Jun 292012
 

I’ve taken a million pictures and have a ton of recipes to share, but little time to whip these posts up. As I’ve gone through the past few weeks of events and trying new things around the house, I’ll snap a picture or scratch a note down for things I want to blog about; the pile is high. As I surf around and look at blog after blog of picture plump tutorials, recipes, daily activities… I can’t help but wonder how everyone finds the time. Not only the time but – does the food go to waste sometimes during these blogazine post tutorials (’cause every “blog post” is now a “tutorial” yanno – yes, please show me how you scoop sugar from a container, would you, I need to know)?  I’m probably over-thinking it, but whatever.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE the internet and its vast amount of free knowledge and entertainment. But, the more I surf, the more I notice assimilation. In the striving to be different than, there is a lot more of becoming the same as. Words, photos, catch phrases… it is interesting. I’m not saying I’m immune, either. It seeps in your veins like an acquired accent (give me 10 minutes in a room with a Southerner and I come out with a drawl). It’s kind of like a hairstyle. People see, people like, people get the same haircut. I guess with a million restaurants, you can still eat your cheeseburger wherever you want, depending where you like on how they make it.

I know I’m bit of an old soul (or old crow), but–and maybe I’ve said this before–things ’round the internet ain’t the same, friend!

Back to those popsicles. One thing about this whole “everyone’s alike” thing is that I don’t have to feel so badly about not taking gorgeous magazine-ready photos while I’m running around like a headless chicken in my kitchen. I get to present with this:

(taken from Franny’s cellphone: L-Chocolate Mocha, R-Avocado Coconut)

Want sexy popsicle? Google images will do ya. My contribution is half-eaten pop and a shaky hand.

My mom made frozen treats all the time. Blendings of kool-aid, yogurts, and sometimes she’d just straight up freeze a banana on a stick and call it a day. I can’t say that I ever really liked any of the frozen popsicles she made (sorry mom). Part of that might have been that they were all sugar-free, or that they were always just a frozen version of a liquid, never tailored to the process. Over the years I’ve gone on popsicle-making binges, the molds always collecting dust and going to the trash bin after  a while. A few weeks ago I was shopping at Marshalls and came across some fun looking molds and it sparked a desire to make them again.

Original yummy recipe from wonderfuljoyahead.com. I very much like this recipe. I collected a few others, but wanted to make this particular one. I also had one for Mocha pops, which Franny preferred to try, but it called for heavy cream and some other high-calorie additions that I didn’t want to dive into. So I compromised with this:

MOCHA FUDGE POP RECIPE

This made 3 pops plus 2 3-oz. mini cups for me. I like having the mini cups (Solo or Dixie) and some sticks for the extra batter. They are the perfect size if you’re just wanting a taste.

INGREDIENTS
2 1/2 T (approx 25 grams) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 C. sugar
1 T. cornstarch
1 1/2 T. unsweetend cocoa powder
1 1/4 C. whole milk
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 T. instant coffee (I did not measure this, but am guessing)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 T. unsalted butter

Add coffee to milk and stir to mix. Don’t worry if it doesn’t completely mix in. Over very low heat, melt the chocolate chips in a medium saucepan, stirring constantly. Stir in the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and cocoa powder. Add milk in 1/2 cup increments, stirring constantly. Turn heat up to medium once all the milk is added. Cook about 5-10 minutes, until the mixture coats the spoon well and turns to a thin pudding consistency.

Remove the pan from the heat, add the vanilla, and butter. Stir to combine. Let cool for a bit, and then pour into your molds. Wait until it’s fully frozen, at least 3 hours.

These were yummy. You could taste the fudge and the coffee.

Onto the AVOCADO COCONUT POPS. These are my favorite. I may have screwed the recipe up a bit or stumbled upon brilliance (I think I forgot to boil the sugar/water – at least on the first batch). I honestly do not know how I can jumble up a popsicle recipe? Maybe this is two recipes in one. Regardless, these bad boys are t-t-tasty. Original recipe here. Please don’t compare it with what I’ve done because clearly I went wildly amiss.

AVOCADO COCONUT POP RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup sugar (the 2nd batch I made with 1/2 cup sugar… see note below)
  • 1 avocado (pitted and peeled)
  • Pinch of salt
  • the juice of 1 lime (or about 2T. lime juice)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
Mix all ingrediants using a blender (I used an immersion blender). Be sure to mix well. Pour into molds. Freeze and enjoy (5 hours later). I took the suggestion of the fudge pop recipe and replaced the vanilla with mint in this avocado recipe in the second batch. YUM.
Notes: You can use small cups, easily. Just pour in, top with a piece of foil or plastic wrap and put the stick through that (the foil or wrap holds the stick in place). I found that poking a small hole prior to putting the wrap on made the stick insertion easier. Keep in mind if you use foil and are making more than one flavor, you’ll want to mark the flavor on the stick (the part that is sticking out) so you know what you’re getting into before you unwrap it. A lot of recipes will tell you to freeze the pops for x amount of hours, then insert the stick, but I just don’t have the attention span to babysit my popsicles. So I wrap and insert.
I didn’t notice a huge difference with lowering the sugar in the avocado pops. That’s kind of a flavor choice thing. Sal wanted (literally) avocado popsicles. “These are sweet!” He said, disgusted. This is the kid who now freezes straight up milk for his popsicles.
Yeah. Freezing liquids (gatorade, 7-up and cherry juice) has now become an obsession around the house. I can think of worse.

Apr 252012
 

In collecting recipes to add to my ever-growing binders of cards, clippings, scraps, and scribbled recipes, I found another new one to try: White Castle-Like Sliders

We don’t have a White Castle anywhere in Madison, much to my dismay. However, it makes it even more of  a treat when we are visiting the Twin Cities and indulge in some of their steamy, oniony burgers. We don’t do this every time we go there because there are so many other places to sample deliciousness from. But when the craving drives us – we’ve indulged (and sometimes felt less than healthy following the indulgence). I have seen frozen White Castle burgers for sale at the grocery store, but I’m not big on frozen fast foods and have not tried them.

The recipe looked interesting, and regardless of the authenticity of the flavor, I figured it the family would be down with eating them.

I purchased my beef at Walmart, and went for the fattier 80/20 that the recipe calls for. I actually followed a recipe. Fancy that! The buns, however, were a little more tricky. I found some mini buns that were called “dollar rolls” – but they cost $3 per bag of 8. No thanks. I found some ciabatta buns for about the same price and there were 12 in there. Because I was doubling the recipe (which makes 24), I figured I’d need 2 packs and could quarter the rolls. It was a decent bet, but then I noticed some mini sub-like rolls, a 24-pack, for the same price. The decision was easy. Actually, I probably put too much thinking into it, as I do EVERYTHING, but when I shop it isn’t always about the product or finding the right one, it’s also about the money. The sub rolls were the most cost-effective.

Armed with all the ingredients, I headed home to take on the recipe.

It is a very. Easy. Recipe. Really, it is. The original site has lots of pictures and step-by-step instructions, so I won’t go into that. I’ll just share how my experience went.

I used a baking sheets rather than a baking dish. In fact, I used two. One large one and one half sheet. They worked fine, fitting side-by-side in my oven. I sprinkled the cup of flakes down on the sheets, then patted the beef on top. I had 5lbs. of beef (a little more than the recipe called for, but I’m SO glad I went ahead with that extra pound – more on that in a bit). Because the onions spread around when you pat the beef on top, I tried to “sprinkle” the beef around the sheet, then pat it all in like play dough. It was the worst part. Ground beef doesn’t exactly sprinkle. I made do, and patted, patched and coerced the beef until it covered the entire bottom of both pans. After that, they went in the oven.

Shock and horror when I pulled them out and notice the teensy, tiny rectangle of beef floating around in the pool of fat (removed in picture below). Besides gently patting the beef with a paper towel like the recipe said, I had to first drain off the over 2 cups of liquified fat, then soak up the rest with towel. It was truly disgusting. A little tricky, too, because I didn’t want to lose my precious rectangle of beef. I started to have serious doubts that I would pull out 48 burgers from the little beef sheet.

Patience.

Cheese time. I had white cheddar. In my head I could hear the kids groaning about my substitution. They prefer yellow (even though it is just dyed cheddar). I topped the meat with the cheese, popped them back in (it takes very little time to melt, FYI) and then stared at the huge bag of rolls that I had not begun to cut. Following the cheese-topping was a crazed kitchen dance of me slicing pickle spears (I skipped out on buying sliced pickles – spears sliced in mini triangles are fine) and quartering the sub rolls that were not cut to being with — all with hope of serving White Castle(ish) burgers that were still warm.

It was exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. I did not get many pictures, due to the frantic pace at which I worked.

I wouldn’t say they were a “hit” – or maybe they were a hit, just not out-of-the-park hit. They were definitely interesting and something out of the ordinary. Rarely can you duplicate a restaurant food, but just make a similar version of. That’s what these were. If you did not know what the attempt was, you might say, “Wow – these are kind of like White Castle” – but you certainly would not mistake them for the original. That said, they are close enough that if you have had WC you would smile at the homemade version, noticing the similarities. Wait. I kind of just said that. Whatever. I think in reality, these were too fresh, and the bread too meaty (I would go with a different bread). Today when I warmed one (OK three) in the microwave for lunch, my mouth was thinking they were closer to the original. A couple days old, and bread spongy-steamed from the microwave, they were closer to tasting like real deal WC junky fast food. I mean that as a compliment, but there’s no way to extract that from it, is there?

Oh – and, interestingly enough – I got 47 burgers out of them. I’d forgotten how small those little patties really needed to be. Not much bigger than a regular pickle slice.

At any rate, these were a fun try. I could definitely see making them for a group – although I’d rather not be doing the latter phase of production with anyone but family around to witness it. I’d make ahead. I also think I’d be a rebel and use less fatty beef next time, too.

 

Oct 262011
 

Yesterday was Frank’s birthday. 42nd I think. I’m getting terrible with these things. Nevertheless, it was a birthday, and we celebrated it. In our house, the birthday boy (or girl) gets to choose a dinner (in or out). Being that I was working yesterday, I really tried to steer Frank in the direction of eating out. We started with the possibility of creating a menu, and I immediately grew exhausted. After a few emails back and forth, dinner out at Buffalo Wild Wings was the plan.

My husband likes chicken wings. Seems like every year we end up at some wing location for his day of celebration.

I did wonder about the cake. As I pondered this on the way home, I planned. I knew I had some cake flour at home. I’d whip up something. I thought about making one of Jack’s Chocolate Cakes. I had no mayonnaise. White cake? No… what to make, what to make? My mom usually makes Frank one of her apple spice cakes with cream cheese frosting. That’s it! I have a HUGE bag of carrots in the fridge. Mission Carrot Cake begins.

I checked out allrecipes.com and went out on a limb with the highest rated recipe for carrot cake called Best Carrot Cake Ever. I know. Risky rebel that I am. I saw the ingredient list and had mostly everything on hand. My mission began.

Some of the comments on the allrecipes.com website mentioned the cake being “pudding-like” which scared me, so I read a few responses just in case. If you decide to make this cake, do these two things:

1.) Soak the raisins. Bring water to a near boil on the stove, shut it off; add raisins.

2.) Drain most of the liquid from the carrot/brown sugar mix before using it. Drain the pineapple, too. Maybe that’s three things. Oh well. I put my pineapple in a colander and let it drain for a good 15 minutes during prep. time.

Other than that, this is a recipe that works. I didn’t even substitute anything. Well, I subbed the white sugar for granulated cane sugar, but that’s not a biggie.

As I said, I was on a mission. So much so that when the birthday boy came home from his hard day at work, I immediately sent him to the store for cream cheese and pineapple. Pathetic, no? I felt bad, actually, after he left. I realized I hadn’t even looked him in the eye, said hello, gave him a kiss or anything. I focused obsessively on my cake preparations and missed the whole point all-together. A habit that needs breaking.

You know those recipes that you make that totally fill the house with a smell better than any scented candle will give you? This was one of those. It. Smelled. Divine. I whipped up the frosting (1 stick butter, 16 oz. cream cheese, 1 tsp. vanilla, 2c. sugar) and put it in the fridge. After de-panning the cakes and putting them on racks to cool, we went to dinner. Dinner was good. Loud. that place is loud. But good. Our whole family was there, which is the best part. As they grow older it becomes more difficult to get everyone together in one place. Full and sassy, we came home to the yummy-smelling house and I frosted the cake.

Four candles for 4 decades.

So good. One of those instances where a thin slice is all you need.

This recipe was a definite keeper. Better than store-bought and totally tweakable. The only problem is that I have an entire half a cake left and very little willpower. Cake for breakfast. Cake for lunch. Seriously, this cake’s calorie count you don’t even want to know — especially with that frosting. Which is why, immediately after publishing this post, I’m going for a walk. See ya.

Oct 212011
 

I’m trying to eat better. Recent wait gain has me in an undeniable position (can feel it in my clothing). But, also, the fact that our paychecks are less than they were – well, no, more is being taken out of the paychecks of State workers here in Wisconsin. The take-home pay is less. Anyway, I’m trying to eat better and save money.

Hence, the new coupon page up there, and my increased use of them. But that’s a whole ‘nother post.

Today, we talk pizza.

Frank’s working an overtime today. Unfortunately, it is a Friday. I’d much rather have him at home, out back with me by the fire. But I’d also like to be able to pay bills. Trade off. I’ve been very good lately, relying less on McDonald’s coffee in a pinch, and more on my handy insulated coffee mug (filling it at home first). I didn’t stop for coffee ONCE this week. Pretty good, if you ask me! Even when I was running late, even when I was tired. I. Held. Strong.

Tonight though when thinking of dinner, I immediately imagined pizza. Ordered. Delivered. Easy. Effortless. Thankfully, though, I have a stack of frozen pizzas (thanks to couponing and sales). I also have hungry children who popped one in the oven before I could even get my fingers on the phone to order anything. With two kids at home sharing a frozen pizza and two kids at a friend’s house hanging out, it seemed like an enormous waste and lack of effort for me to order a pizza.

Instead, I went for a walk. I chugged a glass of water and took Wheezy for a walk.

Then I came home and made my own “pizza” without spending an extra dime. Cheese and tomatoes from Costco, “Italian” bread on sale.

Lonely bread.

Not so lonely anymore. A wipe of butter, dash of garlic pepper and basil. Topped with cheese…

…and tomatoes.

Broiled and toasted in the toaster oven.

A sprinkle of salt and Parmesan, glass of wine (OK, coffee mug of wine). Yum. No, it wasn’t take-out. But it was good. And easy. And yummy. And I’m happy that I didn’t spend $30 on pizza – I can pocket that for another time!

Jun 132011
 

This time, it worked.

Thick(er) than my first attempt, but not quite as thick as store-bought. I tried to keep the concoction warmer this time. When I removed some warmed milk to mix with the yogurt, and returned the mixture, I turned on the crock to HIGH for a bit, stirred, set the oven to WARM for about 10 minutes or so, and then removed the warm pot from the crock, wrapped it in a towel, placed in the oven (which I had turned off) with the light on, and left it to sleep all night long.

I dug in, and it didn’t feel like cold milk.

This recipe makes a LOT of yogurt. I’m not sure what part of me didn’t consider that. I suspect determination to make it overrode common sense. Thankfully, I had some glass jars in the ready, as well as a few plastic containers for individual servings.

Glass jar was first. I figured it would hold a couple of cups worth and decided to go for maple.

Continue reading »

Jun 082011
 

I remember reading about making homemade yogurt eons ago. Never gave it a try. Contemplated it. Had my mother tell me, My goodness, I made yogurt for you guys all the time when you were little. — No wonder I have this “granola” strain in me. Even though I’m adopted, I have this mutated homemaker gene. I see where I get it. Through the baked breads, homemade yogurts, creative playing, scrap-saving, able-to-whip-up-a-meal-from-the-pantry mother of mine.

Back to yogurt. A cruise around the web turned up many similar posts regarding making yogurt in the crockpot:

You Can Make Yogurt in Your Crockpot!
Crockpot Yogurt (foreshadowing… also see bottom of post, “what to do when yogurt fails” – ahem)
Make Yogurt in Your Crockpot

Obviously tons of people are doing this. Should be easy enough for a cavewoman, right?

Whatever. The title, “first try” hints to the end result of my first experience with crockpot yogurt making.

Continue reading »

Jun 072011
 

I use my crockpot a lot. Sometimes I make things in there that are loaded with onions, garlic, or other pungent delights. Sometimes my husband will scrub out the crockpot and it still has what I call, ring-around-the crockpot. I can tell it is cleaned, because I witnessed the elbow grease scrubbing that goes into it, but it still doesn’t seem clean-clean.

Solution?

Good old baking soda. Drop a quarter cup or so of that in a dry pot and scrub, scrub, scrub.

I went all crazy rebellious and used my scouring pad that simply is NOT SAFE TO USE ON NON STICK COOKWARE or delicate items because I’m just dangerous like that.

Continue reading »

Jun 052011
 

My freezer was out of control, iced up, in dire need of a defrost. For months. Both Frank and I mentioned this to one another, but neither took action. When the days started to get warmer, the freezer began to take on a life of its own, swallowing the entire contents of the top shelf. It happened slowly. We had time. But we waited. Waited, and then the food was gone.

Once the top shelf was impervious, I knew the rest was soon to follow. My hint-dropping was not working. Planning meals became an even bigger challenge as your freezer was taking over part of the food supply. We couldn’t stock up and we couldn’t eat the stock. Yet, the inaction continued.

One day Frank was working an overtime, I was home. The kids were at school. I could no longer take it. I (took pictures) scooted the freezer to the drain hole in the center of our garage. I knew taking it out into the driveway might have been the quickest way, but I didn’t need the neighbors to witness the monstrosity that was our freezer.

Continue reading »

Jun 042011
 

Hello, friend.

Every time I sit down to write a post, I see a squirrel (aka I get distracted with other things, ADD-style). In some ways that is good. It means I’m getting things done, which I am. I have a mission of productivity when I get to the computer lately, and I’ve been better at keeping with that mission. It has been a productive week for me. Clothes a’ washing, drying on the line, freezer defrosted (more on that in another post), continue to keep my flowers alive out front (not a small feat for a black-thumb like myself), paid bills, got kids appointments made and completed (no missed appointments this week)… the list goes on and on. I feel satisfied. More content when I allow myself to accomplish tasks and stay on track.

For a long time I’ve put other things first; I’m working on not doing that as much. Not in a means of being selfish and all-important, but with the intent to make sure that I am fulfilling the needs and obligations of myself and my family. Giving that the priority it demands. When I don’t, I feel life spinning out of control, bills being paid late, meals being ordered in because I didn’t prepare, home being embarrassingly messy — things that don’t make for a happy home.

In that effort, I’ve been spending my time online looking for recipes to add to my ever-growing collection. The past few days I’ve been trying to eat what we have and make less runs to the store. My success has been about 60%, which is up from before. Knowing that I had some ground turkey and beef in the freezer, I opted to get it out the night before to thaw. Doing this took a little bit of planning (find recipe, remove from freezer). Not much, but a bit. The peace of mind I had, though, knowing what we were having for dinner the next day is worth something.

I’m also working on minding my food and taking better care of my body again, so I explored sparkpeople for a bit, hoping to turn up something new and tasty. I found a recipe for Diet Coke Sloppy Joes and did a little bit of modifying.

Ingredients
16 oz. 96% ground beef
1 cup diet coke
2/3 cup reduced sugar ketchup
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp dry mustard
Directions
Brown ground beef in skillet. Drain beef and add back to skillet. Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Cook on low for 30 minutes uncovered so sauce can thicken. You can also add onions or green peppers if you’d like.

Number of Servings: 4

I doubled, using the beef/turkey mix; drained, put in crockpot. Then I took some frozen chopped green peppers and put that in the pot, heated them a bit, adding the ketchup (not reduced sugar – don’t have it), Worcestershire, vinegar (used apple cider instead), dry mustard, and 2 tsp of garlic (I love garlic). After I mixed that around a bit, I added the Coke (I used Coke Zero). I poured this over the meat in the crock, added about 2T of dried onion flakes, mixed it all up and set it on high. I cooked it for about 1.5 hours on high, stirring it here and there, and then let it simmer with the lid off for half an hour or so. It smelled delicious and tasted good, too. Everyone thought it was yummy. It was less saucy than a Manwich, or “traditional” sloppy joes, but I liked it for something different and bit dryer. Doubled, I would say that it fed a little more than 8 with 2 sandwiches each (approx. 1/4 cup per serving).

I love my crockpot.

Apr 112011
 

It’s been a while. I know. I keep thinking of things I want to write, investigate, get feedback on… and then life takes a bite, and swallows me whole and it is sink or swim. Facebook posts are quick, not posting anything is quicker yet.

But, as life busies, I feel my brain turning to mush, wondering how I ever was able to function in college, writing, studying, thinking? My goodness, I’m only 38 years old, I shouldn’t be feeling the decline of an aging mind. What I’m feeling is the stifling of a creative soul. The yearning for something different. For being busy with creativity, wellness, inspiration. Rather than the drone of a hamster-wheel, day blending into day, excitement extracted only from a crisis, a blip on the chaotic norm.

Nevermind that, we’re going on a roadtrip. Out east, as far as our over-sized van can take us. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York… off we go. Me saving money, me mapping the finances, me planning the trip, me reserving hotels (and contemplating a night’s sleep in the van)… it is working my brains and my nerves. And we leave soon. How soon I shall not say, as I’d rather not have my home burglarized (mwahahaha). Advice would be happily taken. Free, frugal stops – adored.

UPDATES ON PAST CONVERSATIONS:

Homemade Deodorant? Still using it!!! Haven’t looked back. Pits are healthy are less smelly than when I wore regular deodorant. Yay. Mine’s a version of the common one thrown out there (cornstarch, coconut oil, baking soda). Less of the baking soda, some essential oils, and voila. Good stuff.

Homemade Laundry Detergent Challenge? Verdict still out. Two batches and numerous loads later, I was not entirely unconvinced. However, once our water softener broke down, it was impossible to use. We have really (REALLY) hard water. It is a shame.

Pumpkin Bread and Pumpkin Puree? Fabulous. Just fabulous. And you can freeze those loaves for future snacking. They freeze just dandy. I wrapped in foil, then put in a freezer bag, brought it out a month (or two) later and the kids were all, Yay, pumpkin bread — when did you make this? and I’m all – Twahahahha, you know your momma takes care of you, hel-lo? and not feeling too guilty about defrosting pumpkin bread. I mean, I did make it. Just not recently.

I found another bread recipe that I love-love-love-love and will share that puppy soon.