Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Krabby Patties

That was a (very) little joke for the SpongeBob set.

Every year during the shopping, we say "Oh, I love ___________ (apple cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, whatever)! I'm cooking anyway, so we'll just make a little extra to be sure we have leftovers." As if we never had leftovers before. And by the Sunday after Thanksgiving, people dread dinner. They plot to avoid it. It's usually something like this:

* Thursday - a wonderful feast

* Friday - grab a turkey sandwich for lunch and congratulate yourself on using up food you already have. Prepare a casual dinner of leftovers. It's not on the good china this time, so it must be a completely different dinner, right?

* Saturday - Decide everything will taste better immersed in chicken brot as a soup. This is almost always a bad idea; it can be done well, but emptying cold, Tupperwared, clumpy masses into a saucepan and dousing with broth ends up just as appetizing as it doesn't sound. Almost as bad - trying to make a "Thanksgiving Stirfry" - hello, have you ever seen potatoes in a stirfry??? - or "Thanksgiving Pizza" or some other nonsensical, just DOES NOT GO concoction. You're not fooling anyone. Like cartoon Dad Hank Hill once said of Christian Rock - "you're not making Christianity any better and you're making rock worse."

* Sunday - order a ham for Christmas. Each family member discreetly throws some leftovers into the trash and "goes to the gym" or "visits with Aunt Marilyn" at dinner time. Said family members pretend not to notice each other at the local pizza joint.

With a little planning, it doesn't have to be this way. I can't have this dish myself, being allergic to shellfish and all, but from what I undertand crabcakes are quite the delicacy. Whenever we're anywhere near water, Sweetie takes the opportunity to order them and remains dreamy-eyed for the next hour or two.

The young man in the video is heading off to the Culinary Institute of America and is vying for scholarship $ to get there - hence the video (your 5-star rating would help him out). What I like about this is that he didn't try to make these turkey-cranberry-the-rest-of-the-canned-pumpkin crabcakes; he chose one ingredient to incorporate, and it was an ingredient that makes perfect sense.

Without further ado:


Saturday, November 22, 2008

When It's Good It Stays Good

'Twas 1999 and I was hosting another Orphans Thanksgiving - those of us whose work didn't allow us to travel for the holiday, who were too battle-scarred from incompetent airlines over past Thanksgivings, etc. In other words, my friends from softball and work and whatnot were held hostage to my cooking! MWWAAAH-ha-ha-haaaaaa!

I wanted the dinner to be very traditional. My parents are both terrific cooks and made the most wonderful Thanksgiving dinners! Granted, my Bangladeshi friend in attendance had no frame of reference for a Thanksgiving dinner, but the folks from Ohio and Chicago and St. Louis did. And whether they were missing their families or escaping them, we all deserved a warm, comfortable, friendly, fantastic dinner together. I did turkey and dessert, they brought the rest.

Wanting to share the best with my friends, I picked up the November, 1999 copy of Bon Appetit to find the perfect turkey recipe. [I'm proud to say I had come a long way from the 1993 incident of calling my Mom in a panic, asking her what this bag was doing in my turkey?!?! What kind of slipshod poultry farm was stuffing God-knows-what inside my bird, and to whom do I report them?? Never heard her laugh so hard.] Narrowing down my choices, I read the recipes to my Dad over the phone and we decided which would be best. On Thanksgiving we had the following conversation:

Dad, vastly experienced with roasting turkeys: So how's the turkey coming? It's in the oven by now, right?
Me: Yeah, but barely. I've rubbed my buttered, herb-y hands all in and over that thing. A nice dinner is the least of what it owes me.
Dad: Um, you don't have anyone over right now who heard that, do you?

That 1999 magazine is one of the very few that I've ever saved in its entirety. I was just looking through it and some things are noticeable for their absence - the words "artisinal" and "vegan", omnipresent in current foodie magazines, aren't there. Neither are website URLs - there are a few, but it's mostly 1-800 numbers for more information. There are no e-mail addresses, no mentions of organic food, and the words "New Orleans" are not followed by "rebuilding" or "lost" or "damaged" or "Katrina." Did it all change that fast?

This recipe has stood the test of 9 years time and I expect to make it for twenty more, at least. Enjoy.

Sage-Roasted Turkey With Caramelized Onions and Sage Gravy
Bon Appetit - November, 1999

1 1/2 pounds onions, sliced
3 TBSP vegetable oil

1 14- to 15-pound turkey; neck, heart, and gizzard removed [the stuff in the bag in the turkey. Ew]
2 TBSP butter, room temperature
8 large whole fresh sage leaves plus 1 1/2 teaspoons, chopped

1 cup (or more) boxed low-salt chicken broth

6 TBSP all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dry white wine (or more broth if you don't keep wine around)
Pinch of ground nutmeg

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Toss onions and 2 tablespoons oil in large roasting pan. Roast until onions are golden brown, stirring every 15 minutes, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, rinse turkey inside and out; pat dry. Slice hand under skin of turkey breast to loosen skin. Spread butter under skin over breast meat. Arrange 4 sage leaves under skin on each side of breast.

Tuck wing tips under turkey; tie legs together loosely. Rub turkey all over with 1 TBSP oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. [I don't like to touch my salt & pepper shakers with oily, raw-turkey-juice hands. I pour the oil into a little dish, add the salt and pepper, and then do the rub]

Place turkey atop onions in pan. Roast turkey 30 minutes. Pour 1 cup broth into pan.

Tent turkey loosely with foil. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Roast turkey 2 hours. Uncover and baste regularly. Continue to roast until turkey is golden brown and thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 180 degrees, about an hour longer.

Transfer to platter/cutting board. Tent loosely with foil; let stand 30 minutes.

Pour onion mixture into gravy separator, and pour off broth into large measuring cup. Add more chicken broth to onion mixture, if necessary, to measure 5 cups. Reserve 2 TBSP of fat.

Add the 2 TBSP of fat to a small skillet on medium-high heat. Add chopped sage; stir 30 seconds. Add flour; whisk until beginning to color, about 3 minutes (mixture will be dry and crumbly). Gradually whisk in onion mixture, wine, and nutmeg. Simmer until gravy thickens to desired consistency, whisking frequently, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's The Stuff That Counts

Yes, of course, there's heart-warming good will and togetherness and spiritual enrichment at the holidays. And there's shopping! Much as I wish I wasn't, I'm a shopper. And Thanksgiving - or Easter or Arbor Day or whatever - is a great time to pick up a few things for a special dinner.

Cooking the Big Dinner for the first time? There are a few absolutely critical items, some nice-to-haves, and some culinary equivalents of a chia pet.

Really Important and Helpful

Every year - seriously, every year - there are TV news reports and magazine articles and door-to-door missionaries preaching the word about the deadly cavalcade of bacteria hiding out in the turkey, preparing their attack on the half-wit who leaves the bird on the counter for six hours before feeding it to her family. The fever! The chills! The delirium! Um, happy holidays? And what are you grateful for, little Timmy?

You need to thoroughly cook the turkey and, if it has stuffing, that can be hard to do. And the standards are high - you want it fully, safely cooked and you want it not dehydrated. Dear God, what next? A federal turkey bailout?

This little wonder will get you where you're going as far as done-ness of the turkey. Kitchen respect is yours - all yours! - when you use the term "cooked to temperature." That means you confidently tossed aside the recipe directions to cook for X.Y hours and, savvy as you are, you knew that when the internal temp of the bird reaches 165 degrees, you're done even if you're "supposed" to have Z minutes left. If you've stuffed the turkey, the stuffing must also reach 165 degrees.

And by the way, you can use this baby all year long. I always, always, always use mine for roasted chicken - it can be perfectly well done and still be pinkish (who knew?). I also use mine to test the water temp for yeast when I make pizza crust.

For more info on safely thawing and cooking a turkey, click here.

You've seen those foil roasting pans in the supermarket, right? Thinking about buying one for your feast? Do this - while at the store, put a 5-pound bag of sugar in the foil pan and see how stable it feels. Then realize that, between a roasting rack and a 10-pound turkey, you've got at least 7 more pounds to add to that. And when you take the pan out of the oven and the turkey slides and the foil buckles and the broth and grease slosh out, you're standing in a puddle of shoe gravy.

So I see you've decided that a roasting pan is a really good idea. Excellent choice! The picture above is a fancy-schmancy from Crate & Barrel. Do you need a fancy-schmancy? No. My own roasting pan is a piece of my grandmother's speckleware. She turned out wonderful dinners in it for 50 years or more, which is good enough for me. If you're only going to use your roasting pan once or twice a year, I wouldn't bother with a Calphalon or All-Clad version.

As long as your roasting pan has well-attached handles and is big enough to allow plenty of air to circulate around your bird, it's fine. I prefer one with a lid - I think it's more versatile that way - but it's not a hard and fast rule.

Oh, and that magazine rack in the picture? It's called a roasting rack - and yes, I really did use mine as a magazine rack when I had my first Big-Girl apartment. It lifts the bird off the bottom of the pan, allowing the grease and broth to run off and the skin to crisp.

I know, I know - I'm breaking my "no gadgets that have only one purpose" rule. I'm sure you can use these to, ummmmm, string up loops and make potholders or something, right?

The first time I made a turkey I couldn't get it out of the pan. Wading cautiously into the waters of entertainment cooking, the bird was a 16-pounder for, I don't know, a dozen people or so. You know, starting slow. I fuzzily recall there was a lot of wine.

Anyway, my plan of impaling the bird on a wooden spoon didn't work out anything like I envisioned it. And three people with two forks each, trying to lift from the bottom, didn't balance so well. Neither did the "helpers" after all that Beaujolais Nouveau.

They're worth the ten bucks.


I really wavered about whether this was imperative or nice to have... Here's the deal. When you carve a turkey there's a LOT of juice that runs off. It's just what you need after you've trashed your kitchen for the past 2 days of preparation, right? You can, if you have to, make a little fortress of rolled-up paper towels around your regular cutting board. I guess.

But if you're going out to buy a cutting board anyway, something like this is the way to go. Never cut on a glass surface - it ruins knives. You can chop your veggies on this, then carve your turkey before serving. The broth collects in in the ridge, which is soooo much easier to work with.

I'm SO intrigued by this "shower head baster" business! A regular baster is fine - squeeze the bulb, place the wand in the broth, release the bulb, then squeeze the broth over the turkey. Done. I've had a plain, regular baster for years and when it finally wears out someday, I'll consider replacing it with this one. Note - if you're buying a regular baster, get one with a metal tube. They clean up much better and they don't melt.

Gosh, this shower head baster just sounds like a little spa day for the turkey, doesn't it? The dry heat of the sauna. The blast from the shower head. Wow. Kinda deceiving, actually...

One of the best kitchen inventions ever. Pre-separator the intructions were to wave an ice cube over the hot broth to solidify the fat so it could be skimmed off. Think about it - steaming hot broth, ice cube. Besides having your own little weather system in the roasting pan, the ice didn't stay ice very long. Ugh. Blotting with paper towels, which took off a fair amount of hard-wrought broth, was another method. But no more!

When you've removed the turkey from the roasting pan and you're ready to make gravy, pour the broth into the separator and wait a few minutes. No need for ice or tribal dances or whatever, just let physics do its thing. The fat will rise to the top and, since the spout is connected at the bottom, you'll pour out plain, de-fatted broth. Stop pouring when all you see is fat.

This is actually a "triple pour" measuring cup. Why someone can't turn their wrist a little to pour from a regular spouted cup is an unknown here in Nostinkycheese Labs, but whatever. The point is this - a large measuring cup can double as a bowl. If you're mixing up herb butter, or the water/cider/mustard for gravy, you can easily use this to both measure AND mix. I have a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup that I use all the time.


I come from good people, and we do not embroider our turkey. I don't know anyone who does. Can someone please tell me what the hell this stuff is for? I see this Turkey String Art kit every year. Is it one of those trashy lace-up turkeys? Like I said, I come from solid folk and we wouldn't know of such a thing. Truly, I'm lost.

Man, I effin' hate these things. They seemed so happy-bouncy-sproingy in the store! And sure, they're cute and kinda squeaky. But I use them only as trivets now - I just can't get a good grip with them, and if I'm moving 8 pounds of something at 400 degrees, I want to really know that I've got it firmly in hand. Fabric only, please.

On Crate & Barrel's webite, they say this piece of engineering times "three dishes simultaneously... features beep and light signals, clock and countdown functions, and the familiar touchpad controls of handheld electronics. Pre-programmed with cook times for beef, lamb, chicken, and more."


I just wouldn't know where to start with this thing. There's only one probe, yet it times 3 dishes? If they're going that far with it, why not have it yell out "Green bean casserole - done!" instead of giving some sort of Morse code? I think by #3 I'd be trying to remember what on earth was still in the oven and there must be something else for me to remember... do I need to call someone? Is it their birthday? Maybe it's the day for the dogs to get their heartworm meds?... before finally clipping it onto my waistband as a pedometer or something.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Time = Money = Freezing

So I'm making cupcakes for the hardy band of our church's ad-hoc builders for Habitat for Humanity. Chocolate-Spice Cupcakes with Orange-Rum Cream Cheese Frosting, to be precise.

[Habitat Captain Guy? The rest of this is way boring and there's something interesting on television right now. You have cable - find something.]

But precise is the very last thing I've been this evening. I mixed up my allspice and ginger and dumped in FOUR TIMES the amount of allspice called for. Then I discovered that my set of measuring spoons has a rare half-tablespoon on the ring, found where the teaspoon would usually be. In other words, I'd used EIGHT TIMES the amount of cinnamon in the recipe.

That's why trash cans are conveniently kept in kitchens.

So congratulating myself on my commitment to high standards (I'm going to be positive about this if it kills me), on my second effort with newly and properly measured ingredients, I jauntily tossed an egg from my right hand, sailing over my waiting left hand, to the kitchen floor.

That's the other reason trash cans are conveniently kept in kitchens. Clearly, this is not my night.

So here's something I've gotten surprisingly good at - saving money and discovering new things that can be frozen instead of thrown away or thrown across the room because I'm so damn tired of having the same thing for the fourth meal in a row.

1. Keep an emergency dinner around - either something in the freezer (soup, barbecue) or something very easily thrown together with pantry staples. Sweetie made me the only thing I felt like eating tonight; tortellini soup (boxed chicken broth, pre-made tortellini, chopped carrots, shredded Parmesan). Having an emergency dinner or two means you don't have to spend $ getting food delivered.

2. The easiest way to build up a stock of emergency dinners is to double the recipe for whatever you're making. Throwing a baked ziti together? Make an extra in a disposable foil pan, wrap it up, and freeze it. It's ready to go when you need it.

3. Did you know you can freeze a block of cheese? I had NO idea. A few weeks ago I bought a brick of Monterey Jack cheese for chicken enchiladas. It's not a type we get in bulk, so I wrapped the remainder carefully in plastic, put it in a Ziploc, and froze it. When I made Chicken Tamale Casserole this past weekend - voila! - no need to buy the cheese. The texture was a little crumbly, so I wouldn't plan on serving it on a cheese plate after freezing, but for shredding it worked beautifully.

4. Lunchmeat can be frozen. I bought the honkin' big package of deli roast turkey at Costco (18 good-size slices for about $8.50) - I just love a good turkey sandwich for lunch. I laid out a few sheets of Saran Wrap, laid 4 or 5 pieces of turkey on each, and rolled each up like a wrap sandwich. I popped all the rolls in one big bag and into the freezer it went. When thawed, the turkey does not taste one bit different for having been in the freezer. I saved a good amount of $ and I didn't cry at the idea of having to eat 18 slices of turkey before they went bad.

5. Bacon can be frozen. That's one thing we never finsh before it gets to the HAZMAT stage. Same as the turkey - get some plastic wrap & roll it up. I felt so smug when I made a bacon-roasted chicken and didn't have to buy any special ingredients!

6. Bulk shopping is my friend! A small block of Kraft Cracker Barrel cheddar runs a good $4 or more ($5.50 lately for the part-skim, which I used to love but no longer buy). It's about the size of two sticks of butter. Two pounds of cheddar at Costco is $5.79.

7. You can find any recipe you could possibly want on the internet - there's no need to buy a cookbook unless you really want to. I'm sure if you Googled "Chicken Olive Pasta Tasty Rice Ricotta" or some other combination, you'd get at least 500 hits.

Besides saving on cookbooks, the Google trick can also help to use up leftovers and random odds & ends in the pantry. Google on what you have and see what comes up.

8. Apparently the very chi-chi spice emporium Penzey's has a bottle of vanilla that costs FORTY-FIVE DOLLARS. I've never paid that for a good wine, never mind a flavoring. From what I hear, Costco's $4 bottle of vanilla (same size) is every bit as good. No need to elaborate, is there?

9. Breakfast for dinner - eggs take literally minutes to cook. Toss some chopped veggies into your eggs - mushrooms, spinach, onions, broccoli - and you've got a protein and a vegetable.

10. If you make cookie dough and freeze it in small balls, you can bake just one cookie - instead of spending $1.25 for one at Whole Foods.

As Easy As....

Looking to make friends? Bring dessert. Thankful for the invitation to Thanksgiving dinner? Bring dessert.

Atlanta restaurant Murphy's has a wonderful sour cream apple pie. Billowy, creamy, apple-y... I hadn't ever heard of such a thing until I moved here, but it's fabulous.

Many an experienced cook has been bedeviled by pie crust; for a Learn-To-Cook recipe, don't bother with it. Get the Pillsbury pre-made (specifically Pillsbury) in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. The rest of it is homemade, so go ahead and coast on the crust like most people do.

This is about the easiest pie recipe I've ever seen, and it's a crowd-pleaser. It puffs up during baking and looks pretty impressive coming to the table.

Unlike some of the other Learn-To-Cook recipes, you can't make this in stages. Apples turn brown within an hour or two, so you'll need to have twenty minutes or so set aside to prep your apples, mix up the filling, and get the pie in the oven.

Sour Cream Apple Pie
One 9-inch single pie crust
2 large apples - cored, peeled, and sliced (peel first with a vegetable peeler, slice into quarters, and cut the core out of the slices). Why large apples instead of small? Less coring, less peeling; you get to use more of the apple you paid for.
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons flour
8 ounces sour cream

Line pie plate (glass or metal) with pie crust and trim the edges. Roll some of the overhang up so that it forms a little ridge around the edge.

Peel the apples with a vegetable peeler. Then slice into quarters, and cut the core out of each slice. Put the apple quarter on its flat side, with the cut-out core facing you. Slice, about 1/4" thick, your way down the apple. Honestly, it doesn't matter to the recipe which way you slice the apple - if your knife skills aren't the greatest, you'll have an unnecesary kitchen disaster by trying to thinly slice it longways. That's all.

Mix apples with sugar, cinnamon, flour, and sour cream. Pour in pie crust. Bake for one hour at 375 degrees.

Graciously accept compliments - "Oh really, it was no big deal." "It just took a few minutes." "Yes, made it myself. Me. In my kitchen."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Box, A Can, and A Bottle

First things first - it's Veteran's Day in the U.S. A big "thank you" to our armed forces, past and present, and to their families whose sacrifices often go unrecognized.

Longer ago than I care to admit I spent six months in West Africa. We went to the capitol on occasion but mostly stayed on/near campus in "bush country" - lots of banana and mango trees, lots of rice growing, lots of malaria. And no packaged food. The closest you could get was a Maggi cube (chicken bouillon) at the market; other than that, we were on our own to turn just-stopped-squawking chicken, hot peppers, rice, and coconut into a meal.

Oddly enough, twenty years later it's now the hot, healthy thing to do.

And of course, I'm exactly off-trend by discovering this gem of a Chicken Tamale Casserole recipe. It uses a box (of cornbread mix), a can (of green peppers) and a bottle (of red enchilada sauce). And it's delicious.

If you need to divide the work, then cook & shred the chicken and bake the cornbread in one session, and combine for casseroling in another.

Chicken Tamale Casserole
Cooking Light, November 2008

1 cup (4 ounces) preshredded 4-cheese Mexican blend (y'all know how I feel about pre-shredded cheese. Blech. I used cheddar and some Monterey Jack that I put in the freezer after making enchiladas a few weeks ago)
1/3 cup skim milk
1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
1 teaspoon ground cumin (great stuff that adds flavor, but don't buy it just for this recipe if you don't have it)
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper (ditto)
1 14-ish-ounce can cream-style corn
1 8.5-ounce box corn muffin mix (we're a Jiffy family)
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles, drained
Cooking spray
1 10-ounce can or bottle red enchilada sauce (Trader Joe's "Mexican Red Sauce" is great)
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream (optional)

1. Preeat oven to 400 degrees

2. Combine 1/4 cup cheese, milk, egg or egg substitte, cumin, red pepper, creamed corn, and corn muffin mix in a large bowl. Stir until moist. Pour mixture into a 13x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

3. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until set [the original recipe said 15 minutes; mine took at least 25, so start checking it at 20]

If you're not making the recipe all at once (e.g. your kids are out of the house in the afternoon and you can't get 20 minutes to cook when they're home; you can do prep work the night before and need to get dinner in the oven right after work), turn off the oven and move on with your day.

4. Pierce the surface of the cornbread liberally with a fork. Pour enchilada sauce over top. Top with chicken and sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup cheese.

5. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes (really) or until cheese melts. Remove from oven, let stand 5 minutes. Slice, and top each serving with sour cream.

A green salad goes well with this. Black beans would also make a good side dish.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

From Everyday to Fancy-Schmancy

Or, as children's literature's Fancy Nancy would say, it's not fancy - it's posh, which is a fancy word for fancy.

Sweetie and I consider a handful of carrots to be a better-than-no-veggies-at-all side dish for sandwiches, burgers, whatever. I know, I know, the bags of "baby" carrots are way more expensive than buying a bag of regular carrots and cutting them myself. But I usually opt for the convenience.

A little cup of carrot sticks ain't going to cut it at a holiday table. And even if it's just a regular dinner and you're making (or buying) a nice roasted chicken, the Glazed Mini Carrots are a perfect side dish. For something so easy, they're quite sophisticated. Best of all for holiday purposes, they're made on the stove top - meaning you don't have to try and cram 3 more things into the oven where you're roasting your turkey. Also, these can be made the night before, refrigerated, and warmed up just before serving.

Glazed Mini Carrots
Eating Well, Fall 2004
3 cups mini carrots (1 pound)
1/3 cup water
1 TBSP honey (if a spare packet of honey or two from your favorite coffee place happens to come home with you, that should do it)
2 teaspoons butter - note TEASPOONS. Sticks of butter are not marked with teaspoons, they're marked with TABLESPOONS, which are bigger.
Dash or two of salt
1 TBSP lemon juice (fresh if you have it - bottled is fine)
2 TBSP chopped fresh parsley - not vitally important, but a great way to add some color to the dish. If you're having turkey, potatoes and stuffing, you've got a beige/tan plate. Adding orange carrots with flecks of bright green parsley helps liven it up.

Combine carrots, water, honey, butter, and salt in a large skillet.

Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat (5 on an electric stovetop).

Cover and cook until tender, 5 - 7 minutes. If your skillet doesn't have a lid use aluminum foil. It really does have to be covered, as the steam that stays in the skillet cooks the carrots. Also, you don't want the excess liquid evaporating just yet or you'll have a charred brown mess instead of a lovely glaze. Just sayin'.

Uncover and cook, stirring often, until the liquid is a syrupy glaze, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in lemon juice and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Per serving: 74 calories, 2g fat, 14g carbohydrate, 1g protein, 2g fiber

Friday, November 7, 2008


Not here in Georgia, nor in Maryland where I was for 5 days last week. Lovely weather in both places, actually.

But the freezer, that big energy-suck in the kitchen, has been prominent this week - in a good way.

My sister was gracious enough to insist that she really needed some meals in the freezer when I took over her kitchen (sheepish grin). Better yet, her 6-year-old, "Sunshine", could not wait to help cook. The night I got there she busted out her Easy Bake Oven so that we could make cookies on a lightbulb together, just like her Mom and I used to. Actually, I don't think I ever let my sister anywhere near my beloved Easy Bake Oven, but that's another story. So yeah, all the more gracious for letting me tear up her cooking space.


Sunshine and I practiced measuring and stirring and letting Aunt Stephanie handle things that are hot. She was very pleased with our 3-inch lightbulb cookies.

She did so well on her audition that she was ready for the big leagues. We had a great time making muffin-tin meatloaf (much more practical than a big loaf for kids with small appetites). People Who Cook are welcome to toss in some suggestions on this... Sunshine wadded up balls of foil to put in the bottom of each cupcake well so that the meat would be lifted off the bottom and the fat would run off. Is there any way to keep the mini-meatloaf looking meatloaf-like and not like a large, squashed meatball? We didn't mound the meat too high because I didn't want the fat running onto the top of the tin and, inevitably, onto the floor of the oven and setting off the fire alarm.

Squashed meatball or not, Sunshine was soooo proud of herself for making dinner! Oh, did she ever feel grown-up in her pink Princess apron, shredding zucchini and measuring spices and squishing the meat mixture in her little hands. When I teasingly told her that she could ditch her Strawberry Shortcake Halloween costume and trick-or-treat in her apron, she rushed to assure me that she would consider being a chef for Halloween next year. Gotta love that kid.

For those of you following at home, when the muffin-loaves had cooled we popped them into a Ziploc and froze. When Sis needs a quick dinner, she can take out what she needs and not be stuck with meatloaf all week, the way she would if we made a full loaf.

We also made some Caribbean Chicken which, as she said "P.U. stinks when you make it but it tastes really good." Hmmm, are fresh ginger, fresh garlic, cloves, and soy sauce pungent? Fair enough.

It's so cool that Sunshine and I have this connection. I'm looking forward to seeing how her younger brothers' individual interests develop and where we naturally connect and find fun ways to spend time together. Such strong, sweet little personalities!

I'm back home in Georgia and I've been working intensely on a project for work. So much so that I went straight from the office to get my flu shot and came home and waited for dinner to just make itself. Dang, I'm tired. REALLY tired.

Shopping was out. Driving? Walking down aisles? Waiting in line? Driving again? Too much energy. I decided to break into my own freezer stash. Homemade pizza it was - we had dough and spaghetti sauce in the freezer, and Hormel turkey pepperoni, fresh Parmesan, and fresh spinach in the fridge. And my basil plant hasn't died yet, so I threw some of that on there, too. I usually use mozzarella as well, but for darn sure it wasn't worth the effort to get some.

This pizza crust recipe makes enough for two pizzas. It was originally credited to Weight Watchers, but I have no idea what changes were made to it before it got to me. I usually use half the dough right away and freeze the other half. Warning - if you freeze some or all, BE SURE to spritz the Saran wrap with non-stick spray or olive oil first. This dough can be very sticky when it thaws but it comes off the plastic beautifully when I use the non-stick.

With a good stand mixer with a dough hook this is really low-effort. The yeast and the mixer do all the work. Since I used my last batch of dough this evening, I'll probably just make some up this weekend and go straight to the freezer with it.

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour (at most - I find using all this flour makes it too stiff)
1 package active (not expired) dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil or vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups hot water - 120 to 130 degrees (use a meat thermometer or candy thermometer)
[Option - herbs. Like oregano or rosemary? Toss in a half-teaspoon or so, as long as they're dried herbs and not fresh. The added moisture of fresh herbs will throw off the dough]

Combine 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, and salt in a large bowl. With an electric mixer, slowly beat in the water. If you're health-consciously thinking about leaving the salt out, please reconsider. It's really not that much and the dough will taste like cardboard without it.

Beat 2 minutes, scraping the side of the bowl occasionally with a spatula. With the mixer on medium speed, add in 1/2 cup of the remaining flour, beating until the dough is stiff, about 2 minutes. Work in the remaining flour. You want to get it to the point that the dough is no longer super-sticky, but is still elastic. It should stick to your fingers a little, but it should not stick in big, can't-get-this-damn-stuff-off globs.

Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray; put the dough in the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm spot (not the oven or the stovetop) until it doubles in size, about an hour.

Divide the dough in half. If you're going to freeze, wrap the portions separately in oiled plastic wrap and pop them in a Ziploc.

If you're making pizza, roll or stretch the dough into the desired shape. Mine, since I'm worthless with a rolling pin, is usually a one-celled organism shape (amoeba, paramecium, whatever). Some may call it a drastic move, but I found that marrying the kitchen-talented grandson of a pastry chef relieved me of ever having to worry about it.

DO NOT use flour on the baking surface (pizza stone, cookie sheet, whatever). Flour burns at this temperature and it smells just awful. Blech. Use cornmeal instead.

Bake for 4 minutes at 450. This firms up the crust so that it doesn't soak up all the sauce while it's raw and bake up mushy. Top with sauce, veggies, meat, cheese, whatever. Pop back in the oven for another 6 minutes or so.

And get an enthusiastic six-year-old to help you if at all possible. Pizza is way fun to make and is absolutely age-appropriate for spooning on the sauce and arranging toppings.