Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Homemade Marshmallows!

What? That doesn't look like marshmallows to you? Oh yeah, sorry but I forgot to take a picture of the final fluffy little marshmallow cubes. You'll just have to use your imagination. I was too busy packaging them up to send to our neighbors with hot cocoa mix on Christmas Eve while four of my kids were cutting out gingerbread cookies and eating the icing. At least I don't try to do too many things at once! Ha ha. These make perfect gifts for people because they are so surprised by them, I mean, whoever heard of homemade marshmallows? If you don't tell them how easy they are they can keep on thinking you are Martha Stewart, which is where I got this recipe, by the way. So they are fun, easy, inexpensive and full of healthy things like egg whites. We do need our protein! Really they aren't full of much healthy but for Pete's sake, their marshmallows. At least they have no blue dye. It's in those jet puffed babies, read the label. The only thing you'll need besides pantry items is unflavored gelatin. You can find it by the Jello at the grocery store. It comes in a little box with 4 packets in it. You will need 3 of the packets. This irritates me because now I have a box with 1 packet in it lurking in my cabinet. But what can I do? I guess I'll have to get over it.

Homemade Marshmallows
2 Tablespoons 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (3 packets)
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
cornstarch for dusting the cut marshmallows

Soften gelatin in the cold water. This will turn into a fairly solid clump of gelatin but never fear, this will go away. Mix sugar, corn syrup, hot water and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cook to soft ball stage (234 degrees on a candy thermometer). My mom taught me to test my candy in a cup of cold water and that is the most reliable way for me. All you do is dribble a bit of the mixture into a small cup of cold water and see how it hardens. For soft ball, you should be able to gather the syrup into a ball that slightly flattens when you lift it up out of the cold water. This is much easier for me than testing a thermometer and fiddling with trying to keep it in the pan right. Besides, with the cold water method you can sample the tests as you go along. Can't exactly throw out that little ball of syrup can you?
While your syrup is cooking, beat the egg white to soft peaks. If you have a stand mixer you want to use it for this or find a strong man to help you. Flatter or bribe, do whatever you need to do because you are about to need some help! After you decide the syrup is soft ball stage, take it off the heat and stir in the vanilla and the gelatin. It will bubble up when you stir it in but stir on. As soon as the gelatin is well mixed pour it into the beaten egg white with the mixer running. That is why you need a stand mixer or helper, that syrup is super hot!

Once you get the syrup mixture beat in, beat for 10 minutes (see I told you would need help). The marshmallows with triple in volume and be very fluffy. Pretty isn't it?

After 10 minutes, pour into a buttered 9 x 13 pan and cover with a piece of buttered waxed paper. If you do not butter it you will hate me and come looking for me, so butter away my friend. The paper smooths the top and gives the final marshmallow a nice square shape. After several hours you can remove the paper and sprinkle the top with cornstarch. This keeps it from sticking. Turn it out onto a cutting board and cut into strips then cubes with a knife. I put a 1/2 cup of cornstarch in a big bowl and toss the marshmallow in the cornstarch after I finish cutting a strip. This is very messy and sticky but fun. I keep them in a gallon ziplock bag and use them for smores and hot cocoa. Really, they are great, you have to try them!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A White Christmas and The Man Mug

On Christmas morning we awoke to a winter wonderland. During the night as Santa made his yearly trip to visit all the good boys and girls, snow fell on our part of the world. I can't remember ever having a white Christmas so it was as exciting for me as it was for the kids. Growing up in the south doesn't give too many opportunities for snow on Christmas. After breakfast the kids bundled up to tromp and play and of course, eat snow. My favorite way to enjoy snow is on the warm side of a window with a mug of hot cider. That is precisely what I did.
Speaking of mugs, every year I hunt for a Man Mug for Joe and this year I think I hit the nail on the head. It just happened to fit my requirements for the ideal Christmas gift, handmade. The mug below was made by a friend of mine in her pottery studio and it is the perfect size and weight for a man. In fact he was so inspired by the manliness, he made himself a manly coaster for it to sit on. Oh, and if you could see inside the mug you would see a yummy homemade marshmallow floating in the hot cocoa. Just the thing to warm someone who comes in from a snowy walk with a companionable four year old boy. The marshmallow recipe is coming up soon!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cheese Straws. Party time!

Contrary to my popular opinion, one can eat too many cookies and homemade candies in a short period of time. This happened to me this week after the toffee/fudge therapy session and an open house we helped host. I developed a serious sugar overload and when faced with a Christmas party with the lovely women at our church there was one thing I knew for sure. A salty treat was desperately needed. My search began and ended with one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen. Deb cooks fabulous food in her tiny New York City kitchen during her new son's nap times. She whips up some great and interesting dishes and her photography is beautiful. As I perused her appetizer recipe list I saw a post about cheese straws. I read the recipe, I copied it down on a handy notecard, I walked to the kitchen and dug out the food processor, I mixed, I dumped, I kneaded, I rolled, I ... well you get the point. My quest for a salty/savory snack was triumphantly fulfilled with a basket of crunchy, cheesy, surprisingly fast cheese straws. With a few simple ingredients you too can make cheese straws for your party or family or yourself. Just try not to eat them all before the party. It wouldn't be nice.

Cheese Straws
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
4 ounces of sharp cheddar, shredded or chopped (I used 2 ounces cheddar and 2 ounces parmesan. That's what I had)
4 T softened butter
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons cream or milk

Put all the ingredients except the cream or milk in a food processor. Blitz for 5 second bursts, 5 or six times until the cheese and butter is finely chopped. Pour in the cream or milk 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture holds together in a rough mass. You should be able to press a clump and it hold together. Dump the dough out on a floured surface and lightly knead to smooth out the dough. Roll the dough with a rolling pin, flouring it as you need to so it won't stick.
Try to roll it out perfectly straight like I did. Just kidding, I cut the edges with a knife so they would be straight. You want a rectangle about 6 to 8 inches wide and 12 or 14 inches long. I rolled it out on an awesome canvas cloth that my mom bought me. You flour it and use it for rolling out pie dough or cookies, anything really. I love it.

After you get it rolled out, just cut into strips and bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. I got all fancy and used the wavy side of my pastry wheel but you could cut them out with a knife just as easily. If the dough sticks while you are cutting, dust it with some flour and keep on cutting. They are quite brittle after they break so be careful when you are taking them off the baking sheet. If one breaks then you should probably eat it, one would hate to be tacky and serve broken cheese straws. That could really damage your reputation.

The more I think about it, the possibilities abound with this recipe. They would be fabulous with chopped pecans thrown in or with a little blue cheese or maybe some feta. This definitely needs some exploring! Happy baking!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Last Bite

This week I finally accomplished something I've attempted every year for longer than I would care to admit. I made a batch of english toffee. Every year about this time, I put an equal amount of butter and sugar in a pan and cook it as I feverishly watch the candy thermometer. Every year, I throw out a pan of greasy mushy butter saturated sugar. It makes me mad. Not as mad as it did eight years ago when I ruined my first batch of toffee. But still it chaps my hide. My mom said I didn't cook it long enough. Maybe my thermometer was off and showed the wrong temperature. Maybe the pan I used was the wrong shape, size, or material.
This week I found a toffee recipe on a great recipe blog called Prudence Pennywise. She doesn't use a thermometer at all but uses color as her gauge. Also, she says to watch for the candy to release a puff of smoke, then pour it into the pan to cool. So I tried it and it worked! I poured the caramelized sugar into a buttered pan with chopped pecans in it and waited seven minutes then sprinkled chocolate chips over it and spread them when they were melted. As soon as I was sure I wouldn't sear my tongue off, I cut a chunk out and popped it in my mouth. Tears filled my eyes, I told myself that Prudence Pennywise was indeed a wonderful person and thought of what I owed her. She has taken away the curse of bad toffee from me. I thank her.
Halfway through this week my man left on a trip and I have been here with our five delightful children. Here in the house, stuck inside because of the cold and drizzle. It has built character. They have gone to bed early so they can have plenty of rest so they can grow grow. I have eaten a pan of toffee and half a batch of Cherry Pecan Chocolate Fudge. I am thankful.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Sourdough Chronicles: Part II

Here is the next installment in the exciting Sourdough Chronicles. I can just see you riveted, on the edge of your seat. Over the years I have made countless recipes for sourdough bread. Most have been along the lines of a country bread with a thick crunchy crusts and chewy inside. This week I found a wonderful recipe for a soft slightly sweet sourdough that I just had to share. On the first go around I made the round loaf you see above. If we hadn't devoured it in 24 hours I would have been able to share it but after afternoon snacks, before bed cinnamon toast and an alarming amount of vanilla french toast this morning, there isn't even a crumb left. Today I made another batch for hoagie buns to make this for dinner and it was just as soft and delicious as the big loaf yesterday. Next I am going to play with the proportions and try it as loaf bread.
Over the weekend I read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder and was interested in the descriptions of Ma's sourdough bread that they literally lived on for most of the winter and spring . She usually used yeast cakes and made light bread but out of necessity she made a starter and used that for her bread. If you've never read this book, do so immediately but make sure you have a quilt handy because it makes you cold to read it. Most pioneers used a sourdough starter and they are legendary in Alaska. You can even order a special wooden spoon from Alaska that has been dipped in starter and use it to make a starter for yourself. Or follow my starter recipe and make your own with your own wooden spoon. It's really easy and quite an interesting process. After you have a starter going and make a loaf of bread, you have to feed the starter to keep it alive. The yeast in the starter lives off the sugar in the flour and it can't go much longer than a week with out more flour being added to it. Sometimes when I can't get a chance to bake I will dump a cup of the starter out and feed it 1/2 a cup of water and a cup of flour to keep it alive. When I bake, I replenish the starter with the same amount of water and flour. So you see, it's easy and when you can make bread like this it's absolutely worth it.

Soft Sourdough Bread
2 teaspoons dry yeast
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cup sourdough starter (Replenish starter with 3/4 cup water and 1 1/2 cup flour)
3 Tablespoons soft butter
3 Tablespoons honey
3 Tablespoons wheat germ
1 Tablespoon salt
4 cups flour (I use 2 cups whole wheat and 2 cups unbleached white)

Stir together yeast, milk, butter and honey. It will be lumpy because of the starter but take heart, it's nothing a little kneading won't fix. Mix in the wheat germ, salt and flour and stir until the dough starts to come together. Dump it out on a floured surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. This dough may be sticky at the beginning so add flour as you need to work with it. Set the kneaded dough to rise in a large bowl in a warm place. If I am not using my oven, I set it in there with the light turned on. Rise until doubled in size. Gently deflate the dough and shape into a ball. Set on an oiled baking sheet and let it rise again. When it is about twice as big and looks puffy, preheat your oven to 4oo degrees. Bake the bread 25 to 30 minutes or until it is golden brown. Cool the bread on a rack at least 20 minutes before you slice it. Guard it from your family members if need be.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Perfect Gingerbread

Gingerbread is something I crave regularly in the winter, we have it several times a month, often for breakfast. This morning was one of those mornings and we devoured almost all of it straight from the oven. The recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Dairy Hollow House Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon. She once lived here in Arkansas and helped pioneer the bed and breakfast industry in Eureka Springs. Two cookbooks were written during her ownership of The Dairy Hollow House, the copy above was purchased in their gift shop and autographed by the author the first time I visited Eureka Springs as a college student. It is one of my favorite cookbooks and I read it almost every year. I'm kind of weird like that, my preferred reading is usually a cookbook and there's always one on my nightstand. This recipe is adapted from her recipe for Elsie's Gingerbread and it's a great one. Not too molassesy, not too sweet, with a cake-like texture. The crumb topping makes it extra special and it is made as you make the batter so it's a one bowl treat. Gingerbread is not made all that often nowadays so people are surprised and pleased when you serve it. Try it and you will be surprised yourself!

Perfect Gingerbread
Adapted from Elsie's Gingerbread

1 1/2 cups flour (I use 1 cup whole wheat and 1/2 cup white)
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 scant teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
4 Tablespoons molasses
1 cup buttermilk (or sour 1 cup of milk with 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice)

Stir together flour, sugar, ginger and cinnamon. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Scoop out 1/4 cup of the crumb mixture and set aside. Add baking soda and salt and stir lightly to incorporate. Stir in egg and molasses, this won't mix in completely so don't worry. Pour in buttermilk or soured milk and quickly stir to combine. Pour into a buttered 9 inch baking pan and sprinkle with the reserved crumb mixture. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until the sides start to pull away from the edge of the pan. Remove from the oven and serve hot, warm or cool. Anyway you serve it, you can't go wrong!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Our Advent

Last year was the first year our children were old enough to read through an advent book and we enjoyed it so much we decided to celebrate it every year. It's a wonderful tradition for kids and not so young kids so today we begin. In the summer I picked up this beautiful book called The 25 Days of Christmas at a homeschool book fair and stashed it away for December. Thankfully, I was able to remember where I put it. The artwork is beautiful and the daily readings talk about everything from God knowing us from the beginning to the meaning of gifts. Everyday we will read the devotion and sing a carol or hymn. I especially love the daily page for parents that offers ideas to make this busy season more meaningful and less stressful. This is a book I highly recommend, it would be great for any age child and something that could be used each year.
Another tradition we are starting is a miniature Advent Christmas tree. This tree is about a foot high and we have it set up in the dining room. I picked up a couple of sets of tiny ornaments and some felt to make a few more and every night one of the kids will get to choose an ornament to put on the tree. They are so excited for their turn and have several ornaments picked out for their night. I am excited to have such a fun way to share the joy of Christmas and teach them why we have that joy. Let Christmas begin!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tightwad Living: Cloth Napkins

One of my favorite tightwad weapons is the old fashioned cloth napkin. In our house we would go through tons of paper products so as much as possible I have replaced paper with cloth. You can see that I have no preferred pattern, my only requirements are that they be 100% cotton and be inexpensive. Most were purchased years ago for fifty cents each at various stores. When I find some on sale, I buy enough to set my table with one pattern at once. My mom has picked up several sets for me at flea markets or yard sales so I have quite a collection to choose from.
The biggest benefit is the difference it makes at the table. There is something so nice about using a cloth napkin and people always comment on it when we have company. It makes the meal seem very special to them. I've even had someone refuse to use the napkin because they didn't want to get it dirty! That cracked me up. I throw them in the wash after dinner and wash them with the next load of laundry. It takes a few minutes to fold them but now my kids can fold them neatly and they are so proud to fill the drawer with their carefully folded work. I make sure to set their folded napkin at their dad's place and tell him who folded his napkin. Also, Joe started carrying a cloth napkin in his lunch box everyday and he has really enjoyed that. All that to say that using cloth napkins is probably my most-liked Tightwad Living ideas, it saves money and enriches our home. And if you come eat with us, I'll even let you choose your own pattern!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cranberry Streusel Pie

What can I say about this pie? I just can't understand how it can be so good. About 10 years ago I found the recipe in a magazine and jotted it down because I obsessively jot down any recipe using fresh cranberries. They are my favorite fall fruit and we have several dishes at Thanksgiving dinner that feature these beautiful ruby colored berries. Any recipe calling for them is instantly in running for my new fall dish. In fact, as I write this I have a cranberry apple breakfast crisp in the oven. An interesting fact about cranberries is that they are the only true American fruit. They were growing here long before the first Europeans landed on this fine land of ours. Another fun thing about cranberries is that children always want to taste them and they always forget how tart they are. Every year I get to trick my kids with a fresh cranberry. Ah, fun times!
Now about the pie, it became an instant favorite in my family. The only dilemma we have is that the original recipe calls for walnuts and my dad thinks the only nut worth eating is a pecan. (Except for boiled peanuts. Don't ask, it's a southern thing.) So we put pecans in it for Dad and either way it's about the best pie you ever put in your mouth. My husband's family loved it too and I always make one to send to Grandma and Grandpa. Just trying to be the favorite!

Cranberry Streusel Pie
2 cups fresh cranberries
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons flour
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 unbaked pie shell

Toss together the cranberries, brown sugar, white sugar, nuts and cinnamon. Spoon into the pie shell and spread out as evenly as you can. Whisk the egg and add the sugar, flour and butter. Pour over cranberry mixture in the pie shell. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake for 30 minutes more. If you are using a glass pie plate, carefully check the bottom of the crust to make sure it is nice and browned. A undercooked gummy bottom crust is a violation of all that is good and right. However a properly browned bottom crust will make you everyone's hero or at least help you sleep better at night. So round up your ingredients and make this pie today or on Thursday, you'll be glad you did!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Buttery Wheat Pie Crust

Next week, less than a week from today it will be Thanksgiving! I absolutely love Thanksgiving! You get to cook all day making fabulous food that you only make and eat once a year. What's not to love? Cleaning up is even fun when our family friend Frenetta is there. She is the most regal and beautiful African American woman I have met and I think I was ten when she first became friends with my mother. After her family moved away and her husband died, she began sharing Thanksgiving dinner with us. Every year she arrives with her handmade apron in one hand and a Sweet Potato Pie in the other. Her laughter and stories echo through the house and then I know it's really Thanksgiving, Frenetta is here. Making pie crust is one thing that was a given with Frenetta's generation and is a lost art in mine. One of my personal missions is to bring back homemade, flaky, tender, golden pie crust. It's not hard and you don't need to be intimidated by something made out of 4 simple ingredients. Now, I'm not saying you should be spanked for using a pre-made crust but if you are going to the trouble of making a pie from scratch, it's easy (and inexpensive) to make your own crust. If you've never made a pie crust before, prepare to be amazed at the difference it makes in your final creation. Besides, you will know how simple it was and everyone else will think you are a domestic goddess. I mean, that's a win-win situation there!

Buttery Wheat Pie Crust
1 cup whole wheat flour (you can substitute white flour if you want)
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold butter
5 Tablespoons ice water

Stir together the wheat and white flours and the salt. Crumble the butter in with your hands (easiest) or with a pastry blender (cleanest). You want to work it in until it has coarse crumbs like the photograph below.
Sprinkle in the ice water until the dough just just comes together in a shaggy ball. Be careful not to add too much water, add it a tablespoon at a time until you can pinch a clump of the dough together and it sticks in a ball. I toss it gently with a fork after each addition of water so it doesn't get compacted or tough. There is gluten in the flour that you don't want to activate or the crust will be hard to roll out and it will be tough after you bake it. This is really the only part you have to take care with, adding the water and mixing. Once you get a feel for that you can make incredible crust in your sleep. I've been making pies since I was about eleven years old and even my "mess-ups" were yummy so don't be nervous. Also, I used to make all white flour crusts with shortening. We don't use any shortening now and about a year ago I started making part whole wheat crusts and the flavor is unbeatable.

After you get a rough ball of dough like you see above, turn it out on a lightly floured countertop and lightly knead 4 or 5 times to smooth out the dough. Divide it into two pieces and you are ready to roll. Literally. Here is my poor wooden rolling pin. I can't tell how many times I have rescued it from the boys as the "steamrolled" around the house chasing their sisters. Who needs expensive toys when your mom has a rolling pin?

You want to roll it in one direction only, away from you, then towards you. After about 4 rolls, gently turn the dough a quarter turn, that is, turn the side on your right to the top side. Counterclockwise turns. Four more rolls and turn again. This pattern should result in a fairly good circle. You want to roll until the circle is a couple inches bigger than your pie plate. You may have to add a dusting of flour as you go to keep it from sticking to the countertop or your rolling pin. When it's the right size, gently fold it over and lay it over half of your pie plate. Unfold and adjust it to fit the plate. If it tears just lightly moisten a scrap and stick it in the tear to patch it. I trim it to overhang the edge about 1/2 to 1 inch then fold it under to make an even edge.
This crust had several patches on the edge that you can see in the photograph. If you are making a luscious pumpkin or pecan pie just fold the edge under and crimp it like the first photograph or whatever you think looks pretty. If you are making a sweet apple pie with a top crust the fill the bottom crust after you roll out the second ball of dough and fit it over the pie filling. You can moisten the edge so the top crust sticks well then fold under the extra part and crimp it. Then you should cut a few slits in the top, brush it with milk and sprinkle with sugar. It bakes up crisp and beautiful. I tell you, it can make a grown man cry!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Marinara Sauce

Today I am going to share one of my favorite basic recipes, Marinara Sauce. Above you can see a lovely stuffed pasta shell modeling cream sauce and Marinara Sauce. Just as an aside, the shells hadn't been baked yet and we ate them before I remembered to take a picture when they were done. Sorry, you'll have to use your imagination.
Back to the Marinara Sauce. I adapted the recipe from a book called The Family Kitchen that I checked out from the library a hundred years ago. The sauce is very flavorful and not to herby so it can go in many other dishes. Of course, you can serve it as is over pasta for a quick and delicious dinner, but it's also great in Lasagna, any stuffed pasta, with meatballs or anything, even as pizza sauce. Turn on your Italian music and let's get going!

Marinara Sauce
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
1 small onion, diced finely
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon parmesan cheese

Saute onion in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and saute for about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, sugar, salt, oregano, black pepper and pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter and cheese. Use the sauce then or refrigerate and use in a recipe later. I sometimes make a double batch and use part then and freeze the other part. It's so easy to make a lasagna when you have a good red sauce already done. Hope you enjoy this!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Sideboard: a flat-topped piece of furniture with cupboards and drawers placed along a wall and used for storing dishes, glasses, and table linen. Also known as my favorite piece of furniture ever! Two weekends ago while Joe held down the fort, I combed all the flea markets in the area for something to hold our school supplies in the dining room. Considering my long held addiction to dishes, there just wasn't enough room in my kitchen cabinets for the beloved dishes and the growing collection of school supplies and books. So I found this.

It's a cedar sideboard, some call it a buffet but I'm calling it a sideboard. It seems to be handmade and has glass drawer pulls. The cabinet doors have old clasps that are mounted crooked and that makes me love it all the more. I love to think about a man making it for his wife to put in her farmhouse dining room to hold her china and hand embroidered linens. Linens much like the one shown here, oh it makes my heart sing!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Angel Biscuits

It's been a while since a recipe was posted so I thought I would show you what my middle son and I made for our dinner one night this week. All my kids love to "help" cook and with their range of ages some are more help than others. If you haven't cooked with a kid lately, round one up and have some fun! Every step is intensely interesting to them and they are so proud to serve everyone what they made. Yes, it takes longer and it's messier than if you made it by yourself but I see it as an investment. In five or six years I want to be able to send my oldest into the kitchen to make some biscuits or cookies and then serve me some on a silver platter. Besides, it's a special time for them to spend with me or their dad as they help mix and stir. This particular helper is the perfect age to love measuring and cutting things with the biscuit cutter and as he kept wandering in while I was cooking to beg for food, I put him to work.
These biscuits are different in that they have yeast and baking powder and they have to rise for a while. When you pull them out of the oven, they are crusty and flaky with more chewiness to them that straight baking powder biscuit don't have. They are a little more substantial making them great for serving with chicken stew or a hearty breakfast. Oh, and they make a lot, which is just what I need. Anyone not serving a horde may want to cut the recipe in half.

Angel Biscuits
1 pkg (2 1/2 tsp.) dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 3/4 to 2 cups milk
5 cups flour (I use 3 cups whole wheat and 2 cups white)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup butter

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large measuring cup with a pouring spout. Let it sit while you stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. When the yeast and water looks creamy, stir in the milk. Now back to the dry ingredients, mix in the butter with your hands, or a pastry mixer if you don't like to get messy, I use my hands and crumble/rub the butter into the flour. You are trying to get a coarse crumb texture. When it's there, quickly and gently stir in the yeast/milk mixture adding only as much as you need to get the dough to come together. As soon as it starts to come together into a rough ball, dump it out onto a floured surface and knead quickly 5 or 6 times. The goal is to get it fairly smooth without overworking it. Always err on the side of underworked if you are unsure how much to mix it. Biscuit dough needs to be handled as little and as gently as possible to keep it tender. Too much handling will activate the gluten in the dough and you will have the dreaded hockey puck biscuit problem. Next you want to pat it out so it's about 3/4 of an inch thick. I like thicker biscuits so if you want thinner ones, aim for 1/2 an inch. Cut them out with a biscuit cutter or the top of a glass and arrange them on your baking sheet.
If you like softer biscuits place them so they are touching each other and for crispier ones, set them a bit apart. Cover them with a clean towel and let them rise for 30 minutes to an hour. Slide the sheet into a preheated 425 degree oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. They should be brown and crusty and everyone will be standing there with their plates. These are seriously good biscuits folks!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Great Flour Explosion of 2009

Just in case you were wondering, this is what your kitchen will look like if you put too much wheat in your grinder and then go in the other room.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tightwad Living: Storage

I am not afraid to call myself a tightwad. Something about that word makes me feel connected to my grandparents and the "depression mentality". Not to say that I dry and save used paper towels and collect the last bits of bars of bath soap like my sweet Mamaw, but I like to come up with creative solutions for problems with what I have on hand. Now, you may recognize this photograph from my true confession about my chocolate hoarding issue. In this photograph you can view two of my favorite Tightwad Storage items. As you can see, I like hot tea. Some of my preferred varieties come as individual packets and I was always annoyed to have a bunch of loose packets or keep a box with only two tea bags in it cluttering up my cabinet. I was also annoyed by this tin jello mold that I loved but didn't use (we eat way more jello than that at a time!) and could find a place for. Thus was born my tea caddy! I love it, when I open this cabinet it makes me happy.
On the next shelf you can see the coffee jar. Personally I avoid caffeine, except for the occasional Dr. Pepper my mother-in-law sneaks me. However, the man around here likes a cup of leaded coffee to start his day so I made this coffee jar for him using an empty peanut jar and some scrapbook paper. Not a solution to a life threatening problem but still it's a little something extra from what I had that makes our home a bit more homey and fun.
I have lots more Tightwad Living ideas to share with you so start collecting up old jars and stray dishes and used paper towels and get ready! It's cool to be a Tightwad!

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Recently on a family walk Little Sister noticed this flower growing by the trail. She bent down and inspected it with delight. Every little dew drop was examined and she was thrilled with how delicate and bright it was. I was equally delighted with how delicate and bright she was. What a joy to live with and know this tiny girl and her no so tiny personality. She lights up our whole home!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Costumes in Review

The Wee Little Pumpkin. Oh he gets me with his tiny finger like that.
We had a lovely Monarch Butterfly with soft blonde hair. It cracks me up that one of her ponytails always flops down.
Here is the lovely Cinderella. She was very sad that I couldn't make her any ballerina slippers. I made this dress out of one of my old dresses and she has worn every minutes since I sewed on the last button, except when it was in the wash. It was very difficult for her to be parted with the dress while it was in the laundry but she made it through.
Above you can see Batman and Power Dude. It was necessary for Batman to put down his pumpkin bucket to assume the proper pose. He is extremely serious about both the costume and the pose. By the way, Joe and I dressed up as Harried Parents.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Sourdough Chronicles

Once upon a time, in a kitchen far far away, there lived a lovely princess, uhh well, a lovely but bedraggled mother. More than any other thing this lovely but bedraggled mother liked to bake bread. Big round loaves, long crusty loaves, sturdy wheaten loaves, any kind of bread, this mother liked to bake. Though she was surrounded by five mischievous little imps who spent their days tugging on her apron and demanding her attention, she continued to bake bread. And the five mischievous little imps continued to gobble up her bread as soon as she pulled it from the oven. So the lovely but bedraggled mother had to make still more bread the next day. This went on for many years.
One day as the poor mother sat at her table after slicing up yet another warm loaf of bread and feeding it to the little imps she remembered that many many years ago, she used to make sourdough bread. French Country Sourdough Bread, Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread, Sourdough Bread with Cornmeal and Oats, Sourdough Bread with Walnuts, she thought off all the kinds of sourdough bread she used to make many long years ago. She also remembered that the round crusty loaves of sourdough bread were very very large and the maybe it would take two days for it to be gobbled up instead of only one day like the loaves she was making now. With that thought, she decided to make sourdough bread once again!
The very next day, the mother found a plastic bowl to make her starter in because she knew that very very bad things would happen to the poor little starter if one was to make it in a metal bowl. Into the bowl, she put 1/2 a cup of soft flour and 1/4 a cup of pure water. Then she stirred. She used a wooden spoon and stirred and stirred until the starter was a smooth soft ball. Then she covered it with a clean kitchen towel. The day after that, she took off the towel and could see right away that something amazing had happened. Wild yeast from the air in her own kitchen had found it's way into the soft ball of flour and water and had made some little bubbles on top of the dough. Once again, she took up her wooden spoon and stirred in another 1/2 a cup of soft flour and 1/4 a cup of pure water and stirred and stirred. Once again, she covered it with the clean kitchen towel. She did this for two more days and by the fourth day their were many many bubbles on the top of the dough because so much wild yeast had found it's way into the soft dough and started to grow there. After four days the mother knew that she had made a very good starter indeed and so she started to make her bread... To be continued.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


It finally arrived!!! Waiting at the front window, I spied the big brown truck driven by a veritable angel as it screeched to a stop in front of my house. In my stocking feet I ran out the door to meet the cheerful lady who was sprinting up my driveway. She handed off the package and turned back to her truck. I was about to hug her but man, they are fast. Instead I hugged the humble cardboard box and headed back inside. After making quick work of ripping it open, there it was in all it's glory, my own copy of Pioneer Woman Cooks!! My sweet mother-in-law had purchased it for my birthday this summer and I have been on pins and needles ever since. Why does it take so long to print a little old book anyway? So it is here and after I get the kids in bed and the kitchen cleaned I can sit and revel in PW's wonderful work. If you have talked to me for longer than 5 seconds then you have heard of my devotion to PW. It's serious, I may need intervention. She may think I am stalking her. Good thing she lives out in the middle of no-where, who would watch my kids while I drove all the way over there just to shake her hand. Last night I read through to chicken fried steak and twice baked potatoes. Really, it would be in every man's best interest to buy a copy for his wife, it's full of man-food. So, PW, I want you to know that you have brightened the life of a little Arkansas mama and I thank you!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Trash to Treasure

One of my latest projects has been this simple clipboard. My mom gave it to me and when I turned it over, my name was scrawled on the back! I remember using this clipboard for my grade school projects. That memory reminded me of how much I loved clipboards as a kid. The years had not been kind however and the front was pretty rough. Inspired as usual by all the great Trash to Treasure project at Reinvented, I grabbed my handy can of spray paint and got busy.
A week before I found this cute scrapbook paper on sale at Hobby Lobby and picked up a couple of sheets. It was the larger size so I trimmed it down using the Exacto knife that stays hidden at the very back of a very high cabinet. Living with boys will eventually teach you something about precautions. By the way, concealed under the clipboard is the big broken piece of my cutting mat. What did I tell you about precautions, this took a licking before I learned to hide things.
After decoupaging the paper on the board and letting it dry, I attached a piece of braided hemp trim under the clip and with some very professional masking tape to the back so I could display smaller things on the board. Feeling very Martha-ish, I found some silver leaf beads in my bead stash and put them on the paperclips. Now as I stand at my sink I can read my verses and bits of encouragement. Makes me happy. Makes me want to raise my right hand in the air and give myself a pat on the back like my first grade teacher taught us to do.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

War Eagle Mill

A few weekends ago, we ventured out to visit one of my favorite places in our state. It's called War Eagle Mill. There is a little something for everyone, an amazing old building, food, history, a river with a spillway, and lots of rocks to throw in the water. That cover the major interests of everyone in our family so a trip to War Eagle makes everyone happy. I'll let you guess which parts I like the best. The drive out there is beautiful with windy mountain roads and fabulous views. As you approach the mill you cross over an old one lane bridge and from there you get the best view of the water wheel. This is one of the only operating grist mills left in the country and the history of the place is quite an education. Three times the building has been destroyed and rebuilt. The current owners run the mill, a large store and on the third floor, a restaurant called the Bean Palace. That name just makes me happy.

On the first floor is where the flour, cornmeal, jams, jelly, honey and other things are sold. All the flour and cornmeal is packaged in cotton prints that really add to the charm of the store. I bought a 10 pound sack of yellow corn meal for myself after Big Sister chose the flour sack material she preferred. She has a collection of flour sacks from War Eagle that she uses alternately for doll beds and bags. After she viewed all the choices she settled on a pink flowered stripe pattern. That girl knows her fabric!

Here is a view of Baby and the mill. The corn falls down in the funnel shaped thing and the grindstones are underneath it. The big wheel in the background is powered by the belt that runs down below to the waterwheel. It's pretty loud in there when it's running but the kids love it. They have displays of different grains and what the flour they each make.

This is a side view of the mill. You see the funnel thing with the corn in it? Well, below that on the floor is a gray box that collects all the cornmeal. And this is no ordinary cornmeal. When you pick up a pinch of it you can feel different size pieces in it. Cornbread made from this is something to write home about, as my Mamaw would say. Around here, we use it for baking and for making big pots of cheese grits. Creamy with a little bite to it, my kids devour it!

Head up the worn wooden stairs, I love worn treads on stairs, and you find a whole different shop. Up here they sell pottery, enameled dishes and pans, cast iron, wooden toys and trinkets, jewelry, quilts and other odds and ends. The kids always love the miniature cooking utensils and of course the boys love the pocket knife display.
These polished rocks are a favorite to dig into and find a special stone. My mom is a rock collector so whenever I see all those colors I think of her.
Here is Little Sister looking out the window at the water wheel and the river. She was busy running from one thing to the next in complete amazement. Almost wore her Grandma out.
Outside you can see the water wheel up close. I love the moss that grows on it when it is not being used. Speaking of that, I have only been there one time when the wheel wasn't turning and grinding corn. Big Brother pointed out the DANGER sign to me as he poked his head through the bars to get a better view. Thanks!
When you go down below the bridge to throw rocks in the water, what you say everyone doesn't go down and throw rocks in the water? Tell that to my boys! Anyway, when you are down there you can really get a feel for the size of the wheel. That thing is big! You can also get a feel of the spray from 30 feet away. All in all, it's just about my ideal day trip, rock throwing included.