Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Indoor Smores

No camp fire? No wire coat hangers? No problem! One of my favorite snacks anytime of year are smores. If you have graham crackers, marshmallow, chocolate and a broiler you are in business. The best thing, besides eating them is that they take less than five minutes to make. That is unless you have to make 20 of them to feed the ravenous hoard milling around you, growling and eyeballing your limbs. In that case it may take you more than 5 minutes to assemble them and then you are home free. So gather your stuff, big or small marshmallows work well and any kind of chocolate, even chocolate chips are fine. I am a bit of a smores heretic in that I do not like milk chocolate, no siree, only the good stuff for this girl. Use what ever you have on hand though and pop them under the broiler. Stand right there and watch because it really only takes a second. As fun as it is to wave around a flaming marshmallow on a stick and try to blow it out around a camp fire, some of the fun wanes when you are blowing out flames in your oven. When they are toasty enough, take them out and put their tops on and serve. Now, my kids are always excited about smores until they try to eat them. Something about them is perplexing, I think it may be the oozing and general gooeyness. Then inevitably, some one's graham cracker will break and it's all down hill from there. Last year the boys kept sticking the crackers on their bellies and running around like that, so be warned, they make people do weird things. For me they are addictive and a perfect mama- naptime-snack. Hope you like them!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Accidental Science in a Pan

I've been working on a couple of fun trash to treasure projects to post today for the Trash to Treasure Tuesday at Reinvented, but something is wrong with my memory card. It seems to have no memory of it's job of transferring photographs from the camera to the computer so instead I am going to regale you with the tale of my grungy burned pot that was rescued and formed cool crystals during the dark and stormy night while we all slept peacefully in our beds. Kind of a trash to treasure story in a way. Also, a good housekeeping tip for those unfortunate times when you burn something in your favorite pan and no amount of scrubbing and scouring can remove a smidge of it. Not that any of us burn anything to the bottoms of our favorite pans, but in case some unthinking person should burn something in your favorite pan, now you can work a little kitchen chemistry and salvage your pan.
Above you see an example of a pan with a nice layer of black gunk, pour 1/4 cup of Borax in your pan, add some water, bring it to a boil and let it sit overnight. In the morning rinse out the pan and wipe/scrub out the black gunk and, ta-da! your pan is like new! Last time I did the Borax water treatment on a pan, in the morning it had formed these cool crystals. I was amazed, I showed my kids, they were amazed. If I had been a really awesome homeschool mom, we could have researched why borax and water made these big crystals but I am low on the really awesome factor lately so we just looked at them. Then I set about to clean my pan.
Yeah! What a nice shiny non-black pan that is! By the way, if you aren't familiar with Borax you can get it in the laundry section of any store. It is great to add to any laundry, especially linens and cloth diapers, you can do general cleaning with it and tough cleaning jobs (like charcoal in a pan), and I use it to make laundry detergent. My favorite use for it this year was a safe and 100% effective ant killer. Following the Great Ant Invasion of 2009 I made some ant killer with it and finally got rid of the sugar ants that had moved in with us. Everyone I knew had ants swarming in their house. I was so excited about my ant killer that I considered patenting the stuff and handing out samples at the grocery store but then I remembered that I would have to take all the kids with me so I decided to just stay at my ant-free home and read. So, get you some Borax and you will be prepared for any emergency that involved burned on crust or small crawling insects. You will be prepared!!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Evelyn's Quilt

This month we were able to visit Grandma and Grandpa and introduce their newest grandson to them. Of course, they were delighted and mesmerized with him and all his darlingness. I do believe that he is their favorite! When we arrived Grandma was prepared with the plastic measuring cups and the quilt. Oh my, the quilt. I don't remember ever seeing it before and I can't imagine forgetting it if I had. Here it is.
The prints in it are enchanting. Grandma had a wonderful friend named Evelyn, she made this quilt. All the prints are from her childhood frocks, she saved them and pieced this nine patch quilt from them. It's hand quilted and the backing is the same yellow fabric as the solid squares on the top. Several years ago, Evelyn passed away and Grandma was helping her daughters go through her things and they didn't want the quilt. Grandma said she would like to have it, so now it is one of her treasured possessions. There seemed to be about ten or twelve different patterns on it and each one was more darling than the last. She has taken such good care of it that none of the colors are faded or worn so you can really enjoy the prints.
I love the blue and pink floral that is by Cubbie's knee, but I would be hard pressed to say which one was my favorite. Just looking at the colors made me want to reproduce them as a fabric line so my girls could have lots of darling dresses made out of the same patterns. So that is the story of Evelyn's quilt. Good work, Evelyn, You were quite the crafter!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fun Food Friday! Pizza

Is there any food more fun than pizza? My husband loves fun food. Every weekend we must eat fun food. During the week he will gladly consume lentil soup and chicken and dumplings but come the weekend and anything not deemed to be fun food will be frowned upon. Pizza is the best fun food weapon in a frugal mom's arsenal. Above you can see my latest creation, yellow squash pizza. The name just makes me laugh. Over the years I have been weaning Joe off of man-pizza, crust piled with a pound of meat and fifty thousand toppings. My hard work paid off when everyone happily gobbled down yellow squash pizza. The kids all made their own pizzas and I baked two large ones with leftovers in mind, silly old me, they disappeared as fast I could slice them. If you've never made homemade pizza, you are in for a treat. And they make $20 take-out pizza that you have to blot orange grease off of look pretty bad. First you have to make your crust.
Mix up a batch of My Favorite Bread, after it rises, divide it in two pieces and roll it out. After years of making rectangular pizzas on cookie sheets I finally bought two bona-fide pizza pans from a restaurant supply store. Don't know what took me so long, but it's great to finally be so cool and all.
Lightly oil the pans and sprinkle with cornmeal, then put your rolled out crust on them. The bread recipe makes two thinnish crusts that bake quickly and are divine.
Spread sauce on the crust, I usually just mix up a can of tomato sauce with garlic, salt, pepper, oregano and a pinch of sugar. This step is where the fun begins. You can use anything you like, red sauce, olive oil, pesto, salsa, sausage, pepperoni, chicken, canadian bacon, fresh pineapple, artichokes, olives, onions, black beans, tomatoes, squash, broccoli, on and on. Really, anything that's not moving or nailed down can be put on a pizza. If you like it, go for it! After you have everything arranged just so, slide the pizza into a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes. My oven is about the size of a Suzy Bake Oven so I bake two pizzas for 10 minutes then switch them in the oven so they each bake 10 minutes on the top rack and 10 minutes on the bottom.
Take them out and slice 'em up. Feed to all the starving people that are now clustered around the kitchen drooling and begging. By the way, Bren, this recipe's for you!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Great Mushroom Adventure

Yesterday we loaded up the five chickadees and headed over to a trail in the nearby national forest. Joe carried Baby on his back and I held the sisters hands as we ventured into the Big Forest. Big Sister was quite apprehensive of the Big Forest and pleaded to stay with me in the car. Since I wasn't staying in the car, she had no choice but to step into the unknown. After a few moments she was engrossed in finding flowers and mushrooms along with Little Sister. All the unending rain in these parts had caused an incredible variety of mushrooms to spring up from the spongy forest floor. Literally every other step would reveal a new color or type of mushroom. The memory card maxed out on mushrooms before we finished our hike. Never have I seen so many colors of mushrooms, sizes too. Little Sister was mesmerized with the small ones and kept calling us over to see the "tiny baby mushrooms". Despite our constant warnings to not even touch a mushroom, I was still nervous that someone might eat one. If you knew my kids, you would worry too. There's almost nothing they won't eat. Last year before venturing out to the grocery store with all four external kids and one in utero, I took a few minutes to go over the Rules of the Store. They recited the usual, "Don't ask for stuff", "Don't run away from Mom", "Don't grab stuff and put it in the cart". Then Little Brother piped up with, "DO NOT eat poisonous mushrooms!". So yesterday, in the midst of the cries of wonder and delight, deep in the majestic forest, you could hear a mother call out, "DO NOT eat poisonous mushrooms!!!".

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fun Food Friday!(on Saturday) Egg Rolls

I have a confession. I am a compulsive menu planner. I can't help it, it's been 3 years since I started planning weekly menus and I can't stop. A year or so ago, just to make the planning easier, I assigned a type of food for each day. Monday - Mexican, Tuesday - pasta, Wednesday - stir-fry/vegetarian, Thursday - crock pot, Friday - Fun Food, Saturday - something new, Sunday - something easy. I know. Welcome to my compulsive world. Now, I don't stick to that rotation all the time. And I am likely to cook a new recipe any night of the week. Also, I try to use whatever meat is on sale at our local grocery store (unless it's gizzards or frog legs, there I draw the line) so if I planned to cook a beef roast but faint when I see the price tag at the meat case then I will substitute something a little more budget friendly. All that to say that on Wednesday there is nothing that goes with a stir-fry like egg rolls. However, in my little town they are hard to find at the grocery store and the ones I unfortunately found were not fit to eat. Mystery meat substitutes are not something I'm eager to try. Thus began my journey into egg roll making. The main change I made to the recipes I found was to bake them instead of frying. You don't get quite the same crunchiness but you also don't have to fry 25 egg rolls and then deal with grease. And I don't know about you but I can do without eating deep fried anything. They are crisp, hot and delicious, I think you'll like them!
First of all you want to marinate a pound of ground pork or turkey with 3 Tablespoons of soy sauce, some minced garlic and ginger and a bit of salt. Brown that while you chop up a head of cabbage, shred some carrots and mince some more garlic. Or you could use a bag of cole slaw mix and be done with it. I've never tried it but it would work.
Throw the vegetables in with the meat and saute until the cabbage is soft. Season with more soy sauce and salt. You need a good amount of salt even though you have all that soy sauce. Pork and turkey can be pretty bland and cabbage is bland's middle name. Be brave and season it up! You want to taste it when the cabbage is done and then you can add more soy sauce or salt if it needs it.
Here is my filling, the egg roll wrappers and a dish of cornstarch and water to seal the wrappers. I buy my wrappers at Walmart in the produce section. Look in the refrigerated case with the tofu. About the cornstarch stuff, you can seal the wrappers with water but this cornstarch and water "slurry" works best. It's just a teaspoon of cornstarch in 2 Tablespoons of water.
So, let's get crackin'. Put about 2 or 3 Tablespoons of filling on the wrapper like this.
Fold the bottom corner up to cover the filling.
Dab some of the cornstarch/water mixture on the bottom corner you just folded up and fold the two side in and seal the tips to the moistened corner.
Moisten the top corner and tightly roll up the egg roll and seal to the top corner. There, you've made your own egg roll! Wouldn't your mama be proud?! Now pour about 3 Tablespoons of oil on the baking sheet and spread it around evenly. Set your egg roll on the oiled sheet and roll it over to coat all sides with the oil. Repeat with all the wrappers and filling. Slide the sheet into a 425 degree oven and bake for about 30 minutes, being sure to turn them every 10 minutes or so to brown all sides.
The most important thing is to not eat all of them yourself, try to share some with your family, it's hard but you can do it! And even if you do eat them all yourself they are really good for you with all those cruciferous vegetables and other stuff. Eat up!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Backyard Campers

Last week the boys had a camp out in the back yard. Joe set up his old tent and they spent an hour hauling their pillows and blankets out there and arranging them just so. While I was washing up the dinner dishes, I watched them play. Two little boys, full of life and zeal, playing and enjoying their high adventure 20 feet from the back door. In the setting sun they looked like a life size shadow show, I could hear their shouts and laughter all the way in the kitchen. After the sun set, we settled down to a movie and heard the door open for the first time, little brother reported that big brother was afraid of the cricket sounds, 5 minutes later another report of the scary cricket sounds, 5 minutes later Joe went to check on the next report of scary cricket sounds, 10 minutes later the campers were willingly carrying all their bedding inside and assuring us that next time they would not be scared of the cricket sounds. I have a feeling that backyard camping will be a new summer tradition around here and in a few years they might even sleep out there all night!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Only Thing

Eating didn't feel right, working didn't feel right, shopping didn't feel right, cleaning didn't feel right, talking didn't feel right either. The only thing that felt right was to sit together, silent but together with friends or strangers, it didn't matter, as long as we were together.
Today, eating breakfast with my children, I searched for a way to explain what this day meant without scaring their tender minds and I could hardly talk for the tears waiting just below the surface. In the end I told them that today was to honor all the brave firefighters and policemen who ran towards instead of away, all the people who helped others down crowded stairs when they could have rushed by, men who attacked attackers so a plane wouldn't hit it's intended target. The solidarity of a people when you get down to what really matters. Americans, the only thing that day.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Daily Bread

At our house, fresh bread is a favorite snack and a part of many of our meals. The kids fight over the heel of every loaf, usually asking me to cut off both ends at once. This bread was adapted from an interesting recipe I found on another blog, as soon as I read it I knew that it would be a good one. I love that is uses honey for sweetener, we are trying to reduce refined sugar and replace it when possible so I am always on the lookout for recipes using honey. One change I made was to cut the honey and butter in half from the original recipe, it's so delicious you will never miss the extra sweetness and fat. Also if you reduce the butter you can spread lots of butter on your slice of warm soft bread. So here we go.
Soft Wheat Bread
1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons dry yeast (one packet of yeast)
2 Tablespoons honey
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached flour
2 Tablespoons softened butter
1 teaspoon salt

Pour the water in a large bowl. Ideally you want the water to be as warm as a baby's bottle but the temperature of the warm really isn't too critical. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and pour in the honey. Most bread recipes tell you to proof the yeast in a small amount of water until the yeast is foamy but I have found this to be unnecessary unless you aren't sure that your yeast is good. As long as your yeast has been stored at room temperature or in the fridge, it should be good. Adding the yeast to the water before you mix in the flour will work just fine.
Add the flours, butter and salt and stir to make a rough dough. Turn this out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and springy. Put the ball of dough in a large bowl and cover with a clean towel. Set the bowl in a warm place to rise for about an hour. I usually set my bread to rise in my oven with the light turned on. When the dough is doubled in size turn it out onto a floured surface and shape into a loaf and place it in a buttered loaf pan. Cover with the towel and let rise again. This rise will take 45 minutes to an hour. During this rise heat your oven to 350 degrees. Obviously you can't do this rise in the oven but it should rise just fine on the countertop. When it's risen an inch or so above the top of the pan put it in the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until it's golden brown. Lately I have been experimenting with taking the bread out as soon as it starts to really brown and it has made a huge difference in how long the bread stays soft. All these years my bread has dried out because I was baking it too long but let's just keep that between you and me. And remember, let the bread cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing it, I know it's torture but you can do it!
Oh and if you have a sweet friend who brings you a jar of strawberry jam she made from berries picked by her own hands in the farmer's field then you can swoon and count yourself blessed indeed!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Quick Creamy Chocolate Pudding

If we have a family dessert it's this quick chocolate pudding. When we were first married, back in the olden days, we were living on love. I was supporting us as a portrait photographer and suffice it to say, love was about all we had. Thankfully to newlyweds, that's about all you need. Anyway, we both liked to end our day with a little sweet treat and this pudding became a several times a week little sweet treat. Like the title suggests, it's quick, creamy and chocolate. What more could you want? One of my favorite memories of this dessert is the time our good friend was over and for lack of options, I whipped (whisked?) up a batch and served it forth. He looked at it blankly and asked what it was. Uhhh, chocolate pudding. "But it's warm", he protested. "Why is it warm?" I informed him that I had just finished cooking it. The poor guy didn't know that you cooked pudding. Apparently he had only had instant pudding his whole entire life! Again, poor guy!
Please notice the cup pictured above, it was given to me by a friend's mother and I love it. I can only eat pudding out of this cup. However, I only have two so everyone else has to eat their pudding out of something else. Tough darts, that's the way it goes around here, especially when the mom is a dish fanatic and has to eat certain things out of certain dishes. I'm weird but I have accepted it.

Quick Creamy Chocolate Pudding
2 Tablespoons cocoa
3 Tablespoons sugar, adjust if you like it less or more sweet. You can substitute honey.
2 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
2 cups of milk, any kind will work. Whole milk is yummy but 1% is fine too.
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, leave this out for a low-fat dessert

Whisk cocoa, sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan, slowly pour in milk and cook over medium heat. Whisk every few minutes but don't whisk constantly. Overcooking and overwhisking are two things that will cause a cornstarch pudding to break down and turn into liquid instead of thick luscious creaminess. Not a good thing! So you are whisking slowly and as the pudding thickens, more steadily to prevent lumps. After a few minutes the mixture should begin to thicken and begin to boil. Turn off the heat and stir in butter. When the butter is mixed in, take it off the burner and pour into cups or bowls. If you want to serve it later, press a piece of waxed paper on the surface of the pudding to prevent it from forming a thick nasty "skin". You can also prepare this in the microwave but be sure you are using a large bowl and stirring every 30 seconds or it will boil over faster than a New York minute and then you'll have a mess. Shoot, now I want some chocolate pudding, can you eat pudding at 11:00 in the morning?