Thursday, April 27, 2017

Easy Supper - Sloppy Joes


While we had the little girls for the weekend, I tried to cook things that I knew they liked. Sloppy Joes are a favorite and it's also easy to make. I got this ready early on Friday morning before they arrived. This recipe has been a family favorite for many years.

If you have a Manwich phobia, this doesn't take like that. Try it. Make it to feed your family, to feed the church youth group, to fill the freezer. One friend of Mommy's told me that this was her favorite meal to take to a new mother. She got the recipe from Mommy a few years ago. She takes the Sloppy Joe mixture, buns, chips, slaw or baked beans and a simple dessert. And she said that nearly every new mom had called to ask her for the recipe.


I've made it so many times that I never need to look up the recipe any more. It's so simple that you probably can remember it, too. It's just ground meat, ketchup and the four seasonings—a tablespoon of each.


To make this more fun for the little girls, I served this on slider rolls this time. Little food for little hands. And we were happy to have leftovers for our supper the day after they left. That's how I made these pictures. Needless to say, there were no food photos happening while they were here!

SLOPPY JOES

1-1/2 lbs ground beef or turkey (I've made it with a 1 lb pk, too.)
1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon yellow mustard

Brown meat and drain. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes. Spoon over toasted hamburger buns.




Tuesday, April 25, 2017

It's A Lovely Day


We had little visitors for the weekend. Mommy and J-Daddy dropped them off at the farm on Friday on their way to a wedding. (Big Sister spent the weekend with a friend.) Fortunately for us, Jessica had already planned to be here the same weekend. This was an all-hands-on-deck kind of weekend.


There had been plans to visit the Dr. Seuss exhibit at a nearby museum. But the little people had zero desire to leave the farm. They had two days of playing outside, riding everything with wheels. That included their little pink car, the big wheel, the scooter, and the red wagon. It also meant rides through the pasture in the big green John Deere tractor and the classic old blue Jeep. Things they don't get to do at home.

Remember that there were two little girls and three adults here for the weekend. Then how could we be so tired when the weekend was over? My days went something like this:

In the kitchen:
 I sit down.
"Mimi, I want a snack" "But you just finished dinner (or lunch or breakfast or another snack.)" "Pleeease! I'm hungry." "I'm starving."
I stand up and go to the kitchen and peel an apple.

I sit down.
SPLAT!!  The dinner plate hits the floor. "Mimi!"
I stand up and clean up the mess and make another plate.

I sit down to eat.
A fork hits the floor. "Mimi!"
I stand up and get another fork.

In the den:
I sit down.
"No! No! That's Mimi's knitting. You can't play with that."
I stand up and move the knitting to the mantle.

I sit down.
"Mimi, can I draw with this?"
I stand up and put the permanent marker on the mantle and find the washable markers.

I sit down.
...Silence...
I stand up and go see what's going on.

In the bedroom:
I get in the bed.
"Mimi, I need to go potty."
I get up and take care of that.

I get in the bed.
"Mimi, where's my bunny? I need my bunny."
I get up and find the bunny.

I get in the bed.
"Mimi, I spilled my water."
I get up and mop up the spill.

You get the idea. All of us were doing the same kind of thing. But with three grownups here, we did manage to keep the littles fed and entertained and safe.


After everyone had left, we talked about how the newly-turned-three Baby Girl sounded so grown up now. She looked up at her adored Aunt Jecca, who had taken her out to swing, and told her, "It's a lovely day." And Little Sister sneaked up behind me on Saturday and stuck this pink note on my shoulder. It truly was a lovely day and a wonderful weekend.

When the house was quiet, after all the cars were loaded, and the visitors headed down the road, we picked up the dollhouse with its million tiny pieces of furnishings, the plastic princesses, the farm set, the checker game, and the crayons and coloring books. We emptied the mantle which had filled up with confiscated items. We deflated and rolled up the air bed—which Little Sister prefers to a bed. Then we sat down. It might have been more like a collapse.

And then we thought this is what grandparenting is all about. There are many reasons grandparents are important. One of those important things is making memories. We usually think that we are making memories for the little ones. But every bit as important is that we are making memories for us. Memories that will be the springboard for those, "Remember that time...." conversations that Daddy-O and I will have later. Memories that will keep us company when we don't see these little girls for many weeks and we miss them terribly. Memories about that "lovely day"—the lovely weekend—we had with family.










Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Exploring The Instant Pot - Teriyaki Chicken


I promise I'm not going to bombard you with Instant Pot recipes because I know many (maybe most) of you don't have one. But this was really good and it's making me think that the Instant Pot is worth adding to my kitchen. Understand that I have plenty of storage space, so I don't have the issue of where to store it. That might be a real problem for some of you.

And if you are a fairly competent cook, you can make this recipe without an Instant Pot. You could mix the sauce, pour it over the chicken and put it in the oven. Or, it could be done in a regular pressure cooker. And I imagine it would be fine in a crockpot.

Using the Instant Pot did free me to prep the rest of the dinner. From the time I pushed the button to start the cooking process until the pressure released at the end, it was 21 minutes. Add about five minutes at the beginning to measure out the sauce ingredients and another five minutes at the end to thicken the sauce. So dinner was on the table in thirty minutes. For us, that is faster than any takeout food that we could have picked up.

Now, oven cooking and slow cookers also give you a "hands off" way to make dinner. You must do a little prep work, but the cooking itself with any of these methods does not require your attention. An hour in the oven, about eight hours in a slow cooker, or twenty minutes in a pressure cooker. Any of these will give you teriyaki chicken for dinner. Pick the cooking style that fits your day. It's nice to have choices.


Tonight it was the Instant Pot that worked with my schedule. I started cooking at 6:00 pm and we sat down to eat at 6:30. That's pretty quick. I am not ready to declare that the Instant Pot has "changed my life" (yes, there are people who say that) and I am not using it every day, but so far I'm glad I gave in and ordered one.

If you are cutting back on sugar in your diet, this recipe is not for you. But it was delicious. The food rule around our house is "all things in moderation." So this won't be a weekly meal, but I will make it again.

TERIYAKI CHICKEN (Instant Pot)

1 cup soy sauce
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1-2 lbs thawed chicken breasts

Combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, ketchup, ginger, and garlic in the Instant Pot. Add chicken and turn in sauce to coat. Close lid and set vent to pressure.
Set Instant Pot to Poultry setting and set time for 5-7 minutes. Let pressure release naturally.
Remove chicken from sauce and set aside. Stir in cornstarch to thicken sauce. (I turned on the "saute" function to do this.)
Slice chicken and add back into sauce.

Serve over rice, with plenty of sauce.


The chicken breasts I had were large, so I cooked for 7 minutes. Smaller ones or thinner ones might take the lesser time.





Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Bed Had Wheels


I just got home from official Mimi duty. (It's nice to be needed.) Baby Girl made a trip to the hospital on Monday morning. She told me, "I'm going to get my ears cracked." In adult speak, that's called getting ear tubes. Everything went smoothly and quickly. She was back at home by mid-afternoon, sleeping off her hard morning. By suppertime, she was wide awake.

I asked her to tell me about what happened. In between bounces and twirls and spins and tumbles, this newly-turned-three-year-old told me, "I went to the hospital." And again I asked her to tell me about it. "The bed had wheels!" "The nurse told me I had to be very patient."  She spread her fingers and put her hand over her nose. "They put a big thing on my face." Then she ran to the table beside her bed and pointed to the mask on her nebulizer. "It was like this. I think they gave me a breathing treatment." She ended with, "And I ate a popsicle." All in all, she had a good day.

Her mommy said that Baby Girl's nurse called a few other nurses into her room to see this happy little chatterbox. Most of the other little ones there that morning for the same procedure were not having such a positive experience. They could hear the unhappy contingent down the hall. No doubt about it. A happy toddler was the exception.

And while Mommy and J-Daddy were busy tending to the little patient, I was the chauffeur for the big sisters. There was a quick breakfast before school that morning. Little Sister asked for honey toast, her current favorite breakfast. And then on the way to school, she proceeded to tell me how to make it. "Mimi, you should try it. You could make this." So I thought I'd share her recipe with you.


Here's the recipe...in Little Sister's own words:

HONEY TOAST

bread
honey

First you toast your own bread.

Then you drizzle honey from side to side. You can drizzle it from front to back, too. But Mommy won't let me have that much honey.

And then you eat it. Enjoy!








Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Quick & Easy Cake


"What? It's MY turn to bring the dessert?" If that's ever happened to you—finding yourself in need of a quick dessert—here is an entirely reasonable option. The Publix bakery is good, but for me, this is even quicker that a trip to the store. (Oh, the joys of rural life.) And I do like a homemade cake best.

We have baked this cake for years. The recipe came from a cousin who has gone on the glory. It wouldn't surprise me if she's baking her cakes for the angels in heaven now. I have paired this cake with chocolate frosting and caramel icing and, like we did on Palm Sunday, topped it with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Strawberry shortcake is the perfect springtime dessert.

If you aren't in need of this recipe now, save it for later. It only takes a few minutes to mix together. There is no sifting the flour, no softening the butter, no creaming butter and sugar. None of that. Just dump everything in a large bowl and beat it with a hand mixer. And then it's ready to pour into a baking pan.

QUICK & EASY CAKE

2 cups self-rising flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup milk (I use whatever kind I have in the refrigerator)
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Beat until well mixed. (I use an electric hand mixer.) Pour into greased 9x13 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown.

It can also be baked in layers or used for cupcakes. Just adjust the baking time accordingly.



On occasion I cook a real Sunday dinner. 



Saturday, April 8, 2017

In The Company Of Extraordinary Women


For the third time, I'm back at home from the annual Knitting Pipeline Retreat in Georgia. Each one has been wonderful, but maybe because it WAS the third time, this retreat was truly special. It was different than that first year when I arrived not knowing a soul except for one person that I only "knew" through Ravelry messages. That first day was tinged with anxiety when I walked in alone. So many new faces.

This year I was late getting there because we celebrated Baby Girl's 3rd birthday that afternoon. But when I walked into the big gathering room last Sunday, it felt like I was coming home. In an instant, I was enveloped in hugs and shouted greetings and love. These are people I know now. Someone slipped a tiny gift into my hand. A "just because" gift. Another brought me "Mimi socks"—a treat from one Mimi to another. How good it made me feel to hear, "We're glad you finally got here!"

I've written before about the wide range of interests that these knitters have outside of the yarn world. And I'm always amazed that they gather from every corner of the country to spend a few days together in the middle-of-nowhere Georgia. One even comes from London each year to be there among this group of creative women.

But this year in particular, I felt that I was in the company of extraordinary women. Women who know so much about goodness and kindness and caring. They had much to teach me about generosity and being gracious. As I knitted, I took note of how they listened to each other and how they encouraged one another. At each mealtime—in defiance of the law of human nature—knitters looked for a seat at a different table, wanting to sit with different people. Wanting to make sure everyone was included in the conversation.

I have come home finding myself challenged to be a better me. To be more aware of those around me, to be kinder, to be more generous, to see who might need a hug or a whispered encouragement. To let someone gently know, "I see you. I know you are there." To be quicker to do good.

Possibly because this conference center is in a remote location where phone service is spotty, WIFI barely works and there is no television, friendships have grown deep here. I had a few minutes of conversation with the retreat organizer. She said there are two kinds of retreats—those that are organized around classes and learning new skills and those that are designed to let knitters be together, away from everyday activities. She chose to let her retreats to be the latter, to be occasions for building relationships.

And yet there is still plenty to be learned as you sit next to a knitter who knows a thing or two that you haven't tried yet. Or, you'll find someone sitting on the porch who has already encountered the problem you are having at the moment. The collective knowledge of the craft and the skills possessed by these women is enormous. But the magic of this retreat is in the relationships that have been created.

We now know the names of grandchildren. We know who left a sick cat at home. We know who takes care of elderly parents. We know the knitters traveling to Australia and Iceland and India this year and we look forward to seeing pictures on Instagram later. We know who will have a new baby in the family by this time next year. We know whose son will graduate this spring and whose son is getting married soon. These knitting friends may live several states away but each one is as close as a text message.

Yes. Of course, it's about the yarn and the knitting. That's what got us here. But, oh, it is so, so much more now. Thank you, Paula, for making this happen. And thank you, Missy, for sending me a message on Ravelry that first year, "This isn't far from you. You should come."



Now, I cannot end this post without mentioning this year's weather. It will be part of the retreat lore forever. We spent nearly an hour sheltering in a basement hallway on Monday while the tornado sirens were going off outside. It was just another place to knit and visit. And two days later, the second weather front passed through on the day the retreat ended. Several knitters ended up spending the night at the airport (the lucky ones got hotel rooms) when hundreds of flights were cancelled. Those driving home had some white knuckle moments as they carefully maneuvered through Atlanta highways in torrential rain and high winds as they headed to other states to the north, south and west.

Some of us left a little early hoping to get out of harm's way. It was hard to miss a minute of retreat visiting, but we were glad to be off the road when the worst hit. It was a relief when we learned every knitter finally made it safely to their next destination, whether that was home or another knitting retreat in different state.

Until next year, ladies! I'm already looking forward to it.






Friday, March 31, 2017

Breakfast In A Flash


I'm pretty good at keeping foods for dinner in the freezer. I don't make that much effort with breakfast foods. Breakfast is so quick and easy to make, that I normally don't bother. But Daddy-O likes a bigger breakfast than I do. Like bacon and eggs. Or, sausage biscuits. And those do take more time in the morning.

Last week while I was on my quest to restock the freezer, I added a couple of items that Daddy-O can grab in a hurry. He's on his own for a few days now while I'm at a knitting retreat. With a couple of breakfast options in the freezer, I know he won't be hungry in the mornings.

I baked applesauce muffins which I have made many times. They freeze well. I popped them into the freezer, two to a pint-size freezer ziplock bag. He can take out one pack for breakfast or a snack when he wants something. And because they are packed in "twos," he won't need to thaw out the others until he's ready.

And after applesauce muffins, I made "egg muffins." I made a version of these once with vegetable and remember Daddy-O saying, "These are good. But they'd be better if they had some meat in them." So this sausage/egg/cheese recipe sounded like what he wanted.


These can be eaten as is, or you can smash them flat and tuck into a toasted English muffin or a biscuit. Kind of like homemade fast food!

EGG "MUFFINS"

1 lb turkey sausage (I used pork sausage)
6 large eggs
1 cup egg whites (from 7 large eggs)
1/4 cup minced onion
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Brown sausage until no pink remains. Drain on paper towels. Spray muffin tins with PAM. Divide the cooked sausage, onion and cheeses between the 12 muffin cups.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, egg whites, and salt & pepper. Pour egg mixture over the sausage and cheese in each cup.

Bake 22-25 minutes, until set and lightly browned.

Remove from pan and serve warm. Or, let cook completely on a wire rack and refrigerate or freeze.

To reheat from refrigerated, microwave about 30 seconds. To reheat from frozen, microwave 45-60 seconds. (Microwave ovens vary, so figure out the time for yours.)


To freeze them, I placed the cooled muffins on a sheet of parchment paper on a baking pan. Freeze for 1-2 hours, and then wrap for freezer storage. You might want to set a timer to remind you to go back and bag them up. It's easy to forget.


I put them into packs of two and labeled with thawing instructions. Then after trying out the "thaw from frozen" directions, Daddy-O discovered that it took him about 75 seconds to thaw his.


And in the interest of full disclosure, this is what mine looked like coming out of the oven. There was some overflow. I just trimmed that off as I removed them from the cups and everything was good.




Second Life For Dresses



Back in another lifetime, I loved sewing beautiful lacy dresses for our two little girls. And they loved these dresses that twirled out wide when they would spin around and around. Many, many hours were invested in making sweet garments for my sweet little girls. So as you can imagine, when my girls outgrew the dresses about 30 years ago, I couldn't bare to part with them. They were carefully packed away.

Now I have two more little girls—our granddaughters—who love to twirl in pretty dresses. So this week I pulled out the dresses that I think might fit them now. And I got them ready to take with me when I head that way this weekend. (There is a birthday party for a certain 3 year old happening!)

You rarely see dresses like these any more, but this was the typical Sunday dress for little girls at our church back then. As I ironed for hours, I thought about why little girls don't wear these to church any more. And I think it's because I had to iron for hours. No one wants takes the time any more for that. It is a labor intensive process to iron miles of lace and ruffles. Moms are busy elsewhere.

I also wondered how I found the time to do this kind of sewing with young children in the house. No social media? No text messages? No smart phone with beeps and whistles that requires attention? No Pinterest boards to follow. No blogs to read? Or write? Maybe. Whatever the reason, life is different now. But I'm delighted that, at that point in my life, I had time to make these precious dresses. And even happier that I saved them for this generation.

It is likely that these dresses will only be worn one more time. My own little girls wore them to church every Sunday, but now the two that fit might be worn on Easter. And then we'll pack them away again. Who knows? Maybe there will be more little girls to wear these in years to come.


Of all the objects that we might want to save, textiles are particularly fragile. These dresses are made with batiste fabric that is as thin as tissue paper. And the threads in the lace are as delicate as butterfly eyelashes. So as I ironed, I found a few spots where the lace had simply given way to age. A basic whipped stitch with a single fine thread made a presentable repair.

If you have keepsake garments—like baby clothes, christening gowns, etc— that you want to keep for years, here are some steps you should take before storing them. Understand that these are not true conservation techniques. But these basic steps will help your stored clothing survive longer than they might otherwise.

Clean the garment before storage. Even oil from your hands can show up as yellow spots years later.  I hand wash these dresses in cold water, using a gentle detergent such as Delicare. Rinse in cold water and repeat until rinse water is clear. Do not wring out. Hang to dry. Do not iron until ready to wear it again.

Once a year, check garment for any discoloration. Wash again every year or two (or 4 or 5) to keep them fresh.

If storing in a drawer or box, wrap in acid-free tissue paper. If possible, don't fold the garment. If hanging, make a cover with an old, well-washed 100% cotton pillowcase to keep the dust off the dress. An old pillowcase that has been washed many times should be pretty much chemical free. Don't use metal hangers because they can rust. I like padded hangers.

Store in a dark, dry place with a moderate temperature. That means not in a hot attic or in a damp basement.

And then if you save some special dresses like I did, you'll be lucky and your grandchildren will be girls!





Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Knitting In Real Life


I learned to knit as a teenager. I was happy to make straight scarves and I remember making a couple of pairs of simple slippers. I knew the knit stitch and the purl stitch and I knew that if you alternated those two, you got ribbing (like the cuff on a sweater.) But that was it. At that point, I didn't really know there were more things to learn.

Fast forward nearly 40 years and I decided I wanted to know more. I had been a knitter for many years. But I wanted to become a Knitter—with a capital K. So I plunged in and saw the possibilities and found a zillion things I'd love to make. Lace was the ultimate goal.

Lace knitting looked incredibly difficult to me, only achieved by the most knowledgeable, most skilled knitters. When I admired a lovely knitted lace shawl a friend had made, I added, "I wish I could do that." And she said, "Of course, you can." So I found a very simple pattern and muddled through it. When I was having difficulty, I went back to that friend and asked how on earth she could do this.


Tip #1:  Learn to recognize how the rows stack up. Or, how the stitches line up.

She gave me one of the best knitting tips I've received. She said, "Lace patterns build row by row. And each row builds on the one under it. Look at how they stack up. Learn to recognize those 'sign posts.' That's your guide."  You can see in the above photo how the stitches line up in a straight, slanted row.  This is a very simple lace, but the idea is the same even with more complicated patterns. If a more complex pattern doesn't stack in a straight line, there will be a relationship of stitches that is consistent from row to row. Look for it.

If you are a grandmother or little ones, you may have spent some time watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I surely have. On many episodes, Mickey and friends have lost something. The missing item is found and then must be properly replaced—in a row of train cars, a string of beads, a line of paper lanterns, etc. And to replace it properly, they have to see the "pattern"—the order of colors or shapes or sizes. 

Baby Girl loves shouting out the order of the color pattern to Mickey as he asks, "Help me find where this goes."  Recognizing "patterns" (how stitches are repeated) in knitting is the grownup version of what Mickey Mouse is teaching. Put that skill to use here in your real life knitting.


Another "sign post" I found with this pattern was seeing the specific two stitches that are knitted together in this "yarn over, knit 2 together" pattern. The stitch over the open space and the stitch to the right of it are a pair. Those two are always knitted together in that order. If I see that the stitch over the thick column of stitches has moved to the left of the open space stitch, I need to stop and back up. Find the sign posts in your pattern. They won't always be this easy, but they will be there. Actually, since I started looking for this, I haven't made an error. 

Nearly 10 years have passed since I got that first tip and I am a much better knitter now. But I am still plenty capable of making mistakes. Over the weekend I was pushing to finish a shawl to take to a knitting retreat next week. The shawl pattern is super simple. It's actually named "Pretty Basic." Yet I still managed to mess it up. Which brings me to maybe the most valuable knitting tip I've ever received.

 

Tip #2:  Stop often and admire your work.

In a knitting class a few years ago, a big knitting secret was revealed. The instructor said multiple times—so we would not forget—"Stop often and admire your work."  She told us to stop knitting and take a good look at our work fairly often. Spread it out (or at least a section of it.) You can't really see it all bunched up on the needles. Do this with the intent of finding mistakes before you are too far past them. It's easier to correct a mistake if you find it quickly. That was a game changer for me. I thought being a fast knitter was my goal. The better goal is to be an accurate knitter.

When I "admired my work" on Sunday, my straight line had taken a turn to the right. (See above photo.) Most of that very long row was fine, but then I noticed where the stitches shifted. Sad to say, but this happened more than once. But because I stopped and found the mistake only a few inches from where I lost my place, there wasn't much to take out and correct. Can you imagine this if I let this go on for several rows?


These are very long rows as I near the end of the shawl. If I could knit from beginning of the row to the end without interruption, I might not make mistakes. But that's not how my life works. While I'm knitting, the phone rings. The timer on the stove goes off. I get all excited when our team scores a critical basket in the big game. (Men's and women's teams are BOTH going to the Final Four!) Daddy-O shouts from another room, "Would you come help me, please." The knitting is put down. It might get moved from the kitchen table to the sofa. Then later, it's picked back up. A yarn between stitches is accidentally picked up. A stitch is split. A yarn over is forgotten And without realizing it, I'm one stitch off.

That's how knitting in real life works. One tiny error and your lace takes a turn to the right. But using these two tips I learned years ago have helped minimize the goofs. I know I'll never eliminate all mistakes, but I'm sure trying to make fewer of them. That's a real life possibility.







Monday, March 27, 2017

Freezer Stash


We knitters talk a lot about "stash." That is yarn which is stockpiled for later use. Some knitters have a stash large enough to stock a yarn shop. Other knitters only keep yarn for a couple of upcoming projects on hand. And I supposed somewhere there must be a knitter who has no stash yarn.

This morning as I was taking a few minutes in the early morning to make a weekly to-do list, a grocery list and an outline of weekly menus (I don't always do this, but it's a busy week) I went to the freezer to pull out chili & beans for tonight's supper. I'm thinking taco salad for tonight.

A month ago, this top shelf in my freezer was nearly empty. For about three weeks, I've cooked and then frozen part of what I cooked. There are only two of us here, so most recipes can feed us for for two or three meals.

If you are like me and love having a freezer stash on hand, be sure to take time to take stock every now and then of what's frozen. It's really easy to forget what's there and what needs to be used. Today I did find one small pack of taco meat that's headed for the trash. It was down in the bottom of the plastic bin and got overlooked. It had been there a l-o-n-g time.

You've done all the work of stocking your freezer. Now don't forget to use it. The freezer stash won't last as long as the yarn stash! Frozen food does have an expiration date. It's a busy week here at the farm, so I think I'll be using my freezer stash this week. And when I'm away next week, Daddy-O will not starve.


What is in my freezer right now? 

Taco Meat (a new batch)
Teriyaki Chicken (recipe coming soon)
Chili & Beans



Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kitchen FOMO


Fear Of Missing Out. The first time I heard my knitter friend Missy use "FOMO" in a conversation, I thought it was something her family had made up. And then within days of hearing it for the first time, FOMO popped up everywhere. TV ads. Websites. Other conversations. FOMO was everywhere. How had I never heard of it?

Well, I fell victim to FOMO this week. Kitchen FOMO. If you keep up even the tiniest bit with cooking and kitchen trends, you've heard about the Instant Pot. It is one of the hottest new kitchen appliances to hit the market since microwave ovens. And like microwave ovens back when they first came out, there is a fair amount of confusion about using them.

I was working as a home economist when microwave ovens first came onto the market for household use. People were curious. The information was limited. So I dug in and did my homework. Daddy-O gave me a microwave (they cost a bundle back then) and it was huge. They were all huge at that point. I tried all sorts of recipes. I baked cakes, cooked whole turkey breasts, made meatloaf in a ring pan. I microwaved naked looking cornbread, steamed vegetables, scrambled eggs in a mug, and on and on. I developed a recipe booklet with the recipes that worked.

Then I offered a class called "Microwave Cooking." Of all the years I worked, this was hands-down the most popular thing I did. There was standing room only the first few times I taught it. Everyone wanted to know what a microwave did and how to use it.


That's about where the Instant Pot is right now. What is it? Do I need one? How do I use it? Those were my own questions. So for the last month, I have done my homework. I have read so much, both pro and con. There are rave "it changed my life" reviews and those that think it's a passing fad. Time will tell. (The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that also can be used as a slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, etc.—7 functions according to the ads.)

So this week, in "fear of missing out" on the newest kitchen appliance, I ordered one. It arrived yesterday. I had found a fabulous video that explained the basics of operation. So I followed her lead and last night did the water test. That's just to make sure the pot works and you know how to use the controls. Her video really was a big help.


And this morning, I made hard cooked eggs. The big deal with doing hard cooked eggs in the Instant Pot is that supposedly they are easier to peel that stovetop hard cooked eggs. After my one time doing them, I agree. Easiest eggs to peel ever. (1 cup water. High pressure for 6 minutes. Quick release. Plunge into cool water for a few minutes.) Were they faster? No, but they didn't take longer either. The cooking time was about the same. But once I pushed the button, I didn't have to stand around and watch for the water to boil and then set the timer. I was free to go make the toast.

You don't need a microwave oven OR an Instant Pot in your kitchen to cook. On the other hand, if I only had a microwave or an Instant Pot and a sink, I could keep people fed. But they are primarily conveniences you enjoy and appreciate. It's too early to tell how I'll use the Instant Pot in my own kitchen. And it's too early yet for me to know how often I'll use it. (Note—it is NOT called "Insta" Pot.)

I think it will be like my microwave learning. In the beginning, we found that the microwave oven could do nearly anything but it didn't do everything particularly well. Over the years, people gave up trying to cook everything and the useage has settled down to heating leftovers, melting butter and chocolate, baking potatoes, plus maybe a couple of things that suit your own kitchen. But even with fewer kitchen duties, we don't want to give up our microwaves. (I have made wonderful microwave pickles, btw!)

I think the Instant Pot will settle out over time as folks find out what it is best suited for. I think expectations will adjust as we figure out what the IP does best. Much of the disappointment I read about was with doing things that might be cooked better with some other method. I don't plan to reinvent the wheel here and tell you too much basic stuff. There is so much information out there already. Google will be your friend here. But as I find something that works well, I'll share here.


If you are a total kitchen nerd like me, you'll enjoy reading this article that tells about how the Instant Pot came into being and how they have used social media as a marketing tool instead of regular advertising.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Let's Call It Irish Stew


My mother called her beef stew "Irish stew." It was a big pot of stew beef cooked with potatoes, carrots and onions. If you google Irish stew, you'll find a multitude of recipes, some with lamb, some with mutton, US versions with beef, some with carrots and some without, and on and on and on. I'm not sure what makes a stew an authentic Irish stew. And Google didn't tell me for sure. I only know that's what my mother called hers when we were growing up.

This was in the day before slow cookers, so hers simmered a long time on the stove top, long enough for the beef to be tender. She would sometimes make it for us on St. Patrick's Day so that we would have an "Irish" meal. I like to use the slow cooker so that I can put it together in the morning and forget about it until dinner.

Here is a new-to-me recipe for slow cooker beef stew that I made last week. And since tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, we'll call this one "Irish stew," at least for a day. 

I have made so many versions of beef stew over the years. And I don't remember any of them as a bad recipe. But I will admit that I had my doubts about this one because there are virtually no seasonings added to this. No Worcestershire sauce. No herbs. Just salt and pepper and sugar. (Sugar? Where did that come from?) But it was nearly perfect. Daddy-O said, "Sometimes simple is best."

So why did I make it when I wasn't sure about it? Well, I had nearly a whole bottle of tomato juice left from the cabbage casserole I had made the week before. This was a good way to use it up. And I needed a slow cooker meal on a day when my afternoon calendar was full.


Tapioca was also a questionable ingredient as far as I was concerned. It is not a staple ingredient in my pantry. I walked the entire a grocery store a couple of times looking for it. I looked with the baking ingredients. I looked with cereals. (I obviously don't know much about tapioca.) But when I ran into a friend I had not seen in ages, we chatted a minute then she said, "I need to let you go." And I replied, "Yes, I'm on a search for tapioca", a store manager, who was crouched near us adding prices to a new display, piped up, "Aisle 7. Near the Jello."

And I still had trouble seeing it. Top shelf. Single row of red boxes. And it turned out to be the perfect way to thicken the stew. Thick enough, but not too thick. (Later, at my closer-to-home Bilo store, I spied it down on the bottom shelf.)

This very simple stew was as good as any recipe that I've ever used. It makes a huge amount, especially when there are only two of us here. So I put some of the stew—minus the potatoes—into the freezer. I have not had much luck freezing cooked potatoes. They get a mealy texture. So I fish those out of the part that goes into the freezer. Since the potatoes are in large chunks, that's not hard to do.

I used red potatoes, well scrubbed, and left the skins on. And we served this over brown rice. Comfort food to the max.

SIMPLE BEEF STEW

2 lbs stew beef (I used about 2-1/2 lbs)
3 cups cut up potatoes (large chunks)
2-3 large carrots, sliced thick
2 medium onions, cut into wedges
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup instant tapioca (also called Minute tapioca)
3-4 cups tomato juice

Put stew beef, potatoes, carrots and onions into a 6-quart slow cooker and. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, sugar and tapioca and mix. Pour juice over all. Cook on LOW for about 9 hours. (To help the carrots cook more evenly, I cut the fat part thinner and the tapered end into longer sections.)


Add a salad to your dinner and maybe some fruit for dessert and you'll have a meal that's good and good for you.






Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cave Point Shawl

 
Pattern:  Cave Point, by Paula Emons-Fuessle
Yarn:  Quince & Co. Chickadee, Lichen colorway
Needles:  size 7

Well, it's not quite an Irish kind of green, but it IS green. Green enough for me to avoid being pinched. This was a fun knit, finished just in time for St. Patrick's Day this week.

The body of the shawl is super easy. I started it back in January before we were all hit with the post-Christmas crud. And I quickly got to the end of the easy part and was ready to start the edging. I even had knitted the row where I added all the markers between little "menorah" repeats. (I heard someone say that the edge pattern looks like menorahs. Do you see them?) And then everyone got sick. I stuffed the shawl into a bag to wait for better days.


A couple of weeks after my fever was gone, I pulled out the project bag with this half-knitted shawl. I looked at the shawl and looked at the pattern. Absolutely nothing made sense. I felt like this was the hardest pattern ever (it isn't)...but it was more like I still had brain fog left from my bout with the winter illness. I read and reread the pattern but my brain would not process it. Maybe the illness or the medicines had killed a few brain cells? So I crammed the shawl back into the bag again.


I let more time pass and then I looked again. 'Bing!' The light went on. It all made perfect sense. This time my brain was ready. For the first time, I noticed the link to the video tutorials that explained a couple of things. It didn't take long after that for me to finish this crescent shaped shawl.

What's the lesson here? Know when it's time to lay a project aside. I'm glad I waited until my thinking was clearer. It's too easy to make mistakes when you don't feel well, when you're tired, and when you're rushed. Be honest with yourself. This knitting did not come with a deadline, so there was no need to push. Maybe pull out an even simpler knit, but those under-the-weather days.

And thank you, Mother Nature. You turned the thermostat down this week for a last blast of winter so that I don't have to wait until next year to wear this.


 Happy St. Patrick's Day!





Thursday, March 9, 2017

Heart Healthy Foods


I don't get home until 7:30 on Wednesday nights. That means I need a supper that can be table ready in a flash. Sometimes it's a slow cooker meal. Other times it just means leftovers. But last night it was salad. I turned a simple side salad recipe into a main dish salad and added a toasted slice of the artisan bread to the meal. Yum!

A salad was also a healthy choice. Several times this week on assorted news outlets, I saw reports about a new study on the ten foods that significantly affect your heart health—6 foods to include, 4 foods to avoid.

This was reported, on our local news and again on morning national news:
Just 10 foods —eating too much of them or too little — account for nearly half of all heart disease deaths in the U.S., researchers reported Tuesday.
If people ate less salt and meat and ate more nuts, fruits and vegetables, they could greatly lower their own risk of heart disease, the researchers at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy found.
For the most part, we already know these are choices we should make, but the new study added weight to the importance of those choices. In your diet, include more (1) fruits, (2) vegetables, (3) tree nuts, (4) healthy oils, (5) omega-3 rich seafood and (6) whole grains. Avoid (1) salt, (2) sugar-sweetened beverages, (3) processed meats and (4) red meat.  

Hello...we are beef cattle producers here. Let me say that the television report did say that red meat was at the bottom of the harmful list. The least harmful of the "harmful" foods. Red meat does make some good nutritional contributions to our diets. And we know that research also shows some benefits from eating lean red meat.. So we will still include beef in our meals—but in smaller portions and certainly not every day.

If nothing else, this list of 10 foods is a reminder that what we eat affects our health. Some illnesses and health problems are simply beyond our control, but why not choose good foods if they might help us live healthier lives?

You see much of what I cook here at the farm. Our food choices could be worse, but there is certainly room for improvement in the "healthy" department. Last night, a big portion of dark leafy greens—one of the best vegetable choices—was on the menu. I loved this easy recipe.


To turn this salad into a dinner salad, I added feta cheese and sliced roasted chicken on top. The flavor combination was a winner. (A dinner winner. Ha! Sometimes I amuse myself.)

I mixed the dressing ahead of time. I had put two chicken breasts in the oven in the afternoon (sprinkle with rotisserie seasoning-bake at 350 for 1 hour, uncovered) and refrigerated it until dinner time. If you work all day, cook the chicken the night before. Or, use a rotisserie chicken from the store.

APPLE KALE SALAD

4 to 6 cups chopped kale, or assorted salad greens
1 large apple, diced (I used a Honey Crisp)

Dressing:
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoons honey

Put greens and diced apple in a large bowl. In a small bowl (I love to use a custard cup for this) mix the dressing ingredients until blended. Drizzle over the kale and apples. Toss to coat.

This made two large dinner salads. It would serve 4-6 as a side salad.



I will admit that when I see a salad recipe call for kale, I usually choose this baby blend that is more tender and is milder. If you are new to kale, this is a good place to start.





Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Yes, You Can Bake Bread


So you think you can't bake bread. If you want to bake homemade bread, but have always been afraid of the unknowns—proofing yeast and rising dough and punching down and kneading—let me urge you to try again. This recipe for no-knead artisan bread isn't a new one. This no-knead method has been around for quite some time. It made a big splash in all the food media outlets for a while. A book, Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day, was touted as a "must have" for bread bakers about ten years ago.

Well, I have the book. And I read and read and read. But I never baked from it because the instructions and information were a lot to absorb. Now, it IS a good book. But I think there is an easier way to get started. You can see my first go at this no-knead method here. I had found a wonderful website that explained this process in a more user friendly way than the book. I still recommend that you take a look at all of her information. There are a zillion questions and answers in the comment section that you will find helpful.

I had pretty good luck using her method after I found out then that I couldn't use my standby flour, White Lily. It's the protein content that's different. I switched to King Arthur All-Purpose flour and things immediately improved. I still use White Lily for other baking—but not for yeast breads.


And this week, that same basic recipe—the same basic one that was in the book, the same basic one that is explained on the Simply So Good website—popped up again on Instagram. Posting as @enlightenedhomemaker, she often has photos of simple, healthy recipes. When I saw her bread photo, I recognized it as the same no-knead bread that I'd made a few years ago. But I took an extra minute to follow the link back to her blog. And lo and behold, I felt like I'd struck gold!

The ingredient list is the about same as the original Jim Lahey recipe and the Simply So Good verstion. It's only four or five ingredients. But her instructions have enough differences that I wanted to try it again. No more trying to plop soft dough into a blistering hot pan without touching the sides. (Can you say "ouch!"?) The rising time has a range of 4 to 24 hours. Total flexibility.  So I stirred it up yesterday.

The whole premise of those first versions is putting the dough into an extremely hot covered Dutch oven, so that the hot covered pot creates a "steam oven" for baking your bread. The method I'm passing along today starts with a cold pan. I really had my doubts. But it worked.

Try this recipe from The Enlightened Homemaker and see what happens. Or, go back and read about the previous methods. "Kosher salt" vs "sea salt." "Cool water" vs "hot water." "Preheated pan" vs "cold pan." "450 degrees" vs "425 degrees." "Let it rest" vs "no resting needed." They all seem to work. The worst case scenario is that you waste three cups of flour and a tiny bit of yeast and you'll have to wash a bowl.


This is a heavier, more dense loaf that my usual sourdough. It is what you call "rustic." That means it has holes in the inside of the bread and the crust is chewy. A hearty loaf. With the herbs added this tastes like something I've had in upscale restaurants. (Next time I'll add less of the herbs de Provence. A tablespoon was a tad much for my taste.) But it's hard to beat a simple white bread.
 
NO-KNEAD ARTISAN BREAD

3 cups all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur)
1/2 teaspoon yeast (I used Fleishmann's BreadMachine Instant yeast from a jar)
1-1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon herbs or seasoning, optional (I used Herbs de Provence) 
1-1/2 cups hot water (I used hot tap water)

Put flour into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle yeast, salt and herbs over flour and stir to blend. Stir in water until it's all moist. Cover, and let sit for 4-24 hours.

Dump dough (which is very sticky) onto a well-floured counter or mat. Form into a round or oblong loaf. Just tuck the sides in turn over.

Place dough in a Dutch oven that has a piece of parchment paper on the bottom. (Cut paper to fit.)

Bake, covered, at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Carefully remove from hot pan and let cool for 10 minute or so before slicing. (The crust is nearly rock hard straight out of the oven, but it will soften and be easier to slice as it cools.)


As I typed this recipe, I realized that last night I baked my bread at 450 degrees—the directions from Simply So Good. I'll do this again soon at 425 degrees to see if there is much difference. But I'm beginning to think this recipe is hard to mess up. I let mine sit yesterday for about 8 hours before baking. I want to try again and let it go for more like 18 hours and see if it rises higher. The huge range of resting times give you great flexibility to fit it into your schedule.

Don't have an oven-safe Dutch oven? I've used a large Calphalon pot with a lid that worked fine. Others have used clay pots, the insert from a slow cooker, or other large pot (at least 4-6 quarts) with a lid that can safely go into a very hot oven.

You can read about a multitude of variations on Simply So Good and Enlightened Homemaker. People have added in everything from nuts to cheese to herbs. They have tried it with whole wheat flour and made it with a blend of spelt and kamut (I don't even know what that is.) Make it your own.

There is something very "real" about homemade bread. In a world of manufactured, prepacked foods, people are seeking whole foods, where you know exactly what is in the food you eat. This recipe is a good one to add to your repertoire. People will think you have crazy mad skills! If you try it, let me know how it goes.






Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Most Favorite Recipe

Bourbon Marinated Pork Tenderloin

Today I realized that I needed to post this recipe again. It's been a few years since it's been on the blog. We are having it for supper tonight. (I borrowed a finished photo from an earlier blog post.) But what pushed me to share it again is that Mommy and Jessica have both made it this week, too. All three of us picked this recipe in a single week. Three times in one week might be a record. This pork tenderloin is right at the top of our all-time "best recipes" list.

On Tuesday night, Mommy prepared dinner for J-Daddy's boss and a few co-workers. She had to keep an eye on Baby Girl and Little Sister while she cooked, so a tried and true recipe was a must. On Friday, Jessica took dinner to a dear friend. And this pork tenderloin was her choice. We are having the pork tenderloin tonight because it was on sale last week at the grocery store.


Mommy's menu was pork tenderloin (she doubled the recipe and used the oven directions) served with macaroni and cheese, sauteed apples, roasted asparagus, rolls, and a blueberry pie. She worked out a detailed cooking schedule in advance to get everything done on time. That meant doing as much early preparation as possible. She still had to do school pick ups that day. The pie was baked the night before. The sauteed apples were done a little early and kept warm in a slow cooker until serving time. The mac and cheese was prepped that morning and it was ready to bake late afternoon.

When she entertains, Mommy writes down her schedule in detail to hopefully avoid surprises. She keeps a notebook of menus that includes each recipe and the cooking schedule for each "company" meal. She is building quite a collection of meal plans that will be used again and again. I suggested that she add the guest list and the date to make it fun in years to come.


For her Meal Train delivery yesterday, Jessica prepped the tenderloin on the grill. Her meal included roasted vegetables (Brussels sprouts, butternut squash and red onion) and creamed corn casserole, along with a dessert. In addition to taking the meal, they stayed to share it, providing some welcome company.


When there was a cake fiasco the afternoon the dinner was to be delivered, this clever girl made a quick adjustment. The cake, while still delicious, had overflowed the pan. Jessica cut the cake into cubes and layered them with fresh berries and whipped cream into pint Mason jars. She turned the disaster into individual desserts. That was probably more fun than the original cake!

Tonight we are having the pork tenderloin with roasted asparagus and baked potatoes while we watch the SEC women's basketball tournament on TV. Then I'll put one of those tenderloins into the freezer for later. That's like money in the bank, as far as I'm concerned!

A dirty recipe page usually means the recipe is a good one.

If you look carefully at the cookbook page pictured above, you might notice that the recipe posted here is slightly different. We've made this so many times over the years that we've adjusted it to suit us--less black pepper and no added salt. And current best practices say not to rinse meat. Just pat it dry.

BOURBON MARINATED PORK TENDERLOIN

2-1/2 lb. pork tenderloins (usually one package contains 2 tenderloins and is about this weight)
3/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup bourbon
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced (I used 2 teaspoons of jarred minced garlic)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
 
Pat tenderloins dry.

Combine soy sauce and remaining ingredients in a gallon ziploc plastic freezer bag or shallow dish. Add tenderloins. Seal bag or cover dish and chill 4-12 hours. Turn once or twice while they marinate. Remove pork from marinade, discarding marinade.

Grill, covered with grill lid, over high heat (400 to 500 degrees) for 30 minutes or until meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of meat reads 155 degrees, turning occasionally. Remove from heat; cover with aluminum foil and let stand 10 minutes or until thermometer reads 160 degrees.
 
It's also good cooked in the oven, if you don't have a grill, or if it's raining,
Put tenderloins in an oven that has been preheated to 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until thermometer reaches 155-160 degrees. Let rest before serving.



It does a mother's heart good to see that her daughters have become excellent cooks, but more importantly, to see that they are thoughtful, hospitable people. Well done, children.


*Thanks to both daughters for sharing their food photos.