Friday, February 29, 2008

Know Your Slow Cooker

Due to popular request I tried another slow cooker recipe this week. This time I used a book that was living on the floor under a pile of clippings. It had been there a long time and it was about time that I used it! Good old Betty Crocker. Her Slow Cooker Cookbook is full of good old recipes. I had a pot roast in the freezer and I wanted a recipe for it. There were several that I could have tried in this book. I really wanted to try the Caramelized Onion Pot Roast but that darn Compadre drank up all the beer in the house! I was sure there was one waaay back in the refrigerator but nooo, he found it and it’s gone. I’ll have to go out and buy more beer and try this one some other day because it looks so good. But never fear Betty had a recipe on the previous page that looked good too and so I tried Savory Pot Roast. The thing about making a slow cooker recipe while you’re home is that it smells so good for so long that by the time it’s close to dinner you’re just starving. So the Compadre called to tell me that he was on his way and I said hurry home, I’m starving. Here’s where the part about knowing your slow cooker comes in. We were ready to dish up and I discovered that the vegetables were still too firm and the meat was not quite done. Sigh. The recipe said to cook on low for 8-10 hours. My cooker has a dial with 1-5 on it and so I started at 3 to get the temperature up but turned it down to about 1 ½ for the rest of the time so that the meat would tenderize well. Obviously my 1 ½ is lower than the low that the recipe called for. Since I have a two piece cooker that has a metal pot I just finished cooking it on the stove. Cheating, I know, but what are you going to do when you’re starving?

So here’s Savory Pot Roast adapted from Betty Crocker’s Slow Cooker Cookbook

2 to 2 ½ pound beef roast (I used chuck roast)

Olive oil for browning the roast

2 -3 potatoes peeled and cut up

2 ½ cups baby carrots

1 can (4 oz) mushrooms

About ½ cup sliced celery

1 medium onion, chopped

Salt to taste

½ tsp. pepper

½ tsp. dried thyme leaves

1 can (14 ½ oz) diced tomatoes with juices

2 T. Beef Soup Base and 1 ¼ cup water, or 1 can broth (10 ½ oz)

½ can of V8 juice (12 oz size can)

¼ c. flour

Brown the meat in the olive oil in a skillet. Put the potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, celery, beef base and onions in your slow cooker (it should be at least a 4 qt. size). Sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme. Put the beef on top and then pour the water, tomatoes, and V8 juice over it. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours until beef is done and vegetables are tender.

The flour is to thicken the juices if you want. I didn’t do this step and then the juice (there’s a lot) is like hearty soup. But if you want you can thicken it.

We really enjoyed this down home, basic meal. After I finished cooking it on the stove of course. It was enough to food the two of us for several meals and at the end I shredded the remaining beef and we ate it as soup with homemade bread.

I also tried another recipe this week. This one is from one of my favorite foodie blogs The Pioneer Woman Cooks. I tried her Sherried Tomato Soup and it was heavenly! But I'll warn you if you try it you better not be on a low fat diet. 1 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream make this a creamy wonderful soup but I don't even want to know how many calories it is! Rumor has it that Marlboro Man's favorite sandwich is amazingly great too. I'm going to try that one as soon as I get the ingredients.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gauge Schmage

The sideways sockyarn baby sweater is done!

It was one of those projects that seemed to never end but when I looked at the start date on my Ravelry entry I realized I started it in January and this is the end of February. Not bad for a slow knitter. And I did do other things at the same time as I was working on it. I like the pattern and I’ll probably do it again because it looks so cool done with self striping sock yarn but I will be more conscious of my gauge. I figured (wrongly) that since it was a baby sweater and babies grow that it would fit her somewhere along her growth curve no matter what the gauge was and therefore I didn’t check it. Hmmmm. This sweater, it matters what your row gauge is, because it’s knit sideways! So the sweater is a little wide you see. I had the Compadre help me figure out just how much too wide it is and, get this, he did it in his head. Actually I had done some figuring beforehand and he confirmed what I had done and translated it into percentages. Soooo, I got 6 ½ stitches per inch and depending on where I took it 8 ½ to 9 rows per inch. The pattern wanted 7 stitches per inch and 10 rows per inch. Since both row and stitch gauge were larger I wasn’t off by as much as I feared. The Compadre estimated between 5 and 10 percent depending on whether the row gauge was 8 ½ or 9. All this to tell you that if you do this pattern, do a gauge swatch! Yeah, I hate them too, but I really wish I had done one this time. The knit fabric would be tighter and I would like it better if done in a smaller needle too. Good thing it’s for a girl, she can wear it longer because it’s wider and it doesn’t matter as much if it turns out to be a crop top! The sweater is knit in two pieces and grafted together down the back. And the bottom edge is in garter stitch. I’m getting better at grafting but I’d never done it in garter stitch. No bad words were spoken but the Compadre did try to talk to me during the process and was crabbed at for his trouble. It’s OK, we’re still friends. I think that sewing a few seams would be just as much trouble as grafting the back together but the designer of the pattern obviously thinks otherwise because he went to a lot of trouble and much cleverness to avoid seams. It’s true, when you’re done there are no seams, only a bunch of ends to be woven in. By the way, I’m not showing you the back of the sweater, there are a couple of wonky places but you can’t see them so they don’t exist do they. All in all, it’s a great pattern and I would recommend it.

After completing the sweater I had about 13 grams of yarn left. I weighed it on my handy dandy scale that I got for Christmas. So I did some research on Ravelry and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t enough to make a pair of matching booties. But once I thought about booties I wanted to make them and I had a pattern I wanted to try. Back in the long ago ages when my children were babies I made several pairs of booties for them out of a long lost pattern. I’ve been looking for it all over and I’ve looked at patterns online and in every book that I can find. No luck. But I have one uncompleted bootie and my memory. The Basic Baby Bootie (Ravelry link) pattern by Theresa Gaffey comes close to what I want. So I made the booties in the pattern with different yarn that almost matches the sweater, to try to understand the construction. They are cute, and the pattern was well written and easy.

Now to take that old UFO and figure it out. My daughters are 25 and 27 years old. That’s one old, old unfinished object. But I’ve got older ones! I’ll confess all one of these days. And now that I look closely at it I’m not sure that it’s the same one I remember. Well maybe Abigail will get several pairs of booties as I try out other patterns in my quest for the “perfect” bootie.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My Dishes Speak to Me

I've been trying hard to maintain my weight and not gain now that I'm not working. It's difficult for me to get a lot of exercise with my knee problems and so I've been worried that I'd be gaining weight.

So, it's an hour and a half before supper and the munchies hit. I was reading someone's blog and they mention popcorn. I went on a mission to find some microwave popcorn but none was to be had unless I crawled into the crawl space where we keep our excess Sam's Club stash. Hmmm, what to do, what to do. Then I hit the jackpot and found a bag of Fritos that I had hidden a while ago (my favorite snack). Usually we don't keep snack type food in the house and I had bought them in a moment of weakness. I reached for a bowl to put some in so that I wouldn't just eat the whole bag and I should have heeded the warning that my dishes gave me.

But I didn't.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Chicken Roll Ups

Well, I did go for a recipe this week that I knew was going to be good just by looking at it. But it did take a little extra step in the preparation that you might not have ever done. The chicken needed to be pounded out to ¼ inch thickness. The Compadre and I have done this before, once when we had our former pastor over for dinner. Yes this is a “company” type of dish. And it really is easy once you get over using a mallet on the chicken breast!

Our conversation went something like this. Me: “what am I going to use to pound out the chicken?” Compadre: “I think we used a rubber mallet that we bought just for that. I know where it is in the garage.” So he got it and I used it. You’ll notice that I put a layer of plastic wrap between the mallet and the chicken. I would do that even if it was a food grade mallet. One of these days I’ll have to buy something proper for this task. I did wash it before using it.

Oh, and a funny thing. I was looking in my cupboard sure that I had a pampered chef box with a meat tenderizing tool in it. Couldn’t find it and then I realized that I had seen it when I helped Amy and Eric unpack their kitchen. So Amy and Eric – you have the proper tool to do this!

The recipe is from Winning Recipes from Taste of Home. I got the book when I was still working at the school. I really miss the book table that Books are Fun would bring every so often. That’s how I got many of my cookbooks. And for a great price. Anyone know if they do a sale anywhere else? Anyway, these are recipes that have won a contest so it’s a good bet that they are a good recipe. And I’d done something similar before. I was right, this one is a winner! We sat down to eat and went Mmmmm. I'm looking forward to trying many more recipes from this book.

I did use the 8 chicken breasts that the recipe called for (actually 4 giant frozen ones that I cut in half). I cooked them all and froze 6 for yummy quick meals later. We tried them later and they were good but I would say they are best right after you make them. Of course I couldn’t do the recipe straight up. I substituted ½ of a mozzarella cheese stick for the provolone cheese. And since my chicken breasts were wet from being quick thawed under running water I didn’t have to dip them in the milk.

The chicken breasts that I used were pretty fragile and I had to be careful not to pound them too much or they fell apart. When I do this again I’ll buy fresh ones and I think it will work better. The only reason for the toothpicks was to hold them together while coating them in the crumb mixture. They stayed together on the pan just fine.

So here’s my version of Italian Chicken Roll-Ups:

8 boneless chicken breasts

8 slices (cut to fit) deli ham

½ of a mozzarella cheese stick (cut crosswise)

2/3 cup plain bread crumbs

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Some dried parsley

½ cup milk if you need it

Here’s what you do:

Flatten the chicken breasts on a cutting board with plastic wrap between the mallet and the chicken until it’s about ¼ inch thick. Put the slice of ham and the cheese on the chicken and roll it up, tuck in the edges if you can. Stick a toothpick or two in to keep it all together.

Put the crumbs, parmesan cheese, and parsley in a bowl and the milk (if you need it) in another bowl. Dip the chicken in milk and then in the crumb mixture and put it on a baking pan. Grease the pan, or use a Teflon pan like I did. The recipe said to spray the chicken with nonstick cooking spray but I didn’t. Bake the chicken at 425° for 25 minutes or until your instant read thermometer says 165°. It took a little longer than 25 minutes to get it to that temperature in my oven.

We froze the rest of the chicken rolls spaced apart on a tray in the freezer (to keep them from sticking together) and then put them in a freezer container. When we used them, I just thawed them in the microwave for a while and then heated them up. Since they were already cooked it just took a little while and we had another scrumptious meal.

Oh, and while I was in Maryland, Eric introduced me to something that probably you already know about. You can take a sweet potato or yam and peel and cook it like a potato. Then mash them and put a little butter and cream or ½ & ½ in them and wow! We had mashed sweet potatoes with the chicken the second time we had it.

An easy meal that’s fit for company. Go ahead, ask your pastor over for dinner!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What a Difference a Needle Makes

The Compadre saw a quote on the wall at work that I love. Especially in light of my post yesterday. Inside every older person is a younger person… wondering what the hell happened.” Cora Harvey Armstrong. I feel like that every day. And you know, it makes me look at my older friends and relatives in a new light.

I finished the string bag that I made for the sale at Double Ewe. It’s the Sunshine String Bag pattern but of course it’s not done exactly like the pattern. I obviously used way finer thread than the pattern called for and so it’s a lot stringier than it should be. Ruth brought hers (ravelry link) to Tuesday night knitting and it looks totally different than mine. She used round bamboo handles for a really cool touch! I like hers too. What do you do when knitting night is so crowded that you can’t move? You throw your project to the other side of the room. Some of us were better throwers than others! Yes Dana, I mean you :-)

So other than using finer thread, I also altered the stitch pattern slightly. The pattern calls for YO, p2 tog throughout the bag and it seemed to me that knitting 2 together would make more sense. I don’t think that the pattern looks different when made that way but maybe I’m wrong. I liked doing it better and it sure looks OK to me! I had to add a few rows to the length, probably because of the finer yarn, because I wanted to make sure I could get enough yarn in it! I can get 13 largish balls of yarn in it and because it’s knitted out of strong cotton/linen yarn (I tested it with my great strength) I could probably force more in if necessary. Kelly is worried! We’re going to empty the shelves during the string bag sale!!

OK, so about the needles. I used 16” circular needles in size 9 and 10 ½. The size 10 ½ needles that I had in my needle bag were old Addi Turbos. I remember when I bought them that I bought the best there was because they were an investment. They were the standard of the time. Well, how times have changed. Look at this picture and compare how blunt the Addi is compared to the Knitpicks Harmony. I gave up using the Addi after just a few rows because I just struggled to get that big blunt needle through those knit two togethers. I love my Harmony needles. I switched to them and I’m guessing that I was knitting twice as fast due to the sharper tips. There are other brands that have sharper tips than my old Addi. Look around and you can find them. And Addi did come out with their lace needle line too in response to requests from knitters. Just goes to show what increased demand and communication with the manufacturers can get us – innovation and better design for our tools. Knitters rule!

BTW the car thermometer said anywhere from -7 to -10 degrees F last night when I left my class that I taught at Double Ewe. Rumor has it that it will warm up to about 30 this weekend. Where’s that global warming when we need it? Amy said that Eric thinks we should just move to someplace warmer. But you know what we say about that! The weather “keeps the riffraff out”.

We were hardy Minnesotans last night and the class was fun and I think it went well. I had great students and I even admitted to them that this was my first time teaching knitting. I’m planning on teaching more classes if Kelly needs me and I’m really looking forward to it.

Here’s a cold Minnesota picture. We actually went north on Monday and here’s a picture of the Duluth Harbor. Brrr, cold. We visited our youngest son and enjoyed a nice lunch with him. Too bad his girlfriend was sick and couldn’t join us. It was great to see him.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Learning all the time

The Yarn Harlot moved me to tears this morning when I read her blog. She mentions an expression “when an elder dies, a library burns to the ground”. I thought of my Dad, my Father in Law, and all the other wise ones that have passed before us. All the collective knowledge that is lost forever. And I thought of all the things I know and am learning that will be gone when I’m gone. I need to get to my Aunt Ann’s and start recording her knowledge about her life, and her recipes. Fortunately my brother was smart and he videotaped my dad talking about his life right before he became really ill. I urge everyone to get the life stories of their loved ones before it’s too late. And to be willing to pass on their own knowledge and life story to others.

I’m glad I’ve started teaching knitting at Double Ewe. And that I’m passing on my love of all things crafty to my daughters. My daughter Amy is a fearless knitter. My daughter Anita is loves to create art. And I’ve taught my son John to knit. A few days ago he said that he should pick up his knitting needles again, I’ll have to encourage that! My nephew has expressed a desire to learn to knit too. Maybe a “learning to knit” get together is in order

I love to take classes whenever I can. I started my china painting classes again this week with one of the china painting elders in this city. She’s over 80 years old and I hope to learn as much as I can from her while I can. We talked yesterday about how long it’s been that I’ve been painting china. Maybe 5 or 6 years. And I have so much more to learn.

I took a class a few weeks ago in punch needle embroidery and can see a lot of potential for being creative with it. Funnily the classmates and the teacher were all about prepackaged kits and couldn’t see my enthusiasm for making my own up. I guess all those art classes I’ve taken have made me fearless about drawing up my own design. I need to finish the kit that I started in class first though!

I guess that I just love to learn new things and I'm not satisfied until I've got whatever it is figured out. I even figured out how to put the video in my last post up all by myself! Who knows what's next.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Global Warming

Yes, I know that global warming is a serious issue but this really tickled my funnybone. February in Minnesota is so looong!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Slow Cooker Adventure

This week's mystery cookbook adventure took place over two nights. I've been trying to cook my meals "from scratch" now that I'm not working and of course I have so much to do that several afternoons this week I wasn't home. My trusty slow cooker has helped me out before and this time I decided to try the "Light" companion to my favorite slow cooker recipe book, Fix it and Forget It. FI and FI has never failed me. Every recipe that I've tried has been a winner so I thought that the Fix it and Forget it Lightly book should be a sure bet. Wellll. Yes and no. Those of you that know me and those who've read the cooking posts before this might rightly guess that I'm a down home cooking kind of gal and not so much the gourmet type. After all, I did run a school lunch kitchen for all those years. But I was willing to branch out and try some new flavors. Well not so much new flavors as new combinations of flavors. So I tried the Mandarin Orange Chicken on page 21. I had all the ingredients on hand, didn't have to change anything and made it straight up. Maybe that was my problem - I never make anything without changing it beyond recognition! Anyway, the combination of poultry seasoning and mandarin oranges didn't do anything for me. You might have another opinion of this recipe - the Compadre in his generous way said "it's not so bad". OK, he read this and said "I liked it". But I didn't and I'm the cook so that's that. He even went so far to say that he liked it better than the recipe that follows.

To give the book a second chance I tried a recipe that looked pretty standard to me. Minestrone Soup on pg. 192. No unusual foo faa for this one. And surprise, surprise I loved it. Oh, and yes I altered the recipe.

Here's what I put in it:

About 1# lean gr. beef
A large onion, chopped
Minced garlic to taste
2 cans diced tomatoes
Kidney beans (1 cans worth)
1 can corn with liquid
2 ribs celery sliced
A couple of carrots sliced
1 cup uncooked macaroni
beef bouillon
Salt to taste
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 1/2 cups water

And here's what I did.

I found all the ingredients, substituting carrots for the zucchini called for in the recipe. But I was short the can of kidney beans and had no other canned beans (other than pork and beans - yuck) but I always have on hand various dried beans. Hmmmm. Need beans now, have to leave soon, what to do? I called upon my trusty pressure cooker and cooked those dry kidney beans in a mere 20 minutes. The standard way to make beans involves soaking overnight and cooking for hours. The pressure cooker takes some care and knowledge be useful. It's used to speed up the cooking time in situations where you want to incorporate liquid into the food. Tough cuts of meat come to mind - and beans. Now your grandmother might tell you to never cook beans in the pressure cooker and it's true it takes some care. But it can be done and I've done it many times and I live to tell about it. The key is to watch the cooker to make sure that the stopcock (the thing rocking on the top) doesn't stop rocking and that foam doesn't start to come out of it. If it does turn it off immediately and let it cool down. And here's the other key - don't fill it more than about 1/3 of the way, and that means you can't make large amounts of dried beans at a time. But hey, it only takes 20 minutes so make more later.

Anyway, I browned the meat like the recipe said and added everything to the slow cooker. I didn't bother to dissolve the bouillon in hot water because 6 hours in a slow cooker better be enough time to dissolve that bouillon or I've got some baaad bouillon! Now, I should have known better than to put the macaroni in at the beginning. It ended up almost mush and that's what the Compadre didn't like about it. I'll know better and put it in about 15 minutes before we want to eat next time. Oh, and I added more water at the end. All in all, a good hearty soup for a cold, cold Minnesota day.

Stay tuned for next week's installment to see if I get brave and try anything else out of my comfort zone.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Knitting All Day

I woke up today and felt a little under the weather. Not so much that I would have had to stay home from work, if I was still working. But just enough that I needed to take it a little easy and so it became a day of knitting. A sick day from retirement?

I had been delaying starting a couple of projects and today was the day. One of them was a do it today or never thing. Valentine’s day comes once a year and I had seen this pattern some time ago and was intending to make it for the Compadre ever since. I’ve been married for over 32 years to my best friend. That reminds me of the time I bought a magnet for the refrigerator that said “I’m married to my best friend” at the store I where I was working then. The other women that I worked with were absolutely amazed that I was buying it. They obviously didn’t have the kind of marriage that the Compadre and I have. We’ll be celebrating V-day on Monday because he has the day off from work. Tonight he’s teaching. I won’t see him till late so I’ve placed the “olives” on our bed as my valentine to him. Yup, olive him.

The olives were so much fun to knit. They take only a few yards of yarn each and a little bit for the pimiento. I liked the start of the olive – basically like an i-cord for the first row. So clever and it worked great. I’m going to use this again. When you start with just a few stitches usually the needles are flopping and falling all over. This way they stay put. It’s an easy way to start with only a few stitches.

Kelly is having a string bag sale at Double Ewe in few weeks. And yes as a matter of fact she got the idea from me and I got it from the knitting night I went to in Delaware with Amy. So, this is scary. I’m making a string bag for the DE(Double Ewe) sale and then I’ll be in DE(Delaware) in time for the string bag sale there at Stitches with Style . The rules say that you have to buy the yarn at the shop in both cases and I’m prepared. I got yarn for a string bag when I was at the shop with Amy in January. So two string bags? We’ll see if I get them both done. I’ve got a good start on the one for Double Ewe. And the other really good question – do I really need any more yarn? Don't answer that, Compadre!

The bag is the Sunshine String Bag. Looks kind of like a very risqué top doesn’t it. I’m making it from a cotton/linen yarn. I chose a yarn with linen in it because I wanted my bag to be strong and it is. I tested the strength of the yarn by trying with all my might to break it and I couldn’t. That’s not to say I’m strong or anything, but I think the bag should hold up under all the yarn I can put in it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I Can Tat too

I've been tatting for too many years to count. But since I discovered the tatting community on the web I have been learning and enjoying it much more. I've found many good friends through the tatting community and spend way too much time trolling for patterns and reading my Here Be Tatters mailing list. And I do actually tat occasionally.

Last night I went to the Minnesota Lace Society meeting and when we had "show and share" as usual I didn't have any thing to show. I had given away the tatted cross that I made when I was in Maryland to Eric's mother in a sympathy card. Now that I'm fairly sure she has gotten it I can show you it. I've made this cross before and I really like it. It's done in size 20 thread from the book Tatted Bookmarks - cross shaped by Lene Bjorn.

Tatting is a very economical art to practice. That is if you don't have to have every pattern book and kind and color of thread out there like I do. It takes a long time to work through a ball of thread. This is what I have left out of a ball of size 20 cebelia thread. It's one of my favorite threads to work with - easily available and tats easily. Now that's a lot of tatting for about 4 dollars, most of it given away (unfortunately a lot of crosses in sympathy cards).

I remember my first meetup with my tatting friends that I met online someone said that their husband was worried about finding people online and then meeting them in person. You know, maybe the tatting ax murderer was out there. We got a chuckle out of that. I know knitting and tatting people are the best! Just think - Amy and I went to a knitting night in Delaware absolutely sure that we'd meet up with kind generous people - and we did. Amy now has new friends in her area because of knitting. Tatting is like that too - and maybe more so because there are fewer of us. If you meet a tatter out in the wild it's like you've met a rare and precious species. That's not to say that tatting is "a lost art". There are many people that tat and many generous people on the internet sharing patterns, videos of how to tat, and just plain cyber friendship. So tatting keeps growing. There will be a class at Double Ewe on tatting in March, taught by my friend Jane. I'm sure we will get a few more to join the tatting community. I always have my tatting with me when I go to the open knitting times at Double Ewe, and I'm always willing to help anyone with questions.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Friday Recipe: Lentil Chili

This week's cookbook adventure happened on Wednesday. I used my "clippings" and favorite recipe cookbook. I put the recipes that I really want to make into sleeves in a three ring binder so that I will actually look at them again and maybe, just maybe, make them. The disadvantage of clipping things out of magazines is that sometimes you miss part of the article or in this case recipe. This recipe was from the Sept. 1, 2000 issue of Women's Day and I forgot to follow the recipe to page 116. But never fear - I never make a recipe as written any way, so if the instructions are missing I'll just make them up!

Lentil Chili

2 T. Vegetable Oil
2 cups coarsely chopped onion
1 bell pepper, coarsely chopped
3 lg. cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1 can (28 0z.) Italian Plum tomatoes, pureed
1 cup brown lentils
1 small zucchini diced (1 cup)
1 can black beans, rinsed
1/2 cup bulgur wheat
Shredded Cheddar Cheese

So, here's what I did. I used almost all of the ingredients the recipe called for (I even went shopping for the bulgur wheat). Except that I substituted 2 cans of diced tomatoes for the pureed Italian Plum tomatoes because that's what I had, used my minced garlic, used less chili powder, and used chopped up carrots instead of zucchini. In the summer when zucchini are plentiful I would be glad to use them but I looked at them in the grocery store and couldn't pay the price.

I started by sauteing the onions and bell pepper in olive oil, then I added the garlic and then the spices. I added the tomatoes, lentils, black beans, and bulgur and 2 tomato cans of water and cooked it for a while. After about 45 minutes it looked like it was going to need more water so I added 2 cups more. I added the carrots and I cooked it for about another 45 minutes or until my husband got home and then we topped it with shredded cheese and said this is a keeper!

If you need a meatless meal for lent this one is not very hard to make and it's really good. The addition of shredded cheddar cheese made it great. My husband took it to work for lunch and had to add some water because it became very thick as it sat in the refrigerator. It made a large amount. This is a 4 qt. pot and you can see it's almost full. I'll freeze some for later.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Winds of Change

Saturday I went to visit my daughter Anita and her husband Dave. I hadn't been there for some time and was anxious to see all the changes to their house.

Sometimes the weather here can be exciting. Last August those who live in Minnesota might remember a storm that came through the Twin Cities. It did a lot of wind damage to some areas of the city. Anita and Dave live in one of the hardest hit areas. In Minnesota when there is bad weather we all go down in the basement. I remember getting the call from Anita in the middle of the night. We were in the basement and had to run upstairs despite the storm to answer the phone (memo to self, take the phone into the basement during a storm). I was surprised when she said they had a lot of damage, since the storm didn't seem as bad where we are.

I can only imagine what it must have been like to wake up as 3:30 in the morning with the wind howling and then hear some noises that just don't sound right. They went down into the basement quickly, but had no power. A good Minnesotan always keeps a flashlight handy for just such times. In the morning when they could see what happened they found both of their large trees down in their yard. They found out later that the winds were straight line 80 miles an hour.

Amazingly their car in the driveway was almost undamaged. One tree fell in front of it and the other in the back. The only damage to the car was a scratch on the front bumper from the electric mast that came down with the tree in back. Which explains why they didn't have power! It took three days for the power to be restored and they had to hire an electrician to put the mast back on the house.

Their garage wasn't so lucky! It was later declared a total loss by the insurance company.

So after many months of negotiating with the insurance company and the city, they are almost done with repairs of their house. With a little bit of their own money they are getting an attached double car garage and new siding. It was fun to see how nice it looks. A couple more weeks and it should be all done. It was very stressful though for Anita and Dave to get to this point but sometimes the winds of change can be for good.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

With a Little Help from my Son

Miss T invited me weeks ago to join her Mystery Cookbook Adventure and I have, but you haven't known about it because I didn't know how to get the blog button up on my site. I've spent days - literally - googling to find advice about it and always resisting the advice from any site (and my husband) that I was going to have to do it with html code. Blech! I live with a computer programmer and he tried to advise me but I resisted with all my might. He says that I just don't listen. Today my son came over for dinner and I asked him to help me and together we agreed that we better try it with html. I have no idea what we (he) did - we copied code from another site and inserted stuff that I wanted instead and now it works! It reminds me of my college chemistry courses where you learn the way to answer the question but never actually learn the material. John wrote out a template for me so if I want to add another blog button I can. Woo, hoo! Thanks John!!

About the Mystery Cookbook Adventure. I've shown you all the cookbooks I have. And you know that I like to cook. Well the idea is that you make a new recipe each week from one of your cookbooks. Sounds like a great idea and I'm going to try it out this week. Last week I wrote about one of my invented recipes. Next week I'll try out a new recipe and I'll try to post on Friday how it turned out. I'm going to include in my adventure recipes in my box of clippings too. And I'll let you know if I invent anything new. Good thing I have a husband who likes food and is willing to try out new things.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Creative Cooking

It’s a fact. I can never follow a recipe straight up. I always have to give it a little tweak somewhere. I know that there are recipes that must be followed exactly in order to work, but I even do my caramel recipe just a bit differently. Sometimes I don’t have the exact ingredients, sometimes I don’t have the time required and I use a faster method (microwave anyone). If it has ingredients that I’m allergic to I substitute. And sometimes I just use the recipe as a jumping off point and make up my own thing. Most of the time it works. Sometimes very well. And I have a husband that will eat almost anything as long as it doesn’t have herring or olives in it. I can’t remember very many dishes that we couldn’t eat – well there was the time we ate vegetarian for lent. I made some weird things then!

So while I was in Maryland with Amy and Eric I did a lot of the cooking. They brought most of their dry goods with them but left the perishables behind. We all went on a grocery shopping expedition when we got to Maryland and spent a lot of money but still the larder was kind of bare. It’s amazing how much money it takes to start from scratch in the food department. I’m pretty good at making do with what I have (foodwise) and so I looked at the ingredients on hand and looked up some recipes on line. And then I improvised. The recipe that follows is probably not original – it’s pretty basic, but I did make it up on the fly. We all liked it – especially Eric. He wanted me to make it again before I left but there wasn’t time. But he’s a good cook so I’m sure he’ll try it himself.

I started with three chicken breasts. You could use other pieces of the chicken and a larger amount too. Just adjust the amounts required. I don’t have a picture of it because we ate it all up and I didn’t think about blogging about it either. Have to get used to taking picture of just about everything for blogging purposes!

Chicken Maryland

Chicken Breasts

½ stick butter

2 cloves garlic

Progresso Plain Bread Crumbs as needed

¼ tsp Celery Salt

Parsley Flakes

Melt butter in baking pan in a 375 degree oven. Add garlic (minced or pressed through a garlic press).

Combine crumbs, parsley flakes and celery salt in a ziploc bag. Shake the chicken breasts in this mixture and place them in the pan with the butter and garlic. Bake for about 50 minutes or until 165 degrees with an instant read thermometer.

A word about one of my favorite kitchen tools. The instant read thermometer. I know I’m a retired cook manager but I really do think that every kitchen should have one of these. I use it all the time. Without it you’re just guessing whether your food is cooked enough. Most people overcook their food to make sure it’s done. And underdone food is just plain dangerous.

You might wonder why I told you to take the chicken up to 165 degrees. I’ve seen poultry wrappers from the grocery store that say you should cook it to 185 degrees. That was the old recommendation. The new Minnesota food code says 165 degree for at least 15 seconds. Now that means in the center and every area of the food. You want to make sure that all the bad bugs that might be lurking in that food are killed. So stick that thermometer into several areas and make sure that the sweet spot of the thermometer is in the center of the food. The sweet spot varies with the brand and type of instant read thermometer so make sure you read the instructions that come with yours.

Eric introduced me to two new (to me) cooking items. First that you can buy bread crumbs! I’ve always had to dry some bread and make my own – which works for sure but it’s annoying. If you have crusts that you don’t want to eat you can save them and dry them. Crunch up the dry crusts in a ziplock bag with a rolling pin and there you are. But if you want you can buy them! Next time I go to the store I’m looking them up.

Second is the garlic press. I’ve had one before and I got rid of it because I didn’t like how it worked. Eric’s press did leave some garlic behind but it was metal and you could really mash down on it and get all the flavorful garlic out that you could. Hmmm, maybe I’ll investigate getting another one. On the other hand I’m lazy when it comes to garlic. I hate peeling the little cloves and then getting my hands all smelling like garlic – eewww. So my favorite way to buy garlic is in the jar already minced. And you can see we like garlic at our house. I buy it in the big jar from Sam’s Club. Garlic anyone? I do end up throwing away some of this jar every time but the cost savings of getting it at Sam’s makes up for the amount I throw. I notice that this jar is expired – have to buy some more the next time we’re there.

Now, what should I make for supper tonight?