Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Spaghetti Sauce my whole family loved!

Last night, I was doing my usual--getting ready for dinner with less time than I needed.  Pasta and sauce were on the menu.  I've been searching for a good tomato basil sauce for a long time and last night's turned out to be a hit with my family.  I started with a recipe from a cookbook, but I altered it so much that it didn't end up at all like what I made, so I feel comfortable posting this recipe as my own.  So, here it is:

1/2 cup olive oil
15 fresh bail leaves
1- 28 oz can diced tomatoes with juice
2- 8 oz cans of tomato sauce
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp sugar

Microwave the olive oil in a pyrex dish for 1 minute (1 1/2 minutes if you have a mini microwave like mine).  Add the basil leaves and microwave for 15-30 seconds.

Dump in blender with tomatoes and tomato sauce and garlic.  If you have a Vitamix, I turned mine to 7 for about 1 or 2 minutes.  I would do the same with a regular blender on the low setting.  Not all of the tomato sauce may fit in a regular blender, so if it doesn't just add it after you've blended when you pour the blended mixture into a saucepan.

Pour the blended mixture into the saucepan and add everything else.  Cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes to help it thicken a little.  Add more pepper or salt to taste.  If you don't like things salty, start with only 1/4 tsp instead of 1/3 tsp.


My kids all ate it up--even Sami who wanted 3rds!!  My husband who is the pickiest person about pasta sauces in our family since he's the most Italian one gave it a big thumbs up.

And I'm happy that my family was happy with my cooking =)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Books That Save Us Money

If you only have a few cookbooks, you choose them wisely.  At least that's what I've noticed from my friends who have about 5-10 cookbooks.  My mother in law has about 10 and she uses every one of them regularly.  I'm one of those funny people that loves cookbooks, so I pick them up at book sales for 50 cents and garage sales for a quarter.  I'll try a few recipes and if they're good then I'll keep the cookbook.  If my family doesn't like them, I donate the cookbook and pass it on.  There are a handful of cookbooks, though, that I love and recommend hands down!  

One of them is a little book that I found in a used bookstore in Durango, Colorado, 14 years ago.  It was titled Substituting Ingredients: An A to Z Kitchen Reference by Becky Sue Epstein and Hilary Dole Klein.  I've used it a lot over the years.  Particularly, the substitutions for unsweetened chocolate (1 sq = 3 Tbsp. cocoa plus 1 Tbsp butter) and for milk and cream.  When I need to know how much lemon juice to substitute for a medium lemon, I open up this book (since the bottle doesn't say anymore!).  Over the years, I've added other substitutions that I've found in magazines to my old copy of this book.  The cover is falling off and needs a new layer of packing tape.  It has been well used and loved.

I ran across this book on Amazon a few weeks ago and discovered that an updated edition was published in June of this year.  I just received a copy of it today!  So, I pulled my old copy out and sat for an hour with them comparing them.  The biggest question I pondered as a book buyer is:  is it worth it to buy a new updated edition or should I save money and buy the older edition for $5 less?  In the case of this book, my recommendation is "yes."  

There were some minor complaints I had with the old edition.  Often spices were listed as substitutions, but not with an amount.  There also wasn't much explanation on substituting different types of ingredients.  But, I still loved the little book because I had never seen anything else like it.

My complaints with old edition have been fixed!  There is a lot more information, but don't be deceived by the number of pages.  It may have 191 pages, but it is a small book.  The font, though, is easy to read--it isn't too small.  It is a black and white cookbook with the font bolded and italicized in ways that make it very easy to see the information you want quickly--which is important in a pinch!  Many herb substitutions now have amount equivalencies which will be very helpful.  The old information that I found worked is still there, but a few have been deleted.  Single Acting Baking Powder was deleted--because it essentially isn't sold anymore.  The baking powder you buy in the store is double-acting.  But, products that aren't used as much as they were in the past like self-rising flour are still included.  There is also now a quick reference list at the back that you could put a post-it tab on and turn to quickly when you need to pull it out.  

Do these substitutions work?  Yes, I know they do because I've used them before.  Epstein has added a few new ones, but I have no doubt that they will work because the old ones did and her new ones agree with what I've tried on my own.

Can this book save you money?  Yes.  One of the first substitutions that saved me money (besides not having to buy any more squares of expensive baking chocolate) was for tomato paste.  So many recipes call for 1 Tbsp of tomato paste.  What do you do with the rest of the can that you just opened?  There is a substitution in this cookbook that I've used for years, but I won't ruin it by giving away all the books secrets.  It is nice not to waste a whole can of paste anymore!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Sourcebooks.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Shopping for Cars

A few months ago, a facebook friend posted that she and her husband were looking for a new car and hoping that they didn't kill each other in the process.  I thought her comment was quite appropriate.  Buying a new car--whether new or used is stressful.

Last week, our car began to have multiple issues.  We had the choice to try and fix everything or trade it in.  We opted to trade it in and get a new/used car.  But, big purchases always scare me.  I get nervous about taking on debt.  I've shared on this blog how much debt we had 3 years ago and how much we had to take on when we got water in our basement.  This past week we tried to take a vacation.  Sadly, so many things went wrong!  We tried to go to Williamsburg for 4 nights/5 days.  On the way down, we got a star crack in our windshield--it even took a small chunk out.  Then we got lost in Richmond and found ourselves in unbearable heat for our kids.  When we finally made it to the hotel, we had to switch rooms twice.  The kids wouldn't sleep and then Sami threw up in the night without realizing it.  We decided to cut it short and simply come home.  A mile from home the back tail light cover fell off the driver's side and when we stopped we realized our car was making a strange high pitched noise.

God was gracious.  We made it home in one piece.  The other two didn't get sick and I am thankful for that.  We realized that we needed to replace my car sooner than we had hoped.  We were trying to wait until February and our tax return.  So began the search.

Minivan or SUV?
Mileage? How high is too high?
Cost?  What's our range?  What can we afford?  5 or 6 year loan?
Bank or dealer financing?
New or Used?

In the end, I test drove a Cadillac SRX, a Toyota Sienna, and a Toyota Highlander.  I had a certain number in my head that felt right for the size of our loan.  It scared me, but it didn't feel overwhelming.  It scared me because I simply hate loans and debt.  But, I was trusting that God would help us find the right car.  One tricky thing for my husband and I is that I'm the shop around kind of person and he's the let's find it now kind of person.  God has been so merciful to us in our purchases and in giving me peace and helping me to trust Him.

On Thursday, I felt the Sienna was the wise car for us to purchase.  A friend on facebook shared with me about how SUV doors are heavier and so it's harder for little kids to push them and keep them from banging into other cars.  But, my husband didn't have peace, so we went home.  I took care of dinner and getting the kids to bed.  I crawled onto the bed and read Choosing to SEE while my husband surfed the internet downstairs.  After a while he called me downstairs and asked me what I really wanted in a car.  I had realized that I wanted a car that would make my life easier not harder.  Then, my husband said he thought we should get the minivan.  I was very glad for that.

We went in the next morning and bought the car.  God was gracious.  It is just what we wanted without the extra bells and whistles that we didn't want.  It does make my life easier amidst all that life has going on to deal with!

I am thankful for how God works in the big things and the little things to work everything out!