Friday, January 19, 2018

Caring And Cooking


There is someone who could use a meal because of a surgery or illness, or a job loss, or a new baby, or a new house, or....  Good or bad, the reason why doesn't matter. They need a little help in the kitchen. Something home cooked that says "someone cares enough to take time to cook food and bring it to me." 

I like to cook. I decide I'll help out. I start thinking about a menu. This is the part where it's easy to get stuck. I can't think of a menu. I don't have time to make an entire meal. I wonder about what foods they like. Or, don't like. And that's where I sometimes stop. Sometimes it's easier to make excuses than to make spaghetti. I want it to be so perfect that I end up doing nothing. There is a whole lot of "I" in this train of thought and not so much thinking about the one in need.

DO NOT let that happen. What about the "someone cares" part? The caring is as important as the actual food. Take a casserole. Take a salad. Take a dessert. Take hot dogs, for goodness! Sloppy Joes are a good meal if there are kids in the house. Just act on your good intentions. (You realize I'm talking to myself here.)

I just delivered supper to a friend. I called and promised to bring supper before I decided what I would take. Maybe that works best. I think if I'd tried to plan before I called her, I might have never made the call. I made a slow cooker meal that we like and it made plenty for me to divide—supper for them, supper for us. I knew I should have added something green, but I delivered just the beef stew, bread and dessert. And I managed not to apologize for not bringing a green vegetable or a salad. 

These recipes were easy for me. And the slow cooker worked with my schedule this time. But you likely have your own easy recipes. And there are plenty of simple recipes with fewer ingredients here on my blog. It's a good idea to have a couple of meals—or dishes—that are your standard "comfort meals." Your go-to menus. That will make it easier to offer a meal. If you take single dish, you can think of it as a "meal starter." It still shows you care. These meals don't need to be gourmet and are not cooked to impress. It's the caring that counts.

Here is what I took yesterday. Do you have a "go to" comfort meal or dish that you typically take? I'd love to get new ideas. If you look on the recipe index here, you'll see ideas under the MENU heading for Care Package Meals. There are a few ideas there of foods I've taken before. To be honest, I had forgotten about that list. On my own blog. 

Let's make this year a "year of kindness." Goodness knows the world needs it. So you don't cook? There are plenty of ways to show kindness—send a card, write a thank you note, smile at people, run an errand for someone, donate to a food bank. There are so many ways to be kind. Do the one that speaks to you. 

SLOW COOKER BEEF STEW

This time I used 3 lbs of beef and added an extra potato to make a little more stew and cooked it in a 5-qt. slow cooker. You can serve a bowl of this hearty stew or spoon it over rice. It's good both ways.

SLOW COOKER BEEF STEW

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 to 2 lb. beef stew meat
2 tablespoons cooking oil (or more as needed)
2 medium potatoes, peeled & cut into chunks
2 or 3 carrots, peeled & cut into chunks 
1 onion, peeled & cut into chunks
2 teaspoons instant beef bouillon granules
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram or basil, crushed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
2-1/2 cups V-8 juice

Place flour in a plastic bag. Add meat cubes and shake until meat is coated with flour. In a Dutch oven brown half of meat in 1 tablespoon of oil, turning to brown on all sides. Brown remaining meat in remaining oil. Drain off any excess oil.

In a 3-1/2 to 4 quart Crockpot, layer potatoes, carrots and onion. Add meat. Add all seasoning. Pour vegetable juice over all.

Cover and cook on LOW for 10-12 hours (or on HIGH for 5-6 hours) until meat and vegetables are tender.  Discard bay leaf.


SOURDOUGH BREAD

was baking bread anyway and it was nice to share it. This is easy for me because I've made a zillion loaves of this bread and don't need to look at the recipe anymore. But a pan of Sister Shubert rolls from the grocery store freezer would have been just as good. The Parker House Style is our favorite. 

If you'd like to try this sourdough bread, you'll find the recipe HERE.

CARAMEL CAKE

This is the easiest cake I know of. (Both recipes say "quick." They really are.) Use your favorite frosting, or top it with fresh fruit. This time I couldn't resist caramel. I used the pans I had here...one round for us, and one oblong with a lid that was easy to transport. I do my best to only use dishes and pans that don't need to be returned.

QUICK & EASY CAKE

2 cups self-rising flour 

1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Beat until well mixed.  This can be baked in layers or 13x9x2 pan. (Greased and floured, of course; or use baking spray.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown and top springs back when lightly touched. 

QUICK CARAMEL FROSTING

2/3 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
1/3 cup milk
3 cups powdered sugar (sifted)

In a saucepan over low heat add butter--melt. Add brown sugar--stir and cook for 2 minutes. Add milk--stir and cook while you bring it to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat and let it cool for 10 minutes. Slowly add powdered sugar while stirring--keep stirring until thick enough to use as frosting.

(I used a wire whisk to add in the powdered sugar until it got thick and then I switched to a heavy spoon.  This frosting hardens, so ice your cake quickly.)







Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Snow Day Soup Day


What a difference a day makes! When I drove home from Atlanta yesterday, it was 50 degrees with the sun shining as I zipped up the highway. But the meteorologists said snow was coming. Most of the time when they say the word "snow," it is accompanied by words like "slight possibility" and "slim chance" and "if all the conditions are right." We don't get snow very often.

But this morning, those conditions were right and beautiful snow fell for hours. I imagine most of it will be gone tomorrow. By the weekend, it warms up and we'll only need to put on a sweater to go outside. So you can understand why snow is a cause for celebration for most of us. It lasts just long enough for a few pretty pictures. There might also be a little sledding and maybe a snowman if you have kids. And then it's gone.


Yes, they do clear the major roads, but here in the country, we just wait for it to melt. The cows, on the other hand, do not wait. Daddy-O headed out on the orange tractor this morning as the snow was beginning to accumulate and fed them. They were happy to see him this morning. Looks like we ended up with about 2 inches. That's a significant snow for us. Who knows how long before we will see another one.


When he got back in from chores, Daddy-O asked several times, "Is it time to make snow ice cream yet?" Not all snows will work for ice cream, but this one was perfect. So before lunch was ready, he brought in a huge bowl of clean snow and I stirred up the ice cream, the same way my mother did it when we were little.


There really are no hard and fast measurements here, but this is a good starting point. Today, we even made a second bowl using condensed milk and vanilla. (Skip the sugar here.) Yes, we had a snow ice cream tasting. But both of us like this old-fashioned version best. 

SNOW ICE CREAM

1 large can chilled* evaporated milk
about 1/3-1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)
about 1 tablespoon vanilla
my largest mixing bowl full of CLEAN snow

When snow is predicted, put the can of milk in the refrigerator so you'll be ready. Stir the sugar into the milk until the sugar dissolves completely. Take your time and make sure you don't feel any sugar granules. Stir in vanilla. Taste and adjust to suit you. Then spoon the snow into the milk mixture and stir. Keep adding snow until it "looks like ice cream." It will be soft, so eat it immediately. 

*The milk is chilled so it doesn't melt the snow.



Now while I was stirring up a bowl of snow and milk, I also had a pot of soup going right behind me. For once, we had our dessert (before it melted) before we had our lunch. An upside-down-day as the little granddaughters might say!

The soup is written for an Instant Pot, but you could easily do it in a slow cooker or on the stovetop, too. (You might need a little more water for stovetop cooking, since some liquid will evaporate.) It was a quick and easy soup. In the Instant Pot, using frozen corn and frozen chicken breasts, it took 45 minutes from beginning to end, Not exactly an "instant' but still a very quick way to make lunch. And once the ingredients were in the pot and the lid was closed, I didn't have to look at it, stir it or touch it in any fashion until it was done. THAT'S what makes the Instant Pot useful.


CHICKEN TACO SOUP (Instant Pot) 
        ...recipe from SlapDashMom.com (check her site for other good recipes)

1 small onion, chopped
1 (15-oz) can seasoned black beans, drained
1 (15-oz) can light red kidney beans, drained
1 (8-oz) can tomato sauce
10-oz bag frozen corn
2 (10-oz) cans Rotel tomatoes (I used Mild)
1 packet taco seasoning (I used mild, low-sodium)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup water

Place all ingredients into pot. Put lid on, close and set vent to "seal." Use manual button and set to 8 minutes. Let   "natural release" for 10 minutes. Then release remaining pressure. Remove chicken and shred with two forks. Add shredded chicken back into soup. Serve. 

[If you are doing Weight Watchers, this soup is ZERO points 
on the new Freestyle plan,according to SlapDashMom.]


Last week I bought a bag of individually wrapped chicken breasts on sale and had popped them in the freezer. I used two of those small breasts for this soup. And I put them into the pot FROZEN. No other changes to the recipe. I'm sure it took longer to come to pressure, but that's the only difference. The cooking time remains teh same. From closing the lid to serving the soup took about 45 minutes. It took 25 minutes to come to pressure. Another time I'll try it with fresh chicken and see how much faster that time it.

Okay, I'm going back to watch this last round of snow falling this afternoon. It could be years before we see it again.




Friday, January 12, 2018

The Color Of Mimi's Eyes


Every grandchild has a special place in a grandmother's heart. Each one in a very individual way. This blog was started because I was the full-time "baby keeper" when Little Sister was born. She and I spent hours, days, weeks and months together. That baby wasn't much of a conversationalist in those early days and she mostly napped. Writing gave me something creative to do in those long hours of silence.

I also spent a lot of time as babysitter to Big Sister when she was a preschooler. At that point, we lived close together. For a few years, we had a standing weekly date while Mommy went to choir practice and we developed a routine of things that were "ours."


But my time with Baby Girl has been different. She was born half a continent away. I could fly out to visit and fly home, but the distance limited the face-to-face time. Thankfully they moved closer soon after her first birthday. But they are still in a different state. I can drive down now, but it's too far to see her on a regular basis like I did with the other two. From time to time, I have wondered what her "grandmother memories" will be. I do babysit for her when I can. Sometimes I see her every couple of weeks. Other times it can be a couple of months between visits. There are always photos to be shared, but it's not the same.


When I'm there, she loves for me to read to her. I think I read at least 25 books to her on Sunday and Monday of this week. She is quite attentive when I read, studying me and the pictures in the book. She's quick to correct me if I skip a word or read it wrong. She has quite the personality. Funny. Loving. Imaginative. Extremely observant. (As in she misses NOTHING.) And maybe because I don't see her as often, I see big changes when I do visit. Why does the third child grow up so fast?


What does she know about me? She knows I can mend broken things. She brings me things to sew—pajamas with holes, damaged toys, superhero capes, princess dresses. She knows that I can play music and she is happy to play and sing with me. She knows I like to knit and is often my helper if I've brought knitting along. She know that she gets a little jelly with her peanut butter if I'm making her sandwich. A treat she gets only when Mimi is there. (I promise, Mommy, I couldn't possibly spread it any thinner!)


After reading to her on Monday, I wanted to finish a book that I had brought with me. She handed me another picture book to read to her and I told her I only had a couple of pages left in my book and I'd be happy to read her book when I finished mine. She climbed up in the chair beside me and patiently stood at my shoulder, watching me read my last page. Then she asked, "Mimi, how are you reading when I don't hear you saying the words?" Pretty good question for a 3-1/2 year old child.

I delight in listening to her never-ending questions. Sometimes she teaches me. Just before I left on Tuesday, she announced, "Mimi, I am a granddaughter. Girls are granddaughters." As we ate breakfast, I added, "And you are my buddy, too." "No, Mimi. Boys are buddies. And pals. Girls are daughters and granddaughters. Only boys can be a buddy or a pal."


I got this text message from her mommy the day after I got home. Choosing cup and bowl colors is part of the meal time ritual. Read what she told her mommy. (She chose the green bowl.) Now tell me if that doesn't make a grandmother's heart swell. I'm pretty sure we've never talked about my eyes. But she noticed. I love that she knows "the color of Mimi's eyes."


So far, I am the end of the line for my eye color in this family. But maybe one day, Baby Girl will look at her child or grandchild and tell him or her, "You have green eyes—the color of Mimi's eyes."







Thursday, January 4, 2018

Hot Soup For Cold Days


I hadn't planned to write another blog post this week. But it was 20 degrees here this morning. Which was warmer than yesterday. It's been crazy cold here for days now. So you might need another soup recipe. I made this for lunch on Tuesday, the day the last family loaded the car and headed home.

It's quick to make. It's tasty. Our doesn't-eat-red-meat daughter could have a bowl of this. And because Little Sister said she didn't want soup, I could save a little cooked chicken to make a sandwich for her. One recipe that worked for all of us.

I don't use condensed canned soups much anymore, but figuring out a work-around for the soup would have taken more thinking that I could manage as we rounded up toys, washed the last load of laundry, hunted for caps and gloves, and gave a million hugs—because "we won't see you tomorrow." It was those convenient canned soups that made this so easy. I did choose the Healthy Request version of these soups that are lower in sodium.

Unlike all the white chicken chilis I've eaten that are broth based, this one is thick and creamy. There's a block of cheese in there! It's a stick-to-the-ribs kind of soup, perfect for these frigid days. And the "chili" flavor comes only from the green chilies, so it's not overly spicy. And I still didn't add as much chilies as the recipe calls for. So son-in -law piled the extras on top of his soup. That made a much better photo! And for him, a better bowl of soup.


I'm giving you the recipe just as it was given to me, and then I'll tell you what small adjustments I made. It's the kind of recipe that you can tinker around with to make it work with what you like or what you have on hand. (For the record, the first time I had this soup was when my friend Susie brought it here when I had pneumonia several years ago. I'll always think of this as a comfort meal.)

WHITE CHICKEN CHILI

3 to 4 chicken breasts, with skin & bones
salt & pepper
1 onion, chopped
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil (for sautéing)
1 small can diced green chilies with juice (I used about half the can)
1 (8-oz) block of Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded
2 cans condensed cream of celery soup 
2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup
2 cans white Northern beans or navy beans, drained & rinsed

Boil chicken breast with skin and bones, salt and pepper until falling apart. Discard skin and bones, shred chicken with fork, set aside and save broth.

In a separate large pot, saute onion and minced garlic in olive oil. To this pot, add the shredded chicken, and all remaining ingredients.

Stir everything together and add in chicken broth until you reach the right thickness. Simmer to let flavors mix.


My store only had boneless, skinless breasts the day I shopped. So I cooked those in water with some seasoned salt and shredded as per the recipe. Then I added a 32-oz box and a 14-oz can of low-sodium chicken broth instead of the broth from the cooked chicken. That was probably even easier. 

I ate leftover soup yesterday and think it might have been better than the first time. I also put a couple of quarts in the freezer for later. Fingers crossed that it thaws well. I cannot imagine why it wouldn't. 

I was lucky enough to have Corny Cornbread left from our peas and collards meal the night before. It's also an easy recipe if you need to make some on soup making day. It's perfect with this soup.

Stay warm, folks! There are still cold days ahead.








Tuesday, January 2, 2018

One Year Ends - Another Year Begins


Nine dozen eggs. Or maybe it was 10. Five pounds of butter. About 20 pounds of apples. (We had fried apples, apples dumplings, apples in oatmeal, apple crumble, but mostly we just ate apples. "No peels on mine, Mimi. Remember?") Several gallons of milk. Multiple loaves of bread. Eight boxes of Kleenex. Six boxes of Advil Cold & Flu/Tylenol Cold & Sinus. Countless pots of coffee and cups of tea. (Thankfully people headed home feeling better than when they got here.)

I wish I had counted how many times the dishwasher ran each day and how many times a day the kitchen trash can was emptied. It took a lot to get us through the holidays.


At the height of the holiday there were nine in residence here. Plus, one very big dog. Then a few departed one by one until we were down to six. That family stayed on to celebrate New Year's Eve and a birthday. This afternoon, the last four of our Christmas visitors headed home. Our kitchen is decorated with drawings left "so you won't forget me, Mimi." There are notes still stuck on the bedroom door declaring, "YES: Mimi, Daddy-O, Little Sister." "NO: Baby Girl." Since Baby Girl can't read yet, that didn't accomplish much.

The bedtime books (Underpants For Ants and Pete the Cat: I Love White Shoes) are still stacked by my bed where we ended each day. We would all get in bed...me in the middle and one little girl snuggled on either side and I would read the bedtime story. That was possibly the best time of my day. Because it meant I could go to bed after a long day and MOSTLY because I love reading to them.


Over the past two weeks we had little girl dance concerts in the music room at night. Huge jigsaw puzzles were assembled in record time on the dining room table. Mommy sang a solo at church on Christmas Eve. Santa found the farm and brought gifts for the girls. Christmas Day clay shooting happened again. Folks rode down to the river in the old blue Jeep and found a beaver dam on the creek. Down in the pasture, the little girls and Mommy explored the red barn that used to be a house. There were inside days when it was too cold for outside play. That's when the puppets and the plastic figurines had great adventures. Football games were watched and teams successfully cheered on.

Every dinner ended with "What was your good thing of the day?" It was fun to hear what was each person's favorite thing. Now, before you think everything was perfect, there were little girl tears more than once. Mimi got tired and cranky. (More than once.) But overall it was a good and wonderful family time.


We had our share of minor holiday mishaps that made for some laughs. The big dog took his job of guarding the stash of Christmas gifts a little too seriously and almost didn't let "Santa" get to them. ("Santa" was not the owner of the big dog.) That episode will be talked about for years. We miscalculated cooking times couple of times and had some very late dinners. That made them even more delicious. I underestimated how many hot dogs people would eat one night and they just had to stop when the wieners were gone. They filled up on apple crumble and ice cream instead.


Some major cooking successes included the New Year's Day pork tenderloin and collards and the prune cake baked by my son-in-law. The birthday chocolate pound cake was pretty yummy, too. There was also an excellent standing rib roast on Christmas night and this morning, for their last breakfast, I made a delicious pan of crispy hash browns with leftover baked potatoes. So many meals. I'm sure I've forgotten other good ones.


Tonight floor is clear. There is no castle tent in our den. No little feet running from one end of our long house to the other end, shouting as they go. The quiet is deafening. The kitchen is closed for the next few days. Daddy-O and I will eat whatever is left over. And it will be eaten on paper plates.

We are taking the night off after a busy two weeks. As Daddy-O said today, as the last car pulled out of the driveway, quoting Clark Griswold from the movie National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, "We did it!."




Thursday, December 28, 2017

After Christmas

Slow Cooker Caramel Apple Crumble

Another Christmas has come and gone. It was a good one. We've had a house full of family since before Christmas. A good part of them will be here until "next year" as Little Sister tells me daily. I'm not sure she has grasped that's only a few days away.

I barely made any photos over the holidays, but rest assured that we had fun. Cookie baking, rock painting, jigsaw puzzles, lots of eating. And lots of sniffling. This could be called the "cold" Christmas since 50% of the crowd here had awful colds. And it was also 24 degrees when we woke up this morning. It's not getting much warmer for the next several days.

Cooking for nine is so different than my normal cooking for the two of us. Last night our crowd was down to seven and I just did a quick hot dog supper. Except I underestimated how many hot dogs we needed. It was a good thing I had made a dessert! It was the only dessert I've made during the entire holiday season. There seemed to be enough sweets coming into the house from other places, so I scratched the extra baking off my list.


This slow cooker recipe was sent to me several weeks ago by my knitting friend Paula. She hosts several knitting retreats around the country. I've been lucky enough to attend a few of these. And I've learned much from her excellent Knitting Pipeline podcast. If you're a knitter, check it out. 


This dessert was quick to put together, using ingredients I had on hand. And then for about five hours (4 hours cooking, 1 hour resting) I could ignore it all while I did other things in the kitchen. Unattended cooking is a lifesaver on busy days. While I cooked and cooked, the daughters took over the undecorating chores. Yay!


SLOW COOKER  CARAMEL APPLE CRUMBLE

For the apples:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
5 large apples, peeled and cut into chunks
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

For the topping:
2/3 cup oats (I used old fashioned kind)
2/3 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3-4 T softened butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. In a mixing bowl. combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, apples, salt, and cinnamon. Spread onto bottom of slow cooker. (I sprayed bottom of cooker with PAM)
  2. Mix topping ingredients until they come together. Sprinkle over top of apples.
  3. Cook on low for 4 hours, or high for 2 hours.
  4. Turn off heat and let sit, covered, for one hour to let the caramel thicken.

Paula's Note: I cut down the sugar so the sauce was not caramelized but still delicious. I think you have to use all the sugar to get the caramel. I also did not peel the apples. I washed them thoroughly and left the peels on.

Don’t forget the vanilla ice cream!


You see that Paula said she cut down on the sugar amount and the sauce didn't caramelize. I used the full amount and my sauce didn't thicken up either. But we had not one bite left! So don't worry about the sauce part. I did wonder if I uncovered it during the hour of resting time, the sauce might be a little thicker. Hmmm... I might just have to make it again soon to find out. (Isn't that a great excuse for dessert again soon?)

Now, we went a little Christmas crazy and added a scoop of peppermint candy ice cream to ours. (There was also vanilla ice cream here for the traditionalists.) My girls—the grownup ones—said they might like to spoon the apples over the ice cream next time, instead of the other way around. I would eat it either way!

There's a Daddy-O under there somewhere!






Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Deep Breaths



I don't know where you are in your holiday preparations, but I might be a little behind. I got home last night from several days of babysitting. Driving home, my mind was full of "what needs to be done" thoughts. When I looked at the early morning sky today, it was a reminder to take a deep breath and admire nature's beauty.

Yes, I still have a list to deal with—menu planning, grocery shopping, last minute gifts to find, music to practice, beds to get ready. And there is the "fun" to-do list—movies to watch, cookies to bake, maybe cinnamon rolls to be made, holiday lights to see. My helper elf, Jecca, is here to help, thank goodness.

Again I tell myself...I'll do what I can, not worry about what doesn't get done, and enjoy the family who will be here soon to spend Christmas at the farm.

And having said that, I'd better get dressed and tackle at least part of that list!