Sunday, May 10, 2009

5 Easy Dishes for preserving your sanity

I've been AWOL from DomesticMuse. I have missed blogland-- reading the blogs that always brighten my day and posting to my own. Things around here have been, well, CRAZY. And look to stay that way for a while-- as I will be traveling for business this week AND next week. This week I'm going to Atlanta (work HQ) for the nostalgic occasion of the very last SOLINET Annual Membership Meeting. It's the last because on April 1 we merged with PALINET, another library consortium, to become Lyrasis. So SOLINET, the Southeastern Library Information Network, no longer actually exists. But our membership meeting has been scheduled for a year now, so SAMM09 it is. It should be a blast-- I really love getting to know our members. And I'll be getting to know my new colleagues as well. But it sure does make things so hectic at home!!

I'll be gone Wed.-Fri., back late Friday evening. And next week, I travel to the Johnson County Public Library (near Indianapolis) to begin working with staff there on redesigning some processes.

When I'm busy and stressed, cooking is very soothing, even though I don't have a lot of time. So I compromise by falling back on old (and new!) favorites--- that are easy to prepare and delicious and comforting to eat. That way, we don't have to be on what Kendra over at Homegrown Housewife so aptly calls the "all-fatty, all-nasty" chain restaurant diet. (Hers was the "all-fatty, all-nasty lunchables and peanut butter diet" that her poor family has been on due to illness.)

Here are my 5 EASY DISHES for when life is moving a little too fast:
  • Reeni's Spaghetti and Meatballs
  • Match-Made_in-Heaven Broccoli & Bacon Salad
  • Vanilla Malted Milk Ice Cream
  • Cherry-Almond Shortbread Crumble
  • Butterscotch Finger Cakes
Several of these tried-and-true gems are from the cherished blogs of pan-pals. (Thanks, ladies! What did I DO before I met you?)

I. At the top of my list is Reeni's Spaghetti and Meatballs, from Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice. OMG, it is the stuff of the gods. I had to positively beat the guys away from the kitchen while it was cooking. They kept wandering over to say how good it smelled and ask when we would eat (in the middle of the afternoon!!). I call it "easy" because you can fix it and then let it simmer while you go about your very busy business.

I'm telling you, Reeni is an absolute genius. When we were growing up, my mother NEVER!!!! made meatballs. Never. Seriously. She told me it was because in our family "we" didn't like them. Having made them a few times myself over the years, I am now pretty sure that what "we" didn't like was not the meatballs, but the mess meatballs make in the kitchen. Reeni has solved that problem ingeniously by baking the meatballs. What an awesome idea! No muss, no fuss, and buh-bye, grease! Reeni's meatballs are fantastic! Spicy, flavorful, tender, juicy. Pretty much meatball heaven. You can find Reeni's recipe here.

First, soak some bread cubes in milk. Reeni says to take off the crust, but I cheated and didn't.

Then you combine all your meatball ingredients in a bowl, and form into golf-ball sized balls. (This is easier if with wet hands.) One thing I did was to add about 1 c. of water to make the meatballs fluffy and tender. Aren't they beautiful? They are about to go into the oven here. (Well, OK, some of them ARE litte conehead meatballs, but what's not to love?)

AND coming OUT of the oven!

While the meatballs are baking, you can make the sauce. First, saute the onion, garlic and peppers in olive oil.

Then add the rest of the sauce ingredients.

Add the meatballs and let it all simmer, Reeni says at least 35-45 minutes, but the longer the better. You should stir from time to time, but be careful, it does spatter! You can see it has just bubbled here.

I've added my meatballs to the sauce here.

Since my afternoon was going to be really busy, I started the sauce at about 2 and let it simmer several hours until dinner, while I dashed about doing stuff. Since there would be several hours for the flavors to blend, I added my own personal favorite "secret" ingredient for any Italian soup or sauce: some parmesan rind. When the cheese is too thin to grate anymore, I save the rinds, which are still 100% cheese, just for this purpose. (I keep 'em in the freezer, wrapped in waxed paper and inside a ziptop bag.)

It's easy to see the distinctive little dots on the cheese rind that tell you it's real Italian Parmigiano Reggiano. It gives a wonderful, wonderful flavor to anything it simmers in! Depending on how long you simmer it, it will either stay mostly in one piece or just meld into the sauce/soup. If it is still in one piece at serving time, you can remove it and dice it up in little bitty pieces and then return to the sauce so everyone can enjoy it. (Or just save it for a special treat for you, warm with some crusty bread!)

Serve the meatballs and sauce over real spaghetti with more real parmigiano.

It doesn't get much better than this!

II. Broccoli Salad
This broccoli salad is perfect for rounding out a simple meal. It is colorful and super delicious. Even DC, never a big broccoli fan, loves this salad. It's so much tastier and fun than plain old steamed broccoli. I love steamed broccoli, but it's nice to get out of that rut sometimes. And the fact that it's a salad is particularly nice at this time of year when the weather is getting warmer. We had this for dinner on Saturday along with Kat and Matt's delicious Peanut Turkey Burgers and my beloved oven-baked sweet potato steak fries, both of which I blogged about here. The broccoli salad is nice for a potluck, too and very often is one of the first dishes to be emptied, I've noticed. It is a Shirley Corriher recipe which I have modifed a bit to suit my taste.

Mrs. Jellybelly, this is for you!! OK, let's be honest, is not everything in the world just better when you add THIS??

Yes, indeedy, here we have 8 crispy slices of WF's finest applewood smoked bacon, and one of the secrets to this salad's success. The other is the sweet-tart dressing, which I simply adore. I must caution you, however, from eating too much of salad at once, as it CAN be toot-producing.

Match-Made-in-Heaven Broccoli and Bacon Salad
serves 6-8

3-4 c. broccoli florets, with about 1/2 in. of stem attached (save the remaining stems for another use)
8 slices bacon (your favorite kind)
1/3 c. dried currants OR raisins of choice (I was out of currants so I used golden raisins)
1 sweet white onion, peeled, halved lengthwise (through the north and south pole), thinly sliced cross-wise and separated into "rings"
1/2 c. mayonnaise (preferrably Hellmann's or homemade)
1/3 c. sugar
3 T. apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

First, get your bacon started. I like to bake mine-- first, you don't have to mess with it much, except to turn it once; and second, it cooks up flat and pretty and browns evenly. I put mine on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake in a PREHEATED 400F for 10 minutes, then turn and put it back in the oven. Check for doneness at 7 min. I like mine extra-crisp, so I often put it back in for a couple of minutes. Be careful not to leave it too long, because it can burn slap up on you faster than you would think. The kitchen timer is most definitely our friend here. When the bacon is browned to my taste, I let it drain on paper towels. The reason I say make sure the oven is already preheated is that I found, tragically, that stuff burns if you put it in the oven while it's preheating. (I could get away with this on my old stove.)

While the bacon is cooking, prep your broccoli. OK, let me just say it-- we are going to COOK the broccoli. I just can't handle raw broccoli, either taste-wise or otherwise. I think the reason many people do not care for broccoli is that it is either chronically undercooked, unchewable, and cabbagy-tasting, or over-cooked and bitter, or undersalted and bland.

My broccoli-wrangling method, developed over years of rigorous testing, is simple and fool-proof. Fill a 4-qt. saucepan 3/4 full of water, and add 1-2 t. salt. (Worry not, we will drain off the cooking water, and the salt will bring out the best of the broccoli.) Bring the water to a boil over hight heat. Add your broccoli florets and cook for EXACTLY 4 minutes from the time you drop them in the water. Meanwhile, prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large heat-proof bowl with half ice and half water, and set on the counter. Set a colander or mesh strainer in the sink. When the broccoli is done, dump hot broccoli into the strainer in the sink (sayonara, cooking water!) and then plunk the whole thing, strainer and all, into the ice bath to stop the broccoli from cooking any further. It should be perfect-- tender, flavorful, and digestible, but not overdone. When it's completely cool, remove the broccoli from the ice bath and drain.

I also have a trick for making raw onions more enjoyable. Slice them up, then soak in water and ice for 20 minutes.

Remove and drain well on paper towels. The ice water takes the edge off the raw onion flavor, and makes them incredibly crisp and juicy. I made the mistake of mentioning to confirmed onion-hater DS that I had added a sweet vidalia onion to the salad, and his response was "Onions??? I thought those were cucumbers!" whereupon he stopped eating them and began picking all of the onion slices out of his salad. GRRRRRRR!!!! Teenage boys!

In your serving bowl, combine the mayo and the sugar. Whisk well. Then add the cider vinegar, whisking well to get rid of any lumps.

When you are ready to serve the salad, add the broccoli, currants or raisins, onions, and toss thorougly with the dressing. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle on top.

NOTE: if you are not planning to eat all of this at one time, use and combine only as much dressing and other ingredients as you will eat at one sitting. Package all the leftover components separately, and combine them just before you plan to eat them. Otherwise, your broccoli will turn a very unattractive shade of gray-green and your bacon and raisins will get soggy. Ewwwwww! Not pleasant.


I have shamelessly adapted this recipe slightly from Kat's heavenly-delicious Red Velvet Gelato Sandwiches. If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, I might well choose the sandwiches!! This ice cream has an amazing flavor-- rich and toasty, and sooooooooo much better than plain vanilla ice cream. It's fabulous all by itself, but is also a perfect foil for all kinds of baked goodies. I oomphed up the flavor with some vanilla powder (I love that stuff!) and extra malted milk powder. You must have an ice cream maker to prepare this, but it could hardly be simpler.

In a 4 c. glass measure, combine 2 c. whole milk and 1 c. heavy cream. Heat in the microwave until warm, about 2 minutes. Add 3/4 c. sugar, 3/4 c. malted milk powder, and 2 t. vanilla powder (or vanilla extract). Stir until ingredients are dissolved. Pour into a stainless steel bowl and immerse the bowl in an ice water bath.

Whisk until mixture is cold. Pour into your ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's directions.

That's all there is to it! Store in an airtight container in the freezer.

IV. Cherry-Almond Shortbread Crumble

Looking for something to go with that ice cream?? This is the perfect accompaniment. DC is so totally a fruit pie man. I am so totally a cake and custard and chocolate nut. Can this happy home be saved?? Yes!!! Fruit dessert + creamy delicious accompaniment=relationship heaven. OK, just so you know, I am SO totally cheating here. I took Donna's Easiest Fruit Tart EVER recipe from My Tasty Treasures, made a few small changes, and gave it a new name. I admit I am positively unAmerican (or at least, as unAmerican as an American Indian can be), but I have never really cared for cherry (any fruit, really) pie. Don't like pie crust in general, and am not so crazy about uh, glueyness of pie filling. However, this "tart" crust tastes just like shortbread cookies to me, and it has made me a fruit tart fan. Plus, it's so easy, even I can't mess up the crust!

Preheat your oven to 350F. Now, for the secret ingredient: process 1/2 c. slivered almonds (toasted if you like) in the food processor until they are the consistency of coarse crumbs.

Next, combine 3 c. of flour and 1/2 c. of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add 2 sticks of butter, melted, and mix until dough is crumbly, but holds together when squeezed.

Pat 1/2 of the shortbread mixture into the bottom and slightly up the sides of a springform pan. (I need some new pans. The non-stick coating is starting to come off.)

Cover the bottom crust with the ground almonds, spreading them evenly. Now, open a can of cherry pie filling and pour a little into the pan on top of the almonds. Add 1 t. pure almond extract to the can and stir well. Then pour the rest of the filling into the crust, leaving about 1/4 "of crust around the sides. Now crumble the rest of the shortbread dough over the top of the cherries and almonds. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until golden.

EASY!!! YUMMY!!!! Serve warm with malted milk ice cream. It's like a trip to the soda fountain, but better!

Papa Bear plate

Baby Bear plate

Mama Bear plate

V. Butterscotch Finger Cakes

These incredibly scrumptious little treats are from Bunny's Warm Oven. They are just fabulous, they literally melt in your mouth. Bunny's turned out much prettier than mine, but they are very simple to make and fantastic to have on hand for afterschool snacks or to enjoy with afternoon tea! DS adores them.

The original recipe is from King Arthur Flour (my favorite!!!), who created them in memory of the long-departed and apparently deeply missed "Tasty Kake Butterscotch Krimpet." I never had the pleasure of tasting a Krimpet, but I cannot imagine it could be any more delicious than these wonderful finger cakes. Here is the recipe.

Butterscotch Finger Cakes from King Arthur Recipe Site

This is a very good snack cake that will travel ...

See Butterscotch Finger Cakes from King Arthur Recipe Site on Key Ingredient.

Bunny, you are a woman after my own heart!!

Well, these are 5 of my faves for when the going gets tough. I hope to be back soon with more exciting and original recipes, but lately, it's been back to basics at our house.

Hope everyone enjoyed Mother's Day yesterday! DS actually made breakfast in bed for DC and me. I was so proud of him! He is a real sweetie pie.

Me and DS (at my office in Chicago(


  1. These are great dishes! Good luck with all your travels!

  2. Everything looks great...I've missed ya!

  3. How sweet that your son made breakfast for you! I'm so happy that you all liked my meatballs. I love your idea of adding water-I do that with my burgers. And the parmesan rind-genius!! You may be busy but your still cooking up a storm. Everything looks great! I especially like the butterscotch fingers-they remind me of vanilla zingers. I haven't had one of them in so long. Good to hear from you-I missed ya!

  4. HUGE... this post was DID you do it?

  5. Hi, Karen!
    what a great posting!!!Great dishes!!
    I love your picture with your sweet son!
    My son didn't make me breakfast, because he couldn't get up in the morning!! LOL!
    Yes!! You should be proud of your son, Karen!
    Have a safe trip!

  6. Fabulous and I am so glad to have a few easy don't-go-crazy dishes! First - my mom made spaghetti and meatballs and it wasn't until years later why I understood why the sauce was so greasy and oily - she cooked the meatballs in the sauce. Yuck! These baked meatballs and the sauce look absolutely luscious!

    Broccoli salad looks wonderful! Yet, sadly, I am the only broccoli lover in the family :-( and hubby refuses to allow me to cook them because of the cabbagy smell :-(
    But DS picking out the onion bits when he realized they weren't cucumbers? LOL!!!

    I LOVE cherry filling! This recipe looks divine, yet I would have to make my own cherry filling as the canned stuff doesn't sell in France. But this crumble looks soooo worth it!

    Great post! Great recipes!

  7. Ha ha! I'm sure it will not surprise you to know that the broccoli salad is my favorite salad of all time! Although I use half broccoli and half cauliflower.

    And those meatballs? Oh my gosh! I could practically taste them just looking at the picture. Will definitely try. Thanks for all the great recipes.

    Enjoy your trip(s) - see you when you get back!

  8. I was wondering where you were because you haven't posted for a while but you sure made up for it with this post. Lots of really fantastic food. Love Reeni's meatballs and the broccoli-bacon salad is one of my favorites.
    When I saw the picture of the butterscotch finger cakes, I immediately thought they looked like the Tasty Kake Krimpets which I totally loved... I mean totally, totally loved when I was younger, then read a few lines later that they are similar. Thanks for the recipe. I'm making them today!

  9. Karen.. Good to see you back, missed you, Ive been away for a bit too.. crazy isnt it when life gets in the way of blogging??

    Your dishes look fantastic, every single one.. I must try those butterfinger bar thingies. I love the adaptations you made to my fruit tart, Ill have to try it that way next time.

  10. I'm so glad you liked the Tasty cake recipe, it's definetly a winner! I love all these recipes, I want to make the meatballs and broccoli salad!!

  11. Delicious dishes - definitely worth trying out! Travel safely!


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