July 30, 2010

chicken noodle casserole for the soul

Have you ever taken a peek at one of those "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books? I'm not exaggerating when I say that in a typical volume, every other chapter will bring me to tears.


Either I'm uber-sensitive or the editors really know how to pick some touching stories.

This chicken noodle casserole is also something that'll bring a person to tears, but for entirely different reasons. It's oh-so-tasty and so simple a monkey could be trained do it. Quick, too. And cheap easy on the wallet. It makes a great potluck dish, and I've taken it to new mothers on several occasions since it freezes wonderfully. Do you believe me when I say that its inherent qualities will bring a person to the brink of happy tears?

Since we're talking about books, I'll take this opportunity to mention Blog2Print, a wonderful company that provides bloggers with an easy way to turn their blog into a professionally printed book. You can print everything--your pictures, posts, and comments, giving you a way to keep your recipes, great food photography, and readers’ reactions to your recipes together in a book.


I can tell you from personal experience that the results are amazing--my book is something I will always treasure. I had a blast picking out which posts to include--it was a welcome walk down memory lane. The printed pictures are clear and nicely-sized, and the text is exactly as it is on my blog. And hey, you never know--I may show it to someone who decides she wants a copy for herself, and that may lead to a little pocket money for the Gracemeister!


Details for the giveaway: The randomly-selected winner will receive a $40 gift certificate (that should pay for a 90-page softcover book or a 60-page hardcover book) from Blog2Print. To enter, leave a comment on this post telling me something that makes you tear up unexpectedly and without fail; be sure your email address is included. Comments will close next Friday, August 6th, and the winner will be chosen shortly thereafter.

Comforting Chicken Noodle Casserole
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
6 ounces egg noodles
1 (10.75 oz) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 (10.75 oz) can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
salt, pepper, and paprika to taste
1 cup crumbled buttery round crackers
1/2 cup butter

Preheat oven to 350F.
Poach the chicken in a large pot of simmering water. Cook until no longer pink in center, about 12 minutes. Remove from pot and set aside. Bring chicken cooking water to a boil and cook the pasta in it. Drain. Shred or dice the chicken and mix it with the noodles.
In a separate bowl, mix together the mushroom soup, chicken soup, and sour cream. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika. Gently stir together the cream soup mixture with the chicken mixture. Place in a 2-quart baking dish.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan or the microwave. Stir in the crumbled crackers and sprinkle atop the casserole. Bake for about 30 minutes, until heated through and browned on top.

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July 26, 2010

fridge find

It's a challenge for me to be creative. Some people can naturally come up with magical, surprising, clever, and innovative concoctions as well as amazing execution and presentation of said concoctions, but not this gal. I need to be prompted.


To make matters worse, I get bored easily--I like a little variation in the things I bake. So it's a vicious cycle--I want to make and eat new combinations of flavors, but I can't come up with them. Vicious, I tell you.

My latest inspiration came in the form of some primordial ancient archaic old caramel dipping sauce lingering in the deep recesses of the fridge. What to do with this thickened and gloppy goop? I daren't actually use it as a dip--that'd be just asking for trouble. I opted for mixing it into a muffin batter, as I'm wont to do.

These turned out better than I ever could've hoped. There was just enough caramel flavor to be detectable, and the crumb was moist yet cohesive.


I got some rave reviews from a couple of handfood connoisseurs, so I think I might be on to something with this use for aged caramel dipping sauce. The only problem is that I have to wait another year or two for a tub to reach the ideal point of almost-rankness.

Close-to-Crusty Caramel Banana Bread
(based loosely on this recipe)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup caramel sauce or topping
2 bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F.
Lightly grease a muffin, mini-loaf, or 9x5-inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, stir together the melted butter and sugar. Stir in the eggs, caramel, mashed bananas, and vanilla until well-blended. Stir this banana mixture into the flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Fold in the pecans and pour or spoon the batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 18-20 minutes for muffins, 25-30 minutes for mini-loaves, or 60-70 minutes for a large loaf, or until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean.

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July 22, 2010

like white on bread

White bread doesn't get too much love anymore, what with the push to consume more whole grains (not to mention the rise of gluten-intolerance). It has its place, in my opinion, and I'm certainly not ready to do away with it completely.


I grew up eating IronKids bread--do any of you remember that, or heck, still eat it? Does it even still exist? I don't know, because thanks to Eb and a few awesome bread recipes, I haven't bought a loaf of bread in the store for ages. Anyway, my point is that I liked white bread then--all fluffy and soft and ideal for transporting various meats and cheeses to the mouth--and I like it now.


My favorite way to make white bread is (surprise, surprise) with a cinnamon swirl. Not only is it tasty, but it looks so attractive and welcoming. It's easy to accomplish, too--it only adds about 10 minutes to your work time.

Most (if not all) recipes I've seen for cinnamon swirl bread use milk and eggs, but this isn't one of those. It's simply white bread with a cinnamon-sugar-raisin filling. Odd? Perhaps, but darn tasty. When it comes to the eating, french toast is always a good option. For my time and energy, I'm content with simply toasting it and slathering on some apple jelly.


Don't hate on the white bread, folks. It's not good-for-nothing.

**Congrats to Angela--Snubbr picked hers as the winning comment in my cookbook giveaway!

Plain White Bread, Made Not-So-Plainly

6 cups flour, more or less, divided
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups very warm water, about 120°
2 tablespoons butter, softened
raisins and cinnamon-sugar to taste

In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Beating at low speed, add the water and butter. Continue beating at high speed for 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup flour and beat 4 minutes longer. Stir in 3 cups flour, or enough to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic, adding a little more flour as necessary.
Place the dough in a large greased bowl, turning to anoint the top. Cover with a clean towel and let rise for about 1 hour in a warm place, free of drafts. Punch dough down; knead until smooth. Cut dough in half, cover with the mixing bowl, and let stand for 15 minutes longer. Roll each half into a 12x9-inch rectangle. Sprinkle the dough generously with raisins and cinnamon-sugar and press in gently. Then, starting with the narrow edge, roll up, turning ends under to make loaves to fit pans. Place rolls seam side down in greased 9x5-inch loaf pans. Cover pans with clean towel and let rise in warm place until double, about 45 minutes. Bake loaves at 400° for 25 to 30 minutes, or until loaves sound hollow when tapped with fingers. Remove from pans to racks; brush with butter for a soft, more flavorful crust, if desired.

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July 17, 2010

juliet had it right

Naming is overrated. As far as I know, the treats I'm about to reveal to you have no official moniker, but that doesn't stop them from being completely addictive and delicious. Nope, it doesn't slow them (or my intake of them) down at all.


"What's in a name?" indeed.

All it takes is one glance at the list of ingredients to know that this is some good candy. It has sweetness, it has crunch, it has saltiness, it has chewiness, and it melts in your mouth.


I've found that the making of this candy can either be tedious or a fun challenge, depending on my attitude at the time. If you work quickly, the mess and overall difficulties are no big deal at all, especially considering the tasty end results.

Good Candy
4 cups Rice Krispies
2 cups miniature marshmallows
1 cup peanut butter
2 pounds white chocolate, chopped

In a large bowl, combine the cereal and marshmallows. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the white chocolate and peanut butter. Stir the oh-so-drinkable white chocolate-peanut butter mixture into the dry goods and drop by tablespoons onto waxed paper. Let them set until firm and then store in an airtight container.

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July 13, 2010

halitosis bad, giveaway good

Just as everyone's feet are hideous (admittedly, some are worse than others), everyone has morning breath. There's no use denying it so don't even try, but there are ways to combat it.


Sure, you could brush your teeth. Yeah, gum and mints are great. However, what if you could eat your breakfast and freshen your breath at the same time? Win win!

Before now, I can't recall ever having had mint in a true breakfast food. No cereals, no muffins, no scones, no maple-syrup vehicles, nothing. I suppose it is a bit strange, but not really. We use chocolate chips in everything from stuffing croissants to sprinkling in pancakes, so who's to say a little mint-chocolate action wouldn't be tasty first thing in the morning?

So I tried it. I tried it, and it was weird. Delicious, obviously, but also weird. I guess for me, the whole 'dessert-for-breakfast' thing takes a turn for the unappetizing when mint becomes involved.


No worries, these made perfectly good snack cakes. Fresh breath any time!

Now, about this giveaway. The fine folks of Snubbr have offered to give one of my readers any cookbook (under $35) of his or her choice, whether the focus is baking, vegan cooking, raw food, or more. All you have to do is leave a comment telling us which cookbook you'd like to win and why and the-powers-that-be will pick their favorite as the winner. Be sure to leave an email address! Comments will close on Friday, July 16th and woefully, this is only open to citizens of the US or Canada.

COMMENTS CLOSED.

Bad Breath Banishers
(adapted from these)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup strong coffee, cooled
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 10 oz. bag Andes baking chips

Preheat to 375°F and grease up your pan of choice, be it a 12-cup muffin pan or mini-loaf pan or something else entirely.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugars, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Mix well, making sure all the brown sugary lumps are gone.
In a smaller bowl, mix together the coffee, melted butter, egg, and vanilla until well-combined. Pour this liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and gently but quickly stir to blend. Stop when the dry ingredients are just moistened and fold in the baking chips. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups or loaf holes and bake for about 15 minutes for muffins, 30 minutes for mini loaves, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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July 9, 2010

disaster averted!

I cringe to think of all the pans and platters and molds of baked goods that wind up in the trash can because they didn't turn out exactly right. If one really takes a moment to collect herself after this initial failure, chances are good that she'll find a way to redeem herself, her food, and her kitchen prowess.


I definitely needed more than a moment to gather my wits after this episode of baking trauma. I made some pecan pie bars (a tried, true, and well-reviewed recipe, mind you), foolishly substituting a caramel sauce for thicker, sturdier corn syrup. As you can well imagine, the pan I pulled out of the oven was a sloppy mess.

What to do, what to do? Throwing them away didn't even cross my mind--those pecans are expensive, darn it! My rescue plan involved making a simple and straightforward yellow cake and scattering blobs of the failed pecan pie bars throughout.


It worked like a charm, I'm happy to report. Granted, the dollops of goo promptly sunk to the bottom of the cake and remained there, but that just made them a nice surprise not visible before digging in.

Phew.

Pecan Pie Bar Cake
(born of necessity and this recipe)

Crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup packed brown sugar

Filling:
3 large eggs
3/4 cup corn syrup
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped

1 box yellow cake mix, plus ingredients to prepare

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 13 x 9-inch baking pan.
To make the crust, beat the flour, butter, and brown sugar in small mixer bowl until crumbly. Press into prepared baking pan and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
To make the filling, beat the eggs, corn syrup, sugar, butter, and vanilla extract in medium bowl with a whisk. Stir in the chips and nuts and pour evenly over the baked crust. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until set. Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.

Should bars be an impossible dream, mix up the cake as instructed, pour the batter into a 9 x 13-inch pan, and plop the hunks of pecan pie goo here, there, and everywhere. Bake as directed.

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brown-thumbed

There are great gardeners on every branch of my family tree, but the gene seems to have missed me. (There is a gene, right?)


You may recall my porch garden adventures back in 2008--the results were far less than impressive. Fortunately for me, Triscuit (one of my favorite crackers--could they be any more sturdy and dip-friendly?) created a handy-dandy website that includes information about growing vegetables at home, a crop guide, community forums, and more. They've also done something really innovative and included plantable herb seed cards in 4 million boxes of their crackers to help encourage people to grow their own vegetables and herbs! Further, they hope to help create 50 community-based home farms in cities across the country during 2010, a noble goal.

Bella, on the prowl!

Home farming has a nice ring to it, does it not? Considering how much I enjoy eating the produce that comes out of a successful garden, I suppose the least I could do is grow some herbs to accentuate the green (and red and yellow and orange and purple) goodness. Thanks, Triscuit--you're doing a good thing!

*Triscuit sent me two boxes of crackers (with seed cards, obviously) and a gift card to help with the expenses of growing my herbs.

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July 5, 2010

casserole is not a dirty word.

I know some crazy irrational foolish folks think casseroles are lame and perhaps a bit gross. They don't find the idea of all those seemingly random ingredients thrown together and baked until they merge appealing at all.

Cheese.

Their loss.

I love a casserole. They're generally pretty easy to fix and don't require babysitting. Granted, it's often difficult to identify each individual component after the dish is baked, but who really needs to do that? I understand the hesitation in using canned condensed soups, but not all casserole recipes call for those, and even if they do, there are suitable substitutions as well as ways to make those soups at home.

Shausage.

This particular casserole is a breakfast favorite, although we had ours for supper. Biscuits form the base, and they're topped with eggs, sausage, and cheese (pepper jack, in this case). The result is a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit that's creamy and eaten with a spoon. In other words, it's a delight, whether it be morning, noon, or night.

Breakfast Biscuit Casserole
6 eggs
6 day-old biscuits (yep, more right-overs!), crumbled or cut into pieces
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 cup sausage, cooked
2 cups pepper jack cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 2-quart casserole dish.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Mix in the milk and mustard. Add the bread and carefully stir until all pieces of bread are moistened, making sure not to overmix. Pour into prepared dish. Scatter cooked sausage on top and evenly distribute the cheese.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is browned and the center springs back when touched. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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July 1, 2010

oats and raisins and walnuts, oh my!

What do you make when you have a tub of oats, a massive jar of applesauce, and oodles of raisins on hand?


Some might say that cookies are the obvious choice, but being the lazy gal that I am, my vote goes to quick bread*! The results of this recipe are fluffy yet dense and even a little bit chewy, which is quite a unique quality for this type of bread. Would cookies be better? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

*Are you sick of seeing these gazillions of quick bread recipes yet? Sorry. The mini loaf has become a staple in our household--they make great "handfood," which means they're easy to grab and eat on the run. I doubt the various versions of the convenient little rectangles will disappear any time soon, so if you're sick of 'em, tough. I does what I likes and I likes what I do.


You just come for the profound and abstruse narrative anyway, right? :)

Quick Bread, Version 7.9
(based on these)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup applesauce
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners or grease a different but equivalent-in-portion pan.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. In another bowl combine the applesauce, buttermilk, sugar, oil, vanilla, and egg. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add in the applesauce mixture. Stir together just until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Gently fold in the walnuts and raisins with a spatula.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared molds. Bake for 16-18 minutes for muffins, around 30 minutes for mini loaves, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

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