Thursday, December 11, 2008

Easy Corn Chowder

This is what we had for dinner tonight. It's very filling and so easy to put together. A welcome meal after wrestling practice!

Easy Corn Chowder

1 lb. bacon ends & pieces (I use Farmer John Brand), sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 large round onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cups southern style hash browns or diced cooked potato
1 can whole kernel corn, undrained
1 can creamed corn
1-12 oz can evaporated milk
2 cans Campbell's Cream of Potato Soup
1 can Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup
3 soup cans full of whole milk
1/2 cup diced cooked carrot
pepper to taste

Saute bacon ends until most of the fat is rendered. Add onions and celery and saute until onion is translucent. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until potato is tender. Serve with fresh rolls or bread and a salad or sandwiches for a complete meal.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Christmas Cookie Exchange

Last night I baked some milk chocolate chip cookies with walnuts (recipe on Hershey's chips package) for Bernie to take to work. I'm auditioning recipes for a cookie exchange I'm participating in on Sunday. When my cousin, John, came to visit last month, he brought me some chocolate/caramel dipped shortbread cookies from a company called Big Island Candies. They were AWESOME! and I can't get them out of my head. (See picture above) I knew anything I baked myself wouldn't even come close, but I had to try. I took a basic shortbread recipe and dipped them in some melted milk chocolate. Yes, they were yummy but not the same. Unfortunately, my camera batteries are dead or I'd post a pic. Here is the recipe though:

Basic Shortbread Cookies

½ lb butter, softened
½ c sugar
2 ½ c sifted all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar with fork until soft and well blended.
Add flour slowly.
Knead dough with hands until it comes together. Place on sheet lined with Reynolds parchment paper.
Pat dough down with hands into a rectangle shape until desired thickness, about ½ inch.
Cut into smaller rectangles but do not separate. Prick two times with a fork. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until cookies are starting to brown. Cool completely. Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies.

Dipping Chocolate

1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 tsp. vegetable shortening

Melt chips and shortening in a double boiler over medium low heat. When completely melted, turn heat down to its lowest setting to keep chocolate from setting. Either dip cookies into chocolate or spoon chocolate over ends of cookies. Place them back on the parchment paper and let chocolate set. I placed the whole sheet in the fridge to set before bagging into gift bags.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

My Cousin John's Pinakbet

My cousin, John, is in town for a visit. I've been looking forward to his visit since July. Why? Because that's the last time I ate pinakbet at my mom's house. Unlike John, I have no clue how to make a good pot of pinakbet, a Filipino (Ilocano) vegetable stew, which usually contains pork and shrimp. Everytime I've asked Mom to tell me how to make it, she can never give me any measurements and I've only once actually watched her make it. John, too, can't give me actual measurements as he cooks "by eye".

John and I went shopping today and had to go to three stores for all the ingredients. First stop was to a Mexican carniceria for the shrimp, pork belly, and some chicharron, which is pork belly with meat that has been deep fried until brown and crunchy. Yum! Next, we stopped at a Laotian market for some of the veggies: eggplant, bittermelon, shallots, and garlic. They didn't have great tomatoes or lima beans so we stopped at the supermarket for those.

1) Slice pork belly into little strips and brown in a pan with 2 cloves of garlic. Remove the garlic before it burns.

2) Peel and devein shrimp and prepare and veggies. Slice the eggplant into 2 inch long pieces. Soak in water so it doesn't oxidize. Slice bittermelon in half widthwise and then lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and white membrane. Soak in water. Core tomatoes, slice in half lengthwise and then remove seeds.

3) Using some of the rendered pork fat in a separate pan, saute eggplant until the edges become translucent.

4) With your hands, crush tomatoes into pot with browned pork. Let tomatoes deglaze the pot then simmer until the tomatoes start to lose their peels. Remove peels from the pot. At this point, the sauce has thickened and it's time to add about a cup of water to the pot. It's also time for the fish sauce, about 1/8 cup.

5) At this point, you will start layering the rest of the ingredients and CEASE stirring!!! Apparently, this is vital and not open to discussion. First come the lima beans (Fordhook are the best!), then the bittermelon, then the shrimp. After adding the shrimp, John sprinkles some Hon Dashi (fish granules), about 1 tsp., over the top. Lastly, add the layer of partially cooked eggplant. Partially cover the pot and simmer for about 15 minutes. Completely cover the pot and "toss" the contents without stirring. Enjoy your pinakbet over a bed of fresh, hot rice. You can either serve with sliced chicharron over the pinakbet in your bowl or add the sliced chicharron to the pot and simmer for a couple of minutes.

Thanks John!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Big Banana Conundrum

I am not sure how it happened, but this year I became an active member of the football booster club. I am more involved than ever before. It's kindof nice to know what's going on with the team instead of the hit-or-miss information I've received the past two years. However, it has it's down side. I'M MORE INVOLVED THAN EVER BEFORE! I don't know how to say no, especially when I know how much the boys appreciate it and that if I don't say yes, someone that I like will be picking up the slack.

So what's the big banana conundrum, you ask? My friend, LaDawn, called me this afternoon and said that every week the boosters have been buying bananas for the team to eat before school. Whatever is not eaten has been thrown into the refrigerator by the coach. She said that two booster moms are taking some of the bananas home to make muffins for the kids' breakfast meeting next Saturday and since she doesn't bake, she wanted to know if I'd help out and bake muffins too. "Sure", said I, thinking that there couldn't be that many bananas! HA! Anthony told me that no one eats the bananas. So I get home, and a box of bananas are awaiting me. Twenty-four pounds of bananas! Yes, 24 lbs. and supposedly this is only a third of the available bananas! I don't have a "go-to" recipe for banana muffins so I Googled and found two so far. The muffins on the right are from and the ones on the left are from Cat Can Cook. I don't really like the batch on the right, but the ones on the left are delicious! This is the one I'll be using, for sure. Now to the conundrum: Each batch of muffins takes 4 bananas. There are an average of 6 bananas per bunch of 4 lbs. They're already at the quite ripe to overripe stage and I really don't want to be baking muffins until I'm 92 years old, so I'm thinking of just freezing them, 4 mashed bananas to a bag. Good idea? My husband suggested that besides the pasta we make for their lunch every Thursday, I should make them some banana pudding for dessert. This, too, is possible. I'm also going to freeze the muffins so I can make a bunch whenever I get the urge during the week and pull them out on Friday night so they'll be ready for breakfast on Saturday. Hmmm. Sounds like I've solved the conundrum.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Beans & rice for lunch

I am such a fan of Pioneer Woman Cooks! and as soon as I saw her recipe knew I wanted to make some beans & cornbread of my own. I didn't follow her recipes, but loved the outcome just the same.

Michelle's Pinto Beans
(Pressure Cooker Method)

4 hamhocks
1 lb. pinto beans, rinsed and picked over for debris
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 lb. bacon ends & pieces, sliced into 1 inch pieces
2 pks Goya Brand Sazon Goya con Culantro y Achiote
3 Tbsp. Goya Brand Sofrito
salt & pepper to taste
cayenne pepper (optional)

Place hamhocks into pressure cooker and cover with water by 2 inches. I use a 7 quart digital pressure cooker. Cook at high pressure for 20 minutes. After pressure is released, remove hamhocks to cool. To the stock in the pot, add pinto beans, garlic, and bacon. Cook at high pressure for 27 minutes. After pressure is released, add Sazon Goya, Sofrito, salt and pepper, and cayenne (if you want them spicy). Cook for another 15 minutes on high pressure. I like my beans so that I can smash some and leave some whole. I then uncovered them and let simmer for a few minutes to thicken the sauce. Remove meat from hamhocks and add to beans. After thinking about this, I probably could have put the beans in with the hamhocks and eliminated the first step but I wanted to tell you how I made this batch. I have read that if you add salt to beans while they're cooking they'll remain hard. This is why I add the seasoning after they're cooked. Cook bacon until crisp and stir into the pot before serving.

I like to eat mine over rice, which is half white & half brown rice. My family won't eat plain brown rice and I want them to get more fiber in their diets. I'm surprised they never complained about this.

Since Ree serves her beans with cornbread, I had to make some, too. Unlike Ree, however, I prefer my cornbread on the sweet side. Here is the recipe I used to make my corn muffins. It's from the box of Albers yellow cornmeal that I had.

Sweet Corn Muffins
(Makes 18-20 muffins)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup Albers Yellow Corn Meal
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 Tbsp butter or margarine, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degreese. Grease or paper-line 18-20 muffin cups.

Combine flour, sugar, corn meal, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Combine milk, eggs, vegetable oil and butter in small bowl; mix well. Add to flour mixture, stir just until blended. Pour into prepared muffin cups filling 2/3 full.

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 5 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool slightly. Serve warm.

For corn bread:

Pour batter into greased 8" square baking pan. Bake for 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

I loved these beans so much that even though I made pork chops for dinner, I ate another helping of beans and rice instead.

New gadget for making tea? I don't think so.

I read about this new gadget on TeaGuySpeaks and it is touted as being a modern concept. I couldn't find out how much this new one sells for or where to get one. I'm wondering if it's still in the design stages.
As soon as I saw it, it reminded me of a little gadget from my childhood. I'm sure those of a "certain age" will remember these. At less than $9.00, I'm sure it is cheaper than this "new" gadget. When I was little, my family traveled across the country from California to Michigan because my parents bought a new car in Detroit and wanted to pick it up in person. I remember my dad heating his water every morning for coffee or tea with a little device like this. I'm pretty sure they've been around forever.
For other gadget kings and queens out there, check this site. DANGER! Serious gadget pron ahead!

Friday, October 03, 2008

What do I make when I'm not making pads?

I saw a similar Swiffer type duster replacement on Etsy. I thought I could make one of my own, so I did, only a little differently. All it is, is four layers of fleece, 4" x 9". Find the center and mark a line 1 1/2" from bottom x 6" long. Measure out 3/4" to the right and mark a line the same length, then measure out 3/4" to the left and mark a line the same length. Sew along these three lines. These will create your two channels for the fork of the Swiffer handle to slip into. With a sharp scissor, cut a slit about 1 3/4" from bottom, parallel to the bottom, into each channel, through two of the four layers. This will open the channel for the fork to slip into. Then, as in making a rag blanket, cut 1/2" slits all the way around the duster. Throw in the washer and dryer to fluff up. I may be mistaken, but I think using fabric softener makes these better able to attract dust. I like that it's washable, sturdy, and very inexpensive to make. Fleece is always on sale and I happened to get 1 1/2 yards in the remnant bin at Wal-Mart for about $3.00.

What I'm currently knitting is a market bag, similar to the one featured on Knitty, however, I will be knitting it in one piece, including the handles. Picture to follow, whenever it's done.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Reusable grocery bags & grocery budget

I know I'm not alone in trying to get the most for my money each month. A little needs to last and I'm trying to cut back where I can.

One thing I have found to be helpful is to make a menu for two weeks (from payday to payday), make a corresponding shopping list according to what I have in my pantry, and try very hard to STICK TO IT! Of course, there are days where I don't feel like cooking what's on that day's menu or dinner plans change at the last minute, but on the whole, it's a great idea for me. I post my menu on the fridge so that anyone who cares to know will be able to see what's for dinner on any given night and I can see the night before what I need to take out for the next day. If you are stuck in a rut and are having a hard time deciding what to cook, you may be interested in a Yahoo Group I belong to called Momsmenuplan. Before joining this group, I rarely made a menu, much less a grocery list. I have one of the best stocked pantries that is filled with food I probably won't use. I used to go up and down each aisle and "graze". I threw stuff in my cart because it looked good or I thought I might use it soon. Now I look in my pantry to help me decide what to cook in the coming weeks and to make my list so I don't duplicate what I already have. Sure, I still graze occasionally but, for the most part, I stick to my list and I'm saving so much money by doing this. Yes, I sometimes forget some key ingredients, but not that often.

I remembered to take my cloth grocery bags to the store today. I happened to get into the line of the most OCD cashier I've probably ever come across. While I was unloading my cart, she was scanning my meat and bagging each one into individual PLASTIC BAGS before putting them into my cloth bags. When I caught on to what she was doing, she said she didn't want the meat to leak onto my cloth bags. I said that is the beauty of cloth...they're washable! I didn't want to argue, even when my laundry detergent was leaking a little bit. Rather than get out of line to grab another one, I asked her not to plastic bag it because I had a nylon bag that I could put it in. GEEZ! Will bringing my own bags ever get easier? The only time I don't have a problem is when I scan my own groceries. Since my cart was near to overflowing today, I didn't want to deal with it myself.

One big way that I'm trying to save money is by using less gas. I love to see my friends but I will try to schedule lunch with them around other errands in their parts of town. Unfortunately, I drive a large SUV that sucks on gas mileage but with a big family and my chauffering trips, I am trying to cut back wherever I can. Gone are the days when I'd get the kids up on the weekends and start driving just to see where we'd end up. Any of you do that, too? The other day my friend and I were discussing ordering something online rather than just buy it locally. She asked how I could justify the shipping charges. We were talking about buying tea. I told her that for me to go to our favorite local tea vendor, it is 38 miles round trip for me at about $12 in gas, as opposed to $3.75 in shipping charged by my favorite tea vendor on eBay. It would even be cheaper for me to ask my local vendor to mail me my tea rather than pick it up in person. Granted, I miss the chit-chat and the personal service, but I'm also less tempted to buy something I don't need (she's also a full service quilt shop). These are things I think about now that I didn't even give a second thought to before we felt the shift in our economy.

I wondered today how many people have been laid off where I used to work. I'm afraid to call someone and ask. My husband even told me that many city employees will be losing their jobs in the coming weeks. I hate to think of what our community will be like when they start laying off firefighters and police officers, which is what the city is planning to do. I know things are tough all over but DAMN where is the light at the end of the tunnel?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My boys

I can't help showing how proud I am of my sons. Anthony, my football player, is turning out to be a powerful young man. He is a defensive lineman and at 6'2", 290 pounds, still thinks he's too small. It doesn't help that the other linemen are 6'3" and 6'4". He loves to say, "Gee thanks, Mom!" to me because he blames me for his height. What can I say? He should choose his parents more wisely next time!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

It's football season, baby!


This was my choice for our varsity team's t-shirts. The booster club president said that some parents thought this wildcat looked "too mean"! Can you believe that crap? What did they want, butterflies and unicorns? I'd love to know which parents she polled. I'm sure if I knew more of the parents the answer would be self-explanatory.

Go Wildcats!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Reusable produce bags

I was up late watching the Olympics so around 12:30 am, I decided to make myself a few reusable produce bags out of some shiny nylon netting that I picked up at Wal-Mart this afternoon while school supply shopping for Chris. Don't ask how I managed to wind up in the craft department while doing school shopping but it was all planned, believe me. Anywho, I just picked up some CFL light bulbs prior to arriving in the craft department and they caught the eye of one of the ladies who works there. We started talking about how much energy we're saving by replacing our old bulbs, which led to how we're both using cloth shopping bags, to how ridiculous I feel using said cloth shopping bags only to fill them with plastic produce bags, to how she divorced her second husband only to discover that she's a lesbian at age 60, to how she's getting married in a Pagan ceremony, all in the course of about 10 minutes. I was all into that conversation when we were rudely interrupted by someone who actually needed her assistance. I told her I'd catch her later and went on to look at fabric. She actually caught up to me first to let me know that she saw some nylon netting in the remnant bin so that I can make some of those produce bags we were discussing previously. Shortly thereafter, her partner stopped by, I introduced myself and took my leave. See? I managed to get the story back to those produce bags! Aren't you so proud? I got 2 yards of netting for $1.43 and I've made 4 bags so far. Allowing for different sized bags, I figure that I can get 6 more done with what I have left. Here are the ones I've made so far. What did I learn from this project? Use a zigzag stitch on the top hem while slightly stretching the fabric to keep the stretchability factor in the top of the bag. I chose not to include a drawstring like some others that I've seen because I don't think I always need one and because I like to get the twist ties from the store, which I reuse for different things at home.

Now I don't have to feel half-assed when I'm doing my grocery shopping!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fabric hair curlers - part deux

Okay, I mentioned that these fabric curlers did an awesome job but I found them to be uncomfortable to sleep in. My problem is that I sleep on my tummy and having the curlers on the side of my head made it really hard to get comfortable. Last night I decided to try something I'd only tried once with hot rollers and that was to pull up my hair to the top of my head and put it in a ponytail, then put the hair hanging down in the curlers. This is the way to go! I slept so comfortably and couldn't wait until I got up so that I could see what kind of result I'd get from this set. FABULOUS! And I only used 5 curlers for this set. I was tickled pink. Pics are of what my head looked like with the rollers in and then results this morning.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fabric hair curlers

It all started when I saw this post on Craftster. It was too great of an idea not to try. In fact, when I saw the original blog that these came from, I thought they looked like handmade tampons and sent an email to my friend, Steph, to that effect. I'm sure she thought I was completely off my rocker until she figured out that they were not tampons, but fabric hair curlers instead. I loved the concept but didn't quite understand why they were made the way they were, but as usual, I made them in a way that made sense to me. Here are my steps:

1) Cut fabric into 4" x 9" rectangles. You can get 10 per one fat quarter of fabric.
2) Fold fabric in half lengthwise with right sides together.
3) Stitch down one short side and the long side using a 1/4" seam allowance. You now have a long tube. Turn it right side out. **See note below**
4) Now is the time to sew on the button to the closed end. I do it on my machine. You want to do it now while there isn't any stuffing in it...way easier!
5) Mark the tube 4 1/2" from the open end. This is to mark where you'll stop stuffing it.
6) Start stuffing with Poly-Fil using small wads of stuffing. I push them down to the end with my finger and use a chopstick when necessary.
7) When I've reached the mark I made earlier, I sew straight across to trap the stuffing into the end.
8) Now turn in about 1/4" of fabric towards the inside of the tube and sew shut, making sure to sew as close to the edge as possible.
9) Make a buttonhole parallel to the newly closed edge. Cut it open. You're done! Now make 9 more for a complete set. I happened to make a total of 20 for myself since I have so much hair, but I really have only used 10 each of the two times I've set my hair with these. It's nice to have extras, just in case.

I washed my hair at bedtime and set it when it was about 50% dry. I didn't use any styling products the first time (see pictures below) but I did the second time. The second time I started with dry hair that I just slightly misted with water and used styling gel on each chunk of hair right before I rolled it. The second time, the curls were much curlier and actually spiraled, though I didn't roll them in the spiral style. I was very pleased. I just wish I took a picture of them.

I must add that I didn't find these particularly comfortable to sleep in. I'm wondering if I put too much stuffing in them, I'm just not used to sleeping in curlers, or I'm a tad tenderheaded. It won't stop me from using them though!

I've already made a set for my Mom, who usually sets her hair on pin curls every night before she goes to bed. I hope she likes them!

**Note** It seems that with each set I make, I learn something new. With this one below, I took a few extra seconds and pressed 1/4" towards the wrong side on one short end of the rectangle. This is going to be the open end where I will stuff the fiberfill. When sewing up the long side, I go ahead and tack the folded edge down. What a small epiphany that was! It made it so much easier to close up that end when the time came. Here, let me say it for you...DUH! This will now eliminate the beginning of step #8 from the list above.