Slightly Cheaper Than Therapy

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But I would be proud to partake of your pee-can piiiiiie. December 20, 2007

Filed under: Nuts,Sweets — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 9:37 pm

Back in the day my mom and I used to make Christmas goodie baskets for our family and friends.  Every year we’d belly up to the stove and whip up dozens of different creations–mini buttermilk pies, mini pecan pies, three or four different types of cookies, fudge, divinity, “almond joys,” mini pumpkin and banana nut bread loaves, and a few others I’m sure I’ve forgotten.  Most of the time we did it because we loved filling our loved ones’ bellies full of homemade goodness.  But some of the time I think we did it just to see what we could actually do when we pulled out all the stops. 

Nowadays Mom and I are about a 3 and a half hour drive apart, so the holiday baking free-for-all rarely happens any more.  But this year I was really itching to do goodie bags, so I gave it a go on my own.  And besides the Fallen Cookies and the small second degree burn from the marshmallows, everything turned out really well.  Especially today’s sweet treat.  Instead of the usual mini-pecan pies, I decided to go for a spiced pecan instead.  I use a variation of these on my Fish Daddy’s Salad, so I knew these would be good.  But I never would have guessed how addicting they would be!  Every time I’d make a pass through the kitchen I’d grab one or two, until my goodie back pile became dangerously low.  I actually had to hide them from myself!  Before you laugh, just try resisting them.  It can’t be done, I tell you! 

Anyway, these are very easy to make and only require a bit of arm strength.  (You’d be surprised how tiring it is to stir for 15 minutes nonstop.)  But they are well worth the effort.  In fact you won’t even remember those 15 minutes when you’re begging your significant other to hide them in order to save you from yourself.   

Sugary Spiced Pecans
(from myrecipes.com)

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash of ground cloves
2 cups pecan halves
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray

Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves, stirring constantly.   Add pecans and vanilla; cook until all syrup is absorbed and pecans are coated, stirring constantly (about 12 minutes).  Do NOT cook until they are dry or they’ll clump together.  When you try to pry them apart, a decent amount of the coating is lost and you’ll end up with naked pecans.  Spread pecan mixture on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray or ungreased parchment paper. (Pecans will have a sugar coating.)  Cool completely. 

A few might stick together.  Whether you chose to break them into halves is up to you.  There is nothing wrong with the occassional chunk of nutty sweetness. 

NOTE: Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to one month; in the refrigerator for up to 3 months; or in the freezer for up to 8 months.

If by some miracle you can keep yourself from scarfing these down as-is, I have a hunch they would be great on top of a sweet potato casserole or even in a batch of pumpkin bread.

 

Everyone’s got their favorites. December 19, 2007

Filed under: Cookies — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 8:59 pm

Continuing with my theme of trying something new this year, I decided to put White Chocolate Ginger Chewies in my Christmas goodie bags.  A co-worker of mine makes them every year and they are to die for.  Thankfully she shares her recipes, so I was really excited to bring you a new cookie recipe that I could give out without getting fired.  And then….they fell.  Seriously guys my cookies fell.  I didn’t know that was possible!  But fall they did, and continued to do as I tried to lift them off the cookie sheet.  It was so pathetic that I couldn’t bring myself to photograph them.  They were still quite yummy, so the Hubby and I have been munching on the crumbly remains all week.  No matter how sad they were I couldn’t justify throwing them out.  And, fortunately, I think my expired baking soda was the culprit, so I should be able to reproduce prettier versions in the future.  Be on the lookout!!

However, that discovery did not help out my Christmas bags this year.  So I resorted to an old favorite that I could easily whip up with what I had on hand.  And now that it’s all said and done and the ugly fallen mess of ginger chewies has disappeared, I’m actually glad I ended up with these.  See, they are my Little Bear’s favorites and he is in desperate need of some good home cooking.  (Aside:  LB is my little brother who I used to antagonize because he couldn’t say “bear” when he was a kid.  It always came out “beaaaah,” which at the time was the funniest thing I’d heard in all my 14 years.  I’d walk around and randomly say “little beaaaa-aah!  little beaaa-ah!!” just to annoy him.  He eventually gave up fighting me on it and the nickname Little Bear stuck.)  Anyway, Little Bear started college this year (which, by the way, makes me feel sickeningly old) and on more than one occasion he has lamented the food served at his college cafeteria.  Not that this is an issue for him, really.  I mean the boy has had 12% body fat since he hit puberty, so he could literally eat a side of lard with his bacon and still not feel the effects. 

Nevertheless, I do like to take care of my LB, so I made sure I had an extra dozen or so cookies to send back to school with him.  I thought this was my mom’s recipe for Snickerdoodles, but upon checking allrecipes.com, its almost exactly like one of their versions.  But it really doesn’t matter (at least not to me) because these cookies are the only Snickerdoodle cookies you could ever want.  Evah.  They’re soft and ever-so-slightly sweet with just enough cinnamon not to overpower the “buttery-ness” of the cookie.  There’s not an ounce of butter in this cookie, though, so I’m not exactly sure how they come across buttery.  But does that really matter in the grand scheme of things?  I didn’t think so.

 Snickerdoodles
(From allrecipes.com or maybe my mom…hehehe…”your mom”)

1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
In a medium bowl, cream together the shortening and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Stir in the eggs. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt; stir into the creamed mixture until well blended. In a small bowl, stir together the 2 tablespoons of sugar, and the cinnamon. Roll dough into walnut sized balls, then roll the balls in the cinnamon-sugar. Place them onto an unprepared cookie sheet, two inches apart.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Don’t over cook these.  You want them to be just a touch “raw” in the center so that they stay soft and chewy when they cool off.  Remove from cookie sheet to cool on parchment paper.

Yields ~55 medium sized cookies

 

 

Better than snow. December 18, 2007

Filed under: Sweets — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 7:55 pm

For about two weeks I’ve been eyeing the weather in Indianapolis, coveting every centimeter of fluffy, wet, snow ball-making snow that falls to the ground.  You can imagine how green I became when they got at least half a foot of the beautiful white stuff last weekend.  For awhile weather.com tempted me with 30% and 40% chances of snow for Christmas day.  But now it’s back down to a measly 10%.  Damnit.  No one loves snow more than a born and raised Texan who only gets to see it every 4 or 5 years.  Coming in a close second to the B&R Texan are my northern in-laws who get the biggest kick watching B&R Texan roll around in about 1 inch of snow like it was money. 

Lucky for me I managed to find a fluffy white distraction to all that fluffy white stuff they’re getting in Indy:  homemade marshmallows.  Foodies have been singing their praises for years–how they’re fresher, sweeter and have better texture than the store bought varieties.  But until this year I hadn’t really been inspired to give them a try.  And to be honest I really don’t know why I decided to give it a go this year.  Perhaps some of my Thanksgiving spirit of trying something new has spilling over into Christmas.  Whatever the reason, I am so glad I did give these a shot because they’re everything you’ve heard they can be and then some.  Unfortuantely for me I was saving the marshmallows for Christmas goodie bags, so I didn’t get to try my them in different concoctions.  But judging from how good they were on their own, I can only imagine what they can do for s’mores, ambrosia, hot chocolate, sweet potatoes and that cherry pink stuff my mom always makes at Christmas. 

I know the idea of making your own marshmallows can be a bit daunting, but don’t be intimidated by the them.  They are quite simple and the only “hard” work involved is monitoring the temperature of your boiling sugar/corn syrup.  Oh and they do require a bit of attention so that you don’t burn yourself on 240F syrup.  I can say from experience that this is not fun, and you will feel a bit ridiculous afterwards.  These would also be a great snow day project for kids.  You will obviously have to monitor them, but I have no doubt that they will be amazed and entertained by how the marshmallow mixture “grows” in your KitchenAid.  You could also let them have at the set up block ‘o marshmallow with cookie cutters, rather than using a pizza cutter for plain old squares.

Homemade Marshmallows
(epicurious.com)

About 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 1/2-4 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup hot water (about 115°F.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites*
1 teaspoon vanilla**

Oil bottom and sides of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some confectioners’ sugar.

In bowl of a standing electric mixer or in a large bowl sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let stand to soften.
In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, hot water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F., about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

With standing or a hand-held electric mixer beat mixture on high speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about 6 minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer. In a large bowl with cleaned beaters beat whites (or reconstituted powdered whites) until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan and sift 1/4 cup confectioners- sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least 3 hours, and up to 1 day.

Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto a large cutting board. Lifting up 1 corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and let drop onto cutting board. With a pizza cutter cut marshmallow into roughly 1-inch cubes. Sift remaining confectioners’ sugar into a large bowl and add marshmallows in batches, tossing to evenly coat. Marshmallows keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature 1 week.

*if egg safety is a problem in your area, substitute powdered egg whites reconstituted according to manufacturer’s instructions*

**I use almost 2 tsps. of vanilla in order to get a strong vanilla flavor.  I really like these with more vanilla, but be forewarned, they will turn out a dingier shade of white than you’d get with the recommended 1 tsp.**

 

Come on down, it’s cookie time! December 17, 2007

Filed under: chocolate,Cookies — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 5:10 pm

It’s a week from Christmas, so in just about every American home that means lots of baked goodies and cheesy b-movies. Though not exactly a Christmas movie, the first thing that springs to mind when I start baking loads of cookies is a khaki and green bedazzled Shelley Long and her little proteges from Troop Beverly Hills. Yes, yes, I know this doesn’t even qualify as a b-movie, but seriously how can you not get a kick out of Phyllis Nefler telling her ex not to worry about his girlfriend who has fallen overboard because, “silicone is buoyant.” So when the holiday baking gears up at my house, in the back of my mind I always hear the Wilderness Girls singing, “come on down you friends of mine…we’re Wilderness Girls and its cookie time!”

This weekend I managed to do 90% of my baking, with only had a few minor mishaps along the way, which means you guys get a week full of cookie recipes!! Most of these are very very easy to make and shouldn’t keep you chained to your stove either, unless you decide to bake en masse like this one crazy food blogger I know. I decided to kick off this week of sugary goodness with a bang and bring you the first, and perhaps the best, cookie to come from this year’s baking. And now that I think about it, it’s rather fitting that I hear Girl Scout-esq songs when I start baking because these are very close to a Thin Mint, but chewier and more subtle.

Chocolate Mint Cookies
(from allrecipes.com)

 3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
36 chocolate mint wafer candies*

In a large pan over low heat, cook butter, sugar and water until butter is melted. Add chocolate chips and stir until partially melted. Remove from heat and continue to stir until chocolate is completely melted. Pour into a large bowl and let stand 10 minutes to cool off slightly.

At high speed, beat in eggs, one at a time into chocolate mixture. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients, beating until blended. Chill dough about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350F. Roll dough into balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake 8-10 minutes. While cookies are baking unwrap mints and divide each in half. When cookies are brought out of the oven, put 1/2 mint on top of each cookie. Let the mint sit for up to 5 minutes until melted, then spread the mint on top of the cookie. 

Yields: ~50 cookies**

*You can also use the made-for-baking Andes “chips.”  These create a better swirl in the icing and don’t have to deal with all those pesky wrappers, but they are very messy.  You’ll have to wash your cookie sheet in between batches if you go that route, unless you are a far neater sprinkler than I am, which is quite possible.*

**The original recipe says that you only get 18 cookies, but I cannot imagine how big you’d have to make these to only end up with 18.  Even in my cookie word where bigger is always better, I think the least I could get is about 40 and those would be bigger than even those monsters at the mall.**

 

Tis the season…to eat! December 10, 2007

Filed under: Appetizers,ARF/5-A-Day,Veggies — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 5:41 pm

 

My holiday parties got off to a cozy and simple start this year with a game night with a few friends this past Friday.  We try to do this on a semi-regular basis and it’s always a blast, whether we’re playing poker or pictionary.  This time around we went with the Newlywed Game (or the Newly Divorced Game as the Hubby likes to call it) and Cranium.  Unlike poker, these games leave me free to make any appetizer I want–regardless of the mess factor.  But instead of something greasy or dripping with cheese, I decided to go for a very clean (for the fingers and arteries!) dish.  It’s even eligible for Sweetnick’s ARF/5-a-day Tuesday.  Check it out!

I got this recipe years and years ago from a family member at our annual Christmas Eve finger food dinner.  It’s ridiculously healthy compared to your usual buffet offerings, and it’s surprisingly tasty too.  Of the 3 dozen I made for Friday only one was left when the 8 of us decided to pack it in for the night.  The only thing that could possibly deter you from making these is coring the tomatoes.  I’ll admit it–it’s a huge PITA.  But considering the fact that you’re making something that will easily get gobbled up before the night’s end and  you’re doing your and your friends’ waistlines a favor, it’s hard to come up with a solid argument against them.  Plus if you serve them on a green plate, they’re adorably festive and need virtually no garnishing. 

**P.S.–Ignore the jagged edges around my tomato tops.  I desperately need to take Central Market’s “Knife Skills 101” class before I inadvertently butcher any more tomatoes.  Also you could get fancy pants with the piping if you owned a pastry bag and a bunch of cool tips.  Alas, I do not.  Another class to add to the list.**

Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes 

4 oz. of reduced fat cream cheese, softened
2 T of reduced fat mayonnaise
1 package of Hidden Valley Ranch mix
~3 dozen cherry tomatoes

Mix the first three ingredients in a bowl and set aside. 

Remove “caps” and seeds of tomatoes.  Spoon cream cheese mixture into either a plastic baggie or a pastry bag.  Fill tomatoes with cream cheese mixture and refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

Something to cure your saturated fat hangover. December 5, 2007

Filed under: Healthy,Pasta,Veggies,Wine — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 4:16 pm

Thanksgiving was divine this year.  My mom’s house was so full of family members and friends that there were enough distractions to keep any drama from ensuing.  If you’ve ever been to one of my family gatherings, you’ll know this is quite a feat.  I also discovered the secret to really enjoying my family during the holidays is about 3/4 of a bottle of Gamay Rouge from the V. Sattui winery in Napa.  I’ve been “legal” for over 7 years, so the fact that I’m just now figuring this out is a little embarrassing.  But I digress….

On top of the generally happy (read: buzzed) atmosphere, the food was fantastic.  My mom (aka Head Thanksgiving Chef) finally uttered the words I’ve been dying to hear for so many years:  “Why don’t we try some new stuff this year??”  HALLELUJAH!!!!!  So I whipped up two new and fantastic dishes and one new and blah dish.  2 outta 3 ain’t bad, especially considering these people have been eating the same 8-10 things for the last decade or three. 

Unfortunately I have very little to show for my bold efforts because I left my stinking camera at home.  BOOOOOOO!  I haven’t decided if I should post the recipes (which were fantastic, in case you missed that point) with my half-assed photos or not.  We’ll see…

 But on to today’s post.  I decided that the Hubby and I needed to do a bit of detoxing this week after all the saturated fat we consumed last week.  But most of our meals have been repeats until last night.  And I’m so glad I finally have something to share!  A week without blogging makes a pretty sad week for me.  Anyway…this recipe is from the Weight Watchers Recipes for Success 2003 cookbook and I LOVE it.  It’s a veggie dish, but I still find it incredibly filling and satisfying.  The Hubby isn’t too fond of meatless meals, so when I make this I usually throw some sauteed chicken or shrimp on top.  I don’t get too fancy with seasoning the meat, because you really, really, really want to taste the sauce on this dish.  The green onions add this surprising zing that you don’t get from the full fat version of alfredo sauce.  Plus one cup of this (without meat) is under 300 calories.  Yay for yummy “detoxing”!

WW Vegetable Alfredo
(ever so slightly modified) 

2 qt. water
6 oz. uncooked egg noodles
1 (16 oz) package frozen broccoli, cauliflower and carrots
1/2 c. of tub-style reduced fat cream cheese
1/4 c. reduced fat sour cream
2 T fat free milk
1 tsp. salt
1 glove of garlic, minced
1/4 c. finely chopped green onions
1/4 c. grated fresh parmesan
Black pepper to taste

Bring water to a boil in a large pot.  Add noodles and cook 8 minutes.  Add frozen veggies and cook 3 minutes or until tender-crisp.  Drain.

While noodles are cooking, add cream cheese and next 5 ingredients to a food processor.  Process until smooth. 

Put drained veggies and noodles in a large bowl. Pour cream cheese mixture over top and mix gently.  Sprinkle with parmesan and black pepper.