Domesticity Nouveau

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Warm up that belly!

My fridge and freezer are strange places. They have little bits of this and that since I save almost any little bit of this or that because I know I can use it later. This comes in handy for some interesting creations at times. Yesterday that creation happened to be Sweet Potato Enchiladas. There is something very pleasing and comfy about sweet and spicy food; perfect for a stormy evening.

I was inspired by a recipe I found at All Recipes, but didn’t have exactly the ingredients listed, but that has yet to stop me! Below is my rendition of the recipe. Keep in mind that I make almost everything for our home from scratch, probably the reason my fridge and freezer are strange places. In this recipe my homemade ingredients were yogurt, black bean burgers and enchilada sauce. My most recent batch of enchilada sauce (recipe below) was incredibly spicy, so I used yogurt to temper the spice and stretch the sauce a bit, you may not need to do this with store bought enchilada sauce. If you don’t have black bean burgers, I imagine a can of black beans rinsed and drained would work just as well. If you don’t have Chipotles en adobo, trying sautéing some chopped red pepper with the onions, or leave out the peppers. You can adjust everything to your liking. If you don’t like heavily seasoned foods, use less spice or use more if you do like a heavy spice. I you don’t like black beans, leave ‘em out or use something different, maybe some frozen corn or left over rice. If you don’t have yogurt, try sour cream or leave it out. You get the idea! My one word of caution is you can always add, you just can’t take out… go be creative!

Doyle Sweet Potato Enchiladas

(yep, that would mean Irish Mexican food)

2 large sweet potatoes in large chunks, w/ or w/out skins
1 small yellow onion chopped
3 black bean burgers
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt, divided
2 Tbsp diced Chipotles en adobo peppers with sauce
2 tsp Chili Powder*
2 tsp Cumin
2 tsp Oregano
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 pinch of cayenne
Salt & Pepper to taste
16 oz spicy enchilada sauce
Corn Tortillas, probably about 12
Oil for frying tortillas**
Cheese such as cheddar or jack for topping
Sliced olives for topping

Boil sweet potatoes till soft. While potatoes are boiling, cook black bean burgers until just done and sauté onion in a tiny bit of oil until soft and starting caramelize. Break up the burgers and add with onions to the sweet potatoes and mash with 1/2 cup of the yogurt. Add your seasonings and adjust to taste.

Preheat oven to 350F. Fry tortillas, one at a time, pausing between each to generously fill with sweet potato filling and roll into an enchilada, place in an 9”x13” baking dish (have a smaller baking dish ready in case you need it for extras). Mix enchilada sauce and remaining yogurt together to your liking, or don’t mix in yogurt at all, up to you. Pour the sauce over the enchiladas, top with cheese and olives. Bake for 30 minutes, until gooey and bubbly and you can’t wait to dive in. I recommend serving with slices of lightly salted avocado.

*I use straight chili powder, not the commercial blends that are labeled as chili powder. You might need to adjust your seasonings with slightly less cumin since that is a common ingredient in commercial blends. We like a strong spice, so perhaps start with half or less of all the spices to get it to your liking.

**Frying the tortillas till soft & easy to roll is a traditional method. An alternative method is to warm the individual tortillas for a few seconds in the microwave till soft enough to roll. It isn’t nearly as delicious, and I won’t use a microwave, but you’re eating it, not me…

Corn tortillas are a very budget friendly tool come dinner time. Try making enchiladas with scrambled eggs and hash browns O’Brien (more Irish Mexican), fill with left over chicken or ground beef, mash up some black beans, left over rice and corn… you get the idea… wrap some stuff in a corn tortilla and pour sauce over it! It may not always be a “traditional” Mexican enchilada, but that won’t stop it from tasting delicious!

Enchilada sauce isn’t as budget friendly, at around $2-$4 for a small can. My enchilada sauce is somewhat different from what you can find in a can at the market or on your plate at a restaurant, but for about the cost of one can, you can have about 12 pints! About a year ago I spent several days reading all the enchilada sauce recipes I could find and came up with the one below. I make a huge batch and freeze it so I always have it handy for quick dinners. It is still a work in progress, but this is where I am so far. Someday I will perfect it… I will… I Must… I will MASTER enchilada sauce!!!! Bwahahaha (evil laugh for effect)

Enchilada Sauce

12-16 ounces dried chili peppers*
1 head roasted garlic
2 yellow onions, chopped & sautéed until soft and golden
1/4 cup dried oregano
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cocoa powder
2 Tbsp to 1/4 cup brown sugar

To roast garlic: Heat oven to 250 degrees. Separate cloves from the main garlic bulb, but leave paper on. Cut off the root end of the cloves. Place cloves on a piece of foil, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and mix to coat. Close up foil to make a packet and place in the oven for about an hour, or until the cloves are soft and lightly browned. You can also simply cut the top portion of the head off, keeping all the cloves intact, but this can take longer to roast and I often get the papers in my concoctions when I go to squeeze out the garlic.

While your garlic is roasting, sit down in front of the tv with a large soup pot, a garbage bowl and your bag of peppers. Remove the stems and seeds from the dried peppers and place in the garbage bowl. Tear the seeded peppers into pieces, put in the large soup pot. Make sure to not touch your face while you do this, as the oils from the peppers will be all over your fingers. I don’t wear gloves, but some people do.

Cover the dried peppers with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few hours until the peppers are very soft and falling apart. Keep an eye on the water level to make sure they are always covered and stirring occasionally. Once soft, add oregano and onion, squeeze roasted garlic into the pot, taking care to keep the papery skins out. Take an immersion blender to the pot and whirl away until there are no remnants of anything and you have a smooth sauce. I suppose you could do this with a blender or food processor in batches if you don’t have an immersion blender. Taste, add salt as needed and the cocoa powder and brown sugar if you are using them. Pour into pint jars, leaving an inch of head room and freeze.

*Dried chili peppers can often be found in the produce section or the Mexican food aisle. Different peppers have different flavors and heat levels. I buy mine in the produce section and don’t have a clue which pepper is which, so I just grab a mix. You can look online if you want to get more specific, but I like the surprise factor!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Caramel Goodness

Caramel is one of my favorite foods. Smooth, creamy, sweet... mmmmmmm. Once I start eating it, it is hard for me to stop. I think the craving has its origins in my very pale skin; if I eat enough, I will turn a beautiful caramel color, like when you eat too many carrots you turn orange.

This holiday season I’m hoping to get a good knowledge base in candy making. My entry into this foreign land has been similar to Goldilock’s visit to the three bears. I started with hard candy, and it was okay, not spectacular, but it was hard. Next I made pulled molasses taffy. After a couple of hours of pulling taffy, it never became taffy. It was quite tasty, but much too soft. My third attempt was caramels, and they were just right!

I was given the recipe by a friend at church (Thanks, Janelle!) and hoped that I would have success. I have been reading about sea salt caramels for a while, and really wanted to try them, but couldn’t bring myself to pay the outrageous amounts they go for. So, I made my own. Below is the recipe as Janelle gave it to me and my version for sea salt caramels.

Epikos Caramels

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup butter (NOT margarine)
1 cup evaporated milk (NOT sweetend condensed milk)
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 ¼ teaspoon vanilla

Grease a 12x15” pan. In a medium pot (I used a 4 qt), combine everything but the vanilla. Watch the heat of the mixture with a candy thermometer, while stirring over low to medium heat. When the mixture reaches 250F* remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla. Transfer to prepared pan and let it cool. When cool, cut the caramels into squares and wrap in wax paper for storage.

Epikos Sea Salt Caramels

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup unsalted butter (NOT margarine)
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup evaporated milk (NOT sweetend condensed milk)
1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoon vanilla
Sea salt to sprinkle on top

Line a 13x9” baking dish with foil and heavily butter. The foil will make it easier to remove the caramels after they have cooled. In a Medium pot (I used a 4 qt), combine everything but the vanilla. Watch the heat of the mixture with a candy thermometer (essential), while constantly stirring gently over med to low heat. Be patient, do not turn up the heat to speed this along and be gentle, do not stir like a crazy person. When the mixture reaches 250F-255F* remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Transfer to prepared pan, sprinkle with sea salt and let it cool. When cool, remove from pan and cut into squares. Wrap squares in wax paper for storage. The amount this makes will depend on the size you cut your caramel squares, but it makes A LOT, more than enough to share and still eat yourself silly.

*The mixture will easily reach about 220F, and then stall for a while. Resist the temptation to turn up the heat, just be patient and take the delay as an opportunity to thinking loving thoughts (or any other emotion you choose) and stir them into the caramels. I cook mine to 255F because I like a firm caramel and live in a humid climate. Also, if you live above sea level, you will need to adjust the final temperature. To do this, place your candy thermometer in a pot of water and note at what temperature it begins to boil. Water boils at 212F at sea level, but may boil at 202F for your altitude. Subtract the difference from your final cooking temperature.

When your caramels are cooling, you might look at your pan and think you will never get the cooked mess of goo out and you momentarily hate me for trying this recipe. Your hate will quickly turn to love when you realize that candy is one of the easier foods to clean up. All you have to do is let your pan and utensils soak for a bit in water; the sugar dissolves and everything washes away easy-pleasy! If it isn’t washing away easily, you haven’t been lazy enough! Let everything sit for a bit longer and be patient! Go pour a glass of wine and relax!

Along the same lines as caramel is Dulce de Leche. For those of you not acquainted with Dulce de Leche, it is this wonderful sweet & creamy Latin American caramel-like sauce or candy. It can be quite expensive if you want to buy it, especially when you consider how inexpensive it is to make… and how easy! It has four ingredients, and will cost you under a $1.50 to make 16 oz.; far better on the wallet than the $10-$20 you would pay for such a gourmet treat. I’m always amazed at how expensive “gourmet” foods are when they are usually the most simplistic and basic of ingredients.

I had milk that was about to go bad and really didn’t want to throw it out. Our ancestors faced this same dilemma. Well, maybe not the same dilemma, but they understood how to preserve their food to make it last as long as possible. Before the mighty refrigerator, milk was preserved as yogurt, cheese, butter and…. Dulce de Leche! So if you don’t drink your milk fast enough, consider this as an option, you will thank me and probably want to hide it so you don’t have to share.

Dulce de Leche

2 qts whole milk
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda

In a large sauce pan (I use an 8 qt) over medium heat, combine the milk, sugar and vanilla. Slowly stir until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the baking soda and prepare for foam!* Don’t try to incorporate the foam, just let it do its thing. Once the mixture begins to simmer, reduce the heat to low and keep it at a low, slow simmer. Stir occasionally until the mixture reduces to about 2 cups and becomes a dark caramel syrup, anywhere from 2-5 hours, depending on humidity and your stove. Store in the refrigerator up to four weeks, if it lasts that long. Dulce de Leche can be used as an ice-cream topping, filling for cookies, stirred into hot cocoa or hot apple cider, or just hide in the closet with a spoon.

*Michelle’s note: This is really going to foam like crazy, which is why it is essential that you use a pot much larger than you think you will need. Expect the mixture to foam a bit each time you give it a stir. I switch spoons after the initial mixing and that seems to help cut down on the foaming. You can easily reduce this recipe by half.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

My favorite beverage... GRAVY!!!

For me, the most essential element to a fabulous Thanksgiving is the gravy. It helps to have mashed potatoes, stuffing and turkey to put it on, but it isn't necessary... a spoon and bowl are all that I need. Come to think of it, sitting by the fire sipping from a warm mug of gravy sounds perfect!

So what goes into a good gravy? Like a lot of fabulous foods, you need to build flavors through a few simple steps. You have to start with a tasty base, add in the delicious drippings from the roast turkey, and season it just so. Another key to good gravy is the quantity... there MUST be a massive amount!! Whoever came up with the idea that a scant 1/4 cup is a serving of gravy must have had a mother who was a horrible cook!

How you thicken the gravy will also contribute to your gravy experience. My mother always used cornstarch to thicken her gravy because she was afraid of having lumps from the flour. I now have to use cornstarch because of my body's severe rebellion to wheat and gluten. So my recipe that follows uses cornstarch, but feel free to adapt it to flour if that is what you are used to.

A big part of the Thanksgiving experience is having the flavors that you grew up with. I believe that is why Thanksgiving is such a comforting holiday, it is filled with the familiar and familial. If you have ever experienced a turkey-day away from your family and with food that didn't taste like your Mom's, you understand the importance of tradition; It comforts and soothes the soul. The smells reconnect you to all the years past where you enjoyed good food and the blessings of having a family. It makes you feel safe because it is something you know from it's repetitive nature. It nourishes your soul because it connects you to the roots of your family, knowing that generations upon generations of your family have gathered annually to eat the same meal you are eating today. But I digress...

Mama 'bare's gravy recipe:

Turkey neck (find it inside the turkey's cavity, or under the tail, when you clean the turkey before roasting)
1/2 medium onion, cut into large chunks
1 medium carrot, cut into large chunks
2 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
Poultry seasoning or sage & thyme to taste
Chicken Broth and/or water
Salt and pepper to taste

As you wash and prep your bird for roasting, pull out the neck and gizzards and what-nots from inside the bird's cavities. Set the neck to the side for your gravy... what you do with the rest is up to you, growing up we cooked the organs for the kitties so they could have a treat. Once you get the bird in the oven to roast, it is time to make your gravy base. I always pour a can of chicken broth in the bottom of my turkey roasting pan... not to keep things moist, but to assure that I have great dripping to add to the gravy base later.

Over medium high heat, brown the turkey neck and veggies in a 2 quart sauce pan. Just use a dry pan, no oil or butter. This takes about 3-4 minutes per side and adds some depth to the gravy flavor. Don't worry if bits stick to the bottom, this is a good thing because those brown bits add deliciousness!!!

Once your neck is browned, quickly pour in 1/2 can of chicken broth and scrape up anything that stuck to the bottom during the browning. Pour in the remaining broth and fill the rest of the pan with water, to within 2-3 inches of the top. Sprinkle lightly with poultry seasoning or sage & thyme (1/2 tsp each). I don't like my gravy to be heavily seasoned since I tend to heavily season my stuffing and that perfumes the rest of the meal, but seasoning is a matter of taste and yours may be different from mine. Wait until the end to adjust seasonings, though.

Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for a few hours while your turkey cooks. When you are ready to make the gravy, remove the neck and veggies from the pan. Toss the veggies to the doggies or the compost pile. I let the neck cool a bit and pull off the meat, which I add back into the broth.

When the turkey is done, pour all the drippings from the roasting pan into your gravy base. It's at this point that you want to do your fat skimming. Either use a spoon to carefully remove the fat layer on the top of your gravy base or use a fat separator or throw in a handful of ice cubes which congeal the fat and quickly scoop out the ice cubes and fat or however else your mother taught you or leave all the fat in. It is up to you, but do remember that you need a small amount of fat in your gravy base in order for your thickeners to work and fat has a lot of flavor. Personally I use a spoon because I am A. cheap, and B. concerned that I will loose gravy to the few drippings that will stick to the inside of the fat separator, possibly decreasing the amount of gravy available to drown my plate in. (I do set aside a small amount of this gravy base and dripping mixture to drizzle over my extra pan of stuffing, it helps to boost its flavor like it was roast in the bird.)

To thicken the gravy, bring the gravy base to a boil. Mix together a couple of heaping spoonfuls of cornstarch, about 3 TBSP, and mix with a small amount of water, until thin enough to pour. Drizzle cornstarch slurry into boiling gravy base while stirring. Let the cornstarch work it's magic for about a minute. If it isn't thick enough, add a little more cornstarch and water until you get it how you like it, if it is too thick, stir in some water until you get it how you like it. If you prefer a gravy thickened with flour, you are going to have to call your Mom and ask her how she does it, or hope that one of the wise people who leave comments leaves some tips on flour based gravy :)

It will thicken a bit as it cools, so make it a wee bit thinner than you would like. Turn the heat off and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remember you can always add, but you can't take away. And if you are going to error in your seasoning, always better to under season since people can add salt and pepper at the table.

Pour into a mug..... er, gravy boat, and enjoy!

Hybrid Gravy

So not everyone wants to go to the effort of gravy from scratch and that is completely fine! You have to stick with your comfort level and taste, you need to do what makes you happy. If your Mom always made gravy from a package and that is where you feel safe & cozy, then make it from the package!!!

Hybrid gravy is somewhere between gravy from scratch and instant gravy. Boil the turkey neck in water for a few hours and replace the water in the instant gravy with your turkey broth and/or skim the fat off the drippings from the roasting pan and add some dripping to your instant gravy. Viola, hybrid gravy!

Regardless of the gravy recipe you follow, the one ingredient never listed is your love. While you are stirring and waiting for the glorious gravy to thicken, take some time to project the love you have in your heart into your gravy. Imagine your gravy covering them with love, imagine swimming in it, feeling the warmth and... oh wait, that's my secret fantasy!

Gobble Gobble, wobble wobble!!!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thanksgiving 101

Thanksgiving is almost here!!!! This is by far my favorite holiday because it is all about food!!! But what if you were sick the day they covered Thanksgiving in home-economics? What if your school didn’t offer home-economics? What if your Mom prepared Thanksgiving dinner by getting you dressed and driving to her Mom’s house?

One thing I am incredibly thankful for is my Mom patiently allowing me in her kitchen when I was young. I used to ask how long it would take until dinner was ready and she would say something like thirty minutes. Then I would ask when dinner would be ready if I helped and she would say an hour. Eventually my skills improved over time and I could help with dinner in a manner that wouldn’t delay the entire family chowing down on some tasty grub.

On several occasions, one recently, I have been asked for help in doing a Thanksgiving dinner, which has inspired this rather long dissertation. My apology for the length, but it’s a big meal!

As the preparer of the meal, it is important that you enjoy it as well. With that in mind, you need to decide which of the following four categories you fall in:

1. Kitchen Queen – you can and have done everything from scratch for a Thanksgiving meal. You might not have mastered fine French cooking, but that’s okay because you don’t need those skills for Thanksgiving.
2. Kitchen Princess – You have the equipment, you have some skills, but you are a Thanksgiving virgin. Cooking dinner and baking cookies is one thing, but a holiday feast is a wee bit intimidating
3. Kitchen Jester – You have seen people use a kitchen and you have used the kitchen… only because the phone is in it and that is where you keep the menus for delivery and take-out
4. Kitchen Nightmare – you know who you are

As the person that is preparing the meal, it is important to honestly answer where you stand. If you are in over your head, you will not enjoy Thanksgiving. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you are a Kitchen Princess. Kitchen Jesters are figuring out which grocer to order from and Kitchen Nightmares are making reservations or coming to your house to eat! As a princess, it is important to pamper yourself, which in the kitchen means working smarter not harder…. and wearing a cute apron.

So where do you start? First, take a deep breath, and keep up the deep breathing until Christmas is over. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Relax. Turn on some music.

The first thing to keep in mind is that your attitude shows up in your food. If you are stressed and worried and frazzled, you can’t be stirring in love for your friends and family. This applies to the planning and prep as much as it does the actual cooking. Now drink your wine, relax and smile!

Thanksgiving is not complicated, as long as you are organized. There are a lot of steps, and the key to not tripping up is to plan. Proper planning prevents piss poor performance. Thanksgiving is about food and family. Family planning is another topic altogether, so that leaves planning the food.

A couple weeks before T-Day, start thinking about what you want to serve. Are there any traditional family foods? Make a list of everything from beverages to dessert to the turkey sandwiches afterwards. I apply the K.I.S.S. principle to Thanksgiving. There are a lot of dishes and keeping it simple, well… it keeps it simple. If you do want to try something new and fancy, make it now to see if it will be realistic (or taste good) come turkey day. Forget all those fancy magazines with grandiose recipes that have you baking pumpkins filled with soup, brining the turkey in a special herb blend, and decoratively carving rare, hard to find vegetables for roasting. Stick to the basics until you are a Kitchen Queen, and most KQ’s became KQ’s because they know and value the superiority of simple, good, clean food.

What will you serve?
Meat – Turkey, ham, tofurkey?
Side Dishes – mashed potatoes, yams, brussels sprouts, green bean casserole?
Condiments – cranberry, gravy, olives, relish tray, butter, salt & pepper?
Bread – rolls, bread, biscuits?
Beverages – gravy, water, soda, wine, cocktails, juice, sparkling cider, pepto bismol?
Dessert – pumpkin pie, apple pie, pumpkin cheesecake, pepto bismol?
Snacks for before or after – cheese & fruit, veggie tray, snack mix, potato chips, dip?
Sandwiches after – bread, mayonnaise, bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese, chips?

Now that you have an idea of what you will cook, walk away for today, but let your brain start processing stage 2.

Planning Stage 2. Pour yourself a glass of wine, take a deep breath, turn on the music and relax. It’s time to evaluate your tools. Do you have the right size pots and pans to cook all your dishes in? How are you going to serve it? Do any of your recipes require special equipment, like a mixer or food processor? Will everyone sit down to your table and pass your yummy creations around the table or will you serve buffet style? What will you put your yumyums in? Do you have enough serving dishes and serving utensils? How about plates, napkins, silverware, glasses etc? Containers for leftovers? Kiddie table with non-breakables and non-stain-ables?

Deep breath, glass of wine. Now don’t be overwhelmed. These are just questions, take your time answering them, pour another glass of wine. This planning is the foundation of your success, and you will be successful!!! And if not, it will at least be memorable because of the lack of success.

Planning Stage 3. Pour yourself a glass of wine, take a deep breath, turn on the music… I’m not kidding about how important it is to relax and enjoy the process! Your next step is to make a shopping list. Gather all your recipes and jot down a list of the ingredients. Then go through your cupboards and cross of anything you have enough of. Your final product will greatly depend on the freshness of your herbs and spices, so if you can’t remember when you bought them, it is probably time to get new ones. You already have the jar, so don’t throw it away. Simply buy your herbs and spices in bulk and refill the old jar; you will save A LOT of money doing this. And if you don’t have a certain spice, don’t buy a jar of it, buy it in bulk. You can save around $3-5 per jar. Watch the papers for sales and stock up where you can. Butter can be frozen, soda keeps. Buy on sale throughout the month, keeping the perishables for the Thanksgiving week run. The stores in my area often have coupons for free turkeys with a certain purchase amount. If you don’t normally buy organic, this is one meal where it is worth the extra moo-la. The flavors are far superior and that alone will make simple dishes a smashing success!

Make a list of any cooking tools or serving utensils you will need to acquire as well. You can find many of them at the dollar tree, especially good for foil baking pans and glassware. Thanksgiving can get expensive really fast, but it doesn’t have to. Don’t be afraid to borrow from family and friends if they are coming to your house to eat, they obviously won’t be using their dishes!

Planning Stage 4. Pour a glass of wine, relax, turn on the music and be happy. Make a list of what you will need to set the table and gather as much of it together now as you can. Put the table cloth, napkins, napkin rings, candles, etc into a basket and set it aside for later. Then when it is time to set the table, you won’t be running around finding everything only to realize that you are missing something. The days leading up to turkey are about food. The days leading up to the days about food are about everything else. You can also easily hand this basket to someone who wants to help you out, but you don’t want anywhere near the food until it is time for them to eat it.

Planning Stage 5. This one is short and sweet, but still pour yourself a glass of wine, turn on the music and smile at everything you are accomplishing! Gather together all your containers for leftovers and put them in a bag somewhere. The last thing you are going to want to do at the end of a big meal and after cooking all day is scrounge up the containers. If they are all in one place, in one easy to grab bag, it will make things a lot easier on you and your helpers.

Planning Stage 6. This part requires math, so maybe only pour ½ glass of wine and turn the volume down on the music. Start with the time you want to serve dinner and work backward. Take a gander at the roasting time for your turkey’s size and add an hour. This hour is for wiggle room and to allow time for your side dishes to cook. For example, you want to have your meal at 3 pm. You are roasting an 18 pound stuffed turkey, which takes approximately 5 hours to cook. You will want to have it in the oven at 9 a.m. To get an idea on how long to calculate and what size bird will feed your guests, check out the Butterball site. It has all the info you will ever need on turkey prep, and it saves me from having to retype the info here.

Putting your bird in at 9 a.m., with the goal of dinner at 3 p.m. gives you 6 hours to accomplish everything else. Those 6 hours go by fast! Do as much prep work in the days before that you can, it will save you a lot of headaches and hassles while the turkey roasts. Chop the vegetables the nights before, so everything is ready to assemble the day of. Cook as much as you can ahead of time. Pie crusts can be made a few weeks ahead of time and frozen until the day before when you make the filling and bake the pie. Rolls can be made and frozen, then reheated.

Here’s a sample schedule to give you an idea:
Weekend before - Eat everything in the fridge to make room for gobble gobble wobble wobble day, clean the house
Monday - Get the turkey out to thaw if frozen, put your recipes together in one spot and read over them
Tuesday - assemble all your dining and cooking dishes, make sure everything is clean and pretty, prep what veggies you can, like onions, carrots and celery. Make cranberry sauce if doing it from scratch.
Wednesday - bake your pies and, take out anything you have frozen so it has time to thaw, set the table and tidy up around the house. Go to bed early!
Turkey day
7:30 a.m. Clean the turkey and get the roasting pan ready
8 a.m. Make the stuffing & stuff the turkey
9:00 Turkey in the oven & extra stuffing in the fridge
9:15 Assemble side dishes and put in fridge
1 p.m. Take side dishes out of fridge to warm up, along with the butter
1:08 Start peeling potatoes & get them boiling
2:00 Take turkey out of oven and tent with foil
2:15 Side dishes in the oven to bake, call for some helpers
2:30 Get condiments and wine to table & make the gravy
2:45 Mash those taters & carve the turkey
2:55 Reheat/bake rolls & bring everything to the table
3:00 Grace
3:03 Eat, drink, laugh & love, graciously accept compliments about your amazing meal
3:45 Dessert
4:15 Bring leftovers to kitchen and box up
5:00 First load of dishes in the washer
5:07 Nap and snacks

If people ask if they can help… you say YES! Remember it is important that you enjoy the day, too! They can peel potatoes, make the relish trays, bring a side dish, bring a centerpiece, bring snacks, bake a pie, open a jar, reheat the rolls, set the table, decorate the table, bring dishes to the table, open the wine, pour the drinks, clear the table, package leftovers, wash the dishes, clean the day before, or bring you wine.

People always like to gather in the kitchen.... it must be the delicious smells of your cooking! But unless they are helping, they are underfoot and make for a cranky Kitchen Princess. Set snacks and drinks up away from the kitchen so it keeps people out of your way. Those who really want to help (and who will be helpful) will stay in the kitchen, those who just want food will follow the food.

Depending on where you live, the outdoors can be your refrigerator. Store beverages outside the night before so they are cool and your have fridge space for food. Put leftovers outside to cool first so your fridge doesn’t have to work so hard to cool everything down. If you can’t use the outdoors to your benefit, keep the beverages in a cooler away from the kitchen so you have less foot traffic and more room in the fridge.

Your kitchen is going to get quite warm with the oven on all day and things bubbling away on the stove. Don’t turn on the heat in the house until people comment about being cold. You might want to get a fan ready to blow heat out of the kitchen. Don’t point it into the kitchen, it might blow something undesirable into your delicious creations!

Always have two of each prep tool. Why should just one person peel the ‘taters when two people can? Prep work is necessary for everything you cook, so it is important to be smart about it so it can go efficiently. Have the trash can handy, or a scrap bowl on the table. Assemble everything you need before you begin, you are going to have to pull it out anyway and this saves you trips to and fro. Sit at the table to do your prep work; you are going to be standing all day on Thanksgiving and that will be no fun if your feet hurt from the days before. Figure out how much onion, carrot, celery etc. you are going to need and do it all at one time. Have containers handy for the prepped food and stick it in the fridge as you are finished with it

Wear comfortable shoes, you will be on your feet a lot!

I’ll post my recipes over the next few weeks, but if there is something specific you want to see or have a question about, let me know and I’ll get to answering it right away!

Having the Better Homes and Gardens magazine layout display is great, but not realistic for everyone. Don’t be a perfectionist, be about the love. Stir it into your dishes, say it with your smiles and hugs. What they say about being able to hear a smile over the phone is true for food too; when you keep loving thoughts of the people you are cooking for in your heart while you cook, it gets stirred into your meal and it is the difference between a good and a great cook. The perfect Thanksgiving is one spent with friends and family, eating a fabulous feast and counting your blessings. If you forget to light the candles, the yams burn and the gravy is really salty, it doesn’t matter because you blessed your family with love.

mmmmmmm, smells so good!!!

Yesterday I made candy and the house smelled soooo good. Then I made corned beef and cabbage and the house smelled not so good. I really enjoy corned beef, if only there was a way to get around the smell that lingers for too long. I woke up still smelling it, which is not what I was I was hoping to wake up to. My ideal wake up smell is coffee and bacon, lots of bacon.

To counteract the smell in the house, I was going to plug in all the air freshener thingies, but then I remembered that they made both of our noses unhappy and our eyes burn. So what is a girl like me going to do? Make something better!

After a very brief dig on the internet, I came across the recipe below for gel air freshener. I remember seeing these things at craft fairs several years ago... canning jars all decked out with uber amounts of lace and ruffles. Not my style at all. I like the concept, and frugality, and ease, just not the lace.

I'm not one to steal a recipe without giving credit to the author, but this recipe is EVERYWHERE, so I'm not feeling so bad this time. I was excited to remember that I had all the ingredients, thanks to Brette finding a big box of Knox when he deep cleaned the kitchen for my birthday present... oh, the joy a clean kitchen brings me!!!

Okay, here is the super simple, fast and easy, way to make air freshener.

You will need:
A Jar to your liking, without it's lid, you want the smell to get out of the jar, right? If you don't have a pretty jar, maybe you have something pretty that you can hide a jar in, or hide the jar. The jar part is up to you, you know what you like!

2 cups of water, divided (no, not parted, that would require Moses)
4 packets of Knox unflavored gelatin
1 TBSP of salt (this inhibits mold)
Essential oils or home fragrance oils
Food coloring - optional

Heat one cup of water in a small saucepan until simmering and remove from heat.
Stir in gelatin until completely dissolved
Add remaining cup of water and stir
Add salt and stir till dissolved
Add the smelly stuff, 20-30 drops, or to your liking and stir
Add one or two drops of food coloring (optional)and stir
And stir one more time just for fun
Pour into your container and let sit for a few hours to solidify

Once it is set, you can give it a vigorous stir and break it into bits and pieces, fill a clear bowl and set in a candle... if you want to get all fancy, I'm about the practical. You can also glue all sorts of lace and ribbons to a canning jar if that is your style... it's your house, not mine :)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

French Onion Soup

The arrival of fall is welcome for so many reasons, one of which is the smell of delicious soups bubbling on the stove. Soup is one of the more simple things to cook, basically stuff of some sort with liquid of some sort. Now I'm sure there are people out there who have very refined palettes with matching vocabulary that would argue with my simple description, but you can't eat words, although at times I'm sure we all wish we or someone else could. I don't feel a strong desire to create elaborate descriptions of good food, I just want to eat it!

I think a lot of people are intimidated by what they perceive to be the difficult task of cooking a meal. Like all things, it takes some practice to have good knife skills and a nose that can distinguish between oregano and thyme. French Onion Soup, fortunately, is one of the most simple meals to make.

To begin with drink a glass of wine. Yes, the whole glass. Your creations take on your personality, and if you are all bent up and fearful of making mistakes, it shows in your results. Have you finished your wine? Go ahead, chug it, I'll wait.

Now, take a soothing stroll through the garden and gather your onions and thyme. Don't have a garden? Maybe another glass of wine? I'm serious about this relaxing stuff!

Now that you are relaxed (and maybe a little tipsy), lets break out the knives. Knives are the most basic of tools in the kitchen. Just like a carpenter has a hammer for nails and a screwdriver for screws, different knives do better at some tasks than others. You wouldn't want to hammer a nail with a screwdriver, so why would you cut an onion with a steak knife from DollarTree? Those cheap steak knives are great for slicing tomatoes, but really inefficient, bordering on dangerous, when cutting an onion. Use a big knife with a wide blade and make sure it is SHARP. Dull knives are frustrating because they don't cut, and often slip which has the potential of being really unpleasant. Here is a link to a youtube video on very basic knife skills.

So lets get started! The basic instructions are as follows: Drink a glass of wine, slice the onions, caramelize the onions, add the broth, let the flavors marry (so romantic), make some toast, put it all in a bowl, smother with cheese and devour. Make sure the person you want to kiss tonight has had a glass of wine and eats the soup too, it lowers their objection to the onion breath :)

French Onion Soup
8 servings

4 TBSP Butter
4 pounds of red onions, or a mix of red, yellow and sweet (6-8 medium onions)
4 32oz boxes of beef broth
4 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
2 Bay leaves
Salt and Pepper
8 Slices of bread
8 oz Gruyere or Swiss cheese

In a large soup pot, over medium heat, melt the butter. Slice onions into 1/4" slices, adding to the pot as you go and very lightly salting. Let cook for about 45 minutes to caramelize (get soft and start to turn brown), stirring every 15 minutes or so... not too much. Hopefully you get some golden goodness stuck to the bottom of the pot, but if not, no worries, it will still taste fabulous! Pour in a container of beef broth and scrape up any goodies on the bottom. Add the remaining beef broth, thyme, bay leaves and a light grind of pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for about 30-45 minutes without the lid (you want the flavors to concentrate).

Heat your oven to 200 degrees and place the slices of bread on a rack to dry out for about 30 minutes, turning once. Or if your toaster really dries out your bread, use that instead... mine only makes an impression of being toasted or briquettes. Stale bread is great for this step!

Here is where things get tricky... I'm telling you it is complicated!!! Traditional French Onion soup is placed under the broiler to get the cheese all gooey and messy. However, I do not have fancy schmancy oven proof bowls, so I had to get ingenious, (all right, it's not all that clever, but it is a workaround). Take those dried out pieces of toast you made, carefully pile on cheese slices and put under the broiler for about 2 minutes, until the cheese gets good and gooey. Now pour some soupy goodness in a bowl and top with your cheesy toast... wait a moment before you eat it, cheese burns are not fun!

I always like to make big batches of soup so it is available for lunch or the freezer, but I understand that not everyone likes to do that. Below are the ingredients for 2 servings, and I'm sure you can do the math to adjust that for whatever your needs are. Now go chow down!

French Onion Soup Ingredients per 2 servings:
1 Tbsp Butter
1 pound of onion, about 2 medium*
1 32oz container beef broth
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried
1/2 bay leaf
2 slices of bread
2 oz Gruyere or Swiss Cheese
*Note, it won't take as long for a smaller batch of onions to caramelize.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Herbed Brown Rice

In the fall I particularly like having something yummy baking in the oven. After months of avoiding the oven because it makes the house hot, I eagerly welcome the warmth and coziness from that wonderful kitchen appliance. There is something magical about cooking. Even cooking in an Easy-Bake, light-bulb-powered oven. You put something in raw, completely inedible and a while later pull out something warm and satisfying. The grumbling in your tummy stops and all seems right with the world for a short time. If only I felt the same glow of satisfaction from the dishwasher as I do from the oven!

One of my new favorites is a baked brown rice dish that is as easy and cheap as it is delicious. It is simple to change the flavors and create something different to suit whatever you are craving, just follow the base recipe and adjust the seasoning to something that satisfies your yearnings.

Herbed Brown Rice
serves 1-6, depending on the size of the grumbling in your tummy

1 1/2 cups Brown Rice
1 can Chicken Broth + water to equal 2 1/2 cups liquid
1 TBSP Butter
Salt and Pepper to taste (about 1 tsp kosher salt)

1 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried minced onion
handful of chopped nuts (almonds and filberts are good)
1 can mushrooms, drained

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place rice in a covered baking dish (or use a square baking dish and seal tightly with foil). In a Saucepan, heat liquid, butter & seasonings until boiling. Pour over rice and stir. Cover dish and bake for one hour. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Another version is:
Creamy Spinach Chicken and Rice

1 1/2 cups Brown Rice
1 can Condensed milk + Chicken broth to equal 2 1/2 cups liquid
1 TBSP Butter
Salt and Pepper to taste (about 1 tsp kosher salt)

1 cup cooked chicken, or 1 can of chicken, drained
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried minced onion
10 oz package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed of all liquid
1 can mushrooms, drained

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place rice in a covered baking dish (or use a square baking dish and seal tightly with foil), and mix in shredded cheese and chicken. In a saucepan, heat liquid, butter and seasonings until boiling. Pour over rice and stir. Cover dish and bake for one hour. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pumpkin Pasta

Fall is officially here! To welcome my favorite season, yesterday I baked three pie pumpkins from the garden. I love pumpkins, and not just because their presence indicates my birthday finally approaching. I saved a bit of the pumpkin to cook for dinner and baked the rest for pies and what not.

I tried two ways to bake the pumpkin as a test to see the easiest way to remove the skin. For both I cut the pumpkins in half and scooped out the seeds and stringy stuff.

For pumpkin 1 I left the pumpkin in two halves with the skin on. I placed it in a baking dish with a 1/4 inch of water (to prevent burning and sticking) and baked at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, until it was fork tender. I let it cool and then removed the peel. My hands got messy and the peel stuck in places so I still needed to use a vegetable peeler to get it off, but it didn't require the hand strength that pumpkin 2 below did.

For Pumpkin 2 I cut each pumpkin half into wedges and removed the peel with a vegetable peeler. Then I cut it into large chunks and placed in a baking dish with 1/4 inch of water. I baked at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. This was by far the easier and less messy route, and it doesn't require that much hand strength, only slightly more than a carrot or apple. However, I could see if you had arthritis or carpal tunnel or some other issue, this might not be easier.

Regardless of which method you use to bake your pumpkin, you end up still needing to process it for a recipe. I tried the food mill first and didn't really get anywhere so I switched over to my favorite kitchen appliance... the Kitchen Aid Food Processor. Yes, it is a spendy little critter, but it is worth every single penny in my book! Of course there are more frugal options out there, but if you are going to use your food processor like I do, I say bigger is better and get one that will last! But I digress, constantly, I digress, but again that is me digressing... so back on topic. I didn't want to use the 'S' blade since that can sometimes liquefy, so I instead opted for the plastic blade that I think is used for pie crusts or other pastry. This worked great! You have to stop and scrape the bowl several times, but it keeps everything a good texture.

Three medium sized pie pumpkins gave me about 14 cups of puree. I measured it out into 2 cup portions, glopped it neatly into vacuum freezer bags, and vacuum sealed it all up. To keep things neat and tidy, I folded the edge of the freezer bags over a clean quart container for yogurt. This allowed for easier packaging because I only have two hands, instead of the required three used in putting pumpkin into a bag... one to hold the bag open, one to hold the measuring cup of pumpkin and one to scrape the pumpkin from the measuring cup.

Of course, you can avoid all the above hassle by purchasing cans of pumpkin. Personally, I'm satisfied with my $1.29 for one pumpkin plant, knowing it is organic, and far superior taste. It is more work, but it's not complicated and it doesn't take that much time. Another benefit of processing your own pumpkins is the seeds!

To prepare your pumpkin seeds, wash them off under cool water in a strainer and remove any pulp. You don't have to be excruciatingly picky about getting the pulp out, or you can be if that's your style. Most of it bakes down to nothing noticeable. Once you have your seeds rinsed and drained, pour out onto a towel and get them dried off. The basic recipe at this point is to lightly coat with vegetable oil (olive has a strong flavor) or a bit of butter, and lightly salt. Spread onto a baking sheet and roast at 275 degrees for about an hour, stirring a couple of times while roasting. It's tempting to stick one in your mouth fresh out of the oven, but I would advise you to wait a few minutes... trust me on this.

Party Pepitas
3 cups pumpkin seed
3 TBSP Butter
1 tsp Seasoning Salt
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp Onion Powder
1 1/2 TBSP Worcestershire Sauce

Melt butter. Stir seasoning salt, garlic powder, onion powder and Worcestershire into melted butter. Mix butter mixture with pumpkin seeds to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet and spread out evenly. Roast at 275 degrees for about one hour, stirring every 20 minutes.

Now after all that cooking, I was hungry, and after all that reading, you are finally getting to the point of today's post:

Caramelized Pumpkin Pasta!
for 2 servings:

2 cups raw pumpkin, cubed into 1 inch pieces
1 medium yellow or sweet onion, sliced into 1/4" rings
6 fresh mushrooms, quartered
1/4 cup packed fresh sage leaves julienned (about 6 large leaves)
5 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 - 1 TBSP Olive Oil
2 TBSP Butter + 3 TBSP Butter
Mizithra cheese or Parmesean
Spaghetti noodles or Spaghetti squahs, how much depends on how hungry you are :)

Add olive oil to a small pan over med-low heat, and place garlic slices in pan in a single layer. Cook until barely starting to turn golden. Watch carefully as you don't want to over cook. This takes about 20 minutes.

Add 2 TBSP butter to large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add in sliced onions and pumpkin. Cook for about 5 minutes and place mushrooms on top. Ccook for about 10 minutes. Turn pumpkin pieces to brown on other side and give onions a slight stir to prevent burning. Add sage and nutmeg, cover. Cook for about 10 minutes more, or until onions and pumpkin are caramelizing. Pour garlic and oil over pumpkin mix and turn of heat.

In the small pan that had the garlic, add the 3 TBSP butter and cook over med-high heat until butter begins to brown. Remove from heat.

To serve, place spaghetti in a bowl, top with some cheese, spoon brown butter over top. Place pumpkin and onion mixture on top and cover with more cheese. Enjoy.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Grandpa Jim's Pink Beans, good cheap eats!

My Grandpa Jim was an interesting man. I remember being over for dinner at his house one time. My other Grandpa was there and had said something mean and hurtful to me, so I had left the dinner table to got sit in the living room. A short time later my Grandpa Jim had excused himself from dinner to visit the bathroom and on his return paused and looked at me with loving understanding. I felt comfortable enough at that moment to say something along the lines of "Grandpa Walt is an ass hole." Very calmly without skipping a beat, Grandpa Jim replied, "Yes he is, but you can't say that. You need to respect your elders even if they are ass holes." I love Grandpa Jim.

He had a rough life and I'm happy to know that the last half was filled with love for my Grandma, a comfy chair, a great library filled with good books, evening cocktails and one very agile and loving cat. He taught my Father many things, some very tasty meals being on the list. Here is his recipe for Pink Beans... just because you are poor doesn't mean you have to eat poor tasting food.

Grandpa Jim's Pink Beans (So simple it is amazing they taste so good!)
1 large onion, chopped
2 pounds of pink beans (that is their name, they are NOT pinto beans)
2 smoked ham hocks
1/2 tsp - 1 tsp crushed red pepper, to taste
salt and pepper to taste at the end

Soak beans in a large pot over night. In the morning, pour off the water.
Around 10 am, add to beans the chopped onion, ham hocks and red pepper. Cover with water.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer all day long, stirring occasionally, more so toward the end of cooking.
Dinner will be ready around 5 or 6 pm. Serve with bread and butter.
Makes anywhere from 8-12 servings, depending on what you call a serving :)
Costs around $5-$6 for a full recipe, which ends up being anywhere from $.75 or less a serving.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Homegrown Grape Juice

We have an abundance of grapes. I mean an abundance! It is so wonderful to walk out the back door into the smell of grape jelly. We have so many grapes that I had to come up with something to do other than make grape jelly, since we can't eat that many pb & j's!

So what does one do with so many grapes? Make grape jelly of course! But the first step to making jelly is making the juice... so I pulled out the canning books and figured it out. Here's what you do...

Step 1. Pick those grapes & give them a good rinse
Step 2. Sit in front of the boob-tube and start pulling grapes off the stem, resist the urge to feed them seductively to your love. As you pull them off, give them a squeeze when you drop them into the pot, or after you have plucked them all into the pot, give them a mash with a potato masher.
Step 3. Add enough water to almost cover the grapes and start to heat over medium high heat until you get to a simmer.
Step 4. Simmer for about 30-45 minutes, until everything is all soft and falling apart, and you can't find any whole grapes.
Step 5. Strain through several layers of cheese cloth.
Step 6. Chill in the fridge, at least over night.
Step 7. Strain one more time through cheese cloth, trying to leave as much sediment in the bottom of your container as possible.
Step 8. Enjoy your amazing treat or can for a rainy winter day.

To preserve the grape juice:
Step 1. Bring the juice from above recipe to 190 degrees and keep at 190 degrees for 5 minutes.
Step 2. Pour into canning jars that have been sterlized and heated in boiling water of your canning kettle.
Step 3. Fill hot jars with hot grape juice to 1/4" of the top, and close with two piece canning lid.
Step 4. Process in boiling water, covering tops of jars by at least 1", for 15 minutes.
Step 5. Allow to cool undisturbed overnight and make sure the lids have sealed by pushing down on the tops. If there is any movement of the lid, your jar didn't seal and you should just enjoy that beautiful grape juice now because you don't want to drink it later after it has spoiled... although I do believe they call that wine :)

The really neat thing about having so many grapes, is that I get to pass on my abundant blessing to others, and this year I am doing this by canning grape juice for Communion at church. It is really amazing to think that my passion for gardening and cooking is something that I can share with my entire community! It is so amazing to me that I get to share my gifts this way :)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Beef Strogganauf, or however you spell it, personally I eat it

Well, it has been quite a while since I posted anything on my blog and a lot has changed...

  • I'm gluten free now (and feeling so much better)
  • Found a great church (Epikos)
  • I was baptized at Horsetail Falls
  • We are praying for babies (well, that hasn't changed)
  • Another successful chicken, um, 'harvest' in June
  • I learned to make my own laundry soap
  • The garden has grown, harvested and the bounty put up for the winter
  • Had my first bee sting and a bizarre allergic reaction a week later
  • I made jelly for the first time (well actually I made syrup, whoops)
and well, so many other things that it would take too long to keep listing them, so I stop since I digress from my main point today which is....

Beef Stroganoff

I learned to make this by watching my Mom while I was growing up. I would sit at the kitchen counter and ramble on about this or that in the way that young girls are known to do (which is sometimes cute and sometimes annoying) while she would cut the onion and beef up and then begin to cook. At which time, I would move my self and my dictation of random and useless information and questions over to the stove to watch her brown the meat, anticipating the moment when I could officially taste test the evening's meal. When I stop and think about it, I did this almost every day of my life growing up. Hovering around the kitchen, watching my Mother do this or that, smelling, tasting, reading recipes, watching cooking shows. My passion for cooking started at a young age and has never stopped... but again, I digress.

Once that anticipated moment of the first taste arrived, I was always too excited to wait for it to cool down and would slurp the boiling hot broth into my mouth, scorching my tongue. Come to think of it, I still have this problem every time I make stroganoff. I don't think I have ever made a batch without burning my tongue. Perhaps you can learn from my mistake as I don't seem to be.

Back to Beef Stroganoff. I have made this meal for so many people and had many marriage proposals from it, a few of which might have been sincere. I would never think of sharing the recipe; somewhere deep inside I believed if I wrote it down it would lose it's magic... but I now know that it is simply too good not to share! So here it is, with notes for my gluten free friends at the bottom :)

1 Large onion chopped
5 Large cloves of garlic
2-3 pounds of beef
1/4 cup flour
olive oil
glass of red wine (optional)
3 cans of CAMPBELLS concentrated beef broth (must use CAMPBELLS or see note below)
3 cans of water
1-2 cans of mushrooms, or more :)
1 pints of sour cream
1 package wide egg noodles

-Cube meat into 1-2 inch chunks and coat in flour.
-Over medium heat in a large pot, add a bit of oil and cook onions for about 5 minutes, add garlic and continue cooking until onions are soft and transparent, remove from pot.
-Add a bit more oil to the pan and turn up to med-high. Place the meat in the pan, don't crowd, and brown on all sides. You don't have to cook it all the way through, you are just getting it kind of crusty and getting bits stuck to the bottom of the pan which add a ton of flavor.
-When done browning meat, pour in the wine or one can of beef broth, and deglaze (scrape up the bits) the bottom of the pan.
-Add in all the meat, onions and mushrooms, then pour in the remaining beef broth and water. Do it in this order or everything will splash at you when you dump it into a pot of liquid :)
-Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer over med-low for several hours to reduce down by a little less than half.
-Set the sour cream out to warm up a bit, about 30-45 minutes before dinner time, and start the pasta water.
-When ready to serve, put sour cream in a large bowl, and laddle in a bit of the broth from the hot pot. Mix till combined and then stir into the pot. Bring the mixture back up in temperature if necessary, but not over high heat and don't boil it, it has dairy now and that does some funky things. Still tastes great, just changes the appearance.
-Serve over noodles and prepare yourself for a food coma.

Gluten Free Notes: Pacific Beef Broth is close to being as good as Campbells, but it isn't concentrated. I use two boxes and no water. Cook it down by about half. Of course leave out the flour. To thicken, before adding the sour cream, stir in a goodly size amount of cornstarch slurry. and of course, serve over gluten free pasta, the spirals and the tube shapes catch the sauce the best :)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

National Beverage Day

May 6 is National Beverage Day... don't know where I read it, but it was in my calendar as a reminder, so I must have thought it important while consuming one of my favorite beverages (wine). So in honor of such wonderful delights that beverages can be, here is my list of favorites... and yes, I realize that this is not anything that will change the world. However, taking a moment to list some favorite things, ala Julie Andrews Sound of Music, does put me in a better mood, and that attitude can spread and maybe change some one's day and then they change another persons... it's all butterfly wings people, fairly soon we should be feeling a tsunami of kindness because I took the time to list my favorite beverages, so I guess it will change the world! Hang onto your hats, here we go!

  • Dirty Martini, actually I like a lot of olive, so lets call it a filthy martini
  • Bloody Mary, always best before & during a flight
  • Red Wine, I think this counts as a fruit
  • Guinness, ahhhhhhhh
  • Espresso with a lemon zest curl
  • Black Coffee, don't talk to me in the morning unless this is in your hand
  • Ice Tea, preferably the instant stuff, no sweetener
  • Hot Tea, Tazo Awake or Bird's nest ar the best!
  • Coca Cola, really good with vanilla vodka
  • Sake with sushi
  • Port, with a game of cribbage
  • Amaretto sour, reminds me to make more Amaretto and post the recipe
  • Creme De Menth, ditto on posting recipe
  • Apricot & Cherry Brandy, again, will post the recipe
  • Pineapple juice, the best is from the can with the chunks, as you are making pizza
  • Hot Apple Cider, that powdered instant stuff use to calm me down so much at work
  • Dry white wine, Fume Blanc or Pinot Grigios
  • lemonade, even better if it is a Mike's hard
  • limeade, with a bit of salt on the rim
  • grape juice, better if left to ferment to wine
  • any cheap light beer
  • Mai Tai, Brette taught me this wonder!

Well, I think those are the top choices... oh, yeah, WATER! Can't forget that! Looking over the list it sounds like I must be drunk all day long! (I'm not). There are others that I like, but I wouldn't call a favorite... so there you go, I just flapped a little wing of happiness into the world, watch out that you don't get knocked over by kindness, but if you do, I'm sure someone will be there to kindly help you up :)

Monday, May 4, 2009


Well, as promised, listed below is my easy-pleasy recipe for homemade yogurt. For about a $1, you can have a 1/2 gallon of plain yogurt. That's 2 qts, or 2 lrg containers from the market that cost around $4 each. I love being frugal! In a way, I feel like I'm stickin' it to the man, being a rebel... and yes, I know, homemade yogurt isn't all that rebellious, but I think I used up a lot of my rebellion tokens in my 20's, so I don't have many left. There is just such a strong satisfaction of beating the system that has brainwashed most people to believe they can't live without their individually pre-packaged, portion controlled, chemically preserved and flavored, over priced BASIC foods, like yogurt and bread. AND making yogurt is a very lazy process. All ya' gotta do is pour milk, let it sit, mix in yogurt, let it sit, put in the refrigerator... I think it takes 5 minutes at most, in 1 minute increments!

When I get around to it, I'll post my recipe for homemade lotion. I had a facial a while back and I absolutely loved the products, but they were wellllll beyond what my wallet could spare, so I figured it out on my own. This first run was a little thicker than I wanted, but now that I have the basics down, I can tweak away until I get it right, and it only costs a fraction! Okay, the supplies to get started were a bit high, but considering how far they will go, I have saved a lot of money to have a high quality face cream, without chemicals!

Next up for my afternoon, planning the vegetable garden! Since it is going to rain this week, I figure I'll get everything organized and in place so I can spring into action when the sun comes back. I'll be getting my veggies from Millennium farms this year. The tomatoes I bought from them last year, along with the water walls and fertilizer produced more tomatoes than I could handle! We are still finishing off the jars of tomato sauce I learned to can last year.


  • Put half gallon/2qts of milk in crock pot
  • heat on high 2 hours
  • let cool 2.5 hours (or until a bit more than baby bottle warm, but not to hot, you don't want to kill your bacteria that do the magically milk to yogurt transformation)
  • ladle out a couple of scoops of warm milk and mix with a small container of yogurt that has live cultures
  • mix milk and yogurt back into crock pot, cover with two thick towels and let sit for 8-10 hours.
  • Save about a cup at the end of the batch as starter for the next batch.

If you want your yogurt to be ready at 7 a.m., start heating between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

This yogurt isn't as thick as what you might be use to because there have been no chemicals added to thicken it up.

I like it with a bit of honey stirred in or a glop of homemade strawberry jam. Brette uses it in a smoothie with orange juice and frozen berries. Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In the Kitchen

The kitchen is the center of my home... it is the heart of our dwelling. I think this is why I enjoy spending so much time creating there. Today I made bread for the week, 100 meatballs (which end up being about 30 cents per serving), farmer's cheese and roasted garlic. It sounds like a lot, but the bread took 5 minutes (click the link above to learn how, it is uber easy!). 30 minutes making meatballs which will create 10 dinners in total. The garlic took less than a minute to prepare and then just had to sit in the oven for an hour. And the cheese just took some time to heat the milk & drain the curds, not a lot of attention other than that. I maybe spent an hour total in actively working in the kitchen, besides that, I just had to wait for things to cook or drain and that freed up time to do other tasks.

You might ask yourself why I just don't buy bread and cheese and frozen meatballs and a jar of roasted garlic.... well, for three reasons: First, I know what is going into my food and it isn't full of preservatives. Second, I'm cheap, or more tactfully put, frugal. For an hour of work, I probably saved $35-$40, not a bad salary in my book! Third, I LOVE good, simple food, but object to the outrageous prices for something labeled 'gourmet'.

If you are curious, here are the recipes:

Roasted Garlic -
Heat oven to 250 degrees. Separate cloves from the main garlic bulb, but leave paper on. Cut off the root end of the cloves. Place cloves on a piece of foil, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and mix to coat. Close up foil to make a packet and place in the oven for about an hour.

Farmer's Cheese-
2 quarts whole milk
2 cups buttermilk
1 Tbsp white vinegar or lemon juice

Heat milk to 180 degrees, slowly over low heat, stirring ocassionally to prevent from sticking to bottom or skin forming on surface (this takes about an hour or so). Remove from heat, stir in buttermik, then vinegar. Stir gently until you start to see the curds and whey form. Let sit 10 minutes. Pour through a sieve lined with several layers of cheese cloth. Tie corners of cheese cloth together, and hang cheese somewhere it can drain for an hour or so.

I season mine and can't tell the difference from the really expensive alouette cheese spread. It's hard to say how much of the seasoning to use because each batch of cheese produces slightly different amounts. I would start with 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp ground pepper, 1 tsp garlic powder, 2 tsp onion powder, 2 tsp thyme, 1/2 tsp oregano. Usually, I just pull out a few tablespoons at a time and sprinkle the seasonings straight from the jar, but the above measurements will lightly season one whole batch.

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
This is a great book to order, but you can get the basic recipe here. And yes, it is REALLY simple!!!

3 slices bread or 2 english muffins (gluten free works too!), pulsed in food processor to course crumbs
6 Tbsp milk
Mix together in large bowl of stand mixer and let rest.

1 small onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic pressed
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Over medium heat in non stick pan, sweat onions and garlic until soft. Let cool slightly and add to:

1 pound ground beef
1 pound italian sausage
1/2 package frozen spinach
1 egg
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 Tbsp dried parsley
Add everything to mixer bowl with bread-milk mixture. Beat at medium speed for 1-2 minutes until combined. Form into 1/2 oz balls and bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. I bake mine on a broiler pan so the grease can drain. Makes about 100 meatballs, 5 per serving.

Monday, March 2, 2009

aaaaaah, shopping....

Today was spent shopping... not in that way in which you throw caution to the wind and max all the credit cards, but in the fashion that requires concentration and math in order to maximize every dollar. Yeah, I know... math....

I have come to realize that the wise woman counts her pennies and frugally spends them. There is something to be said about the satisfaction of finding a fantastic deal and capitalizing on it! I have found a key to success in watching the budget is stocking up. This requires really knowing the price of items at the various stores in the area. To this effort, I have started a very nerdy spreadsheet in which I enter the cost of items from the receipts I have as souvenirs of my adventures in retail land.

Buying in bulk is a HUGE savings!!! But not always. It is important to analyze the cost per unit/ounce/pound/item. This is often on the price sticker posted on the shelf, but sometimes it isn't. My Dad used to make me do the math in my head when I was a kid ( I credit this, and cribbage, to my success in mental math Olympics... yep, 100% nerd I am!). Buying in bulk, and I don't mean the overpriced costco-sized supply amount, almost always saves money.

Bulk herbs and spices are the best example of saving money by buying bulk. A single jar of a spice can run between $3-$6. The same amount of herb that fills the jar is only pennies, yes, pennies!!! Today, for a jar worth of spice, I paid:
$.06 for dill
$.33 for cilantro
$.51 for minced dried onion
$.25 for parsley
$.28 for thyme
$.23 for garlic powder
$.46 for paprika
$1.03 for poppy seeds
Considering that I already had the used spice jars to refill, I think I saved at least $25, and added a lot of flavor!!!

Yes, it did take me a mere five minutes to fill the baggies with spices, and a few more seconds at checkout as the checker punched in the codes, but it really equated to a savings of $25 an hour... not a bad salary in my opinion!... oh, alright, I had to spend 5 minutes filling the jars, but still, I'm clocking in under 15 minutes. So... if I use those math skills, this could equate to $100 an hour for buying and storing my bulk herbs and spices! I love being nerdy!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

and I begin...

This marks the start of my journey to domestic bliss as a happy housewife.

Well, actually, the expedition has already begun. Therefore, this marks the start of my public account of my attempts at domestic bliss as a happy housewife.

I know some women (and maybe some men) might cringe at the idea of being a homemaker; protesting loudly about a reversion to times when women were suppressed from living their dreams of a career, thwarted from following their passion. The thing is, homemaking is my passion! I suppose if I had been told it was the only option, because I have tits and lack a bulge in my pants, I might feel suffocated and hopeless... BUT, beautiful and strong women, our mothers and grandmothers, fought for me, for us, to live whatever life we wanted, to not be forced onto a path we had no infatuation or zeal for. They gave us a choice, and this is mine. My passion, my infatuation, and my satisfaction at the end of the day.