Phone Charger + Washi Tape

We are always at a lack for phone chargers in this house!  I ordered two from Ebay just before our trip to South Carolina, and then ordered a couple more earlier this week.  Frank needs one for his car, so one is already claimed, and I need one for myself (since the last one I had seems to have flown the coop).

Most of the chargers in the house are either black or white and fit the Samsung/Motorola phones.  It’s hard to tell who borrowed what charger.  As I unwrapped my precious new friend, I came up with an idea.  Washi tape.

I can’t admit to patience and precision on this little project.  I’m sure someone can improve on the final product with a little more time spent lining patterns and seams up.  I just wanted a quick way to mark my territory on this charger.

Cover your charger with Washi!

Homemade Microwave Popcorn (In A Brown Bag)

I was going to follow-up with my hair saga. But I got distracted by a craving for popcorn.

It started at work. I was tempted by the stale bags of emergency popcorn in my drawer, but I was able to stave it. Then it came back again with a vengeance, this time for movie theatre popcorn. I fantasised a bit, figuring that technically, I could  run in the closest movie theatre around and get a tub of unbuttered popcorn to bring home.  I have done it before. I mean, why pay for movie tickets when all you really want is the popcorn? Let’s be real here.

Reality set in somewhere and I forgot about the craving… until I got home. Sometimes the best choice doesn’t happen, and at that point you have to go to the alternate better choice.

Example:

Overwhelming craving for movie theatre popcorn. Best choice: ignore craving, munch a veggie, or make air-popped corn and eat that. The BEST choice didn’t sit so well with me. I was either going to sink or come to a middle ground. I chose the middle ground: homemade popcorn with butter and salt. It wasn’t the BEST, but it wasn’t the WORST. I met things half-way.

Which leads me to the whole reason for this post, which is to share the semi-newfound love of microwaved popcorn in a brown bag. As I snapped my pictures, I couldn’t for the life of me remember where this idea came from, but I certainly didn’t pull it out of my own imagination. On a whim I checked my history and found it: squawkfox. I think that’s it. There might be other sources, but that’s what popped up for me. Get it? Popped up?

At any rate, I generally make popcorn on the stove in my iron pot with some oil. But, that’s not something I want really the kids to do by themselves right now. They are more likely to reach for a bag of microwavable corn than to grab my iron pot, oil, hot pad  anyway. I rarely eat the microwaved kind, though, so when I buy it, it is only for the kid’s sake. With two kids that LOVE popcorn (with hot sauce). I was happy to find the brown bag method. This is cheaper, and renders just as good results. I would say better because you can make it and add what you like.

All you need is 1/3 cup of popcorn, a brown bag (lunchbag) and a microwave.

Look mom! I took pictures this time!

1/3 cup of popcorn goes in bag:

Does that make you feel claustrophobic? It does me.

Bag goes in microwave. You can put it upright or sideways with the top folded a couple times. I like it upright (yeah, my microwave could use a cleaning I see):

I have a “popcorn” setting on my microwave (picture of that didn’t turn out so well). I set it to the 3.5 setting and it was perfect when setting the bag upright, and don’t fold it over. If I lay the bag on its side folded over on the top I have to set it to a shorter setting and push +30 to add more time. Every microwave probably has its happy spot for popped corn, and you’ll have to find yours.

Out comes this:

Mmm.

Do you use popcorn salt?

Generally I don’t. I just take my salt grinder and grind some salt into my mortar and pestle, then go at it a bit to make a finer salt. Buying it in a little shaker is convenient. To each their own.

Butter. Yum, yum and yum.

I really, really love popcorn.

No human being should have this many pictures of their popcorn.

But that’s how much I love thee.

Noodles & Company Wisconsin Mac & Cheese (copycat recipe)

This has become one of my favorite recipes: Noodles & Company Wisconsin Mac & Cheese (copycat recipe)

I have to admit, when I’d take my kids to Noodles and the order this dish, my throat tightens just a little. Isn’t there anything else you want? I mean, I make home made mac & cheese on a regular rotation and they love it. Can’t they try something I don’t make? And then I tried it. I liked it. Especially with a dousing of Sriracha Hot Sauce. I can see why it is a winner, and I’m from Wisconsin.

Pool of cheesy roux + noodles + a topping of shredded cheese?  You get to stir it up and watch the cheese melt right in front of you. What kid (or adult) wouldn’t want that?

Basically you are taking the cheese roux and instead of mixing that with the pasta and baking it, you plate it up all separate. Why wouldn’t it be good? I’ve been known to sneak some roux and noodle before baking and chomp it down. The stuff is good.

Here we go. Source: Food.com

Noodles & Co. Wisconsin Mac and Cheese
8 servings

INGREDIENTS
2 lbs macaroni noodles (cooked al dente)
4 T butter
4 T flour
4 cups whole milk
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
4 cups monterey jack cheese, shredded
2 cups colby-monterey jack cheese, finely shredded

DIRECTIONS:
Cook the macaroni according to the directions to al dente; do not overcook!
Heat butter in sauce pan over medium heat; melt.
Add the flour; whisk to make a roux.
Continue to whisk until the mixture boils, bubbles and turns slightly brown.
Whisk in salt, pepper, and paprika.
Slowly whisk in the milk and continue to whisk and cook until it starts to thicken up. It will not get pudding thick, and will still be a thin sauce. This is how you want it.
Remove from heat and add the 4c. of monterey jack.

To serve: Pour about 1/2 – 3/4 cup of the cheese sauce into the bottom of a bowl. Add about 1 cup of cooked noodles over the sauce. Top with a small handful of colby-monterey (about 1/4 cup). Stir and enjoy!

NOTE: 1c shredded cheese is approx. 4oz.

I can feed my entire family a very healthy portion of this (and have leftovers) for less than it would cost to feed two people the same meal at Noodles & Co. — score!  You can make the noodles ahead and whip up the roux in less than 15 minutes. Just warm your noodles before plating. It heats up well, too.

(Mock) White Castle-Like Sliders

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.

 

Homemade Pizza Night

We had Homemade Pizza Night twice last week. I would feel… guilty, if I ordered pizza out twice. Every time we order pizza out, it is never less than $25 and sometimes more than $45. For special occasions, that’s fine, but when we can make it at home for much less, that’s a better choice for us. My home pizza-making adventures are generally sporadic, though, it took the first try to get my groove back on. By the second time, I was doing quite well.

 

I was very happy with how this last batch turned out, and the family approved. I had the time to mix up the dough and let it sit, so there was no pressure there. Frank made chicken wings, I made pizza. We feasted without breaking the bank. I prefer to purchase bulk cheese at a decent price, otherwise I’m scrambling to find cheese on sale and it can get pricey quickly. I had a large bag of cheese from Costco, and was able to squeeze two pizza-making nights out of it. I also had pepperoni on hand, onions, banana peppers. What I didn’t have was sausage and anchovies, which we picked up at the store. I didn’t have to, but it was a “treat” for us.

Here is the recipe I used to make 3 large, 16-inch pizzas:

INGREDIENTS
4.5 tsp. dry yeast (I used rapid rise)
4 tsp. sugar
1 cup water + 1 cup beer (warmed, about 110 degrees)
4 cups flour* (I used unbleached, all-purpose)
2 tsp. salt
4 T. olive oil (a friend of mine swears by lard for the fat – he makes a great crust, too)

METHOD

1.) Add sugar to the warmed water (stir – it will bubble, so make sure you have some head room). Add yeast (stir – it will foam so mind that head room… this all worked fine in my 2-cup glass Pyrex). Let sit about 10 minutes until foamy and creamy.

2.) Mix flour and salt in mixing bowl (I used my KitchenAid – start with mixing paddle). Add yeast water. While mixing, add olive oil. Change to hook. Mix about 10 minutes. *Sprinkle a bit more flour over, if it is too sticky. I tend to need about 1/4 cup extra during this step. The dough will be sturdy and kind of sticky. Now it needs to sit for a while. I remove mine to a bowl coated lightly with olive oil turning the dough to coat. Cover and let rise for about 30 minutes somewhere warm.

3.) Grab a hunk (about 1/3 of the dough) and go at it on a lightly floured surface. Again, add more flour (sparingly), if you need to. Roll it out, and use your hands to shape a pizza. Add toppings and bake in a 425-450 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes.

How I do it? I roll mine and use my hands. We have a pizza pan (a flat, circular pan with holes in it) that I use. Pizza stones don’t work well for me. I brush some oil on one side of the dough, put that side down on the pan and shape it a bit more. Add sauce and toppings. Put it in the oven for 10 minutes. After it is sturdy enough, I slide the pizza off the pan directly onto the rack for another 10 minutes. When done, I use the pan to remove it from the oven again. Cut and serve. Yum.

I also made the sauce by taking a can of chopped tomatoes, a clove of garlic, some olive oil, salt and sugar. Take about 1T. of OO, heat in a pan, add the peeled garlic clove. Heat it up a little, but don’t burn it. Add a can of chopped tomatoes. Simmer the entire time you’re busy making the pizza. (I added about 1-2 T. tomato paste, too.) When the dough was ready, I pureed 1/2 fresh tomato in my ABSOLUTELY MOST FAVORITE APPLIANCE EVER FOOD CHOPPER, added the sauce and pureed that, too, stirred in about 1tsp. sugar and that was my sauce. I really like a fresh-tasting sauce, and not too terribly much of it.

Make Your Own Fancy Shmancy California Garlic Powder

I love my McCormick California Style Garlic Powder. I do, I do. I use it as my go-to garlic powder (I skip garlic salt and if a recipe calls for garlic salt I add garlic powder and salt). I use it as the base for my homemade pizza topping. It has a coarser grind and splash of flavor/color from the parsley.

But I also like to simplify. I like to make things myself if I can. Not to mention, whenever I’d buy the McCormick kind, I’d be spending more money than I cared to spend. So, I made it myself.

Pretty simple ingredients, both of which I purchased bulk-size from Costco (which sells some McCormick, if you like that kind). You can see in the picture that I used “California” garlic, which has a bit of a coarser grind.

For the price of two bottles of the store-bought kind, I can make about 2-3x as much of the mixture (and have enough parsley to use for at least 6 more). The ratio I used was about 3:1 garlic to parsley. But you can tweak to your desire. I have made it with regular-grind garlic as well and it did fine, but I prefer the coarse grind. Works for me!

Substitute For Pizza

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!

Stranger Danger

I am the stranger, but I’m not too dangerous. Armed with a keyboard and a cup of coffee, I’m just beginning to awaken my morning-fogged brain. Pretty harmless. Pretty inconsistent, too, posting once in a blue moon. I never thought I would be so busy, so distracted, that I would forget some of my online interests. Like blogging. But, time allows us so much and Facebook has completely ruined me with my ADD and its constant motion. However, since the change a few days ago, it has alienated me a bit for now, and I’ll stick to the streets for a bit.

Summer has closed, the kids are back to school. I have a senior, a freshmen and two 7th-graders. I continue to work both outside and inside the home. Don’t roll your eyes. I really do work inside the home. By day I manage an office, but by afternoon and night, I manage a home. It consumes me.

As the reality of the public worker cuts set in and the paychecks grow smaller, my work at home takes on an even more fine tuned approach. Frank took a promotion a couple years ago, and for one year we felt like we were climbing up the walls a bit, making some gains on our debt, increasing our financial responsibility. It was good. It felt good. My hours were cut, and my pay went down a bit, but Frank’s made up for it. The extra time I had at home made up for it. Did I say it was good?

We are still ahead of where we would be had he not taken that promotion. His check is now about the same as it was pre-promotion. I can’t imagine what it would be otherwise. We still have good healthcare benefits, thank goodness. But we’re kind of back at square one.

A lot of my time has been spent online couponing. This was the summer of the coupon. I’ve always clipped coupons, and have done well before, but with in combination with the internet, I’ve been able to hunt down deals a little quicker. But it takes. Time. Time. And more time.

I’ve used my homemade deodorant all summer. There have been times where I’ve been concerned that I smell a little more “natural” I would like. On a really hot day, I’d wash my pits midday and reapply. But I haven’t looked back. I haven’t changed. I don’t plan to.

I’ve been washing my face with honey. Although I use a combination of honey and coconut oil. My face is neither dry, nor oily, and my make-up is gone. Try it. Good stuff.

I’ve gained a bit of weight by paying less attention. Summer will do that to me. A re-commitment to health is in order.

And now I’ve posted to my blog. Something I hope to do a little more of, a little more often.

Crunchy Betty Honey Face Challenge

I don’t know why I’m doing this. But I am.

Crunchy Betty's Honey Challenge

I started on Tuesday… no, Monday. Started on Monday? I don’t know. I think I started yesterday. At any rate, I’m in. Just for the fun of it, why not? Generally I wash my face with plain old water. Some days I wash with honey, some I use an olive oil/salt scrub to exfoliate. But usually, just water.

I’ve used honey in my conditioner, on my hair as well. Honey is a fun thing. I like it on my face better than I like it in my tea.

One thing I would add to the directions of the honey challenge is to use a little water. If you just rub honey on your face you’re going to be pulling and stretching your delicate skin, daring it to start sagging on you prematurely (or more than it already is). So, put about 1-2tsp. of honey on your hand, turn the water on and add splash to your hands, THEN rub your hands together; massage onto face. Rinse. Pat dry. The water thins the honey making it slip. Better on the face, in my opinion. If this weren’t a honey-only challenge, you might want to get all fancy and thin your honey with some milk.

Milk and honey. Mmm. Doesn’t that sound good? Or even some cream? Divine.

 


			

Bread Maker Pizza Crust

#1 Happy Holidailies!

Once again, I’m blogging daily from December 6 to January 5. Live with it. They’re using a slightly different system this year and I hope I can get the hang of it before the end of the Holidailies run, but who is to say. I don’t think I like it already, but maybe it will grow on me.

OK so pizza crusts in the bread maker– or rather, momma hasn’t done much of meal-planning since Thanksgiving and she’s flying by the seat of her pants. That’s probably more appropriate.

Wednesday I made a quick run to Costco while Sal was at goalie practice, and I worked hard not to buy for the sake of buying, but to be thoughtful in what I needed. Of coarse, that means I needed to recall just what it was I needed. Need, need, need. Noodle bowls. Ham. Shredded cheddar cheese… gum, sour cream, Sobe. I didn’t so much need the peeled baby carrots, come to find. But I picked up a HUGE bag anyway (sigh). I’ve been spreadsheeting it out to see what really IS a deal and what IS NOT a deal at Costco. So far it looks like I’m getting decent deals. Just don’t buy the vinegar there. Not a deal.

As I was walking the isles, I decided that I would be making pizzas. The huge bag of shredded mozzarella was calling me to make some pizzas and possibly a casserole. In the cart it went (I did end up making crockpot lasagna and I WILL post the recipe this week).

Back to the pizzas. Now that wrestling season has started (and winter soccer trainings, indoor soccer leagues), life has swung back into crazy gear again. The plus is that Frank coaches and all 3 younger boys are in wrestling at the same time. The not-so-plus is that Dante is just finishing up wrestling (for high-school, they use the same mats as the youth wrestlers), and needs to come home just as Frank is arriving with the boys for their mat time. That means I have to go pick up Dante. Before the youth wrestling started, I’d have dinner ready to go when Dante got home (ravished), and we’d all sit down to eat. Now that we’re on different schedules, it isn’t so easy. It’s only 2 days a week, though, that that happens, so I can’t complain.

Basically what I’m saying is, even though all the boys are occupied, it isn’t a real down-and-dirty “work time” for me because I’m running around in between cooking dinner. Last week on one of those days, I thought I’d be all Ms. Smarty Prepared and start a pizza crust in the breadmaker before I left, come home and start up some pizzas. That would have all been find and dandy had I not set the bread to “Quick Bake” instead of the “Dough” setting.

I didn’t actually realize that was the problem, not right away. I thought that maybe there was simply something wrong with my bread maker. I mean, it is a little bit on the older side. But I had made calzone dough in it not too long ago, so I couldn’t figure what went wrong and why my bread maker was so warm. The kids munched on the “bread” and said it was good (they were just hungry). I turned into Maniac Mom, panicking, stressing, hyper-cooking. Refusing to change directions. We were having pizza if it killed me. And it nearly did.

I worked on mixing up a dough that didn’t need to rise or be beaten, thinking that at least they could start on that, and if nothing else worked, their bellies would be satisfied. But, in tandem, I also put another batch of dough in the machine. Well, that’s not true. I intended to put a batch in, while the kids hovered, squawked and asked questions that my brain had to work to answer. Everyone asking me questions and getting in my way makes my head start to sputter and blow smoke. The distractions caused me to add the ingredients to the machine in a fashion that would have rendered yeast-less dough. I had to toss that batch.

Next attempt went fine, although I realized I screwed up the other no rise/beat dough, adding double the yeast. At this point I was about ready to glug down some spiked eggnog and go lay in a snowbank somewhere. Forget dinner.

The first pizza to arrive on the table was the no-knead. Pepperoni and banana peppers. No picture.

Second pizza was another no-knead (still waiting on the bread machine to finish its job). Italian sausage and banana peppers.

Third pizza was with the “regular” knead-and-rise dough, though I didn’t quite let it rise all the way because we were hungry and I was sick of playing pizza-maker. I used half the dough on 1 pizza and the rest I put in the fridge.

They were all OK, but I prefer the knead-and-rise dough. Frank liked the sausage and pepper one, but got horrid heartburn from it. Sal liked everything. They must have all liked the pizzas enough because what they didn’t eat for dinner, they ate the next day. Every time I make homemade pizzas I wonder why I don’t do it more often. Story of my life.

I made a breakfast pizza with the remaining dough. It was also a hit.

Again, Bowzer wondered when he would get his.

Don’t judge us because we don’t take our dog to the groomers. All the boys have long hair at some point.