Derek Johnson Muses

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Apple Turnovers

A few weeks ago, I realized that I needed to use up the apples I had in my freezer. They were not cut the right way to make into filing for kolaches, so I decided to make them into apple turnovers. Of course, first this required finding a recipe for turnovers. And thawing the apples.

The Filling

The Filling

And yeah, adding brown sugar and decent cinnamon.

I found a pie crust recipe online that used Crisco. I’m not a fan of any recipe where you have to cut butter into a flour mixture. I made only a small amount of dough, only enough to see that it would work and it was enough for four turnovers. I had to stretch the dough, but I used all of the apples and filings.



Mercifully, only one had an opening big enough to allow the juice to leak out onto the pan. The turnovers themselves were a bit bland, but had a still small preservation of apple taste. I’d try them again; even though it felt like a lot of work, it wasn’t that bad.

Snack Time

Snack Time

Limiting Grocery Store Trips

Stocked Shelves...

Stocked Shelves…

Monday two weeks ago, I had an epiphany: I should try not to go to the grocery store this week instead of my usual three trips a week. I always end up going to the grocery store the second I need something, and then I get a lot of stuff I hadn’t planned on getting, some of which I don’t even need. It was time for me to adopt the practice of making list. Plus, there was plenty of meat in my freezer that I needed to use.

It was a challenging few days, during which I made a special chili for dinner: hamburger, tomato soup, and kidney beans with Holen One Farms’ spice. After a day or two, the fact that I didn’t have any chips started to wear on me. Chips are a huge part of my diet, as I end up eating them with pretty much every meal.  So I bargained with myself a bit: I’ll go when I get a list that has more than ten items. And when one of them becomes bathroom cleaner, the trip becomes all the more urgent.

In the end, I spent $66 on groceries, and the only meat I bought was a four pack of polish sausage that was on sale. A lot of my purchases were baking stuff that happened to be on sale for the holidays. It is now a week later, and I have absolutely no need to go to the grocery store. I’ve only ate out once, at the midweek advent dinner at church. The following week, I also managed to only make one trip to the grocery. In addition, I also have a better idea of how much I’ve spent on food, so I can budget better. Sweet smell of life improvement.

Coffee Bread, Microwave French Toast, and Corn Flakes Treats: New Adventures in the New Kitchen

Early evening light coming through the window...

Early evening light coming through the window…

Everyone tells me that my new kitchen is spectacular, and truth be told, it does dazzle. Its subtle orange color scheme is more out there than most kitchens (certainly brighter than my last two kitchens), and it has an old-fashioned, swing into the room window which looks into my utility room widow. But as a frequent cook, I love spending my evenings tweaking old recipes and trying new things.

As a coffee junkie, I have been considering ways that I could integrate leftover coffee into my cooking. I decided to substitute the coffee as water in making basic bread in the machine. Since I envisioned the bread as ideal for toast with eggs, I added brown sugar and cinnamon. It turn out to be the perfect volume of sweet, like a warm muffin, and the conversion of water to coffee was exact. It did go well as toast, but I still had brautwurst on it too.

Mix up the same

Mixes up the same…


Same Delicious

And after cutting some makeshift hotdog buns out of a few slices of bread, I experimented in making a single serving of French toast in the microwave. (Side note: if you live alone, making pancakes and/or French toast for just yourself is always such a dilemma.) I simply broke up the ends into smaller pieces and mixed up about a cup and a half of milk with an egg, cinnamon, and peppermint syrup instead of vanilla. (Really have to remember to move that here too.) Two minutes in the microwave, and I have French toast for one.

French toast out of the microwave...

French toast out of the microwave…

I also took a new approach to making granola, using marshmallows instead of honey as the sticky substance to hold the dry ingredients together like Rice Krispie treats. My friend Marian had given me some Corn Flakes when I moved in, so I used them with the Cheerios instead of oats. On the second batch, I found out it took half the bag of marshmallows to get the treats to stick together. But totally worth it, although I really should just break down and buy the specialty honey I like.

The base

The Base…

The Sticky Stuff...

The Sticky Stuff…

The Delicious..

The Delicious..

Yeah, my new kitchen rocks.

Making and Using Pork Marinade-With Apple Wine!

I frequently use my crockpot, because I like doing large roasts. But rarely am I industrious enough to create a marinade to soak my meat in. Marinade’s take time, and I usually don’t think far enough ahead, until a few week, when I googled “how to make marinade.” Per usual, I took the base ideas and played with them a little bit. I put in 3/4 cup oil and 1 cup barbeque (Holen-in-One Farms, a local Nebraska sauce), and mixed it with a few seasonings.


Oil and barbeque

Then to play with it some more, I added about 1/4 cup apple wine I’d bought in Michigan. It’s not the world’s greatest wine, but for this purpose, it makes for a great complement.

Wine from the Round Barn

Wine from the Round Barn

I took the pork roast out of the freezer, and let it thaw out for about an hour, enough time to poke holes in it with a fork. Then I poured the marinade on it, gradually soaking each side, and then putting it in the refrigerator. I let it soak for four hours, taking out each hour to turn it over and bathe it in the marinade, which helped the pork absorb most of it.

Roast Pre-Crock Pot

Roast Pre-Crock Pot

I cooked the pork roast in the crock pot for four hours, rotating it over. The result was a well-flavored meat, hinted just right by the apple wine. For once, thinking ahead paid off for me.

Finished product

Finished product

Coffee (without a maker), Cookies (barely), and Omelets

Makeshift filter

Makeshift filter

During the time that I was snowed in, I faced the dilemma of how to make coffee without my coffee maker. I racked my brain and remembered how certain coffee shops like Blue Bottle in San Francisco and Intelligentsia in Chicago would brew a single cup by drip. So I found a video on YouTube and figured it out. I had to get an ordinary funnel and filter and set them over a cup. I wet the filter with 400 ml of water first, then discarded that water. Then I put the beans in the filter, heat the water in the microwave. I had to pour the water slowly, but it worked as well as I could have hoped for.


Sloppy gingersnap dough

I also made some gingersnaps while I was snowed in, but somehow they turned out sloppy. I wasn’t able to roll the balls in sugar and had to drizzle the sugar on instead. They eat just as well.


Cutting the slog

If there is one habit of cooking that I love, it’s making a lot of one thing and eating for several meals. Thursday, I cooked a third of a pound of pork sausage (for those of you who live in Seward, Pac-N-Save makes great pork sausage). One of my meals with the sausage was a pasta dish, the other two were egg dishes, one of which included relish cooked right into the omelet. And this is how I get through my snowed in time, by taking care of myself with wooden cooking spoons.


Putting together lunch

Bread Pudding with Coconut Milk

Whenever my mom leaves, there is always something odd left in the fridge. One time in the last couple of months, she left me half a bottle of coconut milk. (Personally, I think it should be called think coconut water, since I assume it doesn’t come out of an animal. Anyone know if lactose intolerant people can drink it?) So I busted it out and made a loaf of bread with it; the loaf was creamy think, an unique product

Squeeze that coconut.

So with a new loaf of bread, I decided that I would make bread pudding with the 1/4 of the old loaf, which was starting to crumble in the Tupperware. Happy coincidence. I broke up the bread, and mixed some raisins, almonds, and cinnamon, and set it aside.

Bread and Berries.

I decided this shouldn’t be any ordinary bread pudding: it should have apples, sauteed on the stoves, then mix in the coconut milk.

Softening the Apples

As you can see, coconut milk is rich and deep, which makes for a filling pudding. It’s even a pleasure to mix.

The Meat of the Pudding

The add in the bread mix and work until it has been saturated through. Then I put it in the fridge to let it absorb the flavor.

The Mix-Up

After about half-an-hour in the fridge, I put in the oven at 375 degrees and check it at half an hour. The middle is still soft, so I give it another twenty, checking at ten. Then it’s well-cooked and juicy, and makes for a perfect dessert after a small meal, or as just a snack or a breakfast food. Just pour on some regular milk prior to reheating.

Finished Product: Gooey Goodness

I love cooking

Pizza Night

A couple of Friday nights ago, I decided that I would make a homemade pizza. I had bought the sauce a couple of months ago when it was on sale, and it was finally time. First, I set up the dough in the bread machine

1 1/2 C. water

1 TBSP oil

1/2 TSP salt

3 C. bread flour

2 TSP yeast

This is a basic batch that works well for kolaches or rolls too.

The Primitive Crust

For the topping, I unearthed the sausage leftover from a time I made sausage gravy. I’m lucky our local grocery store (Pac ‘N’ Save) sells such good natural sausage.

Grilling the Sausage

Having worked for Valentino’s in high school, I have had a lot of experience making pizzas. I kneed the dough a typical twenty times, and go through the familiar motion of spreading the sauce with the back of a spoon.

The Saucing

I add the sausage and cheese, and I bake at 400 degrees for thirty minutes. I rotate the pizza at twenty minutes.

The cheese needs to be just a little bit browner

And at the end, I have a great pizza for dinner!

Finished Product

A Little Cornstarch…Goes a Long Way

Making gravy is a struggle for me. I can never get the corn starch to to completely dissolve in the juice, so I spend eight minutes standing over the stove stewing over the little clumps that remain in the first serving. But somehow, the lumps resolve themselves when I put the leftover gravy in the fridge, and aren’t there when I eat the rest of it. There must be some little thing that I’m doing wrong.

But recently, I had some leftover pot roast, and I decided to take a new approach to making gravy. First, I mixed the bouillon with water and got it boiling.

The Boiling Sauce Pan

Then I tried something new: mixing up the cornstarch with the spices, namely oregano, garlic powder,  and thyme leaves, with seasoned salt. Probably an odd pallet, but it gives a plethora of sensation with balance.

The Bowl

Then I mix it together with a fork to break up the clumps, then I drizzle some of the juice in an attempt to mix a small amount of juice with it to wet all of the corn starch. But the juice on the stove is boiling away, so I add in the cornstarch mix, little by little, whipping it around and attacking the clumps with my wire whisk. I still get lumps in the finished product.

Sigh. I know that there must a better way. Perhaps if I turned the temperature down on the stove a little more toward the end, it would just naturally thicken. Or I’m just resigned to years corn starch lumps in my gravy. Maybe I could get used to the taste of corn starch.

My Recipe Book and Apple Bars

Once again challenged for a post-Bible study dessert, I did what all great cooks do: opened my recipe book.

Yes, all my important recipes are taped to inside of the kitchen cupboards. It’s the only way for me to keep track of the recipes I find on the internet that I really like, and besides, I wouldn’t have anything else on those cupboards otherwise. From there I retrieved my recipe for fruit bars:

The Base:

1/2 C. Butter

1 C. Brown Sugar (This time, I misread the recipe and used white sugar. Still turned out fine.)

1 1/2 C. Flour

1/2 TSP Baking Soda

1 1/2 C. Oats

To spice it up, I added some hazelnut syrup and cinnamon.


The Middle:

2 C. Fruit (Apples in this case)

1/2 C. Sugar

In the Cut

I use half of the base on the bottom, then layer the apples. Because I used apples, I busted out caramel topping to layer on the apples. It works on muffins! Then I use the rest of the base on top and bake for about thirty minutes The results:

Delicious; it was like a sweet bread with apples.

Blackberry Rhubarb Crisp with a Latte Twist

Sunday, I had to make a dessert for my young adult Bible study, so I hauled some rhubarb and blackberries out of the freezer. But when I went to make the topping, I decided to spice things up with the coffee spices my parents gave me for Christmas. I took a tablespoon of cinnamon hazelnut syrup and mixed it with seven tablespoons butter. Then I sprinkled in some cinnamon and chocolate flavoring, and added the requisite flour, brown sugar, oats, and almonds to make the topping.

The result was a rich, flavorful dessert, when topped with ice cream, hit the spot. Praise the Lord I was pressed for time to make this dessert, otherwise I might not have been so creative.

My Homemade Granola

I take a lot of pride in making my own granola. At many times, granola has become a substitute for cookies; in a way, all granola is cookies without the mass amounts of butter and sugar.

The base for my granola is always oats and a cereal, either rice crispies or cheerios, and at least a cup of each. Then there are the add-ons: raisins, nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts), and coconut on special occasion. To top it off, I put on some cinnamon or other spice, and mix it together. Then I put 1/4 cup chocolate chips on top

To make it stick together, I melt/soften 1/3 cup honey and 1/4 cup peanut butter in the microwave, and pour it over the chocolate chips and base and mix it up. The key to getting a good batch is the honey, I make sure I get the best. I’ve used orange honey, strawberry honey, or simple raw honey, and they’re all great.

There’s my simple granola. I usually refrigerate afterward, and it makes some nice bars.

My Quest for the Right Cookies

Wednesday night, I had to make cookies so that I had something to take into the gallery the next day. I really should get more imagination when it comes to baking cookies, but I usually just use the recipe on the back of the chocolate chips bag, which gives you nothing but a lump of melded butter and sugar, which lead me to sub 1/2 cup of peanut butter for butter. I also sub oats for some of the flour and add walnuts and raise, for the nutrition, or the illusion thereof. Really, I just put in all stuff I like. Here’s my recipe:

1/2 C. Peanut Butter

3/4 C. Sugar

3/4 C. Brown Sugar

2 Eggs

1/2 TSP Cinnamon

1 TSP Vanilla (from Texas, in my case)

1 1/3 C. Flour

1 1/4 C. Old Fashioned Oats

1 TSP Baking Soda

1/2 TSP Salt

1/4 C. Chopped Walnuts

1/3 C. Raisins

1/3 C. Chocolate Chips

Here’s the result

They still are a little dry, but they are good and a step above a pure sugar treat, so in my book, I did pretty well.


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