Wednesday, March 31, 2010

WDW - Old-Fashioned Chocolate Sheet Cake

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I absolutely LOVE old-fashioned desserts. I love the simple things that grandmothers make that have been around forever and stood the test of time. I even like plain things, like rice pudding. Old-fashioned desserts are so comforting and scream "homemade." I'd choose a piece of perfect apple pie over any fancy dessert of today.

But, I'm not really a huge cake fan, per se. I spend my calories very carefully, and frankly, they're not usually worth wasting on a dry, plain cake with nasty frosting (think: wedding cake). The only exception for me would be carrot cake, which is not only my favorite cake but one of my favorite all-time desserts. I could eat that cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I even had carrot cake for my wedding cake! OK, enough about carrot cake. Just promise you'll make mine someday: http://ewifeblogsagain.blogspot.com/2009/02/wdw-best-carrot-cake.html (Sorry I still can't hyperlink for some reason.)

Recently, I needed to make dessert for 25- and had very little time to do so. So, I decided to make a couple cakes - my beloved carrot cake and this one - Chocolate Sheet Cake- a recipe I acquired awhile back from my friend Pam Hardy. If you want any old-time recipe, you go to Pam. She's not old herself, but she's got the goods, which I think have been passed down to her from generations. I think this recipe was her mother's or grandmother's and let me just say: IT ROCKS. She recently shared with me another family favorite called "Hardy rolls" which I might have to post here another time. Just think: biscuits, butter, cinnamon, sugar, and frosting. Oh yeah, baby.

So, I know "chocolate sheet cake" has nothing going for it in the title, and the photo above is really very ordinary, but trust me, YOU NEED TO MAKE THIS. Here are the things I absolutely love about this cake:

~ Easy to make
~ Unique taste and soft texture
~ Inexpensive ingredients that are usually on hand
~ Super moist
~ The icing.....OH the icing! You pour it on hot and it gets this special "crust" - mmm!
~ Simple, comforting, homey
~ Serves a lot

This cake, despite its title, is not very chocolaty at all, and actually only has 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder in it. The frosting has another 3 tablespoons. This is not a rich chocolate cake, but just a super-soft, light cake with a hint of chocolate and a special cinnamon undertone.

Now, the directions are a little old-fashioned as well... like "sifting" and "boiling" - but I promise you once you've tasted this, you will not mind one bit any seemingly extra step. And don't you dare think of substituting anything for that shortening. It's there for a reason. Be sure to prepare the frosting while the cake bakes, as it needs to be poured over the hot cake. You can serve this right away or at room temperature. A generous scoop of good-quality vanilla or coffee ice cream is the perfect accompaniment, but an ice cold glass of milk is pretty awesome, too.

Chocolate Sheet Cake

Pam Hardy

Cake:

Sift over KitchenAid mixing bowl:

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. soda
2 tsp. cinnamon

Mix the following in 2 qt. saucepan and then bring to a boil:

½ cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup water
½ cup shortening
3 Tbsp. Dutch processed unsweetened cocoa powder

Pour hot into dry ingredients and mix well on low, then medium speed, until well incorporated.
(don't bother cleaning the pot as it will be used again for the frosting.)


Add:

½ cup buttermilk
2 beaten eggs

Mix until just incorporated again. Pour batter into a greased 9 X 13 pan. Cook at 300 degrees 45 minutes – 1 hour, until it tests done with a toothpick. Frost immediately with chocolate icing.

Chocolate Icing

½ cup butter (1 stick)
6 Tbsp. milk
3 Tbsp. Dutch processed unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 box (1 lb) powdered sugar
chopped walnuts (optional)

Melt together butter, milk, cocoa, and vanilla in saucepan, then bring to boiling. Turn off heat and whisk in powdered sugar, a little bit at a time, until smooth and fluid. Pour hot frosting over hot cake and quickly spread evenly. Top with walnuts if desired.

Note: Since posting this, I thumbed through the Pioneer Woman's new cookbook. She has the nearly the EXACT same recipe and even calls it Chocolate Sheet Cake... I guess this is a goodie!

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

WDW - Easy Pot Roast {Crock Pot} & Bri's carrots

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I love Giada de Laurentiis' Pot Roast recipe (Stracato with Porcini mushrooms). It's my favorite. But, when I don't feel like giving up several hours or dirtying every pan in the kitchen making hers, I turn to this easy short cut. Made in the crock pot, this has surprising WOW factor. If you like to use your crock pot and love pot roast, here's a super easy, super fast (well, fast to prepare for the crock pot), super tasty one for you to try.

There really is no recipe.

And you really can't mess it up. The only thing you need to remember to do is start in the morning, as the roast takes about 8 hours to cook.

Ready to go? All you do is put any size chuck roast (boneless or bone-in) in the crock pot. You want to cut the roast so it is in a single layer on the bottom. Salt and pepper all sides liberally, and add any dried herbs if you feel inclined to do that. Pour broth (beef or chicken) over to cover completely. One box of broth should be enough, and if it isn't, just add some water until the roast is covered.

That should have taken you, say 5 minutes tops. OK, moving on.

Now, just set the crock pot on low. That's it. Just walk away for 8 hours.

Well, maybe come back in about 4 hours and flip everything over. Or not. Like I said, you can't mess it up.

So, by now your hubby has probably come home from work, smelled the roast and said something like, "WOW! It smells AMAZING! What's for dinner?"

Trust me, he will. If he's anything like my husband, that is.

Now, kiss him and shoo him out of the kitchen because you've got one more important step left.

This last step is optional, but majorly increases the WOW factor of this dish. You can turn the cooking liquid into a savory, thickened gravy. Remove the meat from the crock pot, gently separate into nice chunks, and discard any visible fat or bones. Pour all the juices left in the pot into a skillet and bring to a boil. In a small jar, shake about 1/2 cup flour with about 3/4 cup water (stir with a fork if it looks lumpy). Pour the flour/water mixture into the boiled juices, and continue to boil and whisk a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens. You can now throw in some fresh herbs if you feel like it, or for SUPER WOW factor, some sauteed sliced mushrooms. Place the meat back into the crock pot, and pour the gravy over. Place it back on low until you are ready to serve.

At this point, I usually like to whip up some mashed potatoes and make Briana Steadman's carrots to go with. Enjoy!

Bri's Roasted Carrots

Peel and cut carrots into thick sticks - just cut them as you would for a veggie platter. Use as many carrots as you like.

Line a jelly roll pan with foil and spray with Pam.

Throw the carrots on the pan.

Drizzle carrots nicely with some olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.

Roast at 450 degrees about 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. Sprinkle on some brown sugar, and drizzle on some soy sauce. Toss a bit to coat the carrots.

Return to the oven for 5-10 more minutes to caramelize.


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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Saturday Morning

Saturday mornings have become a favorite little "date" time for Rich and I. If any kids happened to be around, they are usually in bed sleeping (love having teenagers), giving us time alone to ourselves. We customarily wake around 7:00 and head to the kitchen to make our hot drinks (him- cocoa, me- a latte or a pot of coffee). We then settle in the living room together, one of us on each sofa. We read our bibles and other books we are currently in, and talk over what issues we're reading about. If it's cold, Rich builds us a fire. We love the fireplace on, and burn wood quite often. It seems like the last 6 Saturdays we've had rain, so the fires have made our time extra cozy. At some point, Rich usually goes and picks oranges and makes us fresh-squeezed juice. He also usually makes us poached eggs and toast, or I might make some whole grain pancakes. Lovely. I treasure these times with my husband. They are so sweet. After being married almost 23 years, he is still the one whose company I enjoy the most.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Being a Smart Shopper - "Getting an Adjustment"

Have you heard of "getting an adjustment" before? No, I'm not talking about going to the chiropractor. I'm talking retail shopping. I'm not sure if this is a widely recognized term, or just jargon leftover in my brain from working retail many moons ago.

Anyways, basically, "getting an adjustment" means getting an adjustment in price. For example, let's say you bought a sweater for $40 a week ago. This week, you happened to be back at the store, and you see that your sweater is now on sale for $25. You can present your receipt to the store and get refunded for the difference. In this case, you'd get $15 back. Sometimes they want to see the merchandise to do this, and other times a receipt alone will suffice. It just depends on the store (and/or the clerk you get). For example, I went to Best Buy in January, and upon seeing the phone case I bought a couple of weeks earlier on sale for half the price I paid, I promptly went to the register, pulled out my receipt, and got the difference in price credited to me - very easy.

You should also know that anytime you get a coupon in the mail (or sometimes through email), that you can also take that coupon in for an adjustment on a purchase you've already made. Just be sure that you are within the return guidelines for that particular store (usually 30 days). For example, here's what I did this week. Emma and I went to Old Navy last Saturday and bought merchandise. I knew I had a 30% off coupon for Old Navy at home, but it wasn't going to become valid until this weekend. But I knew she was busy and couldn't go shopping this weekend. So we made our purchase for full price. Then, I waited and I took the clothes in today(kept the tags on), and asked for an adjustment. It was a bit of a problem - but I succeeded. Here's how it went down (this is for you Suzanne- I know you love my retail stories!):

Me (to clerk): "Hi, I'd like to get an adjustment. I purchased these items last week and I now have a 30% off coupon I'd like to apply."

Clerk: "Sorry, we don't do that."

Me: "Can I speak to a manager?"

(clerk gets manager)

Me (to manager): (repeating myself) "Hi, I'd like to get an adjustment. I purchased these items last week and I now have a 30% off coupon I'd like to apply."

Manager: "Sorry, we don't do that. We can't have people coming in with coupons for past purchases."

Me: "May I ask you a question? Am I entitled to return this entire order and get all my money back?"

Manager: "Yes, you are."

Me: "Am I also entitled to purchase anything in this store today for 30% off?"

Manager: "Yes."

Me: "So, I should be able to return this order and buy it back with the 30% off coupon."

Manager: "Well...." (realizing that I have outsmarted him, turns to clerk and says reluctantly) "Go ahead and refund her and let her buy it all back with the 30%."

Me: "Thank you." (leaving happily with $50)

Clerk: "Well, just so you know, we don't encourage this kind of practice."

Me: (popping off inside - No duh, dude! You just lost $50!)

So, that is usually how it has to take place. It is completely legit to do this. But, understandably, stores don't like it. It's helpful to remember two things about this transaction when you are attempting it:

1) The clerk will probably not understand what you are asking.
2) The clerk, if she does understand, will not be happy with you and try not to let you do the adjustment.

Just keep that in mind, stay calm and pleasant, and you should have great success!

Happy shopping!

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

WDW - Linguine & Chicken with Sun-dried Tomato Sauce

Have chicken defrosting and looking for a new way to fix it (again)? I usually keep a bag of chicken breast tenderloins in my freezer, and this recipe is what I use them often for. I also usually have the Costco-sized sun-dried tomatoes on hand (such an amazing deal), and this is a great use for them, too.

I usually make the sauce early in the day and chill until needed (it only takes about 2 min. to make in the blender) so all I have to do is cook the chicken and pasta and dinner is served very quickly. The basic recipe serves about 6. Feel free to double if you like-you'll want leftovers. This tastes like one of the amazing pasta dishes you would get at Macaroni Grille, and you will not believe how easy and fast it is to make.
Be sure to use a good olive oil for the sauce, as it doesn't cook much and the flavor is important.

Linguine & Chicken with Sun-dried Tomato Sauce

½ c. + 1 T. olive oil
3 T. balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic
½ t. sugar
1 c. roughly chopped red onion
½ c. oil packed sun-dried tomatoes
¾ c. chopped fresh basil (or 2 T. dried – but fresh is strongly recommended!)
3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (or 9 chicken tenderloins)
½ c. chicken broth
¾ lb. linguine, cooked

In a blender or food processor, combine ½ c. of the oil, vinegar, garlic, onion, and sugar. Blend well, but do not completely puree.


Add tomatoes and blend a few more seconds. They should still be a little chunky. Add chicken broth to this mixture using a large spoon to stir.

Coat a large skillet with non-stick spray. Turn on heat to medium and add remaining 1 T. oil. Salt and pepper chicken and sauté until browned on both sides, about 3 min. per side. Add ¼ c. of the basil and the tomato mixture. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 5 minutes until chicken is cooked. Remove chicken and slice diagonally; return to skillet. To serve, top cooked linguine with chicken, sauce, and remaining basil (if using fresh) and toss together. Serve with fresh parmesan if desired.


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Monday, March 15, 2010

Sweet Whole and other stupid things

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I find the title of these pickles to be a little humorous: Sweet Whole.

Sweet Whole what? Why did they deliberately decide to leave the word "pickles" out?

I can only imagine how funny it would be if someone from a foreign country was shopping at the grocery store and while trying to figure out what exactly "Sweet Whole" meant, actually took the title literally. It would be very funny to be offered a "Sweet Whole" or hear someone say, "Pass the Sweet Whole, please." I am wondering if some people actually think these are really called "Sweet Whole."

I just think that is really funny. And rather stupid. Why can't the label just say "pickles." I mean, really.


Speaking of stupid food, I most likely could have poisoned my entire family with something I whipped up recently. You see, I have some pots on a rack outside my back door. They currently have pink Impatiens growing in them, but at one time I had planted yellow Ranunculus in the same pots. Recently, I noticed some new foliage sprouting up, which looked like Italian Parsley. I figured it was just a volunteer from my backyard parsley plant. So, one day, I trimmed off a bunch of it, chopped it up and threw it into our dinner. A couple days later, I noticed a stem bursting upward from the foliage I had cut, and then a couple of days later a Ranunculus flower bloomed. I was horrified to realize that I served my family Ranunculus leaves and not parsley! Thankfully we had no ill effects. Duh!


Did I also mention that I ruined a boxed cake mix recently? Yes, truly I did. Don't ask how I did that. I just did.

Oh, and while on the subject of stupidity, I actually lost $40 cash the other day. I went for a "power walk" in Montrose last Monday, and didn't want to have to carry anything as I exercised. But, sometimes I like to stop at Coffee Bean or go to my favorite German deli at the end. So I stashed $40 in my pants (well, specifically, ahem, my undergarments). The only problem with this clever idea comes when one needs to use the restroom and forgets the aforementioned stash. I'll let you figure that one out. Goodbye $40! I was so bummed!! Then, the funny thing was, on Sunday, as we were walking to our car, Rich spotted $40 cash on the ground. I immediately thought, "Wow! The Lord is giving me back my lost money!" But then, Rich saw a guy in a car right next to the money and asked him if he had lost anything. He indeed got his money out and said he was missing $40! Oh well.

Just thought I'd share what's been going on with me!

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

My feline friends

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Those who know me know that I am a total cat lover. We have four cats (yes, FOUR) and I would actually have more if my husband would let me and if I wouldn't be viewed as a freak for doing so. I do admit that I talk for my cats (in a special voice), but that's about as freaky as I get.

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Today I was just snapping away with Jack and Fi-Fi, and I was so impressed with the work of my little point and shoot (just a little Canon Powershot SD850), that I decided to post a few pics of my little cuties. Here's Jack. He's mostly white with a big black spot on his back and a part tabby face. About as "mutt" as they come. I really like the lighting on his face and the little bit of fur sticking up on top of his ears.

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This is Fi-Fi, he's the fat one. Does he not look like he can hardly move in the photo above? He weighs a whopping 18 pounds and underneath all that fluffy fur is a rock-solid gut. Jack has two modes: completely lovey-dovey or completely naughty. Fi-Fi has only one mode: completely lazy. In all fairness, he does get up several times a day to make the trek to the food dish. He walks very slowly and does not run. And, out of the four cats, he always knows when our family is sitting at the kitchen table eating and he is right there waiting for scraps. Jack, however, somehow always knows when someone is making their bed - he materializes out of nowhere to pounce all over the bed and make your job extremely difficult.


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See the red leather chair that Fi-Fi is resting upon? The cats have literally clawed it to death. You wouldn't even buy it at a garage sale for $5, I promise you. I keep throw blankets all over it to hide the damage. I keep reminding myself that it's still functional, and not a complete waste of money. My vet told me that cats "don't like leather." Yah, right. And they don't like tuna, either.


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Notice Fi-Fi's tongue as he licks Jack. They lick each other all the time....not sure why! Fi-Fi actually holds Jack down, and then they both purr loudly!

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

WDW - Overnight Crock Pot Oatmeal

I can't believe I actually hit the "new post" button. I feel like I haven't blogged for years! Life has been super busy. I have missed WDW for a few weeks now, so I thought I'd post something tonight before Wednesday gets away.

Although this WDW's title doesn't have a lot of WOW factor, I am utterly thrilled to have discovered this "recipe." You see, I absolutely LOVE oatmeal. I'm actually one of those people, that when out to breakfast at a restaurant, actually seriously contemplates ordering the oatmeal. It just always sounds so good to me! I actually crave the oatmeal from the Corner Bakery like mad. It's amazing. (And their cold oatmeal is also amazing - it's great on a summer morning.) Some of you are thinking this is weird, we're talking oatmeal here, but some of you know exactly what I'm talking about. There is just something so comforting, so creamy and satisfying about a warm bowl of oatmeal on a cold morning. And of course, I'm all about the toppings, too. Cinnamon, brown sugar or honey to sweeten, dried fruit, toasted nuts, granola, chocolate chips, fresh fruit....you can mix it up endlessly. You can even sneak coconut oil or flax oil in it for extra health benefits. One restaurant I visited offered "warm cinnamon apples" as a topping - yum. I like the combo of a few chocolate chips, chopped bananas and strawberries - it's like having a banana split for breakfast!

I had heard of making oatmeal in the crock pot, but I only had a big crock pot, and well, making a serving of oatmeal just for myself in that big old pot seemed kind of impractical. However, one day I saw a medium-size crock pot at Target for $10, so I decided to give the recipe a try. One recipe I found called for 1 part oats to 5 parts water, so I started there. I found that to be a little runny, so I gradually reduced the water until I arrived at a consistency I liked.

I found that 1 1/2 cups oats and 3 1/2 cups water is perfect for my liking. You can add a dash of salt if you like. This is about enough for 3-4 servings. I make this amount now, because my husband and daughter (who didn't like oatmeal before I tried this method), ask for it and have been eating it every day now. I even put it out for my Shepherds' Conference guests (I had 7 men) along with a huge spread of homemade muffins, etc. I would have never guessed that they would eat the entire pot of oatmeal - but they did!

I just use regular old fashioned oats, but I'm sure you could use steel cut with the same proportions. You might find that you like it thicker or thinner, so experiment. All you do is put the oats and water in the crock pot, give a quick stir, and turn it on low when you go to bed. In the morning, there is a bit of a "crust" floating on top from lack of stirring all night. Don't be alarmed - just break it up with a whisk and stir it in. I love having breakfast hot and ready with no effort, and it's something you can feel good about eating. And add in that oats are super economical and have been proven to lower your cholesterol, too, and you've got a real winner of a breakfast.

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