Thursday, November 27, 2008

Almost Pumpkin Pie

It's that time of year again...that dreaded time of year where everyone goes on and on about pumpkin pie. How they love pumpkin pie. How they adore pumpkin pie. Well I'm not a fan of pumpkin pie, and I know that at least one other person on this earth is with me on this: Kara. So up until a few years ago, pumpkin comestibles were conspicuously absent from our Thanksgiving spread.

Then, one year, a coworker brought in a recipe his wife made called "Almost Pumpkin Pie." Essentially, it's a pumpkin dump cake. And I love, love, loved it. I was singing its praises to Kara when I got home that evening, but she was skeptical. Then I made some. Now she's hooked. In fact, it's our new Thanksgiving tradition. Here's the recipe:

Almost Pumpkin Pie
1 can (16oz) pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 can (5 oz) evaporated milk
1 1/2 c sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 box (18.5 oz) yellow cake mix
2 sticks butter, melted
chopped walnuts (optional but highly recommended)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine pumpkin, eggs, evaporated milk, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a bowl; mix well. Pour the mixture into a 9x13 inch baking dish. Sprinkle the dry cake evenly over the pumpkin mixture. Drizzle the butter on top and sprinkle with nuts.

Bake for 50 minutes. Serve chilled with whipped cream.

From the A Slice of Kentucky cookbook.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Knitster

You may have caught my award winning* post referring to knitting hats; those hats were knit on hoop looms, which I consider to be like the training wheels of knitting. Now don't get me wrong...there's nothing wrong with training wheels. In fact, they are a godsend for people who need them! And when it comes to can seem rather overwhelming to get started so training wheels can be a good thing. But there comes a point where the adventurous and/or determined souls need to ride on their own two knitting needles, so to speak.

Shortly before Mike was born (about 2 years ago), I resolved to knit him booties and a hat. I hadn't ever knitted with needles before, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. In fact, I was going to jump right to knitting with five needles. In the round. So I found a sock pattern and had a go. They turned out not so bad, although Mike had such big feet when he was born that they only barely fit him. The hat was a bit more complex; it had three colors of yarn, and several different stitch patterns, but with the practice I obtained on the socks, the hatwork wasn't as rough.

I was still knitting the hat while Kara was in labor and finished just before Mike was born. Unfortunately, the hat was way too large for Mike even with as big of a head as he had. So it waited for him to get a bigger head. Just last week--two years after I made his hat--I saw the hat in the closet and tried it on Mike. Yay! It finally fits! Maybe I'll work on sizing my next knitting project better.

*Post did not actually win any awards.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ramen Chicken Dinner

At 4:00 this afternoon, Kara turned to me and asked, "So, what are you making for dinner?" Since she had just been grocery shopping that afternoon, there were plenty of options to choose from; however, I was tired. Glancing behind her into the open pantry, I saw a case of chicken Ramen and was inspired. A quick Google search later and I found a recipe that turned out rather well. I took some liberties with the recipe I found here, and ended up with the following recipe. I thought it was rather tasty, and not bad for half an hour's work.

Ramen Chicken Dinner

3 packages (3 ounces each) chicken ramen noodles
2 1/2 c frozen peas and carrots
2 c frozen broccoli
1 1/2 c water

1 1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch strips or cubes
2 Tbsp canola oil

1/3 c soy sauce
1/3 c canola oil
3 Ramen seasoning packs
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp chile powder

Set aside seasoning packet from the noodles. In a 2-qt. microwave-safe dish, combine the noodles, frozen vegetables, celery, peas and water. Cover and microwave on high for 8-10 minutes or until noodles and vegetables are tender, stirring once.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, oil, contents of seasoning packets, sugar and chile powder. Set sauce aside.

Drizzle 2 Tbsp of oil into a frying pan placed over medium high heat. Add chicken and cook 5-10 minutes or until done. In the last 2 minutes of cooking, add about 3 Tbsp sauce. When done, stir chicken into noodle mixture.

Pour remaining sauce over chicken mixture. Microwave, uncovered, on high 45 seconds longer or until heated through.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Best Amish Friendship Bread Ever!

When I was looking for AFB pizza dough, I stumbled upon a post on My Sister's Kitchen. And although it didn't have an actual recipe for AFB pizza dough--plenty of request for it, but no responses--it did have some pretty good recipes for AFB. One recipe stood out to me because it seemed extraordinairily well though out. So I tried it tonight and WOW! This recipe buries all other AFB recipes. It was light, fluffy, and oh so delicious. Thanks a million, James!

James' Amish Friendship Bread
spray oil (PAM or similar)
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

2 eggs
1 c. lowfat vanilla yogurt (I used sour cream due to my lack of yogurt)
1/2 c. canola oil
1/2 c. lowfat milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon

1 c. AFB starter

2 tbsp. coarse sugar (I used the leftover cinnamon sugar)

Preheat the oven to 325F. Spray bottoms and sides of two loaf pans with oil. Mix 1/4 c. sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon and use to coat insides of pans, saving any excess.

In a large bowl, briefly beat two eggs. Add remaining wet ingredients (except starter) and stir until uniform. In a medium bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Dump dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix just until moistened (as with pancake batter, some lumps may remain). Fold in 1 c. starter.

Divide batter between loaf pans and sprinkle top of each loaf uniformly with 1 tbsp. of coarse sugar. Bake 45 min. or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out mostly clean with just a few crumbs.

Let loaves cool in pans 15 minutes or so, then remove to finish cooling on a rack. Slice and enjoy! It’s extra good with a bit of butter or spread, especially while still a bit warm.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Amish Friendship...Pizza?

Hi. My name is Brig, and I'm an Amish Friendship Dough addict.

Last night, Kara said that she'd like to make pizza for lunch/dinner today. I volunteered to make the dough with AFB starter. She wasn't entirely convinced that it would taste pizza-ish, so she asked me to make some pizza crust out of my Pseudo-Sourdough, too. (I think she's just chicken.)

Unfortunately, finding a recipe for Amish Friendship Bread pizza dough is next to impossible. I scoured the web and found...nothing. Several people asking for such a thing, but nobody posting it. I found recipes for every possible variation of AFB using whole wheat, wheat germ, oatmeal, and arrowroot powder, but nothing on pizza. So I asked myself: WWMGD? (What Would MacGuyver Do?)

I found this site, which describes several methods for creating pizza dough, and adapted one for AFB use. Did it work? I should say so! The dough wasn't as sweet as it is in breads, and wasn't as elastic as I'd expect pizza dough to be--it required some serious time with the rolling pin, but it made for a tasty pizza.

Amish Friendship Bread Pizza Dough
You're going to need Amish Friendship Bread starter for this, so add 1 1/2 cups each of milk, flour (self-rising is optional), and granulated sugar a day or two before making this dough. The earlier you prep the starter the better the results (read: flavor) will be.

1 1/2 c Amish Friendship Bread starter
1/2 c warm water
3 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil (plus a few Tbsps for coating dough)

If you're using a mixer, use a dough hook. Combine flour and salt, then add wet ingredients and mix on low until the dough begins to clump around the hook. Dough should be smooth and slightly elastic.

Coat the dough with a thin layer of olive oil and place in a large bowl also coated with a thin layer of olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 12-18 hours in a warm place.

Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Then, working on a floured surface, roll out to approximately 10-inch circles. Add toppings and bake at 500F for about 7 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden.

To get a great, golden crust, I used a 12" dutch oven lid--turned upside-down--in the oven in place of a pizza stone.

Amish Friendship...Pancakes?

Yes, you read that right. This morning, I made pancakes with AFB starter.

Amish Friendship Pancakes
I recommend that you add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk to your starter at least 24 hours prior to making these pancakes, but 2-3 days prior would be better. If you make the additions just before making the pancakes, then you're effectively diluting the yeast. Yeah, you can do it, but they won't have that little bit of tartness that gives them character.

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp oil
2 cups Amish batter
1/2 cup milk (plus/minus 1/4 cup)
1 egg

Combine first 4 ingredients in large bowl. Combine last 4 ingredients in smaller bowl. Add ingredients of smaller bowl to ingredients of large bowl and mix until blended. Let batter rest 5-10 minutes. Cook as you would with regular pancake batter.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I've Got Amish Friendship Bread Starter--Now What?

If you are one of the fortunate few who have received an Amish Friendship Bread starter from me or from anyone else, you're probably thinking, "Now what?"

day 1:
Set it on the counter and watch the bubbles.
Note: DO NOT REFRIGERATE this starter. If you do, the little microbes will go to sleep and not make those nice gas bubbles and you'll have flatbread, which is a whole different recipe. Ha ha.

days 2-5:
Mush the bag a little and let out the air.

day 6:
Add 1 cup self-rising flour*, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk. Mush the bag a little and let out the air.

days 7-9:
Mush the bag a little and let out the air.

day 10:
Add 1 cup self-rising flour*, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk. Stir. You've now got just over 4 cups worth of starter. You could:

  • Make 4 bread recipes, each of which calls for about a cup of starter and each makes about 2-3 loaves OR
  • Make 3 bread recipes and have one cup left over that you can use as a starter for next week OR
  • Make 2 bread recipes, have one cup left over that you can use as a starter for next week, and give one starter to a friend OR
  • Make 1 bread recipe, have one cup left over that you can use as a starter for next week, and give one starter to 2 friends OR

    You could reduce the day 6 and/or day 10 additions to 1/2 cup each and have less starter on day 10. I personally find it hard to find time to bake every 10 days, so I shifted day 6 to day 3 or 4, and bake every 7th day. It seems to work fine.

*I use homemade self-rising flour because the recipe I received said to use it. It's just 1 c all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt. I don't suppose you have to use self-rising, which some purists may consider cheating, but I figure if you've got it you might as well give your bread every advantage you can.

Now, you'll be wanting recipes. You can Google Amish Friendship Bread Recipe, or you could look up the recipes I've used for Chocolate Bread, Banana Bread, and Plain Sourdough.

Mini Surprise Cookies

Last year, I made a variation of a Snickers Surprise recipe for a church gathering. I was rewarded with oohs and ahhs, and a smattering of questioning on my methods. They're basically miniature candy bars (the "fun" size) rolled into cookie dough and baked. It makes the candy a bit softer, and is a simple way to add a boost to plain old cookie dough. I especially like to use mint chocolate Hershey minis. Yum!

Mini Surprise Cookies

16 Tbsp (2 sticks) softened butter or margarine
1 c creamy peanut butter -- There's a time and a place for chunky peanut butter, and this is neither the time nor the place!
1 c light brown sugar
1 c granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 pkg mini candy bars:
Snickers/Milky Way "larger" size, or Milk Chocolate Hershey "smaller" size work fine. Cut Twix in half and lay halves side-by-side.

In an electric mixer, combine butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on low until fluffy. Slowly add eggs and vanilla until combined. Slowly add flour, salt, and baking soda. Cover and chill dough for 2-3 hours.

Unwrap minis. Remove dough.

Scoop out one Tablespoon-size ball, adding slightly more for larger minis. (Is that like "jumbo shrimp?") Flatten ball, then form around mini making sure that a good seal is achieved. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes. Cool on rack or waxed paper. Makes about 4 dozen.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Envy, With Side Order Of Pettiness

I bought a new car recently--a nice one. I had been driving the same 1996 bare-bones Saturn SL1 pretty much since we got it in 1997; we got a used Chrysler minivan 6 years ago as the "family car" since we were finding it harder and harder to all fit in the Saturn.

Now this was not a snap decision...Kara and I had been planning it for years. We have kept our credit good--almost to the 800s--have been contributing to Roths and IRAs, and still managed to sock away funds for when the Saturn finally gave out. (And although it didn't actually "give out," it got to the point where it needed new tires, a new e-brake lever, and some rust repairs, all of which totalled more than the blue book value of the car, a whopping $300.) And I had one primary criterion: it must be a convertible. Why? Because.

I have always wanted a convertible. It has been my dream ever since I first got my license--and before--to have a convertible. Yes, I've heard that some leak. Yes, I know that they can be easy to break in to. Yes, I've heard that they can be noisy. But I still wanted one. Haven't you ever wanted something that you know may not really be practical, but wanted it anyway? Real bad? You get my point.

The problem is that my wife is all about the practical. And we've got 3 kids. So those sporty little 2-seaters like a Saturn Sky weren't really even on the table. Okay, so a 4-person convertible: It pretty much had to be a Ford, a Chrysler, a Toyota, a Volvo, or a BMW. The Ford Mustangs leak horribly, and are not super reliable. The Chrysler Sebring suffers much the same problems as the Ford. The Toyota Solara, Volvo C70, and BMW 135i all seemed decent enough; however, the BMW is way out of our price range, and the Solara has a softtop, which is easily broken into and is terribly expensive to repair. And it leaks. In general.

The Volvo was out of our price range too, until we found the perfect deal. We found a silver 2008 (bought originally in October 2007) hardtop, 4-seater convertible with about 10,000 miles on it. Leather seats, good sound system...the works. We worked some negotiation magic--okay, it was Kara, not "we"--and managed to get it to just barely outside our desired price range, but well within our means. After all, we had been planning this for some time, remember...

So the happy couple takes home their new car. Brig is happy because Kara likes tha car, and he gets a way sweet convertible that's safe and gadgety. Kara is happy because Brig is happy, we can afford it, it doesn't have the problem-prone softtop, and it's safe. We're all happy! Then, we start telling people about it.

On the whole, most of my friends have been very excited and happy for me! But a few people have turned...rather catty if I dare say so. Why can't they just be happy for me? No, I didn't just get a raise. No, I'm not made of money, I just keep very careful track of what I have! (Um, Kara keeps careful track. I attempt to keep careful track.) No, I didn't get a Volvo because I only buy fancy-schmancy European cars.

I'm trying not to flaunt it, and I'm really trying not to make anyone feel bad or anything, but I'm happy. One of my lifelong ambitions has been reached and I'm really, genuinely happy. Be happy for me, okay? Or at least, take some age-old advice and "if you can't say anything nice, don't say nothin' at all."