Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Small things

It takes very little to make something look special and make someone feel special.
There was leftover chocolate fondue after the bachelorette party on Friday night.  I decided that it would be nice if husband and I had fondue for dessert while watching movies.  Instead of just throwing bags on the table, I put the marshmallows, Pringles, pretzels and strawberries into containers, along with the crock of melted chocolate, unto my nice wooden cutting board.  It make a big difference to take an extra two minutes to make things look nice.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Who doesnt love chocolate?!

I recently had the pleasure of being the matron-of-honor for a friend's wedding.  As such, it was my job to throw the bachelorette party.  The bride-to-be loves chocolate (who doesnt?!).  I decided for the party I would make chocolate fondue.  I do have a traditional fondue pot but it was at my parent's house and the last couple times I tried to use it we had trouble getting the temperature right.  As I have such love for my crock pots I decided to try doing chocolate fondue in my mini crock pot.  I headed to the market to buy the ingredients and dippers; strawberries, marshmallows, pretzels and pound cake.   The pound cake at the grocery store bakery was $5.  Forget that!  I decided to go full domestic diva and make my own pound cake.  All the ingredients for the pound cake are pantry/fridge staples but cake flour.  To the Google!  Making your own cake flour is wicked easy.  Place 2 tbs of corn starch into a 1 cup measure then fill the rest of the cup with all purpose flour.

chocolate fondue
24 oz semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 c evaporated milk (little less then 12oz can)
1/4 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Place ingredients in crock pot.  Turn on high for 30 minutes, stirring frequently making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot so nothing burns.  Turn on low for at least 1 hour.

pound cake

3 large eggs, room temperature
3 tablespoons milk, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups  sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
13 tablespoons (1/2 cup + 1/3 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Butter or spray with a non stick vegetable spray, a 9 x 5 x 3 inch (23 x 13 x 8 cm) loaf pan. 
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), place the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar) and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds or until blended. Add the butter and half of the egg mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about one minute to aerate and develop the cake's structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the remaining egg mixture, in 2 additions, beating about 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the egg and strengthen the cake's structure.  
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake for about 55 to 65 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If you find the cake browning too much as it bakes, cover with a piece of lightly buttered aluminum foil after about 30 minutes.
Remove the cake from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and cool completely on a lightly buttered wire rack.
The Pound Cake can be covered and stored for several days at room temperature, for one week when refrigerated, or it can be frozen for two months.
Makes one 9 x 5 x 3 inch (23 x 13 x 8 cm) loaf.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Domestic Harmony and balls

Often, the key job of a domestic diva, is to keep peace in the home.  In our home the biggest bone of contention is money.  I am currently waiting to hear whether I will be deemed as disabled by my Fibromyalgia.  Husband's income is our only income.  Our first year as a couple, it was the opposite with me making a comfortable enough living to support us both.

All that being said, to keep peace and harmony in the house, I look for ways to save or make money.  To save us money on Christmas gifts I taught myself how to crochet so I could make gifts.  YouTube was a wonderful resource to learn with tons of great video tutorials.  By far, I felt the best YouTuber was Bobwilson123.  Her tutorials are very easy to understand and she offers written patterns for a lot of the tutorials.  I made over 20 gifts for about $20 worth of supplies.   Then I got my first commissioned work.  A friend saw a toddler hat I made and asked me to make her daughter a hat/scarf set for Christmas.  I suddenly realized that I could translate my new hobby into a money making venture.  Dont get me wrong!  It will never make me rich, nor will I ever want to be in a position where I have to push myself very hard to get things done for other people.

My newest money making venture involves a local Inter-tribal PowWow.  I am making a couple things to sell that have seemed to be a hit among my friends.

Hacky Sacks/ Balls
I use size H/8- 5.00mm hook and #4 medium yarn

Rnd 1 - Ch2, 6 sc in 2nd from hook, join with slst
Rnd 2 - 2sc in each sc, join
Rnd 3 - alternate 2sc/sc, join
Rnd 4 - alternate 2sc/sc/sc, join
Rnd 5 - alternate 2sc/sc/sc/sc, join
Rnd 6 - alternate 2sc/sc/sc/sc/sc, join
Rnd 7-9 - sc, join
Rnd 10 - alternate sc2tg/sc/sc/sc/sc, join
Rnd 11- alternate sc2tg/sc/sc/sc, join
Rnd 12- alternate sc2tg/sc/sc, join
Rnd 13 - alternate sc2tg/sc, join
*stuff with your choice of filling
Rnd 14 - alternate sc2tg, join
close with running stitch, pull tight and tie off

*There are a large variety of things you can stuff with depending on what you have and what you are using the balls for.  For some of mine I lined it with the toe of an old stocking and filled with rice, using twist tie to close stocking.  I also used feed corn.  Another great filling for hacky sacks is plastic pellets found at local craft store.  I went the least expensive route.

Water Bottle Sling
I use J/10- 6.00mm hook and #4 medium yarn
Gauge isnt important but you may want to have a water bottle close by to make sure it fits after Rnd 5.  It should be and will be a little snug.  It will loosen up with use.

Rnd 1 - ch 4, 12dc into 4th stitch from hook, join,
Rnd 2 - ch 3,  2dc in each dc, join, ch 3
Rnd 3 - ch 3, alternate dc/2dc around, join,
Rnd 4 - ch 4, tr in every other stitch
Rnd 5-11 - ch 4, tr in between each tr
Rnd 12 - create strap by ch 180
Rnd 13 - dhc in each ch, tie off.
Securely attach both ends of strap to bottle sling

Summer Loom Knit Beanie
Im not enclosing the whole pattern here because its pretty simple.  When using round knitting looms they recommend that you use 2 or more strands of yarn.  To make a lighter weight summer beanie just use 1 strand and knit loosely.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Old Fashioned Laundry and Cookies

I did too much yesterday.  What forced me out of the work force was having Fibromyalgia.  The fun of this insidious illness is that you can feel perfectly fine but if you push yourself too hard you can end up in bed, in pain, with fatigue for days.  Between 3 hours grocery shopping, 4 hours of prepping dinners, making bread and all the clean up required plus the normal housekeeping I do, it left me feeling completely in shambles today.  We needed to get some laundry done but barely have enough energy to walk down the stairs, much less the 2 blocks to the laundry mat.  Ghetto laundry it is!

Old fashioned/ghetto laundry:
Being of limited energy and limited finances frequently, I have resorted to doing what I refer to as "ghetto laundry".  There was really no pride lost when I thought about all the generation before me who washed their clothes by hand or the people in other parts of the world washing their clothes a river.  Our apartment here is very small, thusly so is our bathroom.  Way back when I lived in an apartment in Mass. I use to use my bathtub.  Not having a bathtub, only a small stall shower, I had to become inventive.  I put my clothes in a milk crate, put the crate into a storage bin, the storage bin goes into the shower.  I use whatever laundry soap I would use for that amount of clothes then fill the bin with hot water.  Usually, I'll let it set/soak for a little while, then I'll go in, elbow deep in hot soapy water, and use myself as an agitator.  I'll lift the crate out then empty the bin of dirty water.  How many times I refill the crate/bin, agitate, then empty just depends on how dirty my clothes are.  I keep doing it until the water is clear.  I'll then take the crate out, set the bin aside, letting the clothes drip dry for an hour or so.  Long ago, I had picked up, rather cheaply at Walmart, a adjustable plastic curtain rod.  I hang that in my shower, put my clothes on hanger to let them dry more in the shower with the fan on.
Word of warning: NEVER wash your husbands socks in the crate with your shirts... or really with anything else that you dont want smelling like dirty feet.  I have made this mistake and had to rewash everything at the laundry mat to get rid of the feet smell.

Old fashioned cookies:
Today, Upstate NY was its usual dreary, rainy, self.  Last night, while cleaning up, I noticed I had not only a large tub of old fashioned oats but a large tub of quick oats AND a medium ziplock full of quick oats we had been given but was cut too small to make a decent oatmeal with.  Whats better on a dreary day then a batch of homemade oatmeal raisin cookies?  There was only one catch in the plan; my brown sugar looked like a pile of dark brown rocks and was about as soft.  Interwebs (and husband) to the rescue!
To soften up hard, dried brown sugar:
Put sugar into a microwave safe bowl
Fill a small bowl of water
Place both bowls into the microwave for 1 minute.
If your sugar is large clumps like mine was, break up the clumps a bit (its easier to do this after microwaving then before)
Continue microwaving at 15 second intervals until sugar is soft enough to work with
Brown sugar problem solved, I was able to throw together a super easy batch of oatmeal raisin cookies
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
1 1/4 cup Butter/Margarine softened (2 & 1/2 sticks)
3/4 cup Packed Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla
1 1/2 cup Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
3 cup Oats (can use quick or old fashioned)
1/2 cup Raisin 

Pre-heat oven to 375*.  Mix all ingredients together in large bowl.  Spoon onto greased cookie sheet.  Bake 8-9 minutes for chewy, 10-11 minutes for crispy.

Our kitchen is incredibly small, Ive had to learn some ingenious tricks.  My baking, cooling racks double as wall racks to hold my pot lids.

Monday, May 7, 2012

... and 4 breakfasts

I decided to make a half batch of ready-made oatmeal breakfasts.  Having not an inch left in my freezer, I figured that if I make a small batch it can just be refrigerated for a couple days.  I bought frozen peaches, mixed berries, strawberries and fresh apples.  Since we like to use the frozen fruit in shakes and husband likes to each frozen peaches as a snack, I decided to make apple and cinnamon.  I put 1/2 medium apple diced into each container and about 2 tsp of cinnamon.

Crock Pot Oatmeal
4 cup Old Fashioned Oatmeal
4 cup Milk -(I used Original Almond Milk because Im lactose intolerant)
4 cup Water
3 tbs Honey to sweeten
- Put all ingredients into crock pot and cook on low until to a tenderness you like (I did mine about 1 hour).  This 2:1 liquid:oatmeal combo makes a fairly runny oatmeal.  Adjust your liquid to your preference.
- Allow to cool slightly.  Scoop 1 cup per container.
- Add fresh or frozen fruit.
If you will be eating it within a couple days you can refrigerate just keep an eye on it if you use fresh fruit.  You can also freeze it.  When ready to eat, pop into the microwave to reheat.

Cutting the recipe in half produced four containers of 1 cup oatmeal each

14 dinners and yeast on a diet

Today, the day that we get our grocery money, husband and I went to get shopping.  Not only did we get the usual work lunches and snack but also bought the ingredients to make freezer to crock pot dinners.  I had to make a couple major changes, mostly that I had to switch out turkey breast for chicken.  

We started out trip at Aldi's.  Aldi's is a fantastic store when you are on a tight budget.  A large portion of the groceries are the same as the major brands, just off label.  Some of the savings are passed on due to some of Aldi's cost cutting measures.  You must rent a grocery cart for 25 cents which encourage people to put their own carts back, cutting the need to have an employee gather carts strewn all over the lot.  They neither provide free bag nor bag the groceries for you.  You can bring your own bag, grab an empty box or pay a small free to buy bags, even thermal-freezer bags.  Aldi's does carry your staple groceries but they also have some odds and ends other groceries including pet food, flowers, vitamins and energy drinks.  When husband and I switched to Aldi's our grocery bill was cut almost in half.  We still have to go to a name brand market for out cat supplies because Boo (our 3 year old tuxedo princess) will not eat anything other then Friskies canned food.  She'll turn her nose up, wasting it rather then to lower herself to generics.

14 Dinner:
An extra trip to Price Chopper market was needed to get some of the remaining ingredients for the freezer dinners.  All together, between the two stores, the bill came to just about $90.  The cost per meal is about $6, each meal serving 3 to 4 people making a serving around $2.  As soon as I got home I started by separating what was husband's lunch stuff, what was general groceries and what was for the freezer dinners.  You'll see that I got generic freezer bags.  I dont recommend it!  You will not see the meats because those went right into the fridge.  I started with the poultry recipes, cleaned off my surface, washed up the dishes, then took a break before moving on to the beef recipes.  Just the meal prep too me about 4 hours.  It could have taken less time had I bought different meat but the beef  I bought need some butchering to remove larger pieces of fat.  I suggest that people plan their freezer space ahead better then I did.  We have a fairly small freezer so there was a lot of finagling that needed to be done to get everything in the freezer.  Because I didnt get the best quality of freezer bags I had to stand a couple up in a casserole dish until it was hard frozen.  I made sure to write on the bag in Sharpie not only what it contained but also how long to cook it in the crock pot on what setting and if a side dish was needed.  (You'll notice the large quantity of pot pies.  Husband loves them every day for lunch at work.  And I mean EVERY day at work)

Yeast on a diet:
Last night I had planned on bruchetta and fresh made Italian bread for dinner.  I made a delicious bruchetta with plum tomatoes then started to gather ingredients for Italian bread.  There was no sugar.  Being experimental and knowing that bread in my machine is not expensive, I tried to see if the yeast would eat Splenda.  Apparently, yeast are diet free.  The dough never proofed.  They do say that bruchetta taste better when it has had a chance to sit for a while.  It is still sitting.  I made sure that we picked up sugar today.  Time to go try make Italian bread again, this time giving those little yeast bugs real sugar instead of substitute.

Of course, I had to add a picture of my Boo Radley, my princess.  

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bruchetta and v-stitch hats

It's Sunday.  In our little family Sundays mean watching premium cable shows online.  This time of year it HBO's Game of Thrones.  The husband works 2nd shift, meaning that our dinner is usually around 1am.  Im not sure what dinner will be tonight, but snack will be stellar.  I had the husband pick up some tomatoes for the pre-made burgers we had last night.  When I opened the freezer last night I noticed I still had a chunk of mozzarella.  I ran over to a market and bough some olive oil.  I will admit, sadly, that its probably not good olive oil.  Snack tonight will be bruchetta.  My plan is to balance out the not wonderful olive oil with wonderful homemade/bread machine made Italian bread.
Once snack is started, I plan to finish the double crochet v-stitch hat I've been working on.  When I get this hat done my next project will be crochet water bottle slings.  Im possibly going to vend at a local PowWow and think they would be a hit there.

Tomato & Mozzarella Bruchetta (my recipe is on the cheap):
Italian herb
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt & pepper

Chopped the tomatoes, I like to take out some of the seed area leaving as much of the meat as possible.  Cube mozzarella fairly small.  Use enough oil and vinegar to moisten.  If you are using dry herb, rub them in your hands to crush them and release more of the flavor.  Add herb, salt and pepper to personal taste.  Its good to let it sit for a while to let the flavors intensify.
As you may notice, there are no measurements.  Recipes like this I do just "to taste", meaning the way I like it.   Of course, I would rather use fresh basil and fresh herbs, but this is budget cooking.

Now to the V-stitch part.  I currently trying to finish a double crochet v-stitch hat in pink and purple, something light for spring.

Double Crochet V-Stitch Hat
**DCV- (DC, ch1, DC) in same stitch
1.  Start with either a magic loop or chain 6.
2.  12 DC (double crochet) into loop or 5th chain from the hook.  Join/Slst (slip stitch) into top of 1st DC
      Each increase row will start with ch 3 (counts as 1st dc)
3.  Increase by 2DC in every other st, joining at the end.
4.  Repeat #3, increase, until it is desired width. (the way I learned to measure was put your hands on either side of your head with the hat on your head.  It'll fit when the hat barely touches your hands).
5.  v-stitch row: ch 4 (counts as dc, ch1), DC in same st as ch4.  DCV in every other st.  Join
6.  Ch4, DC in same stitch.  DCV between every DCV of the row before.  Join
7.  Repeat #6 until desired length.

I tend to use whatever hook I feel goes with the yarn.  All the yarns I use are either cotton, acrylic or a blend as Im allergic to wool.  Plus, blends are much less expensive and easier to care for.  For the hat Im working on right now I alternated every other row between pink and purple.  To alternate, I added the new color at the ch4 of step 5.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Make ahead freezer to crock pot recipes

I'll post all that blah, blah, blah, background stuff another time.  Wanted to get right to my first post.

Between my health and the soon to be sauna-like temperature in my apartment, I wanted to make ahead a bunch of recipes that I could put everything together, freeze, then throw into the crock pot whenever we wanted.  So far, I have collected 7 dinners (each making 2 freezer bags) and 1 breakfast recipe.

Meals: Onion Turkey, Chicken & Sweet Potato Stew, Mediterranean Chicken with Wild Rice, Beef Barely Stew, Teriyaki Chicken, Goulash/Beef Stew, Turkey & Cranberry and Freezer Oatmeal.

Shopping List:
     *meats: Turkey Breast: 6-8 lbs
                 Chicken Breast: 2-3 lbs 
                 Cubed or Stew Beef: 4-5 lbs 

     *veg:    baby carrots: 4 bags (could also use regular carrots.  But this is all about ease)
                 celery: 2 ribs 
                 potatoes: 6 md 
                 sweet potatoes: 2 md
                 onions: 3 md
                 green pepper: 1
                 minced or crushed garlic: lg jar  (again, you can crush yourself but its about ease)
                 lemon juice: 1/2 c fresh squeezed (usually about 2 lemons)

     *seasonings : onion soup mix: 3 envelopes
                          garlic powder
                          celery seed
                          teriyaki sauce (enough for 1 cup)
                          extra virgin olive oil (enough for 1/4 cup)

     *the rest:  stewed tomatoes: 1 (28oz) can
                     sun-dried tomatoes: 1/2 cup
                     diced tomatoes: 1 (14.5 oz) can
                     tomato paste: 2 (6 oz) can/tube
                     chicken broth: 1 cup
                     beef broth: 29oz
                     wild rice blend: 1 cup uncooked
                     barley:  1 cup uncooked
                     rolled oatmeal (not quick oats!): 4 cups
                     canned pineapple: 2 (20oz) cans
                     whole cranberry sauce: 15oz
                     orange juice: 1/2 cup
                     milk (I use soy or almond): 4 cups
                     frozen or canned fruit

     *sides:      egg noodles
                     rice of choice
                     instant stuffing or mashed potatoes


Each recipe makes 2 freezer bag with aprx 2-3 servings.  When prepping, unless it says otherwise, divide ingredients between 2 bags.

Onion Turkey:
4 lbs boneless/skinless turkey breast
1 tsp garlic powder
1 envelope onion soup mix
4 md potatoes peeled & cubed
1 bag of baby carrots
2 ribs of celery peeled & chopped
*Cook on low for 8-10 hours.  Serve over rice or pasta

Chicken & Sweet Potato Stew
4 chicken breasts cut bite size
2 md sweet potatoes peeled & cubed
2 md potatoes peeled & cubed
2 md or 1 bag carrots
1 (28oz) stewed tomato w/ liquid
1 tsp each: paprika, salt, celery seed
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp each: cinnamon, nutmeg
1 cup chicken broth
*Cook low 6-8 hours.

Mediterranean Chicken w/ Wild Rice
1 lb chicken breast
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup uncooked wild rice blend
10 cloves (or equivelent) crushed garlic
1/2 cup sun-dried tomato (if using dry, rehydrate first)
2 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup EVOO
*mix liquids together before adding to chicken & rice.  Cook low 8 hours

Beef Barley Stew
2 cup carrot
1.5 lb cubed beef
1 envelope onion soup
29 oz beef broth
14.5 oz diced tomato w/ liquid
2 cup water
1 cup uncooked barley
*Cook low 8-10 hours

Teriyaki Chicken
4 chicken breasts
1 bag baby carrots
1 md onion chopped large
2 (20oz) cans on pineapple, drained
4 cloves chopped garlic
1 cup teriyaki
*Cook low 8 hours.  Serve over rice

Goulash/Beef Stew (for the record, I found this recipe online. this isnt the way I make stew)
3 lbs stew beef
1 green pepper, sliced
4 carrots, chopped
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves of chopped garlic
2 (6 oz) can/tube of tomato paste
4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper
*Cook 8 hours on low.  Serve over egg noodle with (optional) sour cream

Weeknight Thanksgiving Dinner
6 turkey breasts
15 oz whole cranberry sauce
1 envelope onion soup mix
1/2 cup orange juice
salt & pepper to taste
*Cook 6-8 hours on low.  Serve with instant stuffing or potatoes

Freezer Oatmeal
4 cup rolled oatmeal
4 cup "milk"
4 cup water
*Cook in crock pot on low until done to desired softness.  Allow to cool.  Place into single serving containers.  Top with honey, syrup, or frozen or canned fruit.  Freeze.  When serving, microwave until desired temperature.

Full disclosure, I havent made any of these myself at this time.  I also cant claim that they are my recipes.  Some recipes I got online (I'll add links to the sites later) or from the "Fix-it and Forget-it Cookbook".