Saturday, December 12, 2015

Hamburgers!

Yippee!  We just finished dinner and it was a success!  When I was growing up, my mom often made hamburgers for dinner and I loved them.  But, I've never been able to make hamburgers as an adult that I just loved--until tonight.

My husband and I were talking the other day about how I should try and figure out how to make them well at home because I've been very disappointed with the hamburgers that we've had out lately (except for 5 Guys Burgers and Fries).  So, tonight I set out to do that.  I looked up "how to make great hamburgers on the stove" and found several great tips on a few sites.  Here's the sum of those directions that worked for me.

#1  Use a cast iron pan and heat it up first.  Cast iron can heat up dry, so it's okay to turn on the pan before you start cooking.  Then, put a tablespoon or two in the pan and let it heat until it shimmers.

#2  Form your patties loosely.  I'd always formed them pretty tightly before. 3/4" thick was what I read was best.  Season lightly with salt and pepper or we use Montreal Steak/Hamburger seasoning.

#3  Cook the patties for 4 minutes on a side.  Don't flip.  Don't check.  4 minutes on the first side, then flip over.  After 3 minutes, put a small pad of butter on the burgers and put a piece of cheese on top.  Cover for the last minute with a lid.  If you aren't putting cheese on them, just let them cook for 4 minutes without covering and then remove from the pan to serve.

#4  Don't cook more than 2 or 3 burgers at a time in your pan.  I know I used to crowd the pan with 4 or 5 burgers at one time.  Not any more!

I only used 80/20 hamburger, not even sirloin or 90/10.  My family loved them!  I loved them, too.  I also loved that it only took me 30 minutes to get dinner on the table--which is a record for me.  I served the burgers with lettuce, buns, pickles, and condiments.  On the side, I served steamed asparagus drizzled with olive oil and sea salt.

I'm so excited to have actually made dinner in 30 minutes tonight and that my family loved it!

Additional notes:
1.  Using the Hamburger Montreal Seasoning helps a lot.
2.  DON'T use preformed patties.  They won't cook through in time.  In fact, they'll be totally red in side!  One of the keys is to have a loosely formed patty from fully defrosted ground beef.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Pumpkin Soup Recipe

When I made my menu for the month on Sunday, I decided that every Wednesday would be "Soup Day".  I didn't decide what soups I was going to make, though.  Tonight, I looked on my counter and saw a cooking pumpkin and decided I would make a pumpkin soup.  I looked through my cookbooks for ideas and found one in a Moosewood cookbook.  I started from there and then made my own.  I changed it so much that the method and ingredients are very different.  Here's the recipe I came up with (my whole family really liked it--even my pickiest eater):

Middle Eastern Pumpkin Soup

2 cups diced onions
2 Tbsp. Olive oil
1 cup peeled and sliced carrots
2 ½ cups chopped pumpkin (½” chunks)
1 ½ tsp salt
2 ½ cups chicken broth
1 ¼ cups apple juice
¼ cup tomato sauce
¼ cup water
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp paprika
1-2 cups diced cooked chicken (I used some from 2 leftover chicken thighs that I cooked on Sunday)

Directions:

  1. Dice onions and saute in olive oil.
  2. Begin chopping carrots. When they are chopped, add to the onions. Then, peel and cut the fresh pumpkin (or butternut squash) into small cubes (1/2”) and add to the onions. Saute for a few more minutes.
  3. Add liquids and spices.  Cook over medium heat.  
  4. Simmer for 15 minutes and then check vegetables for softness. Continue cooking until vegetables are soft, but not mushy.  Then, put 2 cups of soup in blender and puree. Return pureed mixture to pot and mix in.
  5. Add chicken and stir till chicken is heated.
  6. Optional: You can serve sour cream on the side to dollop onto the soup.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Lunch

One thing my family jokes about regularly are my forms.  There is a sense that they simultaneously chuckle about them, are thankful for them, and wonder about them!  I have forms we use for holidays, vacations, setting the table, planning birthday parties, cleaning the house, and even a form to help the kids know what to put in their lunches when they pack them.

This year we joined a homeschool co-op, so once a week my kids and I pack up our lunches and head to "school".  I'm teaching a middle school writing class and tutoring reading.  My Thursday mornings are filled with preparations to teach.  It's been interesting to watch my kids and I get used to this new part of our routine.  My kids are responsible for packing their backpacks and getting their lunches made.

A normal part of our routine at home is for the kids to make their own lunches.  When I ran out of time the first week before class, I asked my kids to make their own lunches and--one for me.  I quickly wrote down on a piece of paper what to put in each lunch.  They did just what I asked.  The next week I typed up what I'd written the week before and laminated it.  Now, they pull out the list each week to make their lunches.

Here's the list I typed up...

Making Lunches:
  1. Juice Box or Capri Sun
  2. Sandwich
  3. Fruit
  4. 2 cookies
  5. Napkin
  6. Snack: string cheese, granola bar, pretzels, etc....

I know it probably seems funny to have such a simple list typed up, but lists do help me and my kids. I'm thankful for them.  My forms and lists will probably be one of those things that my kids laugh and smile about when they are grown adults raising their own kids!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fun and Artistic Cookbook

Every once in a while, I come across a cookbook that is unique.  That's the case of a new cookbook Storey is publishing by Lauren K Stein, illustrated by Katie Eberts.  Fresh Made Simple is actually full of simple recipes.  Most "simple" recipe cookbooks aren't actually simple.  But, this one is.

Lauren and Katie worked together to create a fun and artistic cookbook.  Each recipe uses five ingredients or less.  Directions are as simple as can be.  The only direction I actually disagreed with was the one for carmelized onions.  The authors wrote that you should cook them low and slow--they didn't happen to mention that you have to cook them low and slow for a very long time.  But, other than that, I agreed with the recipes and thought they were all well written and drawn.

The recipes cover breakfast, lunch, salads, spreads, simple dress-ups for desserts, and drinks.  I loved the two cheese plate pairings!  I never know what fruits and accompaniments to put with cheeses.  What I loved most, though, about this cookbook is that it straddles a tricky line.  Most gourmet cookbooks that are appealing use expensive ingredients.  This cookbook, on the other hand, used a lot of normal ingredients and just a few unusual cheeses for some of the recipes.  Most of these ingredients regularly inhabit space in my kitchen.  

On Amazon, you can see a preview of this cookbook and I'd recommend you go check it out.  It's fun to look at it.  Katie Eberts' artwork is creative, energetic, and visually appealing.

In honor of their cookbook, I made an attempt (see below) to illustrate my favorite avocado sandwich.  I find that trying to imitate art is one of the best way to appreciate art more and my attempt definitely made me appreciate this cookbook!  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this cookbook for review from Storey Publishing.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Tackling my house... and my life.

This school year has been full of adjustments for my kids and for me.  We joined a homeschool co-op for the first time in five years and so we go one day a week to meet with other parents and students for classes.  I'm teaching a class to middle schoolers on writing.  On another day of the week, my kids and I head over to a friend's house for French lessons and then to another mom's house for flute lessons.

One of the things that has complicated our co-op day is getting home, getting food into stomachs, heading to Violin lessons, then back home to pick up more children, and then on to soccer practice.  But, this past week, my son asked to quit violin and just keep up with piano lessons.  My husband agreed and so I get to return his violin today to where we have been renting it from.

Amidst getting used to a new school schedule and roster of activities, I decided to clean my house.  When my kids were little, I used to do this every year and go room by room.  I haven't done the deep cleaning in my house for two to three years.  I felt it was time.  So, three weeks ago, I started cleaning, going room by room.  The smaller rooms were easier to tackle.  Many years ago, I had a friend tell me about how Larry Burkett advised paying off debt--to start with the smallest debts first so that you would feel as if you'd accomplished something.  This is the same way I start tackling my house--by starting with the smallest bathroom.

Last week it was time to clean my kitchen.  It took me a whole week.  I have open cupboards.  Many people comment about them when they come to visit and ask if I like them.  In truth, I do.  I love them.  But, there is a downside to having open cupboards.  They get very dusty over time and everything has to be taken out once a year, shelves have to be dusted and cleaned, and then everything is reorganized and put back in place.  Amidst tackling school and normal life, my kitchen took me a whole week to clean.  I wasn't finished until Saturday morning when I tackled my range hood and stove.  Every time I clean out my kitchen I ask myself what I need and don't need.  Then, I purge and pass things on.  It helps.  This time I finally moved the spice rack from one wall to the opposite long wall and swapped it with our wall clock.  My whole family is thrilled with the results.  After almost 4 years in this house, my kids can finally sit down at the kitchen table without knocking their heads on the rack.

Cleaning tips from my kitchen that have helped me...
+ I have organized my pantry with many shoebox sized plastic bins to help keep things in place.  When I need cake decorations or snacks or trail mix, I can go to the right box, instead of having things falling all over the shelves.  I like the shoebox sized bins because they're cheap at around a $1 each.
+ We have a stainless hood and stove.  I use baking soda and a damp rag (a regular dishrag) to clean the inside and outside of the hood.  Baking Soda is the only thing I've found that can easily cut through the grease.  Once all the grease is gone, I can use my Norwex green and purple cloths to clean and polish it.
+ Going through my pantry is helpful because it reminds me of what I really use and don't use.  I find each time I purge, I have to throw away a few food items that I thought I would use, but never did.  This time I was very thankful for the reminder and kept it on the forefront of my mind when I went to the grocery store the next day.

This week, my homeschool room and the basement remain.  A friend once told me about the Fly Lady.  The advice she took from the site was to start with her kitchen counters.  The Fly Lady advises to declutter for 15 minutes a day.  That's how I am with cleaning my hardest rooms.  Every day, I do something.  This morning, I swept the basement.  Later this morning, I'm going to begin tackling the clothes area and sorting the homeschool books I banished to the basement a month ago.

But, before I can tackle more of my basement, I need to head to the dreaded dentist and get some schooling done ;)  Little by little, I'll get there... the blessing is that my house feels more organized again and it feels a little lighter!



The List for the Day

One of my struggles with my family is getting them to put things away.  I'm one of those people who picks things up and then puts them away in their spot--most of the time.  I think I have to go through my kitchen corner and school desk every other week or so and regroup, sort, and take care of what's there.  But, I put my shoes away and hang up my coats.  

My family, though, often doesn't.  I do a lot of reminding and asking for children to come put their things away.  Every trip from the car to the house involves bringing something back.  I realize that somewhere along the way, I learned to do this.  I'm not sure exactly when.  As I stood near some moms during VBS this summer, one mom was talking with another about her son never remembers to put anything away.  So, I knew it wasn't just my kids with this struggle.  

In her new book, Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day, Glynnis Whitwer talks about this struggle to take 3 more steps to put something away.  She goes into detail about talking one thing at a time.  For her, it started with her bathrobe.  She goes on to explain how that applies to us and how to tackle the things we don't have the energy for.  I liked Ms. Whitwer's tone in her book.  It wasn't critical or harsh like one book I read about organization a few years ago.

There are many things that I agree with in this new book from Bethany House Publishing.  For example, on pg. 69, she says, "A wise and loving parent trains children to do things they don't feel like doing, such as get along with siblings, clean up after themselves, and do their homework.  Very few children are born with the motivation to act in selfless ways...By teaching them responsibility, we raise children to be mature adults.  We train them to do the right thing, and hopefully the benefits are positive enough to reinforce the behavior.  Perhaps we need to return to this model of training for ourselves in order to do what's right in spite of how we feel."  It's hard to choose to do what we don't want to do in a culture that constantly tells us that we should always be able to do what we want to do.  

This quote brings to mind the Life is Good shirts in my drawer.  I like the clothing of this company because of the optimistic and fun sayings on the shirts, but I've always twisted the company's slogan in my mind.  The slogan is: "Do what you love.  Love what you do."  Instead of focusing on the idea that we should all do what we love to do and then you'll love what you do, I've always taken this to remind me of Ecclesiastes 3:13: "also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man."   To enjoy our work and food is a gift from God.  I think it isn't so much about getting to do what we want to do--but enjoying what God gives us to do.  

Ms. Whitwer's book is for someone who really wants to dig in and focus in on getting their to do lists done, but is struggling to get them done.  Her book is very matter of fact, yet not condemning or critical.  She speaks from her own experience (which I think is always important in this type of book).  If you're looking for a book on this subject, this might be one that would encourage you.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House Publishers.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Celery

That's all this post is about.  Celery.

We went away on vacation a few weeks ago and my mom stayed in our home and took care of our dog.  I asked her to eat the food in the fridge that we'd left so that it wouldn't go bad!  And she did--just as I'd hoped she would.

But, the celery was left.

I headed to the store the next day and of course picked up some celery expecting it to have gone bad. But, the next morning when I pulled out the celery--it was just fine.

My mom had taken a twist tie and twisted the end of the celery bag shut.  It worked and extended the life of my celery!  I had never thought of doing this, but I am very glad to learn this new trick.

The trick I've always known helps when celery goes limp.  Cut the celery into pieces and place in a tupperware.  Once all of the pieces are in the container, fill it with cold water, place the lid on top, and put it in the fridge.  Within a few hours, the celery won't be limp anymore.  It will stay good for at least another week this way.

So, that's all I know.  At least about celery.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Amazingly Fun Stuffed Animal Vet Doctor Book/Set

Teddy Bear Doctor:  A Let's Make and Play Book

Today this book arrived in the mail and my girls were so excited to get started playing.  In my middle daughter's words, "MOM, this book is Amazing!"  She absolutely loves it.  It's a ready made vet/stuffed animal doctor set up in a book.  There were stickers and punchouts in the book.  Paper animal x-rays, directions on how to assemble and make things, ideas for play, sticker bandaids, and other stickers to use.

My girls set to work making their bedroom and the bathroom into a vet hospital and examining room.  The results can be seen in these pictures...


Please sign in!



The kit works for American Girl dolls as well as stuffed animals.


My oldest daughter made the second sign and the first sign is from the book.

The pet vet kit sticker is from the book and there are xrays (hidden from view) in the box.

I would highly recommend this kit for girls 6-10 years old who love to play with their stuffed animals and/or American Girl Dolls.  We've purchased several AG doll books and kits (which are all very well made and constructed), but this book was so much simpler for my girls to go right to work on playing with.  This book by Deanna Cook is a gem!  My girls both give it a huge thumbs up!

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

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Attempt at Baked Beans

This morning I decided to make baked beans for our church picnic.  After perusing the internet and looking at several recipes, I came up with my own.  It turned out well and my family and friends seemed to like it!

Baked Beans
8 oz. chopped ham or bacon, cooked
        I had put a ham in the crock pot yesterday for our dinner and used some of this.
3/4-1 medium onion, diced
3 large cans baked beans (I used a brown sugar/bacon flavor baked beans from Aldi)
1/2 cup barbecue sauce (I used Trader Joe's BBQ sauce)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 Tbsp spicy brown mustard/deli mustard
1 Tbsp ketchup

1.  Saute onion in 1 Tbsp of canola oil.
2.  Place baked beans in crock pot.
3.  Add sauteed onion and all other ingredients.  Stir well.
4.  Cook in 4 qt crock pot on high for 6 hours.

Serve!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

All-in-One Cookbook Book!

I love cookbooks.  They make me want to cook!  I have many friends who love to look for recipes on the internet.  But, I'm a print person.  I love the feel of a book in my hands.  Somehow, it's easier for my eyes to focus on a page in front of me than on a computer screen without all the ads surrounding what I'm trying to look at.

But, there is only so much room on my shelf. So, new additions to my cookbook shelves are few and far between.  Every once in a while, though, I come across a book that I'm really excited about!  This is the case of the cookbook that's sitting in front of me on my desk right now.



This is a new cookbook, of sorts, by Andrea Chesman (published by Storey Publishing).  Ms. Chesman has been writing cookbooks for over 30 years.  This book seems to be an updated version of a book that was published five years ago called Back to Basics Traditional Kitchen Wisdom, which Ms. Chesman wrote, and covered similar topics.  But, that book was half the length of this one.  

I love the way Storey formats books.  The font, pictures, columns, bold type--all make it easier to read their books.  This book is divided into 3 sections:  1. Harvesting and storing fresh foods, 2. Food Preservation, and 3. Homestead Cooking.  

This is an all-in-one kind of book.  I love books like this that help me conserve space on my shelves!  The first section is exactly what I want.  It goes through a list of vegetables and lists when to harvest, how to fix (cooking times) and preserve them.  Then, it goes through the fruits (in alphabetical order which is very helpful) as well.  She follows that up with a recipe for sourdough starter and no-knead sourdough bread.  I can't wait to try this!  I need to get a baguette pan first, though, and a big jar for the starter.  I've been very disappointed in the baguettes we've bought over the past few months so I have wanted to make my own.  This book makes it sound very doable to make my own sourdough starter and make the baguettes.  I've read many directions on how to make baguettes over the years and I haven't found any of them that sounded as doable to me as the ones in this book!

In general, I found her directions on making cheese, veggie chips, and other dishes very understandable.  What I think I was most surprised by was the dishes she chose to include.  She included interesting and simple ethnic dishes like tzatiziki and Mujaddara.  I look forward to trying the lentil dishes she included and her recipe for Saag Paneer.  I regret that my school year is in full swing now and it is going to be some time before I get to sit down and make these recipes.  But, I have worked a few of them into my menu for next month.  So, I can't personally vouch for how good the recipes are---yet.  I will update this review once I've made the starter and baguettes and other recipes that I am intending to try.  But, I've never cooked from a Storey cookbook yet that I haven't liked.  

One thing that was very interesting to me was how Ms. Chesman expressed her opinions.  She did share her opinions about things such as raw milk, but I felt that she made it clear that they are her opinions.  I read one review of the book which remarked about her tone in another passage of the book.  I guess she just sounded to me like many women I've met in my life--opinionated, a bit outspoken, weathered, aware that everyone isn't the same and that life isn't as cut and dried as many think it is.  

If you're in the market for an all in one food preserving/storing/recipe type of cookbook, this one is definitely worth looking into (especially if you have a large garden and are mini-homesteading of sorts and keep chickens!)  

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


Monday, August 17, 2015

Nestle Toll House Cookies

A friend of mine was asking me today about Toll House cookies and me in my usual, very honest way about cookies admitted that I think it's one of the worst recipes--it comes out sometimes and other times it doesn't come out at all.  I've found this multiple times when I've tried the recipe over the years and I've heard it from others too!  Most of the time everyone seems to think it's them that's the problem--not the recipe.

I think it's the recipe that's the problem.

Recently, though, my daughter Sami was working on a regions report and her project for the Northeast US was to make a regional food.  She picked Tollhouse cookies over a fluffer nutter sandwich...

Thankfully, we found a recipe that actually worked for us!  It's on the blog, Itsalwaysautumn.com.  If you click on the name of the blog, it should take you to the blog post that has a download link for a fun printable version of the recipe for kids.  I compared it to the recipe on the back of the bag and the only difference is the distribution between brown and white sugar.

There are a couple of other things that I think help make a successful cookie.

1) I don't soften butter unless a recipe specifically says so.  All of my cookie recipes, minus one, just call for butter.

2) Cream the butter and sugars together until there NO lumps.

3) I use half size bun pan cookie sheets for my cookie sheets with half of sheet of parchment.  Every few years, I order a box from Webstaurantstore.com.




The quilon parchment paper can withstand temps up to 425, which is fine for every cookie I make and biscuits.  A box usually costs about $35-$40 for 1000 sheets (which can be torn in half to cover 2 bun pans).  I usually divide the box up among a few friends.  It does take me several years to go through a box (3-4 yr), but the cost savings is worth it because 1 roll of Reynolds parchment paper is equivalent to 30 pieces (or 15 full size pieces).  A roll of Reynolds paper cost about $4.50 at Target the last time I checked.  So, 100 sheets from the box cost the same as 15 sheets from the roll.  

4) Use a kitchenaid mixer.  It makes cookie making so much easier!  Kohl's is the best place to get one around Christmas time--combining coupons can make them a much less daunting purchase.



Saturday, August 1, 2015

Beans and Rice, My family's style...

Yesterday, my girls had some friends over for a book group discussion and us moms got to talk.  We talked about cooking for a little bit and one of the moms mentioned cooking by looking in the fridge and deciding what to cook based on what was in her fridge.  I took a cue from her last night and went downstairs to my freezer.  What I had planned for dinner wasn't going to work, so I needed a new plan.  I saw some sausage on the top shelf and remembered my husband saying a few days before that he loved beans and rice.  So, I thought I'd try my hand at a makeshift version.  My kids don't like spicy things, so 


Rice and Beans, My family's style

1 -15 oz. Can black beans, rinsed 
1 -28 oz. Can baked beans, rinsed 
1 small onion, chopped in small pieces 
1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped 
3 cloves garlic, minced 
2 stalks celery, chopped finely 
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp dried sage 
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped 
1 pound Italian sausage
1 tsp. seasoning mix...
                 the seasoning recipe: ¾ tsp paprika
                                              ½ tsp garlic powder
                                              ½ tsp black pepper
                                              ¼ tsp thyme
                                              ¼ tsp ancho chile powder
                                              ¼ tsp onion powder
                                              ¼ tsp oregano
                                              1/8 tsp salt
                                              1/8 tsp ground mustard powder

Directions:

  1. Brown and cook sausage through. Then, cut into half length wise and then slice each half. Place in a bowl and set aside.

  1. Saute onion, bell pepper, garlic, and celery in 2 Tbsp olive oil for 3-4 minutes until softened.

  1. Rinse beans and add to onion mixture. Add spices and parsley. Cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes.

  1. Add sausage to mixture and warm through. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Serve over rice. My kids like to sprinkle it with a little soy sauce.  My husband liked it even without adding any heat (cayenne pepper) which was quite surprising to me!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cradle Cap

Many children, like two of mine, end up with cradle cap that doesn't want to go away after they are toddlers.  So, I made a trip to the dermatologist and was given a surprising recommendation!

Dawn Dish Soap

Rub it in every other day.  Let it stand for 15 minutes on the scalp and then rinse out.  Repeat for a few weeks.

Simple, inexpensive--I tried to find one that smelled the most like shampoo and least like dish soap.  And, well, it seems to be working!

My youngest child's cradle cap is finally gone and my middle child's is finally mostly gone.

Just thought I'd pass this on in case it might be of help to someone--and save them a trip to the dermatologist!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

IMPORTANT! Scam Phone Calls

I just got a message on my phone from an "unavailable" number.  I hate these phone calls :(  The message said it was from the IRS and they were getting ready to sue me--and of course, to contact them at an included phone number.

This one was meant to inspire panic in me, but before I even let my mind run, I got on the computer and googled "IRS Scam Phone Calls".  I found some very helpful information here on the IRS' website:  http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Scams-Consumer-Alerts

No worries.  The information on this page totally confirmed that the phone message I received was a scam.  It makes me mad that people do stuff like this--make people panic--just to cheat them out of money.  The love of money can cause people to do a lot of wrong things...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Quilting Beyond...

Years ago when I was first married, I learned on my own how to quilt.  (This was in pre-Youtube days.)  I remember looking at a few websites and books--and then I began experimenting.  But, I felt like I was cheating somehow when I would applique designs on instead of piecing them into the quilt.  I could piece in designs, but I often chose to applique.  I've always wondered how I could improve my quilting skills and stop my "sort of" cheating!

Well, I came across a really neat quality book, all points patchwork, by Diane Gilleland.  This book
explains a style, or method, of paper piecing that can be used to make complicated polygon shaped quilts and quilting projects.  The pictures and directions are extremely clear and well written.  the projects included as examples are appealing and are somehow both modern and old fashioned at the same time.  The patterns of the material in the examples seem timeless.

I was impressed with how clear the author was able to explain how to quilt using the method of paper piecing.  I've never done this before, but the directions are so clear, I feel fully confident that I can now begin a project!  

When I showed this book to a few other moms, who aren't actually even quilters, they loved the projects and expressed how much they would like to have them in their own homes.  Quilters naturally love quilts, but it's always interesting to see how people who don't quilt react to them.  

If you're interested in beginning to make more complicated designs in your quilts and projects, this book would give you much food for thought and a great place to begin!

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


Monday, June 22, 2015

Crafting Cookies

When I walk into high end bakeries, I am often amazed at the beauty of the foods.  I didn't always notice such things, but I married someone who pays a lot of attention to the "look of food".  I, on the other hand, am a person who tends to cook for flavor rather than looks.

Part of it is because I am often disappointed by the "look" of foods in bakeries because they don't match the taste I'm hoping for.  Usually, they're drier.  So, my solution when I really want to try and bake something is just to find a recipe and make it at home...  which brings me to a fun cookbook I received in the mail recently.  It's titled Cookie Craft by Valerie Peterson and Janice Fryer.

This book tackles and completely explains how to make those beautifully decorated sugar cookies you've seen in fancy bakeries.

What I love in this book:
--The recipes are clear
--All the vocabulary of cookie crafting is clearly explained
--Tons and tons of ideas for both shapes and potential detailing
--It makes sense.  Above all else, this is important when tackling a new and complicated craft!

Why I love this book more than a Youtube video...
--You can flip back and forth to the info and directions you need
--It would take hours to watch enough Youtube videos that would give you all the info in this book
--I need ingredients written down--not on a screen--so I dont' forget what I've added!

Cookie Crafting is definitely a craft.  I don't usually think of cooking and baking as a craft, but these cookies are not for the faint of heart.  I would compare this craft to scrapbooking--it's time intensive, but you'll have a beautiful end product when you're done!

If you've ever wanted a book on cookie crafting or have wanted to know how to make those fancy, decorated sugar cookies, I'd definitely check this book out!!

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

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Chicken Tikka Masala

A few weeks ago, we went to an Indian restaurant near us.  My kids loved the Chicken Korma and the Chicken Tikka Masala.  I had made Chicken Tikka Masala before at home.  The first time it was great, but the second not so great.  So, last week I thought I'd try again.  I looked up several recipes and combined them to make a new one.  This is what I ended up with:

Chicken Tikka Masala

1.  Mince 1/2 large onion and saute over med. heat in 3-4 Tbsp canola oil for 5 minutes, until they are softened and just beginning to brown.

2.  Add      2 garlic cloves, minced (1 tsp.)
                  2 tsp. coriander
                  1 tsp. cumin
                  1 tsp. paprika
                  1 tsp. garam masala
                  1/2 tsp. salt
   Saute for 30 seconds.

3.  Stir in one 8 oz. can of tomato sauce and simmer for 15 minutes.

4.  Pound 2 pounds of chicken breast till thin.  (between 1/4-1/2 inch thick = 1 cm thick)

5.  Mix 1 cup plain yogurt
             2 Tbsp. lemon juice
             1 tsp. salt
             1-2 tsp cumin
             1/2 tsp black pepper
             1 tsp cinnamon
             1/4-1/2 tsp. ground ginger (optional)

6.  Put foil on a cookie sheet and place grate on top.  Spray grate with cooking spray.

7.  Pat chicken dry with paper towels and coat chicken with yogurt mixture.  Then, lay chicken on grate.  Broil 10 min. @ 475 degrees.  Turn chicken.  Broil 5 min. more.  I place my oven rack on the level as close as I can get and still fit in the tray, but you don't want the chicken to burn--so the first time you make this, I would keep a close eye to make sure your chicken isn't burning.

8.  Add 1 cup half and half plus 1 Tbsp. butter to sauce.  Whisk in.  Tear chicken into pieces and stir in.

Serve with basmati rice and cilantro on the side.

I know the half and half seems like a lot of calories--but several of the recipes I saw called for whole fat whipping cream!  So, at least it's less than that.  You could probably get away with sauteeing the onion in only 1-2 Tbsp canola oil and without altering the taste of the recipe too much and I will try doing that next time.

Oh, and my kids and I are very mild, so you might have noticed that there's no cayenne pepper in this recipe...  My husband loves spicy food so I just leave the cayenne pepper on the table and he can sprinkle it over his food to taste!

:)  Let me know how this recipe works for you if you try it and if you have any alterations you make to it!


Sunday, May 24, 2015

No Soliciting Signs

Lately, there have been a lot of sales people coming up to our doorstep and they always seem to come at times that are not good for answering the door.  I feel very bad for them.  I know this is their job and they are trying to make a living.  But, because of our concern for identity theft and discomfort with people coming to our door with sales pitches, we put up a no soliciting sign this morning.  I found one I loved online here.  I printed them off and laminated them.  I cut the top one out, taped it next to our door, and now hope it will help!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Guerilla Furniture Design...

My husband and I love to reuse rather than buy new whenever we can. At our old house, I took off the kitchen cabinet doors and painted the cabinets, rather than purchasing brand new ones. I left the tile backsplash in the same kitchen and found cabinets, paint, and floor tile that would make it palateable. When all was said and done, I was pleased.

In our new home, we have had to do a lot more repairs, but we've sought to do more painting than replacing. Lots of projects in the house had been done 90%, but they needed to be finished, so we tackled those. Rather than ripping out the paneling in our school room, I painted it. I love the texture of the walls and it was a lot less work. I do these things not out of fear that our world will run out of resources and the landfills will become full, but out of a desire to be a good steward of what we have and waste less.

Will Holman shows that same desire in his new book Guerilla Furniture Design. This book is all about reusing construction debris and making economical furniture with a modern design. I loved reading the book and seeing his ideas. The beginning of the book was particularly interesting to me because of his job history. He was an architecture grad who couldn't find a job. But, he didn't give up and go on welfare. He pursued one job/internship after another that knit together an interesting path that took him all across the country. In the end, he's developed a vision for economical ways to furnish his homes (and others) and as he puts it-- “get his stuff off the floor”.  I have a brother in law who feels the same way and who, I am certain, would love this book.

The plans and ideas in this book seem clear and straight forward. I, a non-construction person, feel that I could make these projects (or at least many of them). I appreciated the information at the front about the history of other guerilla furniture movements and his explanation of his vision. I was also pleased by how he explains what should be done to dispose of the furniture when it is no longer needed and what she kept for another project down the road.

As with other Storey books, this one is well edited with wonderful pictures and illustrations. I was taken by surprised with how much I enjoyed it. My husband is looking forward to reading it now!


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

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Planning Meals

Last fall, I made some forms to help me cope with the holidays.  My husband likes to know that everything is taken care of and these forms helped me feel like I knew everything was covered.  

I'm not able to upload to this site on blogspot, so I've posted them on a Wordpress site HERE.  If you scroll down to the Family Forms, I've posted 4 different Guest Meal worksheets.  I use these for holiday meals or larger family get togethers.  

The other forms I've posted are the ones I use for my kids' birthday parties.  I let my kids decide what they want for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on their birthdays and I give them the Birthday Day Meals form.  I use the birthday party form when I plan the parties :)


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Taking your blood pressure

A few weeks ago, I had a stress reaction to wearing a Vivofit bracelet.  I broke out in hives for 4 days and after a few days I realized I was having a hard time breathing.  I saw the dermatologist about the hives, but I wasn't quite sure what to do about the breathing.  I figured it would calm down after a few days, but the next time I was in a grocery store, I took my blood pressure to make sure that was okay in light of my other reactions.  It was easy enough to do.  I realized that it can be helpful to have a blood pressure monitor around if there are any questions.  High blood pressure runs in my family and I'm working on managing my stress.  I've never had high blood pressure before and I'm hoping I won't.  But, I recognize that it's a good thing to keep track of.

So, I tried a blood pressure monitor at home by Measupro, the BPM20A.  This blood pressure monitor is very easy to use. The instruction manual gives very specific directions about how often and how to use it. I love that it records two people (up to 60 records). The date and time are recorded with the machine. It only takes AAA batteries which are very inexpensive to replace. The only direction that is missing is that you should plug the arm cuff into the side. The numbers are very clear, big, and easy to read.

As a person who has never used one of these myself before, I found it easy to follow. The white knob from the cuff goes into the side of the base. This is the one direction that is omitted and you do have to push it in. The directions do say to rest for 5 minutes before using (which is difficult for me with 3 kids running around that I need to take care of), but I rested for 2 or 3 minutes and then used it. My blood pressure was fine. The manufacturer does recommend sitting in the same location at the same time each day to measure your blood pressure--so that you can control more variables and get a more consistent reading. This makes sense. Also, for those who don't know which measurement to choose, you'll want to choose the mmHg in the US.


When I looked around at the prices of various monitors, it was interesting that they range in price from about $30-$50 or even more.  This one is moderately priced at $45.  

I am both pleased and surprised by how easy this was to set up and use!


Please note that I was sent a complimentary monitor by MeasuPro to review.

Monday, April 6, 2015

My Easter Ham

I did not grow up eating ham on Easter, so I have very little experience cooking ham!  Two years ago, I discovered the amazing trick of cooking a ham in a crock pot...

Cook a bone in ham (non spiral-sliced type) in a large crockpot.  ALL DAY.  It will fall apart like corned beef and be salty--in an especially yummy way.  Put 1 cup of liquid in with the ham and some brown sugar if you'd like.  This is a cheap way to make a cheap ham really yummy.

But, for Easter, I get a spiral sliced ham.  Last year, I tried the oven cooking method at 275 degrees.  I placed it in a pan and covered it in aluminum foil (I think), but after 2 hours, it still wasn't warm in the center.  So, we sliced it off the bone and had to heat it in the microwave so that we could eat on time.

With that memory on my mind--of past hams not hot inside--  I looked online for directions.  I had a spiral sliced ham to heat again this year and I really wanted my endeavor to be successful in heating it through.  So, after looking around, I settled on how I was going to do it... and it worked!!

Directions for heating a spiral sliced ham:
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Take ham out of wrapper.  Place ham inside a Reynolds oven bag (I used a turkey size.)  The directions on the bag say to put 1 Tbsp of flour in the bottom.  Then, you tie the bag with some cooking twine.  The bag comes with a metal twist tie, but I wasn't comfortable using it.  So, I folded the end over and tied it.  The plastic bag isn't supposed to go over the pan, so this helps it stay tighter.  Then, Cut six 1/2" slits around the top.  Cook a 10 lb. ham for 1 hr. 30 min.  Check at 1 hr. 15 min.

Here's a link to the cooking info on Reynolds' site.   http://www.reynoldskitchens.com/media/3020138/orgoventempstob.pdf
A second faq I found helpful is:
 http://www.reynoldskitchens.com/media/13943325/oven_bags_faq.pdf

I so thankful and pleased that it worked!  My ham heated through!  Yippee!  I am definitely doing it this way in the future.  Easter is trickier than other holidays because go to church and get home around 1 pm and want to eat around 3 pm.  This method of doing the ham is going to make our Easter dinner so much easier from now on!

I made two sauces to serve on the side:  Pineapple Sauce and a simple mustard sauce.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cracking Eggs Cleanly...

Yippee!!!!!  Yesterday, my kids and I dyed Easter Eggs along with another boy from church.  I do it every year in conjunction with stuffing the eggs for our church egg hunt.  Planning it this way makes it fun for the kids and for me and I know that I won't procrastinate dying eggs and miss it.  

My kids love hard boiled eggs.  But, in recent years, they have been a thorn in my side.  Every time I tried to peel one, the peel would stick.  I could never get a cleanly peeled egg.  Until today!!  My mom is always looking for fun tips on how to cook eggs.  She's the one who told me how to cook them:

Place eggs in cold water in pan.  Bring to a boil.  Place lid on pan.  Turn off heat and let sit for 15 minutes.  Then, drain and eat.  

Less energy used to cook and this method works well--for the cooking.

But, my mom found a new tip for the cracking this week and this is it:

Gently crack your egg(s) all over.  Then, place them in a bowl of water for a few minutes.  Don't try and leave them there for just 30 seconds.  They'll still stick.  But, 2-3 minutes will do the trick.  Pull out the eggs one by one and peel!  

I was so amazed and pleased that this worked.  Deviled eggs with smooth surfaces!  Yippee!!!

It's the little things that can make one smile!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Not as simple as it might seem...

I have taught myself how to do many craft projects.  Scrapbooking, quilting, calligraphy...  But, I have always struggled with helping my children make beaded necklaces.  My knots never seem to stay!  

Needless to say, I was thrilled when I opened up an envelope a few days ago and I found 3 helpful books inside.  #1  Beaded Jewelry:  Wirework Techniques, #2 Beaded Jewelry:  Knotting Techniques, and #3 Beaded Jewelry:  Stringing Techniques.  These are fairly small books (probably 5 x 7 inches) and thin (about 1/4").  But, they are packed with great information!  Sometimes it is true that great things come in small packages...

Storey published these three books by Carson Eddy, Rachael Evans, and Kate Feld.  They answered so many questions I've had over the years, but have felt silly for wanting to ask!  I know many people like websites and youtube, but I'm still partial to books.  There are a few reasons why.  

#1  All the information is in one place--ONE place.  I don't have to click around searching for what I can't figure out.  It's all there.

#2  I don't have to sit in front of my computer.  I spend enough time in front of this thing as it is!

#3  I am less distractable...  Oh, what's that other page talking about?  Do I need to read that first?  Oh, that looks more interesting... you get the idea. There's always something else to look at on the interest and so it's easy to miss out on enjoying what's right in front of me.

Those are just a few of my reasons, but basically, I love books.  I prefer books.  And these three are great books that helped me understand how to make jewelry far better than the information I've found on the internet.  

But, back to these books.

Book #1 Wirework Techniques 
This book covers the basics about wire, basics about chain types you can use (not make yourself), findings (clasp, earrings, etc.), what you need to know about tools and then techniques.  Theses books are black and white so the pictures are drawings, but they are very clear and the directions/drawings are very easy to follow.


Book #2  Knotting Techniques
This book covers cords, clasps, tools, knotting techniques, and pearls.  When using this book (and the others for that matter), you'll want to use either a cookbook holder or a heavy object to keep the book propped open while you work.  The square knot directions were easy to follow and I was very thankful for the information about adjustable ways to end a necklace.  I had always wanted to know how to do this!

Book #3  Stringing Techniques
This was the book that surprised me the most of the three.  I had not realized how interesting it would be to learn about the different types of beads and how helpful it would be to understand them!  The other chapters explain the types of stringing materials and findings.  There is a chapter on beading tools as well as one about planning jewelry.  All of the chapters were easy to understand and full of information.  

If you're interested in beading, but don't have the time to take a class, these books would be a great place to start beyond making a simple string with beads and tying it in a knot.   I think these books are a great introduction for the crafty person who wants to start beading.  But, they will give you information and techniques that you can do an amazing amount with!

We're so focused on being entertained by what we see on the computer screen that we often miss the enjoyment of sitting and doing.  These beading books remind me of how valuable it is to get off this silly computer and do something (like my girls, who are making origami rabbits in the other room at the moment for our church's egg hunt this weekend).  

Please note that I received complimentary copies of these three books for review from Storey Publishing.

Monday, March 30, 2015

New Addition to Cookbook List!

On this blog, I keep a list of my favorite cookbooks.  I haven't added a new one in a long.... long time.
A few years ago, I searched for a kids' cookbook that I could love and that my kids could enjoy and follow easily.  I was so surprised by the variety of cookbooks and the poorly written directions they included.  In particular, I remember looking at Paula Deen's cookbook for children.  The small print, light type, and colored background...  I wanted a better cookbook for my kids!  For me, cookbooks are inspiring (even if I almost never follow a recipe exactly)!  I ended up finding one that I loved-- Kids Cook!, a Williamson Kids Can book that is now back in print.  But, there are no photographs in the cookbook.  My kids love color and they are not drawn to that cookbook.  On the other hand, a new cookbook arrived at our doorstep last week and my kids hovered over it--drinking in the recipes, excited to cook!

That cookbook is Cooking Class by Deanna F. Cook.  A few years ago, Storey published two
cookbooks for kids about sewing that I like:  Sewing School and Sewing School 2.  With this cookbook for kids, Storey followed the same format and editing style--which I loved back then and love again with this new cookbook.

Cooking Class is divided into seven sections that cover the basics, meals, snacks, and of course--dessert!  The Basics section is what I have found lacking in most kids' cookbooks, but in this one, it is done well.  Good tips, good pictures, and even a page on how to clean up!  I like that they added two pages on how to fold a fancy napkins and setting the table.  I have a feeling that our next holiday meal will have some beautifully folded napkins!

From there, the recipe sections begin.  The recipes are divided into 1, 2, or 3 spoons.  1 spoon recipes can be made by kids themselves.  2 spoon recipes might need an older sibling or parent's help.  3 spoon recipes use sharp knives and the oven/stove, so an adult is most likely needed for kids under 10 or 11.  My daughters are 9 and 11 and are uncomfortable with the oven and can turn on the gas stove, but usually prefer me to do that.

The recipes are easy to follow and have great pictures which give clear instructions.  The reading level (because of the size of the type) is probably 3rd grade and above.  I know that my first grade son can read most of the words in these directions, but the size of the type would be a stumbling block for him.

Our first recipe we tried from the cookbook was the grab and go granola bars.  I was a little skeptical about how my kids would like them since they aren't baked, but my whole family ended up loving them!  I think next time, though, I am going to try and mix the chocolate chips into the mixture and then press into the pan so that the chocolate chips are mixed throughout the bars and aren't just on top.

I suspect that within a few months every recipe in this cookbook will have been tried by my kids!

Aside from the recipes, the cookbook includes some fun stickers, place cards, and conversation questions for the dinner table.  These are of high quality and my kids have enjoyed them all.

I think you get the idea... when choosing a great kids' cookbook, this one tops my list! (and has been added to my list of favorite cookbooks on this blog)

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this cookbook for review from Storey publishing.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Freezer Issues

Freezers and I have a love/hate relationship.  It drives me crazy that I lose food in them and that they get disorganized so quickly because I'm in a rush and have to stick stuff back in them.

But, this week I began implementing one of my new grocery plans--to go to Wegmans once a month (or every 6 weeks) to buy meat/chicken/pork and stock up.  I came home and divided up the meat into ziplocs... but I knew that I needed to organize our freezer(s) so that I'd be able to find it when I needed it.  So, I got started and came to a conclusion.

Freezing meals doesn't work for me.  I don't defrost things well.  I often change (or even decide in the first place) what I'm going to cook for dinner an hour or two before we're going to eat.  So, I keep a stock of basics (dry goods and frozen) on hand.

I sorted my meats by type, frozen vegetables together and breads, freezer strawberry jam and blueberries, grains, coconut, bread crumbs, ice cream...  One of the issues I faced was the jumble of partially used frozen fruit and vegetable bags.  They would drive me crazy when they'd fall out of the freezer.  So, I found that the shoebox size plastic boxes fit perfectly.  I put one with the bags of fruit in my freezer upstairs and one with the open frozen vegetables.  It's amazing how boxes and baskets can make me feel less cluttered and more organized because it gives things a place to belong.

One of the biggest lessons I've learned this past year is about comparing ourselves to others.  When it comes to saving money, the same thing applies--just because someone else can manage and juggle something doesn't mean you should.  What works for one person won't necessarily work for another.  I know there are a ton of cookbooks about cooking for a month and freezing ahead.  But, I realized the other day that my brain just doesn't think ahead to defrost such meals so they end up being a waste of money for us.  I love the ideas that I get from hearing how other people feed their families and what strategies they use for saving money.  But, I see the wisdom in taking what applies to me and then simply appreciating that the other strategies bless the other people using them.  It's not an all or nothing deal.  For example, I don't use coupons much anymore.  But, I did for years!  I still love to clip them some times, but they don't end up being used much anymore.  I don't have the time to shop and use them.  I'm in a time of life that requires me to be more time efficient with my grocery trips.  So, that means I am making a monthly trip to Wegmans for meat, asian rice (when needed), and generic spiral mac and cheese.  An almost weekly trip to Aldi for the bulk of our groceries, and an every other week trip to our local grocery store for deli meat, buttermilk, and a few things that Aldi doesn't carry (like red leaf lettuce heads, cilantro, and fresh jalapenos).  Not worrying about coupons right now takes a lot of stress off of me.  And decreasing my stress right now is worth a lot to me.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Meat Rolls

When I studied abroad during college, I went to Australia.  Many of the other students ate meat pies, sausage rolls, and the like.  I have to admit that I never tried one.  They just never appealed to me... until yesterday.

I make a monthly menu every month so that I'll have an idea of something I can make every day of the month.  But, I often veer away from that at the last minute.  Yesterday was one of those days.  I opened up America's Test Kitchen's Lost Recipes cookbook, an out of print ATK cookbook that I found at a book sale.  I found a recipe for Runsas and thought it might be worth a try.  My family ended up loving them!

They weren't as hard as they sounded, but having a breadmaker make the dough does help.  I did forget the cabbage when I went to the store, though, so I substituted 4 oz. steamed spinach and 2 cups of carrots (sauteed) for the cabbage.  I also substituted mozzarella for the American cheese.  Two of my three kids had them for lunch today, which says a lot in my family!

Here's a link to the recipe for the Runsas...  http://www.food.com/recipe/runsas-386848

My son has already asked me to make them again!

Tonight I attempted challah bread and Caribbean Black Bean Soup with Fruit Salsa.  The challah was a salvaged disaster!  The author of the bread cookbook hadn't doubled the recipe correctly and the dough came out of my bread maker as soup.  Well, you win some and lose some!  I pulled it out and dumped a ton of flour on it.  Then, I had to add extra yeast dissolved in water with some sugar to it because the multiplication hadn't been done correctly.  Then, more flour.  My bread didn't turn out to be challah, but in the end it did turn out to be edible and I'm thankful for that.  The soup was more of a success as two people at the table ate seconds and it will definitely be made again in the future.  I couldn't find this recipe online, though, so I can't link to it...

I like making new dishes, but sometimes you never can tell how they're going to turn out!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Salt Shaker Solution

I have three kids--one in middle school and two in elementary school.  The salt shaker has been a tough problem for us to solve over the years.  Invariably, the salt shaker will pour out too much or too little salt on the kids food.  My mom showed them the solution of first pouring the salt into their hands and then sprinkling it over their food.  The problem is what to do with the left over salt if you take too much.  Pour it over the floor?  Pour it on your napkin?  What you're left with is a mess either way you cut it.  I love my mom and her solution was a great start, but here's where we've taken that idea and found a good solution.  

I was recently sent a little bamboo jar for review.  We are using it filled with salt on our dining room table.  

It sits on our lazy susan in the middle of our table. My husband absolutely loves it.  This jar allows us (and our kids) to take a pinch and then sprinkle it over our food and mix it in. It gives us all more control over our salt intake because we can see how much we're putting on before we do it.  But, the bonus is that you only take what you need and you're not left with salt in your hand and nowhere to put it but on your food without making a larger mess.
I do realize that this method of putting salt on your food does presume that the users have clean hands. Each night before dinner, my children, my husband, and I do make a habit of washing our hands.The jar itself is very pretty and opens and closes easily. The magnetic feature helps the jar to rest closed. We love that Bamboo is a plentiful and renewable resource. No guilt there.  You can find it on Amazon here: http://amzn.com/B00NETJGZE

Please note that I received a complimentary jar for review from The San Francisco Salt Company for review.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Mashed Potatoes and Chicken with mushrooms and cream gravy

Last night I made a dinner my family all loved.  Steamed green beans, cranberry sauce (from a can), mashed potatoes, and chicken with mushrooms and cream gravy.

My mashed potatoes were better than usual, but I did something different.  I usually just throw things in, but I thought I'd actually try and put in measurements.  So, here's what I put in.

Mashed Potatoes

Peeled, chopped, and cooked 2 1/2-3 lbs. of potatoes
3/4-1 tsp. minced garlic.
2 large spoonfuls of sour cream (probably 3-4 Tbsp.)
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 large splashes of half and half on the pile of potatoes in my kitchen aid bowl (again probably 3-4 Tbsp.)

I mixed everything till smooth in my kitchen aid (as smooth as your family likes them).  My kids were very happy with them.  Yay!  I'm going to try and be more exact on the sour cream and half and half next time ;) and then I'll come back and revise this.

I also tried a new recipe today from the Betty Crocker site for Chicken Breasts with Creamy Mushroom Gravy, but I modified it so much that it turned out very differently.  The recipe on the site got only 3 1/2 stars, but my family would have given dinner tonight 5 stars!  But... I changed it a ton.

So, here's what I made last night:

Chicken with Mushrooms and Gravy

2 very large chicken breasts = 1 1/4- 1 1/2 lbs. chicken breasts defrosted
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
3 Tbsp. diced white onions
3/4 cup milk
1 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp butter

butter and canola oil

1.  Cut the chicken breasts into pieces that you'd normally use for making breaded chicken sandwiches on a normal size hamburger bun.  Then cut these pieces in half or thirds horizontally if they're really thick.  Some I cut in half and some in thirds--to about 1/2 inch thickness.  Place pieces flat (with room to spare) in gallon size ziploc bag.  Use a mallet to pound the pieces to 1/4 inch thickness.  I have a mallet like this one:
I've read that people can even use the rubber mallet you use for working around your house--just be sure to disinfect it with white vinegar afterwards because invariably, the chicken breaks through the bag.  After I've pounded the chicken, I cut it into the size pieces I want to be a serving size of 1-2 pieces per person.  Then, I place the chicken in a bowl next to my stove and move on to the next step.

* After pounding the chicken and setting it aside, I use white vinegar and a paper towel to disinfect my countertop where I was working by pouring a little vinegar on the counter and then rubbing it all over.  

2.  Beat the egg and milk in a bowl together and place next to the chicken.

3.  Place flour, baking powder, salt, and 1 Tbsp butter in a bowl.  But the butter into the mixture until it disappears and you don't even know it's there.  I don't use a pastry blender for this. I just use my fingers and squish over and over until it's all mixed in.  Place flour in a bowl next to the egg.  Set 1/4 cup aside in a measuring cup for the gravy later.

4.  Heat 1 Tbsp butter and 1-2 Tbsp canola oil in large skillet (I use my cast iron one) over medium heat .  When butter is melted, dip the chicken first in the egg mixture and then coat in flour mixture and place in pan.  Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes on each side--this depends on your stove and your pan.  Watch it.  It should be a nice golden brown on each side after 5 minutes.  It took me two rounds to cook all of my chicken.  Set aside chicken on a plate.  

5.  While my chicken was cooking, I threw my mushrooms and onions with 1 Tbsp butter in a nonstick fry pan and cooked over med-high heat so that they would cook quickly and nicely.  Medium-high lets them cook through but not get soggy, just watch them so they don't burn.  If you think they're cooking too fast, just turn it down to medium for a few minutes.  This probably takes about 8 minutes or so.  Once cooked, set aside in a small dish with a lid to keep them warm.

6.  When the chicken is done, add 1 1/2 Tbsp of butter to the pan and let it melt, then stir in the 4 Tbsp of flour mixture that you'd set aside until it absorbs the butter.  Then, add the chicken broth little by little.  Whisk as you go so that it's all absorbed.  Pour in about a quarter cup at a time.  There are lumps at first, so keep stirring till all absorbed and add 2 Tbsp at a time if that makes it easier.  If you add too much, you will need to let your gravy come to a low boil/simmer so that it can thicken up.  It will thicken, but it will take time.  After finishing adding all the chicken broth, add the soy sauce. Then, add the milk a few Tbsp at a time until you've added about 3/4 cup.  You can add less if you want it thicker or don't need as much gravy.  

7.  I served steamed green beans and cranberry sauce on the side.  I placed a mound of mashed potatoes on each plate along with a piece or two of chicken.  We topped the chicken with some mushrooms/onions for those in our family who liked them and then put some gravy over top.  My middle daughter doesn't like gravy, so having the elements of this meal separate makes things more edible for her.  

So, that's my recipe... My husband has declared that it's a keep and is one that we'll definitely make for company soon!


Friday, January 9, 2015

One thing each day...

My goal lately has been to do one thing each day on my house--to clean or organize one thing.  Sometimes it's small, sometimes big (mostly small).  The small things have made such a difference to how I feel about the space I live in.

I put all of our kitchen medicines in a basket one day.
I cleaned the shower one day.
I put the extra dishes in bags in the basement one day.
I moved the fish food to a different drawer so they weren't so in the way-- one day.

A friend of mine told me a few years ago that the Fly Lady said to start each day by clearing off your kitchen counters.  I do that.  It gives me a less cluttered feeling as I start each morning.

I'm finding that organizing a husband, children, dog, and house doesn't become a smaller job as the kids get bigger.  Rather, the job gets bigger.  More stuff to keep track of.  More school assignments.  More books (speaking of which--one library book has gone mia right now :( ).

Recently, my oldest daughter admired a larger home that one of her friend's lives in.  I agreed with her.  I love their house.  But, I shared with her that it's also more to take care of.  She realized that if more people were living in that house, there would also be more to take care of than there is now. Comparing apples to oranges always makes the oranges look like something's not right with them.  

So for now, I'll stick to my one thing a day and continually make little steps that will hopefully make my home more comfortable for everyone living in it!