Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Baking for Santa--and my family

The past few days I have been baking to get a jump on the holidays and I am having a bit of trouble keeping sneaky fingers out of the cookie jar. The goal is to cook early and freeze items to have in a couple of weeks.

I started with cookies and made some to eat and some to freeze. That went pretty well but I only was able to freeze about half of them. Then I moved on to cinnamon rolls. I baked some for the freezer and some for our new neighbors. It was a great thought, but the neighbors weren't at home and we wound up giving some to family members and then the rest of them are almost gone. Not a great start.

I know it CAN be done since my Mother did it every Christmas when we were growing up. At Christmas, an abundant supply of cookies, candies, and cakes did seem to magically appear. This was because Mother had been baking and stashing them away in the freezer and refrigerator while we were at school. We did bake a few things, but most things she prepared when we were unaware of her incredible baking that was going on while we were away. We didn't really get to sample items made for Christmas. I now think this was probably by design to make sure she didn't have to bake perpetually from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve.

Starting tomorrow, I will just have to have to take a firm stand with the goodies I am preparing. Rather than sharing them, I will have to slap away the hands from the cooling rack where the cookies are waiting to be packaged and frozen. I will say in my best "food Nazi" tone-- "No cookies for you!" before I stash them away in plastic and store them in the freezer for the next week or two.

My family will be glad I did, especially with the gluten-free cookies I am baking. There are times I realize my Mother had some cunningly ingenious ideas.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What can I get for a dollar?

A couple of days ago I went to the Dollar Store. I must admit it is one of my favorite places. Every year about this time I go there to get some cute items that include Christmas bags, a few ornaments and paper goods, Christmas cards, and to see what else they might offer. 

This year we have a new, local store that is laid out very effectively. They keep their seasonal items mostly up front and then have seasonal items in aisle displays, which keep you moving throughout the store. The exciting thing is that every item is just a dollar. Though some of the items can be cheaply made, many of the items are surprisingly nice and that is why I love shopping there.

I found some very nice bows, 3 for $1, that look really nice on my packages.

I often buy candy canes but since I could only find yellow and blue ones, I opted for these plastic ones that came in a package of 6--also $1.

I had never seen these doves before. I always have a few cardinals but the doves give the right message. Of course the cost is $1.

I also like to add some silk poinsettias to my tree and these were in bunches of five. I don't know if they are a better value than those at the craft store and were a bit small but I was there, so I picked up a few and had 15 little ornaments for my tree.

I also purchased Christmas cards which are a major bargain. Each package of 15 or more are just $1 and a package of money holders, $1 for 8.

I do realize that most things sold there are made in China but that is true for most discount stores. I don't usually buy foods there, though they do stock packaged and frozen foods. My problem with the food is that there is less in each package than in the grocery stores. It might pay you to shop there if you figured out the price per item, but I think some items were about the same a grocery prices and I have concerns about the freshness.

Good items to buy: Reading glasses, table covers and party supplies, small cheap toys and puzzles, buckets, cleaning supplies and tools, foil cooking pans, cooking utensils, sometimes craft items, little baskets for giveaways, inexpensive Christmas stockings and cute stocking stuffers.

Go there. I think you will like it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Smoothies--a holiday indulgence

Around this time of year I try very hard to eat a little better so that I don't have to lose quite so much weight in the New Year. It is a constant struggle but the thing is making choices that are healthy.

One of the choices we make is to exercise and then have a green smoothie instead of breakfast. Below is one of our favorite recipes.

Does it help? I can't really say. I usually lose focus a couple of times during the holiday season but it makes me feel better to at least try. The smoothies are good, too--so good we are talking about making it a habit year-round. We think of it as an indulgence that tastes good and is good for us, too.

Veggie–Berry Smoothie 

This is our favorite smoothie recipe. It has a little bit of everything and is very tasty. 

1/2 banana 1/2 apple, cored 1/2 orange, remove orange outer peel by thinly peeling, leaving the white pith and the seeds 1 cup raw kale 1/2 carrot 1/4 cup frozen blueberries 3 to 4 frozen strawberries 4 ice cubes 1/2 cup water Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender. Use the tamper tool to push down ingredients into the blade. Blend until smooth and pour into a glass using a silicone spatula. You will need to use a straw with this smoothie to get all of the nutritious and yummy goodness from the bottom of the glass.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Turkey Casserole with Cheesy Biscuit Topping

Our family had such a nice Thanksgiving but, I am one of those cooks who probably overestimated how much my family would need on Thanksgiving, and the day after, and the next day, and ...

You get the idea! I had too many leftovers.

We were all a bit tired of heating up leftovers with food that was way too heavy. I decided to make a casserole that was a bit lighter with my leftovers, plus it needed to be gluten-free. I had seen those casseroles for leftover turkey with cheese biscuits cooked on top and I decided I could make a good gf version that could be a crowd pleaser, if I used that model.

The leftovers I wanted to incorporate: turkey, gravy, cream-style corn. The things I decided to add: chopped carrots, celery, onions, parsley and of course some lower-fat cheese biscuits for the topping.

And the result was a great casserole that smelled delicious and one that everyone really enjoyed. It was kind of like we had it for the first time rather than a recycled meal.

I even had enough to share with my Mom. We made it a Happy after Thanksgiving Non Warmed-Over Casserole that lifted our spirits. You ought to try it.

Here's my recipe. Mine is gluten-free. Of course this would be good if self-rising wheat flour were used, too,

Turkey Casserole with Cheesy Biscuit Topping

4-5 cups pre-cooked chopped turkey
3 small carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 onion (about 1/4 cup), chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 to 1/2 cups creamed corn
1-1/2 cup gravy (or substitute 1 can of broth with 1 tablespoon corn starch stirred in)
Biscuit topping (recipe below)

In a large greased casserole dish layer turkey, carrots, celery, onion, and parsley. Mix together the corn and gravy (or broth mixture) and pour over the top of the ingredients in the casserole dish. Top with Biscuit Topping and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until topping is nice and browned. To serve: dish out biscuit and turn over, then spoon filling over the top of the biscuit.

Biscuit Topping
1/2 cup sweet (glutinous) rice flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup potato starch
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1-1/4 cups buttermilk (more if needed)

 Mix together rice flour, sorghum flour, potato starch, cornstarch, baking powder, xanthan gum, and garlic salt. Mix in small pieces of butter with a pastry knife. Mix in cheese. Pour buttermilk into mixture and stir until well mixed. Mixture will be thinner than regular biscuit batter. Spoon on top of the Turkey Casserole and bake as directed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A few easy changes can make cheesecake gluten-free

A few weeks ago I made a very tasty cheesecake that was completely gluten-free.

You might never have considered it, but cheesecake can easily be a special dessert for a person who can't eat gluten--with a few adjustments, that is.

My "foolproof" recipe--the one that doesn't crack and looks pretty calls for 1/4 cup of wheat flour for which I substitute cornstarch. It firms up the cake and makes it much more stable, avoiding those unsightly cracks that can ruin a cheesecake.

For the crust, use gluten-free graham crackers, if you can find them. Another good choice would be crumbling gluten-free cookies and adding about a quarter cup of almond mill and a couple of tablespoons of butter, then bake it.

For my crust, I made some gluten-free vanilla cookes and added crushed almonds and pecans and the butter. It was nice to have a fancy cake that wasn't hard to make at all. With the holiday season almost here, this is a good choice for a very tasty gluten-free alternative that doesn't feel like an alternative.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Making my own tea

Some time ago I purchased my own tea plant, Camellia sinensis from Southern Roots Nursery. I planted my plant with as much care as I knew how, and just before the first frost I made my own cup of tea! I didn't want to waste the handful of small shoots my tree had put out and, of course I was curious. I wondered if my little camellia bush would produce tea.

I don't have any cookbooks that feature recipes on tea growing but I did find some internet guides. Many may realize that tea doesn't come from the tea tree (melaleuca), which can be toxic if ingested in large quantities, but can good for the skin. Black, green and white tea are all made from the Camellia sinensis plant using different processes.

I chose to make green tea since black tea has to be fermented and I didn't think I was up to that. I do like green tea and it seemed easier. The process: Snip off the new shoots and microwave until the shoots become "juicy." Roll in cheesecloth until dry and then heat in a dry skillet for several minutes. Squeeze and repeat this two more times or until the leaves become very dry. Then you have tea.

The handful of leaves that I "harvested" only made one very small pot of tea--enough to make about two cups. I thought the flavor was very much like the green tea I have had in the past and I was kind of impressed with the simplicity of it all. I really like my green tea and hope to make more next year.

The Camellia sinensis is not as showy as the beautiful camellia bushes we are familiar with, here in the south. It is kind of small, with slightly smaller leaves and the blooms are single and small. The leaves are deep green and with the same shiny appearance as other camellias. Actually the bush is kind of small. It is filling out a little and is certainly doing well but this variety is not exceptional for it's blossoms.

I do have seeds that I have harvested from my bush and was kind of surprised when I found them because I read they didn't produce seed until the third year. I am hoping to use them to grow more plants to plant in other places in my landscape. Then I can have my own mini-tea plantation.

I will admit I have purchased Camellia sinensis plants before and wasn't able to sprout the seeds. I hope I will have more success from my own seeds.

I think it's a good start and can't wait to have more tea next year. Maybe more than a pot!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My new teapot

This past weekend I hit a few yard sales in my neighborhood and I picked up this wonderful Bodum Assam Teapot. I love teapots, especially French press teapots and I really love this one.

To me there is nothing like a nice cup of strong black tea with cream and sugar and I wasted no time in washing my new pot and brewing a cup. I wasn't sure this pot was ever used. It was in the box and it looked brand new. I will say I would recommend this pot and brewing system to anyone.

The main reason. There were absolutely no dregs in the pot or in my cup. It was an absolutely perfect filtering system, and I will use it over and over. I have never had such an effective filter for a pot. Also, it was perfect timing because I drink more hot tea in the cooler months and this weekend, the weather was kind of dreary and perfect for tea.

The price? I paid $2--the best investment I have made in a while.