Sunday, April 23, 2017

Taco-Mex Homemade Hamburger Helper (One Pot Wonder)

When I made the recipe for Homemade Cheeseburger Hamburger Helper, it was a big hit with my family. I was reminiscing how my my mother used to buy a Mexican-themed one. It's been a very long time, but I remember a taco-style flavor to the beef.

I thought I'd tinker with the recipe and see if I could adapt this with a Mexican/Southwestern theme and see if I could create my own version of my childhood memory.

I discovered Avocado Oil at Trader Joe's and like using it in lieu of olive oil, because it has a higher smoke point. If you ever spot it, buy some! It's great.  Once I browned the ground beef, I added a chopped onion and red bell pepper.

I love black olives, so a drained canned of those was added to the mix.  Some taco seasoning (I make my own but packaged is fine), tomato paste would give some color and flavor the sauce.

I always keep a can of mild diced green chiles in my pantry. They are very mild, since I'm sensitive to really hot peppers.  Okay, then, we mix this right up...

 So, now we build the "sauce" by adding some flour...

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Ultimate Sugar Cookie - and my best cookie baking tips

A few months ago, one of my students brought a plate of sugar cookies to share with my office. For me, it was love at fist bite and I had to fight the urge to not share the cookies. However, in good conscience, I passed them around and everybody raved about them. I asked her if she'd get the recipe from her dad-- and after constant a few reminders, she brought me a recipe card. Score!

The recipe card was hand written with the name "Aunt Esther's Sugar Cookies". I asked who she was, and my student said she had no idea, and her dad couldn't remember how he got the recipe.  Well, Aunt Esther, whoever you are-- thank you so much!  The recipe only had ingredients and no detailed instructions. The few instructions said to squeeze the dough into one ball and pinch some dough and shape them into balls and roll in sugar. However, I was able to find a way to make the batter so that the dough turns out soft enough to scoop...

...and then gently press down with the palm of my hand.

I have baked many sugar (or vanilla) cookies in my lifetime and they are all good. But this cookie recipe ranks #1 favorite with my family now.  Every time I bake a batch (and I've made these a few times) my intention was to  photograph them, like most food bloggers do-- with a pretty mat or napkin, the classic milk jar with a colorful straw...but these cookies disappear way too fast! I give up. I just need to share the recipe with these quick photos,  because you'll thank me.

Whenever I post photos of cookies I've just baked, I am asked how I get my cookies to look just like a professional bakery.  Here are some "tricks of the trade" I've picked up over the years that have improved the results of my cookies:

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Homemade Cheeseburger Hamburger Helper (One-Pot Wonder)

I can remember, back in the early 1970's when Hamburger Helper first hit the supermarket.  My mother, being born and raised in the Bavarian Alps, had a limited repertoire of  American cooking. We were both shocked and surprised when Mutti brought this home to make for our dinner. My two brothers and I absolutely loved it!    I think Mutti loved how inexpensive and easy it was, since she also worked full-time, while raising the three of us.

Today, the times have changed, as many families are becoming more health conscious (thus, moving away from "processed foods). However, I still have great food memories of Cheeseburger Hamburger Helper, but now I can make my own with ingredients from my pantry and refrigerator, and I can control what's in it!

When I spotted this recipe on "The Daring Gourmet", it was a windy and rainy day and I was transported back to my childhood. I especially loved that this recipe is a One-Pot meal, and I had all of the ingredients on hand.

The main ingredients are ground beef and cheddar cheese...of course. You can use medium or sharp-- whatever you prefer.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Farmhouse Chicken Noodle Soup (Pressure Cooker Style)

First, let me explain that if you don't own a pressure cooker, you can still make this recipe in a regular old stock pot. Just increase the cooking time by four times! If you do own a pressure cooker, then this is THE chicken soup recipe for you! Pinkie promise!

Besides making this in a pressure cooker, with only 20 minutes of cooking time*, the chicken broth turns out to be super flavorful-- and there is an unexpected ingredient that helps to give that special "umami" that tickles the taste buds.

I did a little internet search for "Pressure Cooker Chicken Soup" and was surprised that many of the recipes list "chicken bouillon" or "chicken broth" as an ingredient.  That made no sense to me! 
I wanted to make chicken soup with....well, chicken!  I knew I wanted to add a mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery), herbs etc. and nothing else!  Then I remembered one of my most used books, "Pressure Cooker Perfection"  from America's Test Kitchen.

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sprinkle Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Here comes my transparency, to my friends and readers: My birthday was last July. Okay,'s now March!  I made this cake for my own birthday, because it's become my own self-inflicted tradition to bake my own cake, because it's fun!  I kept meaning to post this recipe, but Pumpkin Season came around, then Peppermint Season...and so I decided to hold on with sharing this recipe until spring. So, without further it is!

Yes, I enjoy baking cakes, very much. I'm not adverse to cake mixes at all, though I get a personal satisfaction baking a bake from scratch. Canned frostings, however, will never find a home in my pantry. I think they taste awful, to be honest. I'm not a fan of the texture and artificial flavors-- especially when making homemade buttercream is so easy to do!

So, while July was many moons ago, I wanted to share this recipe with you, because this cake is worthy for any occasion. Change the sprinkle colors to spring pastels, and this would make an impressive cake on your Easter Table-- for any birthday...or "just because".

I believe that what made this particular cake so spectacular was the frosting.  Yes, I do believe that's so true! Have you never made a Swiss Meringue Buttercream?  No?  Well, hold on-- because I hope to convince you that this frosting will make you swear off any canned frosting forever-- and just might make a classic buttercream seem a bit underwhelming.

But, first, let's start with the cake recipe.  For the batter, we're using cake flour, instead of all-purpose flour.  Cake flour has a bit less gluten, you see, so this is better insurance for a tender cake (or crumb, as bakers like to call it).  There's also buttermilk in the batter, and I believe this adds a lovely, yet subtle, tang and moisture to the cake. Of course, there's butter in the batter, sprinkles  and whipped egg whites are gently folded in.

There we are!  Three 8"-round cake pans of cake that is ready to be cooled. So, it's time to make some Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  A stand mixer is the best way to do this. You could use a hand held mixer, but you might need a third hand.  This is buttercream, so there is an absurd amount of butter (like, um, like almost five sticks of butter).  Yes, queue the cholesterol police.  Keep in mind, this is for a special occasion, and if your guests love this cake as much as mine did-- there won't be much left over.  So...

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Pizza Wheels (Party Pizza Buns)

Yes, it's really me! I'm back, and this time, I hope to resume posting at least every Sunday. (This is my new mantra). Today, I made a decision that I must make time to post at least a dozen new recipes I've baked, braised, roasted or stewed so that I could share them with you!

Each weekend, I keep telling myself to allot the average of two hours to edit photos, write a printable recipe card and then write a blog post-- with that hope that I would entice my readers (or that people searching for a recipe like this one) will land on my blog.  But one week, turns into two...and then a month...and then two months... and, before I know it, I start receiving emails from food blogger friends or loyal readers asking if I'm okay and if I'll resume posting again.  The answer is "yes" and "thank you"!

So, let me begin by sharing these amazing King Arthur Flour Pizza Buns!  I love baking, and I especially love baking recipes with yeast.  I was just speaking to a young lady who aspires to learn new ways of cooking and baking. I told her that one of my favorite resources is "King Arthur Flour".  My pantry is loaded with so many of their ingredients, and I don't use any other brand of flours.  I subscribe to their blog and I love their monthly "Bakealong Challenge".  King Arthur Flour posts step-by-step instructions so that anyone-- beginner or advance-- should be able to successful replicate their recipes.

I honed in on this particular recipe, in January for two reasons. 1) It was Super Bowl weekend and 2) I had leftover pizza sauce, mozarella cheese and pepperoni.  What a perfect way to use up ingredients and feed my hungry men!

The dough is quite easy to make-- especially if you have a stand mixer (which I do, and wouldn't part with for anything in the world).

After a little over an hour, my dough was beautifully puffed up (aka "proofed") and I found the dough to be so easy to work with. I was able to shape and roll it into a 12"x18" rectangle.  I've brushed on the leftover pizza sauce...

...and now I'm going to add my filling.  This is where you can become as creative as you like. Homemade pizza is almost a weekly thing, in our home and I've posted several on my blog here

My current favorite pizza toppings are sausage, mushroom, sliced black olives, bell pepper and onion. But, today, I would make the favorite pizza of my men.  Here, I am rolling up the dough and filling into a tight log-- pinches the ends.  This reminds me of  the King Arthur Flour Cinnamon Roll recipes that has become a family favorite!

Using a very sharp kife, I made shallow knife cuts so I would be able to gauge slicing the log into 12 pieces. 

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