Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chocolate-Toffee Cookies

ince the response to the cookies was so overwhelming (honestly and truly, this isn't a full-time cooking blog!), I'm sharing the recipe.

This is something I clipped from Today's Christian Woman at some point along the way. It's super-easy and makes a lot of cookies! Enjoy....on this 100th day of school, for some of us.


Chocolate-Toffee Cookies
From the Kitchen of Andrea Schmidt

2-1/4 C flour
1 t baking soda
1 C butter
1/4 C sugar
3/4 C brown sugar
1 t vanilla
1 small package of vanilla instant pudding
2 eggs
12 oz chocolate chips (Really, any kind of chips work here)
1/2 bag toffee bits (Find 'em in the chocolate chip aisle)

Sift flour and baking soda. In separate bowl, mix butter, both sugars, vanilla and vanilla pudding. Mix until smooth. Beat in eggs. Slowly add flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and toffee bits.

Bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Best Mess

There really is such a thing as a "best mess".

Letting the kids get themselves deep into a painting project is that kind of mess. But, the kids are in school today. (Praise the Lord!!)

For me, a favorite "best mess" kitchen this morning.

Recipes, measuring cups and ingredients scattered.

Pots and pans boiling and browning.

Kitchen Aid churning out dough and well-conditioned pans yielding chocolate-toffee cookies.

A sink of which you can't see the bottom.

Because a friend's family has now grown to seven!
And even though a baby girl doesn't eat much, her big brothers do.

Today, that's definitely a "best mess."

Monday, February 15, 2010

The "Love Day" Report

RJ2 has spent a good amount of time, lately, on the Nick Jr. website. One of her favorite stories to watch is a Blue's Clues episode on "Love Day." She has figured out that after her birthday comes "Love Day." (Cards, but no singing or candles!)

We had another enjoyable "Love Day" this year.

Dad and RJ2 exchanged cards. (I was so proud of RJ2 writing without help!)

Dad and CJ exchanged cards. CJ and RJ2 got a fancy homemade card from Grandma as well.

Cards and TULIPS! How Springlike!!

Chocolate for Dad, from the girls. Girls got chocolate from Dad.
(Mom got coffee! Dad got beef jerky!)

Lots of chocolate from Grandma and Grandpa!

And, of course,

Heart-shaped pizzas!

Lots of love on "Love Day"!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Happy Birthday, RJ2!

A day off school was yet another day in the kitchen.
But we had a special purpose for baking on Monday.


Now, would school be on or off?

Would the cupcakes actually make it to their intended destination?


Happy Birthday, Sweetheart!!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ode to the KitchenAid

(Kara has been waiting for this post for over a year now!)

A friend postulated in a post the other day that there probably is many a KitchenAid mixer gathering dust. She actually wants one, because she's a big baker. (And we have enjoyed many a good cookie by her hands!) I quickly responded that it was time for a blog post on the subject, because in our house, this definitely is not the case.

(Not Grandma's basement, but this sure looks like her mixer.)

The KitchenAid is as much a family tradition in my family as the recipes we cook up using the KitchenAid. My sisters and I remember going into my Mom's mom's basement to do any cake mixing, because Grandma's machine was so big, and there was no working counter space in her kitchen. We did all of our prep for any cooking on her kitchen table. (Then we'd eat in the dining room because there wouldn't be room on the kitchen table to put dishes!)

My Mom has a KitchenAid. We grew up mixing lots of birthday cake batter, icing and Christmas cookie dough in there. Hers is white and has the control dial on the top. A glass bowl! It has a great design in that it twists into place at the base. I'm not sure how this never broke or cracked in all the years of use. Of course, if Mom had a ceramic sink (like we do), she may have needed a few replacements.

As we sisters grew up and got married, it was Grandma who wanted to buy us all KitchenAids for our wedding presents. Who could say 'no' to that? We even got to pick out our own colors. Mine is on the far left. Only one chose a color other than white. (And that blue has to look awesome in your new red kitchen!)

It was my "blue" sister who decided a year ago to make my Mom a special cookbook with some of the classic home-baked KitchenAid recipes that we grew up with and the "next generation" of recipes that we girls are baking today. It was a huge hit!

We helped her personalize it with photos of our machines and some of the things we remembered about baking with Mom (like the cookie jar with the elf lid; the old yellow cookie tin--which I have and continue to pack Christmas cookies in when we visit my folks; and, my Mom's aluminum staple canisters, with the sugar scoop that has no handle and always stays in the canister).

Here at the homestead, CJ and RJ2 have made their share of cookies, "breakfast cakes" and muffins with the KitchenAid. I got the meat grinding attachment, though I've used it most to grind down pumpkin meat for pies. My "blue" sister passed along her shredding attachment. Many a block of cheese has passed through for tacos, mac/cheese and pizza. The dough hook helps us make bread for teacher appreciation days and accompaniments for dinners for friends.

Harking back to the last post here, why we talk about food is because food is never just about the food. There is so much that goes into the preparation of food. And it's not just pulling the ingredients! Making good food takes time--time to chop, mix, bake. One learns how to pass time productively and joyfully.

If you've ever baked cookies with little ones, you know, deep down, how much fun it is. (Suspend thoughts of your messy kitchen for a minute.) Kids show you how creative they can be. They talk while they bake! They ask questions. They learn, slowly, about how to cook. They take ownership of what they make and get a charge out of serving it up to somebody else. And they remember all of these things. You'll hear about it if you don't make gingerbread dough!

You see, CJ, it's not always about what you cook. It's more about the cooking--and what's cooking with you! It's about remembering special times and occasions and family moments. It's not just about the food.

Now, since we're home again today, what shall we make?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chicago Italian Beef Sandwiches

Last December, CJ got mad at me because, "All you post are recipes!" I was excited to share some of the recipes for the goodies I had served at my Christmas brunch. Edie provided a thoughtful response to CJ--something along the lines of, "We like food." We like to talk about good food, too, and exchange recipes for good food.

And, every food post here has a story:

When we lived in the western Chicago suburbs, we came to know a treat called Chicago Italian Beef. This was about as far from an East Coast cold roast beef sandwich as you could find. Portillo's, a hot dog giant, also made this delicious hot sandwich in our town. It wasn't long before we wanted to make our own and save the trip to the restaurant.

But, as I said, this is no typical roast beef sandwich. I remember getting a recipe and trying to make it with purchased supermarket deli sliced beef. Never tasted right. Tried to make our own roast, but we could never slice the meat thin enough by hand.

Enter Mom and Pop J! I remember Mom J asking me one year what we might want for Christmas. My husband and I must either have been talking about the sandwich or eating one, but I mentioned that we might like a meat slicer, so we could make our own Chicago Italian Beef. And, we do! And lots of other sandwiches.

At first, the slicer seemed like a luxury kitchen item. But we quickly discovered that buying a larger quantity of meat, cooking and seasoning it yourself, and slicing it as you go, makes for many a good dinner and, later, a lunchtime sandwich.
The recipe we use comes from "The Frugal Gourmet" Jeff Smith, who we used to watch on the PBS station in Chicago early Saturday evenings, often with dinner on trays.

This recipe makes enough for 4 to 6 sandwiches. The photos that I took today show a half-recipe.
Get a slab of beef before the next snow storm, and enjoy a taste of Chicago!

Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich 4-6 sandwiches

1 4-pound sirloin tip roast
Salt and pepper to taste
1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme

3 T olive oil
6 cloves garlic, sliced
2 large red bell peppers, cored and cut into 1" strips

2 large green bell peppers, cored and cut into 1" strips
2 medium yellow onions, sliced

2 C beef stock
1-1/2 C chicken stock
1/2 C dry white wine
2 T chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

4-6 individual Italian poor boy rolls

Season the meat with salt and pepper, oregano and thyme. Place on a rack in a roasting pan and roast in a preheated 375-degree oven for about 2 hours or until the meat reaches 130 degrees in the center. Remove and allow to cool. Deglaze the roasting pan with a little water and place the juices in a 6-quart pot.

Heat a large nonstick frying pan and add the oil, garlic, red and green bell peppers, and onions. Saute for 5 minutes and add to the pot.

Slice the cooled meat very thinly across the grain. (You will need an electric meat slicer to do this properly; call me if you're local.) Place the sliced meat in the pot along with any meat juices that may have accumulated during cooling.

Add the beef stock, chicken stock, wine and parsley. Cover and simmer gently for 1 hour and 15 minutes. (Watch the snow change to sleet and back again; keep pace with Boardwalk-hoarding daughter at Monopoly.)

Stir the pot a couple of times while cooking, and add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat and allow the pot to rest, covered, for 15 minutes.

Dip each roll in the broth in the pot so that it is saturated and heavy. Fill the roll with plenty of simmered beef and vegetables. Enjoy! (We did!)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

She's Making a Run For It

CJ has lamented not having enough time in the snow. She felt kind of icky over the weekend and just couldn't stay outside very long.

By Tuesday, she was ready to play. Of course, by yesterday, some of the snow that had been there on the weekend was no longer. The toboggan run was starting to show a little green underneath.

I didn't say, "Buck up, little camper," (a line made famous in Kelli's posts), but she needed some positive encouragement that there was enough snow to make it fun out there. Knowing that 7 to 10 (or more?) inches are on the way for this weekend probably cheered her up the most!

She makes an excellent run here and helps keep that toboggan run slick for another day...maybe....

Promise you'll help me make that ending go longer, OK? Maybe to the neighbor's driveway....

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sendin' Some Love

With all the excitement, fuss and waiting out the aftermath of the snow, it has been hard to think of much else around here. School has been called again on this Tuesday. Time to get creative with something!

Fortunately, I had shopped in Michaels a few weeks ago and stopped at their Valentine's display. With such a large class of friends to send Valentine's cards, RJ2 could stand to start making hers early.

[I am a fan of these new foam kits that they have created for class projects and such. However, I'm not ecstatic about the pricing! I went with a lower-priced base kit and scoured their "a la carte" foam/felt sticker wall for appropriate accoutrements.]

RJ2 is not a big fan of writing, so addressing cards would not go over well. Peel-and-stick is definitely more her speed. And, I have to say, she had amazing patience with these.

They were not easy to peel!

This one became a puppet for a little while.

She kept at it and finished more than half of the girls' cards. (Mom still needs to buy some candy hearts to really call them done.)

The boys' cards are still to come. And what boy won't love a lily pad heart with a froggie!? I'm sure we can find some kind of lizardy, buggy candy to go with these, too.

With a couple sick days coughing, "professional development" closings of the school and the snow days, RJ2 hasn't been in Kindergarten for almost a week. Not sure exactly what her teacher has in mind for celebrating Valentine's Day. But, at least RJ2 will have some cute cards ready for her friends. More cards today!

Will you be my Valentine?