Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Candy Witch Candy Corn Cookies

The Candy Witch was written by Steven Kroll and illustrated by Marylin Hafner.  It's one of the books that I remember reading again and again as a kid, even though it's obviously a Halloween story.

Our story focuses on Maggie Witch, the youngest of the Witch family.  Everyone in the family liked to cast good, helpful spells for the people of the town.  To quote Mr. Kroll, "Mama Witch flew around turning garbage into fruit trees.  Brother John changed pillows into purring cats.  Papa Warlock liked giving bald men hair."  But Maggie's good deeds - making flowers bloom, filling empty fridges with food, putting candy in people's pockets - largely went unnoticed. 

Poor Maggie!  She just wanted somebody to pay attention to her.  So, having tried so hard to be good with no results, she now tried a new tactic - mischief!  Eric found mice in his lunchbox.  Bill's milk got turned into a flower.  Patty tripped over a cow on her way to the school bus.  (I love how random this is.)  And then, to top it all off, Maggie waited until late at night, when all the trick-or-treaters had gone home... and she made all their candy disappear!

Maggie lurked near the school the next day, waiting to hear everyone commenting on what she had done.  But what she heard was crying, and with that, she realized that she had done an awful thing!  Oh no!! How could she make it up to everybody?  Our little Candy Witch had an idea.  She set up a huge candy festival in the center of town, with more candy than anyone had ever seen in one place.  Not just what she had stolen, either, but also piles of Hershey kisses and caramel apples and jelly beans, and she made it so the fountains spouted lemonade!  What fun!!  And finally, everyone was happy - including Maggie.

What a sweet story! (No pun intended.)  And there was so much candy in it that I just had to pick something to make for it.  Now, candy corn isn't specifically mentioned in this story, but when I think Halloween Candy, I think Candy Corn.  Of course, rather than trying to make actual candy, I decided it would be more fun to make candy corn cookies. 

The idea for these isn't mine; it's Betty Crocker's.  Her recipe and instructions are here, and mine are here below.  I used my favorite sugar cookie recipe (also below, and, as usual, from the AllRecipes website here), but if you have a favorite, or you want to use pre-made or from a mix, go for it - just skip to step 3.  Just as a note: this recipe is rather confusing in just words, so today you get a special photo shoot of the food in progress!  Hooray!!!

Candy Witch Candy Corn Cookies
3-3/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Yellow and red or orange food coloring

1. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
2. In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy, and then add in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.  Finally, stir in the dry ingredients, a little bit at a time (so it doesn't get flour all over you and the counter), until fully mixed.
3. Divide the dough into three equal portions.  Take one of the portions and push it into the bottom of a rectangular pan, forming an equal layer.  I used a plastic reusable throw-away lunch container (like Glad-Ware, but I'm pretty sure it was store brand). 
4. Use a few drops of food coloring to turn one of the remaining portions orange, and layer it evenly over the white layer.  Color the remaining dough yellow, and layer it evenly on top.  In the end, it will look like this:
Beautiful!  Now, chill this for two hours.
5. After the dough is nice and chilled, preheat the oven to 400.  Remove the dough from the container, and cut slices as close to 1/4 of an inch as you can get.  It will look like this:
 6. Now, take your slice and cut it into triangles, as shown here (sorry about the glare):  

Each of these triangles is a piece of candy corn.  Some will have yellow tops, and some will have yellow bottoms, but really, nobody's going to notice.  As you transfer each of these pieces to the cookie sheet (or wax paper, or tin foil), try to soften the corners a little bit, so they're not quite so sharp.
Your finished cookie sheet will look something like this:
Squee!  How cute are those?  I may have put them slightly too close together on the sheet there, but they don't spread too much, so I was alright.
7.  Now, bake these beauties for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to turn golden brown.  My finished cookies looked like this:
And I am rather proud of them.  Don't they look much more impressive than the actual work involved?  I love it - hope you do, too.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Skippyjon Jones Nachos

Skippyjon Jones is a Siamese kitten who lives with his mother, Mama Junebug Jones, and three sisters.  There he was, jumping on his bed one day, minding his own business, singing a little song, when he suddenly noticed himself in the mirror, and was very surprised at what he saw.  "Holy Guacamole!" he said.  And then, in his best Spanish accent: "My ears are too beeg for my head.  My head ees too beeg for my body.  I am not a Siamese cat... I am a chihuahua!

So, of course he had to put on a Zorro-inspired costume and go off on an adventure, into the closet-turned-Mexican-village.  Of course, his mastery of the language is limited to a few simple words, and the fact that putting "-ito" at the end of words makes them Spanish, but that doesn't stop our hero (now called El Skippito) from volunteering to save the day.  You see, a mysterioso band of chihuahuas named Los Chimichangos were being tortured by a giant Bumblebeeto Bandito!  He kept stealing all of their beans (from black beans to jelly beans), and wouldn't give them back.  Oh no!!!  Can El Skippito save the day?!

Skippyjon Jones is the first (award-winning!) book in a series of five, starring Skippyjon, the kitty-brainchild of author and illustrator Judith Byron Schachner. The other books have Skippyjon in ancient Egypt (via the litter box), digging dinosaur bones, and on Mars - of course, all with the Los Chimichangos gang for company. 

These books are awesome read-alouds, especially since there are lots of songs and rhymes thrown in.  And if you don't feel like reading a book 15 times to your little one - GOOD NEWS!!  They each come with a CD audio book!

I also love the illustrations in these books, particularly the two pages that say: "First they had a fiesta.  Then they took a siesta."  I love that each individual member of Los Chimichangos has his own distinct size, personality, and fur-coloring (since they're all actually bean bag toys, there are several pink, orange, and polka-dotted dogs.  My favorite is the green chihuaha with a pink flower pattern), and that Mama Junebug Jones generally wears an apron and is a patient, loving, and generally awesome cat.  All in all - awesome characters, great stories, and generally a lot of fun.  Highly recommended.

And so!  For Skippyjon Jones, who is not exactly Mexican but likes to think he is, I have made nachos, which are not exactly Mexican, but pretend they are.  (Yes, I know the origin of nachos.  They were created in Mexico by Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya.  But my nachos aren't exactly traditional, as I tend to be pretty white-bread.)

Skippyjon Jones Nachos
1 bag of corn tortilla chips
Shredded cheese or queso sauce
Optional additional toppings, such as:
Seasoned taco-style beef, steak, or chicken
Sour cream
Refried beans
Pico de gallo

1. Spread tortilla chips into a single layer on a microwave-safe plate or a cookie sheet.  Sprinkle (or pour) an even layer of cheese onto each chip.  If using jalapenos, this would be the time to add them, one slice per chip.
2. Heat the chips in the microwave (if on a plate) or the oven (if on a cookie sheet) until cheese is melted.
3. If on a cookie sheet, evacuate melty chips to a plate.  Now is the time to add your additional toppings, starting with the heaviest (such as meat or beans) and ending with sauces.
4. Dig in and enjoy!

On a totally different but still blog-related note, I wanted to let you know that we have FIVE Halloween recipes ready to go!  Keep checking back - I'm trying to work on a Monday-Thursday update schedule.

PS - if you look closely in the first photo, you can see my own kitty-face hanging out on the floor.  Bonus!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Captains of the City Streets: Chicken A La King!

Happy Monday, my friends! Do I ever have a special treat for you guys tonight. For tonight, we have a meal made by Guest Chef Theone - she who made both potato latkes AND chestnuts for us last December. She has been telling me that I have to write about Captains of the City Streets by Esther Averill since I started this blog, and for some reason I just never have, so she just finally gave up and made it for me. Thank you!!
Theone is right about a lot of things, including that everybody who even somewhat likes cats should read this book.  It's awesome. 

Captains of the City Streets, a chapter book by Esther Averill, is a part of the Jenny's Cat Club book series. Originally written in the 1972, it follows a series of books that were published as early as the 1940's; the entire series was reprinted in 2005 by the New York Review Children's Collection.

The two main characters of the book, named Sinbad and The Duke, are both tramp cats by choice, not wanting an owner or any responsibilities, or any neighborhood obligations to fulfill. They ventured into a place called “Little Old New York,” a place with no food source for stray kitties, in order to find a steady home to give them room to practice their boxing skills (their skips and shuffles need work). There, they find an abandoned shed, but almost give up on their new home for lack of food before stumbling into both a kindly human who feeds them, and then the Cat Club, which is held nightly in his back yard, and which comprises some pretty awesome characters (a cat who can play the nose flute? Where else can you get that?!).

Sinbad and The Duke first met fellow tramp cat Patchy Pete at The Tramps' Last Stop - the southernmost point in New York where they're guaranteed a hot meal.  Cookie is the (human) chef at the restaurant, and he is so kind that he takes the time to count the number of strays that come to his back door, so that each gets his own plate of dinner leftovers.  For Sinbad and The Duke's meal, they are treated to Cookie's fabulous Chicken A La King, which Theone has made for us tonight.

And so, without further ado, I give you.... Guest Chef Theone!!!

Hi Kat!
Here's the recipe & photos for chicken a la king from "Captains of the City Streets" (possibly my very favorite children's book of all time). I'm not sure where I got the recipe; it might have been one of those good experiments.  Hope everyone enjoys! 

Captains of the City Streets' Chicken A La King
You will need:
1 15 oz.can of mixed vegetables
1 large cooked chicken breast, chopped finely OR 1 12.5 oz can of chicken (your choice)
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
2 1/2 cups of milk, cream or a combination of both (cream being the preferred dairy product of Sinbad & the Duke)
salt & pepper, to taste
biscuits, rolls or bread 

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat
2. Add the flour & whisk madly for 2 or 3 minutes, making sure the flour does not burn
3. Add the dairy a bit at a time, making sure to whisk it into creamy wonderfullness.
4. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the white sauce starts to thicken.
5. Turn the heat way down.
6. Add the meat, veggies & seasonings & turn up the heat until everything is heated through.
7. Serve over a bread of your choice. I prefer biscuits a la Pillsbury because they're so easy, but any old bread will do. Toast is also a nice choice, and faster.
(Rolls a la Pillsbury)

Bon apetit!

Thanks, Theone.  Your beautiful food, coupled with the fact that you took the time to make this for us, in addition to the fact that you actually put the book with the finished product (why do I never do that?  I totally should do that!) is seriously amazing. You're the best guest chef ever.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Stone Soup

 Stone Soup is a traditional folk story, and in various cultures, you can find it as "axe soup," "button soup," or "nail soup."  I've chosen to write about the version written by Marcia Brown, which was a Caldecott Honor book in 1947. (In the interest of honesty, I think I should note that, while the story itself is good, the images are not to my personal taste.)

In Ms. Brown's version, the story goes like this (I'm paraphrasing, of course):
Three tired soldiers were walking home from the wars, and were very tired and very hungry - they hadn't eaten in days.  They came upon a village, and begged for some food and shelter, but the peasants were wary of strangers, and had hidden all their food away.  When the soldiers asked around, they were told that there just wasn't anything left.  "Sorry!" they said.  "We gave everything extra we had to the soldiers who came before you, and all our beds are full of people already, and there's nothing left anywhere, so you have to leave now.  Too bad!"  Then they stood around and looked as hungry as they could.

The soldiers talked to eachother a bit, and told the townspeople, "we had no idea that nobody had any food.  What a sorry state of affairs!  We'll have to make stone soup and feed you all.  Um... do you have a really big pot we can borrow?"   The townspeople were amazed.  Make soup out of stones?!  That would be a wonderful skill to learn!  Of course the soldiers could borrow a pot!  The town's largest cooking pot was set over a fire, and in went the stones and plenty of water. 

So the soldiers stirred the stone soup, and one turned to the others.  "It's a shame nobody has any salt and pepper," he said.  "Stone soup is always better with salt and pepper."  "Well...." said a townsperson.  "I suppose I might have a bit I can spare.  And in it went.

"This is good," one soldier said.  "But it's a shame there aren't any carrots around.  Stone soup is awesome with carrots."  "I might have a carrot or two," said a peasant.  He dug up a few and dumped them in.  Another peasant was able to scare up a cabbage or two, while another had a few extra potatoes.  And so on, and so on, until the pot was full and the soup was ready.

A great table was set, and everyone sat down and enjoyed the soup and was amazed that the soup had been made from water and just a few stones.

I always liked this story because it's about what great things can happen when people pitch in just a little bit.  This particular version also has a trio of very tired, and also sneaky, soldiers (who, by the way, each got a comfortable place to sleep).

In case you feel like making your own Stone Soup one day, here's my favorite recipe.  Feel free to throw in whatever veggies you might have laying around, too.

Stone Soup
1 pound ground beef
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
1 onion, chopped
1 2oz. packet onion soup mix
1 16oz. bag of frozen mixed vegetables
1 15oz. can tomato sauce
3/4 cup dry elbow macaroni

1. Brown the ground beef in the bottom of your biggest soup pot.  Drain the fat.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients, through the tomato sauce, and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.
3. Add the macaroni and cook until it's done (about 10 minutes).  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

My version of stone soup is taken from an recipe (Hamburger Vegetable Soup).  This is pretty tasty with saltines or with crusty bread, and it also freezes well.  Of course, it's just a baseline recipe, and you can add whatever else you like in there as well.  This time, I added half a can of diced tomatoes, and it was pretty tasty.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Curious George Monkey Treats

Curious George, the curious little monkey!  For any of you who might be unfamiliar with this awesome monkey, he is he creation of husband-and-wife team Hans Augusto and Margaret Rey, and comes all the way from the jungles of Africa, where The Man With The Yellow Hat caught him and took him home.  (As a side note, the Reys have a very interesting history - read about it on Houghton Mifflin's website, here.)

George is a nice little monkey, but a very curious one and he - like many children - doesn't ever mean to cause trouble.  It just sort-of follows him.  Like the time he saw the Man With The Yellow Hat using the telephone?  He had to push the buttons, too!  Wouldn't you?  He didn't know that he'd be calling the fire department and setting off an alarm. 

He starred in seven original adventures (though the original Curious George is still my favorite).  George has always appealed to my sense of what I wanted to do but I couldn't because I'd get in trouble - and I love that it's not always a happy conclusion.  Sometimes George is good at what he tries to do, but sometimes it's harder than it looks and something bad happens.  It's somehow more realistic that way.

So, in honor of Curious George and the Reys, and for the curious little monkeys in your life, I give you:
Curious George Monkey Treats
peanut butter (I like chunky, but creamy is lovely, too)
chocolate chips

1. Peel a banana, and cut or break it in half (not longways, as that would be slimy).
2. Spread peanut butter over the top of the banana.
3. Press chocolate chips into the peanut butter.
4. Eat.

This treat is alternately called Bugs On A Bed, and is a variation of Ants On A Log, which has celery instead of banana and raisins instead of chocolate chips.  I remember when I learned to make this 20+ years ago.  Good times.  Just look how tasty these are!

You have no idea how long it took me to choose a good Curious George food.  I've been debating on it off and on for months, and looking at recipes for two solid weeks now.  "And this is what you came up with?" you say.

Well...I knew I wanted to do something banana, because Curious George is a most-excellent monkey.  I thought about: banana bread, banana pudding, bananas foster, banana cookies, chocolate-dipped bananas, banana ice cream (a la Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey), banana cream pie, and banana smoothies.  Some ideas were okay, others were boring and predictable, and the one I really wanted to do - bananas foster over ice cream - was probably not to the taste of my target demographic - the little ones who relate more to the monkey than to the Man With The Yellow Hat.  This is a recipe that they can enjoy making as well as eating.  So, I guess this was my wake-up that I can't just make things that I want to eat.

As always, comments and suggestions are welcome, and please feel free to email me at

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Strawberry Girl Strawberry Bread

 I first read Strawberry Girl in Mrs. Basista's fourth grade class, and when I started this blog, I knew I had to make something to celebrate this awesome book.  (Maybe partly, again, because of my love of all things Berry.)  I'm giving a little more background for this one than I usually do, just because I feel like I should.

Strawberry Girl, written by Lois Lenski, is the 1946 winner of the Newbery Award.  Ms. Lenski was a prolific author, and may be most famous for her books about children of various regions and cultures in the U.S., including Bayou Suzette and Corn Farm Boy.  She also wrote several picture books and several historical novels, as well as being an illustrator for the first few of the Betsy-Tacy series (which we discussed last fall).  I remember reading Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison (one of the historical novels) several times as a kid.

Strawberry Girl is one of the regional novels.  It's set in Florida, and the characters pride themselves on being "Florida Crackers" - basically, poor farming families.  The book features two main families: the Boyers, including Berthenia (Birdie), who is the title character, and the Slaters, including young Jefferson Davis (Shoestring).  The Boyers are relatively well-off and have recently moved to the area to grow and sell strawberries, sugar cane, and anything else that will grow.  Birdie wants to be friends with everybody, and wants more than anything to be a Strawberry Girl, selling her berries on a street corner in the nearby town.  The adult-me wants to say, "wow, dream big!", but I remember being a kid and thinking how much fun it would be to grow and pick and be able to be proud of my own strawberries, so I must have gotten cynical in my old age.

As a side note, I have on several occasions attempted to grow my own strawberries.  It never worked very well.

Anyhow.  The Boyers' closest neighbors are the Slaters, who really don't have much of anything.  They aren't farmers so much as squatters, and they don't raise their cattle so much as let it run wild.  This doesn't lead to friendliness between the families, since Mr. Slatter isn't too happy about Mr. Boyer fencing in his land.  No love lost between the dads in this book, which is really too bad, because the moms seem to hit it off pretty well.  And Birdie and Shoestring could totally be BFFs, given the chance.

The things I remember from the 1994 reading of this book were how much I liked the main character, the desire I had to grow my own strawberries, and the description of a road made out of logs as a Corduroy Road. My friend Manna remembers mainly that the book is written in a strong dialect that's a little hard to understand. Neither of us remembered Mr. Slater being an alcoholic or the bits with animal cruelty (which really just stand to show you how much of a jerk Mr. Slater is - it's not like they're glorifying it).  So, just be aware that, if you're giving this book to your child, there are a few things in there that aren't all sweetness and light.  But I still recommend that you give this story to your kids, though, because it's an awesome book, and you really don't remember the unhappy parts.  At least, I didn't.

So!  For Birdie, who is the best Strawberry Girl ever, I have made this awesometastic Strawberry Bread.  I found the recipe at the AllRecipes website, listed as Strawberry Spice Loaf, and all credit goes to HMBOLAAF, who posted it.  (I just added vanilla and extra berries.)  Thank you! 

Strawberry Girl Strawberry Bread
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
2 16-oz. bags of frozen strawberries, thawed
2 tsp. vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350, and grease and flour two 9x5 loaf pans (I actually made one large and two small loaves instead of two large ones - if you do that, be sure to adjust your cooking time).
2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda.  Dump the bags of strawberries into a (different!) large bowl, and squish them up with a fork, your fingers, or a potato masher to break them up a bit.  Add the oil, eggs, and vanilla into the strawberries, and mix well.  
3. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, and pour in the strawberry mixture.  Mix thoroughly until everything is combined, and pour into the loaf pans.
4. Bake the loaves for one hour, or until a toothpick/butter knife in the center comes out clean.  

I've been told that this bread tastes like apple cider donuts, without the apple and with strawberries.  I've been describing it to people as "like banana bread, but with strawberries and without bananas." It's also really good with some whipped cream and additional strawberries on top.
So good!  I know the color looks "off" here, but it's not.  It really is that odd reddish color.  You could add some food coloring if you wanted it to be more vibrant, and I meant to do that, but totally forgot.  I bet it would be good with some pecans or walnuts mixed in, too.

Also, I know this post is more about what I thought of the book and less about the book itself, but I wasn't sure what else to say about it.  What do you think - have you read it?  Would you recommend it?  And what would you talk about for this book, if this was your blog?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

City of Ember Roasted Potatoes

Imagine this: There's a city underground, deep enough to be cut off from the rest of the world entirely.  It was built years ago by people known only as The Builders, who supplied the city - Ember - with everything it could possibly need: canned food, clothing, a generator and power grid for electricity, a plumbing and sewer system, a greenhouse for growing fruits and vegetables - everything the city's people could need for 200 years.

But that was 241 years ago, and now, decades after the day when residents were supposed to return to the surface, the plans for Ember have been lost.  Supplies are running low, and the generator is slowly dying.  Ember is in fear of the day when the lights don't come back on after a blackout, when the shelves are bare, and when the plants stop growing.

Imagine, too, that you have found the Builders' plans, that you know that it's time to get the residents to the surface world, and how to do it, ending the years of darkness and uncertainty.  But nobody will listen to you.  After all, you're only 12 years old.

That's what happened to Lina Mayfleet in The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.  She, along with her friend Doon and 2-year-old sister Poppy, has to decide whether to follow the Builders' instructions and escape from the city, or give up and let Ember die?  Tell me... what would you do?

I seriously love this book.  I saw the movie randomly on tv one day and loved it, and then found out that there was a book version (which came first, naturally), and it's even better than the movie (of course)!  Better than that, even?  There are four books in this series, and my library has all of them!  I made the ultimate sacrifice and re-read City of Ember for you, my dear friends, and I even have Book 2 (The People of Spark) on my coffee table for later.  (I left books 3 and 4 at the library this time - no need to be greedy.)

Anyhow.  It's not like I'm obsessed with this book, but it is one of the few that I've brought to people, put in their hands and said, "Read this.  I'm not kidding."  There's just something about it that makes me highly recommend it to just about everybody.

So, back to Ember.  Food, naturally, was pretty scarce in the city, since they only had what they little remained on the storeroom shelves and what they could grow in the greenhouse, which was, with plumbing and lights being unreliable, not all that much.  But there was one thing they could always count on, and that was potatoes.  Lina had potatoes for almost every meal, and while I'm sure she was probably sick to death of mashed potatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner... that really doesn't sound all that bad to me.

I love potatoes.  I'm like Bubba from Forrest Gump - I'll take them any way I can get them.  Boiled, baked, mashed, fried, potato soup, potato stew, potato dumplings, potato bread... but today I'm sharing with you one of my all-time favorite potato recipes.  It's easy as heck, and tastes really good, too.

City of Ember Roasted Potatoes
Red potatoes, about 2 or 3 per person*
Olive Oil - about 1 tbsp. per person (use as much as you need to lightly, evenly coat the potatoes)

*NOTE about the potatoes:  There are many varieties of potatoes, and they're good for many different things.  Russetts are good baking potatoes, and yellow potatoes (like Yukon Gold) are awesome for mashies, but for this, I like good ol' red potatoes.  For one thing, they're solid enough that you don't have to worry about them getting mushy, and for another, you don't have to peel them!  Plus, they're yummy.  But you can substitute other potatoes if you want.

**NOTE about the spices:  You can use just about anything here.  I assume Ember's people would have just used salt and pepper, and this recipe are great with just that.  You can also do some with rosemary and dill, or with Italian seasoning, or with garlic powder and dried onions (or real garlic and onions!), or go really funky and use a little bit of dried salad dressing mix, like one of those Hidden Valley Ranch pouches (just make sure that you don't use a whole packet for just a few potatoes, because that may be overwhelming). They also make spice blends just for this, in the pre-mixed-spice-pouch section of the store.  Really, anything's good.  This time, I used dried diced onions and garlic powder, which is why they look "chunky."  I used a bit much... but it was so good!

1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Wash and dry the potatoes, and cut them into biteable chunks.  I generally cut my red potatoes into 6 to 8 pieces each, but whatever size you like is fine.
2. Put the potato pieces into a bowl and add the olive oil; mix well, until evenly coated.  (This also works with a large ziploc - add the ingredients and shake to coat).  Add the spices of your choice and mix again, until the spices are evenly distrubuted.
3. Pour the potatoes onto a cookie sheet in an even layer.  Pop the whole thing into the oven, and cook until the potatoes are cooked through, stirring/flipping the potatoes about 30 minutes in.  When they're done, they'll have a light crust on the outside, and the inside will be warm and soft.  This usually takes me about an hour and 15 minutes, but I check at 45 minutes and again at 1 hour, just to make sure they're not getting burned.

I'd like to give attribution for this recipe, but I remember my Mom making this when I was little, so it may just be one of those things that Moms know how to make and pass it along.  (My Uncle Hawk also makes a mean roasted potato, to be fair - it's not just Moms.)

One of the things I like about this recipe is that I also cook my chicken at 350, and that takes usually 35-45 minutes (depending on the size of the chicken breasts), so if I time it correctly, my dinner comes out of the oven at the same time!  I'm a big fan of that.  (Take it out, let it cool for a few minutes while I microwave some veggies, and eat!)  Alternately, you can roast the potatoes in the oven at 400 degrees for about 30-45 minutes.  They taste about the same, so it all depends on what temperature you're cooking other things at, or personal preference.

As a side note for those who didn't see my side note - yes, that is a different location, and totally different plates!  Also, a new camera, so it won't take me 5 minutes to get a good shot.  Hooray!

Quick Notes

Hello my friends!!
It's been a busy busy summer.  I finished my last two classes of grad school, took two 1400+ mile long road trips, and am completely relocated to Florida. A lot has changed, but things are going well right now, and I finally have time to get back into doing what I love - reading, cooking, eating, blogging.

You may notice a few changes on the blog -- please let me know what you think!  (I'm not sure what possessed me to make everything blah-green when I started this up, since that's not really the most appetizing of color schemes.)  I like this much better.

I've heard that there have been some issues with commenting, and I apologize for that - I have no idea what the trouble was.  We've been set to Everybody Can Comment, and there should be no waiting period before comments show up, but if we continue to have problems, we may have to make some bigger changes. If there are problems, please let me know, either via Facebook or email (  You can also write either of those addresses, or use the comments here, to tell me what you think, suggest a story or food for me to review/cook, tell me how awesome I am, or just to say hi.  I love getting email.

The other consideration is whether I want to get my own domain name.  I'd like to, but Blogger doesn't allow the use of their software on outside websites, so it means that we'd be moving to a different program - what do you guys think about that?

So, we're back in action.  And yes, there WILL be a recipe posted tonight.  Cross my heart and hope to burn my cookies if I'm telling lies.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Candyfloss Chip Butties

If you're like me, this title makes very little sense.  Let me explain.

I was randomly shelf-reading in the library the other day, and I happened across a book called Candyfloss.  "Aha!" I said to myself (quietly - I was in the library, after all).  "I can make cotton-candy-flavored yumminess to go with this book, if I like it!"  Candyfloss being the British term for what I would call cotton candy, in case you didn't know.  (I did know, for some reason, though I've never been outside the U.S. - did Willy Wonka talk about candyfloss? Or do I just really like food-related facts?)  Between the title and the fact that the front cover photo is a girl wearing polka-dot socks, I had to give this one a try.  I love both socks and polka dots.

So, I took out the book, and I read the book, and I really really liked the book, but there is so much talk in said book about chip butties that I just have to make them instead.  It would be a travesty not to.  (What the heck is a chip butty? We'll get there.)

Candyfloss is a book by Jacqueline Wilson, who just so happens to be such an awesome author that she not only has won scads and oodles of awards, but was actually granted the title of Dame Jacqueline Wilson in 2008.  Long story short, if you have not heard of or read any of her books, I'd recommend getting your tush in gear and getting to the library to read at least one to see how you like it, because she's got the Awesome thing down pretty well.

Candyfloss is a chapter book about a girl named Flora, who everyone calls Floss or Flossie, and who lives with her family in England.  She has a pretty good life - she even has the most popular girl in the school for her best friend!  On weekdays, she lives with her mom, Mom's husband Steve, and her half-brother Tiger.  On the weekends, she visits her Dad, who lives above the cafe he owns, where he makes wonderful chips, and chip butties. 

(A chip butty, oh patient reader, is a sandwich with chips - french fries, not potato chips - inside.  I've done some research online and found that, to those who have had and enjoyed chip butties, a recipe is about as useful as one for me would be for a peanut butter sandwich.  But, since I did a peanut butter sandwich recipe for Thanksgiving, I think this one's okay.)

Our story begins on Floss's birthday.  As one of her presents, her mother tells her that the family will be traveling to Australia (hooray!!) for six months (um... what?).  After thinking long and hard about it, she makes a tremendous and scary decision.  She is going to live with her father full-time, while the rest of her family leaves for Australia.

The question is, how is this going to work out?  Dad isn't used to having his daughter full-time, or ironing school uniforms, or cooking healthy meals, and Floss isn't used to living in a tiny bedroom, and smelling like fried food all the time, and not having much of a place to play.  And Floss's best friend isn't used to it, either - she doesn't seem as much fun to be around as she used to. But the new girl, Susan?  She looks like she might be more fun.

I'm not going to give anything else away, because I don't want to ruin it, but I am going to say that it's a shame the illustrator's name isn't on the cover of the book, because he deserves massive kudos, too.  His name is Nick Sharratt, and he has drawn a picture for every single chapter of the book, that appears on the page before the chapter starts, that illustrates some of the main points of the chapter.  It doesn't give it away, exactly, because you don't know what the illustrations are referring to, but it does get you hooked enough that you want to jump into the next chapter.

On the whole, I really liked Candyfloss.  There were things I disliked about it - it was pretty unrealistic, for one, and the friendships between a few of the characters seemed a little overly dramatic, but I did enjoy it, and I'd recommend it, particularly for the 5th grade girly-girl set.  I also loved the many descriptions of food, from birthday cake to candyfloss to chip butties.  And speaking of those...

Candyfloss Chip Butties

Sandwich rolls
French fries (I used frozen), cooked according to directions

1. Slice the rolls horizontally, or use pre-sliced rolls, like hamburger buns.  I used Bulkie rolls, which are common in New England but rarely seen in other places.  Any good sandwich roll will do.
2. Butter the halves of the roll.
3. Pile the french fries onto the roll, and close to make a sandwich.  Eat and enjoy.

I'm using the directions given in the book here.  I looked things up online, and I hear that white bread is the most common bread used for the chip butty, but my heroine ate hers on rolls, and so that is what I did.

On the whole, it wasn't bad, but I don't think this is a meal I will be making in the future.  I couldn't get over the no-protein thing.  But it did remind me of the Fat Sandwiches I used to eat when I was an undergrad student at Rutgers, where chicken fingers and french fries and mozzerella sticks all made a home on one hoagie roll.  Ah, memories.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reading Rainbow Bars

Butterfly in the sky!  I can go twice as high! Take a look, it's in a book - Reading Rainbow!  Okay, how many of you immediately started singing that song when you saw the lyrics?  I knew it wasn't just me.

I was thinking about Reading Rainbow the other day, and all the awesome stories I remember because of it.  Perfect the Pig, Imogene's Antlers, Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, Sam the Sea Cow... I get so excited when I hear a line from those books because I remember the first time I heard them, and the voice I heard them read in.  (Say it with me, now! "A feather... that would change the weather.")

So, for the few people out there who have never experienced Reading Rainbow, please let me explain.  It was a television show that was produced from 1983 until 2006, hosted by LeVar Burton (who was also the executive producer), dedicated to promoting the love of reading for kids.  Each episode would have Mr. Burton talking about a specific topic, such as teamwork, or experiencing rites of passage (like losing a tooth), or being different (having to wear glasses), or.... well, anything.  And then a story that works within the theme would be read, usually by a celebrity - including, by the way, such awesome names as Bill Cosby, Gilda Radner, Julia Child, and Jerry Orbach.

[Edit because I forgot to include...] And then at the end of each episode, Mr. Burton would say that there were lots of other great books out there - "But you don't have to take my word for it!" and three lucky kids got to tell about a book they liked that could be found at your local library.  I used to want to be one of those kids SO BAD.  I'm not exactly sure why, but it seemed glamorous and exciting.

I love this show.  I loved it long after it was socially acceptable for me to be watching children's television or reading picture books, and if it was on right now, I'd be watching it as I write this.  I'm going to have to start saving my pennies, because I just looked it up on Amazon to find that episodes are available on DVD!  I even started watching Star Trek TNG because LeVar Burton was on there.  (Well... plus, it's an awesome show.  But I didn't know that at the time.)

Anything that can inspire such a love of reading deserves an entire freakin' cookbook, but as my time is limited, I am going to give you one very awesome recipe instead.  This is my mother's recipe for Rainbow Bars - I'm pretty sure it came out of a magazine or off the can of condensed milk, but don't be fooled by its humble beginnings.  This is an awesome cookie bar, and I can't think of anything that would better deserve it.

Reading Rainbow Bars
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 stick butter
1 can (14 oz.) condensed milk
1 1/2 cups flaked coconut
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups M&Ms

1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Melt the butter in the microwave and pour it into the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.  Pour in the graham cracker crumbs and mix with the butter until well-blended.  Then press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan to make a solid layer of crust.
2. Pour the condensed milk over the crust and spread as evenly as possible.  Top with the coconut, chocolate chips, and M&Ms, in that order.
3. Press the toppings into the condensed milk with your palms.  The tighter you make this, the less likely it will be that the finished product will fall apart when eating, which is the #1 complaint I've heard about Rainbow Bars - don't skip this step!  It will make your hands messy for a minute, but it'll make things easier to eat in the end.
4. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.  The coconut will be lightly browned, and the condensed milk will be bubbling right up between the chocolate and all that yumminess will just melt right togehter.
5. This is the hardest part of the whole recipe - wait for the bars to cool completely before cutting, or you run the risk of them breaking apart and being a big gloppy mess.  A delicious gloppy mess, but still.  As you can see from the photo, I didn't wait until they were completely cool - mostly, but not completely, so the edges are ragged.

There are lots of variations to this recipe - substitute butterscotch chips for the M&Ms, and they are Magic Bars or Magic Cookie Bars.  Adding walnuts to Magic Bars makes them 7-Layer Bars.  I've also used peanut butter chips or some combination of the above... but Rainbow Bars are my favorite, perfect for my favorite tv show.

So, tell me!  What's your favorite episode?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Poky Little Puppy Strawberry Shortcake

The Poky Little Puppy was written by Janette Sebring Lowrey in 1942, and illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren.  It was one of the first Little Golden Books ever published and was, as of 2001, the best-selling children's book of all time.  (Incidentally, somewhere around here I have a copy of the list as of 2001 and the list as of a few years later - Harry Potter really shook some things up!)  It is also a personal favorite of mine.

Anyhow.  For those of you who are unfamilair, or who haven't heard the story in years and years, this is the tale of five puppy siblings, who disobey their mother and go digging under the fence to see what's in the wide, wide world beyond their home.  Off they run, "roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble," toward adventure.  But one of these puppies - the Poky Little Puppy - lags behind his siblings because he's so curious and distracted by everything.  He is also the last one to get back under the fence at the end of the night, which is lucky for him, because his siblings have all been sent to bed without dessert for being naughty, and he gets all of the rice pudding for himself.

The next day, the same thing happens - off they run, "roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble," into the wide, wide world.  Their mother is again very disappointed in her offspring, and the puppies are again sent to bed without any dessert.  All, that is, except for Poky (which I always assumed was his name, even though I realize now that it's a descriptor and not necessarily a name at all - but you never know.  After all, how many cats have I met named Brownie?).  Poky comes home after the rest of the puppies have gone to bed, and eats all the chocolate custard by himself.

On the third day, the puppies again venture out into the wide, wide world beyond the fence and run, "roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble," and have a grand old time.  When they get home and see their mother disappointed, though, they fill in the hole they dug and get to share the dessert she's made - strawberry shortcake.  All, that is, except for the Poky Little Puppy.  He not only gets home too late for dessert, but he has to squeeze through the slats of the fence, because the hole has been filled in.

Now... I don't know exactly why, but I've always felt bad for Poky.  I shouldn't, really.  He disobeyed and couldn't keep up with his siblings, and he ate 10 servings of dessert over the past two days, but the lack of strawberry shortcake always made me sad.  The book even tells you that he was "feeling very sorry for himself" at the end of it all, and maybe that made him a better puppy, but he was just curious, right?  Poor guy.  Maybe because I love strawberry shortcake so much, but it just seemed like a cruel punishment.  An injustice that needs to be rectified.

So, it may be late by 68 years, but here, Poky, is your shortcake.  I hope it was worth the wait.

Poky Little Puppy Strawberry Shortcake
1 pint of strawberries
2 tbsp. of sugar
Whipped cream

**NOTE** Biscuits are the traditional foundation for strawberry shortcake (well... besides shortcake), so that's what I've used here, but angel food cake is also a nice foundation.  The foaminess sucks up the strawberry juice quite nicely.

1. Prepare biscuits according to recipe or package directions.  I used Bisquik to make mine, though Pillsbury does make some great ones in a tube if you're in a hurry.  For the traditionalists out there, Alton Brown has an awesome recipe listed here: .  I have been wanting to make this recipe for a while now, but finals week is not the time to dive into something like a new biscuit recipe.  (If you are using angel food cake, I would recommend waiting until it's time to serve and then slicing it into good-sized chunks, to avoid getting crusty edges.)
2. Wash and hull the strawberries, and slice into a bowl.  Add the sugar and stir; let this mixture sit at least an hour or until it's time for dessert.  Fun fact - the sugar will draw out the strawberries' natural pectin, which will make a syrup as this mixture sits. This will take about an hour, but you can make it a few hours ahead of time, if you like.  If you're short on time or haven't read ahead in the recipe, please remember that strawberries are quite awesome without any syrup at all, so you're in luck.
3.  To assemble, cut a biscuit in half horizontally.  Place one half of the biscuit in a bowl, and top with the strawberry mixture and whipped cream.  Repeat with the remaining half of the biscuit, more strawberries, and more whipped cream.  Top with a berry for garnish, if desired.

Fabulous.  I love it.  I could eat this every day of my life and not get bored.

I usually cheat and make biscuits a la Pillsbury, but this time I made them a la Bisquik - admittedly, not the same as homemade, but they look homemade, don't they?  And they are pretty tasty.
Mmmmm.... I know they're done, because the bottoms are golden brown and delicious.  Plus, the house smells awesome.
As a final quick note... I need to stop apologizing for not writing, but I am sorry, really.  Perhaps I shouldn't have taken on this project while I'm still in school... but for some things, you just don't want to wait to get started.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

FunnyBunny Carrots

This book isn't exactly Easter, but it is pretty good, and it is about bunnies, and I really like it, so here it is.

P.J. Funnybunny (the star of It's Not Easy Being a Bunny, written by Marilyn Sadler and illustrated by Roger Bolien) "was very sad."  He didn't want to be a bunny anymore.  It was crowded at home with all his brothers and sisters, and his mother made him the same dinner every night - cooked carrots.  Besides, having such big ears is a hassle, don't you think?

So P.J. leaves home and decides to be a bear instead.  But hibernation gets boring after a while.  Maybe... a moose?  A skunk?  A pig?  A beaver?  Darnitall!  None of those are fun, either! Who knew that everyone had problems?  Things look so sunny from the outside looking in!

Poor P.J. Funnybunny.  He can't seem to find the right place to belong... maybe - just maybe - being a bunny isn't so bad after all.

This book is the first in what is now a series of books, starring P.J. and his family (his sister, Honey Bunny Funnybunny also has a few titles).  I love the illustrations, especially.  I'm not sure what it is about them, but they're fun without being overly silly, and they're right up my alley.

So!  I've decided that, even though P.J. decided it's not so bad to be a bunny after all, he deserves a slightly different kind of carrots for dinner.  How do these sound?

FunnyBunny Carrots
1 lb. baby carrots
1/4 cup orange juice
3 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. butter
pinch of salt
pinch of cinnamon

1. Place the carrots in a shallow saucepan, and cover with water.  Boil until tender.  Drain the carrots and return them to the pan.
2. Pour the orange juice over the carrots and bring to a simmer; cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until it is all melted together.  If the sauce is too thin, let it cook a bit longer, but it should get a bit thicker as it stands.

You may want to let this cool down a bit before enjoying. 

I got this recipe from the AllRecipes website, under the name "Orange Glazed Carrots."  I think P.J. would approve of the orange taste, which gives a nice fresh taste to the carrots. 

Friday, April 2, 2010

Country Bunny Hard-Cooked Eggs

In my research about children's books for Easter, I came across several mentions of a book called The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, written by DuBose Heyward and illustrated by Marjorie Flack.  Intrigued by the title, I did a little research and found a book that I wish I had when I was a kid.  And since this book dates back to 1939, it's possible that I did have it, but I think I would have remembered this one, so I don't think I did.

As a special sidenote, I just wanted to let you know that the DuBose Heyward who wrote this book was the very same gentleman who wrote Porgy, which he later helped to adapt (with Mr. Gershwin!) to the musical that became known as Porgy and Bess.  Not exactly relevant, but cool.  What is relevant, however, is that this is a story that Mr. Heyward used to tell to his daughter, Jenifer - it says so right on the cover.  The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, as told to Jenifer.  Awesome.

And!! The Marjorie Flack who illustrated the book is, in fact, the same Marjorie Flack who wrote The Story About Ping and won the Caldecott Honor for her illustrations in Boats on the River in 1947.  So this book, my friends, is awesome before we even get started.
But let's get started.

The story starts out by letting us in on a very big secret.  You know how there's an Easter Bunny, and he travels around the world giving candy and hiding eggs?  Well... that's a lie.  There are really FIVE Easter Bunnies, and the name isn't so much a name as a job title - one must earn the respect of Old Grandfather Bunny, who lives at the Palace of Easter Eggs, and prove to be the wisest, kindest, and swiftest bunny possible, for it is he who chooses who gets to be an Easter Bunny.

Now, when she was a little brown bunny, young Cottontail told everyone that she would be an Easter Bunny when she grew up.  Everyone scoffed - "You?" they said.  "A little bunny from the country?  You won't be as fast as the jackrabbits!  You'll never make it!  You're just a girl!"  (I'm paraphrasing, just so you know.)

Well, little Cottontail grows up and gets married and suddenly finds herself with 21 baby bunnies to take care of (surprise!! No, really - there's an illustration of 21 baby bunnies in bassinet at the same time, and the book even tells us that it happened "much to her surprise.") - but while she puts her dreams on hold for a little while, the dreams that really matter in life never fade away entirely, and when she, now going by the name Mother Cottontail, hears that one of the Easter Bunnies is looking to retire, she brings her brood of well-behaved children with her to the Palace of Easter Eggs to see if she has The Right Stuff.

I love the feminist slant of this story, especially as it was very unexpected from a book written in the 1930's (though there is a bit much housework that Mother Cottontail does, her children help - both male and female).  And I love the underlying theme here - no matter who you are, what color fur you have, whether you're a rich jackrabbit or a mother with 21 kids... you, too, can achieve your dreams.  Just don't give up.

I've decided that I'm not going to tell you the rest of the story, because I want you all to read it for yourselves, and because just getting to the Palace itself is enough reason to want to jump right into coloring some eggs.  But before we color, we must cook.  And here we go.

Country Bunny Hard-Cooked Eggs
white eggs - as many as desired

Here's a fun new method of cooking your eggs prior to the dying process: in the oven!  This results in a "creamier" tasting egg.

1. Make sure that one rack in your oven is in the middle, and another is at the bottom.  Heat your oven to 325.
2. Put an empty cookie sheet or sheet of aluminum foil in the bottom oven rack, in case of breakage.  Egg is no fun to clean up, particularly in molten form.
3. Lay the eggs directly on the oven rack, and cook for 30 minutes.
4. Carefully remove the eggs from the oven and put into a bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process.

There are two issues with making your eggs this way, however.  For one, the eggs are a bit harder to peel than boiled eggs.  For two... well..

Grill Marks!  I actually think that's kinda neat, though.  So - your call.

Well, you can always go for the old stand-by: boiling.
1. Put the to-be-cooked eggs in a pot, and add enough water to cover them by an inch or two.  Put the pot on the heat.
2. Once the water has reached a boil, cover the pot and turn off the heat.  Let the eggs sit for 10 to 15 minutes, and then move them to an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.

I got both of these cooking methods from Alton Brown's uber-awesome cookbook, I'm Just Here for the Food.  He also has a method for steam-cooking eggs - snazzy!

Once your eggs are cooked and cooled... as the Klingons say, "Today is a good day to dye."  As you can see, I got a tie-dye kit this year - So Cool.

Oh!  And I totally forgot to mention that I now have a fan page on Facebook.  Search for "Kat Cooks the Books" and become a fan!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Matzo Ball Moon Soup

Mmmm.... Passover...

A friend of mine (hello!!) asked me very nicely, "are you going to be making any Passover recipes?"  Hmm... it is coming up, isn't it?  Being a shiksa, I had to look up some good Passover books, and I found a great picture book called Matzo Ball Moon, written by Leslea Newman and illustrated by Elaine Greenstein. 

In this story, young Eleanor is excited because Passover is on its way, and her grandmother (Bubbe) is coming over to make matzo ball soup for the whole family!!  She is so excited - and so is Bubbe, who loves making the soup.  The whole family loves to watch her cook, and they keep coming in to watch... and to sneak a matzo ball or two before dinner.  No big deal, right?  Bubbe made plenty!

Unfortunately, so many people decided to "just try one" that when it's time for dinner... oh no!  There aren't enough to go around!  But Bubbe is a loving grandmother, and she takes one for the team, and goes without, enjoying more than anything watching her family enjoy her cooking.  After the Seder (the ceremonial Passover dinner), Eleanor looks up at the moon and sees it as a "big, bumpy, lumpy, yummy-looking matzo ball" - one for Bubbe!

It's a cute story.  I like it!  And because of it, I was able to make you this:

Matzo Ball Moon Soup
1 10-oz. package of matzo (I used Egg & Onion Matzo)
1/4 cup butter
3 eggs
1 onion, minced
1 1/2 tbsp. parsley flakes
salt and pepper to taste
2 1/2 oz. matzo meal
6 cups chicken broth, or more, depending on how brothy you like your soup (I used 10 cups)

1. Crumble the package of matzo into small pieces, and place in a bowl.  Cover with water, and allow to soak for a few minutes, until soft.  Drain the excess water.  Meanwhile, put a pot of water on to boil.
2. In a large saucepan (and I mean a large saucepan - mine was too small and it made a mess), melt the butter and add the now-soggy matzo.  Stir continuously until it's dry and a little bit brown. 
3. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the eggs, onion, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste (I didn't add any salt because my broth was very salty, and it was tasty).  Add matzo meal until the mix stays together.  Roll one golf-ball-sized ball from the mix and drop it in the now-boiling water, and keep an eye on it.
* If it falls apart, add some matzo meal to make the mix stay together.
* If it doesn't float after a few minutes, add an egg to loosen the mixture, and just enough matzo meal to hold the mix together.
* If it floats, your mixture is perfect, and you can move onto step 4.
4. Put the chicken broth into a pot and bring it to a slow boil.  Roll the mixture into golf-ball-sized lumps and drop the balls into the soup.  When they are floating, the soup is done.

This is a tricky recipe.  I got it from the AllRecipes website, listed under "Oma's Fabulous Matzo Ball Soup," and for some reason, I didn't expect it to take as long as it did.  Of course, a recipe always takes longest the first time you do it, because you don't know what you're doing - but still, the website says it takes one hour, and it took me almost two!  Also, I cut the AllRecipe's recipe in half, and it still made far more matzo balls than I expected it to - supposedly enough for 5, but really enough for 10.

In any case.  This is some very tasty soup, and I may, if I have time, make it again someday.  I will definitely recommend this recipe to any who are willing to invest the time (it's worth it!), and I also recommend the book.  Enjoy - and Happy Passover!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mary Poppins's Ceiling Scones

I am ashamed to admit that I never read Mary Poppins, by P. L. Travers, until just this week.  Sure, I've seen the movie dozens of times (and after reading it, want to watch it again), but I never got around to reading it.  I never even thought of reading it, in fact, until I saw the Mary Poppins Cookbook on the shelf at the local library (I was looking for Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon, which was - alas! - checked out.  Maybe next week).  And then I realized - I'd never read the book that the movie was based on! How unlike me!

So, quick-like-a-bunny, I ran over and - what luck!! - it was on the shelf.  Hooray!  So I've been reading it, and I gotta tell ya.  It's pretty darn good.  For the one person out there who is unfamiliar with this story, please allow me to explain.  Mary Poppins is a nanny in Britain in the early 1900's, who travels to Cherry Tree Lane in chapter 1 of the book, to be employed by the Banks family.  Ms. Poppins is no ordinary nanny, however - she is able to slide up banisters with ease, talk to animals and the weather, jump into chalk pictures on the sidewalk, and generally do things with ease that most of us would think impossible.

I have to admit, though, that this may be the first time I haven't  thought the book was amazingly better than its movie, probably because the movie is so ingrained in my head, and the book is vastly different.  Firstly, the characters are very different in the book - there are four children, not two; Mr. Banks is a very nice, though busy, man, rather than a stuffy one who doesn't seem to care about his family; and Mary Poppins herself is a brisk, nosy, perpetually-annoyed kind of character, rather than the sweet one played by Julie Andrews.

Secondly, the magic that one can imagine in, say, the Harry Potter books, isn't written in such a way as to pull the reader in.  Travers writes in a matter-of-fact way,  as if it would be odd for us to question what was going on.  Which works!  But then you lack the wonder that should rightfully be there when one sees a woman suddenly producing a floor lamp from an empty bag.  You have to supply that yourself.

Also, Bert isn't present in the book very much, and he's one of my favorite characters.  And there is no such thing as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in this book.  But there is a midnight visit to a zoo, along with stars being pasted into the sky straight off gingerbread cookies, a dancing cow, and a dog friendship that transcends the social classes.  There is also, my friends - and I'm so excited about this! - a tea party on the ceiling. 

Mary Poppins takes her charges, Jane and Michael (the babies being otherwise occupied) to have tea with her uncle, Mr. Wigg, who has the unfortunate blessing of being filled up with laughing gas on his birthday, whenever it happens to fall on a Friday.  He was such a sight, bobbing up in the air like that, that the children were affected as well, and the three of them were unable to return to the floor in time for their tea.  Always being one to make the best of a situation, Mary Poppins moved the tea party up to the ceiling, instead, where it was served while the group floated about.

But what would a tea party be without tasty things to snack on?  So, in honor of the Mary Poppins tea party, I give you:
Mary Poppins Ceiling Scones
NOTE: There are two ways to make these: by hand, and with the food processor.  I used a food processor, and it took all of 4 minutes to form the dough, so that is the way I'm going to give the directions to you.  If you want the other directions, go to and search for "Simple Scones," as that is the recipe I'm using here.
1 stick butter, frozen and cut into chunks
2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 egg
1 tbsp. sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 400.  In a food processor, add the butter, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal.
2. Add the chocolate chips and pulse a few more times, to chop them up a bit.
3. In a small bowl, stir the sour cream, almond extract and egg until well blended.  Add this to the food processor and pulse until the mixture starts to form small dough balls.
4. Turn out the dough onto a lightly-floured surface, and pat into a circle about 7 or 8 inches in diameter, and 3/4 of an inch thick.  Sprinkle the circle with the 1 tbsp. of sugar, and then cut into 8 pieces with a butter knife.  Arrange on a baking tray, leaving an inch or so of room between the slices.
5. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the scones are golden brown and delicious.  Let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.  These are tasty both warm and cold.

I set my scones onto a round pizza dish, so they would fit in the same circular way that I cut them from (just with spaces between the pieces).  It looked like this when I took it out:
Not too shabby!  Well... a little shabby, but they're supposed to have a rustic look to them, right?  Here's a close-up of one piece.
Mmmm!! The almond extract is light but present and adds a lovely flavor, and when you bite into a piece with a white chocolate chip, it really brings out the extra nutty yumminess.  These are also unlike other scones that I've had, in that they are moist, rather like a dinner biscuit instead of a drier, crackerier taste.

Not to tootle my own horn (or the horn of the author who posted the recipe on allrecipes), but I think these are worthy of a Mary Poppins Tea Party. And if she would like to come by, I am more than willing to share.

Friends, I have made a mistake.  In my haste to try to be fair to Ms. Travers and respectful of her work, I neglected to give you a fair recommendation of this book.  My honest opinion is that, while it may be worthwhile to read this if you have grown up watching Disney's Mary Poppins, and see how you like it... don't read this to children.  It was written in 1934, and as such, has some really horrible-awful offensive things in it that were okay back then, but aren't anymore.  For example, they find a magic compass and travel around the world, visiting "savages" in Africa and a village in China, among other places.  In the interest of honesty, I feel that I must tell you, it's rather disturbing.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatball Calzone

In 1982, history was made.  An event so historic, so amazing, that it probably helped form the idea for this blog a year before I was even born.  In 1982, the world first was able to read Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett.  Firstly, the illustrations.  I love these even more having read Molly Bang's Picture This: How Picture's Work (she analyzes lines, colors, shapes... trust me, it's enlightening), but I've always been drawn to the illustrations in this book.  I remember flipping through and looking at all the pictures before I was able to read.

The story itself is crafted by our narrator's Grandpa as a bedtime story, and features the far-away town of Chewandswallow.  This city is normal in most respects, except that, instead of rain from the clouds, residents get orange juice.  Instead of snow, hamburgers and fries might fall from the sky.

There are a few small problems with this - firstly, you don't know what kind of food will fall, or when.  And secondly, you don't know how much you'll get.  For a long time, residents are ok with this.  The weather report would tell you what was for dinner, and sanitation workers would collect uneaten food for the wildlife.  Life was idyllic.

But then, the weather stopped being so friendly.  One time, they had snowdrifts of cream cheese and jelly sandwiches, and everybody ate themselves silly.  Another time, nothing came down but overcooked broccoli all day.  And then, the food wasn't just bigger in quantity - it started getting bigger in size, too!  The school was squashed under a giant pancake!  Meatballs would roll down the road and cause destruction!  A giant pickle fell right through somebody's roof!  Things were starting to get dangerous... and the residents of Chewandswallow had to decide what to do about it.

I've already ruined so much of this book that I'm not going to tell you what happens.  I'm sorry, but you're just going to have to read it.

Anyhow.  In honor of this wonderful book - which, incidentally, is one of those that, when people find out I write this blog, people tell me that I have to do something with - I have decided to make a calzone for you today.  Okay, yes, I was going to make spaghetti and meatballs.  But I did spaghetti with the puttanesca, and it's somewhat predictable.  I like to throw a wrench in the works sometimes.  So, calzone.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatball Calzone
1 package of prepared pizza dough (this can be found in the frozen section, the biscuit-dough section, or sometimes in the bakery, depending on the store)
1 can of your favorite pizza or pasta sauce
1 lb. of prepared meatballs (fresh or frozen)
1 cup of shredded cheese (I used "Italian Blend")
1 small tub of ricotta cheese
Olive oil

1. Bring the dough to room temperature and roll it out flat.  If you have gotten your dough from a tube, it will be a giant rectangle; prepared fresh or frozen dough in blob-form will probably roll out to a rounder shape.  Either is ok.  After it is rolled out to the desired size, let it sit for about 5 minutes (this will help it settle and it won't tear as easily later).
2. Preheat your oven to 350 and heat up the meatballs in the microwave; I used prepared, frozen meatballs, with 16 meatballs to a pound, and heated them according to the package instructions.  After they have been warmed up, cut them into roughly bite- or two-bite-sized pieces. 
3. Mentally divide the dough in half.  On one half, spread a thin layer of the pizza sauce.  Sprinkle on the cheese, then top with the meatballs.  Scoop ricotta from the tub and drop at random intervals over the other toppings. 
4. Once your toppings have been added, fold the un-topped half of the dough over the toppings, and pinch the crust together to make one large mound of goodness.  Brush on a little olive oil (I actually used olive oil cooking spray) to promote browning, and cut a few slits in the top of the calzone so it doesn't explode.
5. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes (you'll know when it's done, because it will be golden brown and your house will smell amazing).  Let it sit for a couple minutes, then slice up and enjoy.  You can use the pizza sauce you didn't use inside the calzone for dipping in.

Here are a few photos for you.  This is how it will look when it's just out of the oven - perhaps not the prettiest thing ever, but still.

When sliced, you can see the layers inside.  Oooh, that's good stuff.
And then plate it up.  See the puffy ricotta clouds?  Yum!
 One final note before I let you go.  Firstly, thanks for sticking with me during my long absences - I am in the middle of a practicum and a class, and I'm loving them both, but it leaves very little time for me to cook.  Secondly, mostly what I cook for this blog is very unhealthy, by virtue of it being fun, so I'm going to *try* to make things slightly less bad for you than they are.
And lastly - yes, that is my hand in the first photo.  And my lovely plaid pajamas.  You're welcome.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Soup of Desperaux

"The world is dark, and light is precious.  Come closer, dear reader.  You must trust me.  I am telling you a story."  So begins the epic tale of Desperaux Tilling, an extraordinary mouse with an extraordinary story.  The book, written by Kate DiCamillo (of Because of Winn-Dixie fame), is titled in full: The Tale of Desperaux, being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread.

The story will sound a little confusing when I try to explain it, but bear with me here, it's worth it.  First, we meet Desperaux, a young mouse with huge ears and big dreams, who is much more interested in reading books than eating them - a desire that sets him even farther apart from his peers than his physical differences.  He lives in a castle, in the walls with the other mice; Princess Pea and her father live in the main part of the building.  After reading stories about knights and chivalry, Desperaux decides he needs to meet the princess - and the two worlds collide.

In the course of the story, we also meet Miggery Sow, a servant girl who wishes she was a princess; Roscuro, a rat with a broken heart; and Cook, a cook who would love nothing more than to be making soup again, but for the fact that it has been outlawed.  I'm not going to give away too much of the story, because in order to explain it, would have to give away the whole plot, but I will say that soup, in the end, is once again legal and enjoyed; and most of the characters, if not all, live happily ever after.

I fear that I am not doing this book credit by my description, but hopefully my Desperaux-inspired meal will do it some justice.  Because soup is a prominent part of the story, and because our hero is a mouse, I have decided to make a cheddar and broccoli soup for you today.

The Soup of Desperaux
5 tbsp. butter
1/2 an onion, diced
1 tsp. minced garlic
16 oz. bag of frozen chopped broccoli
2 14.5-oz. cans chicken broth
1/2 lb. processed cheese, like Velveeta, cubed
1 cup milk
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 cup cold water
1/3 cup corn starch
Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

1. In a stock pot over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the onion and garlic, and cook until softened, which will take about 5 minutes.
2. Add the broccoli and the chicken broth, and over medium-low heat until the broccoli is cooked, which will take about 15 minutes.
3. Add the cheese cubes, stirring until they are all melted into the mixture.  Stir in the milk and the garlic powder.
4. In a small bowl, mix the water with the corn starch; add this mixture to the soup and stir until thickened, and serve in a bowl, topped with cheddar cheese if desired.  It is especially good with some crusty bread on the side.

This recipe is adapted only very slightly from the Broccoli Cheese Soup recipe found on the All Recipes website.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Betsy Who Cried Wolf: Shepherd's Pie

As a special treat, I am posting this for you from my vacation retreat in Florida! Hooray!

I really need to stop apologizing for everything, but I really am not meaning to go so far between postings.  It's a New Year's Resolution that I will get more posts up than I have been.  Let's see how that goes.

Gail Carson Levine, author of such awesome books as Ella Enchanted, came out with her first picture book in 2002, and I - being behind the times - just discovered it.  It's called Betsy Who Cried Wolf, and it's all kinds of awesome.  In this variation of the classic folktale, 8-year-old Betsy has just graduated from Shepherding School, and she has taken the Shepherd's Oath.  "She was going to be the best shepherd in Bray Valley history," we are told.  "And any wolf who tried to eat her sheep had better watch out!"

There was only one wolf left on the mountain at this point, and he - Zimmo - knew that the odds were against him, and he had to be smart.  He had to use his sneaky wolf brain.  So what he did was (and this is really very clever), he showed himself, and let Betsy blow her whistle - but he was hidden by the time the townspeople came up to help.  Betsy got a lecture.  Later that day, he came out and Besty blew her whistle - but again, Zimmo was hidden when the townspeople came to help.  The townspeople thought that maybe Betsy wasn't ready to be a shepherd after all, and they made her go take a refresher course at the Shepherd School.

When Zimmo again comes out, and Betsy blows her whistle, nobody comes to help! - but she is determined to show that she can take care of her sheep.  But when she gets up to throw her dinner (shepherd's pie) at him, she realizes how skinny he is, and gives him the pie to eat instead.  Then later, when she needs help with her sheep, Zimmo helps her out, and they become friends.  Eventually, he takes the shepherd's oath, too, and gives up his wolfy ways.

Shepherd's pie is not a pie in the way that most people think of it - that is, there is no bottom crust, and the top crust is mashed potatoes, and I usually make it in a square casserole dish.  But it is very tasty, not too hard to make, and doesn't even cost that much in ingredients.  Of course, the variations you can make with this are endless.  Many people make their's with a tomato base, but mine - at least this time - doesn't have that.

Betsy The Shepherd's Pie
4 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 tbsp. butter
splash of milk
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion
1 lb. ground beef
3/4 cup beef broth
2 tbsp. flour
1 1/2 cups frozen veggies - I used peas here, but carrots and corn are also good

1. Boil salted water and add the potatoes; cook for 15 minutes or until fork tender.  Drain, add the butter and milk, and mash, adding salt and pepper to taste. Alternately, use leftover or otherwise pre-made mashed potatoes.  Set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 375.  In a large skillet, heat the oil.  Dice the onion and add that to the pan, cooking over medium heat until the onion is translucent (about 5 minutes). 
3. Add the ground beef to the pan and cook until brown.  Drain the fat, and add the beef stock, flour, and vegetables, stirring until the flour is dissolved.  Cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.
4. Fill a 2-quart casserole with the beef mixture, then layer with mashed potatoes, being careful to get all the way to the edge of the pan with the potatoes.  Cook in the oven for 20 minutes.

Because the pie is covered in potatoey goodness, it will look like this when you take it out:

And then the slices... well, they're hard to get to look nice.  My best piece looked like this:

which is not the most appetizing-looking meal on the planet, but once you taste it, you won't care.

Fun side note: if you use lamb instead of beef, this dish is called Cottage Pie.  If I spent my days taking care of sheep, though, I'd probably prefer the beef for dinner.