Monday, December 15, 2014

Saltine Toffee

Great news!

My oven has been given a second chance at life! The repair guy showed up today and diagnosed the heating element as the problem. He replaced it, adjusted some temperature controls and we were back in business!

I made this easy recipe for saltine toffee to celebrate.

If you're looking for a quick, cheap and easy treat to share this holiday season, look no more. It combines the saltiness of saltine crackers with the sweetness of a toffee layer and chocolate.

And it's so simple. I've made toffee before and had to use a candy thermometer while standing over a hot stove, stirring constantly for what seemed like an eternity. Not with this recipe! You get the buttery goodness of toffee with very little effort.

Okay, so here's what you need:

Saltine crackers (I used a little more than one sleeve of saltines)
2 sticks of butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups chocolate chips
Additional garnishes, like finely chopped nuts or crushed Heath bars, if desired

Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with olive oil. Line up the saltine crackers on the sheet without overlapping. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar until combined. Stir until the mixture comes together completely and starts to boil. Pour over the saltines and spread evenly so they are all covered.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. The toffee mixture will be bubbling. Immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips over the toffee. I use a mixture of semisweet and milk chocolate chips.

Return to the oven for a couple of minutes until the chips have softened. With a butter knife, spread the softened chocolate over the toffee layer. Allow to cool, then place in the fridge so it hardens completely.

Once it hardens, flips the toffee over and remove the foil. Break into pieces.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Menu Plan December 15-21

My oven died.

Well, it's not officially dead. But it's not heating properly and I've been unable to use it. Of course, it's the time of year that I used it a LOT. So far I've gotten no Christmas baking done.

Hopefully the repair guy will come tomorrow to diagnose it and see if it can be fixed. We're pretty sure it's not the heating element. We have a double wall oven and both ovens are having issues. We suspect it's the temperature control panel. The oven was installed in 1996 and the parts aren't readily available. We're bracing ourselves for the worst but hoping it's an easy fix.

I didn't realize how much I used my oven until I couldn't use it. No freshly baked bread or cookies. No casseroles. No pizza.

So this week's menu relies heavily on my stove top, which is separate from the wall oven. Here's what I've got planned:

Monday
Pancakes and sausage

Tuesday
Broccoli cheese soup, crackers

Wednesday
Italian sausage sandwiches, chips

Thursday
Steak bites, fried potatoes

Friday
West Virginia pepperoni rolls

Saturday
Mom's house

Sunday
Mom's house

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Menu Plan December 8-14

The first week of December set records here in the Deep South - for warm temperatures! I'm not complaining, believe me. Warm appeals to me. But it was kinda funny listening to Christmas music in our short sleeves. I'm glad I hadn't put away all the warm weather clothes yet.

We had our first Christmas party of the season with our Sunday school class on Saturday. It was a great time of fellowship and of course, food. Baptists don't get together without bringing tons of food.

We have our annual Christmas Ladies Night Out at church tonight. It's an event we look forward to all year. We collect Christmas cards to donate to the local county jail so inmates can send a card to their families. We also donate books of stamps. After enjoying a lovely Christmas dinner, we exchange presents by drawing numbers and choosing a gift to open. The next person can take the present you've opened or choose another unopened one. It's a great deal of fun!

My favorite part of any of our church Christmas parties is the time we take to share God's blessings from the past year. Often we're so busy throughout the year, we don't always get to share with each other. This season gives us a chance to reflect on God's goodness and mercy as we turn our thoughts toward the gift He gave us in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Again this week, I'm keeping our menu simple. I've got some baking to do which takes up extra time. My oven is acting up, sometimes cooking evenly, sometimes not. And considering that I'm using it more now as I bake and prepare special items for Christmas, it's not an ideal time for this to happen. I'll make the best of it, though.

Here's what I've got planned:

Monday
Ladies Night Out at church, hot dogs for those eating at home

Tuesday
Chicken Parmesan casserole over linguine

Wednesday
Tasty tilapia, pan-fried kale

Thursday
Moroccan beef patties, parmesan couscous

Friday
Homemade pizza rolls

Saturday
Crockpot creamy Italian chicken tomato soup, homemade bread

Sunday
Out for dinner


For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Menu Plan December 1-7

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for, don't we? We enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner with all the trimmings around our table with some dear friends. And then we spent most of the weekend eating up the leftovers, including some tasty turkey soup!

Now the first week of December is upon us. We look forward to another season of celebrating our Savior's birth! Because He came, we have the hope of heaven and eternal life with Him. I'm doing my best to keep that in my mind instead of shopping and gifts and the busyness of the season.

I'm keeping this week's menu simple to free up some time for reflection on His great love and how I can share it with others throughout the holidays.

So here's what I've got:

Monday
Stromboli, salad

Tuesday
Chili, cheesy biscuit bites

Wednesday
Crispy baked fish and chips

Thursday
Italian meatballs over pasta

Friday
Homemade deep dish pizza

Saturday
Sunday school Christmas party, I'm making hash brown casserole

Sunday
Beef stew, crusty bread

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Menu Plan November 24-30

Yes, here we are, the last week of November. How in the world have we gotten this far in such a short time? At least it seems to me like this year has been shorter than usual. Time really does fly as you get older, I guess.

Of course, this week is Thanksgiving, so a lot of my time will be spent preparing for that. The turkey is already taken care of - a friend smoked ours in his big smoker. Ahhhh, it's going to be delicious!

I'm making my homemade mac and cheese with pepper jack, sausage stuffing and some cranberry sauce. Friends who are celebrating the holiday with us will be fixing other sides and desserts. It's going to be so much fun!

We will also spend some reflecting on what we have to be thankful for. We are so blessed, aren't we? We have a roof over our heads, food on the table for every meal, and countless other luxuries the rest of the world goes without.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving season and remember to count your blessings, too!

Now, here's what we've got on our menu:

Monday
Baked egg rolls, sesame garlic noodles

Tuesday
Brunswick stew (a friend's recipe), pretzel bread

Wednesday
Beef and potato hash, oven roasted zucchini

Thursday
Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday
Pizza

Saturday
Thanksgiving leftovers

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Sunday
Turkey and rice soup in a crockpot

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Menu Plan November 17-23

After a cold weekend, it's going to get even colder here in the Deep South. Tuesday's forecast says the high is supposed to be 37 degrees. In November. We usually don't get temperatures like that until January or February, if at all. I'll be making some soup and some other comfort foods to keep us warm!

My brother and his family are going to visit on Saturday and Sunday because we won't have time to get together for Thanksgiving. So Sunday's dinner will be a mini-Thanksgiving feast. We've got a friend who's smoking a turkey for us, and I'll be preparing some other sides in my many crockpots. Should be fun!

Here's what I've got planned:

Monday
Beefy Spanish rice, corn

Tuesday
Oven roasted sausage and potatoes

Wednesday
Jambalaya, cheddar biscuits

Thursday
Beef bourguinon, mashed potatoes

Friday
Pizza

Saturday
Creamy ham and potato soup, crusty bread

Sunday
Smoked turkey, crockpot potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Homemade Rye Bread

I've always liked rye bread - the crunch of the caraway seeds and the overall tang in the bread.

I've made it my bread machine before, but it always turned out dense. This recipe, however, is lighter and not dense at all. It's not a dark rye loaf. And I really, really like it that way.

We eat this bread along soup or as the base for a good pastrami or BLT sandwich. It's perfectly tangy, too, from the addition of pickle juice! So good!

Here's what you need:

1 cup warm water
2 1/2 teas yeast
1 1/2 TBSP sugar
1/4 cup olive oil or melted butter
1/4 cup dill pickle juice (I just strain it straight from the pickle jar)
2 cups unbleached bread flour (I use King Arthur)
1 cup rye flour
2 TBSP vital wheat gluten
2 TBSP caraway seeds
1 1/2 teas sea salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the water, yeast and sugar.  Allow to stand for about 5 minutes or until puffy.

Stir in the remaining ingredients. Using the dough hook, mix the dough until it's combined but still a little sticky and shaggy looking. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, knead with the dough hook again until smooth, adding a little more flour if necessary. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, about an hour.

Punch the dough down and shape into a loaf. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Alternatively, you can shape the dough and put it into a greased 9x5 loaf pan. Using a sharp knife, make a slash down the center of the loaf lengthwise. Cover and let rise for another hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Brush with melted butter to soften the crust a little.

Here's a closer look so you can see the caraway seeds:
After enjoying this bread, my family never wants to go back to store bought rye bread again!