Monday, November 30, 2009

Tightwad Living: Cloth Napkins

One of my favorite tightwad weapons is the old fashioned cloth napkin. In our house we would go through tons of paper products so as much as possible I have replaced paper with cloth. You can see that I have no preferred pattern, my only requirements are that they be 100% cotton and be inexpensive. Most were purchased years ago for fifty cents each at various stores. When I find some on sale, I buy enough to set my table with one pattern at once. My mom has picked up several sets for me at flea markets or yard sales so I have quite a collection to choose from.
The biggest benefit is the difference it makes at the table. There is something so nice about using a cloth napkin and people always comment on it when we have company. It makes the meal seem very special to them. I've even had someone refuse to use the napkin because they didn't want to get it dirty! That cracked me up. I throw them in the wash after dinner and wash them with the next load of laundry. It takes a few minutes to fold them but now my kids can fold them neatly and they are so proud to fill the drawer with their carefully folded work. I make sure to set their folded napkin at their dad's place and tell him who folded his napkin. Also, Joe started carrying a cloth napkin in his lunch box everyday and he has really enjoyed that. All that to say that using cloth napkins is probably my most-liked Tightwad Living ideas, it saves money and enriches our home. And if you come eat with us, I'll even let you choose your own pattern!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cranberry Streusel Pie

What can I say about this pie? I just can't understand how it can be so good. About 10 years ago I found the recipe in a magazine and jotted it down because I obsessively jot down any recipe using fresh cranberries. They are my favorite fall fruit and we have several dishes at Thanksgiving dinner that feature these beautiful ruby colored berries. Any recipe calling for them is instantly in running for my new fall dish. In fact, as I write this I have a cranberry apple breakfast crisp in the oven. An interesting fact about cranberries is that they are the only true American fruit. They were growing here long before the first Europeans landed on this fine land of ours. Another fun thing about cranberries is that children always want to taste them and they always forget how tart they are. Every year I get to trick my kids with a fresh cranberry. Ah, fun times!
Now about the pie, it became an instant favorite in my family. The only dilemma we have is that the original recipe calls for walnuts and my dad thinks the only nut worth eating is a pecan. (Except for boiled peanuts. Don't ask, it's a southern thing.) So we put pecans in it for Dad and either way it's about the best pie you ever put in your mouth. My husband's family loved it too and I always make one to send to Grandma and Grandpa. Just trying to be the favorite!

Cranberry Streusel Pie
2 cups fresh cranberries
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons flour
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 unbaked pie shell

Toss together the cranberries, brown sugar, white sugar, nuts and cinnamon. Spoon into the pie shell and spread out as evenly as you can. Whisk the egg and add the sugar, flour and butter. Pour over cranberry mixture in the pie shell. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake for 30 minutes more. If you are using a glass pie plate, carefully check the bottom of the crust to make sure it is nice and browned. A undercooked gummy bottom crust is a violation of all that is good and right. However a properly browned bottom crust will make you everyone's hero or at least help you sleep better at night. So round up your ingredients and make this pie today or on Thursday, you'll be glad you did!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Buttery Wheat Pie Crust

Next week, less than a week from today it will be Thanksgiving! I absolutely love Thanksgiving! You get to cook all day making fabulous food that you only make and eat once a year. What's not to love? Cleaning up is even fun when our family friend Frenetta is there. She is the most regal and beautiful African American woman I have met and I think I was ten when she first became friends with my mother. After her family moved away and her husband died, she began sharing Thanksgiving dinner with us. Every year she arrives with her handmade apron in one hand and a Sweet Potato Pie in the other. Her laughter and stories echo through the house and then I know it's really Thanksgiving, Frenetta is here. Making pie crust is one thing that was a given with Frenetta's generation and is a lost art in mine. One of my personal missions is to bring back homemade, flaky, tender, golden pie crust. It's not hard and you don't need to be intimidated by something made out of 4 simple ingredients. Now, I'm not saying you should be spanked for using a pre-made crust but if you are going to the trouble of making a pie from scratch, it's easy (and inexpensive) to make your own crust. If you've never made a pie crust before, prepare to be amazed at the difference it makes in your final creation. Besides, you will know how simple it was and everyone else will think you are a domestic goddess. I mean, that's a win-win situation there!

Buttery Wheat Pie Crust
1 cup whole wheat flour (you can substitute white flour if you want)
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold butter
5 Tablespoons ice water

Stir together the wheat and white flours and the salt. Crumble the butter in with your hands (easiest) or with a pastry blender (cleanest). You want to work it in until it has coarse crumbs like the photograph below.
Sprinkle in the ice water until the dough just just comes together in a shaggy ball. Be careful not to add too much water, add it a tablespoon at a time until you can pinch a clump of the dough together and it sticks in a ball. I toss it gently with a fork after each addition of water so it doesn't get compacted or tough. There is gluten in the flour that you don't want to activate or the crust will be hard to roll out and it will be tough after you bake it. This is really the only part you have to take care with, adding the water and mixing. Once you get a feel for that you can make incredible crust in your sleep. I've been making pies since I was about eleven years old and even my "mess-ups" were yummy so don't be nervous. Also, I used to make all white flour crusts with shortening. We don't use any shortening now and about a year ago I started making part whole wheat crusts and the flavor is unbeatable.

After you get a rough ball of dough like you see above, turn it out on a lightly floured countertop and lightly knead 4 or 5 times to smooth out the dough. Divide it into two pieces and you are ready to roll. Literally. Here is my poor wooden rolling pin. I can't tell how many times I have rescued it from the boys as the "steamrolled" around the house chasing their sisters. Who needs expensive toys when your mom has a rolling pin?

You want to roll it in one direction only, away from you, then towards you. After about 4 rolls, gently turn the dough a quarter turn, that is, turn the side on your right to the top side. Counterclockwise turns. Four more rolls and turn again. This pattern should result in a fairly good circle. You want to roll until the circle is a couple inches bigger than your pie plate. You may have to add a dusting of flour as you go to keep it from sticking to the countertop or your rolling pin. When it's the right size, gently fold it over and lay it over half of your pie plate. Unfold and adjust it to fit the plate. If it tears just lightly moisten a scrap and stick it in the tear to patch it. I trim it to overhang the edge about 1/2 to 1 inch then fold it under to make an even edge.
This crust had several patches on the edge that you can see in the photograph. If you are making a luscious pumpkin or pecan pie just fold the edge under and crimp it like the first photograph or whatever you think looks pretty. If you are making a sweet apple pie with a top crust the fill the bottom crust after you roll out the second ball of dough and fit it over the pie filling. You can moisten the edge so the top crust sticks well then fold under the extra part and crimp it. Then you should cut a few slits in the top, brush it with milk and sprinkle with sugar. It bakes up crisp and beautiful. I tell you, it can make a grown man cry!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Marinara Sauce

Today I am going to share one of my favorite basic recipes, Marinara Sauce. Above you can see a lovely stuffed pasta shell modeling cream sauce and Marinara Sauce. Just as an aside, the shells hadn't been baked yet and we ate them before I remembered to take a picture when they were done. Sorry, you'll have to use your imagination.
Back to the Marinara Sauce. I adapted the recipe from a book called The Family Kitchen that I checked out from the library a hundred years ago. The sauce is very flavorful and not to herby so it can go in many other dishes. Of course, you can serve it as is over pasta for a quick and delicious dinner, but it's also great in Lasagna, any stuffed pasta, with meatballs or anything, even as pizza sauce. Turn on your Italian music and let's get going!

Marinara Sauce
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
1 small onion, diced finely
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon parmesan cheese

Saute onion in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and saute for about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, sugar, salt, oregano, black pepper and pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter and cheese. Use the sauce then or refrigerate and use in a recipe later. I sometimes make a double batch and use part then and freeze the other part. It's so easy to make a lasagna when you have a good red sauce already done. Hope you enjoy this!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Sideboard: a flat-topped piece of furniture with cupboards and drawers placed along a wall and used for storing dishes, glasses, and table linen. Also known as my favorite piece of furniture ever! Two weekends ago while Joe held down the fort, I combed all the flea markets in the area for something to hold our school supplies in the dining room. Considering my long held addiction to dishes, there just wasn't enough room in my kitchen cabinets for the beloved dishes and the growing collection of school supplies and books. So I found this.

It's a cedar sideboard, some call it a buffet but I'm calling it a sideboard. It seems to be handmade and has glass drawer pulls. The cabinet doors have old clasps that are mounted crooked and that makes me love it all the more. I love to think about a man making it for his wife to put in her farmhouse dining room to hold her china and hand embroidered linens. Linens much like the one shown here, oh it makes my heart sing!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Angel Biscuits

It's been a while since a recipe was posted so I thought I would show you what my middle son and I made for our dinner one night this week. All my kids love to "help" cook and with their range of ages some are more help than others. If you haven't cooked with a kid lately, round one up and have some fun! Every step is intensely interesting to them and they are so proud to serve everyone what they made. Yes, it takes longer and it's messier than if you made it by yourself but I see it as an investment. In five or six years I want to be able to send my oldest into the kitchen to make some biscuits or cookies and then serve me some on a silver platter. Besides, it's a special time for them to spend with me or their dad as they help mix and stir. This particular helper is the perfect age to love measuring and cutting things with the biscuit cutter and as he kept wandering in while I was cooking to beg for food, I put him to work.
These biscuits are different in that they have yeast and baking powder and they have to rise for a while. When you pull them out of the oven, they are crusty and flaky with more chewiness to them that straight baking powder biscuit don't have. They are a little more substantial making them great for serving with chicken stew or a hearty breakfast. Oh, and they make a lot, which is just what I need. Anyone not serving a horde may want to cut the recipe in half.

Angel Biscuits
1 pkg (2 1/2 tsp.) dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 3/4 to 2 cups milk
5 cups flour (I use 3 cups whole wheat and 2 cups white)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup butter

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large measuring cup with a pouring spout. Let it sit while you stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. When the yeast and water looks creamy, stir in the milk. Now back to the dry ingredients, mix in the butter with your hands, or a pastry mixer if you don't like to get messy, I use my hands and crumble/rub the butter into the flour. You are trying to get a coarse crumb texture. When it's there, quickly and gently stir in the yeast/milk mixture adding only as much as you need to get the dough to come together. As soon as it starts to come together into a rough ball, dump it out onto a floured surface and knead quickly 5 or 6 times. The goal is to get it fairly smooth without overworking it. Always err on the side of underworked if you are unsure how much to mix it. Biscuit dough needs to be handled as little and as gently as possible to keep it tender. Too much handling will activate the gluten in the dough and you will have the dreaded hockey puck biscuit problem. Next you want to pat it out so it's about 3/4 of an inch thick. I like thicker biscuits so if you want thinner ones, aim for 1/2 an inch. Cut them out with a biscuit cutter or the top of a glass and arrange them on your baking sheet.
If you like softer biscuits place them so they are touching each other and for crispier ones, set them a bit apart. Cover them with a clean towel and let them rise for 30 minutes to an hour. Slide the sheet into a preheated 425 degree oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. They should be brown and crusty and everyone will be standing there with their plates. These are seriously good biscuits folks!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Great Flour Explosion of 2009

Just in case you were wondering, this is what your kitchen will look like if you put too much wheat in your grinder and then go in the other room.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tightwad Living: Storage

I am not afraid to call myself a tightwad. Something about that word makes me feel connected to my grandparents and the "depression mentality". Not to say that I dry and save used paper towels and collect the last bits of bars of bath soap like my sweet Mamaw, but I like to come up with creative solutions for problems with what I have on hand. Now, you may recognize this photograph from my true confession about my chocolate hoarding issue. In this photograph you can view two of my favorite Tightwad Storage items. As you can see, I like hot tea. Some of my preferred varieties come as individual packets and I was always annoyed to have a bunch of loose packets or keep a box with only two tea bags in it cluttering up my cabinet. I was also annoyed by this tin jello mold that I loved but didn't use (we eat way more jello than that at a time!) and could find a place for. Thus was born my tea caddy! I love it, when I open this cabinet it makes me happy.
On the next shelf you can see the coffee jar. Personally I avoid caffeine, except for the occasional Dr. Pepper my mother-in-law sneaks me. However, the man around here likes a cup of leaded coffee to start his day so I made this coffee jar for him using an empty peanut jar and some scrapbook paper. Not a solution to a life threatening problem but still it's a little something extra from what I had that makes our home a bit more homey and fun.
I have lots more Tightwad Living ideas to share with you so start collecting up old jars and stray dishes and used paper towels and get ready! It's cool to be a Tightwad!

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Recently on a family walk Little Sister noticed this flower growing by the trail. She bent down and inspected it with delight. Every little dew drop was examined and she was thrilled with how delicate and bright it was. I was equally delighted with how delicate and bright she was. What a joy to live with and know this tiny girl and her no so tiny personality. She lights up our whole home!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Costumes in Review

The Wee Little Pumpkin. Oh he gets me with his tiny finger like that.
We had a lovely Monarch Butterfly with soft blonde hair. It cracks me up that one of her ponytails always flops down.
Here is the lovely Cinderella. She was very sad that I couldn't make her any ballerina slippers. I made this dress out of one of my old dresses and she has worn every minutes since I sewed on the last button, except when it was in the wash. It was very difficult for her to be parted with the dress while it was in the laundry but she made it through.
Above you can see Batman and Power Dude. It was necessary for Batman to put down his pumpkin bucket to assume the proper pose. He is extremely serious about both the costume and the pose. By the way, Joe and I dressed up as Harried Parents.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Sourdough Chronicles

Once upon a time, in a kitchen far far away, there lived a lovely princess, uhh well, a lovely but bedraggled mother. More than any other thing this lovely but bedraggled mother liked to bake bread. Big round loaves, long crusty loaves, sturdy wheaten loaves, any kind of bread, this mother liked to bake. Though she was surrounded by five mischievous little imps who spent their days tugging on her apron and demanding her attention, she continued to bake bread. And the five mischievous little imps continued to gobble up her bread as soon as she pulled it from the oven. So the lovely but bedraggled mother had to make still more bread the next day. This went on for many years.
One day as the poor mother sat at her table after slicing up yet another warm loaf of bread and feeding it to the little imps she remembered that many many years ago, she used to make sourdough bread. French Country Sourdough Bread, Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread, Sourdough Bread with Cornmeal and Oats, Sourdough Bread with Walnuts, she thought off all the kinds of sourdough bread she used to make many long years ago. She also remembered that the round crusty loaves of sourdough bread were very very large and the maybe it would take two days for it to be gobbled up instead of only one day like the loaves she was making now. With that thought, she decided to make sourdough bread once again!
The very next day, the mother found a plastic bowl to make her starter in because she knew that very very bad things would happen to the poor little starter if one was to make it in a metal bowl. Into the bowl, she put 1/2 a cup of soft flour and 1/4 a cup of pure water. Then she stirred. She used a wooden spoon and stirred and stirred until the starter was a smooth soft ball. Then she covered it with a clean kitchen towel. The day after that, she took off the towel and could see right away that something amazing had happened. Wild yeast from the air in her own kitchen had found it's way into the soft ball of flour and water and had made some little bubbles on top of the dough. Once again, she took up her wooden spoon and stirred in another 1/2 a cup of soft flour and 1/4 a cup of pure water and stirred and stirred. Once again, she covered it with the clean kitchen towel. She did this for two more days and by the fourth day their were many many bubbles on the top of the dough because so much wild yeast had found it's way into the soft dough and started to grow there. After four days the mother knew that she had made a very good starter indeed and so she started to make her bread... To be continued.