Well whadda' ya know....a recipe-at last!

Ok, so in an unabashed attempt to drum up readership (ha ha) my hubby suggested I post a recipe that some folks have been asking for. Blackmail-now there's a dish best served cold.

So today we're blogging Hot Dog Paprikas. My mom made this all the time when we were kids. I figured it was because, well, kids like hot dogs and as mom's know, the LAST thing we need/want at the end of a day (even a good one) is a hissy over dinner. Nope. Not the case in the least. The truth? WE were P-O-O-R that's right, I said it and I'm not ashamed in the least. Cash poor, but super rich with love and my brother and I didn't know. Neither did we suffer, because we had everything we needed-and it made us really appreciate what we did (and do) have. Especially now, as adults when we're struck with the same circumstances. {my Dad's voice echo's in my head as a tongue in cheek joke.."Can't be out of money-I still have checks left!"} Ha ha ha Dad-that's a good one...oh wait, you're serious. I look back with unabashed wonder and respect for the way I was raised. Mostly on hot dog paprikas.

So, {jumping off soap box}on to the meat and potatoes. Hot Dog Paprikas is a variation on Chicken Paprikas. The traditional Hungarian food (from which I'm descended...uh the Hungarians, not the food...or maybe I am-I do love my sour cream!) that I grew up with is peasant food. Hearty, comforting, filling....DELICIOUS. Also, made with what was plentiful-the animals they raised, the vegetables they grew for the climate. No fancy-schmancy Brie en Croute here! I suppose you guessed-I'm from the Hungarian farmer class, not the Hungarian Royalty - hooray for me. So Chicken Paprikas is chicken stewed in paprika till it's tender. Then you plop in some sour cream and potatoes or noodles and Viola! Dinner! Ok, there is a bit more to it than that, but that's the gist of it. You can substitute veal, beef, or HOT DOGS and get pretty much the same difference. I've even seen a recipe for Potato Paprikas. Okie dokie.

So for those of you who were blackmailed and have suffered through my blathering long enough, here is the recipe. I hope you enjoy it.

Hot Dog Paprikas

1 package of Hot Dogs (1 lb) I use beef dogs-use what you like/have
8 oz Sour Cream (don't use the non-fat, it separates and curdles and looks awful)
2-3 Tbs Paprika (I use sweet)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 onion chopped (optional)
1 1/2 c water
2 tsp (or cubes) of chicken or beef bullion

Brown onion in olive oil-add chopped hot dogs, then sprinkle with paprika. Brown the hot dogs ~ 2-5 minutes. Add water and bullion, cover and simmer until tender (~5 minutes or so). Add sour cream and mix well. Add dumplings, noodles (I use egg noodles) or potatoes (when I use potatoes, I chop and cook them as I would to make potato salad-kind of a par boil). For more gravy, add a 1/4 c milk. Heat through and serve. Serves 4-6 oh, I also add green beans for - well, some vegetable component. By all means, they are optional as well.

If you want to make dumplings-we call them Galumpka-you'll need:
3 eggs beaten
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 milk or water (you may need up to 1 cup)

Mix all the ingredients together and drop batter (which should be very thick and sticky, like a muffin batter, but thicker.)by teaspoons full into boiling salted water (I just swish the spoon in the boiling water, they come off easier that way). Cook ~ 10 minutes or until the dumplings float. Drain and serve with the paprikas. *if you have a spaetzel maker, you can use this but may have to make the batter a bit thinner-possibly.*

So that's it. Really, this is so simple- if you use egg noodles, it takes longer to cook them than make the main part of the dish. Take that Rachel Ray!

This dish is also really versatile, as I mentioned above. You can dress it up and make it with chicken and serve a dinner party or dress it down and make it with hot dogs. It is cheap, quick, hearty, comfort food. Now who doesn't like that?

Raindrops on ..... everything.

Well,at least the snow has melted. It was bee-yooo-tee-ful for almost a week. WOW!!! That's a nice change from the norm. I can't believe that Pittsburgh has more cloudy/rainy days a year than Seattle. Ugh. Whatever.

Today between the raindrops I am making my second attempt at carrot cake. The first attempt ended (as you may have guessed) in a gooey and very unappetizing mess. Funny though, it tasted ok; but ok. I'm trying another recipe with hopes of much improved success since these puppies are going on a trip.

**ok as an aside, I'm EXTREMELY picky about my carrot cake. It stems from being spoiled rotten from the time I was about 5 from my Aunt Judi. She is the QUEEN of baking. OH MY GOSH-she can bake anything and it tastes like a dream come true. MMMmmmm. Anyway-so she made carrot cakes for occasions-Christmas, Easter, Birthdays. I have never (and I mean never) had one as good-not even one close to as good. Here's something funny-I've never asked for the recipe. Don't know why-she'd probably give it to me. I hope one day she does. I wouldn't want to live in a world without Aunt Judi's carrot cake. Mayhaps I should ask.

So these attempts are going with us as a "thank you for letting us stay at your place" gift. I don't really know these people all that well as they are really friends of our friends. The woman is said to be quite a good cook. Oh boy. Well, here's hoping I don't show up with a sloppy, goopy mess. I was going to make scones (since I kick butt with those and could make them in my sleep) but she's making them and how gosh is that? Maybe it isn't gosh, but my Mama raised me to not be a rude guest and that just feels rude. Like I'm saying, "well, I know you made scones, but here are mine and I think they're better than yours, even though I've never had yours and oh, by the bye, thanks for letting us crash here this weekend". I'm sure that (hopefully) wouldn't be the case, but well, I'm making carrot cake. End of discussion.

So hopefully I'll post later and let you all (not that anyone reads this besides my husband who will have already sampled the aforementioned cake) know how it turned out. I'm very slothful when it comes to my blogging these days, with all the other things I've got to do. C'est La Vie.

Hi! My name is Biscotti Girl, and I'm a Bejeweled-a-holic.

Seriously. It sucks. But do you know what stinks even more? That I stink at it. Truly-I love to play; oh, purple triangle for four-in-a-row...the game tells me "Awesome", "Amazing", "Good Job" and my score is (drumroll)38,000??!??!!!!!! Then I get to see all of my friends scores. 200,000- ok you are CHEATING!!!! You have to be-I can't be that inept. please???

Do you know what makes it worse? Facebook. That's right, I said it. The dealer who got me hooked is to blame! One minute games. No harm. One game, one minute and then move right on to something else. [says the wily dealer] Oh, look at all the pretty colors, match, match, mat---time up? But, wait, I had a five-in-a-row I was setting up, please let me play again. Just one more time [me, pleading] then I'm done, I swear. I'll cook dinner, I'll vacuum, I'll....sit right here and play all damn day is what I'll do if you let me. Ugh. pathetic, no?

So here I sit, typing away at my laptop blogging about the stupid game and not something baking related. Not that my blog is confined to the limits of my kitchen, mind you. But still, the irony of it is that I was going to blog earlier and delayed because I was .... uh, cleaning, yeah that's it.

Ok it's not. You probably guessed what I was doing, huh? Well this goes out to Mary, Scotty, Mel, AJ and all of you who whip my pants on a regular basis: "STOP IT! I FEEL INFERIOR!!!" Mostly I'm amazed at the ginormous scores these people rack up. It's crazy. I'm happy for them, happier if they'd show me how to master the art of matching. Hmmmm....preschool much? Ok-well, I've blathered enough. Thanks for joining me in my crazy-train to game-ville. Now, back to the jewels...my precious........

Getting medieval with your gingerbread

Gingerbread brings to mind cold, snowy days spent in the kitchen. The spicy sweet aroma filling the house while little fingers made their way to the still-warm disks of happiness. Snuggling under a blanket with a cup of tea and a few of the gingery cookies and a good book. While this might be what you call to mind, today's gingerbread is not what it used to be.

In the eleventh century, it was introduced to Europe and the English made candy with the ginger. Centuries later, breadcrumbs were added (yes, breadcrumbs) and gingerbread was created. While the term “gingerbread” simply meant “preserved ginger” in Medieval England, in the fifteenth century the term transformed into meaning a treat made with molasses and flavored with ginger. The latter is what the vast majority of us are familiar with when referring to gingerbread.

Medieval gingerbread is more like a “candy” if it were to have another label. It is soft and chewy and does not resemble a “cookie” in any way that is familiar to me. Although it is much sweeter and more spicy than its current day cousin. I've made both the modern day gingerbread and medieval and I think they are both wonderful. I will admit though, that the medieval gingerbread is far easier to make. Also, you might notice that in the medieval recipes ginger was sometimes optional or even left out. While it may be odd to serve gingerbread without the ginger, it really is quite good.

This is the recipe I use for my medieval gingerbread and it has received rave reviews. One word of caution with this recipe: it calls for up to 1 Tbsp of ginger. I used this the first time I made it and it was spicy to be sure! If you aren't certain you're up to a super spicy treat, please start with less. Perhaps half the amount may be enough for less hearty palates. You may also note that saffron, sandalwood, or red food coloring is included as an option in the recipe. This was to color the gingerbread and not really meant to impart flavor. Please feel free to omit them.

If you would rather stick with the more current version of gingerbread (as a cookie), here's a recipe that is close to the one I use.
For more information on ginger or for other interesting medieval treats take a peek here.

These are a few of my favorite things.

Go into any kitchen shop and you could look at all the neat gadgets, tools and what-nots for hours. My husband used to play a game when I would drag him into one. He called it ,“What is this crazy thing for?” He might have guessed right once or twice, but I think he did it just to make me laugh (and to get me out of the store) but I'll have to admit, some times I had no clue what some of the things he picked up were for. Here are just a few of the things I have in my kitchen and I believe that all kitchens should include at least one or two.

Kitchen Aid ®Stand Mixer. I love love love this. It makes short work of almost any dough or batter and is a dream when whipping egg whites. There are attachments for it as well that can turn your mixer into a pasta roller or meat grinder or assorted other things. Super neat. While the up front cost is a bit steep, it is well worth the investment. You will have a professional piece of equipment that will last you years. If the price is still too much for you to swallow, try looking for a refurbished one on-line. This holds a permanent spot on my counter top. If you bake frequently, as I do, I would recommend getting an extra bowl. Dishwasher safe bowls and attachments make clean up a breeze.

Cuisinart® Food Processor
. This machine makes shredding cheese, chopping nuts, and making bread crumbs so simple. The model I have came with two different grating blades, a slicing blade, a dough blade and an “all purpose” steel blade. Before I had my stand mixer, this beauty was what I used to make my pizza dough. I love this for making pesto as well. The bowl and blades are dishwasher safe so hooray for cleanup here as well. It lives right next door to my stand mixer.

Non-stick baking mats. You may have heard them referred to as “Silpat®” . This is a brand name but it is used as a generic term for a non-stick baking mat. I use Chef's Planet brand non-stick bakeliners. They are cut to fit and (hee hee) dishwasher safe. I haven't ever found the need to use my dishwasher on them. Just plain old water and a nylon scrubber work like a charm. They are less expensive than Silpat® liners but if you prefer Silpat®, by all means, it is your kitchen after all.

Rasp zester. This does a beautiful job with zesting citrus fruits and I wouldn't dream of grating fresh nutmeg without mine. I have an old model that looks like it came out of dad's garage and in fact, that's exactly how its current use came about.

Sheet pans. I use jelly roll pans for almost everything. I really don't like traditional “cookie sheets” which have no sides. If you know me, you know it isn't' a complete day unless I have dropped something, burned myself or fallen down. I need all the help I can get. These do the job. They hold my cookies, cakes and loaves. Wonderful inventions. I have assorted sizes, but my favorite is my 10X15”.

My hands. No seriously-your hands are more often than not your best kitchen tool. You can pound, mash, knead, roll, measure and shape with them. Ok, so the chopping and slicing are out, but you won't get cut by them either.

So that's a peak into my kitchen. We'll ignore the crumbs on the floor and the fridge covered in kiddie-art.

Divine Divan

Tonight dinner needs to be quick. I have a laundry list of things to do as high as my laundry pile and I can see where this day is heading. What can I do? Ordering out isn't an option for me right now. I have not been grocery shopping yet and my kids are in the middle of a growth spurt. Hiding in the bedroom seems like a great idea right now. Yeah, like that's going to happen. So I am going to suck it up and dig through my pantry and refrigerator and see what happens.

In my search I found: breadcrumbs, broccoli, chicken and cheese. Eureka! Chicken Divan to the rescue. I'm sure there's a (very old) can of cream of something-or-other soup in the pantry too. Behind the four jars of hot pepper jelly. If not, I know how to make a Mornay sauce (that's a bechamel with cheese added). For those of you who don't know what chicken divan is, let me illuminate.

Chicken divan was invented in and named after the Divan Parisien Restaurant in New York. It's a casserole made of chicken, broccoli, and cheese. There are other ingredients which vary by recipe. These include mayonnaise, sour cream, cream of mushroom soup, curry, wine and sherry. Chicken divan is a great recipe to have in your arsenal. It takes less than an hour (especially if you are using cream-of-”something” soup) is filling and is a great way to stretch a little bit of meat. Let's face it, who isn't looking to stretch things these days, right?

So the first time I had this I hated it. I was twelve and my neighbor used swiss cheese. I hate swiss cheese. I ate it because, well my neighbor was like my other mother and I didn't want to make her upset. When I was older, I realized you can use whatever you like; leave out what you don't or swap it for something else. Even though I don't like swiss cheese, it works for me in this recipe. But use cheddar, American or whatever else sounds good to you. Here's the recipe, I hope you'll try it.

***after the original posting of this blog, I got an email from my former neighbor who informed me in no uncertain terms that she DID NOT put swiss cheese in her Divan. Ok, so someone did, I didn't like it at first, but I do now, and most humble apologies to Mrs. K.****

Easy Baked Chicken

Before my husband and I were married, I went with him to visit his mother one Sunday. As usual, something was baking in the oven for dinner. It smelled heavenly, but I couldn't figure out what was so different about it. When it came out of the oven and was put on the table, it was chicken, covered in some kind of sauce I'd never seen before. There was that smell again. Tangy, sweet, salty-it was covering all the taste buds. Tasting the chicken, it was indeed, all those things and more. It was instantly my favorite chicken dish. I begged my now mother-in-law to tell me what it was. “Different chicken” is what she said.

Not so helpful in the recipe department, but never fear, my mother in law is a genius in the kitchen and always shares her recipes (one reason I love her so much). This dish is simple to assemble and only contains a few common ingredients, which lends itself to becoming an easy weekend meal or if adapted to a Crockpot, a weeknight standard. This recipe is so simple and you can easily make half the recipe or double it and freeze a portion for another meal. So I'm sharing it with you in hopes that you'll like it too.

“Different Chicken”

4 whole chicken breasts (I use boneless) or 8 individual breast portions
Mix together:
1 packet dry onion soup mix
1 jar (8 oz.) apricot preserves or jelly
1 bottle French dressing

Pour the mixture over the chicken pieces (I use an 9x13 dish), marinate 15-30 minutes in fridge and bake 1 to 1 ½ hours at 350 covered. Serve over rice.

Now, I don't use my Crockpot like I should so I got out the instruction manual. It says to adapt a conventional recipe that cooks for 1-3 hours in the oven, cook in the Crockpot on Low for 8-18 hours or on high 4-6 hours. Since this recipe cooks for about an hour in the oven, I'm going to suggest cooking on low for 6-8 hours (and checking to make sure the chicken is throughly cooked before serving) since that's what I did. It wasn't browned like it would be in the conventional oven, but it still tasted great. Also, if it looks like it's getting too watery in the Crockpot or conventional oven, uncover it for about a half hour to reduce the sauce a bit. (Crockpot users, uncover and turn to high) One word on the Crockpot version, you might find the chicken a bit dry after being cooked in the Crockpot, so just spoon more sauce over the chicken. Because who doesn't like more sauce? Enjoy!