Thursday, December 21, 2006

My Blogging by Mail Package Arrived!

My BBM Holiday Edition pal was April of Gastronomicon, who lives in Pittsburgh, PA. I had listed on my signup that I was interested in regional foods, so she obliged me. She also cooked up some pretty good stuff herself!

Here's what I got:

Tulip Poplar Honey from a local apiary - DH and I are looking forward to some of that on our toast in the morning!
Brown Sugar marshmallows from a local confectionary - I've already tasted them, and they are sooo goood.
Chocolate S'mores Balls from another local confectionary - It's hard to stop eating these. They chocolate-coated marshmallows with a graham cracker "crust."
Pistachio-Dried Cherry Chocolate Bark - delightfully unusual. And delicious.
Chocolate-Covered Apricots - these will go with us on our camping trip to snack on.
Cinnamon Snaps - sort of like Snickerdoodles - really good!
Rugellach from a bakery near April's apartment - another breakfast treat - I think we'll eat these "on the road"
Cardamom cookies - sort of like a soft shortbread - not too sweet - yummy with coffee.

So you can see, I "hit the jackpot!" What a wonderful assortment of goodies! Thanks so much to April for sending the package, and thanks to Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness for organizing Blogging by Mail. This is so much fun!

If you'd like to see what I sent to my partner, go to Erin-Go-Blog! and see.

I DID get that cold, and boy was it a doozie! Sunday was the tickling in the throat, Monday was the beginning of the sniffles and congestion, and by Monday night I felt like I was hit by a semi truck. Tuesday was spent in bed all day; I used up an entire box of tissues. My poor nose is so red and tender! Yesterday I was a little stronger, but last night the coughing started. The cough syrup wasn't strong enough; I got only a few hours' sleep. Today I feel like I'm on the uphill side, with a little bit of everything still hanging on.

The reason I'm such a wimp about this is because I haven't had a cold or been sick for almost 4 years. When I was in the classroom, I caught every virus my students brought in, especially around semester finals time, when my resistance was low because of the exhaustion and stress. But when I became union president, no more kids. I guess I was awfully lucky not to catch colds from my colleagues, but I didn't. Still haven't - I'm sure I caught this from DH.

I should be fine for our trip - we leave Saturday for almost two weeks of camping in our new trailer on Lake Mead. I'll be posting all about it after the trip on my other blog, Wanderlust. This will be our second year to go; we went last year and fell in love with it. We go to Overton Beach, on the Overton Arm of Lake Mead. Picture Lake Mead as an upside-down T, and then go to the top. There's a marina there, plus a 30-site campground, which is probably packed and noisy during the summer months with seadoos and ski boats. But this time of year, the only ones there are snowbirds (full-time RVers) and us. Last year, within an hour of our setting up, two different ladies came and knocked on our door to tell us that on Christmas Day they all do a potluck, and wanted us to come. We did - and ate turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and an assortment of other sides, breads, and desserts. We brought a pumpkin pie I was able to get at a market in Overton, which is 10 miles north. This year I'm planning to make a cranberry salad, and I'll be sure to post a pic and recipe later.

At night, you can sit in your chair, look out across the desert and see nothing but some far off twinkling lights of Overton, and listen to the coyotes and the occasional bray of the famous Lake Mead burros. We saw four of them one afternoon, so I knew what that strange sound was. The lights of Las Vegas brighten the western sky some, but not enough to dim our view of the stars. It's heaven - no kids, no atvs, no seadoos - just peace and quiet.

Last year DH met a guy his age, also retired, also with wife still working (she's a nurse), who also has a passion for fishing. They hit it off and spent lots of time together fishing. Gary's from Las Vegas, and parks his motor home up at Overton Beach for the winter; he's let us know he bought a boat and plans to take DH fishing a lot. We're also looking forward to spending the day with DH's niece and her husband - they're both stationed at Nellis Air Force Base and will come up to see us Sunday.

Oh, I wish I was there already!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I HOPE I don't have that darn cold!

I think I might be getting a cold - one that my husband got from the salesman at the car dealership. DH had it for about a week; I didn't feel any symptoms until this afternoon. All I have right now is the back-of-the-throat pain and tickling that usually presages a cold. Please no. And if I DO get it, let me get it over with by Friday. Saturday we go to Lake Mead. I don't want to be sick on vacation.

Tonight I wanted an easy but tasty fish recipe, and found this on Eating Well. The original recipe called for mustard, but I took that out, since I wanted some good orange flavor. This one's a keeper.

Sautéed Fish with Orange-Shallot Sauce

⅓ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 lb. flounder, sole or haddock fillets
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Mix flour, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Thoroughly dredge fish fillets in the mixture.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the fish and cook until lightly browned and just opaque in the center, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
Add shallot to the pan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until softened and beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add wine and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Add orange juice; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the sauce thickens a bit, about 5 minutes. Add butter and parsley; stir until the butter has melted. Transfer fish to individual plates, top with sauce and serve.

I served this with some Roasted Vegetables and some fancied-up biscuits:

Cheddar-Garlic Biscuits

1 10-count package refrigerated biscuits (any kind)
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/3 cup (approx.) shredded sharp or medium cheddar
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Preheat oven to 425F. Separate biscuits and place on ungreased baking sheet about 1-2 inches apart. Brush each biscuit with melted butter, and top with about a tablespoon of shredded cheese. Sprinkle lightly with garlic powder. Bake about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Makes 10.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

It's Snowing this Weekend

While my mother in Lubbock is talking about temperatures in the '80s, we've got a winter storm that's come on shore in southering California, and we're getting some pretty good snow here in the mountains. Any time it's cold outside, I look for meals that utilze my oven so we can take advantage of the oven's heat to help warm up the house. This morning I was flipping through the pages of my cookbook ( which won't happen much longer since I'm converting all my recipes to MacGourmet) and saw this breakfast casserole. I like to cook with Bisquick, so I gave this one a try. It was really easy and tasty, and DH says it's a "keeper." I think next time, though, I'll try using the whole grain baking mix I picked up at Trader Joe's.

Bisquick Breakfast Casserole
(to serve 3 people, use half the ingredients)

1 lb bulk breakfast sausage (I use Jimmy Dean)
8 eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup Bisquick
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease a 9x13" dish. Cook sausage and drain well. Beat eggs, add milk and Bisquick and stir thoroughly. Layer sausage on bottom of dish. Sprinkle the monterey jack cheese over the sausage. Pour on the egg mixture and sprinkle the cheddar over the top. Bake for 50 minutes or until set.

I picked up some produce at the market this morning, including some fresh mushrooms. For dinner tonight, I made an old favorite, Chicken and Mushrooms with Herb Cheese Sauce. We had that with some brown rice and a salad.

Remember when I posted a while back about Uncle Ben's ready brown rice? A few folks let me know that if I used a good quality Japanese rice cooker, I could cook brown rice without burning it. I hope to post in a few months and show you my new rice cooker! My son just got stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, and has let me know that he's going to get me one for a belated Christmas gift. Hooray!

I just checked outside - we have about 4 inches of snow so far. It's a dry snow - the way we know it's dry is that it's not sticking to and filling up the Direct TV dish. When we get a dense, wet snow, it fills up the dish. DH has to climb up on the ladder and clean it out every few minutes. Tonight he doesn't have to. I'll take some snow pictures to post tomorrow.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Some More Sweets for BBM

Having just bought a new travel trailer, I spend a lot of time on the forums at RV.Net. They have a thread called "Camp Cooks and Connoisseurs, where I found this great recipe for Turtle Bars. I think it didn't even take 10 minutes to mix everything up and get it in the the oven. They're very simple, and very delicous. They'll travel well as part of the BBM package I"m mailing (late) tomorrow.

Turtle Bars
from Heather on RV.Net Open Roads Forum

2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
½ cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups pecans, coarsely chopped
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
⅔ cup butter
1 ½ cups milk or semisweet chocolate chips

Combine flour, 3/4 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup butter; blend until crumbly. Pat mixture firmly onto bottom of ungreased 9x13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle pecans over the unbaked crust. Set aside.
In small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup brown sugar and 2/3 cup butter.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to boil. Boil for one minute, stirring constantly.
Drizzle the hot caramel mixture over pecans and crust.
Bake at 350° for 18 to 20 minutes or until caramel layer is bubbly and crust is light brown.
Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips. Use a small spatula or butter knife to spread chips evenly as they melt. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

My Brother's Favorite Cake

When I went to visit my brother Barry last year (not knowing it would be the last time I'd see him), he reminded me about a cake Mother used to make that he'd been longing for. He described the coconut topping, and I told him I'd vaguely remembered it. I did some research, and learned that it's a Bisquick classic.

It hit the spot for breakfast this morning. I lightened up the original recipe just a bit by substituting Splenda for the sugar, and then used canola oil for the shortening. I also used the low-fat Bisquick. I could have used Splenda's brown sugar blend, but chose not to this time.

Velvet Crumb Cake

1 1/2 cup Bisquick® mix
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cp milk or water
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
Crumb Topping (See Below)

Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour 8-inch square pan or 9-inch round pan. Beat all ingredients except Crumb Topping in large bowl on low speed 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly. Beat on medium speed 4 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean; cool slightly.
Make Crumb Topping; spread over cake. Set oven control to Broil. Broil about 3 inches from heat about 3 minutes or until golden brown.

Crumb Topping. Stir together:

1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped nuts
3 Tbsp. butter, softened
2 Tbsp. millk

High Altitude (3500-6500 ft)
Heat oven to 375ºF. Use 9-inch square pan. Decrease Bisquick mix to 1 1/3 cups and add 1/3 cup all-purpose flour. Increase milk to 2/3 cup. Bake about 25 minutes.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Pecan Pralines Texas Style

When I was going to college at Texas Tech, my favorite restaurant was a Mexican place called El Chico. In addition to great Chile con Queso, Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas, and other wonderful items on the menu, they always had a basket of pecan pralines sitting by the cash register. Theirs were the "Texas style" pralines - meaning they were NOT chewy. I was given a recipe for microwave pralines a few years ago, and they come out just like the ones at El Chico.

I'm getting my Blogging By Mail box ready to ship (yes, I'm a litte late, but I'll send it priority), and decided to make a batch and send them to my BBM pal.

Texas Pecan Pralines

1 lb. light brown sugar
1 cup whipping cream
2 Tbsp. butter
2 cups pecan pieces

Combine sugar and cream in large bowl, mixing well. Microwave on HIGH 12 minutes, stirring after 6 minutes. Add butter and pecans. Microwave on HIGH 1 to 2 minutes, or until a few drops form a soft ball in a cup of cold water. Working quickly, drop by large tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper. If necessary, return to microwave for a few minutes to soften the mixture. Do not beat after the soft ball test shows the consistency is correct. Spoon out immediately. Makes approx. 30 pieces.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

New Products for Camping

When we go camping, we don't always carry fresh potatoes, and even if we do, I don't always like to go to the trouble of peeling and shredding and slicing and such. I used to buy Betty Crocker's Hash Browns, and they disappeared from the shelves for a while. Then yesterday, I saw them at the store, but BC has changed the packaging and now has a ine of "Seasoned Skillets." They still have the hash browns, but they now also have Crispy Potato Slices in two different flavors - Lightly Seasoned and Roasted Garlic & Herbs. I'll be giving these a try in a couple of weeks when we go to Overton Beach for Christmas.