Monday, November 30, 2009

Idaho Baked Potato Soup with Bacon

Did you miss me? Did you notice I was gone? No? Well that’s good I suppose. My computer kicked the bucket for the last time and refused to be rebuilt again. Jesse had had enough of my computer abuse, and replaced my laptop with a Mac-top hoping it will be stronger than my super destructive computer Karma.

So far the Mac has the best of me. I’m still trying to get around Steve Job’s left handed world. Oh, and my image calibration tool doesn’t work here, but that’s fine, it didn’t work on my last jalopy. You're probably used to funny colored pictures by now anyway!

This soup recipe is from a postcard I bought a few years back, it isn’t “health food” by any means, but it’s so rich and comforting that I don’t care.

I didn’t have a lot of time, so I scrubbed the potatoes, pierced them all over with a fork, and microwaved them. I think this soup works great with the skins on the potatoes as well as off. I'll leave that up to you to decide.

2/3 cup butter or margarine
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
7 cups milk
4 large baking potatoes, baked, peeled an cubed (about 4 cups)
4 green onions, sliced (Or one diced and sautéed onion)
12 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
1 ¼ cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
¾ teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
½ teaspoon pepper, plus more for seasoning
Garlic powder
Onion powder


In a large soup kettle or Dutch oven, melt the butter. Stir in flour; heat and stir until smooth. Gradually add milk, stirring until thickened. Add milk, stirring constantly until thickened. Add potatoes and onions, Bring to a boil; stirring constantly. Reduce heat; simmer for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients; stir until cheese is melted. Season to taste with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder and serve immediately.

Serves 8 to 10

Recipe from an Idaho postcard. Picture by Laura Flowers.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Crockpot Meatballs and Peppers in Cranberry Chili Sauce

Its crazy busy around here! With birthdays, parties, friends, school events, traveling, being a parent, kid homework, and baking for my husband I'm running from one place to the next. I’ve been opting to take some shortcuts in the kitchen lately rather than hauling the family off to McDonald’s for dinner, much to my 8-year-old’s chagrin.

The cranberry flavor in these sweet and sour meatballs makes for a nice fall meal. Everything went into the slow cooker in just a couple minutes, enabling me to carry on with my insane schedule. These meatballs were served over rice for my family, but they’re nice as an easy appetizer on their own for parties and potlucks.

1 (2 pound) bag frozen Rosina Homestyle Meatballs
1 (10 ounce) bag frozen organic tri-colored sweet peppers
1 (14 ounce) can jellied cranberry sauce
1 (12 ounce) jar Chili Sauce
Freshly ground pepper
Red pepper flakes, optional but recommended
Cooked rice

1. Add the cranberry sauce, chili sauce, a pinch of salt, some pepper, and a dash of red pepper flakes to taste to a pot and bring to a simmer. Stir often and turn off heat when the two sauces combine.

2. Place the frozen meatballs, frozen peppers, and sauce mixture into a slow cooker and cook over low heat for about 6 to 7 hours or on high heat for about 4 to 5 hours.

3. Serve over rice if desired.

Recipe by Laura Flowers

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sherried Tomato Soup from "The Pioneer Woman Cooks"

Ree Drummond’s book finally made it to our bookstore! I was so excited I grabbed it and ran to the checkout all the while stuffing my nose in it even as I walked to my car. I stayed up late into the night enjoying every single page. About 2A.M. I had an epiphany. I want to live on a ranch with photogenic cows, and I want to cook every single darn recipe in this book! Seriously. I’ve never had feelings like this before.

I have cookbook lust. I have it so badly that I’m even following all her directions. I don’t think this has ever happened to me. I haven’t been taking pictures of everything since this work is hers, but this soup made me stop and grab a shot.

You have to try this one. It is better than divine. It makes me not care so much about photogenic cows. Or not quite as much. Ree has me doing things I’ve never done before. Like buying cooking sherry and chicken base. I must not be in my right mind because these are two items I’ve sworn never to purchase!

Its lust I tell you. Cookbook, beautiful country food, photogenic cow lust. Plus the book has an all-American wild mustang pageant. I have to admit, Bernadette is awfully pretty, even if Ree is pulling for the super intellectual Ginger.

1 medium white or yellow onion
6 Tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
Two 14 ounce cans diced tomatoes
46-ounce can of tomato juice
3 to 6 Tablespoons sugar
1 to 2 Tablespoons chicken base, or 3 chicken bouillon cubes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cooking sherry
1 ½ cups heavy cream
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh basil

Ree’s Instructions and Hilarious Ramblings
1. To begin, dice the onion.

2. Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven.

3. Throw in the onion and cook until translucent.

4. Now dump in the diced tomatoes and stir to combine.

5. Add the tomato juice. I used organic juice because I wanted people to think, she’s cool because she uses organics.

6. Next-and this is important-in order to combat the acidity of the tomatoes, add 3 to 6 tablespoons sugar. Now, you’ll want to start on the low side, then taste and add more as needed. Some tomatoes and juice have more of an acid bite than others. (For what its worth and I realize it’s not worth much, I use 6 tablespoons of sugar. But I like a little sweetness to my tomato soup. So don’t listen to me.)

7. Next, add 1 or 2 tablespoons chicken base to the pot. I added 3, and it wound up being a little too much. But it’s a middle child thing… I’m always adding more, more, more!

8. Now you can add lots of freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine, then heat almost to a boil. Then turn off the heat.

9. Now! Here’s the nice little flavor that sets this soup apart. Add in the sherry, if desired. It’ll keep you honest-I promise!

10. And now, people. It’s time to get serious. And it’s time to examine yourselves, and I mean that figuratively, for Pete’s sake: when it comes to heavy cream, are you a man or a mouse? I need an answer now, because we’re about to add 1 ½ cups of the stuff into our soup. And mmm… stir it together.

11. Now chop up a handful of flat-leaf parsley. And really, I’m not opposed to that curly parsley. And actually, blind taste tests have shown that there’s really not much difference in taste. But flat-leaf is a little more texturally palatable, so if you can find it, it’s best.

“Texturally palatable.” You know, I just throw these phrases out into the atmosphere and I have no idea where they come from. Or where they are going. Or where they have been.

12. Next, chop up a few leaves of fresh basil. (Well, “chiffonade” is the proper term… but that’s way too complicated a topic to inject into this simple soup.)

13. Now go ahead and throw in the parsley and the basil, and stir together. Next, take a whiff of this heavenly delight. Then faint. Then pick yourself up off the ground and grab your pepper mill again.

14. I always set it to fine for this soup, and I really let ‘er loose. I love freshly ground black pepper.

15. Keep the soup warm and serve it on a cold day to people you love. The flavor will knock your socks off.

Recipe from Ree Drummond's book, "The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl". Visit her award winning blog. Picture by the unworthy Laura Flowers who now wants to live on a ranch with photogenic cows someplace where it doesn’t snow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes or Any Berry Cupcakes

Baking and cooking in season is all the rage. This always makes me shake my head because as far North as I live we’ve always eaten seasonally. Maybe it’s different in a city where they have access to more variety. However, eating locally in the winter is a whole different ball game here where nothing grows for nine months of the year. I’ll always welcome oranges from New Zealand, but that’s another story.

When we started plotting out my sister-in-law Dorian’s baby shower months ago I knew I wanted to use strawberries. I picked fresh ripe ones from Knapp’s Farm in Green Bluff, Washington late last June and froze them for cupcakes. For me strawberries are a sign of birth and renewal. Hope for the months and harvests to come. As a symbol of anticipation and excitement for new life, these cupcakes work well at baby showers. Even fall ones.

You don’t have to pick your own berries certainly, but use the best you can get. Frozen organic is always a more flavorful choice. Also, you can use blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, huckleberries, marionberries, or any berry of your choice.

Dorian had a great baby shower with many friends, family, and well wishers there to support her. I’m happy I got to be part of it and am super excited to greet my new niece Rowan in January!

Strawberry or Any Berry Cupcakes

Use the best quality berries you can get. They are the stars in these moist cupcakes. By letting the berry puree macerate for a day, the sugars will release making these cupcakes much better.

2/3 cup whole fresh or frozen strawberry puree, or any berry of choice pureed with juices
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup half & half or whole milk
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Gather enough thawed or fresh berries to make the puree plus more for the frosting (below). Then completely process the berries in a food processor and store in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for a day to let the sugars release. If using berries with seeds like raspberries or blackberries, strain the puree through a fine mesh sieve before refrigerating.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with 12 muffin liners, or lightly butter and flour the tin.

3. In a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer and a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, and salt together until mixed well. Then add the eggs, vanilla extract, and almond extract and beat until mixed well. Add the half & half or milk and berry puree and beat until mixed. Add the cornstarch and baking powder and mix to incorporate. Then add the flour and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds.

4. With an ice-cream scoop, divide the batter among the muffin tins. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes or until no longer wet looking and comes free of crumbs when tested with a toothpick.

5. Cool completely before frosting.

Strawberry or Any Berry Frosting
Frosting can be as thick and dense or as fluffy and light as you like by adding more or less powdered sugar. Play around with the amount and see what works for you.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
¼ cup cream cheese, very soft
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup of the strawberry/berry puree to taste
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon strawberry extract (Use only if your frosting needs a little more flavor, hopefully you won’t need it)
Powdered sugar, between 1 and 3 pounds depending on consistency preferences

1. With a stand mixer or a hand mixer, beat all the ingredients together adding the powdered sugar a few cups at a time until desired consistency is reached. Berry flavor will come out even more after sitting for a bit. Flavor with strawberry extract only if needed. Use immediately and store extra covered in the refrigerator.

2. I piped the frosting on with a Wilton tip 1A by pressing lightly over the top into a fluffy ball. (I used less dense frosting this time). Then I gently tilted the cupcakes so the frosting would move to the edges. I topped them with Wilton Royal Icing Roses I found at Michael’s and sprinkled them with white nonpareils.

3. If you have a few days to dry them, you can make your own royal icing roses. Wilton recipe for royal icing and rose instructions.

"Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did." (Dr. William Butler, 17th Century English Writer) Dr. Butler is referring to the strawberry. Strawberries are the best of the berries. “The delicate heart-shaped berry has always connoted purity, passion and healing. It has been used in stories, literature and paintings through the ages.” From the University of Illinois Extension page, please visit them for more fun and interesting strawberry symbolism.

Recipe and pictures by Laura Flowers

Friday, November 13, 2009

Homemade Flour Tortillas, Cook's Illustrated Ground Beef Taco Filling, and Crispy Corn Taco Shells

Have you ever used a tortilla maker? Not a tortilla press, but a tortilla maker that presses and cooks tortillas to perfection? I bought a Sachi tortilla maker off of EBay a couple months back and haven’t purchased a single package of tortillas since. If you’ve never had a warm homemade flour tortilla before, you’ve got to try this.

I find myself stuffing tortillas with all kinds of strange leftovers these days. Like left-over cheesy scalloped potatoes, tri-tip, and hot pepper sauce. Or a mixture of potatoes, peppers, onions, sausage, and eggs for breakfast. Then there is always the quick quesadilla lunch I can press right in the tortilla maker.

When we make tacos I have a fantastic new go to recipe from Cook’s Illustrated for taco meat. Cook’s also has a recipe for frying up your own crispy corn taco shells which I’ve included for you.

If you use shortening in the tortillas instead of the olive oil I used, you may not need to press a second time. I wrote the instructions for two pressings, which removes the excess liquid. You’ll have to play around and see what you like best.

If you buy a tortilla maker, make sure you get one with temperature control. You’ll need to cook the tortillas on a lower setting during the first press so that the pressure from the heated liquid in the dough doesn’t blow the tortilla into pieces. Trust me on this one. I wasted many a tortilla before I got the hang of it. You won't have to go through that with these instructions.

Soon you will know what it feels like to turn up your nose at grocery store tortillas and save a bundle of money all at the same time.

Flour Tortillas
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil or shortening (I used extra light olive oil)
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup warm water

Whole Wheat Tortillas
1 cup whole wheat flour (I use white whole wheat flour)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil or shortening (I use extra light olive oil)
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup warm water

1. Pick either the flour tortilla or whole wheat tortilla recipe.

2. In a food processor add the flour, oil or shortening, and salt. Process for several seconds. Then add the warm water and process until a ball forms.

3. Remove the dough from the food processor and knead in your hands several times. Place the dough in a small bowl and cover with foil. Let the dough rest on the counter for at least 30 minutes.

4. Turn the Sachi tortilla maker ¾ of the way into medium heat and brush lightly with oil (Don't use non-stick spray). Knead the dough a couple times and divide into 10 or 12 balls and press slightly to flatten.

5. Place the dough balls one at a time into the back middle of the iron. Press for about 20 seconds and check for doneness, flip if needed. Remove the tortillas when they are no longer wet looking, but not browned at all. Repeat with the remaining tortillas brushing the plates with oil as needed; place the cooked ones on a plate.

6. Turn the tortilla press to the middle of high heat. Take a cooked tortilla and repress until no longer wet looking and the steam nearly stops coming out of the sides. Be careful not to brown or your tortillas will be crispy instead of soft. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

7. Let the tortillas cool for a few minutes on a plate and then pull apart and restack to make sure they stay separated. Store extras wrapped in foil in the refrigerator.

Makes 10 to 12 tortillas.

Cook's Illustrated Ground Beef Tacos

Cook's Illustrated Note:
Tomato sauce is sold in cans in the same aisle that carries canned whole tomatoes. Do not use jarred pasta sauce in its place. We prefer to let diners top their own tacos with whatever fillings they prefer. There’s no need to prepare all of the toppings listed below, but cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes are, in our opinion, essential.

Beef Filling
2 teaspoons corn or vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped small (about 2/3 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Table salt
1 pound 90 percent lean (or leaner) ground beef
½ cup plain tomato sauce (see note)
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth *Please go MSG free here! ~Laura*
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons vinegar, preferably cider vinegar
Ground black pepper

Shells and Toppings
8 Home-Friend Taco Shells or store bought shells (warmed according to package instructions)
4 ounces shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese (1 cup)
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 small tomatoes, chopped small
½ cup sour cream
1 avocado, diced medium
1 small onion, chopped small
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Hot pepper sauce

1. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, spices, and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground beef and cook, breaking meat up with wooden spoon and scraping pan bottom to prevent scorching, until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar, and vinegar; bring to simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently and breaking meat up so that no chunks remain, until liquid has reduced and thickened (mixture should not be completely dry), about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

2. Using a wide, shallow spoon, divide filling evenly among prepared taco shells; place 2 tacos on individual plates. Serve immediately, passing toppings separately.

Home-Fried (Corn) Taco Shells
The taco shells can be fried before you make the filling and rewarmed in a 200-degree oven for about 10 minutes before serving.

¾ cup corn, vegetable, or canola oil
8 (6 inch) corn tortillas

1. Heat oil in 8-inch heavy-bottomed skilled over medium heat to 350 degrees, about 5 minutes (oil should bubble when small piece of tortilla is dropped in; tortilla piece should rise to surface in 2 seconds and be light golden brown in about 1 ½ minutes). Meanwhile, line rimmed baking sheet with double thickness paper towels.

2. Using tongs to hold tortilla, slip half of tortilla into hot oil. With metal spatula in other hand, keep half of tortilla submerged in oil. Fry until set but not brown, about 30 seconds. (You’re setting the shape here to make a folded crunchy corn tortilla.)

3. Flip tortilla; hold tortilla open about 2 inches while keeping bottom submerged in oil. Fry until golden brown, about 1 ½ minutes. Flip again and fry other side until golden brown, about 30 seconds. (You’re finishing the crispy taco shape here.)

4. Transfer shell upside down to prepared baking sheet to drain. Repeat with remaining tortillas, adjusting heat as necessary to keep oil between 350 and 375 degrees. (Stand them up with the bottom facing upwards like they have little legs.)

Ground beef taco filling and fried corn taco recipes from "Cook's Illustrated Special Collector's Edition All-Time Best Recipes 2009". Tortilla recipes from the Sachi booklet with rewritten instructions by Laura Flowers. Pictures by Laura Flowers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Caramel Stuffed Apple Cider Cookies

Last weekend I visited a ginourmous Wal-Mart in the big town of Post Falls, Idaho. There I proceeded to hunt down bags of Kraft Caramels, because where I live caramels are seasonal and have already vanished from store shelves.

After squealing with excitement upon finding said caramels, I quickly snatched up five bags and headed miles away to pay. Finally arriving, and feeling like I actually exercised racing through that ridiculously large store, I spotted a box of powdered apple cider on the end cap of the checkout. It was there my brain started to wake up.

Here’s the internal conversation with myself:
“Oooo apple cider. What could I do with apple cider? Why not make it into cookies? How the heck am I going into put it in cookies? (Stares at caramels). Well, I don’t know but I’m going to stuff caramels into it.”

That’s how these cookies were born. Created from total randomness from a crazy wife who makes cookies once a week for people she doesn’t even know. This however, does make my husband and his coworkers very happy, and so I will continue this nuttiness.

Caramel Stuffed Apple Cider Cookies

These cookies are best after sitting over a warm drink for a few minutes. The caramel softens up and they turn into warm caramel apple cider heaven. Print Recipe.

1 cup unsalted butter, nearly melted
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (7.4 ounce) box Alpine Spiced Apple Cider Instant Original Drink Mix *Not sugar free*
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 (14 ounce) bag Kraft Caramels

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (190 degrees C). Line rimless cookie sheets with parchment paper. It has to be parchment this time.

2. In a stand mixer, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and all 10 packets of apple cider mix until smooth and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract, then mix in the baking soda and baking powder. Add the flour and mix until just combined.

3. With a standard (size 50) cookie scoop, scoop the dough scrapping off the excess as you go up the bowl. Flatten the dough slightly in your hand and place a caramel in the center. Work the dough around the caramel sealing well. Place the cookies two inches apart on the sheets.

4. Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. After baking, carefully slide the parchment with the cookies onto the counter. Let cool until they are no longer soft but still slightly warm. Twist gently to remove, and cool the rest of the way upside down on the parchment or on a cooling rack.

Makes 51 cookies.

Notes: If cookies get too cool before you twist them off, freeze the whole sheet for a few minutes and they’ll come right off.

Recipe and photograph Copyright 2009 Laura Flowers.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Homemade Chili Mac

Why buy the MSG loaded boxed garbage when it’s nearly as simple to make your own healthy version? It always scares me a bit when I read the back of ready to assemble meal boxes. I spend hours in my grocery store scanning ingredient lists giggling and freaking myself out for fun. Do it sometime and watch the funny looks people give you!

I can’t even pronounce some of the ingredients, if you can call them that. I don’t know where they’re from, what they really are, and if they should even be considered food.

Seriously though, make your own versions of those boxed meals whenever possible. They’ll taste better and you won’t have to tell your family you fed them sodium hexametaphosphate, calcium lactate, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, and monosodium glutamate for dinner.

Crazy chemical-laden cheap food products might cost less, but in exchange we pay with our health. No thanks. I’ll cut costs somewhere else.

Homemade Chili Mac
Printer Version
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ¼ pounds ground beef (organic if possible)
Salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder for seasoning beef
1 onion, diced
1 Tablespoons chili powder
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes with roasted garlic
1 (4.5 ounce) can chopped mild green chiles
8 ounces (2 cups) elbow macaroni
2 cups water
2 to 4 Tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro to taste
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
½ cup Tillamook Vintage White cheddar or other favorite cheddar
Freshly ground pepper
Sour cream & parsley for garnish (optional)

1. Heat oil in a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat and add ground beef and diced onion. Season with a dash of salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. Once the meat is no longer pink, strain off the grease in a colander and place the meat mixture back in the pan.

2. Add chili powder, cumin, onion powder, coriander, 1 teaspoon salt, minced garlic and brown sugar and cook over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant.

3. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes with roasted garlic, can of green chiles, elbow macaroni, and 2 cups water. Stir to combine, cover and keep at a high simmer for about 14 minutes or until juices are absorbed and macaroni is tender.

4. Stir in pepper jack, vintage cheddar, and cilantro and season with freshly ground pepper. Taste for salt and add if needed. Garnish with sour cream and parsley if desired.

Recipe and photograph by Laura Flowers.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Oatmeal Caramel Squares with Salted Cashews and M&M’s

I want to get rid of the excess Halloween candy around here before the next round of holiday treats hits. Who wants to celebrate Hallogivingxmasvtines Day? Ok honestly, it might be fun to throw a crazy party in March with all the accumulated garbage. I could start a new tradition!

Here I topped plain oatmeal blondies with melted caramels, salted cashews and M&M’s and sent them to work with my husband. Salted cashews and oatmeal must have justified them as healthy enough for consumption, because they disappeared in a hurry.

2/3 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats, uncooked
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 (14 ounce) bag Kraft Caramels, unwrapped
2 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon butter
1 cup salted cashews, divided
3/4 cup M&M’s Milk Chocolate Candies

1. Line a 9x9 inch pan with foil and preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the center position.

2. In a bowl or stand mixer mix together the butter and brown sugar. Then add baking soda and salt and stir in. Add the oatmeal and mix to combine. Lastly, add the flour and mix until just combined.

3. Spread the mixture into the pan and even out.

4. Bake for 22 minutes. While the bars are baking, microwave the caramels with 2 Tablespoons water and 1 Tablespoon butter stirring every minute or two until melted.

5. When the bars come out of the oven immediately top with melted caramel, salted cashews, and M&M’s.

6. Bake for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan placed on a cooling rack.

Recipe by Laura Flowers

Friday, November 6, 2009

Quick and Easy Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

I’m sick at the moment. I have a cold or flu or some kind of bug that makes human existence temporarily miserable. It’s probably my immune system kicking me in the backside for eating all that garbage lately.

So today is soup day. Very easy delicious soup day.

Quick and Easy Black Bean Soup
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
2 cans black beans (15 oz each), drained and rinsed
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (16 oz) pumpkin puree
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
Salt to taste

Optional Garnishes
Baked pumpkin seeds
Sour Cream
Crushed tortilla chips

1. In a large pot heat the oil until shiny, then turn to medium low. Add the onion, garlic, cumin, kosher salt, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, and cayenne and stir often until the onion has softened. About 3 to 4 minutes.

2. In a food processor puree the beans and tomatoes. Add the puree, pumpkin and broth to the pot.

3. Simmer uncovered until thick, stirring often while scraping the bottom, about 30 minutes or until desired thickness. Salt to taste and garnish as desired.

Adapted from Home Made Simple and Cathy’s Blog Noble Pig. Picture by Laura Flowers.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pumpkin Quick Bread with Orange Zest and Maple Butter

My family's been requesting this bread for months. I finally got around to it when I found myself with leftover pumpkin after making pumpkin pizza dough. In all fairness, pumpkin was a bit difficult to come by in late summer. I’m not a total slacker, just a partial one.

If you look closely at the picture you’ll see a frog monster shape in the little bowl of maple butter. Sometimes fun things like this happen when shooting food. It reminds me of 1970s Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks with all the pointless figurines stuffed around plates of food.

James Lileks has deposited many scary crazy food pictures from that era into his books, “The Gallery of Regrettable Food” and “Gastroanomalies”. I tend to read them in the middle of the night when insomnia hits. I try not to wake up Jesse, but it starts with a little snort, then a few giggles, and soon I begin to laugh so loud I startle him awake.

Lileks’ books are also great to hand around the room at parties. They get people talking about all the crazy nasty food they’ve come across in their lives. That’s my kinda fun anyway!

Pumpkin Quick Bread with Orange Zest


2 cups pumpkin puree or a (15 ounce) can of 100% pure pumpkin
2 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup extra light olive oil
2 teaspoons orange zest
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Butter and flour for loaf pans

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour two 9x5 inch Pyrex loaf pans. Tap off excess flour from the pans.

2. In a stand mixer, beat together the sugar, oil, orange zest, and vanilla extract on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs and beat until combined. Add the pumpkin and mix until combined. Next, add the salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, baking powder, and soda and mix until combined. Then add the flour and mix on low speed until just combined.

3. Divide the batter equally among the two pans. Smooth the surface slightly and then tap the pans on the counter to release any air bubbles.

4. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

5. Let the bread cool for 10 minutes in their pans on a cooling rack. Then jiggle to loosen and gently unmold onto parchment or wax paper. Move to a cooling rack to finish cooling.

Maple Butter
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup maple syrup
Pinch of salt

Place in a bowl and beat with a hand mixer until well mixed.

1. Once cooled, the extra loaf can be wrapped in foil and frozen.
2. Cooking time may need to be adjusted for metal loaf pans.

By Laura Flowers

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Green Chile Cheeseburger French Fry Casserole

Ooo I’m feeling a little ashamed of myself here. I know I shouldn’t have, but I really enjoyed (inhaled) this super unhealthy amazing tasting spicy casserole. Why do such unhealthy foods have to taste so darn good?

It’s so simple too. I just don’t want to know the calorie count. If you find out, please don’t tell me!

1 ½ pounds extra lean ground beef
½ an onion, diced
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 (7 ounce) can diced mild green chiles
1 (15 ounce) can Garacias Nacho Cheese Mexican Cheese Sauce, medium or mild (I used medium)
1 heaping cup shredded chipotle cheddar cheese, or cheddar cheese of your choice
1 pound Ore-Ida Extra Crispy Fast Food Fries
A sprinkle of salt for fries

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Get out a 9x13 inch Pyrex pan and a large skillet.

2. Cook the ground beef, onions, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and fresh ground pepper together over medium high heat until no longer pink, Strain off the fat and place the meat mixture back in the pan.

3. Add the chiles and nacho cheese sauce to the pan and stir into the meat. Cook for about four minutes on medium low until combined and warmed through.

4. Pour the meat mixture into the 9x13 inch pan. Spread out and top with shredded cheddar. Top with frozen fries and sprinkle lightly with salt.

5. Bake for 30 minutes.

Recipe by Laura Flowers

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sherri's Mom's Awesome Crunchy Oatmeal Pecan Cookies

As an immature rebellious adult female with grey streaks through my hair there are certain behaviors which bring joy to my life. Racing my bicycle the wrong way down the street at full speed through a pile of leaves is one. Taking long walks in the pitch black of night so I can peer into people’s windows as I slowly stroll by is another. Jumping my red Vespa scooter over divits in the road and off sidewalk curbs also brings me jovial happiness. Oh yes, and gleaning fruit off neighborhood trees around town.

But what especially brings me gleeful ornery joy is my refusal to cook and bake the proper way, especially when making cookies.

When my husband started a new job two years ago, I began baking cookies for him to bring to work once a week and many more over Christmas for his employees. I figured after awhile people would grow tired of cookies and I could stop. So far this hasn’t happened, and I’m ensnared in cookie baking madness. What I’ve managed to do though is make every single 106 different types of cookies the wrong way. It’s these little naughty things in life that bring me joy.

So, when Sherri from Everything in Moderation wrote about her mother’s “Gain Friends and Influence People Oatmeal Pecan Cookies” I had to make them, but I also needed to mess it all up and do it the wrong way. I mean why stop now when I’m on such an ornery roll?

I trust Sherri’s baking and cooking, and when she talks about her mom it makes me sit up and listen. These crunchy cookies are just plain awesome. I love them so much in fact, next time I might even make them the proper way.

Mom's Famous Gain Friends and Influence People Oatmeal Pecan Cookies

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup extra light olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2 large eggs
2 cups quick oats
1 (18.25 ounce) box yellow cake mix
1 cup chopped pecans

1. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. On a plate, cook pecans in the microwave for 1 ½ to 2 minutes stirring every 30 seconds until toasted. Set aside.

3. In a stand mixer, beat together sugar, oil, vanilla extract, and coconut extract on medium speed for 2 minute. Add the eggs and beat for 1 more minute. Then add the oats and mix until combined. Mix in the cake beat just until mixed, and then mix in the pecans.

4. With a standard (size 50) cookie scoop, scoop the dough and place on the parchment 2 inches apart.

5. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until or until golden brown on the bottoms, very lightly brown on top and no longer wet looking. Cool on wire rack.

Makes 53 cookies

Visit Sherri and her mother to learn the proper way to make these cookies. Pictures by Laura Flowers.

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