Friday, August 31, 2012

Mexican Miracle Noodles

I can spend many hours on food websites, finding recipes and reading various food news stories. Not that long ago, I read about Shirataki Miracle Noodles. No calories...all fiber. This intrigued me. For one, regular pasta doesn't completely agree with me anymore, even though it's one of my favorite foods. For two, like many people, I should be eating more fiber. So, with those Amazon gift cards piling up, I decided to give them a try and purchased a 6-pack of the Fettuccine.

Now, I was a little hesitant. I am not a fan of most Asian food – or rather, I'm not really a fan of most Asian vegetables. However, most of the reviews said that they did best with Asian dishes. So last week, I went searching for other recipes and came up with this from SparkPeople.

There's 3 of us eating dinner, but I decided to bulk it up a bit. I used a whole can of kidney beans and corn, a whole green pepper, half of a small onion, and two packages of noodles. I also started with a little over a pound and a quarter of browned ground beef.

I was a little nervous. I don't like making bad food. But, alas, it ended up on the dinner table:

I didn't take a picture of it served, but I topped it with cheese and salsa.

If you're expecting regular semolina pasta, this stuff isn't for you. Yes, it's gummy. But while the texture is unusual, there isn't a real discernible taste to them, and the dish was excellent. If need be, omit the noodles and use either regular pasta or maybe pile it on tortilla chips.

Hopefully, there will come a day when I don't have to order these noodles online. Until then, I will recommend them, and this dish, to anyone who is trying to eat healthier. A definite two thumbs up!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Cleaning out The Pantry: Funfetti Whoopie Pies

There's something about whoopie pies. My whole family loves them. They truly are something special, but they're also normally a labor of love. I don't particularly like making them – the ends just don't really justify the means. So, with various recipes saved and a Pillsbury Funfetti Whoopie Pie kit sitting in the pantry, I took a step to fix that with one of my new toys: A Wilton Whoopie Pie Pan. Now I guess I have no excuse.

Like about 90% or so of all baking mixes I've done over the years, it doesn't make exactly as many as it says it would on the box. Plus, the pan makes 12 cakes at a time. Not 24. It's more of a muffin top pan, I think – but don't tell the folks at Wilton that.

In order to compensate, I just doubled the size (which, either I was rounding the tablespoons a bit much or there weren't 24 rounded tablespoonfuls in the box) and increased the bake time to 10 minutes from 7.

Does it work? Yes. The pies came out relatively even and fit together nicely. As far as form, I have no complaints. However, the filling is just vanilla icing and sprinkles. I love marshmallows – that's my favorite part of whoopie pies. So, as far as taste was just off.

So now I need a homemade whoopie pie recipe, preferably one that doesn't make a whole dozen individual pies. And I still need to use the sourdough starter. And some more baking mixes. Oh, and I still have a few more toys I haven't gotten to use yet.

But maybe, just maybe, I can learn to enjoy making whoopie pies.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sourdough Chocolate Chip Cookies

I suppose this is as big a reason why these baking mixes keep sitting in my pantry in the first place. My mother went out and bought a bag of chocolate chips anyway, even after I baked the sugar cookies. (Never mind that there actually is still a bag of chocolate chips in said mess of a pantry). Why? “Because I want chocolate chip cookies.” OK Mom. Never mind I was going to bake you the whoopie pies you wanted last week and that I still have to use the sourdough starter sometime soon.

Which gave me an idea: Sourdough chocolate chip cookies. A quick search netted me this recipe, posted on at least half a dozen websites. Must be good enough, but while I try to eat healthier, organic foodie I am not (no offense to those that do eat organic, but I watch 3 things: Total calories, protein, and fiber). So, while I'm not into making major modifications to untested recipes, this was one that wouldn't stand the way it is.

For starters, I've learned my lesson about fresh starter in certain recipes. Maybe they would have spread more if I used fresh starter, but I used ripe. Secondly, shortening has become trans-fat free in recent years anyway. Not that I'm against coconut oil either, but our regular grocery store doesn't carry it, and the one that I know does tends to get me spending upwards of $50 on treats I don't need. Finally, Rapadura or Sucanat got replaced with plain ol' regular light brown sugar.

So my recipe, as follows:
Sourdough Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 5-1/2 dozen

  • 1/4 cup Butter
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 cup Ripe sourdough starter
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 3 cups Flour
  • 1/4 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1-1/2 cups Chocolate Chips

  1. Cream together butter, shortening and egg. Add sourdough starter and vanilla and mix well
  2. Add brown sugar, mixing until combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Incorporate a little at a time until just combined
  4. Fold in chocolate chips, being careful not to overwork dough. Let dough rest 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Roll into 1” balls and place on a cookie sheet 2” apart. Flatten and bake for 10-15 minutes.
  6. Cool on a cooling rack and enjoy!

They don't spread much at all. But they are light, cakey and chewy, and I have to say, wonderful. Mom (who seemed to forget that I mentioned the sourdough chocolate chip cookie recipe yesterday) instantly said “,What else is in these? They're different. It's really good.” So clearly, two thumbs up and a definite keeper.

Now on to those whoopie pies...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Clean-out-the-Pantry Week: Sugar Cookies

I can say it until my face turns blue: I don't get the same satisfaction from baking straight from a mix as I do when following a recipe of some sort. I don't want to be making the same cake/cookies/whatever that my neighbor is.

But, alas, baking mixes seem to appear randomly in my pantry. While some of them don't do what they were intended, some are just going to have to be plain ol' cookies and muffins.

We've had some handymen doing some work on our windows over the weekend. Apparently, my mother promised them homemade cookies. So, with a Pillsbury Funfetti Cookie Pop Kit sitting there, dangerously close to its “best by” date, I decided to take the shortcut. After all, I'm not going to be eating them. Scratch that. I won't be eating too many.

It's not easy to mess up a mix if you don't mess with the recipe. A stick of butter, an egg, and the mix. I did note that it took a minute longer than called for on the package to get brown around the edges. That might have just been my oven on that day.

I opted not to make them as cookie pops. These are for adults. I also didn't ice all of them – again, it's adults eating them, and they may not appreciate icing and sprinkles (That and the first icing pouch ran out with not that many to go, so I decided to save the other icing pouch for a microwave cake).

Anyway, they came out nice and soft and wonderful, like good sugar cookies are. The guys didn't say anything (come on, they're “manly men”) but so be it. Two thumbs up, because it's hard to mess up a mix.

At least my next clean-out-the-pantry project involves one of my new toys...stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Amish Friendship Bread

It's the recipe that started it all. Someone gives you a gallon bag filled with sourdough starter and a sheet of paper with a recipe and instructions on how to keep the starter going. I made it, my family fell in love with it, and, with no one who really wanted a bag of starter to give the extra to, the rest is history. It's a versatile recipe too. I've made it with chocolate pudding instead of vanilla, with chocolate chips, with nuts, with raisins, topped with coconut and sanding sugar. I've also made it as mini loaves and mini muffins.

All things considered, though, it's not my favorite recipe to make. Don't get me wrong – it's delicious. I dislike it for two reasons. For starters (no pun intended) it makes a lot. Two full size loaves, six mini-loaves, or about 3-1/2 dozen mini muffins. For another, with very little liquid and a whole lot of thickeners, it's an awfully thick batter. No, I don't have a stand mixer. I'm poor.

I hadn't made it since last Christmas, though, and my mother was going to her sister's for the weekend. So, what better way to solve problem #1 than to have her take a loaf?

I've seen dozens of different versions of the recipe (on top of the endless variations). I find that the original one that came with the first batch of starter better of the two I've tried. There's a few things that I began to change about the recipe as I made it. For one thing, I now have a premixed container of cinnamon sugar, and use about a tablespoon in each loaf tin (or a teaspoon with mini's). For another, I round up to a whole tablespoon of cinnamon. It's good for you and tastes good, so why not? And I always use the 1/2 oil, 1/2 applesauce option.

For the first time in this recipe, I decided to try Splenda Granulated. I have used it once before, in my somewhat infamous Twix Cheesecake Pie (the one where my mother had eaten over half the cake overnight). In cheesecake, it works. However, I am only using it in tried-and-true recipes. I don't want to be able to blame the recipe's failure on the Splenda.

The recipe:
Amish Friendship Bread
1 Cup Fresh Sourdough Starter
3 eggs
1 cup oil (you can use 1/2 oil, 1/2 applesauce)
1 cup sugar (Splenda in this case)
1 tblsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups flour
1 large (6-serving size) box of vanilla instant pudding

Mix in a large bowl. In a separate container, mix sugar and cinnamon in a ratio of 3 parts sugar to 1 part cinnamon. Sprinkle about a tablespoon in each of two loaf pans that have been greased or sprayed with baker's spray. Divide batter between two pans. Bake for 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees (Note that baking with Splenda takes less time).

One thing I noticed right off the bat mixing on this batch was that it seemed much, much thicker than normal. As in it was not only difficult to stir, but didn't spread in the pan without assistance. It also didn't rise or anything when baked:

Still, I can't say it was inedible. It was denser than normal, but otherwise tasted the same. I still liked it, and my mother and aunt ate their whole loaf in a weekend. Perhaps the starter needs the added sugar to feed off of?

I'm not sure how I feel about the Splenda now. I'll probably start by making things 1/2 sugar and 1/2 Splenda for starters. However, one thing I noticed with the cheesecake is that sugar doesn't equate into calories.

But, with a few more old friends to revisit, I think the Friendship bread recipe is going back in the cabinet for now.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Perfecting the Microwave Applesauce Cake

I actually made this earlier in the week, but only just now got around to blogging about it. With the larger and healthier version of the mug cake seeming to be a legitimate working recipe, I have been after bigger sights. A cake that's ready quickly (although it always, always, always takes me more than 5 minutes) and only serves a small crew would be perfect for those little celebrations that can pop up unexpectedly.

I used this recipe mostly, except for adding two tablespoons of coffee. That equals the amount of liquid in the regular mug-sized version. I also started it out for 90 seconds, adding time in 20 second intervals until it was done. (it ended up being 2 minutes 30 seconds, a full minute less than the original). I also used another one of my new toys – a 1-quart souffle dish – instead of the mixing bowl.

I had a couple of icing cups leftover from Hungry Howie's Cinna-MMM bread, so I figured I'd go for it and glaze the cake as well:

The result? A tender, moist and rich chocolate cake. The only problem with applesauce is that the cake does go stale quicker than cakes baked with fat. So what? You can consume the whole unglazed cake for less than 650 calories. Even I can't eat the whole cake.

Two thumbs go way up for this one. What's next for the microwave cake? Well, my latest round of toys all has to do with cake decorating...

I can't wait to see how far this goes.