Dina’s Zucchini Bread

It occurred to me yesterday that I’ve not made zucchini bread since I got married.

You know – 20.5 years ago.

Let me revise that: I have not made “my” zucchini bread since we got married. I have a vague memory of making a rather passable batch of something resembling zucchini bread at some point in time over the past 20 years.

If we’re going to be honest – I don’t really love zucchini bread.

I mean average zucchini bread.

It’s just kinda – eh – okay.

Not – wowza! Gotta make that again!

The reason I was able to ascertain how long it was that it had been since I made zucchini bread? The formula is still written in professional production quantities. I.e., you know, about 30 pounds worth of batter per batch from back in the day when I needed it written in those kinds of quantities.

So – given the fact that my husband LOVES zucchini bread and we’re in the midst of the zucchini boom that’s going on around here, I decided it was time.

Before we go forward – I feel in the interest of full disclosure that I should admit this: I’m a lazy baker. I like putting together stuff that basically I can throw together with half a thought and half as much effort.

This is not that kind of recipe.

It’s fussy.

I.e., it has a lot of ingredients and it takes a fair bit of prep.

All that said: TOTALLY worth the time and effort.

Here you go…

Dina’s Zucchini Bread –  -click hyperlink to go to PDF of the recipe.

Ingredients
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Brown Sugar (packed)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon Baking powder
1 teaspoon Baking soda
1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Nugmeg
2 cups Bread flour
1 cup Cake flour
2 1/4 cups Zucchini, shredded
1 cup Carrot, finely shredded
1 cup Bulgarian buttermilk
3 Large Eggs
3/4 cup Olive oil
1 cup Chopped nuts
1 cup Golden raisins
1 can Crushed pineapple
1 cup Angel flake coconut

Preheat oven to 370° F.

Do you know this little trick? You’ve got some flexible cutting boards around somewhere, right? Well – I measure my dry ingredients onto one of my flexible cutting boards, and then it’s a total cinch to scroll it up and transfer the ingredients into the mixing bowl.

I usually just start by throwing the sugars into the bowl of the mixer. Then I add in the remaining dry ingredients.

Here are the bread flour, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. If, per chance, you don’t have bread flour and cake flour on hand – switch out the entire flour amount for all-purpose flour. Life will decidedly go on.

Here (in clockwise rotation) are the zucchini, drained pineapple (with the raisins soaking in the juice below), coconut, chopped pecans, buttermilk and eggs, and carrot. Not pictured is the oil.

I think worth mentioning – you just don’t want to develop the gluten too much in this batter. Over mixing will make for a really tough final product. Yuck. One sure way to help prevent over mixing is to make sure your eggs and buttermilk and well blended together. You can tell in the photo above that the eggs are simply resting in the cup. In this picture below, they’ve now been mixed in completely.  (And can I just brag on my baby hens who have just come into lay?  Get a load of that gorgeous yolk coloring in there!)

This is what the batter looks like once the dry ingredients, buttermilk/egg mixture, and oil have been added. You know – before you add in all that other fussy stuff that makes it taste so amazing.

And this is what it looks like after all the fussy stuff has been mixed in and it’s been portioned into muffin tins.

This batter is really kinda on the runny side – its job really is to hold all of the yummy fussy stuff together.

I do, typically, sprinkle the tops of muffins with raw sugar – it gives a lovely little crust on top.

And here’s the finished product, in muffin form:

And loaf form:

And after breaking into one of these…

I can guarantee that it won’t be 20 years before I make them again.

Yum….

REAL Ranch Dressing

Are you like me? Did you always just assume that it was impossible to make your own – completely from scratch – homemade ranch salad dressing?

I mean, who does that? Right?

You know – with any level of success.

Sure – we all know folks who make “their own Ranch” – but the taste? Um, yeah… Not so yummy.

Are you a Ranch snob like me?

You don’t want it watery or super milky, or overwhelmed by one spice or another? But every recipe you try comes out – well – gross.

For a while I was buying the packet of mix on the shelf – yes, it was expensive, but it beat the barfy stuff on most shelves nowadays that have that overwhelming chemical-y smell and taste. But dang – it nearly killed me to fork out $2 to $3 for that little envelope of spices to mix up the Ranch I wanted.

I mean – cause if we’re gonna be honest here – I’m a cheap-o at heart.

And a bit of a food snob, too.

I can admit it.

I want good food.

Affordably.

So sue me.

And maybe the whole Ranch conundrum wouldn’t have been such a big deal if I didn’t have this rip-roaring addiction to it going on. I was using the packet of dry mix to make salad dressing AND dip – weekly. And that added up to WAY too much pocket change.

So – me being me – I started experimenting.

Does your experimenting start here, too?

Okay – it’s true!

I have a love affair going on with the bulk foods section of a couple of my local grocery stores. What I can’t find at WinCo I can for sure find at New Season’s – gosh, I love that they’re just a stone’s throw from one another!

I can also admit there were some results on the road to yumminess that certainly deserved to be forgotten.

However, what really matters is that we have a winner, ladies and gentlemen – and it’s FABULOUS, and AFFORDABLE, and EASY to do. Well, and good for you, too.

Pepper Ranch Salad Dressing Mix (ßclick on hyperlink to download PDF of recipe)

Ingredients
2 Tablespoons Black Pepper, Finely Ground
2 Tablespoons Black Pepper, Coarsely Ground
1.5 cups Dried Parsley Flakes
1/2 cup Garlic Salt
2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
1/4 cup Granulated Garlic
3/4 cup Granulated Onion
2 Tablespoons Dill Weed
2 Tablespoons Celery Salt
  1. Add all ingredients to a Quart Sized canning jar. Shake until thoroughly mixed together. Store in airtight container.

Yield: about 4 cups of dry mix.

Ingredients
1 cup Mayonnaise
1 cup Bulgarian buttermilk
1 cup Sour Cream
1 Tablespoon Dry Pepper Ranch Dressing Mix
  1. To make dressing, combine mayonnaise, buttermilk, sour cream and 1 Tablespoon of mix. Whisk together until completely incorporated.
  2. Refrigerate dressing for several hours – until chilled through.

Yield: 3 cups dressing.

Notes:

To alter this to make a dip, simply omit the buttermilk.

Want a spicier dressing? Add some chipotle chili pepper powder, or add a few shakes of Tobasco sauce.

For an amazing dip? Add a cup of diced celery and a cup of diced onion and allow to sit overnight in the fridge before serving.

Here’s the blow-by-blow in photos:

A fairly decent representation of the ingredients and equipment needed.

The coarse and fine ground pepper:

The parsley goes in next:

Now the garlic salt:

Kosher salt:

Granulated garlic:

Granulated onion. Okay – if you’re paying attention to the colors here, you’ll see I actually snuck in the celery salt before the granulated onion.

And lastly – the dill weed:

As you can see – that’s a REALLY full jar. There ain’t no way you’re gonna get that to mix up by shaking this jar, so this is where I take the entire contents and dump it into a larger jar – just for mixing purposes:

Don’t be afraid to spend a little time making sure this gets good and mixed up. Also, if you find that you feel the need to throw in some dehydrated celery flakes (:ahem: – you do find the need to do that sometimes, right? I’m not the only one, right?) now would be the time.

Then, once everything is all mixed up – transfer back into your Quart sized canning jar. Voila! Even if it was overflowing and wouldn’t all fit before you mixed it up – it will once you get it all mixed up and transfer it back. Magic!

Here’s the super amazing part. It only takes 1 Tablespoon of this mix to make 3 cups of Ranch salad dressing. Here’s what you need:

You pretty much can’t convince me that any buttermilk other than the Bulgarian Buttermilk is worth using. It’s cultured, it’s thick, it’s wonderful to work with, it tastes better, and when you use it for cooking and baking – just a better result. LOVE the stuff.

I’m also snobby about the sour cream – there should be one ingredient: sour cream. Got it?

Now – if I had more eggs available right now and more time, it would be homemade mayo – but I don’t, so this is gonna have to do.

Do you have a 4 cup glass measuring cup? I use mine probably every single day. It’s a wonderful thing to have on hand – especially when you’re mixing up salad dressings and dips!

I always start by pouring the buttermilk in the cup first.

Next, add the mayo – by putting the liquid in first, you’ll know when you’ve got the right measurement, when the liquid displacement gets to the next cup measure. Cool, huh?

Then, add the sour cream. 3 cups measure total – 1 each of buttermilk, mayo, and sour cream.

Now add 1 Tablespoon of the Ranch Mix:

I use a wire whisk and start mixing.

It’ll take just a few minutes and then you’ll have a lovely, smooth, thick, wonderful Ranch salad dressing!

Ta da!

This will keep in the refrigerator for a week or two. You know – if it doesn’t get slurped up before then.

To make this into a dip – simply omit the buttermilk.

SO easy.

SO yummy.

SO worth the time.

This Quart sized canning jar worth of mix will keep for months. I make salad dressing and dip weekly – and my last batch lasted just shy of 6 months… (Oh, and I throw a little in my Taco Soup, and Potato Salad, and a few other things!)

So whatcha waiting for? Go make some ranch dressing mix – you won’t regret it!

What the world needs now…

Ever have one of those days when you realize at the end of it that you need to find a tangible way to say “Thanks” to people?

You know – for…

  • Their patience
  • Their kindness
  • Their longsuffering
  • Their willingness to go out of their way for you
  • Their incredible restraint at not laughing you out of the room when you do something incredibly stupid???

Yeah.

I’ve had a few of those days lately. I guess it’s probably stuff that goes with the territory of life in a new job.

My first thought of a way to say thanks was chocolate chip cookies. But that seemed so – well – predictable.

Muffins, on the other hand – chocolate chip muffins – now THOSE are what the world needs now!

My favorite ways to deal with stressful days?

Play with the baby chicks.

And, of course:

Bake.

And so I made some muffins.

Why keep the goodness to myself? Need some therapy? Pull out the muffin tins and chocolate chips. You’re gonna be glad you did.

Chocolate Chip Muffins (çClick hyperlink to open up pdf of the recipe)

Ingredients
1/2 cup Butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup Granulated sugar
3/4 cup Brown sugar
2 large Eggs
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Almond extract
2/3 cups Bulgarian buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 cups All-purpose flour
2 teaspoons Baking powder
1 1/2 cups Milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375° F

  1. In bowl of stand mixer, beat butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.
  2. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add extracts. Beat until light and fluffy.
  3. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add 1/2 of the flour mixture to the creamed butter mixture. Mix until just incorporated.
  4. Add 1/2 of the Bulgarian buttermilk, mixing until just incorporated. Scrape down the bowl to ensure that even mixing takes place.
  5. Add the remaining 1/2 of the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated; then add the remaining buttermilk, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape the bowl and mix briefly.
  6. Add chocolate chips, mixing until thoroughly incorporated.
  7. Fill paper-lined muffin tins until approximately 3/4ths full.
  8. Bake at 375° F for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean.
  9. Allow muffins to cool for about 15 to 20 minutes in the tins before removing to a rack to cool completely.
  10. Yield: About 14 muffins.

Notes:

Optional: Add ½ cup of chopped walnuts or pecans.

Substitute milk chocolate chips for ½ semi-sweet chips and ½ white chocolate chips.

You may sprinkle the top of the batter with raw sugar before baking to give a crunchy top.

Princess Bars

Every now and then a girl needs permission to embrace the whole princess thing.

It should include a pot of tea… and Princess Bars.

Silly me – I thought everyone knew how to make them.

I guess not, judging from the blank stares that people have given me when I asked what their favorite parts of Princess Bars were.

If I had to say what my favorite part were – the sweet, crumbly, coconutty base and/or topping or the fruit filling – well – it would depend on the moment. They’re just so right, it’s pretty much impossible to choose what’s best!

Things that make these unbeatable?

  1. They’re ridiculously easy to make.
  2. You can make them up, store them in a disposable aluminum pan in the freezer, and then bake them off at a moment’s notice.
  3. They’re a fabulous way to use up the tail end of last year’s jam or jelly!
  4. They have such a lovely, light, flavoring with the combination of extracts that you truly can use ANY fruit filling – anything from pineapple, or tropical blend, to crabapple, to berry of any type, to apple pie – and end up with an absolutely delightful result.

Add to that the fact that you will be loved forevermore whenever you happen to share them – well, a win all the way around, right?!

Princess Bars

Ingredients
3/4 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 1/4 Cups Sugar, granulated
1/2 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons Butter (at room temperature)
1 Large Egg, beaten
1 Large Egg yolk, beaten
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Maple flavoring
1/4 teaspoon Almond extract
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 1/4 Cups Cake Flour
2 Cups Coconut (fine, unsweetened)
2 Cups Fruit Preserves

Preheat oven to 375° F.

  1. In mixing bowl with paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, salt, eggs, and extracts/flavoring.
  2. Mix together flour and coconut just to incorporate. Add to the creamed mixture and mix to streusel consistency. Do not over mix! Scrape the bowl several times, fluffing mixture and breaking up large clumps. Use a very light hand with this mixture!
  3. Place about half of the mixture into the bottom of a clean, unlined quarter sheet pan (13″ x 9″).
  4. Pack down into the bottom of the pan with your hands; you may use a rolling pin to compact. The dough should be solid and completely cover the bottom of the pan.
  5. Top the dough with fruit preserves. It should be fairly thick – at least 1/4 an inch thickness.
  6. With the remaining streusel mixture – make certain that it is completely broken up – no big clumps! Sprinkle on top of the fruit filling, distributing evenly. Press down very lightly.
  7. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. It will be a lovely golden brown on top. Allow to cool before cutting into squares.

Notes:

These freeze beautifully before baking.

You can conceivably use ANY fruit preserve as the filling.

Home Made Mayo

It wasn’t that many years ago that I didn’t know you could make your own mayonnaise.

I mean – hello?! – raising her hand to confirm that yes, she indeed, is a product of mass marketing.

Make your own mayonnaise? I thought.

What’s even IN mayonnaise?

And if you read the label of the mayo that most folks keep in their fridge – you know, the mayo that gets stored at room temperature on the shelf until you open it up (ewww) – you’d see:

Which some folks would be just fine with.

I’m not.

I kept wondering why my mouth would be burned and blistered after I’d have mayonnaise, and then I read the label.

DUH.

I’m allergic to soy!

So when I heard someone mention they made their own mayo I was A-M-A-Z-E-D.

Really?

You can do that?

Oh my yes, and not only can you (it’s easy – I promise!) – you should.

Honestly – once you have the home made stuff, you’re just not gonna be happy with the yucky store-bought stuff anymore.

Yeah, it’s that good.

So – without any further ado – let’s make some Home Made Mayo!

First, the ingredients: Egg, oil, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice. (Sorry – the oil didn’t make it into the shot!)

I know! – Right?! – Only FOUR ingredients, okay 6 if you count the salt and pepper.

I should say right here and now – I’m making a double batch here – the basic recipe (here’s the link) is one egg – this post has twice the called-for amount of the ingredients. Just want to make sure we’re on the same page and all.

It’s all about balance, mayo. And getting emulsification going.

I’m all about getting a good result and doing it efficiently. So – I pull out the Cuisinart. I love my Cuisinart. 🙂

So let’s stop a minute and talk ingredients, okay?

Eggs: First – the fresher the eggs the better this mayo is going to come together AND taste. Yes, I know, not everyone has hens in the backyard and can walk out the door, gather the eggs, and then make mayo like I can. If you don’t have your own egg-laying little miracles in the backyard – find someone who does and buy a dozen from them!

Also – you can use whole eggs, or you can use just the yolk. I’ve been known to use one whole egg and one egg yolk in a (double) batch. You can mix it up. If you use the whole egg it’s going to be a smoother, looser consistency when it’s all said and done. If you use just yolks – which is totally a-okay – just be prepared to maybe need to thin the consistency out with a few drops of hot water at the end.

This particular batch I used 2 eggs that the girls laid this morning. Hence, the lovely bright orange yolks.

Oil: I prefer to use Extra Light Virgin Olive Oil. LOVE the stuff. You can use whatever oil that you prefer – the big caveat here being you want the oil to NOT convey a lot of flavor. Something neutral is best.

Acid: This recipe is using lemon juice – and the stuff in the refrigerator to boot! Yes, you could use fresh-squeezed lemon juice – it’s SO good. I just happen to be out of lemons at the moment. You could use white wine vinegar. I’ve used rice wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar, and lime juice, etc… Yes, each one brings a different flavor profile to the finished result – just keep that in mind.

Mustard: If you’ve known me any length of time you know I’m biased. When I find something that’s good – well, why use something else?! That’s how I feel about Dijon mustard. Yes, I use Grey Poupon. Why mess with perfection? I guess you could try others – I have in the name of saving a few pennies. SO NOT WORTH IT! So now you know my bias about Dijon – just use the good stuff, okay? Okay!

Into the bowl, with the metal blade in place, place the eggs, 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 Tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and 2 Tablespoons of oil.

Now, put the lid on and turn the thing on.

Process for ONE MINUTE.

Yep – just 1 minute. That’s all you need to get this emulsification thing going.

Here’s what it looks like just as that one minute is almost up:

Now… You know the little tube-y thing that’s in the shute in the lid of your food processor? It’s got a dribble hole in the bottom – brilliant people who designed them. Now – making sure the lid is on and locked – turn the food processor back on, and take 1/4 a cup of the 2 1/2 cups of oil that you need for this recipe and put it in that dribble tube. See?

And this is what it looks like after the first 1/4 cup of oil has been added in and it’s been processed for a couple of minutes…

…kinda bubbly and no big oil slicks on the top, right? Hooray! That means emulsification is doing it’s thing!

So – what do you do if there is an oil slick on the top? Put the lid back on and turn the thing back on for another minute or two. Chances are it’s going to incorporate in that time and everything is going to be okay.

Now – with the food processor running – dribble in the oil, in a very fine stream.

It’s gonna take a little while. See the time stamp on the pictures? The one just above was taken at 2:57. The one below – when all of the oil has been added in and incorporated was taken at 3:12.

And this, my friends is what it looks like when it’s mostly done:

Some people don’t want salt and pepper or any other spice in their mayo. I just like it better with the salt and pepper, so I added in 1 teaspoon of Mediterranean sea salt and about 1/4 a teaspoon coarse ground black pepper.

…and then processed again for maybe another 15 or 20 seconds. Then, Voila!

It’s all done!

I wish you could smell it and touch it. Smells fabulous, and the texture is satiny smooth and wonderful.

This double batch made a bit more than 3 1/2 cups of mayonnaise wonderfulness.

Now – before we get any further, you need to know you can seriously put a twist on this recipe.

Try adding in some freshly minced – or – OH! – roasted – garlic cloves. YUM.

[Memories of sitting on the patio of a little cafe along the promenade in Benidorm, Spain – with the sun shining on the Mediterranean just steps from where we were sitting, dipping those fun little skinny breadsticks in a wonderfully garlicky mayo. :sigh: Must go back to Spain!]

Or maybe a few leaves of just-picked-and-brought-in-from-the-garden basil. :swoon:

Or how about a little green onion and/or chive?

See where I’m going with this? The possibilities are nearly endless!

So – here’s the thing, I do this kind of revolutionary thing after I get the mayo into my storage container…

I put the lid on, set the timer for 4 hours, and then leave it on the countertop in the kitchen.

Yep – you heard me right.

I don’t speed it right to the fridge.

Why?

So those lovely little probiotics can get to work and get established in there, that’s why.

After the 4 hours are up, off to the fridge it goes, and it can stay there for about a week and a half. This is not – after all – your store-bought, preservative-laden, mayo. It will go bad, and why eat bad mayo when it’s so easy to whip up another batch of the good stuff?

Okay – so see? It was SO easy.

Go make some mayo. Really – completely worth the 20 minutes of your life it’ll take up.

Dina’s Tex-Mex Stew

I’ve been very, very busy lately.

Longing for a good home-made soup or stew.

Too many meals that have been a grab of something out of the fridge as I’m racing out the door.

I don’t like that.

What I do like is this: Tex-Mex Stew.

Just what I needed this day – a chance to throw together a pot of yummy stew while I wait for my girl to get home from college tonight!

I probably should have gotten a shot of all of the ingredients corralled up – but I didn’t even think of doing that until now – so – yeah, didn’t happen! 🙂

Let me just start by saying this: use a big stockpot. At least 8 quart. Really. I hate it when I start making soup in a pot that’s too small and then I’ve got to transfer everything into a bigger pot and it’s such a hassle. So – got it? Make sure the pot is big enough. And you should know: this makes enough for dinner for the family with some leftovers to boot. If you don’t want that much: cut the quantities in half!

All that being said – I thinly slice ribbons of sweet onion, and then sauté them in a bit of olive oil in the bottom of a large stockpot over medium-high heat.

Next, add some sliced celery. I like celery – a lot – and believe in using as much of the leaves as possible. If that bugs you, then adjust accordingly.

Now add in the ground beef, making sure to break it up until it’s a pretty fine consistency as it browns.

You might think this is a little bit wacky – but believe me, it’s fabulous. You’ll thank me later for this next step.

Add taco seasoning mix, ranch dressing mix to the meat mixture, stirring until thoroughly combined.

Doesn’t it smell amazing?!

(Normally I wouldn’t be semi-brain dead and gotten the order of adding things in mixed up – not that it’s the end of the world or anything – but if you print out the recipe and then compare my photos – you’ll note a bit of a disparity in the order of stuff. Sorry – I’m tired!)

Now add in the minced garlic, making certain to keep it from scorching.

Next I added the carrots. I want them to get a bit of a brown before going on to the next thing…

As you may recall, we can our own beans here. Love ’em. Will never go back to the store bought variety. SO much better. This would be a great opportunity to use a jar of mixed beans, or use smaller jars of a variety of beans. But – if you’re feeling kinda lazy (like I am today), then just pick a variety you like and throw them in. This time I used red beans.

A little note about one of the ingredients here. I’m allergic to bell peppers. Don’t know why – but they blister the heck out of my mouth. BUT… I can handle fire roasted canned peppers – go figure! And not only can I handle, I kinda love ’em! I particularly love the red and yellow mixed variety. What’s not to love?

Once most of the moisture in the bottom of the pan has been absorbed/cooked off, add diced tomatoes and the rough chopped fire roasted peppers. Use the juice from the tomatoes to deglaze the pan, making sure to loosen up any bits that have adhered to the bottom of the pan.

I use home-canned chicken stock and typically a quart of it is gonna do you. But every now and then I like this a bit thinner and will add a bit more. And – I can’t extol the virtues of tomato juice enough. It’s GREAT for stuff like this, or pasta casseroles, etc. You’ve got some in your pantry, right?

Add chicken stock and about half of the can of tomato juice, stirring to make certain everything is well incorporated and nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan

Another ingredient I have a little love affair going on with here:

You may not know it – but you need this stuff. Yes, it’s worth the work to find it. Just get it, you’ll thank me later.

Add in chipotle chili powder and chili powder, adding more or less to your preference.

Turn heat to medium-low and add in corn, zucchini, and rice. Make sure to stir the rice in thoroughly. Allow to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, taking care to scrape the bottom to prevent the rice from sticking and scorching.

Now – all you need to do is eat some of this fabulousness.

YUM!

Hurry up and get home, Jessica! Soup’s on!

Spicy Sausage Lasagna

When I was considerably younger – gosh, like half of my current age. (Gee, that was a while ago!) I worked at Nike International, Ltd. Not too terribly long into my employ there I met the nicest, funniest, most gracious lady by the name of Ardy. She was not only nice, funny, and gracious, but she – oh, so importantly – shared my faith, and an appreciation and love of good food.

Early on into our relationship Ardy learned I knew how to crochet. She proposed a swap… she had a lovely antique dining table that she’d like to have covered with a crocheted table cloth, and I had a Bible that was in tatters… she thought I could perhaps crochet her a table cloth, and that perhaps she could have my very favorite Bible rebound in leather.

I quickly agreed to her proposed course of action and glibly told her it’d take me a few weeks to make her tablecloth.

HA!

Over the course of the :ahem: year-long making of said (even if I do say so myself) lovely tablecloth I would stop by her lovely home to have the table try the tablecloth on for size.

We, of course, would have to make dinner.

Ardy was one of those people who just encouraged my heart by being. She had this amazing fullness of all of the good things that get stuffed into who you are when you’re a child of God and just kinda ooze out of every pore because you’ve started to become more and more like Jesus. Having the very precious honor and privilege to share a meal with she and her husband in their lovely home was nothing less than a balm to my soul.

We talked food a lot, Ardy and I. One day she said, “Oh – I make the world’s best lasagna!” To which I said, “I don’t know how, because I make the world’s best lasagna!” We laughed, and then she proposed that one our next table-fitting, we combine forces to take over the lasagna-making world. I, of course, agreed!

When I learned to make lasagna years and years ago by a mostly only Italian-speaking older lady who did a lot of pointing and gesturing and speaking rapid Italian at me in the hopes that I might somehow learn a thing or two, it was always made with a mixture of lean ground beef and sweet Italian sausage for the meat portion. Honestly – it was fabulous – and you can find the recipe for it here. But Ardy made a lasagna with a sliced spicy Italian sausage – and honestly, that was the really only significant difference, the meat sauce factor – and it was fabulous.

I thought it only fair to share the fabulousness with you.

Here goes…

First, you start with cooking a pound of lasagna noodles:

I use my deepest stock pot – I think it’s a 7 quart size, and put about 3 Tablespoons of sea salt in there, get it going to a boil, and then drop in the noodles one at a time. Once they’re all in, let it cook for 10 minutes.

While the noodles are cooking, slice up the sausage. I found these at Costco – they’re an organic hot link, beef and pork, and honestly, not burn your lips off spicy, but they’ve got a lovely little level of heat in there.

I slice them fairly thinly.

Once they’re all sliced up, transfer them to a large sauce pan, and sauté them. The goal here – in all honesty – is to just brown them up a bit, and sweat off some of the fat.

Once the sausage is warmed through and browned up a bit, drain the fat off and return it to the pan.

Now you’re going to add in 2 29-ounce cans of tomato sauce, and 1 6-ounce can of tomato paste. I also add a couple of Tablespoons of dried parsley, about 1 Tablespoon of garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of coarse ground black pepper, a couple of Tablespoons of dried basil, and about a teaspoon and a half of dried oregano.

Remember that the sausage is pretty flavorful, so you don’t need a ton of doctoring here.

Go ahead and stir it up completely, slap a lid on, and keep it at a simmer while you move on to the other components.

About now the lasagna noodles are cooked. Go ahead and dump out most of the hot water, and then run cold water over the pot of noodles:

Once it’s all cooled, lay the noodles out on a sheet pan or a sheet of aluminum foil so that they’ll dry out a bit. Just set them aside.

Now, time to shred the mozzarella. Yes, you could pull out the food processor and do this in moments. BUT – one, the food processor weighs a ton and is a lot to clean up, and the truth of the matter is that it’s only going to take a few minutes longer to do so with a box grater. This is two pounds of mozzarella.

Now, time to put together the cheese sauce.

This is two pounds of Ricotta cheese, one pound of cottage cheese, six lovely fresh eggs laid just today, about a cup of shredded parmesan cheese, a couple of Tablespoons of Garlic Salt, a couple of Tablespoons of dried parsley, and about one Tablespoon of dried basil. Pull out your hand mixer and mix this baby up until it’s all nicely incorporated. Here’s what it’ll look like:

A quick word about cottage cheese. It seems like it’s a love it or hate it kind of ingredient. If you say – I hate cottage cheese so I’d leave the cottage cheese out – that’s fine – live it up. The truth of the matter is that I absolutely DETEST cottage cheese. A good portion of the fact for that being that I’m allergic to a lot of dairy stuff and cottage cheese is one of those things that once consumed makes me wish someone would shoot me and put me out of my misery. The beauty with this is that once it’s cooked, there’s really no discernable cottage cheese – and somehow the cooking of it kills off the bad enzyme that kills my gut, and makes it a very happy thing to consume! So…. if you’re convinced cottage cheese is evil, you just might find that in this application it’s not quite so bad.

Okay – so time to assemble! Using half of each ingredient, start layering.

First, a layer of noodles. I make sure that they overlap a bit:

Next, cheese sauce:

Now, meat sauce:

And now a layer of mozzarella:

Now repeat:

I should mention that on the second layer of lasagna noodles I change the primary direction of the noodles. First layer they went width-wise. This layer they’re length-wise. I use left over noodles to patchwork any gaps.

Also – I should also mention that this is a saucier lasagna than some others. You just need to know that going in. It’s sloppy and messy – but well, oh so very worth dealing with!

Here’s what it looks like ready to go into the oven:

Probably important to point out that this is a HUGE batch of lasagna. I typically make a big batch like this once every month or so. We’ll eat on it for lunches and snacks over the course of a week – and believe me, there are never any leftovers that don’t get consumed in that period of time.

If I’m feeling extra thrifty, I’ll purchase several disposable aluminum pans and portion this out to make two or three smaller lasagnas – one to eat for now, the balance to put in the freezer for later.

So – it goes in a 375 F oven for about an hour. I want it to temp out between 150 and 160 F.

Once it’s done, remove it from the oven and let it sit.

Like for at least half an hour.

Seriously – it needs the rest – and you’ll be a happier camper for the wait.

And that’s pretty much all it takes. We love this dish – it’s so yummy. And yes, it’s not a 30 minute meal – but it’s worth every minute invested in creating it!

See?

What did I tell you? Messy! BUT – totally yummy!

My take on Swedish Meatballs

Believe it or not – I’ve never made Swedish Meatballs. In fact, I’ve never eaten them, either.

They look so good, though!

And they seem like something all of the kids would eat. So, I started keeping my eyes open for Swedish Meatball recipes – actually a couple of months ago.

I kept coming across recipes that were sort of appealing but might have a component that I knew would take them out of the running for my family. So I kept looking. But I put Swedish Meatballs on the menu – for today. No pressure, right?!

So, I printed out a couple of different recipes, and what I ended up doing was building a new one from a conglomeration of others. Here goes.

Dina’s Swedish Meatballs

You should know up front that I wanted a recipe that would give me some free time in the middle, so I opted to use a crock pot for a portion of the recipe. I pulled my favorite crock pot (All Clad – it’s fabulous) out and set it on high for 4 hours, and put 2 cups of beef stock in to begin to warm up.

I started by making a panade – a thick paste made by mixing bread crumbs, flour, rice, etc. with water, milk, stock, butter or sometimes egg yolks. It is often used as a binder. This panade is made with 4 slices of white sandwich bread. I threw them in my trusty Cuisinart and pulsed them until they were pretty finely chopped.

I then transferred the bread to my stand mixer’s bowl. Of course, we still need liquid for our panade, so I used 3/4ths a cup whole milk to add to the bread. I mixed it thoroughly, using the paddle attachment on my mixer. Let it sit for a few minutes to allow the bread to absorb all of the liquid.

I then rough chopped a medium sized sweet onion (we have Mayans around abouts here this time of year), and then threw it in the food processor and chopped the bajeebers out of it. It was pretty juicy, so I used a small sieve, and drained the liquid off of the onion, and then added it to the panade.

Next, I added the ground beef, eggs, parsley, salt, dry mustard, garlic, ginger, and pepper. Mix together until completely incorporated. It’ll look something like this:

Now you’ll need a good sized frying pan. Go ahead and set it on medium high heat on the stove top, and melt 1/2 a cup of butter in it. When the butter is melted, start scooping out about 2 tablespoon sized balls. Brown meatballs on all sides, removing them once they are browned to the crock pot.

Here’s what they looked like when I had them transferred to the crock pot:

True confessions here. I do have beef stock on hand – but it was frozen solid and I was running out of time – I had a kid to pick up and take to allergy shots. So I used my last packet of Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix – you know – the one full of all sorts of crap that I don’t want to feed my family. I added it and 4 cups of water to the crock pot, and tried not to fret over all of those little bits of dehydrated onion. If they got through – the boys would NEVER touch this stuff with a 10 foot pole!

As it turned out, after cooking for 4 hours – and making the house smell absolutely AMAZING – and removing the meatballs to a stone wear dish and covering with tin foil, I set them in a warm oven to hold until I was ready for them; I then took the sieve and drained the liquid from the crock pot. This effectively removed all of the little onion bits that were visible to the naked eye. Hooray! (Well, I would have gladly eaten the little onion bits – but we all know that’s just not going to happen right now!)

I then made a roux in a nice sized sauce pan. First, you melt 1/2 cup of butter over medium high heat, then, whisk in 1/2 cup of flour, whisking until a smooth paste has formed. Then I added in the soup broth, continuing to whisk until smooth. Then I added in 2 cups of heavy cream, 1/2 cup of sour cream, and 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, whisking to that all of the ingredients were completely incorporated. I then reduced the heat down to a pretty low setting, making sure to avoid scorching the sauce.

Another revelation about the eaters in our house? There’s one component that will about 99% of the time choose rice. There’s another component that will 99% of the time choose noodles. Then there’s the last component who will ask why we’re not having mashed potatoes with this meal – always.

I chose to prepare both rice and egg noodles.

I think in most households you might get away with transferring the meatballs into the sauce – but I knew at our house we’d have a greater success ratio if I served everything separately. So I did:

Interestingly enough, my normal rice and noodle scenarios did not play out as usual tonight!

My rice person had noodles. My noodle person had rice. My potato person had noodles. And my last person had a little of both. Go figure. I might have done a little bit of both, myself. It sure looked yummy.

Verdict: John really liked it. Although he thought it was very reminiscent of stroganoff. The sauce was, quite similar, in fact. He says we should do this one again.

Jessica: She liked it, too. No flowing editorial on it – just that it was good, and she liked it.

Jonathan: He liked it, as well. Thinks we should have it again some time.

William: He liked it, but was a little flipped out about the fact that the meatballs were soooo tender. I will confess to having a little slip of the hand when measuring the milk for the panade, and it was a little looser than it should have been. He found me out! He would enjoy these again in the future, as well.

I can tell you – these smelled AMAZING and it was all I could do to keep from grabbing one of those little meatballs and snacking away! I’m so glad we had enough left over to freeze. I will definitely be getting into these in the future!

Will I make these again? You betcha. I might try adjusting the sauce a bit, so that it’s less stroganoff-y.

So – all in all – not a bad recipe!

Mom’s World Famous Meatloaf

As I’ve mentioned previously, my Mom was not the greatest cook. The things she did well – she did EXCEPTIONALLY well. The other stuff… well, not so much. One dish that all of her children will agree that she did exceptionally well on was her meatloaf. Where on earth she came up with this recipe, I’ll likely never know this side of eternity – and well, will I really give a rip in heaven?!

I wish I could get a couple of her grandchildren – grandsons, specifically – to agree. But I’ll get into that later!

On most Fridays I take part in Fight Back Friday over at Food Renegade’s blog. She has a lovely mission statement – here, let me show you:

Who are they? Why, they’re the Food Renegades. You know who you are — lovers of SOLE (Sustainable, Organic, Local, and Ethical) food, traditional food, primal food, REAL food, the list goes on. I believe that by joining together, our influence can grow, and we can change the way America (and the industrialized world) eats!

I am so all about sustainable, organic, local, and ethical food. I try to avoid processed foods as much as feasibly possible – which is most of the time. I avoid soy, high fructose corn syrup, and foods that have labels that require you to have a chemist’s degree to understand. I mean – we try to grow as much of our own food as we possibly can, for the very reason that we want to know exactly what we’re eating!

That’s why I couldn’t do Fight Back Friday this past Friday. I had it all planned, I was going to make Mom’s World Famous Meatloaf. Only – it’s decidedly NOT in keeping with the spirit of being a Food Renegade, sadly. So I skipped.

Here’s the thing. I love my Mom’s meatloaf. Just making it today (yeah, I’m a little late – Friday didn’t happen!) just the smells alone – hmmm…. Made my mouth water! And me with three more weeks of NPO and TPN, dang it! But it’s full of some pretty evil stuff. See for yourself:

Okay, yeah, so there’s some good stuff in there, but featured prominently is Stove Top Stuffing (and don’t waste your time, Savory Herbs is THE way to go – forget any of the other flavorings!) AND Lipton Onion Soup Mix. Both are chock full of all sorts of crap! Stuff that I don’t normally buy! Stuff that I don’t normally consume! But there really just isn’t an alternative – that I’ve been able to find, anyway – so I buy this stuff, and make Mom’s World Famous Meatloaf, and love it, darn it all!

Here’s what the ingredient panel for the Stove Top Stuffing says (horrors!):

STOVE TOP – STOVE TOP STUFFING MIX – SAVORY HERBS
Ingredients: ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE(VITAMIN B1), RIBOFLAVIN(VITAMIN B2), FOLIC ACID), HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, ONIONS*, SALT, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN AND/OR COTTONSEED OIL, HYDROLYZED SOY PROTEIN, COOKED CHICKEN AND CHICKEN BROTH, YEAST, SPICE, CELERY*, PARSLEY*, CARAMEL COLOR, GARLIC, TURMERIC, WITH BHA, BHT, CITRIC ACID, AND PROPYL GALLATE AS PRESERVATIVES *DRIED

And for the Onion Soup Mix:

Ingredients:
Onions (dehydrated), salt, cornstarch, onion powder, sugar, corn syrup, hydrolyzed soy protein, caramel color, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, monosodium glutamate, yeast extract, natural flavors, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate.

So you can see why I didn’t take part in Fight Back Friday with THIS recipe! Geesh – talk about politically incorrect!!

But, at the risk of being a complete hypocrite – I’m gonna show you show I make this mouthwatering masterpiece, cause I love it! And it reminds me of my Mommy – and well, sometimes you just gotta go there.

So – I should mention that the picture above is missing one really important ingredient – the ground beef! I can’t believe I forgot to put it in the picture! LOL! Oh well, you’re gonna need:

1 pound of ground beef
1 package of Savory Herbs Stove Top Stuffing
1 packet of Lipton Recipe Secrets Onion Soup Mix
1 cup whole milk
2 or 3 eggs (to your preference)
1 cup diced celery
1 cup finely grated carrot
1/2 cup each Cheddar and Mozzarella or Monterey Jack Cheese

I may have mentioned this before, but I’m all about doing things the easy way. So, I pull out my stand mixer for this one. And go ahead and preheat your oven to 350° F.

To start with, I dump the contents of the stuffing mix and the soup mix into my mixer’s bowl.

Then, I add the milk and the eggs.


(Look! One of the girls laid a double-yolker!)

Then I use a wooden spoon to mix it all up really well.

I set this aside and then prepare the veggies.

I shred the carrots on the fine side of the box grater. Wanna know why? Because my boys are veggie WIMPS. That’s right. Total and complete veggie wimps. MY boys. Sigh… So, yes, I shred the carrots up until they’re teensy tiny so that they’re less noticeable.

Then, to further accommodate the veggie wimps, I dice the celery really fine, too.

Only I kind of cheat. I use this little chopper dude – and it works like a charm.

See?

Of course, if it were just John and Jess and I, I’d rough chop those veggies and we’d LOVE it! Stinking picky boys!

Here’s what the stuffing, soup mix, milk, eggs, carrot, and celery look like all mixed up.

Now about the cheese. You can use whatever kind of cheese your heart desires. I use pretty much whatever I can find on hand. Some days it’s a cup of co-jack. Other days – like today, its 1/2 a cup of cheddar and 1/2 a cup of Monterey Jack. (Same diff, huh?! LOL!) I also really like it with Mozzarella in it. And – if you’re trying to appease stinking picky boys – throw in a little extra cheese. They like cheese – a lot!

Like I mentioned, I use the stand mixer to mix it all together. It takes maybe a whole minute to mix it up well. I sometimes let it go a little longer if I’m using a ground beef that isn’t as lean as I’d like. The paddle of the mixer will actually pull some of that fatty material out of the beef and separate it. It’s pretty cool.

And here’s where Mom’s World Famous Meatloaf departs from the average meatloaf – the way it’s formed. When I was growing up, comparing notes with the kids at school about meatloaf, I was always so surprised that almost universally they all hated meatloaf. I couldn’t figure out why – I mean it was so good, and kinda fun! Then I spent the night with a friend and found out why – no one else made meatloaf as good as my Mom! Plus – they had this weird loaf thing – with red junk on top, not cute little personal sized loaves with melty cheesy stuff on top!

Pretty much, you just take a handful of the meatloaf mixture, pat it into your hand, and shape it into a little loaf. If I’m taking this recipe to a potluck or something, I’ll make them even smaller – kinda like a big meatball – they’re always a huge hit!

If you’d like you can bake these on a roasting rack – if the meat I’m using is pretty lean, I don’t bother.

Go ahead and throw them into the oven and bake for about 40 minutes. I use a meat thermometer to make sure they’re cooked through – when it hits 160° F, then they’re done.

Yummy looking, huh?!

So go ahead, throw some of these together, your family will thank you – even if you are poisoning them with all sorts of chemical laden ingredients!

Grandma’s Jam Cake

… and it’s Fight Back Friday!

Sorry – it’s been a while – was sick, in the hospital, yada, yada, yada. But I’m back! And here you go!

Quite some number of years ago now I worked several months at a Conference Center in rural Michigan as the baker. Being the consummate city girl – I had no idea that rural America still existed. In fact, I actually mouthed the words to my Grammy as she drove from Oregon to Michigan with me, “It’s just so sad that all of America is just one big huge suburbia!” That, of course, was before I was in Nebraska – at which point in time I turned to Grammy and said, “How can we – as a nation – possibly consume this much corn?!” I was young and dumb enough to know virtually nothing about anything but – well, anything is a good word here. Okay – I was a decent baker – must have been for them to want to move me all the way to Michigan to bake, huh?!

It just so happened that for a week each summer said Conference Center had a week off. All staff packed up and went somewhere else for a week. I didn’t really have anywhere else to go. Well… unless…

And that’s when the bright idea hit. I would drive to North Carolina and visit one of my all-time favorite cousins – Bobby.

(My Dad on the left, me, and Bobby. Circa 1964.)

Bobby is my redneck, Southern Baptist preacher cousin. I love the socks off this guy. He’s as real, transparent, fun, hilarious, loving, kind, hilarious, amazing, hilarious kind of cousin that every girl needs. He was living in North Carolina – having been born and grown up in Mississippi for pretty much most of his life – finishing up his Masters of Divinity. He’s not your typical redneck, Southern Baptist preacher kinda guy. He’s the kind who wanted to ride his Harley across the stage at his graduation from Seminary. Have I mentioned that I love this cousin?

So I thought – “Hey! I’ll go visit Bobby! Can’t be too far – driving from Michigan to North Carolina, right?!” This was back in the dark ages – you know – before Google maps and reality checks that they sometimes provide. I called Bobby – told him my plan, and he said he would count the days until I arrived.

So, the day of departure arrived. I had a little cash. I had my stereo and a good selection of music. Some snacks. A huge refillable cup for Diet Coke stops. (Shudder – back in the day when I drank the vile stuff! YUCK!) I hopped in my 1978 Toyota Corolla Station Wagon with 189,000 miles on it and headed South East. 862 miles – I’d driven more than that in one day – I was determined to make it a one day trip – with little stops at places I’d always wanted to see – like Lexington, Kentucky, and Knoxville, TN.

Remembering that I was a virtually uneducated in the ways of other parts of this Great Country that we call home – I was slack jawed most of the trip. It was wild, wonderful, beautiful, amazing – at every turn of the road. I love history. I love architecture. I took LOTS of pictures that I’m sure other people would laugh at. But it was stuff I’d never seen before – and I was awestruck.

I arrived at Bobby’s and was greeted by hugs, kisses, and laughter by his wonderful family. I had the best four days with them. My car had been a little “cranky” on the way down, so Bobby and a mechanic pal of his did a thorough once over on it before I left – getting me a new battery, changing the oil, making sure the radiator had the right mix of water and coolant. Have I mentioned I love this cousin?

My plan for the return trip to Michigan was to take a different route – a more off the beaten path route. I’d studied my map and thought eventually ending up on Hwy 52 and taking it until it ended, until Hwy 23, and then making my way back from relatively familiar territory to my little corner of Michigan.

So I left North Carolina with hugs, love, well-wishes and a sadness that I wasn’t sure when I’d see this much loved family again. I made it 178 miles – until here:

…where my car broke down. I stopped. I looked at this broken down old truck next to me and thought, “This may not bode well.”

I tried every trick in the book. I was a halfway decent tinkerer with that old beater car’s engine. But, nothing I tried worked. I was so relieved I had AAA, found a pay phone (yes – way back THEN – before any of us had cell phones!) not too far away, dug out my change, and made the call. I explained where I was. The operator eventually found my location on the map, and said a driver would be there to assist me within the next 2 to 3 hours.

I just happened to be just a stone’s throw away from a roadside store – with all sorts of interesting stuff – and beautiful seasonal produce. I decided to walk over and take a peek.

I had precious few extra dollars, but something I found here I knew I couldn’t leave without.

It was a little home-produced cook book entitled “Old Timey Recipes.” All hand written. Originally copyrighted in 1969. Its chock full of the kind of recipes that every girl ought to have on her bookshelf. (Like the recipe for Pork Cake! Or the Keepsake Biscuit recipe that was written down by Mrs. Colonel Moore in 1890. Or the Pickled Peaches recipe. I could go on and on – but I’ll spare you.) So I forked over the $3 and left with my treasure to go wait in my car for AAA.

It didn’t take me long to stumble across “Grandma’s Jam Cake.” I’d just been talking to my Grammy about a jam cake that she remembered from girlhood. She’d remarked it was her favorite cake ever, and that it had blackberry jam in it – her favorite. Lo and behold! This little cookbook had what – I was sure – the very recipe Grammy remembered! How cool was that?!

As it turned out, my stay in nearby Hillsville, Virginia ended up being 3 days longer than anticipated. Bert’s 24 Hour Garage and 24 Hour Wrecking Service had to get parts in to fix my poor car.

I spent the time taking long walks throughout Hillsville, visiting the public library, and eating at the local diner. The diner, incidentally, employed the granddaughter of the lady who submitted the Jam Cake recipe to the cookbook. She, in fact, did some of the baking for the diner and happened to occasionally bring in a Jam Cake for the offerings. I thought that pretty amazing.

In my opinion – being a Food Renegade is all about honoring the heritage recipes and traditions about food that our forbearers knew to be the only way to live and eat. So I love sharing this traditional, very down home recipe with you!

So at long last – here it is – from “Old Timey Recipes” – Grandma’s Jam Cake.

Ingredients
1 cup Butter
1 1/2 cups Blackberry jam or jelly
1 1/2 cups Granulated sugar
3 cups All-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Baking soda
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup Buttermilk
1 teaspoon Ground cloves
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
3 Eggs

Preheat oven to 350° F.

  1. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and blackberry jam. Beat thoroughly.
  2. Sift the flour, measure and resift with soda, salt, and spices.
  3. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk to the creamed mixture. Beat well.
  4. Pour into well greased tube cake pan.
  5. Bake at 350° F for about 55 minutes.
  6. Frost with Quick Caramel Frosting.

Notes:

Find the Quick Caramel Frosting recipe here.

I still don’t know how I feel about the Caramel Frosting on this cake. I don’t know – it seems kinda – well, weird. I think it’s far better served with a simple confectioner’s sugar, whole milk, and a tad of vanilla extract glaze. Do what makes you happiest! I honestly think it’s just fine plain with no frosting whatsoever!

I found “Old Timey Recipes” – a hand-written, 64-page cookbook that includes a thorough description on how to make Moonshine in it, at a roadside store and produce stand outside of Hillsville, Virginia in 1992.