Four Ingredient Macaroni and Cheese

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Have you heard about the four ingredient macaroni and cheese?

It’s so easy!

All you do is throw elbow macaroni, shredded cheddar, cream cheese and milk into a slow cooker and turn it on low. Voila–in four hours a pot of creamy, cheesy mac with no aritificial colours, flavours or powders. Just homemade goodness!

It sounds too good to be true, right?

Sadly, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.

Despite following the recipe to the letter (something I rarely do), we ended up trying to choke down a thick, starchy mass that didn’t resemble macaroni and cheese in anything other than scent.

We each did our best to eat a small serving with dinner, but even the dog couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm for four-ingredient slow cooker mac and cheese.

There was a bright side to our dinner debacle, though. When I chiseled it out of the slow cooker, I found a smooth surface with the consistency of rubber. A home cook with a talent for whittling could produce an assortment of paper weights, bouncy balls and dog chew toys with the leftovers.

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Homemade Goodness

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Don’t bake chocolate chip cookies–ever!

I stupidly got into the habit of providing fresh, homemade cookies for my boy. He doesn’t eat a huge number of cookies, but I worried about nasty things like trans fat in commercially baked goods.

I use actual eggs and butter–which may not be the healthiest products, but I know what they are and where they come from. (Although I try not to think about it because the idea of eating something squeezed out of the back-end of a cow or chicken makes those artificial ingredients created in a sterile lab sound more palatable.)

The cookie jar was empty, had been for a few days.

My boy had started grumbling about the lack of cookies. When was I going to make more? Could I bake tonight? How about tomorrow or the next day?

Ugh! Why had I ever started baking? I’d set a dangerous precedent and my client–er, boy–expected regular delivery.

Then it came to me! My sailor is reasonably competent in the kitchen. He could give me a break by baking a batch of cookies!

I learned it’s much easier to supervise baking than to do it. (Even taking into account all the “Honey, where do we keep the sugar/flour/baking soda/vanilla?” questions.)

His results weren’t quite as wonderful as mine: a bit too brown on the bottom and the size of hamburger patties, but my boy loves them. (Possibly because they’re the size of hamburger patties.)

I’m way too smart to criticize his efforts because I see the bigger picture.

Last weekend, we set a precedent where my sailor successfully baked HUGE cookies that were well-received by our client.

Healthy Cookies

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A Facebook friend posted a recipe for healthy cookies.

“They’re amazing!” she gushed. “Dairy-free, egg-free, fat-free and best of all–my little boy loooves them!”

How could I resist a recipe that’s not only good for you, but kid approved? I hit the kitchen, ready to enjoy some delicious homemade goodness.

What’s left when you take away the dairy, egg and fat from cookies you ask. Not much I discovered!

These had mashed bananas, apple sauce, almond milk and oatmeal.

I didn’t have almond milk so I used skim (so much for dairy-free.) No regular apple sauce, either so I substituted one of those apple/strawberry fruit cups.

My usual breakfast is unsweetened oatmeal cooked with skim milk and topped with fruit. I happily eat it most mornings. These cookies, almost exactly the same as my go to breakfast, should have been fine.

So why were they such a disappointment? Perhaps because the flavour bar is set so much higher for homemade cookies than for oatmeal.

Will I make these again? Perhaps, but with a few changes.

I’ll add chocolate chips and toasted coconut. Chunky peanut butter, too and maybe a bag of mini M&M’s if I remember to pick them up. Oh, and a couple of eggs for a lighter texture and butter to make them melt in your mouth.

Sigh–maybe I’m just not ready to hop on the healthy eating bandwagon.

Makin’ Bacon

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"Do we have any bacon left?"

I nodded.

"Great!" said my boy. "Can I have some bacon?"

I groaned.

Let me explain: I hate bacon! Hate the smell. Hate the grease. Hate the mess. Hate the stuff!

When bacon's on the menu my sailor does the cooking, but he's still at his mother's in Powell River. (He's collecting so much good karma he should buy lottery tickets.) Potential future lottery wins aside, I was on the hook to prepare the bacon for my carnivorous boy.

A quick call to my sailor filled me in on the bacon basics. ("A slow, even heat is the way to go with bacon.")

The actual cooking wasn't too bad, but afterwards…eeew! Do you have any idea how much fat bleeds off three strips of this stuff?

I decided to pour the melted grease into an empty yogurt container. Once it hardened, I could throw it out and avoid having to deal with it.

Like many ideas, this one worked in theory, but in practice–not so much. Did you know hot bacon fat will melt a plastic yogurt container? Neither did I.

Even though I had to deal with a gross slimey mess, I got the last laugh. I cooked the last three slices of bacon today. There's no more left!

The Pioneer Woman

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I’m watching too much TV these days.

Because I cut our cable package in a misguided effort to be frugal, I mostly surf between Home and Garden TV and the Food Network.

I discovered Ree Drummond AKA The Pioneer Woman, a larger than life blogger turned cookbook author turned Food Network star. I’m fascinated by her story. She’s an “accidental country girl” who gave up a mysterious career in the big city for the Marlborough Man, her rancher husband.

She started blogging years ago and quickly became an internet hit. From her blog, other opportunities followed and now she’s a famous TV star. Easy peasy, right?

However, all is not rosy out on the range. People either love her (millions of adoring fans have got her where she is) or hate her. A quick internet search reveals several anti-Pioneer Woman blogs that are surprisingly amusing, if nasty.

I’m not sure where I fall on the Pioneer Woman love scale. I wouldn’t eat her cooking (melted bacon fat used as salad dressing and prime rib poached in butter, anyone?) But I admire her blogging talent and marketing skills.

I also like her folksy style and her happy, apple-cheeked children, but picking up any recipes or cooking tips from her? No siree! The Pioneer Woman may have her own cooking show, but she can’t teach me anything with that alarming penchant for butter and animal fat.

Until she baked cookies for the gang baling hay out on the range. She used a mini ice-cream scoop to make perfect round cookies!

I struggle to form my cookies with two tablespoons and end up with misshapen lumps that look like something the Chihuahua coughed up. Today, I dug out my mini ice-cream scoop and shaved minutes off the baking experience. Best of all–my cookies cooked evenly (no more burned bits hanging off the edges).

Thank you, Pioneer Woman! Maybe your critics are wrong and you do deserve your own cooking show after all.

A Girl in Every Port

009011015The boat has arrived!

The dog has been aboard for a preliminary inspection. (She gave it two paws up.)

Tomorrow, we hit the waves for our first family cruise!

My sailor is so excited at the prospect of sharing his grand passion with the family, he’d be satisfied with a bag of Doritos and a couple of cans of pop for our first picnic on the waves.

I wouldn’t.

This is such a big deal for him that I went all Martha Stewart and put together a meal befitting our family’s inaugural voyage in Two Bears. (We still haven’t decided on the new name.)

While undertaking my catering frenzy, I learned a couple of kitchen lessons.

I started with mini Quiches, substituting bread pressed into muffin tin cups for pastry. As well as being healthier than pastry, it was much easier (in theory.) Because we’re all such fussy eaters (by all, I mean my boy and me. My sailor will happily eat anything), I made three different varieties of Quiche. Vegetarian for me, sausage and cheese for my boy and everything for my sailor.

Mmm! They looked and smelled delicious–sort of rustic and hearty–coming out of the oven. Unfortunately, they melded to the muffin tin during baking and I had to chip them out with a steak knife. Instead of the pretty, delicate Quiches I envisioned, we’ll have cold scrambled eggs with chunks of flattened bread. Kitchen lesson number one: a light coating of olive oil is not enough to keep eggy bread from sticking to a baking tin, even a supposedly “non-stick” pan.

Because Two Bears has an adorable little fridge, we can bring strawberries and raw veggies to munch with our egg disasters. Translation: I washed. I peeled. I chopped, I sliced.

I promised my boy homemade cookies for the cruise. I usually have a stash in the freezer, but it’s been so hot lately I haven’t baked for ages, so the cookie situation was dire. After wrestling the Quiches out of the muffin tin, it was time to start baking, even though the kitchen was scorching from having the oven on earlier. I made a big batch of chocolate mess cookies. Kitchen lesson number two: when you’re experiencing a heat wave, keep your chocolate chips in the fridge so they don’t all melt together and look like something that came out of the pet rabbit you had in middle school.

Whew!

By the time I cooked, packed the food and cleaned up the kitchen, I was ready for a nap, not an adventure on the high seas.

I finally understand the old saying that a sailor has a girl in every port. He’d need them all to keep up with food production!

Belly on up to the Bar

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I’ve found another series to binge watch while I wait for season 4 of The Walking Dead to come out on DVD. It’s Rome and it’s fabulous! There are only two seasons, but they’re long. (Did I mention it’s fabulous?)

Unfortunately, devoting a couple of hours a day to Rome-ing means other things get neglected–namely baking.

It was time to make cookies so I devised a plan to streamline the process: bars! Think of the time saved if instead of individually forming three dozen little cookies I just squished all the dough into a pan, baked it and cut it into perfect, crumbly bars when cool.

It seemed like a good idea until I turned the cooled pan over the cutting board and smacked it to loosen the giant cookie rectangle. Part came out according to plan, but lots didn’t. Since it’s the cook’s prerogative to eat everything that’s not quite perfect, I scarfed down all the broken bits even though I wasn’t hungry.

Bloated and sluggish, I still had to clean up the kitchen which was covered in sticky crumbs from my wrestling match with the cookie mass.

The good news? After presenting the family with these unpleasant bars, no one will be asking me to bake anytime soon. Oh, and now I can get back to Vorenus and the gang!

Easiest White Bread?

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I got cocky this Family Day weekend.

It’s cold, wet and snowy. Winter is giving us a last wallop before spring arrives, and I’m fed up with these frigid conditions. I craved something comforting to combat Mother Nature’s abuse. What’s more warming than the smell of baking bread when you’re riding out a storm? Nothing, that’s what!

The recipe I found online was amazingly simple.

Dissolve a sachet of active dry yeast in warm water, stir in a little salt, a pinch of sugar, a glug of olive oil and a whole bunch of flour. Knead for an undisclosed amount of time, leave it to rise and voila–a beautiful loaf of bread ready to pop into the oven.

The first indication that something wasn’t right was when my dough barely plumped after its time alone under a tea towel. A quick internet search revealed that the yeast needs time to bubble away in its warm, sugary bath before anything else is added. My super simple recipe neglected to mention this.

Not only did I end up with a rustic slab more like a giant cracker than a loaf of bread, but there was no delicious baking bread scent.

My sailor is at work today because Family Day is a provincial holiday and he works for the federal government so that left my boy as chief guinea pig, er, taster.

“I don’t think we should eat that,” he said poking it with a steak knife. “I overheard you telling someone on the phone that you didn’t do it properly.”

“It’s fine,” I said, taking the knife off him and hacking at the tough crust. “I’m your mother. I’d never intentionally harm you.”

His eyes widened as I passed him a heavy lump.

“It’s the word intentionally that worries me.”

We each tried a crouton-sized bite.

The dog, who is normally the biggest mooch going, didn’t come near the kitchen while I was slicing it. It’s probably for the best as she’s the only one in the family without access to free healthcare.

And my sailor?–He’ll stick to Wonder Bread for the time being.