The fun of making things

Today I played.

Okay, I also read things and took a nice long (FREEZING, BRRRR) walk with Spouseman, but mostly I played with my new Instant Pot.

I had some perishable foods I’d been neglecting because March totally got away from us, and we scrounged for meals several nights I planned on cooking. The list”

  • a full bag of yummy Yukon potatoes on the verge of going sprouty.
  • too many sweet potatoes because I kept forgetting I still had a couple and bought more every time I shopped.
  • Cream cheese & Greek yogurt tipping past their best-by dates. Ditto some eggs.
  • Some bell peppers I had to turn into something before they got soft spots.
  • various “‘I’m tired of this variety but there’s a couple left in the bag” apples going wrinkly and soft.

So there was that, and when I went to the desk to write Scooter looked at me from my chair with this LOOK that said, “Please no, Mom, I’m comfy here,” and I needed to take my brain mostly offline for a recharge today anyhow.

So. Playtime. I rummaged around the pantry & freezer, set up the Instant Pot, and Kitchen Magic happened. 

The pressure cooking function meant I could do a lot of slow-cooking dishes…fast. I didn’t use any recipes, exactly. The Instant Pot came with a little recipe book, plus I hunted around for ideas online. Various blogs helped me cobble together an estimate of  how much pressure-cook time each food needed , plus I learned how to use the steamer rack that came with the pot.

The peppers joined forces with chicken tenderloins from the freezer, canned tomatoes & tomato paste, plus some garlic to become italian-style chicken for tonight and tomorrow plus a batch for the freezer.

Butter plus the aging dairy products & potatoes transformed into a big ‘ol batch of cream-cheese-golden mashed potatoes. Again, some for now, the rest for later. Big win!

(Yes, I know it’s weird to eat chicken in tomato sauce with mashed potatoes, but I like mashed potatoes with everything, and Spouseman prefers it to pastas as a sauce base.)

Apples got fast-cooked to soften, and then slow-cooked with the lid off to become smooth, sweet, delicious applesauce. There’s always a use for that.  And the sweet potatoes got steamed and then peeled once they were cool. So now I’ll have sweet potato mash available for reheating at lunch time all week.

Also, while grabbing the chicken from the freezer, I found blueberries from last summer and some bananas. Well. Couldn’t ignore a hint like that, could I?  Of course not. I turned those into blueberry banana cake and baked it while one of the other things was working up a head of steam in the pot.

Because why NOT make cake too, right? Of course right.

Today was about letting the brain rest, for tomorrow, it’s back to the hard stuff. Revisions & additions.  It’s also the fun stuff, but still. W-O-R-K.

Until later.

Writing hard, cookies easy

I’m not getting any creative writing done because reasons, so to quiet the brain buzzards I figure I will share a baking adventure. WITH PICTURES!

(What are brain buzzards? YOU know. They’re the lurking voices inside that squawk, “quit whining and do the work, lazy woman, Real Professionals produce, you could do more if you tried harder, blah, blah, blah…I mean, they’re right, but I prefer to drown them out than listen.)

ANYway. Cookies.  Swedish butter cookies were a holiday tradition when I was growing up in the Morris household, (the M in K.M. stands for Morris) I recently found my mom’s mother’s recipe card for “Grandma Watson’s Swedish Butter Cookies”  complete with instructions for a “slow oven” and mentioning butter from the ice box. I haven’t scanned the cards yet, so no pic, sorry.

These cookies were a one batch once-a-year treat because, while they were delicious, making them was a demanding process requiring tons of work, complicated prep, and expensive ingredients. And drama. I remember much trauma with stickiness, wax paper, and fretting about wasted dough &  much worry over burning. And they never came out quite right despite always tasting fab.

Then I made them for myself the first time on my own, away from the traditions and procedures of my youth. And I learned a secret I’ll share today: THESE ARE THE SIMPLEST COOKIES EVER.

Unless you are a perfectionist. Then they are a hell recipe. I am not a perfectionist. My kitchen mantra is, “More flavor, less effort.”

I can whip together a batch of these cookies faster than the oven preheats–which is saying something because a “slow oven” is only 325 degrees F.

So. Let’s make Swedish Butter cookies together.

Start the oven preheating, make sure the rack is in the middle for best baking, and gather these ingredients: IMG_5238

Yeah, that’s all.

1 stick butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1-2 tbsp of syrupy goodness.  (I like half honey+half almond extract. Maple syrup is popular with others. The big thing is, some sugary syrup. Things don’t cook right without it.)

Here’s the one paragraph summary.

Cream the butter & sugar, add in the syrup & mix until creamy,  mix in the flour until it forms a lumpy dough, form up into a ball by hand, divide into four lumps and roll into sticks, dust with colored sugar if you want, and bake 20-25 min at 325 until golden. Cut while still warm. Done. SO. SIMPLE.

The devil is in the details. Pics are worth a thousand words, so here we go:

Cream butter & sugar, scrape down the bowl & add syrup, it looks like this:IMG_5239

Mix in the syrup until it’s all creamy like this:
IMG_5240

Then scrape down again (the red bit in the pics is my bowl scraper resting on the mixer stand) add the flour and mix until it comes together. Note that it isn’t all in a single ball, and it’s STICKY:IMG_5241

Don’t add extra flour or liquid or mix with the mixer until it’s a single lump, the cookies will get kinda tough (BUT NO BIGGIE IF YOU LOSE FAITH AND DO THOSE THINGS THE COOKIES WILL STILL BE DELICIOUS)

In any case, if the dough doesn’t come all the way together after a minute or two of blending, stop the mixer and push it together into a ball by hand with the scraper. Then divide the ball into 4 parts and shape into logs.

Did I mention it’s sticky? How gooey depends on too many factors to worry about. This is where I get mega-lazy. If the dough can’t be handled easily, I run water in the sink and wet my hands before dividing & shaping the dough, re-wetting whenever things get unwieldy. And don’t stress the logs being equal sizes or the same length or evenly rounded. Close enough is fine. Mine came out pretty well this time:

Sprinkling with colored sugar is totally optional. But yes, i flattened the tops to make it stick better

So, now all you have to do is bake them. 20-25 min at 325 degrees. When they’re going golden brown on top (or around the edges, if you sugared the tops) pull them and cut into slices. Cool and then try not to eat them all in one sitting.

So, there it is. A cookie post. Enjoy.

Comfort Food. My way.

DISCLAIMER: Not a picture of my shepherd’s pie. Why not? Explanation at the end. This is a delicious Pixabay stock image (credit: RitaE)

Who wants a food post? I hope you do, because you’re getting one. Yes, this fiction author  is blogging about food again. Why? Because making food always leads to stories.

This story is about comfort. I don’t like restaurants OR cooking (or baking, for that matter) but I crave the comfort of a good meal. I crave it most  when I least wish to work hard.  Like, oh for example, when I’ve just gotten home from a 3-day convention bookended by 6-hour solo road trips. Yeah. Like now.

I have found many ways to make work in the kitchen as painless, practical, and fast as possible.  I am big on pan bakes & bar cookies, casseroles, stews, & other pantry put-togethers — things that can be assembled in 10 minutes and then leave to cook on their own….while I go write or something. See? Writing tie-in.

(Plus easily-distracted people are not the best cooks to put in charge of stir-fry, easily-burned sauces, or anything requiring precision measurements or timing. Yeah. Me.)

ANYWAY. Today’s entry in comfort food stories: a meal I call shepherd’s pie even though the only ingredient it shares with the traditional dish is potato. Its main appeal is that it can be thrown together in no time, feeds me & Spouseman for two dinners, and we both love it.  The ingredients can be conveniently kept on-hand in cabinets & freezer.

Spouseman makes it for me most times, on Bad Days like when I’ve just gotten home from a road trip and am thoroughly stressed. On other occasions I enjoy the think-free accomplishment of assembling asimple meal.

So here you go. One of my favorites.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  1. We use a 2 1/2 qt Corning casserole dish. Quantities were based on the dish.
  2. Dump into the casserole dish:
  3. 1 16 oz bag frozen vegetarian “meat crumbles.” No, I don’t thaw them. LAZY ME.
  4. Add enough wine/ketchup/barbecue/soy /Worchestershire/whatever flavors you like in a savory sauce. (Or, in my case, whatever’s in the fridge)  Make it fairly soupy.
  5. Stir in garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper to taste.
  6. Once you have that base stirred together, layer in the following in order
    • 1 c frozen corn
    • 1 c frozen baby peas (or sub another niblet-sized frozen veggie if you are pea-averse)
    • most of an 8 oz bag shredded cheese. Mild cheddar is my fave.
  7. Make enough instant mashed potatoes to cover the top & load them in. How much? To taste. Depending on how thick you want.
  8. Shake the remaining cheese over the insta-tater layer.
  9. Bake for at least 45 min.

Ten steps.  I swear it takes longer to read these instructions than to make once you get the hang of it.

Notes:

  • when it comes to choose abrand of “Let’s go vegetarian because too lazy to fry up ground meat and then have to wash the fry pan) crumbles, we’re partial to Morningstar Farms chipotle black bean. Really, any ground meat substitute will do.
  • Making mashed taters takes me zero time because we have an on-demand hot water maker. (Best. Gadget. EVER.) Anyway, if you have to boil water, you might want to start it when you preheat the oven. To save time. Because that’s what this is about.
  • Like most casseroles, this is excellent/even better after a cool & a second bake. So it’s perfect for make-ahead meal too.

Why no picture? I don’t take good foodie photos. When I attempt casserole imagery  the photo ends up looking like something pre-eaten. I don’t find that appealing. VERY NOT.