Friday, November 22, 2013

Giving Thanks

Last week I had a peppermint milkshake. (Well, part of one—I remembered that I don't especially like them.) And today I had my one gingerbread latte of the season. These once-a-year treats mean the holidays are fast approaching. I battled city traffic today to get a few errands done before and after I enjoyed lunch with a friend. It was so good to come home with almost everything crossed off my list.

Yesterday I baked the first bread of the season. It's important to eat a loaf from that first batch to make sure I still remember how to do it. Daddy-O had to try several slices before he declared it good. 

I've been taking home baked bread to our family Thanksgiving gathering since before I was married. That's a lot of years and a lot of bread. I am thankful for traditions. Although I have used other recipes, it is usually this one. This is about the easiest bread recipe I know. The hardest part is remembering to get the bread starter going a week or so before Thanksgiving.  If you start right now, you could have bread for your Thanksgiving table.

This basic recipe has been around forever, but years ago I tinkered with the original until I got it just like we like it. (The original had more sugar, more oil and more salt.) When I had a house full of folks to help eat this, I made it year 'round and kept my starter going for five years once. Now, I start baking just before Thanksgiving and sometime in February or March, I decide I'm done for the year. I will have made loaves for the church bake sale. I will have given loaves for gifts. We will have eaten enough bread— but rest assured, there will be several loaves in the freezer for later. 

SOURDOUGH BREAD (also known around here as MIMI BREAD)

¼ cup sugar
¼ cup oil
1 cup starter
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 cups warm water
6 or more cups bread flour

  • Mix bread ingredients.  (I use a large wire whisk as I add the first 3 cups of flour, and switch to a heave spoon for the last 3 cups.) 
  • Place in large bowl sprayed with PAM.  Lightly spray dough with PAM.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Let stand at least 8 hours. (Sometimes mine has doubled faster than this.)
  • Punch down dough and knead on floured board about 10 times.  Divide into 3 parts.
  • Spray three 8-inch loaf pans with PAM.  Shape dough and place in pans.
  • Cover loosely with plastic wrap. 
  • Let stand and rise until pans are full, about 5 to 6 hours.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or until brown and bottom sounds hollow when tapped.

Whole wheat bread:  Use 2 cups whole wheat flour and 4 cups bread flour.

Remember that these rising times are all approximate. The rising time will depend on the temperature of your kitchen. And sometimes my starter is a little zingy-er than others. 

To feed starter:  Remove 1 cup for baking (or discard) and feed with 1/3 cup sugar, 3 tbsp. instant potatoes and 1 cup warm water.  Mix well and let stand 8-12 hours.  Then refrigerate.  Store in plastic container with slits cut in lid. 
Feed every 3-7 days.

To make starter:  Double the feeding recipe.  Put in a glass or plastic container, loosely covered.  Let set out for 4 days.  Then add one pack dry yeast.  Let stand another 24 hours.  Use 1 cup for the first batch or store in refrigerator for up to 10 days.

My favorite container for the starter is an empty Cool Whip bowl (the large size.) Use a sharp knife to cut an "X" in the lid. The lid is flexible plastic, not brittle, so it works just right. My best spot for letting the dough rise is on my kitchen counter with the under-cabinet lights turned on. The lights keep that spot a little warmer than the rest of my kitchen.

The wooden turkeys in my photo? My dad made those many, many years ago. I am thankful to have some of his handiwork to enjoy. Maybe that's why he made things. And why I make things. To leave a little piece of us for loved ones when we are gone. I have my great-grandmother's quilt. And my grandmother's paintings. And my mother's recipes. Something I can touch with my hands and remember. I am thankful.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Oh, (Baby) Boy!

I helped with a baby shower yesterday at our church.

A celebration of a baby boy due in January.

This was another celebration, too, of a medical miracle experienced by this family. The grandmother of the baby-to-be had a catastrophic medical event a few weeks ago during a routine surgery. And because of this miracle (that is the doctors' only explanation) she is recovering and will be able to share the joy this new baby will bring. 

I made pecan toffee tassies for the refreshment table. These are easy to make. Just know that they do not freeze well, so you can't make them way ahead. The day before, yes; the month before, no. I tried freezing them once and the crust was a little soggy after they thawed. But they are simple enough to make that I have done them in the morning before we left for our family's Thanksgiving lunch.

The toffee bits are with the chocolate chips at the grocery store. We have two grocery stores in our little town. One store had them, one did not. But you will find them. The pie crust is the kind you can roll out, not the frozen ones in a foil pie plate.


1 (15-oz) package refrigerated pie crusts
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 (8-oz) bag Heath toffee bits

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Unroll one pie crust onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 15-inch circle. Cut out circles, using a 2-1/2 inch biscuit cutter, re-rolling dough as needed. Press circles into mini-muffin tins to make crusts. Repeat with other pie crust to make 48 tart shells. 

Combine the melted butter, brown sugar, flour and eggs in a large bowl, mixing well. Add the vanilla. Stir in the pecans and toffee bits. Spoon the pecan filling evenly into the tart shells.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until filling is set and the crust is lightly browned. Cool in the pans on wire racks.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday, Fall, Food

This is the third Honey Cowl I've made. Both daughters have one and now I have one, too. I knitted the first half of this one on my trip to visit Baby Sister and her family a couple of weeks ago. Airports and airplanes are great places to knit a lot in a hurry. You can't do much else. Big Sister now wants one. As soon as I find the shade of gray yarn she wants, I'll start one for her. This is a lovely simple pattern, great for travel knitting or sit-and-knit groups. Not much thinking required.

Pattern: Honey Cowl
Yarn: Madelinetosh Tosh DK, color: Byzantine
Needles: size 8, 40-in. circular

Midweek, we had a freaky blast of cold Canadian air. There was even talk of snow in our local forecasts. Well, we didn't see snow, but we did freeze for a couple of days. This cowl can be worn long, or looped around to keep the neck warm. I wove in the ends on the first very cold day—and hardly took it off for a couple of days. (I nearly froze taking that first photo.) And there is more cold weather expected next week. It is the season for knitwear at last!

Pattern: Ann Norling's Kid's Fruit Hat (made solid)
Yarn: Berrocco Comfort DK
Needles: size size 6

And I just finished wrapping this sweet baby cap for a friend who is expecting a winter baby boy. Tomorrow I'll be making a treat for her baby shower and I'll share that recipe when I'm done.

I did cook dinner last night. Tried a recipe I saw on Facebook. Why did all these recipes suddenly start showing up on Facebook? I had eaten something similar recently at one of our ukulele gigs that included a covered dish dinner. I will say that the church dinner version was better than this recipe. But this is good, too. 

It's just a basic weeknight dinner. Not fancy, but filling. I told Daddy-O that it contained cabbage, tomatoes, onion—THREE VEGETABLES—and a meat. It was a one dish dinner as far as I was concerned. I did add a piece of cheese toast, which kind of killed the "no carb" claim on the recipe. Sorry. (Recipe says 4 net carbs per serving.) 


3-4 tablespoons butter
1 small head of cabbage, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 pound smoked sausage, sliced into rounds (I used turkey sausage)
1 (15-oz) can diced tomatoes (or Rotel--but I used regular diced)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add cabbage and onion. Cook on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring to keep from sticking to pan. Add remaining ingredients, cover, lower heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes.

Serves 8 (although we ate it all in two nights, since I made no side dishes)

UPDATE:  I'm so glad it was later tonight before I finished this post. We had the leftover cabbage & sausage for supper tonight. And it was even BETTER than last night! That means this recipe could be made ahead. Maybe make it in the morning and have it ready for supper that night. Or, even make it the night before you know you're going to have a really busy day and warm it up at supper time. Will make this again for sure.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cooking At Last

I have been suffering from kitchen malaise for a while. Just haven't felt like cooking. (Another reason to keep the freezer stocked.) But yesterday as I was deleting old emails I came across one from Mommy back weeks ago with a recipe that ALL of her family liked. If you don't have a houseful of people who show up for dinner each night, you don't understand how hard it is to find something that everyone really likes. They might eat it but they don't always love it. But I remember that she told me that she had no leftovers that night. That was a good thing (because they all liked it) and a bad thing (because she had no leftovers for lunch the next day.)

I've always told my daughters that cooking isn't nearly as hard as thinking of what to cook. So yesterday I let Mommy do the thinking. I just used her recipe.

When I was learning to cook in the college home economics lab, we were taught to gather and measure all the ingredients before starting the actual cooking. I did that last night. I set out the onion, mustard and the chicken broth somewhere along in the afternoon. Before I started the chicken, I actually measured the flour and mustard and chopped the onion. So when I really started to cook, this was super simple to make. My kind of dinner. Take a few minutes to do your prep work. It helps.

I bought a package of boneless, skinless chicken breast—three to a pack—and sliced them in half horizontally. I browned them three pieces at a time, not to crowd the pan. Then I put all the chicken into the pan and poured the sauce over it.


3 chicken breasts, cut in half horizontally (or use 6 chicken cutlets)-My package was 2 lbs.
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoon butter
1 (14.5-oz.) can chicken broth
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons dijon mustard

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. (I didn't measure, just sprinkled.)
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken, three pieces at a time, and cook about 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Put all chicken in the pan. Stir in chopped onion.
Whisk together chicken broth, flour, mustard and pour over chicken.
Cover. Reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes.

The only thing I might change next time is to take the lid off the skillet toward the end to let the sauce thicken a bit more. Don't let the dijon mustard frighten you. It's not spicy at all; it just gives the broth a rich flavor. I was surprised. This is good enough for a company meal. And it would be great to "make and take" when you need to take dinner to someone. Easy and delicious.

And so that this cutie and her big sister won't be disappointed when they are here, this morning I stirred up the starter for what Big Sister calls "Mimi bread." The rest of the world calls it sourdough bread. I like her name better. It will be ready when they are here for Thanksgiving. Can't wait to have them home!

Monday, November 11, 2013

To Warm The Bones

I am Southern to the center of my bones. My ancestors settled in 1769 just two counties away from where we live now. So it's no wonder that I do not tolerate cold weather very well. We are looking for an unusual blast of cold Canadian air to wash over us this week. Just thinking about it has made me cold this afternoon.

Best remedy for "chilled to the bone"?—well, a very good remedy, at least. Hot cocoa. Not the kind that is found in packets in a box. But the real stuff. The kind my mother made when we were little--long before those packets of mix had been dreamed up.

My mother made it with evaporated milk (mixed half & half with water) and I still love that taste. But you can use your regular milk and it will be fine. It is easy. And it's all real ingredients. No chemical concoction here. 

It's simply the recipe on the side of the Hershey's cocoa can. This is what I made for my girls when they were small, usually making a panful. Today I only needed one cup for me. Both recipes work. And both are good. It takes about 5 minutes to get out the ingredients and stir it all together. Treat your folks (or yourself) to something special. You're all worth it.

HOT COCOA (single serving)

2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
dash salt
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

MIx sugar, cocoa and salt in a large mug. Heat milk in microwave on HIGH for 90 seconds, or until hot. Gradually add the hot milk to the cocoa mixture in the mug, stirring well. Stir in vanilla.

This next version makes enough for six. It basically makes a chocolate syrup at the beginning. This is what I made most often for our girls, so there would be enough for all of us! Mommy makes it now for her family.


1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa 
dash salt
1/3 cup hot water
4 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix sugar, cocoa and salt in a saucepan. Stir in hot water. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture boils; boil and stir for 2 minutes. Stir in milk and heat but DO NOT BOIL.Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

Now, if the weather forecasters are right, there might be a snowflake or two falling here in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday. I've never seen snow on my birthday, so I might stake out a window, hot cocoa in hand, and watch for it. Wouldn't that be a grand present?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Good Times

I've been moving in slow motion this week. Got home from the mid-west visit on Monday night and I'm tired. I am trying to catching up. Here is a quick look-back at my visit.

We didn't have huge plans for my visit. I just spent time doing regular grandmother things,

like working puzzles...

and getting to see our pink unicorn on Halloween...

who only wanted one lollipop after trick-or-treating.

She wears high heels better than I do.

The only toy better than the building blocks was my tape measure.
Little Sister said my hand measured "forty-three."

One huge treat for me was getting to attend the All-Region Choral Concert. Big Sister auditioned and was accepted into this phenomenal group. Of the 45 from her school who auditioned, only five were selected to participate. There were large four choirs that performed. As a long time chorus mom (from Mommy's high school and college days), I know that these were excellent choirs. I got to play piano for her to practice a little when I first got there. I knew she could sing, but I didn't know she could SING! 

Pattern:  Honey Cowl
Yarn:  Madelinetosh Tosh DK, Jasper colorway
Needles: size 8

I delivered two finished cowls to Mommy just in time for cold weather. Big Sister wanted to wear them to school immediately. I think Mommy gets first chance! (I also think it's cool that a 7th grader likes my knitting.) I never got a photo of the soft mohair cowl on Mommy. Sad. It's pretty.

The most exciting knitting event was that Mommy finished the scarf that she started knitting just before Little Sister was born. It's done!!! I don't know that she'll ever love knitting like I do, but she now has a warm scarf to wear on cold days and she can say she made by herself. We are now a whole family of knitters. Big Sister and Jessica have been knitting for quite some time. Little Sister sat right beside me several times as I was knitting. She had a wooden crochet hook that she pushed in and out of a piece of plastic mesh. She told everyone she was "kniddin' with Mimi." That's a start.

And of course, there were other fun things, like a trip to the yarn shop and the yummy coffee shop next door to it, a holiday open house, a shopping trip with Big Sister to use her birthday gift cards (and I might have come home with some new shoes), lunch at some favorite local restaurants, our traditional girls' pancake night while Mommy and Daddy had a date night, and a marshmallow roast in the backyard the night before I left. S'mores!

I was so happy to spend some time with Little Sister and her family. She was pretty glad to see me, too.  Leaving to come home was hard for both of us. Mommy said when she picked Little Sister up from preschool after my plane had taken off, Little Sister's first words were, "Where's my Mimi? Let's go find her!" Sweetness, I am right here. Just a phone call away.

And thank you, Jessica, for coming home to check on Daddy-O while I was gone. He is on the mend but he was happy to have her come cook for him. (I made a Honey Cowl for her, too—a surprise for helping out.)