Saturday, 26 March 2011

Home Cooks: Bookmark this Site!

One of my favorite cooking reference sites is America's Test Kitchen.   You may be familiar with their wonderful magazine, Cooks Illustrated.   They test classic recipes and fine-tune them so they turn out great each time you make them.   The magazine offers step-by-step instructions and illustrations for dishes each issue, along with product reviews.   When I am ready to make a new kitchen equipment purchase, no matter how small, I check their site for recommendations.

A few months ago I had to replace my cookware.  I was prepared to save up for a year to buy All-Clad until I read ATK's reviews of a Tramontina set (this link is for the original set rated "Best Buy" in ATK)  sold exclusively!   It was a mere fraction of the cost and their only complaint was the sizes of pots offered.   Well, both companies read the reviews and quickly produced a line with bigger pots and pans.   It is wonderful, high-quality tri-ply stainless cookware and it has made cooking a little easier.  

I like that America's Test Kitchen gives every product an equal chance and does not always go with the expensive choice.   Bookmark ATK and check out their magazines.   It's time and money well-spent for homemakers or foodies!

My next recipe book purchase

Patron Saint of Monkeys?

Today our four-year old overheard us talking about an image of St. George slaying the dragon.   "Oh, yeah," we heard her say, "that must be Curious George's patron saint."

Friday, 25 March 2011

Our Lady's Blue Berry Muffins

Ok, so that's not the real title of this recipe, but that's what it is in our house this morning, to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation.   If Daddy wasn't at work, it would have been his blueberry buttermilk pancakes for breakfast, but I can't duplicate those.   This is not the recipe that I learned to use when I was little, but it's one I found in one of Mama's Pillsbury cookbooks.   It's perfectly moist and not too sweet and it's one of my favorite recipes.   There are also lots of variations that can be made.   These freeze beautifully and re-heat easily in the microwave (about 1 minute, wrapped in a paper towel).

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup oil
1 egg, beaten

Heat oven to 400 degrees.   Grease bottoms only of 12 muffin cups or line with paper cups.

In medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Push up sides on sides of bowl to form a well in the bottom.

In small bowl, combine milk, oil, and egg; blend well.

Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients all at once; stir just until dry ingredients are moistened (batter will be lumpy; don't over mix)   Fill muffin cups 2/3 full.

Bake at 400 for 18 - 23 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.   Cool 1 minute before removing from pan.


APPLE muffins: Decrease sugar to 1/4 cup.  Add 1 tsp. cinnamon & 1 cup finely chopped or shredded, peeled apple to dry ingredients.   Substitute apple juice for milk.   Bake at 400 for 18 to 22 min.

BLUEBERRY: Stir 1 cup fresh or frozen (do not thaw) blueberries into dry ingredients.
In small bowl, mix 1/4 cup flour, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon.   Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in 2 Tbsp. firm butter until it forms pea-sized crumbles.   Sprinkle over top of unbaked muffins before baking.

LEMON: Add 1 Tbsp. grated lemon peel to dry ingredients.  In small bowls, mix 1/4 cup flour, 2 Tbsp. white sugar (it's pretty if some of the sugar can be yellow decorating sugar).   Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in 2 Tbsp. fim butter until it forms peas-sized crumbles.   Sprinkle over tops of unbaked muffins before baking.

CHOCOLATE CHIP: Add 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips to dry ingrdients.  Sprinkle tops of muffins before baking with a combination of 3 Tbsp. sugar and 2 Tbsp. brown sugar.

JAM: Place 1/2 tsp. any flavor jam on each muffin before baking; press into batter. 

ORANGE: Add 1 Tbsp. grated orange peel to dry ingredients and substitute orange juice for milk.

SUGAR-COATED: brush tops of hot muffins with 2 Tbsp. of melted margarine or butter; dip in mixture of 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon (good on Apple muffins)

WHOLE-WHEAT:  Use 1 cup all purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour.

For mini muffins, bake at 400 for 11 to 13 min. or until light golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.   Cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.   


Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Don't Stand Still for Too Long at My House

I'm on a painting kick.   If you stand still for too long, you will end up being painted black--either brushed on or more likely, spray painted.   I do this every couple of years.   Mama had lots of metal yard pieces--plant stands, flower carts, etc. and they need to be repainted every so often.   I love metal pieces because you can so easily freshen them up with a fresh coat of paint.   I think nothing looks sharper than a crisp black finish.  The last time I was on spray-painting-spree, I called a friend and told her our fence would look really great painted black.  "I think you need to stop spray-painting for a while, Terri," was her reply.   Here are a few of my little projects.

BEFORE: Outdoor love seat and coffee table purchased a  garage sale.   I found a great deal on a cushion at!


Metal outdoor furniture will rust over time, so I waited until I could find some at a garage sale.   It makes much more sense to buy it cheap and paint it; I let the original owners take the depreciation on their purchase.   I had to wait five years!

Tip: If you have a table with glass that can't be removed, you can place cheap sticky notes under the metal to cover the glass at the edges.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

What's In My New Crock-Pot Today

It's finally time to retire my cute cherry-design slow cooker.   We broke in this new one today with the following delicious and economical recipe from Southern Living's Homestyle Cooking cookbook. 

It's a favorite recipe and we always pair it with the Creamy Coleslaw that follows.   I never liked coleslaw until I tried this recipe.   We like the sandwiches with hamburger pickle slices.   Sometimes, instead of the meats in the recipe, I use a pork roast or cut chops or steaks into chunks.   It freezes well, also!

Barbecue for Sandwiches

1 ½ lbs.  beef stew meat
1 ½ lbs. lean cubed pork
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¼ cup white vinegar
1 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Combine all ingredients in a 5 quart electric slow cooker.  Cover and cook on HIGH setting 7 hours.  Shred meat before serving.

Creamy Coleslaw

1 small cabbage, finely shredded
1 small carrot, shredded
½ cup diced green bell pepper
½ cup diced celery
¼ cup chopped onion
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 Tbsp. prepared mustard
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. pepper

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; toss well, and set aside.  Combine mayonnaise and remaining 7 ingredients; stir well.  Pour dressing over vegetables; toss gently.

The First Day of Spring From My Front Door

It's been a beautiful day, the perfecting beginning to this beautiful season.   This morning, I was greeted with the lovely lavender blossoms from my potted azalea.   One of the signs of spring that most registers in my mind from my childhood was the sight of massive old azaleas in bloom off our breezeway.   There was an old wrought iron gate that you could walk through and walk between the two blooming bushes.   You had to be fast, though, because the bees were busy swarming, also enjoying the fragrant pink blossoms.   The bushes grew so large that they touched you as you walked along the path.   I wonder how many hours I spent swinging on that gate and enjoying the sights and sounds around me or just daydreaming.

Here, we are unable to grow azaleas in the ground due to our soil.  So, I have a lovely Encore dwarf azalea in a pot.   It was a gift from our friend Nancy, so it is special to me for several reasons.    A reminder of happy memories and a good friend!

Another favorite plant that I'm unable to put in the ground here (well, I can put it in the ground; it will die, though!) is a gardenia...sigh...the memories of gardenia mornings.   Here's my gardenia waiting to be potted--a gift from our friends John and Cindy.   My mom shared plants with friends who shared their cuttings with her, also.   So, a walk in our yard meant hearing stories of each plant and its origins.   I'm glad I have the same kind of associations with my plants.

Another sign of spring was discovered when I moved this hanging basket.   I quickly put it back and was relieved to see the mama bird return and care for her eggs.   The only thing better than discovering a bird's nest?   Little children on tippy-toes looking with wonder at that newly discovered nest!

Thank you Lord for the blessings of springtime after the sometimes dreary days of winter!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Delicious Vegetable Chowder for Fridays

photo from Andrea at Simple Organized Living

I first tried this chowder at the home of my friend, Lauren.   It was delicious and I couldn't wait to make it for my husband.   It's a family favorite now and I've passed it along to several friends.   They've added it to their permanent collections, also.

Here's the link from Simple Organized Living, complete with the recipe and her lovely photos.  You can substitute the chicken broth with vegetable broth.    She's on facebook with great recipes and ideas.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Decorating for...Lent?

Last year was my first time to decorate for the season of Lent.   I felt like we needed a visual reminder of the season and its purpose.   I was inspired by the beautiful Lenten decorations at our church and my favorite psalm of the liturgical year.

Mardi Gras mantle: bright and cheery during the dreary weather of Jan. and Feb.

Very noticeable change for the kids when they woke up on Ash Wed. and found the mantle changed to this.   I bought a grapevine wreath and unwrapped it.   The empty vessels came from Hobby Lobby and had flat sides for easy display.

My favorite psalm to sing in church.   Although I miss the Gloria, this always speaks to my soul.

This is the Good Friday mantle, with the plaque  showing Jesus carrying the cross.   I didn't take pictures of the rest, but we have one for Holy Thursday and the Last Supper and then a Resurrection one for Easter morning.   On the Easter Vigil, we remove all the "dry desert" items and fill the mantle with Easter lilies.   The children see the days of Holy Week and Easter unfold before the eyes.

A simple Lenten centerpiece for our table.   I already had the dish.   I bought the sand and rocks at Dollar Tree.   The candle holder was less than a dollar at Wal-Mart, with just a simple tea light candle in the center.   The purple cloth is just a bandana from a crafts store, for less than a dollar.   It's nice to keep a Lenten centerpiece simple and inexpensive.

We Catholics know that our bodies were made for worshiping God and that all of our senses are involved.   We have visual reminders of God, His love, His saints in our parishes and we need to build the same reminders in our own homes.   Our mantle will be late this year, but I hope it will still be a powerful visual reminder that can help us stay on track during this Lenten season.   God bless you and your families during this special season.


I have not been this excited about an approaching Lenten season since 2003, right before we found out we were expecting Emmeline.   Since then, it seems I've either been pregnant or nursing, so the food-related aspects of Lent weren't as much a part of the observances.   That seems to affect the whole season, no matter what else I might have given up or added.   I'm sure it's because I pushed the boundaries by including foods like chocolate that were not necessary to a healthy diet for pregnancy and nursing.

This year, our family will be going through unavoidable chaos and activity during Lent, but we are anxious to make this a fruitful time for our family.   We've had a rough year.   A rough six years, but the last year seemed particularly rough.   When I told my friend Amber that I didn't understand why it felt much worse, she reminded me that the events of the previous five years unfolded over that time, but last year we had lots of big stuff hit us all at once.   I feel silly saying this.   I know what Mama would tell me if she were alive.   She was always one to point out others who had things much harder than you did.   And she would be absolutely right.   I can make a list of people I know personally who have dealt with things much more difficult and tragic than anything I've ever experienced.   It's just a statement of reality for our family, but just as the leaves and buds of spring are making their appearance, so brighter days have started to come for our family.   I am much more aware and appreciative of the good times because of the bad times.   The colors of spring would not be so vibrant and welcome to our eyes if not for the dreary palette and bareness of winter.   God's design is such perfection, in the natural world and in our lives.

This Lent, we plan to do more as a family to observe this season.   I feel that writing this gives an extra dimension of accountability.   I'm using several ideas from the site Catholic Icing so the children can have lots of concrete experiences of Lenten practices.   We will give up sweets, especially baked goods, which is particularly difficult for me.   It's the baking that I love as much as the sampling.   We will also give up Sonic 1/2 price drinks, something that has only recently crept back into our budget.   I once heard a priest say that you should give up things that need to be removed from or reduced in your life after Lent, so that's why I've chosen these food-related items.

In addition, I'm considering eliminating facebook completely.   I know I will limit my computer time to thirty minutes and only in the evening.   I hope to see that time lessen even more over these forty days.   I like to keep in touch with friends and family, but I loathe being "plugged in."   I had a simple Go-Phone, but I haven't even had that for the past few months.   I need to get another phone for emergencies.   I considered a smart phone, but I don't want to be constantly "plugged in."   I also have a distaste for the bad manners associated with smart phones.    I see couples sitting together in restaurants who aren't even speaking to each other because each one is busy on a phone.   I feel the same way about answering machines and call waiting, but when my father was in a nursing home, I had to give in so I could be more available.

We reduced our cable to basic last year.  Before, we only had one level above basic, but I liked my cooking and home improvement channels.   It's been much easier than I thought.   We are going to make the move to an antennae next and eliminate cable completely.   It's not as if there is much on television anyway and our list of books to read is growing quite unmanageable.    Over the past years, I've gone through enough that I don't desire to seek out drama (in the modern teenage sense of the word, not the Shakespearean sense) on film or otherwise.  One of my friends is a human resources manager and she doesn't watch reality shows because they remind her of work!   Quiet home life, peaceful schedule, simple joys, time with friends and family--these are the necessary things of life.  We can't control them, but we can seek them out and savor them as they are found.    Before my mom died, that's what we had, although one seems to romanticize things as years go by.  

We will also add an additional mass during the week and make our nightly rosary a priority.   Too often, we have to miss or shorten it, primarily due to a lack of planning on my part.   It will be difficult to get to a daily mass and make every nightly rosary, but the beauty of that is that it will require us to make our whole schedule revolve around those things, and thus, revolve around Christ.   That's the goal and we hope to have such success with our schedule during Lent that it will be less difficult to add more after Easter day.

Personally, my theme for Lent is Obedience.   Obedience to God through obedience to the the demands of a homemaker and to a schedule.   Were I as flexible in physical terms as I am where schedules are concerned, I would truly be a human pretzel.   That's why another Lenten observance will be bedtime for Mommy--by 10:00!   That needs to stay in place after Lent.   The main lesson I've learned from the way I've handled things over the past six years is that of my lack of obedience--to God's will, but also to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.     So much could have been better if I had let go of worry and fear and handed it to God.   If only I had listened to promptings or what the world might call hunches or intuition, I could have avoided certain choices.   I think my lack of self-discipline stems from my lack of obedience, so this Lent I will work on being an obedient child, out of love and gratitude for my Heavenly Father.   I'll be looking to my friend, St. Therese, to pray me through this one.   I always think of a simple image when I think of God's grace.   I think back to playing with the garden hose as a child.   If I would bend the hose and put a kink in it, I could stop the flow of water.   The faucet was still turned on, but I was stopping the flow of water.   That's what happens when we ignore God or hold on to things and try to deal with them entirely on our own.   God's grace is always flowing; it never stops and He waits to shower us with it, but through our own willful actions, we put a "kink in the hose" and we interrupt the flow of grace.  

The last time I spoke with my friend Regina and she told me how excited she is for me and my family.   She sees such blessings in our lives and more waiting for us.   She told me that distractions shouldn't take my attention away from God and all that He has in store for us.   Not a bed or roses or a life without any trials, but a life of joy and hope in Him, regardless of what comes.   I am excited, too, in this time of spring cleaning and sprucing up, that as we keep our hands busy on our physical house, we will keep our minds and hearts focused on our spiritual house.   God, again, in his perfect timing, is giving us this time of Lent to repair and build our hearts and foundation to be closer to Him.   Let the forty days begin; God's got a lot of work to do on me and I've got lots of cooperating to do.

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