Snacks!

I’ve shopped with Kroger grocery stores for many years. They have been a top contender in affordable offerings for a long time, and are imporving their ability to feed individuals on a budget. For a lot of folks, part of that budget is snacks, whether for between meals fulfillment, or for presentation at gatherings.

From the website:

“Kroger Brand: Where Awesome Meets Affordable
Kroger Brand strives to constantly outdo itself. That means you’ll find a wide variety of high-quality products, at great prices to boot! The experts behind the scenes are constantly innovating to bring you even more unique bites and delicious drinks, as well as convenient household staples.”

On this set of missions, Kroger is repeatedly using the word ‘awesome’ and with good reason.

Awesome (adjective): extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration; extremely good or excellent

Synonyms: breathtaking, awe-inspiring, magnificent, wonderful
Mission Level 1: Make Snack Time Awesome
IMG_4077This level of the mission offered up pizza rolls, chocolate chip cookies, trail mix, and some other goodies.

DSC_0140The cookies were an easy snack! I loaded them up with Nutella to make sandwich cookies. Served with cold milk, they went really fast.

 

 

IMG_4073The Kroger Brand Pizza Rolls have made it into our kitchen’s regular rotation for both snacks and quick meals. We found that leftover red sauce spread over the rolls and topped with shredded Italian cheeses makes a great, if a little messy, alternative to pasta! We also tried them with chili and cheese. We enjoy the results immensely!

 
Mission Level 2: Make Game Day Awesome
DSC_0967This mission level gave us a pub mix, a koozie, and some coupon based freebies like the seltzer water I love so much.

We put all of it to great snacking use.
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Mission Level 3: Make Halloween Awesome
DSC_0966When is Halloween not awesome? When there are no treats! This mission sent us goodies such as pumpkin carving stencils, pretzels, gummi worms, and a trick or treat bag. Sadly I was unable to put together the projects I wanted to try out, but we did some other awesome things for the spookiest night of the year.

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Here’s hoping this blog gives you some nifty snacking ideas not only for further along this season (Thanksgiving, Winter holidays, Superbowl, etc.), but for a long time to come.

— Ann Cathey

#WhereAwesomeMeetsAffordable #MyMagazineSharing #FreeSamp

Smoky Bacon Shortbread

Last year at Comicpalooza, I was honored to meet author Michelle Muenzler. In addition to being a great writer and mentor, she makes seriously awesome cookies. In fact, on the con circuit, she’s known as The Cookie Lady, as she always has cookies in tow.

Ms. Muenzler is kind enough to share her recipes on her website, and I have had great success with a few of them. My favorite, though, is her recipe for Earl Grey shortbread. Now, I’ve never actually made Earl Grey shortbread. I don’t care for Earl Grey tea, and as that’s the major flavoring agent, it didn’t seem like a wise choice. However, there are many, many teas that I do enjoy, and I’ve experimented with a few with great results.

My latest experiment with the Earl Grey shortbread recipe is this one: Smoky Bacon Shortbread. I subbed Tea Punk Tea’s Winter Smoke tea for the Earl Grey and added in some chopped candied bacon. Delicious! Below is the recipe, based on the one at Michelle’s website: http://www.michellemuenzler.com.

For candied bacon:

  • 1 1/2 strips of bacon
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp water

For shortbread:

  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 Tbsp loose Winter Smoke tea
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 strips of bacon, candied and finely chopped

Prepare candied bacon

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Place bacon strips on rack over a lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes.
  3. Flip bacon over. Baste with a mixture of 1 1/2 Tbsp of brown sugar and enough water to create a thick liquid.
  4. Return to oven for another 15 minutes or until bacon acquires preferred level of doneness.)

Prepare dough

  1. Cream together butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Add flour, tea, and salt. Mix until thoroughly combined.
  2. Chop bacon (I use a Ninja food processer) and stir into dough.
  3. Roll dough into logs (1″ thick or so). I do this on waxed paper or a silicon baking max sprinkled with powdered sugar.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or the waxed paper and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 375F.
  5. Slice logs into thin disks and place on nonstick baking sheets or parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until edges begin to brown, about 10-12 minutes. Let cool slightly, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling.

The Winter Smoke tea used here is available from the lovely people at: https://www.teapunkteas.com/store/c2/Black_Teas.html

 

 

Strawberry Pie with a Twist

Are you a fan of chocolate dipped strawberries? Strawberries dusted with cocoa powder? Strawberries and chocolate in any form? Then this might be the strawberry pie for you.

I borrowed a recipe from the Kroger website, and put my own spin on it. Sadly, I did not get photos of this delectable dessert.

STRAWBERRY PIE WITH A TWIST
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 1/2 hours
Serves: 8

Ingredients:
1 pkg (+/- 14 oz) cream filled chocolate sandwich cookies
3 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
2 tbsp arrowroot powder
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
1 3/4 cups water
1 pkg (3oz) strawberry gelatin
2 pints washed strawberries halved
Optional toppings: whipped cream, chocolate syrup, chocolate sprinkles

Directions:
Crust:
– Preheat oven to 325F.
– Crush cookies by preferred method. Place in bowl, add butter, and stir until thoroughly mixed and a little gooey.
– Pat mixture into pie plate, making sure the bottom and sides are covered with no breaks.
– Bake for 10 minutes, allow to cool to the side.

Sauce:
– Bring water and sugar to a boil.
– Add arrowroot and mix thoroughly.
– Remove from heat and stir in strawberry gelatin until dissolved.

Final:
– Arrange strawberries in cooled crust.
– Pour gelatin mixture over the strawberries.
– Refrigerate at least one hour or until set.

Serve:
– Top with whipped topping.
– Drizzle on chocolate syrup.
– Add chocolate sprinkles if desired.
– Refrigerate any leftovers.

 

Keep in mind that if strawberries cut in half are too much of a mouthful, cut them smaller. The smaller the slices, however, the more space there may be to fill in the pie. Adjust accordingly.

Adding other fruit, such as blueberries, can add a twist to the textures and flavors in this pie. Adjust the spices used to taste and give it a whirl.

I hope you enjoy this fresh fruit dessert as much as my friends did – it went quick!

— Ann Cathey

Holiday Tips and Shortcuts

Time runs short when prepping for the holidays at one point or another for all of us. I’ve gathered up some tips and shortcuts to help you through the holiday season that have proven their worth in my kitchen.

Peppermint is Your Friend
Hard peppermint candy is a wonderful all-purpose garnish for the winter season. Peppermint sticks used as stir sticks for hot cocoa add a minty splash to each cup. Crushed candies can be used to accentuate cookies (see the cookies items below), cakes, and even sprinkled around the edge of plates holding sweet dishes or dusted over slices of chocolate pie. Peppermint isn’t the only mint around. Spearmint is also more available during this time of year, as are many other flavors of candy canes. Get creative with your combinations and surprise guests with a little something extra.

Spiral Ham Saves Time
A spiral cut ham, while a little more pricey, will also save a lot of time when it comes to carving. Guests may choose full or half slices, or even layering the meat into a roll for a quick snack later in the evening. Figure on 1/2 pound of ham per person. The saltiness of ham pairs well with crisp flavors such as apple, pineapple, and cranberry. A chutney of these fruits makes a lovely glaze for baking, and a colorful and tasty spread for snacking on those ham rolls.

Traditional Flavors – From Another Country
Take a step away from the usual at the dinner or gathering table by basing your meal plan in the flavors of someplace far away. Europe is full of possibilities, as are some places closer to home.
Surprise your family with a European flare. The flavors of goose, gingerbread, a cherry stollen, marzipan cookies, and mulled wine will are examples of foods that will change a holiday meal into something memorable.
Going with a Spanish flavors, using saffron, tarragon, fennel and cinnamon to flavor your traditional dishes. The change in spices will fill your home with elegant scents, and offer your family something they won’t be expecting.
A taste of Mexico is another popular change, usually done Tex-Max style. Instead of turkey and dressing, go with tamales and chili, refried beans, hot queso and queso flameado with tortillas and chips.
Let’s not forget Jamaica! Jerked pork, fruit salsas of mango and pineapple, sweet breads, and if you really want to go all out, try roasted breadfruit. The textures and flavors are amazing.

Cookie Exchange
If you find yourself in a time crunch for a cookie exchange, Bake simple cookies such as snicker-doodles or sugar cookies and dip each cookie half-way in chocolate. Add holiday sprinkles or crushed peppermint to add even more tasty appeal. Macaron style filled cookies are also quick with pre-made frostings that come in dozens of flavors. Store bought cookies can also be treated this way, though make them something exciting and special by choosing foreign imports (Mexico and England are popular). Gingersnaps and vanilla wafers make good sandwich cookies. Roll the edges of the filling with crushed hard candies to add color and a personal touch.

Holiday Cocktails
Bring the flavors of the holidays into your party season or family gathering with adult beverages based in apple cider. Mix dark rum, cider, and cinnamon in a pitcher to serve hot or cold. Cider is also a good base for brandy and mulling spices.

Use a crock pot to keep your warm drinks warm with a low setting. Serve as needed all night long.

Cookie Tins
Cookies make great holiday gifts. colorful containers, both plastic and metal are wildly available these days, making cookie gift giving simple and attractive for the holidays. Whether you buy specialty cookies, or bake your own, choose four or five of each type of cookie, place them in cupcake papers to separate them, and arrange them attractively into your containers. Each container should hold several different types of cookies. Make several containers at one time so as to not waste cookies! Use mini tins to make wonderful party favors for guests to enjoy after the event is over.

Brownie in a Jar
Another fun gift for individuals who like to bake is a recipe in a jar. Choose a pretty jar with a good lid. Mason jars are good for this gift, though other styles may be used. Layer the dry ingredients of your favorite brownie recipe into the jar. Recipes for cookies, pancakes, and other baked goods may also be used – the more colorful and different the layers, the better. Write out the instructions and wet ingredients on the back of a festive gift tag and tie it to the jar with a bright ribbon. Add a bow on top for that extra touch.

 

I hope you have as much fun – and time savings! – as I have had with these suggestions over the years.

— Ann Cathey

 

Cruise Cuisine – Last Night in Sapphire

Due to an unexpected fog which kept the Port of Galveston closed, we were treated to an extra night on board the Carnival Breeze. One more night of fine dining in Sapphire – who was complaining? Certainly not our group!

 

Appetizers

This is a sample of the bread basket that was served every evening in Sapphire. It consisted of baguette pieces, ciabatta buns, and whole wheat rolls.

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Bread Basket

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Shrimp Cocktail

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Candied Salmon

 

Main Course

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Swordfish over Pilaf, with Lemon Reduction and a side of Ratatouille

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Fried Shrimp and Shrimp Fried Rice with Baked Macaroni & Cheese

 

Desserts

Some of the delightful desserts we had encountered previously were again available, so we availed ourselves of the chance to enjoy them once more before the trip ended.

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Nutella Tiramisu

 

The Date & Fig Pudding was a light and fluffy sort of cake, with a passion fruit custard. The intent was to poke a hole in the top of the pudding and pour the creamy custard into it. not only was I able to partake of the dessert, I also had a chance to play with my food in a socially acceptable manner.

There are several of us who can’t wait to cruise again!

–Ann Cathey

Cruise Cuisine – Sapphire Sea Day

On our third “sea day”, a day not in port, but on the open waters, we went along to dinner in Sapphire thinking it would be our last day to experience such a luscious repast. More on that hint in the next installment of this series.

Appetizers

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Beef Carpaccio with shaved Parmesan, Arugula, and Lemon Vinaigrette

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Baked Onion Soup

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Steamed Mussels with Garlic Toast

 

Main Course 

The prime rib was wonderful, shown here with and without the reduction.

 

The creole was billed as being “Caribbean Style” and turned out to be full of shrimp and  veggies, and very mild in heat.

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Tiger Shrimp Creole with a scoop of Jambalaya

 

Dessert

The cherry pie was a bit of a surprise, being very dense, but it was quite tasty with a sweet/tart combination that pleased the palate.

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Cherry Pie a la Mode

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Carrot Cake with Candied Ginger and Caramel Sauce

 

Among all the birthdays we celebrated on this cruise, we were surprised when our anniversary was also brought to light.

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Chocolate Panna Cotta

 

 

— Ann Cathey

Cruise Cuisine -Another Sapphire Evening

Our group was assigned two side-by-side tables in the Sapphire dining area. We were able to sit down each night with variations on seating, often being able to taste and share bits of our meals with one another.

Each encounter in Sapphire was as satisfying as the first.

Appetisers

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Mushrooms stuffed with spinach, Romano, and fine herbs.

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Chesapeake crab cakes with an herb remoulade.

 

 

Main Courses

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Duo of Filet Mignon and Short Rib in a red wine reduction with sautéed green beans.

 

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Spanikopita with couscous stuffed bell pepper on a bed of stewed tomato, with fired eggplant and a dab of Greek yogurt.

 

 

Desserts

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Grand Marnier Soufflé with orange crème anglaise.

 

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Chocolate and Amaretto Cake

 

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Key Lime Mousse, low calorie with no added sugar.

 

— Ann Cathey

Cruise Cuisine – Sapphire

After a tiring day of walking and bussing about in Montego Bay, we settled in for supper with our sunburns and big grins. It was time to chat together about our day’s excursions while our meal was presented to us with leisurely decorum.

We admittedly got a little crazy with ordering items to try this night, but fortunately had table companions who were willing to help consume it all.

Appetisers

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Cannelloni filled with Ricotta, bacon, and shaved Parmesan.

 

Lovely, salty cured ham with sweet and mellow cantaloupe is a definite taste treat.

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Prosciutto ruffles over sweet melon.

 

It wasn’t as if there had not already been jerk chicken that day, but there just had to be more. The sauce was not as spicy hot as the one we had sampled on shore, but it was extremely tasty, nonetheless.

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Jerk chicken wings with jicama slaw

 

I’ve tried ox tongue and beef tongue before now and found it to be chewy and not to my liking. This dish changed all that. The tongue was as tender and flavorful as any well roasted cut of beef I have ever put into my mouth. It fairly fell apart without chewing.

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Braised Ox Tongue with onion marmalade.

 

Main Courses

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Salmon Cakes with lemon, capers and sour cream.

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Grilled Beef Tenderloin in a red wine reduction with polenta.

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Caribbean Shrimp Curry (mild) with coconut rice, lemon grass and chilies.

Desserts

This may have been the most outstanding dessert we tried on the ship, even among all of the truly delicious temptations we had been offered. The warm brioche simply melted in your mouth.

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Sticky Toffee Brioche with vanilla crème and strawberry sauces.

 

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Mango Cream Cake with fresh fruit salsa and mint. Another lower calorie,  no sugar added item.

 

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S’mores Parfait featuring dark chocolate, graham cracker mousse, milk chocolate, and toasted marshmallow.

 

 

There was simply too much to tease our palates with, and we definitely tried to taste everything!

— Ann Cathey

Cruise Cuisine – Supper in Sapphire

On our third day of the cruise, we were back in Sapphire for dinner. Things were pretty relaxed, and while there was a dress code, no one was really enforcing it.

We were getting more into the swing of things and finally noticed this little addition to the menu that featured an unusual appetizer: “Rare Finds”. My partner in food was much more willing and able to take advantage of this particular little gem. While I returned to the shrimp cocktail, he adventurously ordered the Escargots Bourgignonne (snails in Burgandy). They were not presented in shell, but on a special plate with numerous cups around the rim, each holding a snail. The flavor of the sauce they had been cooked in was outstanding, the heartiness of wine mixed with spices and butter. I was at least brave enough to try that, if not the gastropods themselves.

Sadly, in our excitement, neither of us remembered to take photos of the appetizers.

Our main courses were more mainstream, being beef and chicken, but were as delicious as everything else we had been served to date.

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Chicken Milanese with charred lemon, sautéed green beans, and steamed vegetables.

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Flat Iron Steak with au jus, a baked potato and steamed veggies.

On we went, after a measured pause, to dessert. One of the selections truly surprised me, being lower calorie and having no added sugar. Of course I had to try it and I was not disappointed.

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Chocolate Panna Cotta. A deliciously chocolate dessert with lowered calories and no added sugars.

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Cheese Plate with whole grain bread, blueberries and strawberries, A Swiss-type cheese, a bleu cheese, a Gouda, a Cheddar and a Brie.

If for nothing else, time spent together with excellent food readily available made this trip more than worth the price.

— Ann Cathey