Funnel Cakes

Our family has a little tradition of making funnel cakes on the 4th of July. I have made lots of different batters and my favorite is one made with yeast. You have to plan ahead, but honestly, I am not the type of cook to break out the dutch oven and deep fry something last minute.

There are a few things you need to know for the best funnel cakes.

-Pick an oil with a high smoke point. I like peanut and sunflower oil the best.

-Use a thermometer and get the oil hot. I have a candy thermometer that clips on the side of my dutch oven. You want the oil to be 180-185 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is cooler you will end up with greasy funnel cakes because the dough will not crust over quickly and more oil will be absorbed.

-The batter will drop the temperature of the oil. Be sure to let it come back up to 180 before cooking the next funnel cake.

-You can reuse the oil. Let the oil cool down and then place a coffee filter over a fine mesh strainer. Pour the cooled oil through the coffee filter into a jar and then refrigerate up to 2 months. The oil can be used 2-3 times before it breaks down.

-Use a slotted spoon to flip the funnel cakes and remove them from the oil. I find that a slotted spoon is the best tool. Tongs tend to break the funnel cakes and a spider strainer is the wrong shape for the task.

-I like my funnel cakes drenched in powdered sugar, but there are lots of toppings you could use including cherry pie filling, chocolate syrup, or caramel sauce.

Funnel Cakes

2 Cups Flour (I use white whole wheat.)

1 3/4 Cup Milk (Whole milk, skim milk, and almond milk all work well.)

1 egg

2 Tablespoons Sugar

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla (Click here for my homemade vanilla recipe.)

1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast

1 Quart oil for frying (I like peanut or sunflower.)

Powdered Sugar or other toppings

Directions

8 hours before frying or up to 1 day ahead mix the batter. In a large bowl add flour, milk, egg, sugar, sea salt, vanilla and yeast. Mix well with a whisk to combine. You do not need to mix out all the lumps. Make sure the bowl is large enough to have  room above the batter for the dough to rise in the bowl.  Cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.

When ready to fry, place the oil in a large dutch oven or electric fryer and heat to 180-185 degrees Fahrenheit. While the oil heats, remove the batter from the refrigerator and mix to combine. (It will be slightly separated when it comes out of the refrigerator.) Pour the batter into a gallon zip top bag and seal. Cut a small hole in the corner of the bag.

When the oil is 180-185 degrees, gently squeeze about 1/2-  3/4 cup of the batter into the oil. I like to make a circle first and then zig zag the stream of batter across the circle to make the funnel cake shape.

Cook the funnel cake for 30-45 seconds and then gently flip with a slotted spoon and cook another 30-45 seconds. Gently remove the golden funnel cake to a wire rack. Shake powdered sugar all over the top and serve immediately, or top with your favorite toppings.

Let the oil come back up to 180-185 degrees before starting the next funnel cake. This will make 4-6 cakes depending on how big you make them.

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Episode 86 Summer Dinner Inspiration

This Summer feels weird and to be honest, I’m kind of over it. If you don’t feel like spending time in the kitchen you are not alone. This podcast is full of simple dinner ideas to inspire you for the summer.

Grocery Store Shortcuts

-Frozen pot stickers

-Frozen Ravioli

-Rotisserie Chickens

Chicken Fried Rice

Chicken Salad

-Fried Chicken

-Frozen Pizza

 

Slow Cooker and Instant Pot

Rachel Tiemeyer of Thriving Home

Slow Cooker BBQ Beef

Instant Pot Lemony Chicken

Slow Cooker Baked Beans for a Crowd

 

Grill

Grilled Chicken Breasts

Tequila Lime Chicken with Mango Salsa

Make Ahead Hamburger Patties

-Frozen Chicken

 

Tex Mex

Quesadillas

Nachos

Tacos

Chicken Tacos

 

All the Chicken

Grilled Chicken Breasts

-Chicken Caesar Salad

-Strawberry Chicken Salad

Candied Nuts

Chicken Salad with Fruit and Nuts

-Grilled Chicken Panini

-Rotisserie Chicken

 

Garden Bounty

-Pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil

-BLT

-Zoodles

-Pesto

Breakfast Sandwiches

-Chimichurri

-Fritters (My friend Cassie is the best at fritters.)

 

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Watermelon Bowl for Fruit Salad

We eat with all our senses. This includes our eyes. When I am serving fruit salad for a party I like to make a watermelon bowl. It is simple to make and looks extra pretty on a buffet table. I always make my special Fruit Salad Dressing and let the salad rest in a bowl in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. I add it to the watermelon bowl just before serving. I like to refrigerate the watermelon bowl too so it can help keep the salad cold longer.

You can scoop the watermelon out with a metal spoon or if you want to be fancy you can use a melon baller. This little tool helps you scoop out adorable little melon balls that look extra fancy in a fruit salad.

Two recipes that are perfect for a watermelon bowl are Watermelon Cucumber Salad with Jalapeno, Mint and Basil.  This salad is the perfect mix of salty and sweet with lots of crunch and a little heat from the jalapeno. It sounds unusual and it is absolutely delicious.  The other recipe is my Fruit Salad Dressing. You can add any fruit you want, but this simple citrus dressing takes a simple fruit salad to a whole new level.

Watermelon Bowl

1 Watermelon

Sharp paring knife

Large metal spoon

Melon Baller Tool (Optional)

 

Directions:

  1. Wash your watermelon well with soap and water.
  2. Dry and place on a cutting board. Decide what part of the watermelon will be the bottom of your bowl.
  3. Slice a small piece of the rind off the bottom so the bowl can sit flat on the serving table.
  4. Cut a circle or oval off the top of the watermelon.
  5. Scoop out the pink flesh of the watermelon and put it in a bowl. You can do this with a large metal spoon, or if you are extra fancy use a melon baller.
  6. Once all the pink flesh is scooped out, take a sharp paring knife and cut small triangles around to the top edge of the watermelon.
  7. Fill with your favorite fruit salad and serve. If you are not serving immediately, store the watermelon bowl and the fruit salad separately in the refrigerator.

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Episode 85 Make Ahead Breakfasts

This summer is weird. Almost all our regular summer activities have been cancelled. My children have turned into complete night owls staying up late and sleeping in even later. No one is eating breakfast at the same time. Make-ahead breakfasts have been key to keeping my family fed.

Here are some of my favorite make-ahead breakfast ideas and recipes. I hope they can give you some inspiration.

 

Breakfast Sandwiches

Homemade Turkey Sausage I often make it and freeze it like the Make Ahead Hamburger Patties

Breakfast Cookies

Pumpkin Spice Breakfast Cookies

Chai Spiced Granola

Chocolate Almond Granola

Oatmeal Pancakes

Yeast Waffles

Sourdough French Toast with Strawberry Syrup

Breakfast Casserole

Spinach and Hash Brown Breakfast Bake

Chive and Cheese Puffs

Pepperoni Pizza Puffs

Apple Cinnamon Spice Baked Oatmeal

Lemon Blueberry Baked Oatmeal

Pumpkin Spiced Baked Oatmeal

Cranberry Orange Baked Oatmeal

 

Fruit Salad Dressing

Does fruit salad need a dressing? Technically no, but this simple dressing will take your fruit salad from good to amazing! It is one of my favorite things to take with a meal to a friend in need. It is simple and delicious. If you prefer not to use refined sugar, I have made it with honey. If you don’t have mint, you can leave it out, but the mint really adds a lot of flavor to this simple dressing.

You can add this dressing to any combination of fruits you prefer. I like to get whatever is in season. The one thing to remember is to not add bananas until just before serving because they will get mushy. Apples, pears and peaches will not brown because the acid in the lemon and lime juice prevents browning. The salad is best if it sits in the refrigerator for at least two hours before serving. The mint and dressing penetrate the fruits as it rests in the refrigerator.

Dressing for Fruit Salad

Juice of 1 Lemon

Juice of 1 Lime

2 teaspoons sugar (or honey)

2-3 large sprigs of Fresh Mint

 

Directions:

In a large bowl, mix lemon juice, lime juice and sugar (or honey.) Mix well to dissolve the sugar. Add your cut fruit and stir well. Add mint sprigs and refrigerate salad for at least two hours.

To serve, remove mint sprigs and stir well before serving.

Episode 84 You Need an Apron

I wear aprons almost every day. I have been caught with my apron still on when I pick up my kids from school. Aprons are and essential piece of kitchen equipment. It’s not something I just wear on TV. I wear them all the time at home.

 

Aprons keep you from getting your clothes messy, but for me, it is more than that. It is a mental signal that “I’m here to get something done.” When I put on my apron it means it’s time to get my hands dirty. Sometimes that is in the kitchen, sometimes it is cleaning my house. It is my “uniform” for getting things done at home.

My favorite style of apron has an adjustable neck, and waist straps that are long enough to wrap around to the front of my waist and tie. I got this one off of amazon this week and it is the perfect style. Aprons must have pockets. I use them to hold my phone or pick up random misplaced items I find around the house.

I use aprons to dry my hands when I wash them while cooking, I use them as an oven mitt to pull hot pans out of the oven, it is more than just a way to keep my clothes clean.

Cleaning aprons can be tricky, because the long straps can twist around the other laundry in the load. I like to put my aprons in lingerie bags for washing. I either hang them dry, or leave them in the lingerie bag and put them in the dryer. It prevents a twisted mess.

 

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Almond Cake with Strawberries and Cream

Years ago my friend Susie served the most amazing almond cake. It was dense, sweet, and had the texture of a perfect brownie without the chocolate. This is my adaptation of the recipe.

The cake is very rich and sweet and a small sliver is perfect topped with strawberries and a little whipped cream. It is the perfect summer treat.

Macerated strawberries are just cut strawberries sprinkled with a little sugar. You let them sit a room temperature for a couple of hours and the sugar helps release the juices from the strawberries making a sauce that is the perfect complement to the sweet cake.

Almond Cake with Strawberries and Cream

1 Pound Strawberries hulled and sliced

1 1/4 Cup Sugar plus 3 teaspoons, divided

3/4 Cup Unsalted Butter, melted

1 teaspoon Almond Extract

1 teaspoon Vanilla (See this recipe for homemade Vanilla.)

1/4 teaspoon Salt

2 Eggs

1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour

3 Tablespoons Slivered Almonds

Cooking Spray

Whipped Cream for serving

 

Directions:

Macerate the Strawberries:

In a medium bowl, mix sliced strawberries with 2 teaspoons of sugar. Leave at room temperature for 1-2 hours, then refrigerate.

For the Cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place slivered almonds on a microwave safe plate and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Stir. If they are not starting to brown, microwave up to 1 more minute in 20 second intervals until just beginning to brown. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix melted butter, 1 1/4 cups sugar, almond extract, vanilla, and salt. Add eggs and mix well. Add Flour and mix until incorporated. Do not over mix.

Prepare a 9 inch round cake pan, by spraying with cooking spray, lining with parchment paper, and spraying over the parchment paper.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake pan. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and final teaspoon of sugar. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes until the edges are golden brown and the top is starting to brown.

Let cake cool for 10 minutes in pan, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a plate. Remove the parchment paper and then flip the cake over onto a cake plate or cutting board so the almonds are back on top. Cut into 12-16 slices and top each slice with macerated strawberries and whipped cream. Serve.

 

Episode 83 Family Dinner Conversation

Feed Your Family Tonight is all about helping families plan and execute weeknight dinner so they can recapture a little calm in the crazy. One of the greatest blessings of this time of shelter at home has been slower family dinners. We don’t have to rush off to activities and my kids don’t have piles of homework. We have fallen into a slower pace and that includes lingering at the dinner table.

 

The dinner table is a place where you can impart values and teach your children. From a very young age you can begin to layer bits and pieces of your values and beliefs according to the age of your children. As they get older you can go deeper into harder topics. My kids are 12-17 and we are to the point where we talk about hard topics like pornography, politics, racism, religion, internet safety and so much more. We didn’t start with the tough topics, but over the years we have built up trust and are now able to have open conversations with our children.

 

Every meal does not have to tackle tough topics. We have plenty of fun and talk about lighter things too. In my parent’s home everyone shares if someone has made them happy or how they have made another happy in the past week. My sister’s family talks about one thing that has brought them joy. Dinnertime conversation does not have to be heavy or contrived, but it is one tool we have as parents to share our values and beliefs with our children.

The Best Grilled Chicken Breasts

Grilled chicken breasts can be a little problematic. They don’t cook evenly and you end up with underdone or dry and chalky chicken breasts, but there are a few simple steps you can take to get juicy and delicious chicken breasts.

First– if you don’t have an instant read thermometer, buy one. Here is an inexpensive one similar to mine. (Mine is no longer available.) I have had it at least 5 years and it gets tons of use in my kitchen. Chicken is done at 165 degrees Fahrenheit. That means you want to take it off the grill at 160-161 degrees as it will continue to cook with residual heat once it is off the grill.

 

Second– Butterfly and pound your chicken breasts (or by chicken cutlets which are much thinner.) Watch the video to see how to butterfly and pound. You want to slice through the thickness of the chicken breast and then pound the breast to even it out. Having a thin chicken breast of equal thickness assures even cooking. I like to buy large packages of chicken breast and butterfly and pound them before freezing so I can quickly pull out chicken for grilling and not have the mess each time I grill chicken.

 

Third– Salt and/or marinate your chicken. Salt is crucial to juicy chicken breasts. I like to use 1 teaspoon of salt per pound of chicken. If you can salt it the day before or even a few hours before cooking you will get the most benefit from the salt. Be sure to keep the chicken in the refrigerator after you have covered it in salt. But, if you are in a hurry just sprinkle salt on both sides of the chicken before putting it on the grill.

To marinate the chicken, place the butterflied and pounded meat in a shallow dish and cover with a marinade. Place the dish in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Tequila Lime Chicken and Asian Salad Dressing are two of my favorite marinades.

 

To Grill the Chicken

Heat your grill either gas or charcoal to high heat. Place the butterflied, pounded, and salted or marinated chicken on the hottest part of the grill. Cover the grill and let it cook for 3 minutes. Flip the chicken to the other side and cook another 1-2 minutes until the internal temperature is 160-161 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature will continue to go up because of the residual heat and will get to the safe temperature of 165 degrees.  Let the chicken rest at least 5 minutes before serving.

 

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Greek Pasta Salad

I love pasta salad in the summer. This particular pasta salad is simple to make and can be served warm, cold, or at room temperature. It doesn’t have and dairy or mayonnaise so it is a great option for picnics or outdoor meals because it is safe a room temperature for a much longer time.

The chickpeas and olives add some texture contrast and nice flavor to the pasta. You want to be sure to use plenty of salt in the pasta cooking water. Don’t worry, you won’t consume that much salt, but you can tell if the pasta wasn’t cooked in salted water. It will taste bland.

Greek Pasta Salad

1 Pound Pasta cooked in salted water and drained

1 6 oz Can Black Olives, drained

1 15 oz Can Chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/3 Cup Lemon Juice (from 3-4 lemons)

1/2 Cup Olive Oil (This is place to use your good extra virgin olive oil.)

1 teaspoon Coarse Sea Salt

1 teaspoon Dried Oregano

1 Clove Garlic

1/8 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

1/4 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

 

Directions

Slice the black olives in half. Add olives, chickpeas and pasta to a large bowl. In a blender mix remaining ingredients and blend for 15-30 seconds to make the dressing. Pour the dressing over the pasta mixture and mix well with a large spoon. Serve immediately, or chill and serve later.