Sunday, January 29, 2012

Grandma D's Thin Pancakes (Danish Crepes)

Growing up, my Grandma watched us while my parents worked.  For lunch she'd often make "thin pancakes" or Danish Crepes as you probably know them as.  This was a special treat, that all of us loved.  I don't think she actually cared for them that much, but it was an easy thing to whip up with only a few ingredients to feed three hungry kids.

1 cup flour
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
small amount of oil

Non-stick frying pan
basting brush
hand mixer
bowl with pour spout
clean kitchen towel

Grandma would always mix the ingredients in a large measuring cup, so I've done the same. She would use a hand mixer to make sure she didn't have any lumps.  I don't have a hand mixer, so I used a fork...and had lumps in my batter.   After you mix it, you want to let it sit for about 20 minutes, this makes it more manageable when you're cooking, but if you don't have time, that's fine too. 

Warm up your non-stick pan on medium heat.  When I say non-stick, I mean it.  If these pancakes stick at all, you are screwed.  Fortunately, I have brand new Paula Dean pans that my mom got me for Christmas :). 

Use a pastry or basting brush (a non melting one is preferred) to dip in your oil.   I used coconut oil, but you can use whatever you like.  Grandma used vegetable oil, I'm pretty certain.  This should just lightly coat the pan.  If you use too much, you're going to end up deep frying .... which might be delicious... but not what we're going for here. 

You will want to lift the pan and pour the batter in at an angle, then swirl the pan so the batter spreads out into a large circle.  It should be as thin as you can get it, while filling the whole pan.  I still haven't mastered the pouring into pan method, and sometimes get misshapen crepes.  (Thank you Leah Hrubes for the spoon holder featured to the right of the pan, I use it every day).  Once the pancake starts curling at the edges, the pancake is ready to be flipped.  I used a spatula at first, but then got a little cocky and started flipping it in the pan without.  Then I messed one up and reverted back to the spatula.  Do whatever you are comfortable with.  Transfer the warm pancake to a plate and cover with a clean towel.  When I was little my sister and I use to fight over who got to flip the towel for Grandma.  I believe it was very common to hear a whimper/whine "I want to flip the towel!" in that house for quite a few years.  Continue coating the pan with oil between pancakes, just a bit, to ensure it won't stick, you don't really want to be browning, just cooking. 

Please pardon my dirty stove.  This pancake is ready to flip.  See how the edges are curling?  This one was a bit thicker in the middle than it should have been, and notice my flour lumps.  Ah well, it tasted delicious.

Now, we will need to top our pancakes.  Grandma D's classic topping was cool whip and homemade jam.  My favorite was strawberry or strawberry rhubarb.  Since I didn't do any canning last summer, and didn't mooch any jam, I don't have any.  Fortunately I did pick some black  raspberries (for free), which I froze.  I tossed them in my warm pan with a bit of water and some sugar to create a jam like topping, once I added them to my crepe I added some cool whip. 

Then you want to roll them up, and cut them in half.  I like to eat them with my hands.
If you don't have cool whip and homemade jam either, these can also be served with (my little bro's favorite) syrup  and butter.  You can use them as a vehicle for scrambled eggs, or any sort of savory item as well, just omit the vanilla. 

My sister likes to put peaches and syrup in hers, and said she will make a batch up for the week to have a handy breakfast, or take some to work... or on a road trip, or make them when she's on a tight budget and needs cheap food.

 While I have never done it, you can freeze them to use at a future date.  Just be sure to put wax paper in-between pancakes or you won't be able to separate them.  I probably would do this, but they don't seem to last that long :).

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Bacon in Bulk

In my past life as a teenager (when I was skinny) I was a vegetarian.  Now I still enjoy many vegetarian meals, but Hubby has no interest in eating a non-meat main course.  I find that a good way for me to add a little bit of meat is to add some bacon to his portion.  That being said, bacon from the grocery store is often very expensive and very low quality, and a mess to deal with.  That's where I picked up this it in bulk, cook in bulk.  My mom has been doing this for years, and I'm glad I finally picked up on the trend. 

 In my "bacon section" at my local grocery store ALL the way to the left in the corner is a generic looking yellow box filled with "Bacon Ends and Pieces."  I think most people don't buy it because they don't know what it is...

I'll tell you what it's a bacon lottery.  For about 7 dollars you can buy this 3 lb box of bacon.  You only get a little peek window, so you have no idea what's inside.  I'll tell you it's generally fattier than what you would get in a see-through plastic shrink wrapped package, but the slices are thicker...think butcher shop bacon.  Sometimes you get lots of lean pieces, sometimes you get lots of bacon fat. 

Stick with me, what else can you use bacon fat for...?  As cooking fat instead of butter or canola oil.  (DISCLAIMER: While bacon is delicious, bacon fat should not be used to cook all of your meals, it's not good for you to eat all the time, believe it or not.)

I like to trim my bacon, so I only get the leanest cuts and reserve the fatty pieces for rendering bacon fat.  I would have snapped a pic, but my extra arms are taking our recyclables to the town dump. 

If you do not cook this bacon soon, it will mold, which is not fun to deal with (tear for wasted bacon).  So once you buy it, trim it all up and cook it all up.  This is handy for me, because I don't particularly enjoy cooking bacon because then I have to clean my pan often.  I recommend using a cast iron skillet, like mine.  Work smarter, not harder.  Cook your entire box of bacon and drain on some towels.  (I don't use paper towels often, but this is one of those times where I find it necessary, if you have a simple/eco friendly alternative, let me know).  By cooking it all at once, you've eliminated a ton of time in the future cleaning the same pan over and over. 

Once you've cooked up all your bacon, portion some out and wrap in wax paper and freeze.  This way, next time you need some bacon for a last minute meal, you've got it covered.  Lots of the little tiny pieces work great in salads and soups.  I store slices in my deli drawer so I can add them to sandwiches when I don't feel like cooking - I love being able to make a BLT in five minutes or less and having no clean up. 

You can also store your bacon fat trimmings to render down next time you need to cook with bacon fat.  I gave quite a bit of mine to my mom, as they have a 16 year old dog that can use some extra fat in her diet. 

Now, you've likely rendered a bit of bacon fat from frying even though you just fried the lean parts.  SAVE this!  It's so easy.  I have a vintage lard container that my mom scored for me, but you can keep yours in a jar if you don't have one. 

Than concludes today's Bacon in Bulk lesson.  If you have questions or want to share you're own personal experiences, I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Kelsey's Apple Pie Turkey

Part of our intentional living means buying things in bulk, or whole products and then using the most of them that I can.  I try to do this whenever my schedule allows. 

This week, turkeys were on sale at the local grocery store for 1.40/lb.  That's a pretty good price.  I try not to pay more than $2.00/lb for meat/poultry.  I would have preferred a locally raised organic free range turkey, but hey, we're working within our budget guidelines, and I did buy it from our local store and not the vicious wally world, which are the only two places in town that I can buy a turkey.  I digress...

The turkey was frozen when I got it and I have no freezer space for a whole turkey, so I plopped it in a large kettle (actually supposed to be used for canning), and dumped in some homemade veggie broth (will post recipe in the future), some water, some apple-pie liqueur (will post recipe in the future), and 2 cups of salt.  I took it out to the garage to let it thaw and brine.  And thaw and brine. And thaw and brine.  I was actually going to cook it two days ago, but I was afraid it hadn't thawed fully, then I was going to cook it yesterday (and write this blog), but I got sidetracked working for the man until almost midnight (it's okay, my husband brought me a bottle of wine to wash my sorrows down with).

So TODAY is the day.  Once I was finished with my consulting duties, I scurried out to the garage and grabbed, well...told hubby to grab that turkey and bring it in.  I drained the brine and rinsed out the turkey inside and out.  Then I dried it with a paper towel. 

My goal is to have the turkey turn out better looking than this.
While the turkey dried, I got to chopping.  I chopped up some celery, skinned some carrots and quartered a large onion.  I left the pieces big, because these veggies are going to act as my roasting tray.  (this is a trick I saw Anne Burrell do on the food network).  Save your onion peels, the butt of your celery and your carrot skins so you can make stock in the future.  I throw mine in a reusable baggie or a jar and keep them in the freezer until I have so much I need to make broth or allow the chickens a feeding frenzy.  The combination of carrots, celery, and onion is called a mirepoix and is very common in French Cuisine.  If you mix these 3 ingredients together when you're cooking anything at all, it's bound to taste good and SMELL good, as all 3 of these veggies are aromatics.  I thought I took a picture, but it must not have saved.  Sorry, better luck next time. 

Next, I grabbed some softened butter, about half a stick, I seasoned it with some of my favorite seasonings, rosemary,onion powder, and garlic powder.  You can use what you like.

Then, I used my hands to separate some of the skin from the turkey, I stuck my hands in the butter and pushed as much of it as I could under the skin of the turkey.  With what was leftover, I rubbed all over the outside and inside of the turkey.  I would have liked to have taken a picture to show you how to do it, but my hands were covered in seasoned butter, and I am rather fond of my camera not covered in butter and rosemary. 

Then I tossed the turkey onto the rack of mirepoix and tented my aluminum foil I'd been using as a counter protector over the top.  I popped it in the oven that was pre-heated to 325 degrees F.  It's cooking away right now and smells AMAZING!

With about an hour left to cook (or one DVRed episode of General Hospital, and one episode of  30 Rock), I took the tinfoil off the bird so it would brown and get all crispy. 

Once it reached temperature, and the house smelled all deliciously, I pulled the bird out and let it rest.  I'm super pumped to carve this and eat some.  Then I'm going to freeze the leftovers and do something with the carcass, like make soup or scrapple, or something awesome.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The General Store - Spring Green, WI

Dear blog readers (Mom & my cat),

I apologize for not posting yesterday.  "The man" had me chained to my computer preparing for a morning meeting.  I did however, manage to sneak out at lunch and meet Jamey, a coworker, to do a computer swap.  We decided to meet in the middle and have lunch.  Fortunately for me, Spring Green is the middle (yess!). 

I decided that we should go to The General Store.  The General Store defines themselves on their website as:
"A small business located in Spring Green, Wisconsin, featuring excellent coffees, exciting home-style ethnic cooking, micro brews, natural & gourmet groceries and an original selection of jewelry, cards, clothing, house wares, toys, vitamins, and natural cosmetics all in a converted cheese warehouse."

I couldn't have said it better, literally, that's why I ripped the verbiage from their website. 

We ordered at the counter from a small but robust menu, featuring lots of local friendly food items, and grabbed our "flag" to take to our table so the server would know what we ordered.  I couldn't help but let a quiet "Yesssss" slip out when we got Jamaica. 

I ordered an Italian sandwich and a Diet Coke.  The food came fast, and was delicous.  I don't know who made that baguette, but it was awesome.

Jamey ordered a chicken chipotle with bacon, you can see part of it in the picture below.  I was trying not to creep him out (I do work with the guy) and not get too close to his food.  He said it was a bit spicy, but just the right amount of heat.  We both appreciated the REAL(I believe local) greens instead of  iceberg like most joints offer. 

That concludes this visit to The General Store, they have many more wonderful things to explore there, but that will have to be for another day.  In any case, I strongly recommend visiting them for a luncheon.  If you are not in the Spring Green area, try out a local mom and pop joint in your area and let me know how it was!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Simple Cracker Recipe

I love Crackers, well, I love dips and cheeses and since these things seem to work out better with a wafery vehicle, and I'm poor, I've started making my own crackers. 

This keeps me from having to buy preservative packed crackers at the store for a whopping $3.00/box.  It also allows me to impress my friends with more than just the awesome dips I make.  Last time I made them, hubby doubted that I ACTUALLY made them and didn't buy them from the store.  To make your own simple crackers you only need 4 ingredients, that's right 4 ingredients!  Wow!  Seems like last time I read the back of a cracker box, they listed more than 4....

2 cups flour (i use a blend of whole grain and all purpose)
1/4 tsp salt
4 TBSP softened butter (real butter, expensive but worth every penny)
up to 1 cup of milk

Using a medium size mixing bowl, mix your flours with your salt. Then cut in butter. Some people use a food processor for this step, but I am poor and don't have one so I use a fork. You want the texture to resemble bread crumbs. Start with 2 T and work your way up to 4 if need be. Slowly add your milk until your dough comes together, it should not be sticky, if it is add some more flour.

Then divide your dough into two equal parts.  Place on parchment paper and let rest for 10 minutes.  During this time you can clean up your dishes you've dirtied and begin preheating your oven.  

Once the dough has rested you can roll it out. I take the parchment paper off the pan to do this. It should be paper-thin and a perfect square... or not.  I am not detail oriented enough for this step. 
Then cut your crackers using a pizza cutter
...or fancy pastry tool you don't know the name of...
Then prick each cracker a couple times with a fork (I own real forks I swear). 

Move the crackers back in the pan and bake on 300 - 350 (depending on thickness of cracker) until they are golden brown. 

They should look something like this!  Enjoy with some good local cheese or homemade dip.  Once you master the recipe try adding herbs, seeds, and cheeses to your crackers for a more flavorful result. 

Using a medium size mixing bowl, mix your flours with your salt.  Then cut in butter.  Some people use a food processor for this step, but I am poor and don't have one so I use a fork.  You want the texture to resemble bread crumbs.  Start with 2 T and work your way up to 4 if need be.  Slowly add your milk until your dough comes together, it should not be sticky, if it is add some more flour.  Once your dough has reached desired consistency divide into two pieces.  Preheat your oven and allow dough to rest for 10 minutes.  Roll dough out so it is paper thin.  It doesn't have to pit the pan perfectly unless you are super detail oriented.  I am not.  Using a pizza cutter, sharp knife or pastry tool, cut crackers into small squarish shapes.  Prick each cracker with a fork a couple times.  Pop in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.   Store in an airtight container.  Later, when you've mastered the recipe, add herbs, seeds, or cheese to your dough for a more flavorful cracker. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Nurse Nancy's Apple Crisp

During my teenage years working at a local horse camp, I took to helping in the kitchen.  It was extra cash, I enjoyed it, was pretty good at it, and hey I got to eat too! 

"Nurse Nancy" was the camp nurse, whose family had started the camp.  She taught me a lot about cooking and a lot about life.

I now know why not to pick up a hitch-hiker. I can hear her now saying "Kels, if they don't have a mother or a brother or a friend that is willing to come get them, why would you want them in your car?"

I know that drinking insane amounts of diet coke to keep your sanity is worth it, and that some people you meet in life are just punks and it's okay if everyone thinks you're a little nuts. 

I also know the benefits of cooking with REAL butter.  If all we had on hand was margarine, Nancy would grab a $20 out of her wallet and proclaim "Kels, we need butter!  And DIET COKE (with lime).  Off I'd go down the hill to the Mazo Market to get our stash of real butter and diet coke. 

Diet Coke really has nothing to do with this blog, but butter does. 

In order to make Nurse Nancy's Apple Crisp (this is as I remember it, so I'm sure it doesn't pay homage to her ACTUAL recipe) you will need:

4-5 apples, peeled and diced or one can of apple pie filling
3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. packed brown sugar (I use the dark stuff)
1/2 c. quick oats
1/2 c. butter softened (REAL butter)

Dice your apples, it's easier than slicing them, easier to eat and will cook faster and more evenly. 
Preheat your oven at this time.

Put your apples in the bottom of an ungreased 8x8 baking pan.

Mix dry ingredients together with your hand or a fork, add butter.   

Mix butter in with a fork (don't ask me why I own a green baby fork), until it's crumbly.

Sprinkle crumbly mixture over apples evenly, put it in the oven. 

Weird how the smell of warm apple crisp will bring people into your kitchen....

While the crisp bakes talk to your husband about what he did today. 

After 30 minutes (or when apples are tender) pull your crisp out of the oven to cool.  Yours may not be as dark as mine, as I used dark brown sugar.

Spoon onto plate and add a few plops of cool whip.  Enjoy!

Peel and dice your apples, then preheat to 350 F.  In an ungreased 8 inch square pan, spread the apples.  In a separate bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar, and quick oats.  Stir in the butter with a fork.  Once crumbly, spread over the apples and bake for about 30 minutes, until apple smell starts wafting through the house.  If you used canned apples (like we did at camp), it may not take quite 30 minutes.

Remove from oven, top with cool whip and enjoy.