Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I've got a little secret..... can't tell anyone. Come on, lean in closer to your computer, I have to whisper. This is my little secret to moist cakes, feeding the birds, and wonderful appetizers. It's awesome, really. But I'm only gonna tell ya once. Now, do I have your attention? Good.
Simple Syrup
Blind sided ya - didn't I!! Well, here it is. It's not complex. Most secrets aren't. But I'll show you ways to make this stuff POP!
Take 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Place in saucepan and heat, stirring, over medium heat until sugar melts. Remove from heat and let cool until lukewarm. Pour into a jar with a lid and store in refrigerator.
That's it! Really. OK, so now what do you do with this stuff? That's where the secret comes in. If you make cocktails, such as the now popular Mojitos, this is the simple syrup they usually tell you to go to the grocery store and buy. I don't normally make cocktails, so that's not a recipe I keep. I don't have friends much more sophisticated than Miller-lite in a can! But Simply Recipes has a great recipe for Limeade that is a version of simple syrup and non-alcoholic. Just the thing on a hot summer day!
I bake a lot. Simple syrup is a great ingredient to keeping cakes moist. After you've baked a cake, but before you've iced it, sprinkle a little simple syrup on the top. I "flick" some onto the sides too. Not too much, because you don't want a soggy cake. Just a little. Go ahead and ice as usual. Your cake will stay moist a lot longer - really. That's a good thing in my home, since I can't let my three sons eat an entire cake in one night, even though they are more than capable!! LOL!
One thing I like to do is flavor my simple syrup, especially for cake flicking (hey, I've invented a new skill!). Often I add a drop of real vanilla to the simple syrup before I "flick", but sometimes I add a drop of Fiori di Sicilia. Never heard of it? Well, click the link and head on over to King Arthur Baking. It is wonderful. Very unusual - a little citrus and a little vanilla. Plus, the stuff lasts forever in your refrigerator. In addition to adding it to my simple syrups, I like to add it into my baking when lemon extract is called for. Mmmmmmm......
So, where do the birds come in? Ah, glad you asked. Simple syrup is the ingredient in hummingbird liquid. No need to go to the store and buy that expensive stuff. Make up a batch of this, then add one cup simple syrup to two cups water to your hummingbird feeder. I add a couple of drops of red food coloring to help the buggers find the feeder - but once they've found it, no need to even do that. Make sure you change the water every few days, because it can "go bad" - like grow weird stuff in it. I also try to make sure my hummingbird feeder is out of direct sunlight as much as possible.
I also have a wonderful recipe that is super simple for an appetizer using simple syrup. I'm sorry I don't have a photo right now, but here's a link if you'd like to see one. I few years ago I discovered a wonderful blog called 28 Cooks. It was the cooking adventure of a then 28 year old woman in New York City. She is very daring and is a great photographer. She came up with a great appetizer recipe using cherries - which is a little different. I like different.
Spiced Cherries
1 cup simple syrup
1 t pickling spice
2 star anise
2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved
Place simple syrup, pickling spice and star anise in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer about 5 minutes. Place cherries in a small bowl and pour syrup mixture over cherries. Gently stir and allow to sit until cooled. Cover and let sit in refrigerator 24-48 hours to blend flavors.
When ready to make appetizers you will need a nice serving cracker. I like water crackers. Spread a little goat cheese spread on each cracker and top with a drained spiced cherry. I've found it is best not to make too many of these. They are a nice little "tuck in" to an appetizer tray for a special treat
OK, that's my secret. Now it's yours. What you choose to do with it is up to you. If you sell it to Bon Appetit, then send me a royalty check!! LOL!! Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chicken Marinade

This is my Tried and True recipe for chicken marinade. In the summer, when grilling season is at a peak, I like to double the chicken and marinade and freeze the extra. Summer is such a rush-rush season for us, it's great to have something quick in the freezer that tastes great!! The extra this week is going into my Italian Penne Pasta I'm making Thursday night. It's a hit at our house!
Chicken Marinade
from May 2005
1/2 c red wine vinegar
1 C soy sauce
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 t basil
1 t Adobo
1/2 t pepper
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Place about 6 lbs chicken breasts in large freezer style zip-lock bags (about 8 chicken breasts). Pour marinade evenly over chicken. Place in refrigerator to marinate for 24 hours (I put the bags in large dishes in case they leak). When ready to grill, discard marinate and grill as usual. Freeze any leftover chicken individually for use in various chicken recipes or to reheat and eat.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Decluttering - Week #1

I'm on a campaign in my home to declutter. This isn't one of those "this place is a wreck" decluttering episodes. This is the real thing. I'm determined. I searched the web for a good photo to use as I update this topic - but they were too drastic. Honestly, my "clutter" isn't out of control - I just have too much stuff that we don't need. It's getting in the way of the stuff I do need. It's making me nervous, anxious and grouchy! I'm sure there are people who would argue that is my normal emotional state, but this is getting to me. Plus, I've been watching Oprah. If you've been watching Oprah since "The Greatest Economic Collapse Since the Great Depression" (that's what we're calling this recession right now, right?), well you'd know that Oprah is telling us to do more with less. I'd like to see her closet and compare clothes!! LOL! But, it's all relative, and I just don't need some of this stuff. So, the first thing I did was figure out my game plan. If I was going to tackle this, I was going to go about it systematically. This was going to be a lifestyle change. So I divided my house up into "zones". Each week I am working on a "zone" and only that "zone". Here are my "zones"

Caroline's Zones

1. Attic Storage Closet

2. Kitchen and laundry room

3. Basement Storage Room

4. Basement Playroom

5. Basement Bonus Room

6. Ben & Chris's Bedrooms

7. Dining Room/Living Room

8. Family Room

9. Garage

10. Area beneath deck and shed

See - 10 zones, nice and tidy. I began gaining confidence this was going to work! The zones are set up strategically for a certain reason (I would have made a great military stratagist!). The attic and kitchen/laundry had the most "upstairs" stuff to go to the basement. The basement was the real "culprit" of my clutter. Whatever someone doesn't know what to do with, they throw it in the basement, slam the door shut and its gone. Our basement had become scary. I imagined screechy violin music when I walked down the steps - like in an Alfred Hitchcock movie before the axe-slinger jumps out. See why I was nervous and anxious? Well, I figured if I got all the stuff that needed to go to the basement down there, I'd only have to deal with the basement once. I don't like the basement. Period.

But I also had another motive. I wanted the basement done before my two older sons, Ben and Chris, went to summer camp. If I got the three large rooms cleaned up in the basement, then I could spend the whole week cleaning out there bedrooms. I'm a gluten for punishment!! No, really, their rooms are not "awful", but they lack closet organizing. That's the biggie - so the week they are at camp, I'm cleaning out their closets. Makes me feel all tingly inside just thinking about getting that stuff out of here! They'll be in therapy for years getting over it, but I won't feel nervous and anxious!! LOL!!

After that it's all down hill. Our garage isn't cluttered, just could use a good cleaning/sweeping. We have an area under our deck, but we don't use it. I won't let my family store "stuff" (I call it "crap") under there. Our neighbors do that, and it looks awful. Who wants a raccoon making a home in all that stuff? Yikes! Makes me nervous just thinking about it!! Can you tell I'm the nervous type? LOL!! We have a storage shed, but the only extra stuff are some old pots. I figure once I get all this stuff out of there, I'd have a garage sale. Yea, that's a great idea! I'll sell my stuff to people who really don't need any more stuff, but think they are getting a great bargain, so they'll buy it! I might even e-mail Oprah. She can feature me on her show. Gail King will think it's great and write me up in O Magazine. The Obamas will invite me to dinner (I'm getting ahead of myself!). Politics make me nervous, I'll skip the Obama dinner!

So, back to reality. Week #1, The Attic. We store our Christmas Stuff in the attic, along with Easter, Halloween, you name it. If there's a decoration for a holiday, I've got the stuff. Plus suite cases, extra blankets, etc. Too much stuff. When Christmas rolls around, I miss half the decorations because the Halloween stuff is in the way. This Easter I gave up and put up a Christmas tree!! No, really, I didn't do that, but I could have. So out it came last week and I bagged up (30 gallon black trash bags) 35 bags of stuff I didn't need. Everything from a stuffed turkey that said "baby's first Thanksgiving" to old linen I was saving for cleaning rags. Gone to VOA. Now I go in to my attic and look around and smile. When hubby goes on his annual summer fishing trip, I'll know right where his sleeping bag is. When Fourth of July rolls around I'll be the first house with the red, white, and blue bunting up around my porch. The neighbors will sneer behind my back, maybe even call me "Martha". That's OK, it won't make me nervous one bit!!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Awesome Ribs

I needed a good rib recipe for our Memorial Day barbeque. Yes, I've made ribs countless times on the grill - sometimes with rubs, sometimes with a homemade sauce. But I still hadn't found "the" rib recipe. I found this one on Recipezaar and I'd have to say it is a "keeper". This takes some work, or perhaps I need to say this takes a little time, but it is well worth the effort. Everyone at the barbeque thought my ribs were outstanding. They even put hubby into a "food coma" and he had to go to bed after our guests left. Ha! I know the truth - he didn't want to help clean up!! :)
Awesome Ribs
2 good quality rib racks (pork or beef - I used pork)
2 garlic cloves, just smashed
1 onion, quartered
2-3 stalks celery, broken in half
2-3 carrots, broken in half
1-2 t onion powder
1-2 t garlic powder
2 t liquid smoke
water or stock to cover
salt and pepper
1-2 T sugar (optional)
Clean and cut ribs in half (I cut into 3 rib sections). Put all ingredients to a large stock pot. I used a mixture of chicken stock and water to cover all the ingredients. Liquid should just cover the ribs and vegetables. Bring to a boil then reduce heat until just barely boiling (look for little "blips" in the water). Partially cover the pot and let cook for about one hour. Drain, discard vegetables and grill with your favorite sauce (I used Sweet Baby Rays). Enjoy!

Burgers on the Barbie

No, this isn't a photo of hubby and me right after we got married!! LOL!! It's what I post when I didn't get a chance to take a photo of my culinary creation! Last night was our "official" kick off to the summer season. It has to start with burgers. Now until Labor Day I will make burgers on the barbie at least once a week (no, I'm not Australian either - I just like the alliteration!). This week I made Laura's Tasty Burgers from Real Mom Kitchen. They are so simple and so good - even my one picky eater son wolfed his down and wanted more!! We paired it up with Aunt Gert's Macaroni Salad (see previous post). If you want to see an awesome photo of this burger, just click on the Real Mom Kitchen link above. Otherwise, you'll have to enjoy my adorable photo which I've named "Woman with Pearl Earring Barbecuing for Caveman Husband"!! Enjoy!!
Laura's Tasty Burgers
1 lb ground beef **
1 T McCormick's Grill Mates hamburger seasoning (this stuff is going next to my salt shaker - it's that good!!)
garlic salt (I used Adobo seasoning)
Mix the ground beef and seasoning mix together in a bowl. Shape into 4 patties. Sprinkle patties with garlic salt (Adobo seasoning) and grill.
I made 5 burgers with 2 lbs of extra lean ground beef and used 1 1/2 T hamburger seasoning. Just an FYI! We're carnivores!!
Thanks Laura and keep up the great recipes!!

Aunt Gert's Macaroni Salad

Oh, my - this isn't your regular potluck macaroni salad!! It's sweet, it's tangy - it's really filling!! You can easily just make 1/2 of the recipe and have plenty!! But oh my, it is SO GOOD!! My photo doesn't do this recipe justice. I was in a hurry and didn't set the picture up well. You're just going to have to trust me on this one - it's a keeper!! :)
I was hanging out last week over at Real Mom Kitchen salivating over her recipes. I love her site - it's so pretty and the recipes are great. Well, she posted a few of her Memorial Day links, and I just happened to stumble on this one. Wow, she made my day!! Of course, it's a Paula recipe, so you know it's going to be good!
I'm normally not a macaroni salad person. I prefer a pasta salad, and one without mayo. But I wanted to make this one because the noodles were so pretty! Ha, how's that for a reason? I'm so glad I did. I made the full recipe, and ended up sharing a lot with neighbors. One called last night and asked for the recipe. That's when you know it's good! I'd trade one cousin Steve and one brother Tony for Paula's Aunt Gert!!
Aunt Gert's Macaroni Salad
2 (8 oz) jars mayonnaise
1 medium onion
1 cup diced celery
1 cup sugar
1 cup cold water
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (16 oz) box radiatore pasta, cooked and drained (can substitute rotini pasta)Optional garnishes: chopped hard boiled egg, chopped fresh parsley (or dried)
**Note** Unless you are cooking for a family reunion, it's fine to halve the recipe. The original makes A LOT!
In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, onion, celery, sugar, water, vinegar, and garlic. Add pasta, stirring to combine well. The mixture is really soupy, but thickens as it chills. Cover and chill overnight. I made this in the morning and chilled all day. I stirred the mixture every 2-3 hours to keep the pasta on top from drying out and mix in all the ingredients. Garnish with hard boiled egg and parsley, if desired.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

South Georgia Caviar

Did I mention I LOVE Paula Deen? If not, you know now!! I think she's awesome in every way!! She's overcome so much and is such a gracious lady, what's not to love? Plus, she's the mom of two boys - I'm the mom of three boys, so I have a very special place in my heart for moms of boys!! Anyway, today I made her "South Georgia Caviar". I'm the member of a great new blog called My Girl Paula. I just joined, so next week will be my first post. We make recipes from Paula's books, etc. and then we all post them. I thought I'd jump the gun and show off my "caviar". It's a great alternative to salsa and it's really easy to make. You need to refrigerate it overnight (or about eight hours). If you are going to a cookout this weekend and need something fast to take, this would be a great recipe!!
I checked online and the recipe is printed on Paula's Food Network site, so I figured it was OK to post it here. It's also in her cookbook The Lady & Sons, Too!
Paula Deen's South Georgia Caviar
2 - 15 oz cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1 - 15 oz can whole kernel corn, rinsed and drained
1 - 10 oz can Ro-Tel tomatoes
2 cups chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh jalapeno peppers (that's a little hot for us, I use about half which is maybe two peppers)
1/2 cup chopped onion
8 oz bottle Italian salad dressing (I use 1/2 a 16 oz bottle of Kraft Zesty Italian)
1 - 4 oz jar chopped pimentos, drained
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, stir gently to combine and refrigerate overnight (about 8 hours). Serve with corn chips. This recipe will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks (but it won't last that long - I eat it by the spoonful!!).
I hope everyone has a happy and safe Memorial Day Weekend - enjoy!!

Greek Pizza

Friday nights are "pizza nights" in our home. It's been that way for over 20 years (yes, I've been married that long!!). But it use to be a "take out" pizza from a local shop. Well, about a year ago I began experimenting with making my own pizza. At first it wasn't anything fancy - I even bought the dough mix in a bag. But hey, you've got to start somewhere!! Well, I mustered up the courage one week to make my own dough, then a few weeks later I gave homemade sauce a try. Now you just can't stop me! Each week we make two pizzas - one is a traditional pepperoni and cheese for the kids, and the second is a specialty pizza for my husband and me. This week I made the Greek Pizza from For the Love of Cooking's site. It was wonderful - or as my three-year-old would say "awesome mom!" As you can see from the photo, it didn't last very long (so much for one pizza being the adults!!)
Pizza dough
Corn meal (to sprinkle on the baking tray)
Pizza sauce
Mozzarella cheese
Feta cheese
Frozen artichoke hearts, thawed*
Kalamata olives, slice in half lenghtwise
Red onion, sliced thin
Roma tomato, sliced thin
Dried oregano
*My grocery doesn't carry frozen artichoke hearts. You can use a jar of regular artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed. I had some marinated artichoke hearts I used which I drained and patted dry. They added a nice flavor.
If using frozen artichoke hearts, thaw and blot dry to remove excess liquid. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coat a large pizza tray with cooking spray and sprinkle lightly with corn meal. Roll out dough and fit onto try. Evenly spread sauce, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, tomato slices, red onions, kalamata olives, feta cheese and oregano on top.
Place in the oven and bake for 10-14 minutes or until desired crispiness. Remove from oven and slice. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Old Fashioned Peach Cake

Last Sunday my husband took our two older sons fishing at a friend's "fishing lodge". I've never been to a "fishing lodge", but it conjures up images of Teddy Roosevelt fly-fishing off a pier! LOL!! Anyway, they came home with quite a few trout. I seem to remember Benjamin Franklin saying fish and visitors smell in three days, so I decided to cook the trout up fast. I wanted a spring dessert to go with the meal, and was very happy to find the recipe for this Old Fashioned Peach Cake from Alwayzbakin It was amazing. I liked the fact the top has a crumble on it instead of the heavy frosting (which my kids don't need just before starting their homework!!). I think the cake could work just as easily as a brunch dessert too - or to take to a potluck. It is very versatile. Thanks Michele!!
1 pkg yellow cake mix
1 (21 oz) can peach pie filling
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts, but you can leave out if you wish)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine dry cake mix, pie filling, eggs, and 1/2 tsp lemon extract. Blend at low speed until completely moistened, about 1 minute. Beat 2 minutes at medium speed. Fold in nuts if using. Spread batter in a greased and floured 9 x 13 pan. In a medium bowl combine sugar, flour, softened butter and 1/2 tsp lemon extract with a fork. Mixture will be crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over batter. Bake 40 - 45 minutes until center springs back slightly when touched.

What I've Been Up To

Well, as you can tell, trying to post an entire week's menu with recipes just isn't going to happen for me! So, I'll go to the more traditional posts and try for one a day about a recipe or special ingredient. All I can say is the last few weeks were hectic! We had Teacher Appreciation Week for both my sons' schools, and I decided to make the gifts (what was I thinking?????). Two weeks straight I cut and sewed coffee cup sleeves, made lemon-blueberry muffins, and bagged up gift bags for the teachers. Oh, yea, then I decided to help with the luncheon and made a vegetable lasagna! Ugh, I'm glad that's all done.
I'm trying hard to get my garden and containers planted this week. We are expected to have beautiful weather, so I should be able to finish. I've posted a photo of some of my containers. I love to plant tuberous begonias with herbs tucked in between. These pots are not quite finished - I'm still on the look-out for some yellow tuberous begonias to add. I've got some oregano, rosemary, parsley, and thyme planted in with the flowers.
This year I'm also trying some square foot garden beds. I'm excited to get some tomatoes, peppers, and maybe even a watermelon planted this week - I'll keep you posted!