use instant espresso instead of coffee. I found mine at Kroger next to the instant coffee. If this recipe comes out online, I will share for sure!

P.S. This one also gets the husband stamp of approval!

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hot Chocolate Bar

A group of us girls hosted a baby shower for one of our friends today, and in the planning stages Peggy, one of the hostesses, suggested we have a hot chocolate bar.  With my recent foray into marshmallow-making, I volunteered to take the task on.  To start with, I made two types of marshmallows - peppermint and vanilla.  You can see that adventure here.  Next, I put together the hot chocolate mix.  Over Christmas my mom brought an America's Test Kitchen (my favorite!!) recipe for the best cocoa.  I used this mix, and it did not disappoint (ATK never does!).  The next homemade item I made was white chocolate dipped spoons.  I attempted to decorate them by tinting the remaining white chocolate pink and piping it on, but the chocolate was too runny and most ended up looking like blobs.  Oh well.  Lesson learned.  Finally, I added some Cool Whip with cinnamon mixed in and a bottle of caramel ice cream topping.  It was great fun, pretty easy, and very tasty!

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013


You might be saying to yourself exactly what my mom says (and I myself have said), "Why in the world would anyone ever make marshmallows from scratch???"  For me, it is for the same reason that I try many recipes - just to see if I can do it.  I was not interested in trying to make marshmallows until I saw this video posted on Facebook by America's Test Kitchen.  You need to know - America's Test Kitchen is one of my favorites.  I DVR the show on PBS, I read the blog, and I own several cookbooks.  The recipes aren't always the easiest, healthiest, or fastest to make but they are ALWAYS the very best version of whatever recipe it is.

So, I saw this video and decided it would be fun to make some peppermint marshmallows to share with family and friends for Christmas presents, and, guess what? America's Test Kitchen succeeded again - and with a recipe that is actually pretty easy and fast as well.  The only special equipment you need for this recipe is (are??) a candy thermometer and a stand mixer.  You could use a hand mixer, but it would be a nightmare.  These turned out great, and I was happy to share them!  This recipe is only published in one of their books that I don't own, so I wrote out my own recipe from the video.  If you want to make these marshmallows, watch the video first.  It helps. Also, always read through a recipe before starting.  I will point out again that this is not my recipe.  It is only what I put down from watching the video.

Homemade Marshmallows

2 1/2 tablespoons gelatin
1 cup water
1/3 cup corn syrup
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla (or 1/2 teaspoon other flavored extract)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Line a 9x14 baking pan with a foil sling (A sling is two pieces of foil laid across each other in a + shape and pressed down into the pan. You want the foil to be long enough to come up and over the sides of the pan.). Spray with cooking spray.

Bloom gelatin in 1/2 cup water in the bowl of a stand mixer (that just means to pour the gelatin on top of the water). Let it sit for 15 minutes.

While the gelatin blooms (sounds lovely, but it is kind of stinky...), combine 1/2 cup water, corn syrup, sugar and salt in a saucepan.  Pour the sugar slowly into the center of the saucepan.  You want to avoid getting sugar on the sides of the pan as it will crystalize and ruin everything.  If you do get sugar on the side of the pan, brush the side of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Don't stir.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat (on my gas stove that's a 4).  Swirl the pan periodically if you feel like the mixture needs to be combined more.  Boil for 6-8 minutes until the syrup reads 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Use the whisk attachment on your stand mixer on low to break up the gelatin.  Slowly pour in the sugar syrup, being careful not to let the syrup hit the side of the bowl or the whisk. (You just don't want to boiling syrup to splatter on you.)

Gradually increase the speed of the mixer to high.  Whisk for 10-12 minutes until the outside of the bowl feels barely warm.  Add vanilla or other extract.  (If you want to add color, now is the time.  For pink peppermint, I added 5 drops red food coloring.)

While the mixer is running, mix together the corn starch and powdered sugar.

Spray a rubber spatuala with cooking spray and use it to spread the marshmallow mixture into the pan quickly after it is finished mixing.  The cooler it gets, the stickier it gets.  Don't worry about scraping the bowl.  Smooth the top and set aside.

Sift 2 tablespoons of the corn starch/powdered sugar mixture (cs/ps m from this point on - much easier to type) on top of the marshmallow mixture.  Cover and let set overnight.

Sift 2 more tablespoons of the cs/ps m onto a cutting board.  Spray a knife with cooking spray (are you catching that this stuff is sticky!!).  Dump the marshmallow on top of the cutting board.  Cut into 1 inch strips.  Cut the strips into 1 inch cubes.  If the knife starts sticking, spray it again.  Roll the cubes in the remaining cs/ps m.  Toss in a strainer over the sink to remove extra cs/ps m.  Store in a plastic bag.

These are GREAT in hot chocolate!  Let me know if you try them out :)

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Magnolia Cheese Company

As a self-professed cheese-aholic, one could imagine my delight when I heard of the opening of the Magnolia Cheese Company in our part of town. We finally got a chance to try it last night. My mom was coming over for dinner so we thought it would be fun to stop by and get a couple of cheeses to try before dinner.

First, I must say that this shop is SUPER cute. There are regular tables but also a quaint corner with a couch and armchair. I haven't mentioned that they also have a menu of sandwiches and small plates that looked mighty tasty, not to mention the hummus of the day! I will be making a trip back for a meal.

When we approached the counter we were met with a cheerful welcome and, "Have you been in before?" When we said no, the lady behind the counter gave us a brief rundown of what they are all about. We told her what occasioned our visit and that we could use help picking out our cheeses. Her passion for the shop's cheeses was contagious and, after a couple of samples, we were soon on our way with an incredible bleu cheese and a yummy, creamy cheese that I can't remember the name of. They were the perfect appetizer!

Needless to say, I loved our experience with Magnolia Cheese Company. While we were in the shop, all of the employees seemed helpful and happy to be doing their jobs. Check them out!

Magnolia Cheese Company
1251 W Magnolia Ave
Fort Worth, Texas
(Their website isn't quite ready yet:

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

To kick things off... Slow Cooker Oatmeal

I've been feeling lately that it would be fun to start a blog, and what better to write about than one of my favorite things - food? So, I'll use this little corner of the Interwebs to talk about food I make and how I did it, food I try and where to get it, and products I find for anyone who might be interested and for myself - to help remember things. Sorry the pictures are all at the bottom. Please bear with me as I figure out Blogger from the iPhone...

I'll kick things off with a recipe I made this week - Overnight, Slow Cooker, Apple Cinnamon Steel-Cut Oatmeal from The Yummy Life ( I adjusted this recipe doubling it for my large crockpot that likes to burn things, adding a heaping cup of raisins, and omitting the apple and flaxseed that I didn't have. Don't be afraid to alter recipes with ingredients you have in the pantry! Unless you are baking, you don't need expertise to do this. I usually just try to replace solids with an equal amount of solids and the same with liquids. It is important on this recipe that you use steel cut oats. If what you have looks like the oats you are used to, they are not steel cut. The results will be pretty mushy if you use regular.

The link to this blog gives some great tips. She makes a good suggestion that you test this recipe during the day if you are afraid the oatmeal would burn over night. Mine tends to burn things, so I tested it one day, and I'm glad I did! I have the big oval crockpot (whatever size that is) and I doubled this recipe. I cooked it on low (the one that says 10 hrs) and it was done in 4 1/2 hrs (she says 7). She does give a suggestion for making a double boiler in the crockpot that will let you run it overnight if your crockpot cooks too fast, but I don't think I have a bowl that would fit in the crockpot with the lid on.

While it would have been nice to start this before bed and wake up to breakfast, I just took what I made and put it in the fridge. Every morning we have scooped out a serving, added some milk, and warmed it up. I added some banana on top, and it is really tasty! It also gets the husband's seal of approval. Let me know if you try it, or any variations!

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