Ask Anna – Baker’s Block Breakthrough – Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

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My good friend Danielle reached out last night. “I want to bake a treat (something sweet) but I have very minimal ingredients.” She was suffering from a bit of Baker’s Block – think Writer’s Block, but with butter and sugar.

I said, “Hit me!”

She had the following on hand:

  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Baking Soda
  • Baking Powder
  • Vanilla
  • Eggs
  • Peanut Butter
  • Two sticks of Butter
  • Unsweetened Bakers Chocolate
  • Godiva Hot Cocoa Mix
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Crisco

She felt she did not have much, but she had enough ingredients for just about any classic drop cookie (Chocolate Chip, Sugar, Snickerdoodle (assuming she had cinnamon), etc.) She also could do classic Peanut Butter Cookies and even Peanut Butter Blossoms (the yummy ones with Hershey Kisses). One suggestion I had was Peanut Butter Blossoms, but done like thumbprints (melt baker’s chocolate and mix with vanilla, powdered sugar, and a pinch of salt) and fill the thumbprint with the chocolate mixture. The other would be to take that same mixture and drizzle over classic peanut butter cookies. I also felt the hot cocoa mix blended into baker’s chocolate would be fun.

Inspired by wanting to use the hot cocoa mix, she settled on a classic peanut butter cookie with hot cocoa mix in the dough. The result was a semi-soft, slightly chewy and slightly sandy cookie – a bit sweet but balanced from the salty peanut butter – a great combo all around!

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Danielle’s delicious pantry creation ūüôā

 

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

We can’t take credit for this delightful recipe! Follow this Classic Peanut Butter Cookie recipe from All Recipes, sifting one packet of Hot Cocoa Mix with the dry ingredients, and follow the rest as directed.

 

 

Poor Woman’s Wonton Soup

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Since becoming quarantined nearly a month ago I have not ordered takeout or had prepared food delivered once. One night in a moment of weakness I bought fried chicken from my local grocery store, and I broke out in hives. I think I have an underlying allergy to certain fry oils, but in our current corona-culture, it was enough to spook my very non-germophic heart.

My next few posts are going to get interesting, as I have not grocery shopped a single item since March 29. I’m craving certain foods, but I am determined to make them on my own, including Chinese takeout.

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This is by far a “semi-homemade” Wonton Soup with pantry and freezer ingredients. Store bought wontons, frozen scallions (chopped and frozen by me), frozen ginger (didn’t photograph well, so subbed powdered ginger in the pic), chicken bouillon packet, and rice vinegar.

POOR WOMAN’S WONTON SOUP

  • 1 packet Chicken Bouillon (or cube, or chicken stock or other broth)
  • 2 cups water (if not using prepared stock/broth)
  • However many wontons you want to eat
  • 1 teaspoon Rice Vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Ginger
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Scallions

Simmer all ingredients together until wontons are cooked through. I wish it was more complicated than that. For extra zing, you can saute and lightly the wontons in a bit of sesame oil before adding broth.

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Looks like takeout to me

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Served with a scallion pancake, another one of the few convenience items in my freezer

The Jiffy Chronicles – Spicy Cheddar Cornbread

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A couple of weeks ago I took stock of my pantry and pointed out several boxes of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix and their amazing versatility. Today I did my first quick recipe for Saturday morning brunch. The package directions for cornbread are fine, but it’s kind of boring. It’s so easy to doctor this mix up to something more interesting and even more delicious.

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The main ingredients in the cornbread – mix, cheese, chilis in adobo, and corn

SPICY CHEDDAR CORNBREAD

  • 1 package Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 cup frozen or canned Corn
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 Chipotle Pepper in Adobo Sauce*
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10 inch cast iron skillet or 8×8 baking pan, set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, add muffin mix, cheese, corn, egg, and milk and mix thoroughly. Chop chipotle pepper and create a paste with a little bit of salt and pepper. Stir paste into batter. Pour batter into pan, bake 20-25 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick placed into center comes out clean. Allow to cool about an hour before serving.

*If you have never worked with Chipotle in Adobo- these are VERY spicy and a little goes a long way. Even if you’re into spice, I would not recommended more than one for this whole recipe – when you overdo it, the heat takes over and you lose flavor in the dish.

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Finished Cornbread

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Serving suggestion – great brunch accompaniment

 

 

Chicken Meatballs Piccata

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I often have frozen chicken breasts in my freezer, as well as chopped parsley. Pretty much everything in this recipe are common staples in my kitchen, and many folks have in their kitchen. I often get bored of grilling chicken breasts or making them tenders, so I will grind the meat in my food processor and use it for ground meat recipes. You can freeze meatballs to use at a later time, and this is a super fast weeknight dinner.

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Chicken Meatballs Piccata

Makes 4-6 servings
MEATBALLS
1 pound ground chicken breast
1/4 – 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs, as needed
1 egg, beaten
Handful chopped parsley
I small onion, finely diced or grated
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Mix ingredients until fully incorporated, starting with 1/4 cup breadcrumbs. If mixture feels too wet, add a bit more. Shape into 1.5 – 2 inch balls. Arrange on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Broil on high about 10 minutes, turning halfway through cooking for even browning. Set aside. Note – these can be done ahead of time and frozen or chilled.

PICCATA SAUCE
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 lemons, juiced, plus zest from one
1.5 cups chicken broth, warmed
Salt and Pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons capers, or more, as desired

SPAGHETTI
1 pound – cook to package directions.

GREENS
Greens – spinach, arugula, kale, etc – as little or as much as you want. You may also substitute additional vegetables for a more complete meal.

Mix lemon juice, zest, and broth. Heat until warm or hot, set aside. On medium heat, butter in saucepan and whisk in flour about one tablespoon at a time, until fully incorporated. Cook about 3-4 minutes, do not brown. Slowly whisk in broth mixture, a little at a time, sauce will thicken immediately. Cook 2-3 minutes, season with salt and pepper. Add capers and meatballs. Remove from heat.

For greens, heat a small amount of sauce and sauté until soft. To serve, arrange a serving of spaghetti in a bowl, top with sauce, some greens and then a few meatballs. Enjoy!

Cleaning, Reorganizing, and Taking Inventory of My Pantry

I’m not much of a video person, and this is about 7 minutes of my stream of consciousness of what I’m about to tackle. And it was all done by me on my iPhone and I don’t have editing or framing skills. Either way, being home has helped me tackle the project of cleaning and re-organizing my pantry. I found items that expired in 2017 and 2018.

After I clean my shelves, I’ll take stock of everything I have. I pledge not to replace anything major until I have exhausted what I have on hand. For example, I won’t go out and buy beans before I use all the beans I have. For snacks, I won’t buy anything new until I have exhausted a category (nuts, chips, cookies, etc).

I plan to get creative and think outside of the box with some substitutions. Reach out if you’re stuck or feeling uninspired.

Kiss Me, I’m NOT Irish – Leftover Mashed Potato Cakes

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Reworks are a lot of fun. Taking something you’re bored of and transforming it to something new, with just a few ingredients.

I love vegetable fritters, my favorite is kolokithokefthedes (Greek zucchini fritters). Regardless of the culture or flavors, they all seem to have the same thing in common – you need the base, seasoning, and something to bind it to keep it all together. The binders are usually pantry and fridge staples –¬† eggs and flour. Different lifestyles (vegan, gluten-free) may have different binders, but the theory is all the same – you don’t want these falling apart in your skillet or oven.

In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, I thought some sort of “Irish” breakfast would be fun. I use Irish loosely, as these cakes have potatoes, bacon, and cheese and typically anything served with eggs can be interpreted as breakfast.

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Mashed Potato Cakes served with Scrambled Eggs and Sour Cream

My current series of posts will be all about taking advantage of what you already have on hand – this will save money, allow you to be less wasteful, and explore your creative side in times when it’s encouraged not to leave the house.

Over the weekend I made some mashed potatoes. I probably had 2 cups worth leftover but wasn’t in the mood to eat them in their current state. In my fridge I had all the fixings for “loaded” potatoes, so these came together quite simply.

LEFTOVER MASHED POTATO CAKES – makes 8 cakes/fritters

  • 1 cup mashed potatoes
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 3 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup flour

In a medium mixing bowl, combine mashed potatoes, cheese, scallions, and bacon. Add egg until fully incorporated. Whisk in flour until a thick batter forms.

Heat a skillet with 2-3 tablespoons oil. Using a large spoon, drop a large spoonful into cooking oil, forming an approximately 3-inch disk. Fry on both sides until golden brown, drain excess oil on paper towels. Serve with sour cream.

Substitutions – remember this recipe is about technique, it’s not an exact science

  • Play around with the flavors and seasonings. Use what you have at home. Onions, garlic, cream cheese, ham, chopped peppers/hot peppers etc. all work
  • These do not need to be fried! Form the cakes with a touch more flour, brush with oil, and bake at 375 F until golden brown
  • Play around with binders – a bit more flour and some milk instead of egg for those averse to eggs. Up the cheese and eggs, or use gluten-free all-purpose flour for gluten-free. Eliminate dairy and eggs for a vegan version

Ask Anna – I’m Here to Help

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I cannot believe my last post on this blog was back in 2016. And yet, I can believe it. 2016 was the year I was licensed in real estate and also the year I decided to leave retail management for good. As I was building my real estate business, the time for blogging about food subsided. I traded lengthy articles with recipes for quick instagram posts, focusing mainly on the visual, occasionally sharing how things were done.

One of my New Years resolutions in 2019 was to get back in the habit of blogging.¬† I showed some new friends my old stuff and they were anxious for more. On a happy note for my career, 2019 was my best year in real estate to date, and I just wasn’t home cooking as much, let alone writing about it. I literally traded writing contracts and client emails for recipes.

Life is short, and it’s important to attribute time to your hobbies and passions. With all the fear and uncertainty in the world, especially here in the United States and we are navigating this COVID-19 Pandemic and all the self-quarantine going on around us, I realized I am in a position to help people. This isn’t any sort of grand nobel-peace prize actions. I just have a quirky and unique skill set when it comes to food.

Yesterday at least 3 friends reached out looking for cooking help or advice. As supermarket supplies dwindle and more restaurants shut their doors, cooking well and at home for your family with what you have on hand can be challenging or difficult. I lived through the great recession and I also suddenly lost a very lucrative position in 2015 – both incidents that taught me to be very thrifty and frugal with my food budget, but also creative. You may look at a jar of tahini and think, I don’t even have chickpeas, I only use this stuff for hummus. I will look at that same jar and make sesame noodles, tahini chocolate chip cookies, salad dressing, and more.

Reach out if you’re stuck, I’ll help you find inspiration on a shoestring budget.

Accidental Pantry Project = Huge Savings!

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I wish I kept better track on what I spent at the grocery store last year when it came to cash purchases. I know when I worked at Whole Foods Market¬†I would buy lunch every time I worked a shift, which averaged out to about $10 a day. Now that I am working again, that kind of spending probably won’t disappear, especially as I now work in a mall with countless food options.

In any case, just tracking grocery purchases for my home, last year during January and February, according to my credit card, I spent $240 at the grocery store. This year, being more diligent about my purchases, using what I had on hand as opposed to going for convenience, I spent $125 during the same period – almost half my money! To top it off, since I was not going to work for five weeks, I ate many more meals at home – so those savings not only saved me money, they stretched to twice the meals.

I know not everyone has the pantry I had (I should say have – it is still valued at $759, currently (that is down from the $1140 that I started with)), but it is still important to know when you are sitting on money and meals at home. For five weeks, that is $381 I kept in my pocket, and not only did I eat like a queen, I fed others as well.

Inventory, Part 4 – Freezer and Fridge Condiments

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Finally! I have counted all this “inventory” in my home. The last phase of counting and calculation took place this evening. I wanted to work on it earlier in the week, but since the Snowmaggeden bust kept me out of my home the day that I was best suited to do it, I got around to it tonight.

So, using the same loose formula I used for my dry goods (gifts have zero value, stuff from Whole Foods bought under retail with my discount, etc.), I calculated the freezer contents and my refrigerated condiments (i.e., perishable but long shelf life in fridge) came to about $240, so the grand total cost of all my food is $1140.

Since starting this project a little over a week ago, I have not gone grocery shopping for myself. The only exception is I stopped and bought a dessert as a hostess gift for a friend who was having me for dinner. I have gone out with friends to eat a couple of times, but otherwise, I have just been depleting my pantry. I will have to make a trip soon for some fresh produce and dairy, but I know I’m saving a lot of money being resourceful. Next phase, of course, is to figure out what I would spend on average in the past and how I am helping my current cause.

Here is what I have to work with from my freezer and refrigerator… Continue reading

Inventory, Part 3

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Today I figured out the value of the inventory of my pantry dry goods. I putzed around google and amazon for costs, and where applicable I used about a 20% discount on things I know I got at Whole Foods with my employee discount. Hence, the rough estimate really will not be all that rough.

The area that I really averaged an estimate, however, was spices.¬†In terms of spice inventory, I am going to say the average spice in my cabinet cost $2.50. Most of those standard sized McCormick bottles out there go for about that price, but my spices range from free stuff I scored through work, trade shows, mom’s pantry and gift baskets, to some high quality stuff I splurged on (hello, saffron and vanilla). With 51+ spices, that’s $127.50, and I think that is a very fair estimate.

Looking ahead, I plan to omit spices from the exact cost factor in my recipes, similarly to how restaurants and food service establishments do when they cost out recipes. Instead, when I cost out recipes I will use a blanket seasoning cost estimate, which will probably be pennies per recipe, maybe $.03 – $.10. Think about it, let’s say I spent¬†$3 on a 1.25¬†ounce bottle of Italian seasoning. The bottle probably has about 30 teaspoons of seasoning in it, so about $.10 per teaspoon. Some recipes will use a dash, some will use tablespoons. I’m going to drive myself crazy thinking about what I spent on that, and again, the financial aspect of this¬†project is more of an exercise on money I am saving moving forward, not what I have already spent. Plus, and I know I’m beating a dead horse here, it’s more about creativity and making use of what is on hand.

So you want to know the full value of my dry goods inventory, what is has probably cost me? $904. The average cost of each individual item (218 in total) is about $4.16. This ranges from about 15 non-spice items that were definitely free, to pricey supplements that cost about $50 (hello, Green Vibrance). $904. I think that’s fascinating. I don’t even know how many meals and dishes and snacks I will create from all this, but knowing that I usually drop $40 – $100 when I go out to a nice dinner with friends, it is beyond foolish not to cook at home when you want to save money. Plus what I have to work with will not mean meals of ramen, plain spaghetti, and PB&J.

Next up in the project – freezer and fridge inventory, figuring out my average grocery costs before now, and figuring out on average how much I have been spending on food. Oh, and of course, what I have cooked so far. Stay tuned!