Archive for the ‘Cooking & Baking’ Category

Chocolate Brigadeiros to Share on Valentine’s Day

February 12, 2014

Chocolate Brigadeiros

Recently my daughter did a presentation on Brazil for her social studies class. As part of the project, she made Chocolate Brigadeiros to share with her classmates. The recipe she settled on was from The Brazilian Kitchen: 100 Classic and Contemporary Recipes for the Home Cook by Leticia Moreinos Schwartz; the directions were clear and the end result was positively divine. I must say, too, that this is one of the few recipes where the end result looked all most like the picture!

So if you are still looking for a chocolate surprise to share on Valentine’s Day, you might want to give these addictive little treats a try. And, if you need a way to package the candies, take a look at these printable Valentine candy boxes at or

Recipes to Make you Feel Like a Queen for the Day

January 31, 2013

I first heard about the television show Queen for a Day several years ago when listening to American Public Radio’s “The Story,” a great program hosted by Dick Gordon. You can read about the episode here but it looks like the podcast is no longer available.

I remembered this broadcast a few days ago as I lay under the covers trying to ignore the alarm. If only I could be a queen today and have someone else tend to my needs – not over the top needs, just someone to do the laundry, make the meals and clean up afterwards, run the vacuum.  It’s not that I really want to do queen-like duties, I just want eight hours of uninterrupted time to get one step ahead on work projects and get a really good workout in, all the while knowing that the laundry pile is going down and a wonderful dinner is cooking away.

With no one appearing magically at my bedside, I knew it was time to pull out the crock pot and make “Chinese Five-Spice Pork,” a delicious dish that yanks me out of my vegetarian ways for a few days until there is not a serving left in the house.  Here’s a link to the recipe at the blog myplate2yours.

Chicken pot pie is another meal I often make ahead and pop in the oven for dinner. My favorite recipe is from a recipe booklet, “The Weekend Chef,” published by Gold Medal Flour years ago. We often substitute baked tofu for the chicken, and if time is really short, we will defrost and substitute frozen vegetables for the fresh. (Click on the image of the recipe below to make it bigger and legible.)

IMG_2566-Pot Pie Recipe

Ready to Bake

Ready to Bake

Ready to Eat

Ready to Eat

Savoring the Change of Seasons

October 9, 2012

Last week I had the opportunity to be a parent volunteer on my daughter’s 6th grade class camping trip to Wisconsin. While the kids were involved with science classes one morning, I grabbed my camera and took a walk. The signs of fall were all around in the colors (burnt oranges, reds, yellows), sounds (dried grasses blowing out in the marsh in the not quite cold wind), and smells (dried leaves, campfires). It was nice to take a few days off a busy fall schedule to just be outside. I now have the photos below spread out on my desk for quilting inspiration and to study the shapes, colors, lines, composition – just some of the considerations when designing and making a quilt!

The area we visited also has several fruit orchards and is home to the Elegant Farmer, famous for selling pies baked in a paper bag. I brought home many pounds of apples for eating and baking, as well as a delicious apple blueberry crisp to eat until I had the energy to bake something myself! The second night home, I made a batch of applesauce (now gone) – scroll down to after the photos for the recipe.

Homemade Applesauce

  1. Wash and quarter/thickly slice apples, then cut up into 1/2 inch chunks. Use an apple that will get mushy/fall apart when it is cooked, like Cortland apples. No need to peel the apple – the peel will add color and flavor and will be barely visible by the time the apples have cooked.
  2. Place the apples in a pot (I use a large enamel Le Crueset pot) and fill it about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch with apple cider or apple juice.
  3. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring periodically.
  4. Then, when the apples are tender and falling apart, remove from heat and mash with a potato masher. If you need to add a bit more cider/juice because the sauce is thicker than you want, do so now.  You can also stir in your favorite warming spice now such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, or a combination of these – just taste and experiment to get the amount of spice right for your taste.

The sauce is great right out of the pan. It is also wonderful served with pumpkin pancakes. (Make your own or use Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix).

Pretzels (or Not Pretzels) to Eat by the Dozen

September 30, 2012

“Not” Pretzels

Several weeks ago the Chicago Tribune published the recipe for “Amish-Country Soft Pretzels.” They are one of the quickest and easiest yeast bread recipes I have ever made. It’s a fun one to do with kids (although you will have to share the finished product with them when done), or even, to make with friends or family as you gather round for brunch or a dinner party. My daughter renamed these “‘Not’ Pretzels” because they don’t taste exactly like a pretzel – but they aren’t made exactly like one either.

I made one minor change to the recipe – instead of using clarified butter, I used just a bit of olive oil.

A side note, here: These were coming out of the oven just as kids were coming through the front door after school. Keeping in mind that the recipe made 32 pretzels, there were still arguments the next day after all were gone about who got more. My advice, after you skim several off the top (a recipe finder’s fee of sorts), divide up equally in front of everyone and put in individual containers for each person. Then each person is responsible for their container and its contents. If they want to bury the container in the back yard and eat one a day, that’s their choice or if they want to eat them all at once, their choice, too.


“The Best” Granola Bars

September 18, 2012

I have a friend from college who whenever we talked food (which was often) would begin with “My mother makes the best …” And, you know, it was true – her mom’s shortbread cookies and Danish pastries were out of this world. Well, several weeks ago I quickly copied a granola bar recipe from a magazine at the orthodontist office. In my haste, I did not write the name of the magazine down. However, I have since changed it up quite a bit so here is my take on granola bars that I have named “The Best Granola Bars.” So give it a go and see what you think …

1.  Mix the following ingredients together in one bowl:

  • 1 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/4 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 T. flaxseed meal
  • 1/2 cup Grape Nuts cereal (nuggets)
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 8 to 12 oz. of mixed dried fruits – or just raisins or just dried cranberries
  • 2 T. unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

2.  In another bowl, mix together:

  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 T. canola oil

3. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and spread into a greased 8″ x 8″ baking dish. Bake at 325 degrees until lightly browned/golden, about 30 to 40 minutes.

4. Cool, cut into squares and store in air tight container.

With this many ingredients, I like to first measure everything out and then mix away – it just seems that the process of making goes much faster this way. This is also a good step for younger cooks to help with – although the recipe is simple enough that with a bit of supervision, younger kids could make start to finish.


A Luscious Lemon Meringue Pie to Celebrate Summer

August 28, 2012

Nothing says “summer” to me quite like the taste of lemons and this one was divine after a long hot day …

Perhaps it is the book title alone that speaks to me  – Handheld Pies: Dozens of Pint-Sized Sweets and Savories by Rachel Wharton & Sarah Billingsley/Photography by Ellen Silverman – anything that suggests it is made by hand deserves at least a few minutes of my attention. Or, maybe it is the fact that the pies are made in darling, individual serving sizes – the lemon meringue pie was made in glass jars.  (I actually used individual Pyrex bakers that I picked up at a garage sale.) The single servings should have been enough, although my husband and I split another one just in case it wouldn’t keep well till the next day.

With another week of 85 degree plus days ahead, I may just need to make these one more time before summer’s end! Happy sewing – and baking!

Black Bean Veggie Burgers – Quick to Fix, Good to Eat

August 16, 2012

To speed up prep time, lay out all the ingredients first.

This Homemade Black Bean Veggie Burger has become a go-to recipe at the end of busy summer days. It’s also a great one to pull out at the last minute when you have lost track of time and need something homemade, healthy and flavorful.

It seems we change the recipe up a bit every time we make the burgers based on what we have on hand; this includes substituting yellow, red or orange peppers for the green one; adjusting the seasonings; and replacing regular bread crumbs with Panko (Japanese bread crumbs – available at Trader Joes).

Add ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, a pickle, and a whole wheat bun – then take the picture!  Patience was not on the menu this night, thus the picture above.

As an aside, we eat a lot of veggie burgers in our house but have grown weary of the prepared ones at the grocery; plus even though the prepared ones are not that expensive, you can make them for a lot less. Over the years, we have had an ongoing contest in our house to see who can find the recipe that we ALL like – one that yields a veggie burger with the right amount of firmness, even crunch (and definitely not mushy); good flavor; and easy to cook. With this recipe, I have pulled slightly ahead! Not one to rest on my laurels, however, do you have a favorite recipe that you would like to share here?


Creativity, Donuts, and Quilting

April 23, 2012

Despite the best laid out “to do” list and intentions, some days it doesn’t take much to wander off course. For me, it is usually one of those sunny, spring days when you feel like you are back in grade school waiting for the last bell of the year to ring and summer to begin – which pretty much describes the weather every day last week here in Chicago.

I was busy checking off to-do’s on my list for about the first hour of my day when the distraction appeared: it began with an email from a friend asking if anyone knew of a bakery that could make a layer cake from donuts and my friend Melissa responding with a link to the wonderful (and addictive) blog Une Gamine dans la Cuisine. Flash forward a couple of hours and Melissa is dropping off a cup of buttermilk so that we can both make the recipe.

Absolutely delicious as is, or change up the flavors a bit and substitute lemon or vanilla (or a combo) for the almond. And, yes, the muffin had the density and crumb of a donut without the deep frying. My daughter and I thought next time, too, we might try a chocolate glaze.

While I could have fretted about the time lost in my workday, I concluded in the end I needed a creative break that did not involve quilting or sewing. And, it was either this break or the donuts themselves, but I filled up a couple of pages in my sketchbook of quilt block designs!

Here’s to those creative breaks that in the end actually make us more productive …

Cooking Now So I Can Play With Fabric Later

September 26, 2011

Despite the content here, I really have been playing with fabric a lot recently, but I do concede that “Playing With Fabric” was not the best choice for my blog’s title. So, here is one more post that does not involve playing with fabric (although I will get to that later) …

The weather held out for our annual block party yesterday. And although the thermometer was reading on the cool side, I still stuck to my “no mayo rule” when taking a dish to a picnic (unless, of course, it is sitting on a block of ice).

The salad I made is adapted from the  recipe for “Bean, Corn, and Pepper Salad with Chicken” that appears in the excellent cookbook, The New American Plate Cookbook, published by the American Institute for Cancer Research. I have tweaked the recipe slightly to accommodate the mostly vegetarians in the house and the items in the pantry. So here is the adaptation:

Mix together:

  • 2 cups cooked Israeli Couscous (I buy the 8 oz. box from Trader Joe’s and just cook it all)
  • 1 can (15 oz.) corn, drained (or 2 cups frozen, cooked for a couple of minutes in the microwave and then drained)
  • 1 can (15.5 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 peppers – green, red, yellow, orange, whatever you have on hand – diced
  • 1 small to medium sized cucumber (optional), diced
  • 3 or 4 green onions, chopped

In a measuring cup, stir together:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • The juice of one lime
  • 3/4 cup chunky salsa
  • About 1/8 cup water

The dressing should be thin enough to drizzle over the salad – it should not be chunky like the salsa or too oily.

Mix the dressing with the salad and refrigerate a couple of hours to mingle the flavors. A note here: If you like more corn or beans, just add another can.

As mentioned, The New American Plate Cookbook is excellent – other favorite recipes from the cookbook are “Honey-Roasted Parsnips with Sweet Potatoes and Apples;” “Quinoa with Dried Cranberries, Apricots and Pecans;” “Bruschetta with Green Pea and Roasted Garlic Spread;” and “Carrot and Apple Soup.”

Now, since I made extra salad yesterday, dinner is covered for today and now I’m going to play with fabric!

Celebrating a Birthday and a Friendship with a Plate of Goodness

August 30, 2011

For my birthday earlier this summer, a dear friend made me cookies. It was a wonderful gift and not one I had received in years – I’m usually the baker, not the one being baked for! The funny thing is, they were Cowboy Cookies from one of my favorite cookbooks, Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. I make these cookies a lot, but mine always end up crispy hard within about two hours of coming out of the oven (a genetic thing I inherited from my mother); hers were of the melt-in-the-mouth variety…delicious. This past week, I had the chance to return the favor when she had a birthday. However, I also changed it up a bit.

So let me back up to that point between my birthday and my friend’s. In July, I was visiting my aunt in St. Charles, Illinois and popped into one of my favorite shops, Stonehouse on Cedar. It carries an ever-changing collection of antiques and handmade items, most of which fall into the category of beautiful and useful. On the clearance shelf was a butter-yellow plate, and with cookie crumbs virtually still in the corners of my mouth, a lightbulb went off and a “big idea” was born: For my friend’s birthday, I would give her baked goods on the plate and I would tell her we were starting a new tradition. Next year for my birthday, she would fill the plate with something delicious and return it to me; I would then pass the plate back to her for her birthday a few months later. (This does not sound like good etiquette here – telling her what to give me for my birthday – but it was fine in person.)

While I had planned to bake my friend cookies, I had been telling her about a wonderful gluten free bakery in a nearby town and decided to introduce her to it (she is on a gluten free diet). I took the plate over to Sweet Ali’s Gluten Free Bakery in Hinsdale, Illinois and picked out a sampler of cookies; the accommodating salespeople made it look “birthday like” by wrapping it all up with cellophane and a bow.

My friend loved the idea but suggested that whoever has the plate can choose when to pass it back – we could be celebrating a birthday or some other event, commemorating a holiday, or providing a lift when the other person could use it. I love how this idea has unfolded and each of us has added to it!