Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Dreaded 'B' Word

I hate to admit this, but there is a word that I just absolutely hate: budget. I don't know why I hate it, but I do. I guess to me the word budget means 'poor' or 'not enough money'. On a deeper level, 'budget' represents restraint and lack of freedom. I am a spendthrift. I love to shop. Actually, if there were a spiritual gift of shopping, I'd operate quite strong in that gift. Now, even though I'm a spendthrift, I am at heart a bargain shopper. As much as I love to shop, I really hate paying full retail for anything.

Lately, God has really been dealing with me regarding my spendthrifty ways. I know that I have to establish a budget, but I've managed to ignore His heed. Well, I'm here to tell you that God has a sense of humor. Almost a year ago, I started a new job. Part of my responsibilities is to manage the department's budget. Basically I thought I'd just track expenditures. As it turns out, it's way more involved than that. I have to monitor spending, assist with developing the budget for each fiscal year, and a host of other related things. This is no small budget, either. We're talking over a couple million dollars. Aack!

This is really stretching me because it's totally out of my realm of experience. The funny thing is that I'm very careful with the department's budget because really, it's the public's money. So, I started thinking: If I can do this for man, shouldn't I be even more responsible with God's money? No sooner did my thinking on this change, when my church announced they were starting an eight week budget class. Hmm, is God not speaking? The good news is that I start tomorrow, and I'm pretty excited about it. Who knew I'd actually look forward to talking about a budget?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tip Of the Month

First of all, Happy New Year to everyone! I know I haven't posted in awhile, but I have developed very bad tendinitis in both of my elbows, so I'm not using the computer near as much as I have. It's been pretty excrutiating, and so far not much has worked.

At any rate, I thought I'd start doing a new feature which will be called 'Tip Of the Month'. I thought about doing weekly tips, but I know me, and I know I wouldn't do it weekly, so monthly it is.

Anywho, I like getting helpful tips, but what I don't like is tips that are silly or just over the top, so my tips will be things that I've at least tried once or twice.

So, for this month's tip, I give you Dawn's Liquid Detergent. Now, we all know Dawn 'gets grease out of your way', and some of us probably know that wildlife biologists use it to clean water fowl that may have been victims of the bad environment, but did you know that Dawn can unclog your toilet?

I know what you're thinking, and yes, it's completely true. I found this out about two months after we moved to our new house. We have an older home that has a lot of character--I've come to discover that 'character' means that your house has special issues with the plumbing, electricity, heating, or maybe all of the above. We're on a septic system, and in our naive little innocence quickly learned that there are certain things that cannot be flushed down a septic system. Hence, weekly we sloshed around in disgustingness--I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, it was enough to break me until one day my father gave me an article that he pulled from the Internet. The article stated that if you dump 1/2 cup of Dawn (the original blue formula), let it set for about 1/2 hour, and then pour a couple of gallons of very hot water down the toilet, your toilet will unclog.

I was a total non-believer, but one hot summer day, 'character' would not go down, and so in my desperation, I ran to Target (best store in the world) and purchased some Dawn. It worked like a charm. Here are my helpful tips:

  1. Make sure you turn the water valve off first--trust me on this
  2. Pour the water slowly--Dawn is detergent after all, and if you pour it too quickly you'll get a bubbly mess
  3. You may still have to plunge once or twice more, but it will go down
  4. You may have to go through the steps more than once
You basically have to adjust to your on toilet. By that I mean, I kind of think that some toilets unclog more easily than others. We have older toilets, so it takes a little more time, but I can tell you, I have found this to be the best thing I've ever used to unclog a toilet. It's cheaper than calling a plumber, and it works.

Unfortunately, I don't have the original article my dad gave me, but I'm sure you can Google 'Dawn' and 'toilet clog' and you'll find additional articles.

Till next time...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Gone in 60 Seconds...

...well, not quite. This Saturday I decided to bake Christmas cookies because there really won't be another day I can do it. I love this time of the year--we usually bake Christmas cookies on Christmas Eve; however this year I have to participate in my church's Christmas Eve program, so I will be getting home late on that night and do not want to be up all night baking and wrapping Christmas presents.

Anyway, I had a delicious recipe that I've had ever since I took Home Ec in the 7th grade. The recipe is called 'Party Meringue Cookies', and they are wonderful. Every year, my family asks me to make them, and they're gone almost before they're out of the oven. They're a basic sugar cookie recipe with meringue and red hots on top. Like I said, I've had this recipe since the 7th grade, and it traveled with me as my dad got transferred from pillar to post with the air force. I just recently moved, and cannot find my recipe! I am so broken hearted. Y'all know, I actually wrote the principal of the school to see if she could help (desperate times call for desperate measures, lol).

Since I didn't have my standby recipe, I scoured the Internet for substitutes, and I found some good ones. So good in fact, that they were all gone this morning! I was really hoping they'd last at least a couple of days, but no such luck. Which in my family means they're pretty good; otherwise they would sit there for weeks and grow mold.

Bestest Chewiest Ginger Snaps

I love ginger snaps. I can seriously eat a bag by myself. The thing that I don't like about them is that the ones that I buy are really hard, so when I saw this recipe, I thought I'd give it a try. Boy, am I glad I did.

These cookies are delicious! They smelled so good while baking, and they really are soft and moist. These are now at the top of my list. Just a couple of notes about the recipe: the author recommends refrigerating the dough. I found that I really didn't need to because my butter (I don't use margarine) was fairly cold to begin with. I did soften it up a bit, though. Also, when you're rolling it into balls, it can be a little messy. It also stained my hands a bit, but it came right off.

Lastly, you will have to adjust your cooking time by your own oven. My oven cooks super fast, and I've ended up burning a few things by following the time suggested on recipes. You will be able to smell them baking, and you'll probably have an idea as to when they can come out. The author suggests doubling the recipe, and so do I--they are that good!

Basic, Easy Sugar Cookies

About 10 or 11 years ago, I made some cookies that were basically a sugar cookie, but for half the dough you mixed in ground pistachios, and the other half you used raspberry jam. They were really good, but of course I lost that recipe, too. Anyway, I improvised. I used this basic recipe, but added about 1/3 cu of ground pistachios (I didn't grind too finely--about the consistency of coarse salt grains) and green food coloring to one half of the dough, and 1/4 cu. of raspberry jam and red food coloring to the other. This worked out okay, but I think I used just a bit too much jam. You could probably get away with about a tablespoon or so of it. What I did was put the raspberry dough in the freezer for about 20 minutes, and then when I rolled it out, I made sure the cutting board was floured. For interesting design/taste, I butted the two ends of the dough together and cut them out with cookie cutters. You can do it however you want. I think the taste of the pistachios and raspberries are a good mix, but they taste fine separately, too. The good thing about this recipe is that since it's so basic, you can add any flavorings you want. Something that might be good is maybe almond extract instead of (or even with) the vanilla extract. You could melt chocolate, and dip the baked cookie in the chocolate and then roll in slivered almonds. Hmm, think I might try that.

White Chocolate Bark

This was another recipe that was easy to make. Just a note: the instructions say to basically make an 8x10 template on the back of parchment paper so that you'll have a rectangle. I just eyeballed it--I think it looked more rustic that way. Also, I used less white chocolate (I think Ghiradelli's is 11 oz) and more dried cherries, apricots and cranberries. I also used walnuts and pistachios. If you use pistachios, try and use the ones that are already shelled and ready to go. It's much easier. Also, make sure you press the fruit/nuts into the chocolate a bit; that way once it hardens, you won't lose anything.

I didn't cut this, either. I just broke it into pieces. You do have t work fairly quickly with this because once it hardens, you're done. You can zap it in the microwave for a few seconds, but it'll be best to do that before you add the fruit/nuts. This is somthing I'll try with different types of chocolate, fruit nuts, and maybe pretzels. I love foods that have that salty/sweet combo, and this was perfect. Plus, it has fruit in it, so it's not all bad, lol.

Anyway, I hope you all have a wonderful and blessed Christmas holiday.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vegan Mushroom Soup

With my dad being in the hospital, I decided that I would give my mom a break and cook dinner tonight. It has been really cold today, and I have had a craving for mushrooms, so I decided that I would do a mushroom soup.

I love soup--especially a creamy soup. Since I've been trying to eat better, I thought I'd do a vegan version of mushroom soup. When I make soup, I don't measure anything; I just throw whatever ingredients into the pot. Basically, most of my soups start out the same way: I saute onions and garlic in either olive oil or butter, make a roux (gravy) with a little flour and liquid (cream, milk, broth), add whatever vegetables, more broth and keep it moving.

I did the same thing with this recipe, only I changed a couple of key ingredients. Since I wanted this to be vegan, dairy products were out. I also wanted to make it just a bit heavier since that was going to be the main course. Right now I have a ton of wheatberries on hand. There's only so much flour you can grind, so I figured you have to be able to use these some other way. About three or four months ago, I found a great deal of a book on It's called Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way by Lorna Sass. This book details how to cook a variety of whole grains--including wheatberries. Wheatberries are fairly easy to cook, but they take about an hour. You basically use 2 1/2 cups of water to 1 cup of berries. Bring them to a boil, and then cover and simmer until they're plump and they kind of split open. While the berries were cooking, I worked on the rest of the soup.

I've been reading a lot about unrefined, virgin coconut oil and its health benefits and decided that I am going to use it as much as I can. Today was no exception. I really like to use coconut oil to saute food. It can tolerate high heat and sautes pretty quickly. I know this is going to sound strange, but it sautees 'cleaner', and doesn't leave the food greasy. Anyway, I took half of a yellow onion, 1 clove of garlic and a stalk of celery and sauteed them until they were tender. While they were sauteeing, I coarsely chopped button and portabello mushrooms. I added them with a sprinkle of salt and pepper to the onions and sauteed them until they turned brown.

I added about a tablespoon of whole wheat flour and my favorite organic vegetable broth to make a roux. I also added my new favorite ingredient: nutritional yeast. If you haven't heard of or tried nutritional yeast, let me tell you, it really makes a sensational gravy! I used it this year to make gravy for my vegan "turkey" for Thanksgiving, and the non-veg folks tore it up. More on nutritional yeast later.

Anyway, once the roux started to thicken, I ladled half of the mixture into another bowl and pureed it with my stick blender. I am so happy to have a stick blender now. I don't know why I didn't have one before--it sure is easier than pulling out a food processor all the time. Plus, I have a tiny kitchen, and too many appliances. After pureering the mushrooms, I added them back to the skillet. By now, the wheatberries were almost done. The interesting thing about wheatberries is that they do not absorb as much water as rice, and they make a type of broth. I strained the berries and reserved the liquid (I had about 2 cups left). I put the berries and mushrooms back in the pot. I added the reserved liquid and a little more of the broth, and brought it back up to a quick boil. I didn't want it too condensed, but I didn't want it runny, either. I let it boil for about 5 minutes just to kind of cook down some of the liquid. Just before I served it, I added some sliced green onions.

This recipe probably sounds complicated, but it really was very simple. I think the most complicated ingredient was the wheatberries--and only because they take so long to cook. I definitely think this recipe would work with wild rice (in fact, I think that would be delicious). And, if you don't want to go the vegan route, you can certainly use chicken stock. You could also use less liquid and make a condensed soup to add to chicken or to make a casserole dish.

Just a note about wheatberries: they have a chewy texture. If you're used to rice, it's not like rice at all. I guess you could say it has a texture sort of like corn. Sounds weird, but I like it (of course, I'm weird, so there you go.) As for taste; well, my mom is my most honest critic. She said the soup was good, but she wasn't so sure about the wheatberries. I think it's just because it's an unexpected taste/texture.

I was going to post a picture, but I forgot charge my camera battery.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What's For Dinner Part Deux

As promised, here is my update from yesterday's post. Dinner came out okay. There were hits and misses. Let's start with the misses. The baked beans did not turn out well. Well, they would have had I cooked the beans first, or started with canned beans. The directions said to bring all the ingredients to a simmer, then cover and put in the oven for 1.5 hours or until the beans get tender. Mine never got tender. I used less beans than was called for. I have no idea what happened. I soaked them overnight in more than enough water. I followed the directions to a 'T'. At any rate, I liked the taste of the baked beans, but this recipe was more work than I'm interested in. I didn't have to worry about the beer. It wasn't bad. It tastes like a very strong sparkling cider (which, if i make this again, I will use instead of the beer). The beer to use, apparently is Lindemans (I found it accidentally at Trader Joe's and didn't realize it was the beer that was recommended).

You know, I have a really special family. I forewarned them that the beans were not so great. My dearest daughter described them as "crunchy". My brother said nothing, but gave me that 'little brother' look he always gives me when he's about to tease me. My father, bless his heart, actually ate them. He was just trying to not hurt my feelings. No problem. I look at it this way: At least now I know what works and what doesn't. The really good part about this is that the recipe has the potential to be really good and it is very hearty. It would be perfect for a tailgate party. The really bad part about this was the clean up. It left a mess in my Dutch oven. However, with bleach and baking soda, I was able to get it gleaming again.

The sirloin salad was very good. The dressing was divine, and it perfectly complemented the baked beans (such as they were). Honestly, I could've just drank the salad dressing straight! I wasn't sure how it was going to come out since the recipe called for fresh ginger, and I didn't have any. I did have crushed ginger, so I used that instead. I think crushed ginger is a little stronger than fresh, so I used about 1/2 tbs. I marinated the sirloin with the dressing before grilling it. I think this dressing is a perfect marinade. The salad itself was very simple: Endive (or escarole, same thing), pitted Kalamata olives and sliced red onions--yummy! The Morningstar Farms Meal Starters come pre-seasoned, so I didn't have to do anything with them.

The bread was not my best loaf, but it was nice and crusty. It would go great with a nice, hearty soup like french onion. This bread is more of a sourdough. I like sourdough, but I want a really nice French bread like you'd get in France. When we were stationed in England, my mom used to buy baguettes (I think that's what they're called)all the time . They were so crusty on the outside, but inside they were soft and chewy. Real French bread is nothing like what you'd get at your local Safeway. I haven't had anything like it since I was a little girl. Maybe someday I'll find the perfect recipe.

What came out perfectly was the cake. As much as I hate cooking, I do love to bake. I don't do a lot of cakes, though, because I've never had much luck. But this cake actually came out really, really good. It's a basic yellow cake, but I wanted something lemony, so I used the lemon curd I had on hand in the filling and the frosting. I made the filling with lemon curd, raspberry jam and a tiny bit of cream cheese. The frosting was from the recipe I posted yesterday, but I only used half of it and added vanilla. Let me stop on the vanilla. Until I started getting into baking bread, I always thought vanilla was vanilla. I kept reading things about Mexican vanilla, and how it was the best. I'd never heard of Mexican vanilla, and when I researched it, in my opinion it was very pricey. Well, I broke down last week and finally ordered some from Pleasant Hill Grain. Oh. My. Lord. This vanilla is soooo good! First of all, it doesn't have that alcohol smell and taste that regular vanilla does. It is smooth, and it made the cake really tasty. It really is good. I think I've found a new best friend.

At any rate, I'm not the best cake decorator in the world, heck, probably not even on my street, but even though the cake doesn't look that great, it tasted fantastic.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What's For Dinner

I've never been one that likes to cook, but for whatever reason, whenever I do cook, I go all out. It's weird, I know. I don't like day-to-day cooking, but there's something about Sunday dinner that I think is special. I love to have the family sit down on Sunday to a good meal. The weekend is over, and the work week will begin. Sunday is the day to just unwind with a good meal and a good nap afterwards.

So, a couple of months ago, I came across this recipe, and have been wanting to try it ever since. I love baked beans. This sounds so good, but the lambic beer kinda threw me for a loop. I'm a little leery of alcohol, but since I don't know right now what would be a good substitute, I will try it. If I can think of something to use instead of the beer, I will next time.

I couldn't think of what else to serve with it, because who wants to eat just baked beans? Well, since this is a hearty recipe, I thought maybe I'd do a grilled sirloin salad. I wanted arugula, but couldn't find any, so I got escarole. I found some nice sirloin for the family, and the Morningstar Farm Steak Meal Starter for me, along with sliced portabello mushrooms. I just recently got a grill thanks to Freecycle, and thought this would be the perfect time to try it out.

Now, to complicate matters, I the most recent edition of Mother Earth News has a wonderful bread recipe. I have been on a bread baking kick for almost a year now. My poor Kitchenaid is about to give up the ghost. I am really praying it lasts until I can get my new toy. I have been salivating for this mixer. Apparently, you can do six loaves in one batch. I will probably never buy store bought bread again (yeah, right).

I am also going to do basic yellow cake with lemon curd and raspberries. I don't have a recipe for that since it's basically in my head, but if you happen to come across The King Arthur Flour Baking Companion, the main recipe is on page 352.

Well, I'd better get busy--I've got a lot of cooking to do, and I do hate to cook, lol. I will try and post pictures tomorrow and update everyone on how the meal came out.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For...Yogurt?

I think I mentioned earlier that I got a yogurt maker on ebay. Well, yesterday, I decided that I would try to make homemade yogurt.

I had to get a yogurt starter. The directions say you can use a starter from another batch of yogurt (like commercially made) as long as neither it nor the milk is ultra pasteurized. Well, since I didn't know if Yoplait was ultra pasteurized, I called a health food store to see if they had yogurt starter. My luck, they did. I found Yogurmet starter at my health food store.

At any rate, the yogurt was pretty simple to make. You heat a quart (4 cups) of milk on med low heat. You can use either whole or low fat milk. If you lose low fat, you'll have to add about 1/3 cu. of powdered milk--I don't think that you can use skim milk, however.

You heat the milk slowly until it just comes to a boil. Then you let the milk cool until the temperature is cool enough to add the starter. My yogurt maker came with a thermometer that shows when the temperature is right. Unfortunately, it doesn't give you a degree reading, it only has markings. I also have another thermometer, and decided to use it, also. The cool temperature was between 115-120 degrees.

Anyway, you put 1-2 tbs of starter in one of the the jars. Add some of the warm milk to the jar and stir well. Then take the mixture and add it to the milk. Next, pour the milk evenly into all of the jars (actually, mine didn't end up so evenly. I have 5 jars and had enough for 4.5). You then place the jars in the machine, put on the lid and plug in the machine. You let it heat for 10 hours, and then place in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

When you're ready to use, you can add your sweetner and fruit. I added a bit of agave and strawberries. I did make a mistake, though. I should've just coarsely chopped the strawberries, but I pureed them. When I added this to the yogurt, it made it super soupy.

I used agave as my sweetner. It's sweet as sugar, but has a low glycemic incident.

I really enjoyed making the yogurt, and already have ideas for my next batch.