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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Big batch bread mix

I don't buy bread any more.  I know that sounds all hippie-pinko-commie (as my husband likes to say), and most people don't go quite this far in their preference for home-cooked food, but the primary purposes of this blog are actually a) my own entertainment and b) my personal reference source for stuff I've done that I write down somewhere but can't always remember where.  So this is more for my benefit than yours, but feel free to give it a whirl ;-)

I use this King Arthur Flour 13x4x4 pain de mie pan for sandwich bread, which is what "1 loaf" is for me (this recipe is also an adapted, scaled-up, prep-ahead version of the KAF recipe).  If you're using regular baking pans, I'd guess that a 9x5 pan will be a little small for the amount made by 1 portion of this recipe, so you could reduce the amount of mix and wet ingredients by around 75%.  I'd try baking it for about the same amount of time, though I've never done this so that's just an educated guess, not a final recommendation. 

If you want to do this in a bread machine, a 2 lb. loaf will take 4 cups of dry ingredients and a 1.5 lb. loaf will take 3 cups of dry ingredients.  Scale the wet ingredients back proportionately. 

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Further Adventures in Homemade Yogurtry

Attempt #2.  Interesting.  Recap of the basic recipe:

8 cups milk
1/2 cup yogurt with live cultures
Optional: unflavored gelatin or Jello (I used 2 3 oz. Jello packets this time)

Put the milk in the crockpot and heat on low for 2.5 hours.  Turn off and let stand 3 hours.  Whisk 1 cup of warm milk into yogurt along with gelatin if using.  Mix back into crockpot.  Let stand, covered and well-wrapped to retain heat, for at least 8 hours.  Fridge for a few hours if using gelatin.

Funky browned milk
First of all, I have discovered that a regular ol' crockpot is the way to go.  I tried using a fandangled pressure cooker-crockpot-steamer thingie that I really like, but not for this.  The cooking element gets too hot, and made a layer of custard crust at the bottom of the pot...a desirable result for some recipes, but not this one.  I screw up so you don't have to...just use a plain crockpot with a ceramic insert that can't be used for speed-cooking beans.

I also tried using more gelatin this time, in the form of fruit flavored Jello.  I'd love to say that I'm making homemade yogurt because it's healthier, blah, blah, but I'm tired of buying ridiculously expensive tiny cups of kiddie yogurt so I'm trying to duplicate it more cheaply.  Per ounce, two 3 oz. packets of Jello will not make my homemade yogurt contain any more sugar than commercial yogurt, so that's good enough for me.  Although adding the flavored jello to the whole batch does compromise the future use of your homemade yogurt as a starter for the next batch (I used 1/2 cup of the last batch instead of buying another container of plain), unless you're planning to do the same flavor next time.

Two packets did create a MUCH firmer yogurt, but it was too firm...kind of like milky Jello.  The kids won't eat it LOL  But the flavor is pretty good and it looks appropriately neon-colored.  Back to 1 packet of gelatin next time. Pin It

Lower Carb (and freezer friendly) Lemon Custard Pie

My husband adores lemon meringue pie, but I rather dislike meringue (making it as well as eating it, and it doesn't freeze well to boot).  Cool Whip is the absolute right answer to all meringue-associated problems.  Yes, it's cheating.  In case you haven't read any of my previous pie posts, I cheat at pies and do so with great celebration (I have all that extra time to celebrate, you see, since I don't spend any making homemade pastry or meringues). 

So, on request for a no-sugar version of lemon meringue pie, I give you Splenda lemon custard pie with sugar-free Cool Whip topping and nut crust.  Making the custard with splenda instead of sugar actually speeds the process up...sugar takes eons to melt and thicken properly, while the Splenda version took less than 5 minutes to achieve the proper thickness.  The flour and cornstarch still contribute carbs, but the result is much lower than what you would have with sugar.  You can, of course, use sugar, tbsp for tbsp, in place of Splenda.

Btw, for those playing at home, I saved 2 tbsp (ETA: needed 4 tbsp) of the almond grindings for a chicken wing recipe (Almond Sesame Wings) I'll make in a few days.  Put the "almond flour" in a small tupperware and stashed it in the fridge.  I like to plan ahead.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Mac & Cheese Green Peppers: I screw up so you don't have to

OK, so I posted the recipe here, froze it and am making it today in the crockpot.  If you plan to use a crockpot and cook them from a frozen state, make sure the container you put them in in the first place approximates the size and shape of your crockpot so that you can fit the frozen peppers in later.  I screw up so you don't have to.  Four large peppers will fit crammed into a 5-quart round crockpot.

Quick fixes: put the ones that will fit on HIGH in the crockpot for awhile until they're a bit soft and them cram the remaining pepper in OR let them thaw during the day and bake them 30 minutes or so at 400F (instead of 350F for 45 minutes to an hour) OR order pizza.  Pin It

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Grilled Tofu Mexican Wraps

This is a partial freezer meal...you can freeze the marinated tofu, the tortillas, and the dressing for the slaw but not the slaw itself.  You'll need a fresh veg to complete this meal, either a package of cabbage slaw, shredded carrots, shredded lettuce or some other shredded crunchy veggie, or a combination of the above.  If you want insurance against forgetting to pick something up for Dinner Day if you're freezing ahead, get a package of frozen Mexican vegetables.  In a pinch, you can nuke them, dress them and fold them into your wrap.

Lime is the dominant flavor in the tofu marinade and in the slaw dressing, the former with the juice of a 1 lime and the latter with its zest.  You'll need a bit more juice to round out the dressing and marinade...orange juice would be great, but I rarely have OJ in the house any more and I used apple juice today.  The slaw dressing was a bit sweeter than usual as a result, but it went over very well with the under-3's. 

This is very seriously my favorite tofu recipe ever.  Ever, ever, ever.  That's why there are two totally gratutitous food porn pics above...couldn't decide which looked scrummier :D

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Raspberry Rhubarb Pie

I haven't made or blogged many desserts lately, although I've been eating dessert aplenty ::blush::  I got the idea for the raspberry-rhubarb combo from a recipe in Bon Appetit, but turned it into a 10" pie rather than their suggested weensy crostata. 

I don't usually spend a lot of time making food look pretty, but this pie begs for a lattice crust.  Being the happily acknowledged crust-cheater that I am, I took a store-bought double crust and used a little cookie cutter thingy to cut diamond shapes in 1 layer to mimic a real, woven, lattice crust top.  Much easier to handle that way. 

The pie can be frozen before or after baking.  Thaw it before baking if you freeze it uncooked.

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Mac and Cheese Stuffed Peppers

This is a fabuluoso do-over for leftover mac and cheese, although I think if you have significant amounts of leftover mac and cheese, you're doing something wrong.  Just sayin'.  It's also great to make up a bunch when peppers go on sale at your market and freeze a couple of batches ahead. 

As always, I offer choices in this recipe.  You can cook it in the crockpot (!!) or in the oven, and you can use whatever veggies you want...frozen or canned corn kernels, peas, cut green beans or diced carrots are easiest, but you can certainly use 2-3 cups of something fresh like diced onions, carrots, celery, beets, or chopped greens and saute them for 5-10 minutes until softened.  Quartered cherry tomatoes would be excellent as well.  Or skip the veggies if you have a princess in your household who can detect a hidden pea under 20 mattresses and will have a fit if one should come in contact with the rest of dinner.  If you skip the veggies, you'll need 2 cups of something else...more mac and cheese, or some form of chopped up protein.

You can make mac and cheese from scratch (here is one way to do it...leave out the beef and breadcrumbs, use whatever cheese you like and use sour cream instead of dressing), but I used 1 regular sized box of good ol' Kraft for this.   

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pistachio Tilapia

Sort of a lower-carb fish amandine recipe.  Suitable for a freezer kit or prepping ahead for same-day or next-day cookery.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Looed Ribs

Looing Sauce, Use #3 (I think?).  I wanted to do a little something different with ribs, and I thought I'd try this...delicious!  The Asian flavors of the looing sauce come through subtly and are played up with a hoisin sauce-ketchup glaze.  The oven braise-then-broil (or grill) technique keeps the ribs tender and still gives a crunch of bbq bark.

To make this as a freezer kit, freeze the ribs separately from the looing sauce.  Mix ketchup and hoisin, and freeze in small container. 

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Crockpot Onion Soup

It's not really *soup* season but it is sweet onion season, so now's the time.  The crockpot is a beautiful thing for this recipe...you use it to caramelize the onions overnight and then cook the soup.  I have seen recipes that call for one process or the other (or ofc for doing it all on the stovetop), but not both and quite frankly I think doing both is a brilliant proposal.  Especially when I do not want to babysit a pot of soup on the stove or even turn on my stove right now. 

Like any soup, leftovers reheat very nicely so you can make this totally in advance if you wanted.  Though since it goes in the crockpot, all you need for convenient cooking is to premeasure the second-stage ingredients and have them ready to dump in after the onions are brown.

I really like a little heat in this recipe.  The sweetness of the onions mellows the chipotle, and the chipotle keeps the onions from being sickly-sweet.  But if you don't do heat, don't add the chipotle.  One can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce will go a LONG way.  I go ahead and chop up the whole thing, and freeze the leftover smoosh in ice cube trays or pressed thinly in a ziptop bag for future recipes. 

A classic element of French Onion Soup is that melty, cheesy mess on top.  I loathe that part.  It's a pain to execute and a pain to eat.  I prefer to have grilled cheese alongside an unadorned bowl of soup.  I figure a grilled cheese sandwich hits all the same flavor and texture notes as a broiled cheesy baguette slice.  If you are *really* pressed for time on Dinner Day, you can butter the bread and stack the sandwiches the night before when you start the onions and just put the prepped sandwiches in a panini press or on a griddle, saving you a few minutes' prepwork and cleanup.

You do want to use the biggest crockpot you have, a 6 quarter preferably.  A 4 quarter will be very full, but if you reduce the amounts of the ingredients to 75%, you should be ok.  For one of those cute little 2 quart crockpots, you could reduce the ingredients by half and have a nice little dinner for 2.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Easy-easier-easiest: Corn

So it's technically not a vegetable, but when it's plentiful and cheap and fresh in the summer, it's on the menu.  Getting the corn shucked and de-silked, one of my least favorite kitchen tasks, is definitely prep-ahead friendly, as are brining and cutting the kernels off the cob. 

To help cut kernels off a cob, invert a small bowl inside a larger one.  In a perfect world, both bowls have flattened bottoms for minimal slippage.  Hold your cob on the smaller bowl and cut the kernels off with a knife...the knife edge shouldn't bang on the outer bowl and the kernels will fall right into the larger bowl instead of scattering all over your kitchen counter.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Chickpea couscous salad and Curried Chickpeas

I adore chickpeas, plain and simple.  I bought a 1 lb. bag of dry chickpeas at the store, and I'll be making 2 dinners from it.  One is chickpeas couscous salad and the other is curried chickpeas.  Both are prep/make-ahead friendly and freezer-kit-able.  Just awesome.

Couscous salad

First of all, you gotta cook the chickpeas.  You could buy canned chickpeas, but cooking your own is 1) cheaper, 2) not hard and 3) allows you to cook more flavorfully than what you'll get with canned. 

  1. Soak the chickpeas overnight or do a quick soak by boiling them in a large pot with lots of water for 2 minutes, then cover them, take them off the heat and let them stand for 1 hour.  Drain and rinse.  Rinsing at this stage significantly reduces their, ahem, musical qualities. 
  2. Cover again with water and bring to a boil.  Add 2 black tea bags (if you want), and reduce heat to simmer. 
  3. Cover with the lid left slightly ajar and simmer GENTLY for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, depending on how much cronch you like your beans to have.  Don't cook them at too high a temperature or for too long, or else the skins will separate from the beans (and not in a good way...I screw up so you don't have to). 
  4. Drain, measure out 1 or 2 cup portions (depending on how you plan to use them) and put in containers to fridge or freeze.
A reasonable schedule for doing all this is starting a long soak in the morning, draining and rinsing after dinner, and cooking while you're watching a movie.  

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Roasted red peppers: Roasting (or grilling or broiling)

If you're playing "Mystery Dish" with me at home and you've bought some on-sale red bell peppers, it's time to roast them! 

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Homemade Yogurt: Day 3

I didn't expect there to be a Day 3 post, but there is!  After 24 hours in the fridge, the yogurt firmed up to a lovely soft-but-spoonable consistency.  I forgot that while the yogurt cultures need heat to do their thing, the gelatin I added needs cold to do *its* thing.  I must confess that I'm not enough of a purist foodie to enjoy runny yogurt, so I'm going to call this a success. 

Next time, I'll still try to keep the crockpot warmer for the yogurt cultures, but I may even add a second packet of gelatin for an even firmer texture. 

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Homemade Yogurt: Day 2

It turned out alright.  Not as thick as I'd hoped, still very pourable (like the consistency of those drinkable yogurts) but definitely nice and tangy and thicker than it started.  I think I lost some heat in 1) not having allowed my "starter" to warm up to room temp and 2) letting the milk sit as long as I did before adding the starter. 

I don't have a picture because, well, it still just looks like milk though it is in fact thicker.  I'm curious if it will thicken up a bit in the fridge.

According to the interwebs, yogurt needs to stay around body temperature to do its thang properly so I might monitor the temperature with a thermometer next time.  And there will be a next time! Pin It

Roasted red peppers

For those playing at home, I have plans for a dish with a roasted red pepper sauce.  Right now, two of the major grocery stores in my area are running sales on red peppers so I am going to stock up, roast them, peel them and freeze them to use in that sauce later.  Just cuz you aren't going to do all the steps now for the final product doesn't mean you can't take advantage of seasonal produce sales! 

If you want to play Mystery Dish, today's step is buy 5 red peppers.  Pin It

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Easy-easier-easiest sides: Lettuce

Iceberg, Boston Bibb (my favorite), Romaine, green leaf, red leaf, mesclun, radicchio, endive, chicory, escarole...it's not as boring a vegetable as it may seem.  Some lettuces are quite nutritionally dense, especially the darker green and red ones. 

There are head lettuces and leaf lettuces...head lettuces, like Romaine or iceberg, have a stem uniting all their leaves, while leaf lettuces are totally loose-leaved.  You can make salad out of or braise either type, but grilling is better suited to head types.

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"Yogurt napping now"

All bundled up, waiting to turn into yogurt overnight:

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Homemade Yogurt: Day 1

When I told my Dear Husband that I was thinking about trying to make homemade yogurt, his response was, "I'm not surprised."  Haha!

Why?  Why not.  I'm following directions from A Year of Slow Cooking.  You don't need a yogurt-maker, just a crockpot and a towel.  I'm using whole milk because that's what we feed the boys, which should thicken up nicely according to the directions.  I do, however, want a firmer, more spoonable-by-a-3yo product than what I *think* I'll get with this process, so I'm adding some gelatin per the low-fat milk directions.  We'll see what happens.

I was hoping to start this early in the morning and have a finished product by tonight, but my younger son grew an inch last week and can now reach the wine rack.  Crash, bang, surprise!  No yogurt-making this morning.  So I'm starting in the afternoon, but that's okay because the magic will happen overnight.  Fresh-made yogurt in the morning!

I am so stinking excited!

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Looed Brats

Looing sauce take 2!

A quick refresher...looing is a Chinese cooking method wherein meat is simmering in a flavorful sauce which can be reused several times as long as 1) it is boiled before each use and 2) it is never used for fish.

I used the looing sauce instead of beer to simmer brats before grilling them.  The Asian flavor was subtle but present, and it was nice to have a slightly different preparation for a summer grilling staple.  Also alcohol-free, if that's your thing (my thing is to drink the beer rather than put raw meat in it ;-) )

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Easiest-Easier-Easy: Eggplant

OK, I wish I could offer a trio of difficulty-scaled recipes for throwing together a quick eggplant side dish using only fresh eggplant and pantry staples...but I don't really like eggplant.  Sorry.  I've tried it every way to Sunday and I just don't much care for it.  The only two things I like to do with it are grill it, which is easy especially if you're grilling your main dish, and Julia Child's eggplant soufflé, which is not so easy and therefore excludes itself from this arena.  Fortunately, prime eggplant season (late summer) coincides with prime grilling season.  You can, of course, grill indoors.

I don't do any prep to my eggplant except to slice it on the diagonal.  Many recipes call for salting for 20 minutes, rinsing, pressing, blah, blah, blah.  Slice 'em.  Wait until the last minute to brush olive oil on them because they're like sponges and will soak it up in a heartbeat.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mint (or cilantro or parsley) chimichurri (or gremolata)

Come summer, I really don't like to do too much to my food.  It's too hot for one thing to be doing fancy-schmancy cooking, and everything is at its freshest and best during the season so you don't need to do much to get the best flavor.

I like chutneys, chimichurris and gremolatas because they dress up a very plainly prepared protein or vegetable without overwhelming the innate best flavor of the ingredients.  They're easy to put together, keep in the fridge for days and can be used as a quick finish to any number of simple meals. 

They're also a great way to "split" a menu to accomodate different palates at the same table...you cook the protein the same way and offer the chimichurri to those who want a stronger, more complex flavor and leave the dish plain for those who prefer a milder, simpler flavor.  I would serve this with chicken breasts, steak, pork chops, burgers, bean patties or even a heartier fish.

I use mint as the base for this chutney/chimichurri because I have a ton growing in my garden and because I am one of those people to whom cilantro tastes like rubber.  But if you prefer cilantro or parsley, by all means, use one of those herbs (or any combination of the three) as the base.  You can make this sauce thinner and more pourable by adding a bit more olive oil, or you can make it sprinkable (as a gremolata) by halving the oil and stirring in breadcrumbs.  Again, so many choices here.

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Teriyaki Tofu and Roasted Pineapple

I make my own teriyaki sauce for this dish because the sauce is so prominent in this recipe and store-bought teriyaki sauce is just foul.  I make up the sauce a day before I'm going to use it, so I'll start pressing the tofu and make the sauce the night before Dinner Day, strain out the garlic cloves and ginger chunks and start marinating the cubed tofu the morning of, and then drain off the marinade to roast that night.  If you make this as a freezer kit, I'd freeze the teriyaki sauce separately from the pressed but uncut tofu block.  When you thaw it, cube the tofu and marinate at least an hour before roasting.

You can substitute just about any protein you want in this dish...marinate chunks of chicken breast or pork loin and roast for the same amount of time and at the same temperature.  It's a great way to accomodate vegetarians and non-vegetarians at the same meal without making completely separate main dishes.  If you do use tofu however, you can strain, freeze and reuse the marinate once more (if you marinate chicken or pork, chuck the remaining marinade).

I nearly always serve this with broccoli, steamed or roasted.  Tonight, I'm roasting broccolini on the same sheet pan with the fruit to save creating more heat with the stovetop.  And tonight's oven-use three-fer (#1 tofu/pineapple, #2 broccolini side dish)...a blind-baked crust for strawberry pie! 

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Monday, June 6, 2011

BBQ Chili Mac

Chili mac is an awfully versatile recipe that has gotten a bad rap from the versions found in product recipe books and fundraiser cookbooks.  It does not have to be high in fat or salt or low in vegetables and nutritional value.  It also does not have to be boring.  Please take a look at the recipe below.

I use up odds and ends of pasta for chili mac.  You can use any shape or combination of shapes, but I tend to break up the 2 or 3 lasagne noodles that are almost always left in the box into large "rags" of pasta.

You can do this recipe in 30 minutes, start to finish, without any prior prepwork, if you can devote 30 minutes to attending without distraction to chopping, sauteing and so on. 

You can chop the veggies and measure the liquid/sauce ingredients the morning of or night before Dinner Day.  Then it will still take 30 minutes to cook, but you can be more distracted during that time.

You can chop the veggies, measure other ingredients, and freeze them in a freezer kit.  Saves you night-before or morning-of prep time. 

OR you can cook the chili mac ahead of time, freeze it along with pre-measured cheese, then bring just reheat (from the frozen state, even, no thawing required) on the stovetop or in the microwave, and throw the cheese on at the end.

Choices, choices...

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Tuna Ramen

This is going to become my new "back-pocket" menu...that is, the meal I keep the ingredients for on hand for days that I've forgotten to thaw something, don't have any prep or cooking time, haven't been to the store and just need a quick dinner to throw together out of pantry ingredients.  And it's yummy.

You can switch up the vegetables, protein, stock and noodle flavor to keep things interesting and/or suit available ingredients.  Use a can of cooked beans, or if you have some on hand, leftover chicken, pork or beef.  Match the ramen noodle flavor to your protein, if you like, and match up the flavor of stock as well.  If you have fresh veggies, use those. 

Be sure to use sodium-free stock, homemade or store-bought, as the seasoning packet with the ramen is plenty salty.  Tonight, I used 2 cups of homemade shrimp stock with 2 cups of water because that was what I had on hand.  If I had had a full quart, I'd have used that. 

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Friday, June 3, 2011


OK, this isn't edible but I make my own (my husband's own?) aftershave for a lot of the same reasons I cook...it's cheaper, I can make it better than brand-name and you can exercise so much more control over the final product. 

Because my darling husband shaves his whole head (well, only the parts that still grow hair LOL) in addition to his whiskers, he's kinda picky about aftershave...some brands were too oily, some not moisturizing enough, some not astringent enough, some too scented, some just disagreeably scented.  And when he found one he liked, the company stopped making it.  So now we make our own with his preferred level of moisturizer (from the glycerine), astringency (from the alum and witch hazel) and scent.  I picked a blended essential oil that has notes of clove and other woody spices and use it fairly sparingly as he does douse his whole head in it after shaving.  If you prefer a stronger scent, use more.

The hardest part of the process is finding a couple of ingredients and decanting the finished mixture back into the commercial aftershave bottles.  Glycerine and witch hazel can be found in pharmacies.  The witch hazel is usually in the first aid area next to peroxide and rubbing alcohol.  Glycerine can be found in a few places including with candy-making supplies at craft stores, but if you're in the pharmacy, ask about it.  Alum is on the spice aisle, sometimes you have to wait until pickling season (mid or late summer) to find it.  I get our essential oils at a natural foods shop, but you might find them with craft supplies near soap or candle-making stuff.  And lastly, I buy super-cheap vodka to use as the base.  You could double up the witch hazel, but it gives it a witch-hazely smell.  Vodka is neutral-smelling and still astringent.  You can use expensive vodka if you really want, but why bother? 

ETA: If you keep your vodka (cheap or otherwise) chilled and use it for this purpose, let the mixture come up to room temperature before pouring and capping glass aftershave bottles to avoid explosions in your medicine cabinet.  I screw up so you don't have so.

I don't have any super-duper tricks for pouring into the tiny aftershave bottles...just use as small a funnel as you can and pour carefully.

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Breakfast cookies

I was feeling stuck in a pancake/waffle/muffin/fruit/yogurt rut with the kids' breakfasts (and eggs before noon make me feel blarky), so I thought I'd give these a whirl.  I'm not sure I can say that this is an adaptation of the original recipe, since there are only 3 ingredients that are the same, but the *idea* comes from Natalie Haughton's Cookies.  You can store them in the fridge or freezer.  The kids scarfed them down this morning.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

I originally saw this recipe in a Washington Post article about lesser known traditional Hanukkah foods.  While I am genuinely interested in food as ritual, what I like most about this dish is the fact that you can completely mix up the batter in advance (as opposed to conventional pancakes which require segregation of the wet and dry ingredients until the last minute). 

That, and I had a pound of ricotta cheese that was about to expire.

Serve these in sweet fashion with fruit or syrup, or in savory fashion with crême fraîche or sour cream.

The finished pancakes are freezable. I suspect the batter would be, too, though I've never tried it.

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