Sunday, November 28, 2004

Help Wanted: Quick and Easy Cookies

We're hosting a "stroll-by" party on our lawn next week, and have promised our neighborhood that we'll provide hot chocolate, cider, and cookies. I don't have a lot of baking time -- even our evenings are crammed full this week -- but I would like to have at least some home-baked cookies available.

So if you have a quick cookie recipe, I'd much appreciate your posting it. By "quick" I mean that it doesn't require a lot of preparation or fussy details, and the fewer ingredients the better. My thrify side tends to run away screaming from any recipe that calls for more than half a stick of butter or more than two eggs, so I guess that's a condition as well.

Also, any finger-food desserts would be welcome. It's just that people will be eating from paper plates with gloved hands, so I can't serve anything very crumbly.

-- SJ

Squash Trials

I'm really optimistic about all these squash recipes. Maybe I'll actually find I can eat squash without claiming a few years off Purgatory.

I did buy a spaghetti squash a couple of weeks ago. First of all, the success: we both liked the taste -- not squashy at all -- and it worked fine smothered in spaghetti sauce.

But, the failure: My cookbook said to halve it, seed it, and cook it on a baking sheet for half an hour to forty minutes. We did. And then cooked it another half hour. And it still came out underdone. So I don't know if it's just that I don't know how to cook squash, or if my cookbook is a low-down liar. Guess I'll be working on that little kink.

-- SJ

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Sweet Potatoes without marshmallows

I, personally, find sweet potatoes with marshmallows disgusting. Sweet potatoes themselves, however, have great potential as a tasty vegetable. After some hunting around I have found a way to fix them that satisfies all of my in-laws' various allergy and dietary restraints (egg, gluten, and lactose free!) , health standards, and still seems festive and suitable for a holiday meal. It's also easy enough and cheap enough to fix in quantities to satisfy half a dozen more-or-less adolescent boys along with their extended family.

So this is what I am taking for Thanksgiving (only about 3-4 times as much):

Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Apples
2 large sweet potatoes (I use the orangier kind, which are sometimes called yams, but which I understand technically are not, just a variety of sweet potato.)
2 T Butter
2 T Honey
1 t. Cinnamon
1/2 t. Allspice
1 cooking apple, peeled and chopped

Peel and chop sweet potatoes; cook until tender. Drain and pour into bowl for mashing. (Save liquid if you don't want to use milk.) Place the butter in the bottom of the pan and melt; add honey and spices. Saute apple in it until tender. Add to sweet potatoes and mash with either a little reserved cooking liquid or milk if everyone is lactose-tolerant.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Crispy Butternut Wontons with Spicy Tomato Sauce

Looking for an unique appetizer to take to the Christmas party this year? These are very tasty and reheat well--just pop them in the microwave for 45 seconds to a minute. They were a real hit this weekend with everyone.


1&1/2 t olive oil
1&1/2 C thinly sliced leek (about 1 large leek or 2 small)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 t crushed red pepper
1/8 t sea salt
1 (14.5 oz) can whole tomatoes (undrained and chopped)
1 (3-inch) orange rind strip (or 1/2 t grated orange peel)
1 bay leaf (or 1/4 t dried crushed bay leaves)
1 fresh tarragon sprig (I left this out)

Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add leek and garlic; cook 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Increase heat to medium high. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer 15 minutes or until thick. Discard rind, bay leave, and tarragon (if you used them).


1 small butternut squash (about 1 1/2 lbs)
1/2 C water
1/2 C Ricotta cheese
3 T grated fresh Parmesan
2 T dry breadcrumbs
1/4 t sea salt
1/4 t ground black pepper
1/8 t nutmeg
1 t water
1 large egg, lightly beaten
24 wonton wrappers
Cooking spray

Cut the squash in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membrane. Place the squash halves, cut sides down, in a 2-qt baking dish; add 1/2 C water. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Scoop out pulp to measure 1 C; (use any extra to make baby food). Combine 1 C pulp, ricotta, and ingredients through nutmeg, stirring until well-combined.
Combine 1 t water and egg, stirring with a whisk. Fill each wonton (cover unused wonton wrappers with wet towel to prevent drying) with 1-2 t squash mixture. Brush edges of dough with egg mixture; bring 2 opposite corners together. Press edges together in a seal forming a triangle. Place the wontons on a large baking sheet coated with cooking spray, and brush lightly with remaining egg mixture. Bake at 375 for 17 minutes or until golden and crisp. Serve with the sauce.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Chicken Tetrazzini

I know, I know, a chicken recipe from a vegetarian. However, this recipe is easy for a vegetarian to make and it is divided into two casserole dishes. So I make it when someone has a baby or is sick and then have one left for my husband.

1 T butter
Cooking spray
1 C finely chopped onion
2/3 C finely chopped celery
1 t black pepper
3/4 t salt
3 (8 oz) packages presliced mushrooms (we leave these out)
1/2 C dry sherry (or dry white wine)
2/3 C flour
3 (14.5 oz) cans chicken broth
2 1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 C cream cheese
7 C hot cooked pasta (about 1 lb uncooked)
4 C chopped chicken breast (about 1 1/2 lb)
1 slice bread

Preheat oven to 350. Melt butter in a large stockpot coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, mushrooms, pepper, and salt and saute 4 min. or until mushrooms are tender. Add sherry; cook 1 minute. Lightly spoon flour into a measuring cup; level with a knife. Gradually add flour to pan; cook 3 min., stirring constantly (mixture will be thick) with a whisk. Gradually add broth; stirring constantly. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Add 1 3/4 C Parmesan and cream cheese, stirring with a whisk until cream cheese melts. Add the pasta and chicken, and stir until blended. Divide the pasta mixture between 2 (8-in square) baking dishes coated with cooking spray. Place bread in food processor, pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs form. Combine breadcrumbs, remaining Parmesan (1/2 C); sprinkle evenly over pasta mixture. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven; let stand 15 minutes.

To freeze unbaked casserole: Prepare until baking instructions. Cool completely in refrigerator. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing to remove as much air as possible. Wrap with heavy-duty foil. Store in freezer for up to 2 months.

To prepare frozen casserole: Thaw casserole completely in refrigerator (about 24 hours). Preheat oven to 350. Remove foil; reserve foil. Remove plastic wrap and discard. Cover casserole with foil, bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional hour or until golden and bubbly. Let stand 15 minutes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A tale of two soups...

This first soup is a favorite of mine. It is rather rich, so you may want to try serving it as an appetizer to compliment another dish rather than as a full entrée.

Butternut Squash Soup

3 lbs. Butternut squash, peeled, seeded & diced
2 Tbs. Butter
1 Cup chopped onion (or 2 tsp-1Tbs. of onion powder)
1 Garlic clove (crushed)
1 tsp. Ground coriander
1 tsp. Salt
3 Cups squash water and water (or chicken stock)
Chopped parsley

1. Seed, peel, and dice squash
2. Simmer squash in boiling water 10-15 minutes, until tender (save water!).
3. Melt butter in small saucepan. Add onion and garlic, sauté until tender.
4. Stir in coriander and salt.
5. Add squash.
6. Add chicken stock (or squash water); heat to boiling.
7. Pour into blender; process until smooth. (If necessary, return to saucepan to reheat before serving.)
8. Pour into serving dish and garnish with parsley.

Serves 4-5 large bowls

I confess I haven't tried this one yet, but this is the Tale of Two Soups, so one simply won't do. If someone tries this before I get a chance, let me know what you think. I do plan on making it in the coming weeks. :)

Cream of Acorn Squash Soup

¾ large acorn squash (about 3 ¾ lbs.)
1 Tbs. & 1 ¼ tsp. butter or margarine
1/3 Cup & 1 tsp. chopped onion (or substitute onion powder)
2 Cups & 3 Tbs. Chicken broth
½ Cups 2 tsp. Dry white cooking wine (can omit and use more broth instead)
¾ tsp. Grated lime rind (optional)
¾ tsp. Fresh lime juice
1/8 tsp. Pepper
1/3 Cup & 1 tsp. Whipping cream (or substitute milk)

1. Cut squash in half crosswise; remove seeds. Place squash, cut side down, in a shallow pan. Add water to pan to depth of ½".
2. Bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool slightly.
3. Scoop out pulp, discarding shells. Chop pulp; set aside.
4. Melt butter in a dutch oven over medium-high heat; add onion, and sauté until tender. Add chicken broth, wine (opt.), and chopped pulp. Bring to boil; reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Add lime rind (opt.), juice, and pepper; cool.
5. Process half of broth mixture in a blender until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides. Pour into a large container. Repeat procedure with remaining broth mixture. Return both portions to Dutch oven.
6. Stir in whipping cream (or milk). Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until heated through.
Serves 4, hot or cold. Garnish if desired. (Suggested additional/optional ingredients include pumpkin pie spice or applesauce.)

~ Sarah

Amazing Alfredo

Quick, easy, cheap, and most of all delicious - the secret is cream cheese!

1/2 cup butter
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 cups milk
6 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Melt butter in a medium, non-stick saucepan over medium heat. Add cream cheese and garlic powder, stirring with wire whisk until smooth. Add milk, a little at a time, whisking to smooth out lumps. Stir in Parmesan and pepper. Remove from heat when sauce reaches desired consistency. Sauce will thicken rapidly, thin with milk if cooked too long. Toss with hot pasta to serve. (Usually we add grilled chicken too, because Kevin is such a carnivore.)

Creative Salads

I learned from a friend that a salad is like a stew with uncooked foods--whatever you have goes in it. So my salads are generally different. But one of my favorite combinations is:

Mixed greens (one kind of lettuce is so-o-o-o boring)
Berries (strawberries in the summer, then raspberries, and now blueberries)
Nuts (almonds or walnuts work best) or seeds (sesame is my favorite but sunflower works)
Feta or soft goat cheese if you have it, but not necessary
A fruity viniagrette dressy--my favorite is bottled Raspberry Walnut viniagrette, but you can make your own with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Butternut Squash Risotto

This recipe does not work well if you have small ones to tend to because it requires 30 minutes of constant stirring. But for those of you who do not have children or for a special dinner when the other parent is on duty, this is yummy, and a special treat.

2 C water, divided
2-14 oz. cans beef or vegetable broth
2 t olive oil
1/2 C finely chopped yellow onion
3 C cubed (3/4 in) peeled butternut squash (about 1 lb)
1/2 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
1 & 1/2 C Arborio rice
1/2 C grated Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese (Asiago or Parmesan work too)
3 T butter
2 T finely chopped fresh parsley (I've used dried before too)

Bring 1&1/2 C water and broth to a simmer in a large saucepan. Do not boil; but keep warm over low heat.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, cook 7-8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 1/2 C water, squash, salt, and pepper and cook 10 minutes or until squash is tender and water has almost evaporated. Add rice; stir until combined. Stir in 1/2 C broth mixture; cook until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add 1/2 C broth mixture, stirring constantly until it is absorbed; repeat until broth mixture is gone (about 30 minutes total). Stir in cheese, butter and parsley. Ready to serve. Makes 4 servings as a main dish and 8 as a side.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

A recipe that will get you a-head...with cabbage

I'm not sure how many of you are fans of cabbage, but this recipe is such a favorite at my home I thought it'd be worth sharing. This particular version of the recipe was given to me back when I was working at a 19th century village museum. Recently I learned that the English do not necessarily follow a recipe, to them Bubble 'n Squeak is made with any leftovers that are on hand. Either way, it's delicious. :)

Bubble 'n Squeak

½ Medium head cabbage, sliced
3 bacon strips diced chopped onion or onion powder
1 cup of ham (cooked and cubed)
1 Tbs. Butter
3 cups baked & cooked potatoes (thinly sliced)
½ tsp. Paprika
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Cook cabbage for 5 minutes until tender, drain & set aside.
2. Cook bacon & onion in a cast iron skillet (or frying pan if skillet is not available)
3. Add ham and cook till heated through
4. Add butter, mix in cabbage and potatoes
5. Season with paprika, salt & pepper
6. Cook until browned on bottom, turn and brown again.

Cooking time: 15 minutes Serves: 4-6 (or 2 with leftovers)

- Sarah

Strange Things to Do with Biscuits

Besides being tasty, biscuits can be made in seasonal shapes! (Not that a flag is appropriate to the season, but I mostly have star cookie cutters.) Cutting biscuits in slabs or squares is a great way to simplify the process and not mess with re-rolling the dough.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Quickie Yeasties

These yeast rolls don't require much of a rising time, as opposed to all the other "quick yeast roll" recipes that deviously toss into the instructions, "Allow to rise about 1 hour..."). The original recipe omits salt for some reason, but I've added it back in without any adverse effects. Also, the original instructions were rather vague, so I just wrote out what I do. Those more experienced in breadmaking might know better methods.

I use white flour, of course. I don't know how they'd do with wheat flour.

2 1/2 Tbs shortening
2 heaping Tbs sugar
1/4 - 1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs yeast, dissolved in 1 Cup warm water
2 cups flour

Melt shortening, add sugar and salt, mix well. Pour in dissoved yeast. Add flour a little at a time, mixing as you go, until the dough is quite firm. You might use more or less than 2 cups.

Take out the dough and knead it until it's elastic and smooth-ish. Since it's also sticky, it gets all over your hands and looks like something from a 50s horror movie.

Peel the dough off your hands using a little more flour if necessary, then let it sit for 15 minutes.

Roll into balls and place on greased cookie sheet. Alternatively, place three small balls of dough in a muffin cup to create mini "cloverleaf" rolls. Bake in a 450-degree oven for about 15 minutes, or when the tops barely start browning.

-- SJ

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Squish the Squash?

I debated whether or not to call this post "I [Almost] Kissed Squash Goodbye" but then decided against it . . . for whatever unknown reason.

There has been discussion recently on the merits of squash. Until just a year ago, I would have been inclined to agree with Sara (i.e., “I don’t care what the nutritional value of squash is, the plain truth of the matter is that it’s squishy and gross and, for that reason alone, does not belong anywhere near my taste buds. I will die young if I must.”)

The reason I’ve changed my mind about squash is that there are so many ways to make it taste really good. First of all, don’t over cook it. Anything that’s squishy is gross, in my opinion, no matter how it’s flavored. Secondly, be bold and brave with putting fun flavors on your squash. Usually I’ll sauté squash but in the summertime we like to wrap it in foil and grill it. It goes great with chicken or steak on the grill. Some of the seasonings I like to try are as follows:

1) Sauté in butter and add minced garlic (plain and simple) with a dash of salt;
2) Sauté and sprinkle lemon pepper spice on it;
3) Sauté in butter and sprinkle it generously with parmesan cheese. (This is probably my personal favorite.)
4) Sauté in olive oil and squeeze fresh lemon juice on it.
5) Grill in foil with sweet/vidalia onions, butter, salt and pepper. Yum!

Whatever you do with squash – be bold and brave. Try new things. You may be surprised to discover that not only is it [gasp] edible, it can actually be really tasty.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Leftover Oatmeal becomes Spice Cake

Some breakfast foods are good leftover: muffins, for instance. Or pancakes (rolled up with butter and sugar--mmmmm.)

Some are not. Scrambled eggs. Oatmeal. When I was growing up, we had a lot of leftover oatmeal because it was never as popular as my mom thought it ought to be.

When leftovers occurred, I made this spice cake variant, which was always received with great enthusiasm:

Lazy Daisy Oatmeal Cake
2 c. cooked oats
1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
2 eggs
1 1/2c. flour
1 t. soda
1/2 t. salt
3/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
Bake in a 9" pan at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes.
Frosting: mix 1/4 c. melted butter, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 3 T half and half (I always used evaporated milk), 1/3 c. nuts, 3/4 c. coconut. IIRC, you then broiled this briefly until it looked nice and toasty.

Now I have leftover oatmeal from time to time, not because I misjudge appetites, but because DOB sometimes runs out of time and doesn't eat his breakfast. So I fix this variant, updated for our household expenditure and nutrition standards. It tastes a lot like gingerbread:

Slightly Cheaper and Healthier Lazy Daisy Oatmeal Cake
2 c. cooked oats (with raisins)
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. honey
1/4 c. molasses
1 t. vanilla
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 t. soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. cloves
1/2 t. allspice (or however many spices I feel like dumping in until I get bored)

Bake as above. I skip the frosting and either serve it with applesauce for dessert or plain for breakfast.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Coming Soon: Quick Yeast Rolls

My sister, Rosemary, found a great recipe for yeast rolls that take only twenty minutes from start to finish -- no rising time. So I'm going to post it for the benefit of those on this blog, when I have time to find the scrap of paper it's written on and remember to bring it to the computer.

Meanwhile, as to squash/pumpkin stories: Amy, can't you share valuable wisdom with us about making pumpkin muffins from scratch? :)

-- SJ

Sqaush Stories

I know that many of us have recently been attempting to tackle that Godzilla of vegetables, the winter squash. Unparalleled in frugality, nutrition, and difficulty of cooking, the various winter squashes pose a unique challenge to the chef. I, for one, am not satisfied with my current method of tackling the beasts.

Perhaps we can improve by pooling our knowledge. So here's the challenge: post your most recent squash-related adventures. Please include the type of squash, the approach you took to get it from a raw solid lump to digestible portions, how long it took, the end dish or dishes for which it was used, your overall level of satisfaction with the experience, and what you might do differently next time (if there is a next time). If you have multiple experiences that would provide insight, feel free to make multiple posts.

I'll be back and add mine once I finish with it. So far it's a tossup which of us will lose our skin first.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

WDIDWT? Whole Chickens

Has anyone come across instructions on how to dismember a whole chicken? We have a relatively inexpensive source for organic chickens, but they come whole. Usually I just toss the whole beastie in the crockpot and then take the meat off for casseroles, but every once in awhile I want a dish with distinct chicken pieces. And I've never been able to find instructions on where to cut to get those neat little drumsticks and thighs and breasts. So I just hack away, a tedious and messy process which severely imperils my fingers.

It might not help any, but it seems like a nice clear diagram would be useful.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Diner

I have a healthful-eating manual from somewhere in my past life. It’s packed with great information and recipes. Of course, I say this on faith, since I’ve never actually read it, but I’m sure it’s good stuff. However, sorting through my cookbooks the other day, I found it and opened it randomly to a chapter entitled “Dining Out.” As I read the author’s suggestions, an image began to take form in my head: The Patron from Healthy Hell.

Based on her advice, here is the scene that unfolds, striking a chill into my former-waitress's heart:

"Good afternoon. My name is Lisa and I’ll be your server today. What can I get you?”

“Yes, um, do you use sulfites?”

“Excuse me?”

“On your salad bar. Do you use sulfites to preserve the freshness of your salad greens?”

“I don’t know, probably we do...”

“Because sulfites were banned ten years ago by the FDA, but I know public places don’t always adhere to rules like that.”

“We adhere to all the health regulations. I’m sure there’s no sulfur on the salad bar.”


“Right. So would you like to order the salad bar?”

“Possibly, but I was looking at the salads here on the menu. The tuna salad – is that water-packed tuna?”

“Ummm... yes. It comes in water.”

“Or this taco salad looks good, too.”

“The taco salad is excellent.”

“Great, I think I’ll have that. With chicken instead of red meat, also less meat and more of the garden ingredients, and a reduced supply of chips.”

“Right. Would you like refried beans with that?”

“Oh. Hm. Are they high in fat and too salty?”

“They’re... well, I guess it depends on your taste.”

“Well, then, could I have a sample?”

“Yes, of course. If that’s all, I’ll bring your food to you shortly.”

“Thank you.”

** A few minutes later. **

“Ma’am, I’m very sorry, but we can’t substitute chicken on the taco salad.”

“You can’t? Why not? Never mind, let me see what else there is.”

“May I recommend the spaghetti? You can order the sauce without meat.”

“Oh, I save pasta dishes for home, where I can make whole-grain pasta. I’ll take this chicken sandwich. Is it broiled or baked?”

“Broiled, I believe. What kind of bread?”

“Hm. This whole-wheat bread... is it entirely whole-wheat?”

“I don’t know. It looks like it.”

“Yes, well, I doubt it is. I’ll take the sourdough. It’s easier to digest.”

“Thank you for that information. Would you like a side dish? The choices are rice pilaf, baked potato, or mashed potatoes.”

“I assume the rice pilaf uses white rice?”


“And the mashed potatoes doubtless are from a box. Definitely the baked potato.”

“I hesitate to ask, but would you like butter and sour cream on that?”

“No butter! But if you could mix a little sour cream with some cottage cheese or plain yogurt, that would be great. Oh, I see that you have soups.”

“I was afraid you’d see that.”

“This chicken soup looks good. But is the broth made with much fat?”

“I don’t know, I don’t make the food.”

“I’d like a sample, please. And make it ‘not salty.’ I don’t suppose they’re homemade soups?”

“I don’t suppose.”

“Too bad, they’re always much better.”

“Yes, it makes you wonder why some people even bother to eat at restaurants, doesn’t it? I’ll be back shortly with your food.”

-- SJ

Do Not Do This: Onions in Ziplocs

In an (as it proved, unnecessary) attempt to save space in my cooler of food to have on hand during electioneering activities, I decided to put the red onions in a ziploc. They're mild, right? They'll be fine.

Wrong. By the time we took them out of the cooler and ate them, the odor in the cooler had achieved toxic proportions. Bleck.

Nonetheless, the pita pockets I had intended to make with them turned out exceedingly well, even if we didn't have time to eat them until we got home late that evening. Next time, though, I'll put the filling in tupperware.

Red State Pita Pockets
1 lb. round steak
2 T. olive oil
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 t. salt
1 t. cumin
1 t. chili powder

Trim steak and slice thin. (Note: this is easiest if the steak is slightly frozen.) Mix other ingredients and sautee steak strips until cooked through. Chill. Serve in pita pockets (whole wheat are good) with:
sliced red onions
sliced red pepper
sliced red tomato
monterey jack cheese

Monday, November 01, 2004

More With Avacados

Avacados being high in both fat and price, this recipe isn't exactly *useful.* But it makes a great dessert, rather different from the usual sort.

Our friend Peter gave us this recipe after he served the dessert at our All Saints' Day Party. He got it from, although his directions are written in, um, slightly different form. Enjoy!

Crème de Abacate (Mushy Green Stuff)


2 medium Avocados
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup ice water

Peel and slice the avocado, discarding the whopping huge pit, or saving it because they look really cool and would be useful for... um, something. Someday. Maybe.

With the blender on "liquefy", throw the avocados, lime juice, and sugar in from 10 feet away... or, place all three ingredients into the blender, firmly place the top on, and then press "liquefy"... the choice is yours.

Puree until completely smooth, adding water if the puree is stiff (I tried several different batches, and found that adding the water with the other ingredients produced the best results for pouring. Otherwise, you will have a stiffer product, though the avocado whip makes for a decent greasing agent if WD-40 is unavailable).

If the product is lumpy, or resembles some gosh-awful concoction from the Star Wars Cantina, force through a wire strainer with electric cattle prods. It might still look like something from the cantina, but it'll be smoother, darnit!

Cocoa, orange slices, and coconut were added as garnishes and aren't part of the recipe. Add whichever garnishes you would most enjoy, I would recommend green olive and pimentos on a toothpick with some salsa... but then my taste-buds are slightly odd.

Trusty toasters

I thought about titling this post, 'The Unexpected Benefits of Using Toaster Ovens: Why This Surprisingly Dynamic Appliance Will Change Your Approach to Cooking,' because I found, to my surprise, at least one person who hadn't thought about all the creative ways this handy-dandy little tool can assist in the kitchen. However. Just in case you have one and haven't thoroughly exploited all its many uses, this post is for you.

We have a small oven-style toaster that I keep on the counter at all times because I'm always using it. There are two settings: Toast, and Bake, which comes with oven temperatures, all the way up to Broil. It's a real oven, all right.

* It toasts, obviously. Also it's good for re-heating stuff - especially one serving at a time - that needs to be crisped up: I pop the bowl in the microwave to get it heated through, and then put it in the toaster to crisp it up (recently for this purpose: crumble topping on leftover peach cobbler; crunchy onion topping on green bean casserole).

* It bakes. I can fit (just barely) a standard bread pan in my toaster oven, so I can use it for banana bread when I don't want to turn on the whole oven for 55 minutes. It also comes with a tray that can double as a very small cookie sheet, for small batches of cookies or, I suppose, biscuits.

* It cooks. Especially now when there are only two of us, I can easily fit a casserole into a bread pan. I've made spaghetti pies, chicken pot pies, breaded chicken dishes, and meatloaf in the toaster oven. This is wonderful for me because if I turn the whole oven on, I usually have to make something else to put in or else I feel wasteful.

It's a convenient and practical shortcut when I'm in a hurry and don't want to turn on the whole oven. Highly recommended!