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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Waffles

I love waffles, but I really don't love dragging the waffle iron out on a regular basis. Fortunately, I can get away with getting my waffle iron out once every couple of months and still enjoy waffles on a regular basis. Waffles are the perfect candidate for convenience freezing. Making your own freezer waffles allows you to have the convenience of the store-bought version without the nasty taste (sorry if you actually like them; I personally think they are a travesty).

When I do get around to making waffles, I simply make a big batch and then freeze all the left overs. Whenever I want a quick and easy breakfast (or snack, for that matter), I just pull out the toaster. Three minutes later, I am enjoying delicious, homemade waffles.

Just as a heads up... I don't know if you were aware, but traditional waffles are not waistline friendly, to put it mildly. The first time I looked at the nutritional profile of the waffle recipe I use (from Better Homes and Gardens), I was shocked. No, I was aghast. A single serving of waffles claimed over 700 calories!! I couldn't believe it. I was so disappointed and sad thinking that I might have to relegate waffles to the "only for special occasions" category.

I decided to fight back, though. After realizing that the majority of the calories must come from the cup of cooking oil, I wondered if all that oil was really necessary. Good news! It's not. I cut the oil down by half and still enjoy the results immensely and I'm sure that you will, too. Because there is so much milk in this recipe, it also makes a difference what type of milk you use. If you are watching your calories, you can use lowfat or even skim milk.

One of my biggest pet peeves with waffles is when they don't make complete waffles. Who wants three-quarters of a waffle? And then the syrup or honey always falls through the cracks. That's just no good at all.

It takes some figuring since you don't want the opposite problem of too much overflowing, but eventually you can figure out just the right amount of batter needed for your waffle iron. I also find it helps to not simply pour the batter into a big puddle in the middle of the iron. I pour mine in an "X" pattern and slightly smooth it before closing the lid. I still get a little overflow, but I prefer that to the incomplete waffle. You may not have this pet peeve, and - in that case - ignore this last paragraph of silliness.

After cooking the waffles, I let them cool on a rack. On the left in this picture, you can see the most recent, still intact waffle cooling. On the right of the rack are the stacks of already cooled waffles. After they are fully cooled (important if you don't want a bunch of condensation in your packaging), I place them in a bread bag. I can fit 12 to 13 per bag. I suck the excess air out and close them with a twist-tie.

This recipe makes about three bags worth. That's including the eating of 2-3 waffles on the day they're made. I just can't help myself! If you're going to go to the trouble of making waffles, you might as well enjoy some fresh.

A word of caution, place the bags into the freezer right away. If you leave them on the counter too long, they start to soften and smoosh, leaving you with an unsightly leaning tower of waffles.

When you are ready to use the frozen waffles, simply place them into the toaster still frozen. Just keep an eye on them! They reheat and crisp up very quickly.

Waffles
Adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book
Yield: about 3 dozen single waffles

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 TBS baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs
3 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, and oil. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Do not over mix or your waffles will be tough. The batter will still be slightly lumpy.

Heat a waffle iron. Spray the surface with a little cooking spray. Cook the waffles in batches, cooling on a rack as they are finished. When the waffles are completely cooled, place in bread bags by the dozen. Suck out the excess air and close with twist-ties. Freeze immediately.

When ready to use, place frozen waffles directly into the toaster until they are lightly golden.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Strawberry Yogurt Popsicles

Did you miss me? All I have to say is: 38 more wake-ups and I'm done with this school year. I am at least grateful to hear that I am not the only one at my school counting down already... and some of the others are teachers that have been at the same school with the same subject matter for multiple years. That makes me feel a little better. Doesn't stop me from counting, though.

Not only am I counting down to not working like a demon 10-14 hours a day, but I am counting down to being able justify spending hours a day thinking about and playing in the kitchen. It's siren song calling to me. I have a stack of recipes four inches high to try!

In the meantime, I make do preparing my old standbys and quick meals (most of which I have already posted) and only occasionally venture into new ground for quick meals or snacks. I recently broke down and purchased a popsicle mold set I've had my eye on for some time. I guess it was the 89 degree day two weeks ago that prompted me to think about frozen goodness on a stick. I bought the set through Amazon and couldn't be happier. While I have tried two types of popsicles so far, the one I am going to share with you today is the quickest. I can put a batch together in less than 5 minutes and they are so delicious!

You can mix any combination of fruit and yogurt that you would like for these. I think the main issue is keeping the proportions about the same for the best texture. You can also make them without the guar gum, but it doesn't affect the flavor at all while giving a much creamier, less ice crystalline product.

All I did was mix together 2 cups of vanilla yogurt and 1 cup of macerated, sweetened fruit - in this case, strawberries. To this, I added 1/4 teaspoon of guar gum, mixed it together and placed it into the molds. You can use any molds you like, but I am a big fan of the new molds I purchased. After they are completely frozen, I remove the top and run warm water over the back of the molds until the popsicles slide out easily.

I then wrap each one individually in wax paper and tape it closed. They are then ready to hang out in the freezer to be called up to duty. The wax paper comes off cleanly, so it's a great way to package them.


Strawberry Yogurt Popsicles
Yield: 9-10 popsicles

2 cups vanilla yogurt
1 cup macerated, chopped and sweetened (to taste) strawberries
1/4 tsp guar gum

Mix the ingredients together and spoon evenly into molds. Do not fill the molds completely, as expansion will occur during the freezing process. Freeze at least five hours, or until hard. Remove the frozen popsicles from the molds by running the molds under warm water. Eat immediately or wrap each popsicle in a piece of wax paper and tape it shut. They keep for at least a couple of weeks.

NOTE: You can use any combination of fruit and yogurt you want for this recipe. If you use the mold set that I have, they recommend soaking the sticks before using to keep them from floating. I found that soaking them causes other issues because the water, which then freezes in the stick, causes it to swell enough that it becomes hard to slide the aluminum top off. I found clothes pins work much better. The picture below shows how I use them. I also find the clothespins help keep the depth of the stick constant, which is nice.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tomato and Bean Soup

I've been a little more pressed for time this week than I anticipated. But I'm trying to eat better, too. A week of indulgent eating while out of town for spring break means I need to rein things back in. After having spinach salad for dinner the last two nights, I was ready for something a little more substantial. But what to make? I was in a hurry and hadn't thawed anything out.

Who knew such a delicious soup could result from such humble ingredients? I spied a can of cannellini beans and a can of diced tomatoes. About twenty minutes later, I was eating dinner! Hallelujah!

Tomato and Bean Soup
Yield: 4 servings

1 TBS olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 rib of celery (with greens, if possible), diced
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh oregano
1/8 tsp pepper
4 cups vegetable broth
1 - 15 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 - 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, drained and rinsed
2 - 1" slices of lemon rind
1 TBS minced fresh basil
rind of Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)
salt to taste

Saute the onion, garlic, and celery in the oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add the herbs, pepper, and broth and cook at a simmer until the celery is tender, about 10 minutes. If you have a rind of cheese that you plan to add, add it when you add the herbs.

Drain and rinse the beans and tomatoes (this can be done together). Fish out the garlic cloves, herbs, lemon rind, and - if used - the cheese rind and discard. Add the beans and tomatoes and cook over medium heat for 2-4 minutes. Add the minced basil. Lastly, add salt to taste. Because every broth is different, the amount of salt needed with vary. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

NOTE: When a recipe calls for vegetable broth, I reach for Knorr's broth cubes. Out of all the bouillon out there, it is the only one I've found that consistently has a great broth flavor for a reasonable price and can-free convenience.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Lemon Cornmeal Cookies

These cookies have been a labor of love. I originally got the idea when I first started making my cornmeal crust. I started thinking to myself... boy, wouldn't this be a great combo for a cookie. And, thus, the task was born. I made my first variation the week before Christmas and was encouraged but a little disappointed in the result, so I made a second batch. I then packed the cookies up in separate bags to take with me to Christmas in Illinois. Strangely, I found that I ended up liking the first batch better once they had a few days to sit in a bag. They were crisp and had an interesting texture... almost like a cross between a cookie and a cracker. My inital attempts saw the dough being prepared like a pie crust.

Then, I thought I would go back and try that first recipe I used again. They were fine, but they didn't inspire me. I thought they might be better in a few days again, but unfortunately, the idea of having to wait a few days to fully enjoy any cookie I might make just ain't right. So, off I went back to the drawing board. (By the way, a few days later they were really good... I think
I'll post that recipe in the future, too, as I can't make up my mind which I like best).

Anyhow, I kept thinking about how the cookie I was imagining in my mind was a lot like a sugar cookie, crisp and delicate, but with a nice hint of lemon and an interesting textural addition from the cornmeal. I figured if I wanted it to be like a sugar cookie, I should just try modifying my favorite sugar cookie recipe. The end result is fabulous! What do you know, trial and error are effective!

I used the large grained sanding sugar because it was all I had on hand, but I think they'd be much better with finer grained sanding sugar, although there was something nice about that added cruch.

Lemon Cornmeal Cookies
Yield: 80-100 - 2 1/2" by 1 1/2" cookies

1 cup softened butter
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 egg
1/4 tsp real lemon extract
zest of one lemon
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking soda

Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg, extract, and zest and mix thoroughly. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, and baking soda. Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet and mix just until combined. Dump out onto the counter and pat into a 1 1/2 to 2 inch in diameter log. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly flour a board and, using a covered rolling pin, roll out about 1/8 inch thick. You can use cookie cutters or cut using a pizza or rotary ravioli cutter (for prettier edges) into rectangles. Transfer to a parchement lined baking sheet. Leave 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch between cookies. Sprinkle with sanding sugar (or table sugar).

Bake at 375 until raised and slightly golden, about 15 minutes. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container up to 10 days. Dough may be refrigerated up to a week before baking or frozen up to six months.
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