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Category Archives: Food

Apple Strudel

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Do you get extra busy this time of year? For us the arrival of Spring also brings soccer, school plays, choir performances, home improvement projects, lawn-tending, etc.  I’ve been very busy and have lots of things to tell along with the apple strudel recipe I promised weeks ago.

This recipe comes from a cookbook I found at the library called “Bread Machine Magic“.  I bought a used copy on Amazon and have been using it to make all kinds of things in my trusty bread machine.  These look more complicated than they really are and taste amazing fresh out of the oven (although they’re quite tasty heated-up the next day).  It’s a good way to use-up some over-the-hill apples and could easily be adapted to other fruits or fillings.

Apple Strudel

For the dough (follow your bread machine instructions regarding ingredient order – mine calls for wet items first with dry ingredients on top):
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter (1 and a 1/2 sticks), softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsps. active dry yeast

Filling:
2 tbsp. melted butter
3 cups peeled, sliced apples
1 1/2 tbsp. all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Icing:
1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 1/2 tsps. milk

Place dough ingredients in bread pan, select “dough” setting and press start.

While the dough is going, peel and slice the apples.  Add flour, brown sugar and cinnamon, mixing thoroughly. Divide into fourths in the bowl and set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.

When dough has risen long enough, the machine will beep.  Turn off bread machine, remove bread pan and turn out dough onto a heavily floured countertop or cutting board.  Divide dough into four pieces. Drape a towel over the other three pieces to keep the dough from drying out and, with a rolling pin, roll the remaining piece of dough into a  rectangle.  Spread the dough with melted butter and line with 1/4 of the apple mixture.  Starting from the long end, carefully roll up dough, pinch edges and ends to seal.  Plan the roll seem side down on prepared pan.  Shape roll into a crescent by curving ends slightly toward each other.  Repeat with the other three pieces of dough/apple mixture.  Cover and let rise in warm oven about 45 minutes or until doubled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for approx. 25-30 minutes until brown. Remove from oven and place on rack to cool.

Icing: In a small bowl, combine confectioner’s sugar and milk for the icing, adding enough milk to make the icing thin enough to drizzle on the strudel.  Once the strudel has cooled, drizzle icing on top and serve.

These are a huge hit with my family and relatively easy to make.
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I know I’ve extolled the virtues of my bread machine before but I seriously love that thing! It’s been well worth the $3.00!  We love it so much we bought another one off Craigslist brand new, still in box, after Christmas for $30.00.  I have  been known to run both at the same time.  For instance, the night we had the apple strudel, we also had pizza.
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I realize that’s not the most healthy dinner in the world but you can plainly see the veggies on the pizza which made up for it. We’re totally well-balanced around here.

So what have you been up to?  Are you busy with lots of spring activity or home improvement projects? I have lots to share with you!

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How to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck When it Comes to Kitchen Knives

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Lately, J has been doing most of the cooking in our house. I have been swamped with work and not only has he had more time on his hands,  he has taken this opportunity to expand his culinary skills.  He has read, watched and learned an immense amount over the past six months and really stepped-up his game when it comes to cooking.  Consequently, we have been the lucky recipients of some amazing meals.  During our kitchen overhaul, J bought a few new knives and wants to share his findings with you.  Not only has he found an economic solution, it’s a superior one at that.

J here: I ❤ Chinese chef knives. No longer shall I daydream of owning an $800+ set of German Wüsthof knives when only two or three of these babies will perform just as well or better at a tiny fraction of the cost. I only paid $41 for these three knives including a sharpening stone (+ ~$15 for shipping) and I’ve barely touched my $275 set of Anolons in weeks. No, I’m not crazy. I have my reasons:

Control – Even though they appear large and unwieldy, a little time & practice with them will prove how nimble these are. Since they are a sizable weighty hunk of metal they will do most of the work if they’re sharp enough. No need to force downward pressure on the blade because they just glide through nearly everything with little effort. It’s important to place your index finger on the side of the blade rather than holding it with a full grip like a hatchet. Watch chef Martin Yan give a tutorial and show off his sublime skillz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HV8FPk5qN9k

Safety – With a big rectangular cleaver I know where all of the knife is at all times. I’m never going to get caught by a stray tip because the knife turned. With a normal knife as I put my knuckle parallel I can’t lift the blade too high or I could cut myself but if I lift my finger too high it will be over the top of the spine. With the cleaver the sky is the limit as to how far I can lift. I raise my knuckle just above the food and I have ~4 inches of leeway before my knuckle is over or under the knife.

Value – When your knife only costs $10 it’s hard to worry too much about destroying it. Two of these knives are stainless steel which require very little maintenance. The one on the bottom is made of carbon steel which will practically rust in your kitchen when it’s raining outside (not really). Clean it immediately after using, then wipe it COMPLETELY dry. Wipe a few drops of cooking oil on it to inhibit rust. The advantage of carbon steel is how wickedly sharp it can be, while the stainless are a bit tougher to keep a super sharp edge on. if your carbon gets a little spotty just rub some Barkeeper’s Friend on it to take off the rust. Good as new. It’s very similar to cast iron cookware which is also an incredible value. If somehow I lost all my worldy possessions and had to start over, a couple Chinese chef knives and a cast iron skillet would be among the first purchases I’d make. Of course you can spend $40 or even $400 on a Chinese chef knife. If you got it flaunt it.

Bad-assedness – These things just look the business. Not only could I scare off any solicitors or Jehovah’s Witnesses answering the door with one of these in hand, but they just look so bad ass hanging in my kitchen on a magnetic strip. I also feel like I’m in a kung fu movie or something when I’m only chopping onions to feed the family.

The three knives have different functions. The thickest cleaver at the top is for heavy duty bone chopping. The middle one for cutting thicker items like pineapples and hard root vegetables. The carbon steel knife is for ultra thin slices of veggies or boneless meats.

Here’s where you can buy 2/3 of these knives and a sharpening stone.

• The thick meat cleaver I bought at a local Asian grocery store for $13 and there was only one left. You can buy a similar one here: http://wokshop.stores.yahoo.net/meatcleaver.html

• The middle stainless knife is a Winco KC-101 I bought on Amazon for $10: http://www.amazon.com/Chinese-Cleaver-Wooden-Handle-2-Inch/dp/B003HESNR8

• The carbon steel veggie knife was purchased online from the Wok Shop in San Francisco: http://wokshop.stores.yahoo.net/vegcleav.html

Make sure you buy the large sharpening stone too: http://wokshop.stores.yahoo.net/sharston.html

Here’s a video on how to sharpen them. Make sure you soak your whetstone first: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIycmyzrcF0
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So that’s J’s take on these knives. I want you to focus on that magnetic knife strip.  That’s where I come into the picture.  A couple of weeks ago I was shopping with one of my BFF’s and we hit the Kitchen Collection store in an outlet.  I had printed a 20% off one item coupon before I left because I knew I was going after a particular magnetic knife strip. It was marked at $13.99 online but when I got to the store, the tag was marked $11.99 and I ended-up getting it for $10.31 with the coupon and sales tax.  After that we headed to a new casino that had opened a few miles away where they were giving out $15.00 in “free play”.  Now, make no mistake, I am too cheap to be a real gambler but if they want to give me $15.00 to play with, I will.  I managed to make $12.41 real money on my “free play”, so it paid for my knife strip with a couple of bucks to spare.  As J mentioned above, all-in-all, this knife upgrade has cost us $41.00.  Along with our $9.99 IKEA cutting board, we have certainly enhanced our kitchen.
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What about you?  How do you get the most bang for your buck in the kitchen? Any good tips to share?

Groundhog Day 2014

I know I’m a week late in sharing, but I made a special cake for my favorite holiday last Sunday. While everyone else was watching the Superbowl, I was watching a real classic.  Unfortunately, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, so six more weeks of winter for us!
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Hello 2014!

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m more than happy to bid farewell to 2013.  It was definitely not one of our finer years.  I’m optimistic that 2014 will have us on a upswing and to start the year off right, J and I decided to do something we’ve wanted to do since we moved in 3 and half years ago –  remove the over-the-range microwave and add some open shelving to our kitchen.  Before we started we went through my inspiration file to help solidify a plan in our minds.  We’ve been creeping toward a certain kind of ‘look’ with our house but the kitchen was still in a sort of flux between modern and kitschy.  We have known for a while that we need to de-clutter and streamline things in there to better facilitate our meal preparation as well since we have a lot of counter space that was going unused due to random bits of ‘stuff’. After sifting through dozens of pictures, we decided we wanted something along these lines.
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All of these kitchens are warm, modern and fairly uncluttered while not feeling sterile. They also feel right with our 1956 modern ranch and are welcoming and user-friendly, something we definitely want.  After doing some research on vent hood installation, we took the plunge and bought a new range hood on Craigslist for $25.  I used some Christmas cash I received from my mother-in-law, so no out-of-pocket expense for us.
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Working underneath this microwave has been downright claustrophobic.
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Putting up the range hood has been one of the best DIY’s we’ve ever done.  Not only is it freeing for an enhanced cooking experience, it makes the whole kitchen feel a lot larger.
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Unfortunately, the tile under the microwave had been removed so we had to install a backsplash.  I don’t know if this is a ‘forever’ solution but it works for now.  It’s also a lot easier to clean!

We’ve had this prep table from IKEA for years, ever since we lived in a house with zero counter space and J lovingly bought it for my birthday.  When we moved into this house, we didn’t need to use it as much since we had a lot more counter space and it slowly became covered with a bunch of hot sauce and other debris. (It was actually a lot worse from when this picture was taken.)
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We knew that some open shelving would clear up a lot of the clutter and give us back our prep table for actual food preparation. I used a couple of Lowe’s gift cards to purchase the shelving and hardware and J did a fine job of installing them for me.
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I can’t begin to tell you how much of a difference these two relatively minor changes have made.  The whole kitchen feels so open now and is a pleasure to spend time in.  Plus, we have tons of counter space now to work on.  We’ve even uncluttered the long countertop.
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The next thing we plan to do is hang the cast iron skillets on the brick wall similar to what is demonstrated in the upper left corner of our inspiration picture. We also need a new garbage disposal, since the old one is leaking, and I’d love to get a new single bowl sink. Baby steps, baby steps…  We’re definitely closer to our inspiration, that’s for sure!

I’m also participating in the January Cure again over at Apartment Therapy.  I was looking at some of last year’s projects, like the landing strip I created in the kitchen, and it’s still as neat and tidy as ever.  If I can keep it up, in a few years my house may have some semblance of order!  This year’s Cure is aimed at the basement and I’m hoping to get something, anything, accomplished down there.

So what about you?  What have you accomplished so far in 2014?  Are you doing the January Cure? Are you happy to see 2013 go?  Share!

Getting Ready

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There’s more snow in the forecast and I’ve made sure that there are plenty of carbs and wine, two essentials when you’re stuck inside.

The $3.00 Bread Machine that Changed my Life

We have a friend that has been baking his own bread for as long as we’ve known him.  We’ve always admired his baking skills and complimented him frequently on them.  One day, several months ago, he showed-up on our doorstep with a bread machine that he’d found at a thrift store for $3.00.  He makes all of his dough in the machine and finishes baking everything in the oven.  What a fantastic idea!  I went to the library and found a bread machine cookbook and we were off and running.
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So far we’ve baked bread, made pizza dough, breadsticks, cinnamon rolls, calzones, croutons and a few other things.  Not only is it a revolutionary idea to me to never run out of bread again, but the fact that I’m controlling what goes into my bread is awesome.  No preservatives or chemicals and it tastes a lot better.
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My son has been asking for these cinnamon rolls again and again.
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These calzones were delicious.  J was solely responsible for these bad boys.DSC00096
I’ve been baking a standard white loaf of bread for school lunches and morning toast.  It also makes a mean grilled cheese.
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One thing I noticed is that the lack of preservatives means a home-baked loaf of bread has a very short shelf-life.  I did some research and found a bread keeper that has adjustable humidity control for dry or humid climates.  Ohio has both depending on the season and I needed a way to keep my bread as optimally fresh as possible.  This Progressive International Adjustable Bread Keeper seems to be doing the trick and at $12.95, will quickly pay for itself.
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So far, of all the bread machine cookbooks I’ve check-out at the library, The Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook by Jennie Shapter is my favorite.
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There are a lot of fantastic recipes in this book and I think we may end-up buying  a copy when I finally have to return it to the library.  So far, we’ve really enjoyed our foray into all things bread related.   Obviously we can’t keep up this pace of bread consumption or we’ll become a bit doughy ourselves.  However, it’s still so much fun we just can’t seem to stop making more.  I’m sure it will wear-off a bit after the initial excitement of creating our own bread products wanes.

So what about you?  Do you bake your own bread?  Any good recipes you’d like to share?

Vintage Bundt Pan

We were driving home from the grocery store the other day and noticed a large garage sale going on in our neighborhood.  J and I quickly unloaded our groceries and walked straight over to the sale, because you have to jump on these things you know.  Most of the stuff was your usual garage sale fare and while I was looking at some pants, J was scoping out the items actually inside the garage.  He came over to me with a box in his hand and asked if I wanted it. The box contained a mint condition Nordic Ware bundt pan that was made sometime in the early seventies. I gleefully snatched it out of his hand and asked the lady how much she wanted for it since it didn’t have a price.  She said a dollar and it was sold!
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It still has the original liner with recipes.
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I, of course, had to come home and immediately bake a bundt cake.  I already had a decent bundt pan but it was dark-colored on the outside.  Because our oven is located in a brick wall, it tends to hold more heat than your average oven and darker pans tend to burn things.  I’ve had trouble baking bundt cakes that don’t burn or over-bake ever since we’ve lived here.  This vintage pan is shiny aluminum on the outside with a Teflon coating on the inside.  I know there are all kinds of warnings about Teflon but I don’t bake bundt cakes every day and, when I do, I’m careful not to scrape the coating so I’m not particularly worried about our Teflon intake because of this one particular pan.  Plus, I’ve never had a bundt cake turn-out so perfectly before!
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I looked on ebay and there are quite a few of these vintage pans available ranging in price from $10-$30 dollars (with shipping), so I think my $1.00 pan is a very good deal.  Plus, this thing is so heavy it could be used as a home defense device if needed.
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One thing I noticed on ebay is the wide variety of colors these bundt pans come in, especially the seventies ones in all the pretty harvest golds, greens and oranges.  I don’t think I would buy them to bake with because they might not do as well in my oven but I might buy them to start a whole bundt pan collection to display (or not, who knows).  I sure do like them, though, and they would look swell in my kitchen.
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Anyway, I’m thrilled with my $1.00 vintage bundt pan complete with box.  I have a couple of other garage sale scores I need to share with you soon, as well.  So what about you?  What great buys have you found lately?