Saturday, February 13, 2016

Happy Valentine's Day!

Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies

I spent most of the week at Mommy's, helping with the children while J-Daddy was away on a trip. As I've said before, I usually cannot manage blogging and baby sitting at the same time. I normally don't even take my computer with me. I need to keep focused on the busy little people in front of me. So here is just a peek at our week.


The first morning I woke up at their house, there were a few snow flakes falling. Now, if you do not live in the deep South, you don't understand what a few flakes of snow do to us. This amount of snow was enough to call off evening activities at schools and churches. And it certainly was a reason for Mommy to make hot chocolate and bake cookies as a snowy day treat.

There was a short clip on the local news this week of an elementary school here that let the kids go outside to see the snowflakes falling. Big Sister said her high school English teacher stopped class long enough for the students to all go look out the windows for a few minutes. Yes. Snow causes Southerns to go a little crazy.


One thing on the Mimi to-do list this week was to help Little Sister make a Valentine box for her preschool party. I remember making boxes like this when I was in school. So I covered a shoe box in red paper and gave Little Sister an assortment of stickers and paper doilies and let her decorate it. She made "patter-rines" (patterns) of hearts and lips. She stopped when she ran out of stickers.

It's a good thing I did not know that now Valentine boxes have become a big deal now. (Check out "Valentine boxes" on Pineterest.)  Call me old fashioned, but I think the 5-year-old should be the designer/maker of the box. Which means it's going to be pretty simple. At least at age 5, she wasn't concerned that her box wasn't as fancy as some of the others.


We didn't use the cute paper doilies that I had purchased for the Valentine box project, but they made a perfect addition to the cookies bags. Just right to share with friends.


Here is the recipe that Mommy used for her snowy day cookies.

MILK CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

11-1/2 ounces milk chocolate chips
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups unsifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
sea salt

Heat oven to 375ºF.
Stir flour with baking soda and salt; set aside.
In large mixing bowl, mix butter with sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until creamy and lightened in color.
Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time. Mix on low speed until mixed completely.
Gradually blend dry mixture into creamed mixture. Stir in chocolate chips (and nuts, if using.)
Drop by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Sprinkle tops lightly with sea salt.
Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown.


 My little Valentines

Happy Valentine’s Day!



Monday, February 8, 2016

What Do You Do On A Sunday?

 

I'm curious, so I'll ask. Are there places like this where you live? Meat and vegetables every day of the week. Meals like my mother might have cooked—except more choices. I like to cook, but there are days (like yesterday) when that just doesn't happen. And it's wonderful that we have this little place as my "other kitchen." It is in the country, not far from the interstate. You might not stop and eat at this unimpressive little concrete block restaurant sitting in the middle-of-nowhere if you didn't know anything about it. But there are plenty of us who DO know about it. It's the kind of place where a Mercedes parks beside a pickup truck, where the business man is in line behind the construction worker.


This is the middle of the food line. I couldn't get in all the salads and the meats and the desserts. It's the hardest thing ever not to taste it all. I love it because I can eat things like beets that I don't often cook at home because Daddy-O doesn't care for them. And Daddy-O can have turnip greens—which is not my favorite vegetable.


And after lunch I headed to a knitting class. (For you knitters, it was a quick class in stranded knitting so that we can make that Baa-ble hat.) It was timed to exactly fit between church and the Super Bowl. How much fun on a Sunday afternoon. Cookies, coffee, good company, and knitting. That's my idea of a good time.

We live so far out in the country that I forget how much goes on all the time in the city. As I drove into the city to the yarn shop, I went through the circus traffic at the big arena. And a Broadway show was happening at the nearby performing arts center.  I also read about a couple of concerts, the museums exhibits and a history lecture that were going on yesterday. If you live in a city where everything is so accessible, how do you decide what to do?


It wasn't hard to choose what we would do on Sunday night. I knew we would watch the Super Bowl and I knew I wasn't going to cook, but we wanted Super Bowl appropriate food. So on Saturday, I pulled the last quart of chili and beans out of the freezer. There is a reason I always make a double (and sometimes a triple) recipe. It freezes beautifully. How great it is to pull really good food out of the freezer, thaw it, then heat and eat. We have cold weather coming this week. It might be a good time to make more.

DAMN GOOD CHILI

2 lbs. extra lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 8-oz. can water
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (I used the refrigerated jarred kind)
1 teaspoon salt
1 16-oz. can light red kidney beans, drained & rinsed
*1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
Brown meat, onion and green pepper in large skillet. Put into large Dutch oven or stockpot. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer for 2-3 hours. 

*I add a single 15-oz. can of diced tomatoes to the recipe whether I'm making a single, double or triple batch. The original recipe didn't call for this but I thought it needed to look "redder." Other than that, I never stray from the original recipe.


Interesting fact—this recipe came from a 1977 ad for Presto pressure cookers. (Yes, that "bad word" was in the original name of the recipe.) I found it in the booklet that came with my first pressure cooker and I've been making it ever since. I also won 1st prize with this recipe at our church contest in 2012. 




Friday, February 5, 2016

Knitting For The Wee Ones

 Pattern: Pinwheel Baby Blanket by Genia Planck
Yarn: Berroco Comfort in Angel Blue
Needles: size 8, DPNs & 40-in circular

One more blanket done. (Squeezed in between zipping up and down the highway and watching the movie crew in our yard.) Even finished it the day after this baby boy was born. Sometimes it's months later before I finish. This sweet pattern works up quickly (as blankets go.) I was delighted to find that Berroco had added this new shade of blue to their line. Not too light. Not too dark. It's just the perfect blue for a baby boy—now that folks hardly use the true baby pastels anymore. I should get this blanket delivered this week.


The pattern only gives the basics for knitting the circular blanket. Any edging is left up to the knitter. I "borrowed" this seed stitch border with an i-cord bind off from Missy in Tennessee. And according to her notes, she "borrowed" it from Paula in Illinois. That is one of the joys of the Ravelry community. So much information is put there, free for the rest of us to see and use. It surely makes knitting easier to have help. Help that is scattered across the country!

If you are choosing a pattern and need something to be made quickly, compare yardage of the patterns—not skeins of yarn. Not all skeins have the same yardage. This pinwheel blanket uses just under 600 yards of worsted yarn. The Sunny baby blanket that I have made several times takes about 800 yards of worsted yarn. That's 200 more yards of knitting when I make the Sunny blanket. I like both patterns. But the difference in knitting time is something to keep in mind.

 PATTERNS
 Bottom Left: Cosset by Jenny Raymond 
Top Left: Cabled Baby Hat & Mittens Set by Paulina Chin
Top Right: Baby Hat with Top Knot-Teagan by Julie Taylor
Bottom Right: Kid's Fruit Cap (knitted plain) by Ann Norling

If you need a baby gift in a hurry, make a hat! Most newborn baby hats take around 100 yards. And hats make adorable baby gifts, too. I love it when people send me photos of newborns wearing the hats I've knitted. 

Just be honest about your knitting time when you choose a pattern for a baby gift. Whether it's a blanket that takes weeks or a hat that takes a few hours, there is nothing like knitting something special for a new baby.




Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Cranberry Nut Coffee Cake

Cranberry Nut Coffee Cake

Before I was married (so, over 36 years ago) I needed a dessert for the ladies circle meeting. Remember those church circle meetings? Those ladies were all coming to my tiny apartment for the first time. I was just out of college and even though I had a degree in home economics, I didn't have that much practical experience. I needed something I could make quickly after work that was delicious. And foolproof.


I turned to my trusted little Bisquick cookbook (printed in 1971.) It's full of good easy recipes. I've made the Banana Muffs from this book a gazillion times. It's in the recipe index here on the blog. But unlike the banana muffins I've made over and over, until last night I had baked this coffee cake only once for that circle meeting. Still, I never forgot the recipe.


Last night I baked the coffee cake for our dessert. Fingers crossed it was as good as I remembered! Before I got into the kitchen after supper, Daddy-O had cut his second piece. I asked if it was good. He mumbled with his mouth full of cake, "Ummmm....good." And it was. Try serving it warm, with a cup of coffee.

CRANBERRY NUT COFFEE CAKE

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups Bisquick baking mix
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
2/3 cup milk or water
2/3 cup whole cranberry sauce
Confectioners' Sugar Icing

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix brown sugar, nuts and cinnamon and set aside.
Combine Bisquick, sugar, egg and milk. Beat vigorously for 1/2 minute. (I used a wire whisk.)
Spread batter in a greased 9x9-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with the nut mixture. Spoon cranberry sauce over the top. (It will not completely cover the top.)
Bake 20-25 minutes. While still warm, drizzle Confectioners' Sugar Icing over the top of cake.

Confectioners' Sugar Icing: Blend 1 cup confectioners' sugar (that's also called powdered sugar,) 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and about 1 tablespoon water. Add more water, a few drops at a time, if needed, until you reach desired consistency.





Monday, February 1, 2016

Keeping Up With Technology

 Winter sunrise at the farm

Did you give up on me? I left here about as quickly as the movie crew last week and headed south (or it that west?) to baby sit again. The toddler stage isn't easy under the best of circumstances, but when a little one is sick, it's harder. I was there for several days to let Mommy get some much needed sleep. It wasn't enough, I know, but I hope it helped.

When I got back home this weekend, I had a stack of boxes waiting on me. New DVR receivers for our house. (Didn't have a DVR for a long time, but then I realized how nice it is to never miss an episode of Downton Abby!) All sent to us as a "loyalty" gift. It's nice to have the latest models, but it also meant that I had to hook everything up. The days of "plug it in and turn it on" are long gone. There was lots of programming and codes and verifying. I understood none of it, but I AM good at following instructions.

Bless the young man who was on the phone with me for over an hour. I had the first part hooked up when I called to activate it. We got through that process and I asked if I needed to call back with the other two receivers. He said, "Why don't you hook them up now and I'll stay on the phone with you." I asked him wouldn't that take forever. And he told me, "Well, if I'm not on the phone with you, I'll be on the phone with someone else." 

He even hung on when I accidentally hit the mute button. I was holding the phone on my shoulder while I was connecting cords and did not know I had muted the phone. I thought HE had left. When I finally realized what I had done, he was still there. He told me that they are supposed to disconnect a call after three minutes of no response, "But I told you I would stay on the phone until you got everything done and I figured something had happened and you'd be back." Best customer service I've had in ages.

After all that? Tonight I just want to read a book. No screen. No remote. No cords. No batteries. I just want to turn pages in a book.

 



Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Did I Dream All Of That?

 Pot Roast

Those who know me have heard me say more than once that we have so little traffic here, that we watch the cars that pass by for entertainment. "I see a car coming. Wonder who that is?" Well, for the last two days we have been WELL entertained. On Sunday afternoon there was a knock on our door. A nice looking young man said, "We are making a movie and wondered if we could park some cars on the road here." 

After figuring out that wasn't a joke, Daddy-O said, "Sure." And by the time we woke up the next morning, there was a work site set up just in front of our house. They really were making a movie. A real movie. And the North Carolina location got so much snow last weekend that they had to find another spot. Fast. It was the final two days of filming.

And they landed in our front yard. (Most of the filming was in the woods that adjoin us.) So for two days, I looked and watched and gawked as there was constant coming and going. They had about 100 in their crew. At one point we counted over 30 vehicles parked up and down our road. There was the craft wagon (craft services provide the food—yes, I did walk over and get a cup of coffee) and lots of equipment trucks. Lights. Sound. Screens. And so many people.

Of course, I made photos, but agreed not to share them until the movie comes out. (Trust me. I have nothing very exciting, except proof that there was lots of "stuff" in front of our house.) We did get to see the stars. And watch one of them being "thrown" off a vehicle in front of a green screen over and over and over. Now, we'll have to wait until the movie comes out (maybe 9-12 months later) to see how it looks when all the parts are put together.

But with all the commotion going on, I did manage to cook a pot roast. (It was a perfect oven recipe that cooked for hours unattended.) And then they invited us to eat lunch with the crew both days. I must admit that their catered lunch was possibly better than my own cooking. It certainly was more variety than we would have had here at home.

Last night we heard them shout, "It's a wrap!" just as the sun was setting. And less than two hours later, the plot of land right in front of us looked like nothing had ever happened. They packed, loaded and left as quickly as they came. After everything calmed down, we ate the roast I cooked the day before.

POT ROAST

3-6 lb chuck roast (I used sirloin tip this time)
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 carrots, cut up
2 celery stalks, cut up
1 medium onion, cup up   
1 cup beef broth

1 cup chicken broth 
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup red wine (optional)
salt/pepper to taste
 
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. In a French/Dutch oven heat the oil on med-high heat for 5 minutes and brown each side of the roast, 2-3 minutes on each side, adding some salt and pepper on each side.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, celery, and carrots. Saute for about 8 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the roast. Return the roast to the pot and add the beef and chicken broths. Add enough water to make the chuck roast submerged halfway, about 1/2 cup. Place the lid on the Dutch oven and put it in the oven (middle rack) and roast on 300 degrees for about three hours.

After an hour and a half, flip the roast. At the two-hour mark, check it for doneness. You should be able to easily tear it apart with a fork. Because the meat is cooking in liquid, you can cook it as long as you’d like without fear of it drying out – in fact, the longer the better (although anything longer than four hours is probably too long). 

Remove the roast from the broth. Strain the vegetables (they will be mushy now) and save the liquid (should be about 1-1/2 cups). Pour the liquid back into the Dutch oven and turn the heat up to med/high. Reduce the liquid to about one cup, which will take about 5 minutes. Next, add the red wine and further reduce the liquid to about 1 cup, which should take another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Once the sauce is ready, return the roast to the broth. Slice or pull apart. Serve the roast with the sauce spooned over the top.


I received a Le Crueset Dutch oven as a Christmas gift and I've been looking for ways to use it. So far I've made soup, meat sauce and this roast. I love that the Dutch oven can be used both on top of the stove and in the oven.  But without that Dutch oven, I could have done this in two steps—brown the meat, add the vegetables, and then the broth to de-glaze the pan. Then put all of that in an oven safe covered dish and continue on.




Saturday, January 23, 2016

Winter Day Cooking

Yesterday while I was busy looking out the window all day to see if it was snowing, the "pageviews" counter for this blog rolled past 100,000. Thanks to all of you who visit here and keep me company.


I'll be honest. If there had been a jar of marinara sauce on the pantry shelf, or down in the basement (my emergency food stash) I would have used it. I always have marinara sauce on hand. Except this time I didn't. But the ground beef in the refrigerator needed to be used. And I had plenty of time to cook since the weather was keeping everyone indoors.


It started as freezing rain, then came the sleet and that was topped off by a fine layer of snow. Daddy-O had to feed the cows. He even went back in the afternoon and gave them an extra bale. But other than his tractor, I didn't see one vehicle on our road. (You readers in Minnesota and Colorado, don't laugh. This really is enough to shut us down.)

I took liberties with this recipe to use what I had on hand. No trip to the store in this weather.  Recipes like this one (I think of it as a "starter" recipe) can be adjusted to suit your taste. More seasoning. Less seasoning. Add something different—maybe diced green peppers or celery or a bay leaf or two. More garlic. Less sugar. Red wine instead of water. The possibilities are endless.


But this is exactly how I did it on a cold miserable day. And I was happy with the results. It's on the mild side, but I decided that was a good thing last night. I'll make this one again. Love that it uses ingredients that I usually have in my pantry.

HOMEMADE MEAT SAUCE

1-1/2 lb lean ground beef
1/2 medium onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 tsp from a jar)
1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6-oz) cans tomato paste
1 (15-oz) can tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a Dutch oven or large pot, brown ground beef, onion and garlic until all pink in the meat is gone. Drain if necessary. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce and water. Add sugar, basil, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and mix well. Reduce heat to LOW, cover and simmer 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.