Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Knitting—Disappointment To Perfection

Pattern:  Summer Flies
Yarn:  Cascade Yarn Heritage
Needles:  size 7

Back in 2012, I was just getting serious about my knitting. And I knitted my first lace shawl. There were so many new techniques to learn. I wrote in my pattern notes, "Either I’m getting better or this is a really easy pattern!" I think it was both. Making this shawl marked a huge step in my knitting "career." There was still one problem that I didn't count on. My lovely large shawl was determined to be a tiny shawl. As one does with knitted lace, I soaked it, stretched it out while it was wet and pinned it out to dry. (That's called blocking.) Knitting will stretch out to a much larger size that shows off the open work of the lace. And it was perfect and beautiful. 

But some yarns won't stay stretched out. This was one of those shawls. I didn't know that could happen. I blocked it again, stretching it out even further. But this red shawl just didn't want to be a big shawl. When I unpinned it, it gradually—over several weeks—crept back to its original shape. It was determined to be a size better suited to a small child. So that's what I did with it. One weekend when the family was here, I gave it to Baby Girl to wear on a chilly morning. And I let her take it home.

Waiting for the doctor

Her mommy told me this past weekend that the red shawl has become a favorite possession. Last week it was her superhero cape. She wore it to the doctor's office for a round of allergy testing. She was much braver waiting on the doctor with her red cape wrapped around her shoulders. This knitting has magical powers.



This is Baby Girl's first year of full day school. She puts on the red shawl first thing when she wakes up and wears it while she eats breakfast. Besides keeping her warm, she might be recharging her "brave battery" before she dresses and heads to school. Maybe to her, it feels like a hug from Mimi every day. I would like to think that.

Summer Flies, 2012 photo

I was so disappointed all those years ago when the shawl didn't do what I wanted it do. But it ended up—years later—being an absolutely perfect knit. Just not the one I expected. It isn't just a shawl now. It's a superhero cape. It's a big hug from Mimi. It's a security blanket/shawl. It's love made from yarn. Knitting doesn't get much better than this.




Knitter's Note:  This was nothing wrong with this yarn. It is a good yarn—just maybe not the best choice for this pattern. I'm still learning more about fiber content and yarns and needle sizes and how all these factors affect the blocking size. Learning to knit is more than just knowing how to work the stitches.










Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Oh Happy Day—This Worked!


Remember when I made "TV dinners" a couple of weeks ago? I promised to let you know how well they thawed out. Yesterday I pulled two of the Salisbury steak dinners out of the freezer right after I got up in the morning. Then I didn't think about making dinner for the rest of the day.

It was one of those "clean up/put things away" days. All the knitting needles left out after projects were finished are now back where they belong. The birthday presents for this weekend are sitting out with the gift wrap, ready for me to wrap today. The mermaid's flower headband is sewn back on. (That was a Mimi job request from Baby Girl.)  There is no dust under the furniture. The laundry is all done...even folded and put away.

Then 12 hours after I moved the frozen dinners from the freezer to the refrigerator, it was time to see if they passed the test. Would they be as good as I hoped? (I had tasted the frozen dinners from Meals On Wheels years ago when they were delivered to my mother-in-law. I wanted mine to be better than those.) They were so close to being thawed, but there were still ice crystals in the food.   I heated them, one at a time. About 3 minutes on DEFROST to finish the thawing process. Then I heated mine for 1 minute at the regular setting.

 Oh happy day! This was as good as the first time. The rice was perfect. (I always sprinkle a few drops of water over rice before I reheat it.) The vegetables were fine. The meat had a cool spot right in the center, so I broke the patty up and put some of the hot rice on top of it. That's all it needed. Another time I would add a few seconds to the heating.

But this really worked. I freeze foods all the time, but not combinations of food in such small portions. That's the part I wasn't sure about. I think it would be better if I had taken the dinners out of the freezer the night before. Safety reminder:  Always thaw in the refrigerator—not on the countertop. But that last bit of thawing in the microwave worked. Good to know.

For our household of two, making these dinners is a way to deal with leftovers. Now the challenge is to use these dinners up and not let them sit forgotten in the freezer for months. These bright blue containers are so eye-catching that I hope none get pushed to the back. And I really hope that the other food combinations thaw out as well as this one did.


Since I knew I'd have no supper clean up, I baked a treat for us in the afternoon. This was also part of my cleaning out...using up pantry items with an expiration date that was getting close. This recipe was the very first one I posted on this blog way back in 2011. We still enjoy making them.

PUMPKIN SPICE MUFFINS

1 box spice cake mix
1 (15-oz) can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup water

    TOPPING:
    1/2 all-purpose flour
    1/2 brown sugar, packed (I used dark brown sugar) 
    1/2 stick butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put cupcake papers in a 12-cup muffin tin. Mix cake mix, pumpkin and water until well blended. Using an electric hand mixer is the easiest way to do it. Spoon batter into muffin tins. 

Mix flour and sugar. Cut butter in until crumbly. Sprinkle topping generously over muffin batter, pressing in lightly.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until done. (My oven took 30 minutes.) Test with a toothpick. It should come out clean when done.

We have made these muffins with yellow cake mix and chocolate cake mix, too. They are all good. But we all like the spice cake mix best. Try them all and decide which is your favorite.


If you live where it's easy to go out for dinner, or where there are plenty of options to pick up to-do meals, or have delivery options, this may not be a big deal for you. But for us, living on a farm in a rural area, these easy dinners are so helpful. I  will keep trying different combinations for individual dinners.






Thursday, August 1, 2019

Need Some Comfort Food?

Chicken & Gravy

My favorite recipes to share are ones that are old family favorites. But I'm always on the lookout for recipes that might become a new family favorite. This might be one of those recipes. Easy to assemble. It's a slow cooker meal which means it cooks unattended all afternoon. And it was delicious in that comfort food way.

I found a printed out recipe tucked on a pantry shelf last week. It had been there for ages. And the reason I had put it there was to remind me why I had bought the ingredients. It's not uncommon for me to have a can of cream of chicken soup on hand, but I don't usually have TWO packs of gravy mix. And more than once I have seen items in my pantry that I'm sure I bought for a specific recipe—but I had no clue what the recipe was. Absolutely could not remember. So now I try to put the recipe with the ingredients.

This recipe comes from the website South Your Mouth. When I can, I like to give you the original source for recipes I try. I love to look at her recipes. She has lots of good notes on this recipe and there are helpful comments, too. Her Shepherd's Pie is one I plan to try soon.

I started my supper prep at about 2:00 in the afternoon yesterday and we ate just before 7:00. I had planned to make it a day earlier, and then remembered I had a 2:30 doctor appointment. I realized I wouldn't be at home when it was time to put this in the slow cooker. So I pushed this meal one day forward. Keep the cooking time in mind when you add this to your meal plan.



After our supper, I filled 3 pint size containers for the freezer. And there was enough left for today's lunch, too. This is a generous recipe. And we are a household of two.

SLOW COOKER CHICKEN & GRAVY

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (my pack had 4 pieces, about 3 lbs)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (let's be honest—I just sprinkled)
2 (10.5 oz) cans of Healthy Request cream of chicken soup
1 (14.5 oz) can low-sodium chicken broth
2 packs brown gravy mix
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Place chicken in slow cooker. (I used a 6-qt cooker.) Season with black pepper and garlic.

In a bowl, mix remaining ingredients well. Pour over chicken. Cook on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours. Use two forks to pull chicken in to bite-size pieces. (I did this down in the gravy.) Turn the pot off and let sit for about 20 minutes with the lid off, while you prep the rest of the meal. Serve over mashed potatoes or rice.


I try not to overdo the cream soups any more. But when I do want to use some in a recipe I look for the Healthy Request versions. It has less sodium and zero trans fat. I figure that helps.

Our adorable little granddaughters start school today. Yep. August 1 is their first day of school. Kindergarten and 3rd grade. We will see them next week. Hope by then all the jitters will have settled down (and the school traffic will have settled down) and we will get to hear all about the new teachers and new classmates. It's exciting. For the first time, they will be at the same school and on the same schedule. And next week, Big Sister heads off to college. Lots of firsts.

This has me thinking about all the "first day of school" memories I have stored away for our daughters. Always exciting. Always nerve-wracking. And we always survived. I'm saying a prayer this morning for all the students, all the parents, all the teachers and all the bus drivers as a new school begins. May they have a safe year. May it be a year filled with kindness and understanding and patience. God bless them all.










Monday, July 29, 2019

Summer Salad Supper

Chickpea Salad in the center

A friend walked up to the deli counter just as they were scooping up my chicken salad. "Do you like that?" she asked. I told her that it wasn't as good as my own, but when I factored in I didn't have to make it or clean anything up, it was pretty darn good. Then I added some potato salad to my order, and finished my grocery shopping.

Just before supper time tonight I still wasn't sure what we were having. I had bought the deli salads to have on hand for lunches this week. Snap decision...we would have a salad supper. I did make one new salad recipe that I've wanted to try for a few weeks. I had everything here to do it, thanks to a friend who sent me home several days ago with garden tomatoes. 

This friend spearheads our church's "giving garden." She, along with a team of others, plant, work and harvest a vegetable garden right outside our church's backdoor. The produce primarily goes to our food pantry so that those in need of food will get some fresh vegetables in the summer. But there have been so many tomatoes that she could share the excess with others—including me.

This chickpea salad was quick to make and a healthy option. Nice to have in the fridge to put beside a sandwich. (It's 1 FreeStyle point for 1 cup if you're counting WW...if you make it like she's written the recipe.) 

Do you know how to seed a tomato? The easiest way is to cut off the stem end and cut a skinny slice of the other end. Cut the tomato in half crosswise. Then use your well-scrubbed fingers and push the seeds out of each section. It only takes minutes. Then you can dice the rest of the tomato. There are other ways. You can find them on Google.


This recipe is from Skinny Girl. Her website is loaded with lots of good recipes. My daughters and I have used many of them and count her as one of our reliable sources.

CHICKPEA SALAD

2-1/4 cups chopped cucumber. (I used the mini cukes and didn't peel)
1 cup diced, seeded tomato (about 1 medium)
1/4 cup diced red onion
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 (15-oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh parsley (I only had dried, so sprinkled a little over)

Mix all ingredients well. Taste and adjust seasonings. Chill until time to serve.


Next time I think I'll use vinegar instead of lemon juice for a little more zip. Worth a try. And I did add a little more salt before I put the leftovers in the fridge. It was good just like the it's written, but you can jazz it up to suit you.


My cooking might be lagging behind because I am determined to finish this Mount Juliet Shawl. It was our Ireland retreat project. Not really a difficult pattern, but while I was not feeling well, it was really hard to concentrate. And I must have taken out nearly as much as I knitted because of mistakes. It was a really slow go. (I think the doctor could do a knitting test for me to see how sick I am!) Thankfully these last few days it's become much easier. The end is in sight. That means I'm feeling much better.

Summer sunrise out our back door.












Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Stirring Up A Quick Supper


What a busy weekend. Up and down the interstate, trying so hard to stay awake on that drive. I'm still dragging around with the lingering crud I've had for a while. Thank goodness for audiobooks to help keep me alert. (I'm listening to The Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, one of the Flavia de Luce series. So fun!) 

When I got home last night, I pulled spaghetti sauce out of the freezer. So good to keep a well stocked freezer. But then tonight I had to think about the next supper. Factor in where we live and often we find it's easier to make dinner than to go out to eat, or even pick up take-out and bring it home.

This dish had been on my radar after I watched the YouTube video from A Peek Inside showing how she makes freezer dinners. I love that she really doesn't use recipes. Her cooking is that simple. If you have any cooking experience at all, you won't need a recipe either.

She said this is an old recipe that her mom used to make. I'm pretty sure that I remember it from the heyday of Campbell soup recipes. So easy. And Daddy-O went back for thirds. That's affirmation that it's a good recipe.

Right up front let me say I DIDN'T MEASURE ANYTHING! (Except the tablespoon of conrstarch.) The round steak I bought was a pound and a half, so my recipe measurements flew out the window right there.. Early this morning I had prepped a lot of fresh vegetables so I'd actually use them this week. So at supper time, I tossed in handfuls of peppers, onions, celery and mushrooms. It's easy to adjust if you like more of less or any of these things.

To make the round steak easier to slice, I popped it in the freezer for an hour before I sliced it. That firms it up enough to slice. The simmer time after I added the veggies? The recipe says 10 minutes or until tender. I actually watched the vegetables and let them cook until they reached the doneness I wanted. It all probably simmered 15-20 minutes.

The leftover meat and veggies (which wasn't as much as I planned) will go into the freezer for one of "those nights." ETA: I ended up with one single meal plate of meat and rice for the freezer and a small container of the meat mix for Daddy-O's lunch tomorrow.


I'm sharing the old original recipe to give you a starting point, but let me say again—I DIDN'T MEASURE. Just eyeball it. I'm sure you could add carrots or broccoli, or leave out the celery. Just make it suit your family.

MOCK SUKIYAKI

1 lb. round steak, sliced thin
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1-1/2 cup sliced celery
1 green pepper, cut in strips
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1-1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup green onions, sliced 
1 cup Campbell's beef broth, undiluted (I used the whole can)
I tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce, or to taste
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Brown steak in oil in medium hot skillet. Add vegetables, broth and soy sauce. Cover. Simmer 10 minutes, or until tender. (I let mine cook longer.) Stir often. Combine water and cornstarch. Stir into sauce and cook until thickened. Serve over rice.


For the record, there is a greater proportion of vegetables than meat in this dish. Doesn't exactly look like it in the photo because the mushrooms and onions are kind of invisible. But it's a sneaky way to up your veggie intake.

Mimi duty.
Because I was a little under the weather, the littles enjoyed some extra TV time this weekend. They love old Fred Astaire movies!






Friday, July 19, 2019

Weekend Bonus Recipe

I don't usually post on the weekends, but tonight's dinner turned out really well and I want to get it here in the blog so I don't lose the recipe. That has been known to happen. If I post it here, there's not much chance that I can't find it next time.

Instant Pot Chicken & Potatoes
I had a dinner plan for tonight. But then I sat here all afternoon and knitted the same three rows over and over. And over. Note to self: do not watch intense drama at the point where I'm establishing the pattern repeat. And when episode 2 ended and I FINALLY got the pattern repeat right, I looked at the clock and I knew I needed to change my plan.

A quick Google search for "instant pot chicken & potatoes" led me to this recipe from Creme de la Crumb. This is a new-to-me site. I'll explore later when I have more time.

As usual, I didn't quite follow the recipe. But the basic directions were spot on. I only had two chicken breasts. I didn't have any thyme. And there was no parmesan cheese here. It was one of the most "instant" recipes I've made in the Instant Pot. I typically say the the word "instant" is a misnomer. It takes quite some time for the food to heat up and reach pressure even though the cooking time might be shorter.

Maybe it's because I was only cooking two pieces of chicken and fewer potatoes, it didn't take too long to reach the pressure point. When it was done, I sliced the larger breast and we shared it. It was actually easier to eat it after it was sliced. And that was plenty for us tonight. I made a plate with the smaller piece of chicken and the rest of the potatoes for Daddy-O to have tomorrow. I'm hitting the road early in the morning for a couple of days of Mimi duty.


INSTANT POT CHICKEN & POTATOES

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (I only used 2)
2 lbs. red baby potatoes (I tossed in about 3/4 lb)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme (I didn't have any)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons dry Ranch seasoning mix
1 cup chicken broth (I did use the whole cup)
chopped parsley, optional

Toss chicken breasts and potatoes in oil. Mix seasonings and sprinkle over chicken and potatoes and toss to coat. (I used about half the seasoning mix for my smaller amount of chicken & potatoes.) 
Pour chicken broth in IP. Put chicken pieces into broth and put potatoes on top of chicken. Fasten lid and close valve to seal. Set timer to MANUAL for 15 minutes.
When cooking time is up, do a quick release. Remove chicken and potatoes from broth. Garnish with chopped parsley if desired.


This was ridiculously good for the effort that went into it. The potatoes were perfect. The chicken was moist and tender.  And I only had the one pot and one bowl to wash. You could certainly use different seasonings. It's the cooking directions that I was looking for.

Take a few minutes and go to the original recipe and then read the comments. Lots of other good ideas there.

Now I might better go throw a few things in a weekend bag. I'm leaving early-early tomorrow.



Thursday, July 18, 2019

Trying Something New This Week And BIG NEWS!


Had you given up on me? I nearly gave up on myself. After a hectic family week at the lake, we stayed on a few days more. But both of us were sick. Daddy-O, with one of those "non-specific viruses" that you just have to wait for it to get better. And I had another round of nearly non-stop coughing which has become a frequent problem. After a couple of weeks of listening to myself I gave up and made an appointment with the doctor. New doctor. New diagnosis. New meds. And I'm already feeling better. Enough better to get back in the kitchen. I haven't felt this good in ages.


I always think "next week" life will slow down. But looking at my calendar and jotting down dates my girls need me for Mimi duty, it might be more like next year before that happens. (I also found out after staying some extra days at the lake, that I like busy. It got harder and harder to just be.)

So today I decided to try freezer cooking—with a twist. Because I know I'll be away here and there for the next few weeks, I wanted to try freezing individual dinners. Kind of like the old TV dinners that hit the store shelves back in the 50s. I thought they were so exotic. Probably because we never had them. When I was on my own after college and cooking for one, I got my chance to try them. And to be honest I never found one I really liked. I think I pretended to like a couple of them. But they really weren't very good. The homemade ones will have to be better.

My normal freezing is in larger portions and I usually stick to entrees. By now I know what freezes well. And what we like. I always think the secret is in choosing recipes with a sauce or gravy (that includes soups and stews) to keep food moist and then being very particular about how I package them. Oh, breads and muffins are also good freezer items.

This morning's cooking is an experiment. We are looking for a complete—more or less—meal that Daddy-O can grab out of the freezer and heat for his dinner. He does know that the results will likely be better if he lets it thaw overnight in the refrigerator. We shall see how this goes.


Because this was something I decided to do last night, I made do with what was on hand. I'm not sure these are the ultimate dinners. But it will be better than pouring a bowl of cereal at night after working out on the farm all day. Because we were gone for two weeks at the lake, my cupboard looks a little like Mother Hubbard's. Bare.

I did have one can of mushroom soup and some breadcrumbs I bought a few weeks ago for another recipe. And I hate to say that I had just put eggs in the Instant Pot to cook when I realized I needed one for the Salisbury steak. So I turned the IP off, took out one egg, and started it again. THAT'S how empty my kitchen is.

For freezing purposes, I might double the gravy part of the recipe another time. This is an old, old recipe that I've made a good many times over the years. But with only two of us here, it now makes more than we can eat. So I packed four "steaks" and saved two out for our dinner tonight.

SALISBURY STEAK

1 can (10-3/4 oz.) condensed cream of mushroom soup
1-1/2 lb. lean ground beef (I like extra lean) 
1/2 dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 egg, slighty beaten
1/3 cup water (for the gravy--not the meat mixture)

Mix thoroughly, 1/4 cup of the soup, ground beef, bread crumbs, onion and egg. (I used my hands to mix it.) Shape firmly into 6 patties. In skillet, brown patties (use a little oil if necessary and pour off excess fat, if there is any.) Blend remaining soup and the water. Pour over patties. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until done, stirring occasionally. 

Serve with rice or mashed potatoes.


I bought new "meal prep" containers at Target this week. To fill up that little side compartment I zapped some mixed vegetables in the microwave for one minute less that the recommended cooking time. We will find out if that works out right with reheating. I truly have no clue. I will let you know how it goes when he heats one up.

I found a YouTube video last night that really go me started thinking about this. A Peek Inside. Her video is very real, and very honest. I did get some ideas. (For a totally opposite way to freezer cook, this video was also fun! She cooks huge meals.) This morning I looked through all my freezer cookbooks and only found one that had any guidance for "TV dinners." Most freezer cooking is for the entree. And I'm good with that. So this is just something new for me to learn.

Busy days ahead. School started for the little girls on August 1. Big Sister moves away to college the next week. Jessica and Todd move into a new home that same day. I foresee a fair amount of time spent down their way until things get settled.

And I also anticipate some more knitting coming up. NEWS FLASH!!! It will be baby knitting. 🥰 Jessica and Todd are expecting a baby girl in January. That will be granddaughter #4!