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Archive for May, 2010

Happy Memorial Day Cooking

May 31st, 2010 at 01:22 pm

Ah, itís Memorial Day - the unofficial kickoff to summer. People hope to fire up their grills and cook out and eat those foods they associate with summer.

If you have been watching the television ads, many show a staple of cook outs and that is baked beans. I know the grocery store ads had a well known brand on sale. And one brand even has a special grilling brand of them.

A few years ago I ran across a recipe for wonderful baked beans. It really isnít that much cheaper to make them if you get the others on sale, but they have a better flavor and are worth the trouble. However, if the items in this list are already in your pantry, it might be more economical. I let mine bake uncovered until the sides start to caramelize and boy, are they delicious! They really arenít a lot of work, just take a little planning, and you have homemade baked beans.

Baked Beans

Ĺ lb of dried navy beans Ė picked over and soaked overnight in water to cover and then drained
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 slice of bacon, chopped
1 cup of ketchup
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large stalk of celery, chopped
Ĺ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup of yellow mustard
1 teaspoon of black pepper

Drain the beans and then put in a pan with plenty of water and cook until beans are tender, for about an hour. Drain the beans, but reserve the cooking liquid.

Preheat the oven to 350.
Heat the olive oil in a pan or large ovenproof pot or Dutch oven. When oil is hot, add the bacon, onions, and celery and pepper. When onions and celery are translucent, add the ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar and stir together. Turn off heat and add beans, stirring carefully. Add the cooking liquid until the mixture is a little bit soupy Ė otherwise it will dry out when you bake it. You will have to basically eye ball how much liquid you will need.

Bake in the oven proof pot or Dutch oven uncovered for almost two hours or until it starts to caramelize at the sides. If it has dried out during the baking, stir in more cooking liquid to keep it moist.

If you havenít made your own before you might think this is hard, but other than the initial chopping and cooking the onion and celery and keeping an eye on it when it is baking, it really isnít difficult and it is flavorful. Iím sure you could experiment with different types of mustards or even onions and if you like some heat, could add cayenne pepper instead of black pepper. Anyway you try it, you can make it your own.

Besides, wouldn't it be nice to impress your friends and family and say you made it yourself?

Salt and Pepper

May 30th, 2010 at 06:04 pm

I certainly have more than I use. Do you? What, you query? Iím talking salt and pepper shakers.

This came to mind as I filled up the old clear glass ones that look like tall, but small mugs. They are probably a collectible. I like them because they are easy to handle, easy to fill, and easy to keep clean. I have about 4 other sets and I donít use them. One set is really old and matches my Blue Willow dishes. I donít like the way the salt or pepper comes out. So, they sit in the hutch. I have another set that look like little Blue Willow coffee pots. I donít use them because they are a pain to refill and they donít hold very much. I have yet another set I bought my mom years ago at Carson Pirie Scott that looks like crystal. I thought they were the prettiest things I had ever seen. I was too young to realize they arenít the kind of things you set out when you are using plastic plates and plastic placemats and paper cups. Dumb me! We weren't fancy and these puppies are!

My mom and dad used to have a furniture store and then an antique shop and they bought and sold a bunch of things through the years. One of the things that was incredibly popular were salt and pepper collections. I remember ladies who had hundreds of them holed up in a China cabinet. The bobbers were kind of cool Ė they set in a base and you could take your finger and touch it, and they would bob up and down. I remember a lot of birds as bobbers. There were all sorts of things as salt and peppers, as they would call them. Iíve seen one that has the outline of Illinois for one and Lincoln as the other. Iím sure all states had something like that. Iíve seen plastic shakers, glass, China, metal, even cast iron shakers. I used to have one that was a Cherished teddie riding a polar bear. I used it until it was so chipped, I was ashamed to put it out. It was cute, but not really functional. Maybe collections are like that.

As much as I like to collect things, having a salt and pepper collection wasnít anything I was really coveting. But like most collections, everyone has their own likes and dislikes. Now days, I just want to add a little pepper to my eggs and Iím happy with a clear glass pepper shaker. Guess Iím not into the spice of life!

Memorial/Decoration Day Weekend

May 29th, 2010 at 08:36 pm

Decoration Day? My mom said Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day because it was expected that one would go to the cemeteries and place flowers for loved ones. Most of the time veterans would also have flags at their gravestones as well. Yesterday we put flowers on graves. One cemetery had many flowers on other graves, while the other cemetery had a few. I have a couple of theories on thatÖone is that many of the people who are buried in the second one may not have any living relatives left or they donít live in town. Plus, around here, I think very few people under the age of 50 actually decorate the graves. I was discussing it with my husband and some friends and we think that our generation of baby boomers may be the last generation to take flowers on Memorial Day. I hope we are wrong. I know the deceased arenít waiting on us, but I think itís a good way to remember our loved ones and our soldiers and stop and take a breath in our lives of always being so busy.

We went to the grocery store today and two veterans were selling poppies. I remember seeing a lot more of this going on in the past. Again, I wonder if the greatest generationís demise is causing this loss.

As you celebrate this weekend which has become commercial as any other holiday Ė the ads are proclaiming Memorial Day sales, please take a moment to remember the soldiers who gave their time and their lives and the family and friends who went before you. That is better than any sale or any ad.

Gadgets Galore

May 28th, 2010 at 01:37 pm

Men have their gadgets. Iíll grant you, thatís a generalization, but many men really like gadgets. Well, I think women do too, but we call them different things and often rationalize our desire to own and collect them. I guess we feel we have to.

I am happiest if we are out and about, looking at kitchen stuff. This week we perused Kohlís on Wednesday because my husband could have gotten the seniorís discount. So, I happily made my way to house wares to fiddle with the pots, pans, appliances and gaspÖgadgets! Just for the record, we didnít buy a thing. But, I had a frenzy of looking and comparing!

My own kitchen probably has too many gadgets. I have 4 Crockpotsģ. Yes, they are Rival so they are truly Crockpotsģ.. And they are all different sizes. I use them for different things. My largest is usually used for a pot roast with lots of vegetables and potatoes so I can make 2-3 meals. My next largest holds a whole chicken with a few vegetables, again enough for a couple of meals. The second to the smallest is great for beef stew, chicken broth, or ribs. The smallest is fabulous for meatloaf, small pieces of chicken, or vegetable broth when I have a few vegetables on hand and canít use them for anything else. I donít use one of the tiny ones for dips Ė I guess if I entertained a lot it would come in handy, but at this point, I donít need it. Up until yesterday, I had 5 Crockpotsģ.. I took one away Ė it was a weird story, but I bought one at a garage sale and wound up being gifted with another one. I used to have one at school so my total did ring up to six at one time. I gave that one away. I figured, why not share the joy!

Up until a few months ago I owned a bread machine until it wore out. I have a coffee maker, a microwave, a tabletop grill, a food processor, a mixer, and a countertop oven. I also have a blender and bright shiny toaster. My husband gave me that toaster for Christmas a few years ago because he watched me covet it at the store. Some women like shiny jewels; I like shiny gadgets.

Now comes the rationalizationÖI feel I use most of these items frequently. The blender is probably the least used. The coffee maker is definitely employed the most. The counter top oven is large enough for a casserole dish so I utilize it when the days are hot and steamy so I donít heat up the house. I operate my mixer for my bread making as well as cakes and other things that need to be mixed or kneaded. The food processor handles lots of shredding and chopping that makes my life a little easier. Why buy frozen hash browns when I can use the fresh potatoes that are in my pantry? I can then chop some onions and put them in the hash brownsÖyum! Plus, I like zucchini cakesÖrun a zucchini or two in the food processor, mix with egg and bread crumbs and sautť Ö well, you get the picture.

As for my herd of Crockpotsģ. Öwell, I use them. A lot. Diamonds may be a girlís best friend, but I think a slow cooker is mine. Last night I made chicken broth. Quite a bit of it, in fact, so that I could cook some fresh green beans in it for supper tonight. The extra I will freeze for use down the line whether to use for soups, more green beans, and casserolesÖthe list goes on. I try to watch how much salt we use and my broth does not have added salt or preservatives. I put ribs in my slow cooker for tonight. Itís nice to use when the temps are hot so it doesnít heat up the kitchen.

So, I have gadgets galore. Hopefully I wonít have to attend a meeting for my gadget addiction. If I do, maybe Iíll whip up some snacks beforehand!

Bountifully Blessed

May 27th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Iíve been reading many blogs on this site and so many talk about groceries and personal items they get for free or next to nothing. And then thereís that delightful sentence that says that they will be donating extra to their local food pantry. Iím going to state right now that I think it is wonderful. Although this site is about saving money, there is the element of ďIím going to share my bounty.Ē

We have 3 full time food pantries in my city and I believe they are all busy on any given day. We have some churches that also give out food over and above this. One church, each Monday, gives a box of food that usually contains some meat of some sort whether it is a whole chicken or a couple of cans of tuna, some vegetables, and whatever else they have on hand.

If youíve been following my blog, you know that I do have a slight hoarding problem. I tend to overstock my pantry. I believe it comes from growing up with parents who grew up in the Depression and talked about not having enough to eat so they overstocked their pantry. I grew up with that fear ingrained into me.

Normally we donate money to our favorite food pantry because they can buy food for so much a pound. Iím not telling you that to brag. I feel that we have been very blessed and we should share what we can.

However, that being said, I wanted to go a step further, especially after reading the newsletter we received from the above mentioned pantry. It said they are giving out at least 100 food boxes a day. Our community probably has around 75,000 to 80,000 people if you include the small towns around and 100 people need food a day. I donít think the pantry is giving to the same 100 people Ė I think they have stipulations of how many times you can get food in a given month because of the need. Imagine, 100 boxes are given at this one pantry. The need is so great.

I work in a high poverty school which is very close to this food pantry. I have seen the faces of the hungry children who often depend on the free breakfast and lunch that the school provides. I would think that some of these families are getting these food boxes. At least if they need them, I hope they are doing so.

In America we should not have so many people in need. I know the economy has really hit so many hard. Here in my city, we usually have a higher unemployment rate because we went from having some major factories that were good paying jobs to just a couple. These were jobs that had decent salaries and decent benefits. We have plenty of fast food restaurants and two Wal-Marts Ė granted they give employment, but not big wages and benefits.

Anyway, Iíve decided to glean from my overstocked pantry some items to drop off today at the food pantry. Iím sure someone can use the soups and pasta and crackers. And I will rejoice that I have indeed been over blessed with my bounty.

Turn, turn, turn over????

May 26th, 2010 at 02:24 pm

Years back, the Byrds had a popular song called, ďTurn, turn, turn.Ē It talked about having a season for everything:
The chorus:
ďTo everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven.Ē

For those of you familiar with the Old Testament of the Bible, the lyrics come from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. Now, Iím not going to be doing a sermon here.

However, I am going to say the song should have had a line about a time to rest and a time to go. I can write this because I did get some restÖI slept over 8 hours last night. It was rest I truly needed. And Iím not apologizing for it!

Why is it society has made resting something for which we are ashamed? I believe in working hard. The Protestant work ethic was drilled into me at a young age by my father. He grew up in the depression and he always worried about losing his job as an adult. He said you should go to work earlier than they expect you to and do more than what they asked.

But when did we get so confused about resting? Or sleeping for that matter? I hear people bragging how they were up very late and got up very early like it was a medal of honor. With some of the folks I know they think it is ridiculous to get 8 hours of sleepÖthey have too much other stuff to do or so they say. If anyone talks about going to bed early they get a look like ďGosh, you are a lazy bum.Ē

I know others who think they have to work 12 hour days. Not because they work for a company that requires it, but because they like talking about it. They complain nonstop about doing it, yet they do it again and again. They donít have a time clock to punch, but I truly think they get some pleasure out of ďcomplainingĒ about working so many hours. Are they truly getting that much more done? I read an article last week that said folks who work 12 hour days consistently arenít as alert and are harming their health by not getting enough rest.

I know if I donít get enough sleep, Iím not at my peak. My body tells me by not being alert and then as the day goes on, my joints ache. I see some of my on the go friends constantly struggling with colds or other illnesses because they arenít taking care of themselves. A good sleep heals the body and mind.

I know there are folks who donít need 8 hours of sleep. But for those of us who do, we need for society to quit brow beating us about this and making us think we are lazy. We arenít. We are doing what our bodies need. We need to quit feeling ashamed of it.

So, Iím adding to the song:

A time to rest and a time to go
A time to play and a time to sleep
A time to work and a time to think
A time to be and a time just for me.

That said, I think maybe itís time for a nap!

Is it a girl thing?

May 25th, 2010 at 11:31 pm

This may be a girl thing. But then again, maybe not. I imagine some men are the same way.

What am I talking about? Iím writing about the concept of ďFood is Love.Ē I really enjoy treating my husband to a meal I know he will like. I get the same pleasure of doing the same for my friends. My baking banana bread is also to give away. I like doing it because people seem to like getting it. When I baked bread with some students at my school, they loved the experience and really loved eating the bread. It was a nice time all around.

A lot of the time when I would bake bread at school in bread machines, people would stop by my room just for a sniff. With that whiff came a recollection of someone baking in their lives and they shared it. And it was a good memory that brought some joy to their faces. Again, ďfood is loveĒ rang true.

So, maybe itís the maternal part of me that loves to cook and share, or maybe itís just a vital part that likes to love on someone with some edibles. I think men may have the same feeling so I donít want to say itís only a girl thing.

But it is, wouldnít you agree, a good thing?


May 25th, 2010 at 01:39 am

Today was the second last day of school. I took some of the banana bread I baked and gave out to the principal and secretary and couple of others. It's one thing that most folks seem to appreciate.

I'm a little down because I received some news that although not unexpected, still wasn't what I wanted to hear. It's funny how we always want our way, isn't it? I'm sure it will work out OK, but I guess our selfish selves like having it our way. I won't be throwing a tantrum -- it's way too hot -- 91 today with lots of humidity. But, I think I can have a bit of a pity party.

I fixed pork chops, mashed potatoes, sauteed okra, sliced tomatoes, and fruit and sliced the Irish soda bread for supper tonight. It wasn't a bad meal.

My husband went with me to pack up a lot of my stuff tonight since I have to move. It's amazing what you accrue with a short time.

Hopefully I'll be in a better mood tomorrow.

Let them eat bread...

May 23rd, 2010 at 06:04 pm

Bread seems to be a big deal at my house. More so than cake or cookies anyway, although they arenít total strangers.

And, Iím always on the lookout for new bread recipes. I think I found a good one. I baked it last night and after it cooled a bit; our dessert was a slice of warm bread with some butter. It was delicious. My eyes lit up when I thought about how I can possibly change the recipe to make it a little differently with herbs and spices. Although I have no problem baking with yeast, sometimes itís nice not to have to wait for the rising, and this bread uses baking powder and baking soda. It has a different texture and flavor of regular white bread, and it is rich with the butter. I imagine the cold butter put in the dough makes it pop in the oven when baking. Anyway, hereís the recipe:

Irish Soda Bread
4 cups all purpose flour
ľ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup buttermilk

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Combine eggs, butter and buttermilk, stir into flour mixture until moistened.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface; gently knead 5-6 times.
Divide dough in half. Shape each portion into a round loaf. Place 6 inches apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.
Yield: 2 loaves

Banana Fanana

May 22nd, 2010 at 01:50 pm

Some say itís the perfect fruit. It comes ready to eat, has its own carrying ďcaseĒ, contains potassium, is naturally sweet, and is easy eat because you just peel. It is, of course, a banana!

For years I tried to get my husband to eat bananas. I like them, and they are easy to pack in lunches. They were my fruit of choice when I had braces because they were soft and unlike apples, I didnít have to cut them up Ė I was told not to bite into an apple with braces. Husband refused telling me he didnít like them.

So, being the sneaky wife that I am, I started cutting them up into the fruit salad I would make. Then, one day, I ran out. He asked me, ďWhereís my nany?Ē

Besides winning him over in the fruit salad, he had been reading of the health benefits of bananas. And he decided he liked them. Hmmm. So much so that he keeps watch over the fruit bowl on the counter and if we get low, heíll volunteer to get some bananas.

Bananas donít go to waste in this house either. Some ripen more quickly than others, or so it seems, so every so often we have overripe bananas. The perfect solution in my book is to make banana bread. And apparently many agree because people never turn down a loaf of banana bread. One friend of mine always tells me she likes it because she has a ďcarb deficiencyĒ that the banana bread seems to fill. One gal I work with said I should open up a shop and sell banana bread. Somehow I donít think Iím going to give up my day job to bake banana bread, but I do appreciate the compliments.

Hereís the recipe I use for banana bread:

Banana Bread

Preheat oven to 350 F

3 ripe bananas
2 eggs
1 cup packed light brown sugar
Ĺ cup vegetable oil
ĺ teaspoon ground cinnamon
ľ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ĺ teaspoon salt
1 ĺ cups all-purpose flour
Ĺ cup sour cream or plain yogurt
ĺ cup chopped walnut pieces (optional)

Lightly grease 6x9 inch loaf pan with vegetable oil or butter

Peel the bananas, place in a small mixing bowlÖmash

In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, oil, and sour cream and whisk until smooth

Add the cinnamon, baking soda, vanilla extract, salt, mashed bananas, and walnuts to the egg mixture and whisk to combine

Add the flour and stir until just combined Ė donít over mix.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake until golden brown and it has risenÖabout an hour and 10 minutes.