Kindred Cookbook: Cash Money Cookies

Growing up, I don’t think my mom or grandma knew about saturated fats, trans fats, the general dangers of sugar, or the terrorist type plot all dessert-like food seem to be cooking up while we cave to our addicted sweet tooth. It was never a concern. Sugar flowed like cocaine in Pulp Fiction. Butter lived in abundance. Growing up on a dairy farm, my mom recalls mornings when they’d use fresh cream as the topping for cereal. No wonder their cheeks look so rosy and plump in photos.

Desserts, namely in the handy form of cookies, were always readily available, happily nestled in wax paper and old Danish butter cookie tins (a theme of butter can be traced throughout my childhood). In school lunches, two or three at a time would be tucked in next to a summer sausage sandwich. I probably cackled a bit when I saw others had to satisfy themselves with Chips Ahoy.

After school, cookies or ice cream treats found their way into my probably already sticky fingers. And after supper, there was a different sweet treat to satisfy a final craving. This it seems is part of my family’s kitchen culture. My great grandmother Marian would always have coffee and cookies for whomever came to visit. Originally from Denmark, this is apparently part of Scandinavian hospitality (a tradition I could sign onto), and these were one of the classics that were commonly present.

 

Million Dollar Cookies

Recipe:

1 cup shortening (either Crisco or margarine, I used Crisco)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 egg

2 cups flour

1 t. cream of tartar

1 t. baking soda

1 t. vanilla

Cream together with blender shortening, sugars, egg, and vanilla. Then mix in dry ingredients. Chill for 30 minutes to overnight (Mom recommends overnight to allow flavors ((vanilla and sugar?)) to meld. Chilling does make forming the cookie balls easier.

Bake at 350 degrees for  10 minutes. Grandma says recipe makes about 40 cookies, but in my experience, that’s a gross overestimate. Unless your cookies are quarter size, I’m betting you’ll average around two dozen…also depending on how much cookie batter you ingest pre-oven.

I cleverly forgot to cream my sugars and shortening, making the texture of the batter more crumb-like than what you’d expect. That could have led to the more shortbread type consistency of the final product. If you’re looking for an ooey-gooey center, move along. The Million Dollar Cookie doesn’t have time for your half-baked shenanigans.

This cookie basically baked itself and certainly didn’t cost a million dollars. I was able to comfortably whip them up in about 10 minutes, removing time for photo posing of course. And you always have to help yourself to a few fresh from the oven.

Save your brunch reputation: All-in-one quiche

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Behind every one of these glorious, drool-worthy photos is about six dirty dishes. While I hope everyone is buying into the idea my kitchen is as clean and organized as the pictures could allude to, that is a misconception akin to believing Twinkies have an incredibly long shelf life (fun fact: Twinkies are good for about 45 days). No, the way I cook is not graceful and is honestly without much thought.

Brief examples of my careless cooking technique:

  1. I commonly try to flip things that with my eye-hand coordination result in at least half of the food on the burner, smoking up the kitchen in a matter of seconds.
  2. I always, ALWAYS try to “soften” butter in the microwave, but end up melting half of it all over the microwave tray. This, of course, leaves me no choice but to use a piece of bread to lap up the golden nectar that is buttah.
  3. When I cook, I require an apron. For the safety of my shirt of course, but also because I tend to wipe my hands constantly on my jeans. There is a pair that’s so coated with flour in the seams, they look vaguely acid washed.
  4. The shopping list is never complete and a grocery run mid-recipe is generally required to complete any dish. Almost makes that Samsung refrigerator camera seem like a logical option rather than a first-world misuse of technology. Almost.
  5. If I’m cooking, I can be exceptionally cavalier about the needed ingredients, questioning the recipe writer like we all did Britney Spear’s sanity in 2007. But I’m a devoted recipe follower when baking is involved. I know you don’t mess with science.

It’s understandable that watching me cook can make my mom’s toes curl…Kind of like how when she’d ride in the car with me during the learner’s permit era and press the imaginary brake on the floorboard. It wasn’t exactly subtle, but neither was I when taking corners.

But for an experienced cook to watch another would-be chef blunder about, it must be torturous. This quiche is actually one of the first dishes I made for my mom when she visited me for the weekend. Barefoot in my kitchen, I slopped the quiche mixture on the floor, over-poured the Bisquick mix, and was a general human tornado. Despite the process, the brunch was a complete success. The quick quiche gave me enough time to whip up muffins (via Betty Crocker, my heroine), chia seed pudding fruit parfaits, mimosas, and coffee.  It may have been the mimosas, but I saw in my mom’s eye this was the meal that showed her I could cook.

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All-in-one quiche

Ingredients

1 1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup Bisquick

2 tablespoons of soft butter

3 eggs

1/4 tablespoon salt

1 cup dice ham, bacon, or sausage

One medium onion or 2 green onions (finely chopped)

A single 4 oz. can of mushrooms (drained)

1 cup of cheddar cheese

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Directions:

Beat the first five ingredients together. My mom always used her blender to mix the ingredients, so I decided to give my Nutribullet a heftier call in life than blending frozen fruit. Worked out well, but now with the mixer having “tasted” meat, I’m not sure if it can go back…

Next, stir in the meat, onion, and mushrooms to the mixture. I added fresh parsley and tomato slices on top for color and, ya know, taste.

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Pour into an ungreased pie pan and sprinkle the cheese on top. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake about 45 minutes or until golden brown. Take from the oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

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Words of wisdom: This quiche doesn’t have a great structure to it for plating. The Bisquick forms a type of crust on the bottom, but it’s about as flimsy as any of the Bachelor’s girlfriend pairings. You can also add various types veggies or different cheeses to the recipe, customizing it to your heart’s or taste bud’s desire. Easily reheated in the microwave, it’s a great breakfast or lunch dish for later. I would caution against trying to freeze it. However ,you won’t have enough leftovers to even try to stow it away for a rainy day.

The all-in-one quiche is a dish that’s meant to be shared. This weekend save some moola and invite the brunch crew over to kick it old school in the kitchen. While trendy restaurants will always have their appeal and do remain at the core of my social outings (sorry friends, you’re important too), your kitchen is the most intimate of dining settings and is always in style. And if they’re truly your friends, they won’t judge your careless cooking technique too harshly.

Kindred Cookbook: Ode to the Original Meatball

There’s a childhood memory I fall back on when I think about meatballs. Like many other 1990s Millennials, Disney heavily influenced certain aspects of my youth including, oddly enough, meatballs. You may remember the now classic scene in “Lady and the Tramp” where Tramp oh-so graciously nudges the final meatball to Lady, where she bashfully flaps her long eyelashes up at him (seriously though, those lashes should get an endorsement from a makeup brand. Those puppies are thick).

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And then she doesn’t eat the meatball. All romantic notions are squashed and stomped on in this moment. Thusly, my young self determined the “meatz-a-ballz” Tony served up to his four-legged clientele left something to be desired.

Conclusion – My mom’s meatballs were far superior, a thought I continue to stand by today. Disney has yet to prove me wrong.

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My grandma was the first to actually create and record this recipe for the collection and its a dish I’ve long enjoyed. Often advertised as a quick and easy meal (though by my standards it takes a slight bit more effort), Mom would throw this meatball dish together between teaching guitar or piano lessons, popping them in the oven just as her next student walked through the door to play another halting rendition of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.” My mom’s patience clearly stretched beyond the kitchen.

Paired generally with a baked potato and frozen sweetcorn (one of the many benefits of having a farmer’s daughter background and access to a garden rivaling Adam and Eve’s), this is a true Kristiansen family classic. Yes, that was the alternate title to this blog series.

I paired my meatballs with boiled colorful potatoes and fresh parsley.
I paired my meatballs with boiled colorful potatoes and fresh parsley.

I must note I’ve never once eaten these meatballs with spaghetti before, which may unintentionally categorize them as Swedish meatballs (the brown sauce listed below may also assist in that labeling). I chalk this up to my mom and grandma never being big fans of pasta in general. Upon further reflection, the only hot pasta I’ve ever seen grace my grandma’s table is buttered noodles with breadcrumb topping. Yes, it is as caloric and beautifully buttery as it sounds. My mom has always said she doesn’t see the point of paying for pasta in a restaurant because it’s a cheap food people dish out too much for (the true secret to success for Olive Garden and Noodles and Company).

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Grandma’s Original Meatballs

Ingredients:

1/2 lbs. ground beef

One medium sized onion chopped fine

2 T. “catsup” as Grandma wrote

Dry bread crumbs as needed

1/4 cup oatmeal

1/2 t. salt and pepper

Directions:

Just combine all the ingredients. You can make the size of the meatball as you wish. Do take care not to handle them too much in the “ballin'” process to avoid making them tough.

The words “as needed” are as terrifying to a new cook as “10% battery remaining” are to anyone else. But for the bread crumbs, it really is all about touch. The consistency of your meatball should be moist, but not fall apart.

You can also brown on the stove top or just put in a dish and cover with either of the sauces listed below.

Alternatively, you can bake the meatballs in a casserole dish or (as Grandma directly writes) “the old-time way is in a cast-iron skillet.” Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the meatball, at 350 degrees.

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Sauce option number one:

Ingredients:

1 can of cream of celery or mushroom soup

Dash of Worcestershire sauce

1/3 of the soup can full of milk

Optional: A few drops of brown gravy sauce

Directions:

Mix and spread over meatballs when about half way cooked.

Sauce option number two – Tomato (as pictured)

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Ingredients:

3 T. brown sugar

1/4 cup “catsup”

1 t. dry mustard

3 T. vinegar

Directions:

Combine and spread over meatballs a bit before they’re completely cooked. Grandma notes this sauces is more than needed for 1/2 lbs of meat, but it keeps and you’re able to just save for later. Though I’m unsure what this would be a good addition to…Ideas, anyone?

Overall

I must note I find it fairly hilarious this sauce is labeled as a “tomato sauce.” That’s giving catsup higher praise than it probably deserves and falls into the Congress-esque thinking that a form tomato puree constitutes a vegetable. Perhaps this falls more under the category of a glaze?

Meatballs, I feel, are continually undervalued. For their quick preparation (not counting photo time, prep took me about 20 minutes for both meat and sauce/glaze) and overall taste, why have we limited meatballs to play the unloved sidekick to spaghetti or to be consumed when visiting Ikea?

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Easily frozen or just sorted into various meal-prep containers, the meatballs are a great and simple supplement to a winter dinner. Warm, moist, and hearty, they fill that special section of the stomach only meat and potatoes can satisfy.

Kindred Cookbook: Recipes from my family history

Fate basically sent me my New Year’s resolution. Or challenge, if you prefer. Fate happened to come in the form of my mother and grandmother, as it oddly and frequently seems to do. And also in the not so humanistic form of a cookbook. Since acquiring an apartment and subsequent kitchen of my own, Mom and Grandma have cheered me on in my maiden voyage of culinary culture in a manner not unlike an overzealous Zumba teacher (“YOU can do this! You have it in you to fulfill your grocery needs!”). If we were to follow this analogy, I’m essentially that person in the back row, awkwardly three steps behind, my ponytail hitting others in the face during attempts to “shimmy.”

In a loving effort to more deeply immerse me in my galley-style kitchen, my mom and grandma kindly put pen to paper, recording all of their timeless recipes. Classy chicken continental, a meatloaf so moist it makes all others look like old hags that spent too long in the sun, and a pie crust that has won many a county fair blue ribbon. Did I mention we’re from the Midwest?

A total of 85 recipes carefully collected over a combined 148 years (you can guess the ages of Mom and Grandma, though with that total I’m guessing neither would be pleased if you did). By no means is this a summary of their time spent in the kitchen, but for a chef that’s more of a hash slinger, this is beyond an adequate jumping off point. And this year, on this blog, I’m cooking through them all.

My goodness, what am I getting myself into?

The recipes thankfully vary in skill level (Easy day? Hello, cheese strata! Ready for a challenge? Step on up Swedish Plätta. Grandma thankfully subtitled that as tiny, thin pancakes). Each week will come a new recipe and an adventure in my 4×6 foot workshop. I’m predicting my grocery bill and floor scrubbing will at least double. But I’m hoping so will my understanding of this foreign kitchen land (not that I haven’t visited, but I’m not a frequent flyer per say). Mom and Grandma are the kitchen equivalent to the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team in Rio. Unshakable, eyes on the prize, and simply put, solid. Though perhaps a bit less flexible.

To enter into their kitchen during crunch time is kind of like being the away team at homecoming. Intimidating and scarily impressive. With the upper body strength of a football player, I’ve watched Mom lug a 20 pound turkey from the oven. Grandma has broken blazing hot buns apart with her bare hands! Sometimes I find the dishwater too warm! But now I’ll have the home team advantage, knowing where all my utensils are and making nice with the vintage oven that can flare up temperature tantrums akin to Alec Baldwin.

For those of you who are preparing to brave this journey with me, thank you. I of course welcome any advice you’re willing to impart. Anyone who is anticipating this blog to be filled with cholesterol-friendly, heart-happy, fuel food, I will kindly direct thee elsewhere. My family’s Midwestern roots rear their heads (vines?) through recipes like the beloved Tater Tot Casserole (Hot Dish, for my Minnesota friends. Though that argument is for another time), Molasses Crinkles, and dare I say it, Potato Chip Cookies. So, if your New Year’s Resolution involved decreasing your trans fats, carbs, and consequently, happiness, begin that search elsewhere. If you’re placing yourself in dietary detention, welcome to your new homepage for food porn.

 

In 2017, be just a little nicer

When I first popped over to my pal Merriam-Webster for a quick recap of the first grade vocab word “nice,” definition number one caught me off guard like Brad and Angelina’s divorce.

Nice: obsolete, wanton, showing fastidious or finicky tastes

I quickly start recapping all the small comments I took as compliments (“Oh, she’s so nice!”) and wonder if I’ve been secretly procuring frenemies for years.

Thankfully, a list of synonyms saved 23 years of personal interactions and returned to me more solid vocab ground…kind, polite, virtuous, respectable. But it seems the compassion I mentally associated with the term doesn’t shine through as clearly as I thought it did.

Guy Raz with NPR Ted Talks agrees. This concept of compassion is a character trait reserved more for Nicholas Sparks novels than in regular work day. We can create a hard uncaring exterior made up of excuses for work, a full schedule, hiding behind a computer screen, or simple, “not my problem.” But compassion is a muscle and one that’s decidedly more important than toning your bum or any other body part on you New Year’s resolution gym list.

During one episode of TED Radio Hour, guest Krista Tippett sums it up, well, nicely.

Compassion is making a choice to honor other people’s humanity. It’s something we can decide we’re going to practice much like throwing a ball. The choice to be compassionate can become instinctive with practice.”

Listen to the full TED Radio Hour episode with more from Tippett, a former nun, a Fox News contributor who gets hundreds of hate mail letters a day, and the man who says digital screens are getting in the way of the transformative power of compassion, here.

So, as we sit down to carve out the future of 2017, let’s all make one small note to…just be a little nicer.

Glance it over gift guide – 2016

 Seven sleeps until Christmas! And if your holiday shopping isn’t wrapped up (there’s a not too subtle pun), you may be dreaming of disappointment under the Christmas tree instead of sugar plums.
Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all my people. The glance it over gift guide is here for your immediate perusal.
A note or two on the selections you’ll find here: Largely, use this for inspiration. While I’m sure my mother and yours would gratefully accept a picture frame with our lovely mugs in it, she would probably throw it back in fury if I told her it was a “Preowned 1920s Tiffany & Co gold picture frame” retailing at $3,500. “That’s a cruise to a warmer and happier place,” she’d cry.
Secondly, while having a physical object to place under the Christmas tree is a tradition, the best Christmas gifts don’t fit in brightly colored boxes. Give the gift of your time. It sounds like the last line of a Hallmark movie, but I swear, they’re on to something! A lunch date, chit chat in a coffee shop, or just time on the couch catching up carries more lasting memories than any personalized mug. And technically, this is the most expensive present of all…because nothing is more valuable than time (cue the “Awwwwws” and Bing Crosby).
Gifts for Mom
If your mom is like mine, her Christmas list is generally full of useful things, but maybe not the most fun. Make sure she gets something unexpected this year she can enjoy without having it tied to a chore.
Christmas gifts for Mom
Gifts for Dad
For the guy that probably knows what he wants, but can’t verbalize it, you’ll have to watch closely. The trick to finding a great gift is thinking about what you can do to make an everyday activity easier or more fun. Take your dad for for dinner for a change! Hearing you say, “I’ve got the check” will have him in a holiday spirit for a long time.
Christmas gifts for Dad
Gifts for Sister
People say she’s sweet, but you’re still having a tough time believing it. You can hint at this with some subtle sass in these gifts.
Christmas Gifts for Sisters
Gifts for Brothers
His habits could be a mystery, so be a super Santa sleuth and find out what games your bro has. You may see something you wish you hadn’t…but in the name of Christmas, be brave! And remember: gift cards aren’t a white flag of defeat.
Christmas gifts for Brother
Gifts for Grandparents
What do you get the folks that probably have everything? Years of Christmas after Christmas, grandparents have accumulated a collection of knickknacks. Spare them the space and take them out to their favorite restaurant. Ask them to do a letter writing exchange with you. A fun note: My grandpa loves the belt shown here because it’s similar to ones he had in the Army. A bit of digging can pay off in dividends.
Picks for Grandma
Christmas gifts for Grandma
Picks for Grandpa
Christmas gifts for Grandpa
Gifts for Aunts and Uncles
These guys can be tricky. If you don’t see your extended family often, tap into some family knowledge or scour their social media accounts. Pinterest boards are the eyes to a person’s soul, you know.
Gifts for Aunts
Christmas gifts for Aunts
Gifts for Uncles
Christmas gifts for Uncles
Gifts for the BFF
You probably don’t see this gal as often as you like, so plan a trip together! Near or far, a weekend away is a chance to catch up with the person you chose as your family.
Christmas gifts for the BFF
Gifts for the Boyfriend
He’s probably more cryptic about what he’d like for Christmas than Benedict Cumberbatch is in Sherlock. One underlying rule, make it something utilitarian. If he’d use it on a regular basis, that’s a win.
Christmas gifts for Boyfriend
The Catch-All Gifts
Your boss, co-worker, hairstylist, or rando-person you just want to be merry towards, make it semi-generic. A coffee mug? Generic. A personalized coffee mug? Only semi-generic. These folks are difficult to shop for, so don’t sweat it too much. That will only make your wool sweater more uncomfortable.
Christmas gifts for Everyone Else
The follow up? Thank you cards for all the lovely gifts you get this year. 

The art of the restart

Photo courtesy of Green Chameleon, StockSnap
Photo courtesy of Green Chameleon, StockSnap

I’ve discovered my secret talent, my true calling in life. It’s a skill that many posses, but I excel in wielding it…I can talk myself out of anything. What I’m particularly making reference to is this blog. I fell off the wagon harder than Humpty Dumpty did the wall.

Letting what once was a fun past time hobby slip so far past the back burner that it’s practically behind the stove isn’t anything new. We see it happen all the time. The glowing gym membership that sees a lot of thought, but never much action. The book you know will make you smarter, but goshdangit, it’s lengthier than a high school ex’s Facebook statuses.

I have a firm, though unsubstantiated, belief that out of everything in our lives, Netflix gets most of our commitment. That’s why they can make the episodes of “Black Mirror” so long. They know we’ll stick to it like peanut butter on a toddler’s face.

Good habits are tough to build and bad habits are hard to break. And humans are creatures of habit.

Christine Whelan, a public sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the Washington Post the very idea of restructuring our time and life style is not a sexy concept to us.

“To make a change in our behavior means we’re adding something or subtracting something, and we have to figure out what that is,” she tells the Washington Post. “So one great secret to succeeding at change is to be aware of what isn’t going to happen…”

Deciding to create a positive behavior change, say blathering on in WordPress, eliminates time I would use for, say, building an exact replica of Downton Abby in the Sims. Life’s about tough choices, y’all.

Proving she seems to know us better than we know ourselves, Whelan recommends only trying to make one change at a time…because that’s essentially all we can handle. And building around that switch, we should act (get ready for an acronym AND a pun) SMART.

Whelan says resolutions for positive habit changes should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • There’s a Reward for sticking to it
  • And progress is Trackable

Whelan says the more time spent actually doing the good habit stuff, the longer you’ll keep to it.

“The more likely it is you’ll develop a habit that you don’t have to think about. It doesn’t require self control, there’s not a lot of active internal debate. You just do it,” she says.

While these tips are straight-up and edging on common sense, we can’t treat building good habits as flippantly.

“Make sure that what you’re trying to change is something YOU really want to do, not something you feel you SHOULD do,” Whelan imparts.

And writing here is something I definitely want. Move over Netflix suggested queue, you’re now back burner material.