Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Shortcuts for Christmas or Anytime

Although the holiday season is a wonderful time, it is also a busy time. Presents to wrap, candy to make, snow to shovel, parties to attend . . . it leaves little time for the tedious little tasks associated with cooking. Fortunately, I have a few favorite shortcuts to share with you, just in time for Christmas.

Ingredient shortcuts
1. Melissa's Fresh Peeled Garlic - just as convenient as the garlic in jars, but much fresher.
2. Kraft "Grate It Fresh" Parmesan Cheese - the grater is part of the container.
Sure, I could use my microplane to grate Parmesan, but then I'd have to wash it. And it's usually covered in lemon or orange zest anyway. I'm sure that most foodies will scoff at the Kraft Parmesan, but honestly, I'm grateful that our small town grocery store had Parmesan that you can grate yourself, even if it is Kraft.
3. Frozen chopped onions - they don't make me cry.

Prep shortcuts/handy gadgets
1.Silpat - cookie sheet and cake pan liners - prevent sticking without adding fat.
2.Parchment paper - the next best thing to a Silpat. Or maybe it's better than a Silpat, because you can throw it in the trash instead of the sink.
3. Microplane grater - does AMAZING work zesting citrus fruits and grating cheese, chocolate, etc. Seriously, you have to see it to believe it.
4. Ziplock Zip'n Steam bags - steams vegetables perfectly and quickly - and creates no extra dishes to wash! The package includes directions for all kinds of recipes. Double shortcut if you use pre-washed and cut vegetables from your grocery store (not the aforementioned small town grocery store . . . mine came from the nearest HyVee . . . 30 miles from here).
Merry Christmas. May you use your newfound free time to sip hot chocolate in front of a fireplace.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Girl food

Husbands are great. Really, they are . . . or at least mine is! He's a meat and potatoes guy, which is okay. But sometimes I need a break from the meat and potatoes. So . . . when he's at a meeting or on a hunting trip, I make "girl food" - things he won't eat. Two things that (apparently, according to Ken) fall into this category are spinach dip and grits. Tonight, I ate a Panera Orchard Harvest salad and made myself an individual spinach dip. I think I got my full five servings of fruit and veggies today! When I make individual spinach dip, I try to go light on the cheese. Because I was out of sour cream, tonight's version was something like this: 1 carton of creamed spinach, 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella, a little freshly grated Parmesan, a pinch of garlic salt, and a dollop of Miracle Whip, baked at 375 for 25 minutes. Spinach dip (see full recipe in a previous post) an easy recipe to adapt - as long as you have creamed spinach and mozzarella cheese. Sometimes I add Italian seasoning. Sometimes rosemary or a different blend of cheeses. Artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, jalapeƱos or crab meat (if you like jalapeƱos or crab meat, which I don't) . . . so many possibilities!

Another favorite "girl food" of mine is cheese grits. This is an "Ultimate Quick & Easy" recipe from Southern Living:

Quick Double-Cheese Grits
6 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups uncooked quick-cooking grits
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (sharp or extra sharp)
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 tbsp. butter
salt and pepper to taste (start with 1/2 tsp of each)

Cook grits according to directions on package (usually this involves boiling the water, adding salt, then gradually adding the grits, stirring often, until thickened). Remove from heat; add cheeses and butter. Stir until blended. Stir in salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

Note: grits keep reasonably well in the refrigerator; you might need to add some water when you reheat them. A friend of mine says she fries leftover cheese grits. I don't know if she breads them or fries them as is, but either way, I bet they're good!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Meg's Sweet Dreams Party

Friends, family and food . . . all three were present at the Sweet Dreams party I hosted for Megan on Friday night. But there is more to this story. Here goes: My mom has great friends, really, really great friends. Amongst this group of friends, they have a special wedding tradition. On the eve of the wedding of a daughter (of one of said friends), they hold a little gathering. Usually there is lingerie involved, and laughter. And always good food.

A tradition this good is worth repeating, so I decided to host one of these little gatherings for Megan, who is related to my husband. I thought it would be a good for her to be surrounded by her friends and family the night before her wedding, in hopes of getting her to slow down and relax. Because here's the thing - she is an amazing gal, but she's such an overachiever . . . you have to make her take a break! In the course of a week, she turned 20, had knee surgery, graduated from college (yes, that's right, at age 20), got married, and moved to Michigan, where she will begin law school in January.

Unfortunately, I was having one of those Murphy's Law-type days, where nearly everything goes wrong. Fortunately, it all worked out in the end (and everyone was full from the rehearsal dinner anyway!).

Here's what I ended up serving: toasted pecans, honey glazed almonds, maple candied walnuts, vanilla popcorn, pretzel "sparklers," sugar cookies, and brownies. And coffee and hot chocolate (Barefoot Contessa, yum!). And little bottles of vanilla vodka, Starbucks liqueur, and Kahlua, for the over-21-and-not-driving crowd.

What a great way to wish Megan "Sweet Dreams" on her last night as a single gal!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat

Happy Halloween! For me, this holiday has a routine all its own. I clean the house, decorate with orange and black, strategically place pumpkins around the house, move the "Sit a Spell" chair to the front porch, put the treats in a bowl, and turn on all the lights so people know we welcome trick or treaters. And I wait. And wait. And wait. Until I finally realize that we're probably not going to have trick or treaters. Fast forward one year and repeat. However, this year I did have a break in the routine. One little lion came to visit right before the sun went down. Piper, in her "tricks for treats" shirt, was quite excited to see the little lion and gave him a big lick (which resulted in her being sent back into the house, even though she was being very nice about it) to go with the goldfish crackers.

Fully knowing the Halloween routine, I made some special treats so I wouldn't be tempted to eat goldfish crackers and butterfingers all evening while I wait. Fortunately, there was a new post on Orangette this week for Chewy Cocoa Cookies, which Orangette's author, Molly, describes as "kind of low-fat." Perfect.

And perfect they are. The Orangette version look a little nicer than mine, so I decided some powdered sugar would help. I also made a few adaptations to the recipe (I used vanilla yogurt and kosher salt . . . this recipe isn't the best candidate for kosher salt, unless you really like salt).

Yesterday, I got a little pre-Halloween treat from Ken's Aunt Marie. She gave me three plates that belonged to Ken's grandma . . . just in time to use them to show off my cookies. And my mom made me a little care package, which included the ghost towels in the picture. When you are blessed with great family and you have a plate full of perfect chocolate cookies, who needs trick or treaters anyway?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Friday Night Football

Tailgating is a big part of fall. Across the U.S., on Saturdays and Sundays you'll find parking lots full of fans eating, drinking, and cheering on their favorite college or NFL team. In Palmyra, the tailgate starts one day early - on Friday. They tailgate for high school football games (all the great food and fun, sans alcohol). When I first learned about the Palmyra tailgate tradition, I have to admit I thought it was weird. I remember asking "You watch the game from farm trucks parked along one side of the field and cook pork loin for anyone who cares to stop by?" I think the answer I got was something along the lines of "Oh yeah, you've got to come to a game, it's great."

Fast forward a couple of years . . . if there's a home football game, that is where I'll be on Friday night. Sitting in the bed of a dumptruck normally used for . . . farming . . . cheering for the Panthers. I now think the Friday night tailgating tradition is one worth hanging on to. It is a great opportunity to catch up with family, friends and neighbors, and to show pride in the school and the community. If you stand back and observe, the tailgates also demonstrate the rich agricultural heritage of the area, evident from the farm trucks and straw bales used for seating to the beef and pork cooked on the grills.

Of course, you need more than beef and pork, and I can't show up empty handed. Last night I took candy corn mix that we called "Theta mix" at Mizzou and rocky road chocolate bars. (the pictures are from home, I didn't serve them at the game this way! I'll try to add some pictures from the actual tailgate, they're on a film camera)

Rocky Road Chocolate Bars

Cookie base:
1 bag Betty Crocker double chocolate chunk cookie mix
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp. water
1 egg
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1 1/2 to 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups miniature marshmallows

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1/3 cup milk
3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Directions: 1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x13 baking pan with foil, then spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, mix together cookie base ingredients, set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese, sugar, butter, flour, vanilla, and egg on medium speed until mixture is smooth. Stir in pecans, if using.
4. Press cookie base evenly into pan, then spread cream cheese mixture over top. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over cream cheese mixture.
5. Bake 27-28 minutes, or until filling is set. Sprinkle marshmallows evenly over top. Bake 3 more minutes.
6. For frosting: In a saucepan (2-quart works best), melt butter over medium heat. Stir in cocoa and milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Gradually whisk in powdered sugar and vanilla until well blended. Stir in pecans, if using. Immediately pour over marshmallows, spreading gently to cover. Cool bars 30 minutes.
7. Refrigerate bars at least two hours before cutting and serving. Save leftovers (if there are any!) covered in the refrigerator.

These bars got rave reviews at the tailgate. They are very sweet, so I recommend serving small pieces. Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker Fall Baking. Go Panthers!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

College Food

Last Saturday, I was in Columbia for an alumni meeting and MU Tigers football game. On my way home, I was remembering my college years.
The first fall, I lived in a dorm. Not much cooking goes on in the dorm, except heating up the occasional leftovers or EasyMac. The second fall, the sorority house. Same situation as the dorm. I did help our housemom make strawberry trifle a couple of times, but otherwise did very little cooking. My junior year I lived in a house in East Campus and began to cook a little more. I remember making quiche, butterfinger cookies, and lots of Hamburger Helper-type creations. My senior year, we lived in a great duplex, where I attempted Chicken Cordon Bleu, spinach lasagna, and a variety of new beef recipes. And of course there was the spinach dip . . . lots of spinach dip . . . and a fair amount of "t-time roll-ups," as well. It was great to have roommates and friends who enjoyed eating the things I cooked, but I always looked forward to nights when we had Joannie's pasta and salad.

Joannie's pasta
1 pkg. bowtie pasta
1 stick butter
8 oz. heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to directions on package. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat butter and whipping cream until butter is melted and combined with cream. Add cheese, stir until smooth. Pour over pasta.

Joannie's salad
Dressing: 3/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. minced garlic (fresh or from a jar)
Whisk or shake together ingredients.
Salad: Romaine lettuce, topped with pimentos, red onion, and artichoke hearts.
Top romaine lettuce with desired amount of ingredients, pour dressing over salad, and toss together.

Spinach dip
This recipe is not very precise. The quantities of spinach and cheese may be changed depending on type of bowl or dish you bake it in, the size of package of cheese or spinach you buy, or your taste! Here are my general guidelines:
2 to 3 cartons of creamed spinach, thawed
1 tbsp. minced onion
8 oz. sour cream
3 tbsp. mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
2-3 packages shredded mozzarella cheese (I use 4-cup packages)
Mix all ingredients together, spoon mixture into an oven-safe bowl or casserole dish, and bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes, or until brown and bubbly.
Tip: If you are in a hurry (which we often were when I made this in college), you can increase the oven temperature to 375, and bake it in a shallow pan/dish.

T-time Roll-Ups
(Adjust quantities to fit the number of people you are serving)
vegetable flavored cream cheese
large tortilla shells (soft)
chopped black olives
deli roast beef
large dill pickles
Spread cream cheese evenly on tortilla, sprinkle with olives, then top with roast beef (cover entire surface area with beef). Place pickle in the middle and roll up tortilla around pickle; secure with toothpicks. Chill at least 2 hours before cutting into 1-inch slices and serving.
Tip: use one toothpick per inch; this will help hold each section together after sliced.

Monday, August 20, 2007

More Bread . . . and a Bird

Frustrated with the bread machine experiments, I set out to make a loaf of banana bread, sans bread machine. Good excuse to use some of the over-ripe bananas from the freezer, and to use the new LeCreuset loaf pan Grandma Margaret got me for my birthday. It's fantastic in comparison to the previous two loaves/bricks from the bread machine. The interesting part of this story relates to the freezer. . .

My friend Amanda was at my house recently. We were cooking up a storm, using vegetables from her garden. Somewhere along the way, she opened my freezer and noticed frozen bananas. She told me she was proud to see bananas in the freezer (as opposed to the trash!). Amanda and my friend (and former roommate) Lesley have been gently working to get me to be a better "economist" in the kitchen. They both set a good example, but I'm still not buying generic chocolate chips or peanut butter! Anyway. . . I told Amanda that I also had bananas in the freezer in the basement that REALLY needed to be used.

After dinner this evening, I went downstairs to retrieve the bananas from the freezer. I spotted one ziplock bag of bananas, and saw the top of another ziplock bag peeking over the railing of a compartment inside the door. That bag must have the oldest bananas in it, I reasoned, because I didn't even remember putting it in there. When I picked up the bag, I should have realized it was too light to be bananas . . . but instead, I brought the bag closer to my face to see what was in it . . . and realized I was peering at a . . . frozen quail carcass. Feathers, beak, and all. Eww.

Here is the recipe for the banana bread.

Bananas can be frozen in their peels in a ziplock bag, just thaw on the counter for an hour or so before use. I don't recommend substituting frozen quail!

Banana Bread

2 cups flour (I used unbleached all-purpose)
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 pkg. instant vanilla pudding mix
1 cup ripe banana, mashed (2-3 bananas = 1 cup)
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 tbsp. milk
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup walnuts, toasted (I omitted these because I wasted my last package of walnuts on the pumpkin bread)

1. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup flour, the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pudding mix. Add the banana, butter, milk and vanilla. Beat with electric mixer on low speed until combined. Add eggs and remaining flour. Beat until combined. Stir in walnuts.

2. Transfer batter to greased loaf pans (two 8x4x2 or equivalent - I used one larger loaf pan and 2 mini-loaf pans). Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan, remove loaf and transfer to wire rack to finish cooling. Wrap and store overnight.

- Recipe adapted from Better Homes & Gardens

McKenzie vs. the bread machine, round 2

Due to last night's "wonder bread" experience, I decided to make another loaf of bread this evening to see if I could get one right. I haven't been to the grocery store since returning home from 2 weeks away at the Missouri State Fair, so my options were limited. I did have all the ingredients for the Pumpkin Walnut bread from the cookbook included with the bread machine. Although I'm not quite ready for fall flavors in the August heat, it satisfied my need to try the bread machine again. This particular type of bread used the "quick breads and cakes" cycle on the machine. However, there is nothing "quick" about using this cycle on the bread machine . . . it would have been faster to mix it by hand and bake it in the regular oven.

Once again, I followed the instructions (and even paused the machine to aid in the mixing process four minutes in, as instructed) . . . and once again, the machine produced an inedible little brick of a loaf.

It didn't rise . . . fine, it's a quick bread. But it's not moist and dense either. It's dry and hard. And it tastes like BAD Thanksgiving leftovers. Really bad.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Grilled Corn & Grilled Bananas

People cook anything and everything on a grill these days. And for good reason. Grilling is simple, adds a rich, smoky flavor to food and doesn't heat up the kitchen.

Whether the idea of grilling fruits and vegetables is new to you or you're a grilling pro, you're sure to enjoy these recipes:

Grilled Corn with Basil & Parmesan
4 ears sweet corn (husked)
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, softened
1/4 cup Parmesan (or Parmigiano-Reggiano) cheese, freshly grated
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil (or dried basil if necessary)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic

1. In a small bowl, combine butter, cheese, basil, salt, pepper, and garlic. Mix thoroughly.
2. Brush 1 tbsp. butter mixture on each ear of corn. Grill directly over medium heat 10-15 minutes, until corn is tender and browns in spots. Turn occasionally during grilling.
3. Serve while warm. Use extra butter mixture to brush on corn after grilling.

Spiced Banana Sundaes*
4 bananas, peeled (ripe but still firm)
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
Chocolate Sauce (see below)
Vanilla ice cream

1. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add cinnamon and ginger, stir.
2. Place bananas in skillet and brush butter mixture on to all sides. Carefully remove bananas from skillet on to plate. Transfer bananas to grill.
3. Grill bananas 2-3 minutes over medium direct heat until bananas warm and develop grill marks. Turn once during grilling.
4. Transfer bananas to work surface and cut into 1/2 inch chunks.
5. Scoop vanilla ice cream into bowl, top with bananas and chocolate sauce. Serve immediately.

Chocolate sauce:
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (or use chocolate chips)

1. In a small saucepan, bring cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. Remove pan from heat and immediately add chocolate. Stir until chocolate combines with cream and sauce is smooth and dark (or use prepared chocolate sauce from a jar!).
*Tip: Make sure you clean the grill VERY well before grilling bananas. Leftover meat flavors do not taste good on bananas!

These recipes were adapted from Weber's Real Grilling. It is a great resource. I received it as a Christmas gift last year from my dad. Initially, I doubted its usefulness. Maybe it had something to do with the cold December weather, or maybe it was because my husband already grills fantastic pork loin and also does a great job with steaks, burgers, chops, etc. . . . but I was wrong. I have used it a lot this summer, and probably will for many summers to come. (Pictures coming soon)


In the past year, I have found some great new restaurants and businesses. Some truly are new, others are just new to me. Either way, I'm happy they exist, and even happier they're close to home!

Brix Wine & Cheese - Quincy, IL -
Main St. Kitchen - Hannibal, MO -
A great collection of kitchen gadgets, cookware, spices, gifts, etc. at reasonable prices. They also do "effortless entrees."
Quincy Steamboat - Quincy, IL (I can't belive it took me more than a year of living here to find out about this place!)
Literally a house full of kitchen and home goods, plus cooking classes, parties, showers, and more.
Paddlewheel Popcorn & Candy Co. - Hannibal, MO
Try the "Becky Thatcher" . . . yum . . .

Unfortunately, some of the places I discovered (and liked) have closed.

Twainland Cheesecake Co. & Italian Pasta House - Hannibal, MO
I only recently discovered this place . . . and I'm not sure how I'm going to live without the rosemary bread!
Java Jive-Thru - Hannibal, MO
Fortunately, I can still get good coffee drinks at Java Jive's downtown location.
Pirate's Cove - Hannibal, MO

Hannibal's only Beef Backer award winner. Will miss the steaks and the collection of football helmets.

Back to Blogging

It has been a year since I have posted a new blog. One whole year! Why so long? First, I've been busy (mostly with work). Second, I forgot the username/password combination for Kenzie's Kitchen. I'm still pretty busy, but I found time to retrieve the username and password, so I'm back to blogging!

In the past 12 months, a few of the things I missed blogging about include:
  • Fall trip to Memphis, TN (it's all about Corky's BBQ!)
  • Our super bowl party
  • Award-winning Beef Bruschetta
  • A wedding shower I hosted for Amy C.
  • Ken's family reunion
  • Winning the Marion Co. Fair Apple Pie contest for the second year in a row
  • New restaurants, cooking gadgets, foodie businesses, recipes, etc.

I'll do my best to catch up on the old stuff and stay up-to-date on the new.