Problem Solved

I’m going. I’m going to do it. I don’t feel 100% better, though, so I hope it isn’t a huge mistake. But I figure if I feel icky here I’m going to feel icky there. Right? Sort of. Something like that. I don’t know. I’m packed and ready. I want to go. I’d rather not sit home and feel sick. I think. Gah.

Yesterday I decided to whip up a Pumpkin Dump Cake to take along. I don’t really like going to someones house like that empty-handed. As much as I enjoyed that cake, I figured the girls (there I go again) would, too. I also figured it would be budget-friendly since I had the ingredients on hand. Or so I thought.

I brought out my bowl and mixed up my pumpkin and spices. Oh, golly, gee. There’s that call for condensed milk again. The first time I made it I ran down to the pantry (I say “pantry” but really it’s just some steel shelving in our garage that we load up canned goods on) to grab a can of the milk. I knew I had one, if not two. I sure did. And they both expired back in 1845. Goodness. Trash those. I had just been to the store, and really didn’t feel like going again. I searched the ‘net for viable alternatives, but none of them pleased me. So I made my own. I used regular milk. There ya go. I had contemplated coconut milk, but decided that was straying too far from the path.

Well yesterday I couldn’t remember what I used in place of the condensed milk. Sour cream? What? What did I use? I didn’t want to mess it up, and, since Frank was on a run to pick up a pizza (Groupon deal, large for $6), I called my mommy to see if she had a spare can. She sure did. Mommy to the rescue. Called Frank, who had to circle back, to pick up the can.

Problem solved.

I melted my butter in the microwave, and went to grab my yellow cake mix. Hmm. I did have one, didn’t I? Not in the cupboard. Not below… so.. yeah. No. I didn’t have one. So much of making a recipe with stuff I already had.

Called mommy. Again. She didn’t even try not to laugh at me, and because she’s the queen of having extra baking supplies on hand, she sent my husband home with that, too.

Problem solved. Or so I thought.

Frank gets home, I finish off my mix, add the wet stuff to the pan, add the cake mix, pat-pat-pat it down, and put it in the oven; set the timer for 45min.

Half an hour later, Carlito goes to warm his spaghetti in the microwave and says, “What is this?”

“What’s what?” I called from my perch on the couch.

“This yellow stuff, grouse, in the microwave. I can throw it out”

Yellow stuff? MY BUTTER!!! “Nooooooooooooooooo!!”

I forgot my butter, dagnabbit. You can’t complete a recipe without butter. I contemplated throwing myself down the stairs, or hightailing it in to the kitchen to view the disaster that was awaiting me. Begrudgingly I took the butter from my son’s hands, and opened the oven. It looked OK. It smelled fantastic. Here goes nothing.

Butter poured, back in the oven for 10 more minutes. The end verdict is that it looks fine. I’m apprehensive because I made it in a throw-away pan, which I haven’t done before, and I let it sit in the oven longer than it should have. We shall see. It’s still coming with me on the trip.

Using Up Leftover Kidney Beans

A few recent expenses and a desire to get rid of debt has led me back on the path of increasing my time spent meal-planning and finding cheap (but healthy) meals for the family.  It is not easy to feed 4 hungry boys, let me tell you.  Earlier this week I shopped my pantry and found a big bag of dried kidney beans. I  soaked overnight and threw them in the crockpot the next morning before work, planning a dinner of beans and cilantro rice.  I was a bit skeptical over how it would be received, to be honest. No meat, and just beans. And rice, of coarse.

After the beans cooked on low for a good 9 hours, I finished them for 1 more hour on high, then transferred the majority over to a skillet where I heated them with some canola oil, garlic, pepper and and onion. After they were a bit mashed and bruised-looking, they were ready. We ate them with heaping plates of warm tortilla chips, shredded cheese, sour cream and cilantro rice. Yum.

However, a few days later I was at a loss over what to do with the remaining beans.  I had already made chili recently, and having more beans and rice probably wouldn’t cut it.  Instead I put the beans (about 4 cups or so worth) into the bottom of my cast iron pot.  I added about 1 tablespoon of minced garlic, 1/2 cup of water, and a package of Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning mix while heating it  a bit on the stovetop, then added 1 package of beef sausages on top*, lidded it and put it in a 350 degree oven for 2 hours.

We went to pick up the kids at the mall and run a few errands, and by the time we got home the house smelled delicious. The sausages were plump and tasty, the beans were delicious. We had baked potatoes on the side (made earlier in the crockpot). I love it. Tonight, with all the running around we did, could have very easily spent $30-plus a night of pizza, burgers or take-out because of poor planning. But a little bit of thinking had me using up some beans I would have possibly tossed out, and putting a meal on the table for much less than one that was store bought.

*These were Usinger’s beef dogs purchased from Costco. They come 12 to a pack, divided into 2 packs of 6. Because they were large, I cut them in halves to make 12 servings. I do this quite often because, for some reason, eating 2 halves rather than 1 sausage makes it seem like you’re eating more. It’s much easier for me to give some of the boys 1/2 a sausage and then give them seconds, rather than start with the whole thing. This isn’t necessary for all of my children, but there’s a couple that prefer quantity over quality.

Italian Sausage Soup – AKA “Olive Garden® Zuppa Toscana Soup”

Tonight I made Lootie’s favorite soup: Italian Sausage Soup. He requests it on his birthday, and on other random days. It is a simple, tasty comfort foot that I don’t mind making at all. I can nearly make it in my sleep. Since I was grocery shopping, I picked up the ingredients, except for the broth, since I had that at home, and a crusty loaf of Italian bread – the perfect compliment.

As I cooked the sausage and sliced the potatoes, adding it all the the pot with little bit of salt and red pepper flakes, I had a moment of panic. Is that IT?! Was it really this simple? Am I forgetting something?

I ran into the computer room to search my site for the recipe and found it: Olive Garden® Zuppa Toscana Soup. It was in the archives from 2004. The recipe (a photo) was missing. Tragedy. This is a VERY yummy soup. I must repost it.

This is a homemade version of the Olive Garden® Zuppa Toscana/potato and sausage soup. And honestly, it’s actually better and super-dee-duper easy.

Here’s the exact recipe I have written down, with my subs in parentheses:

Serves 2 [my subs serve 7]

2 3/4 c. Chicken broth [2 large containers of chicken stock]
1/4 c. heavy cream [I don’t use nearly this much — I use 1/4 cup for my increased version and that’s plenty]
1 med. russet potato [3-4 red potatoes]
2 c. chopped kale [no measure, about 5 handfuls, whatever will fit to fill the pot]
1/2# spicy sausage [5 sausages, cooked and cut into medallions]
1/4 tsp. salt [to taste, I don’t measure]

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes [about 1/2-1tsp. depending on your taste]
1c. shredded Parmesan, if desired

Prepare the sausage by placing in skillet with 1/2 cup water. Cook on medium for 10 minutes, then uncover, turn and cook for 10 more minutes. Cut into medallions. If you use bulk sausage, brown it and break it up into chunks.

1.) Heat stock in large pot over medium heat
2.) Slice unpeeled potatoes; add to soup
3.) Add cooked sausage to soup
4.) Add salt, pepper, cream; stir
5.) Add kale; stir

Simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Garnish with some shredded Parmesan and serve with a nice hunk of bread. This soup is wonderful the next day and freezes well.

Weekend Wrap-Up (Pancakes)

It is still, technically Monday. Not too late for a weekend wrap-up.

We did a lot this weekend. Friday night we went out with my brother, Frank’s cousin and a couple friends. It was a long night, but a nice time. We covered lots of ground, had plenty of fun, and finished the night off at a favorite Mexican restaurant with a delicious platter of shared food.

Saturday I woke up and made pancakes. Mmm. Later, we bummed around and then stopped at an anniversary celebration (parents of a boy on Dante’s soccer team). Got to catch up a bit with folks we don’t always see. Then it was home to watch some television with the family.

The next day we went to an impromptu soccer tournament, local festival where we played BINGO and the kids played some cheap games to win cheap toys. Oh, and I made waffles Sunday morning (they didn’t turn out so well).

Nice weekend. But back to the pancake-making. My mom’s been making buttermilk pancakes for the boys for lunch the past few weeks on occasion. She’d watch them (actually, she’d entertain them) for a few hours while I went in to work, and they would delight in some of her “famous,”  “best-ever” pancakes. I’ve been requested to make them at home, but keep forgetting to get the recipe. So I had to improvise. A try at it last week left me with some not-so-good ‘cakes. But this recipe for Buttermilk Pancakes was a keeper (not only is it a keeper, but it introduced me to Google’s Knol, which is pretty darn cool).

My favorite eggs.

What happens when you get too cocky…

What happens when you pay attention… (this is Lootie’s batch, he has a syrup-love)

For Franny and Dante, who love chocolate chips.

It was a yummy recipe, with great instructions (read the instructions, if you like making pancakes… I like his way of mixing in 1/2 of the dry to wet, and then mixing in the rest of the dry). I tried using it for waffles and it was a bummer; didn’t work. But that’s OK. It makes delicious pancakes. Will have to make a point of getting my mother’s Famous, Best-Ever Buttermilk Pancakes recipe to compare.


GIVEAWAY – Good-As-Money

I have 2 coupons to give away, courtesy of Eggland’s Best Eggs (they sent me some for me and some to share).

(1) for a  Free carton of Eggland’s Best Eggs
(2)  50¢ off coupons for Eggland’s Best Eggs

Simply leave a comment here telling me what you’d use the eggs in and I’ll pick a random winner on Friday. Make sure you use an email address I can contact you with. 🙂 Yup, that’s it. You don’t have to follow me, you don’t have to blog about it. Just leave a comment so I have a way to contact you.

Painting The Kitchen Cabinets

For years I’ve been wanting to paint the kitchen cabinets. My mother warned me about it, saying it was too big of a job (for me, or just in general… not sure). Too much work, and that she likes the our “beautiful wooden cabinets.”

Well I don’t. I also don’t like the hideous worn-down paprika colored countertop. But that’s a whole ‘nother issue. That will be tackled in the near future.

I’ve been working up the nerve (aka “energy”) to just get started on the project. Either I’m compulsive and start something without thinking OR I over-think it and never start.

As summer break neared, my desire to make a dent in the project grew greater, and before I knew it I had a paintbrush in hand. With a well-timed stumble onto this page: How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets: For Imperfectionist, I was on my way. It was the gentle nudge, this compulsive imperfectionist needed to jump into things. I knew my painting would not be perfect, and that my kitchen is nothing beyond being a simple-as-they-come canvas. But I desperately needs a change, and paint is one of the simplest, cheapest ways to change the look of a room.

I started priming; 2 coats. Frank came home after I was well into the priming and had no desire to paint the kitchen (or do anything aesthetically to the house at all — <em>ever</em>), but he did pitch in and start on the upper cabinets, as well as finish up some of the lower ones that I abandoned by evening.

We are now closer to <em>finishing</em> the priming than starting it, and I need to firm up on my color choice. I know for sure the upper cabinets (or “cabs” as the trend is to call them) will be white. I am a liker of white in the kitchen. But I’ve been contemplating some color on the bottom. Right now I’m tending to favor an olive green for the bottoms, with darker handles). Our walls are a darker shade of eggshell, and the floor is a mock-marble(ish) linoleum.

Decisions, decisions.