Thursday, February 28, 2013

First Time For Everything!

Okay, since it is harder and harder to find things to blog about before the spring growing season begins, I decided to try my hand at something I spend a lot of money on every year...lotions and hand creams.

I have some of the weirdest skin on the planet. I have sensitive skin, that hates chemicals. It is tougher than an elephant hide. (Ask my tattoo artist!) It hates shaving (thus my waxing obsession) and it is dry in some places but oily in others. Fantastic, right?

I feel like we are all close enough now that I can tell you all about my skin grossness...LOVE YOU MAN!

Anywho....

I have been struggling for years with balancing washing for cleanliness and drying out my skin. Winter is the worst! I can't have anything that would clog pores, or hello acne! (Ever had zits on the back of your hand? Really delightful, let me tell you) I can't do anything with perfumes in them, as I am probably allergic. I can't have anything that might have an irritant in it, especially on a place that recently had hair removed.

I have been fascinated with trying my hand at medicinal shit. I had tried a couple of times but I was really flying blind, and decided to give up. This year I plan to grow lots of medicinal herbs, but I needed something now that I could use, on my hands especially, that would not clog pores, and would soak in so that the next time I washed my hands, I didn't just wash stuff down the drain. Doing that is a waste of money, but until now, what choice did I have?

So here is something I really like, a little dab will do ya, and it makes it through a couple hand washings before I have to apply again. CAUTION! If you have a nut allergy, please do not use this recipe!!

Hand cream
4 parts Shea butter
1 part pure lanolin
1 part almond oil
15 drops tea tree oil per part lanolin
30 drops lemon oil per part lanolin

I melted the Shea butter in my pan. This is a pan I use to melt stuff like this and it is never returned to food use. I advise you do the same. Try explaining to guests why your clarified butter tastes like a sheep's ass...


Then I added the Lanolin. This is the stuff that comes off of lambs wool when it is boiled before it is brushed and woven. It comes directly from the sheep's skin. Not that you see it a lot these days but women who raised sheep and process wool had some of the best skin that aged very slowly. This was due to the lanolin in the wool. This stuff has a very distinct smell. I don't mind it personally but some people might. However it doesn't linger on the skin, when applied. A lot of places that cater to nursing mothers sell tubes of this stuff for cracked nipples as it is safe if it gets on baby and in baby's mouth. Thankfully babies can't see too well, as this stuff is sticky and looks like ear wax. I use big tongue depressors I get in bulk. I find it is easier to scoop than trying to use a spoon.

Once they are melted together, and make sure they are fully melted, remove from heat and add your almond oil. This is just a suggestion however, and you can use whatever oils you like, as long as they are designed for skin use. Other options are Hemp oil, olive oil, grape seed oil, etc. Any oil in the hippie section or all natural food stores sold for use on skin. If the end result is still too oily for you (although I doubt it), cut the oils in half.

This is where magic happens. Add your essential oils and mix.

The tea tree oil is in this for it's antibacterial properties. My skin has problems with natural bacteria balance as I had a ton of antibiotics as a kid, and ever since then, any little change and I can get a staph infection in a tiny paper cut. This oil prevents the growth of bacteria, and kills some on contact. It has astringent powers as well, preventing a build up in the pores of the skin.

Not sure why I have my lavender oil in this picture
I add the lemon oil for two reasons: One is for scent. It covers what some might consider icky smell of lanolin and tea tree oil. If that is all you want it for, skip the lemon, and use rosemary and mint oils in equal amounts. They cover the smells better. The other reason I use lemon oil is for the vitamin C, and it's astringent properties as well. It prevents the over growth of yeast, so this would be good for cracked heels as it won't encourage fungal growth.

Pour this into a jar that can be sealed. I used two larger jars, as I wanted to make one without oils to mess around with, and for the life of me I couldn't find any small jars to use...in my house that is really saying something. I am mason jar central.

Put it in a cool place like the refrigerator, and it will look like shortening when it is ready. You only need a little bit. When it first goes on it will be a little oily, but it absorbs quickly without any greasiness. You can leave it out once it is set solid again.

This stuff is FANTASTIC after I have a leg wax. I imagine it would be great after shaving too. I am giving some to a friend and I will let you know.

 As always try it out and see if you like it. You can make a small test batch first, decide what you like and don't like and then adjust according to your own needs/wants. This was my first foray into skin products and I consider this one a win.

Cheers!




Monday, February 25, 2013

A Hot Mess

When my husband and I were first married, I was pregnant with our daughter, Maggie the beast. She loved the book/show Maggie and the Ferocious Beast too which I find ironic. For those without young children, here is a link. She was 10 lbs when she was born; big baby with a big appetite. She made me eat quantities I never thought humanly possible. To this day at 9 years old, Maggie can pack away a pound of bacon and go back for more. She is skinny as a rail too.

One of the things I couldn't get enough of was Caesar Salads. As much as these are the pariah of the professionally trained chef world, they are a real thing in the average consumer's life. If you read any blogs done by some chefs, you will see that they despise the mainstream version as it is too varied, and it is not Roman. Anthony Bourdain did a whole thing on it in one of his books. Really people, not everyone runs out for fois gras before the game on TV. Most of us eat Cheetos and drink beer.

I digress....

My ability to taste was from time to time dulled when I was pregnant, so I liked it strong. When you taste it, you may want to back off a little on the spices or use an oil based dressing over the cream based. Trying to satisfy me, my husband, the ever suffering Swede, made me a Caesar salad that would have blown my socks off if my feet hadn't been so swollen. I wanted this all the time, and unlike most pregnancy things, I still love it. It is not the type of salad you serve to someone trying to lose weight. Yes, it is technically a salad, but it is not something that is low fat. It is a messy, hot salad.

Scott's Hot Mess
1 head of Romaine lettuce, clean and chopped into bite size pieces. (One medium sized head for up to 3 people)
1 bottle of Newman's Own Caesar dressing
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces. (1 breast per person)
Ground Thyme
Garlic Powder (or fresh garlic, 1 clove, crushed should do it)
Onion powder
Cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Croutons
Italian cheese blend (You can use parmesan, mozzarella, asiago etc. I just use the Italian blend from the supermarket.)


Start by cutting up your chicken into pieces, and sauteing in a pan with a little olive oil for lube (hehe).


Then add spices and 1/2 the bottle of dressing to the pan with the chicken. I was purposely vague on the amount of spices as not everyone likes mass amounts of cumin on their food. I do, so I use a lot. If you are using fresh garlic, crush it, don't chop it and put it in the pan before the chicken with the olive oil for a minute or so to sweat it.

I use Newman's because I like it.
 It holds up well to cooking as well, so it fits in
 this recipe nicely.
 It is also society friendly as all the profits from this company are
donated.
 If you have another brand you like, by all means, try it. 
Another craptastic picture...

Wash and dry your romaine lettuce and chop or tear into bite sized pieces. 




Add croutons if you like. I buy pre-made ones from the store that are a blend of Italian and pumpernickel bread with garlic on them. Personal preference. 

Here is the "mess" part...

Add the other half of the dressing to the bowl with the lettuce and croutons and toss to combine. And I don't mean that literally, don't actually toss your salad around. It is a cooking euphemism for mix. I know it seems dumb that I have to say that, as most of you are saying, "Duh!". However think about the weird warnings on all sorts of items around your home. "Don't place plastic bag over baby's head" or "Do not eat" on a roach killer bottle. Oy.

....and here is the "hot" part.
Then add your cooked chicken and the sauce it is in to the salad. Mix (or euphemistically toss) well. Add a hand full of cheese and mix again. Cheese will begin to melt a little. Serve IMMEDIATELY!




The salad will not keep, as the heat will wilt the lettuce after a very short time. If you don't plan on serving right away, stop before you add the stuff in the pan to the salad. Refrigerate the salad and combine the hot chicken mess right before you eat it. 



And then you have yourself one yummy hot mess. 

Cheers!!

Monday link

This is my first time doing the linky thing with another blogger. I love the lady that does this blog, and I read it all the time. She is an old pro at the blog thing whilst I remain an amateur  but I thought what the hell, I should add one from my blog and see what happens.

One of two things: Either people love my stuff, or they rip it shreds and hate it. If the latter of the two happens I may decide to sooth my wounded ego with chocolate stuff...and I will blog the recipe during my shame spiral...so I guess either way, you guys win.

http://beingfrugalbychoice.blogspot.com/2013/02/homemade-mondays-week-17.html

Cheers all!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Matzo Ball soup for the Gentile

I used to go to this Jewish deli when I lived in Texas (I know, but as this woman told me they are desert people, so it fits) that I just loved and I remember one day when it was cold I stopped in and the woman behind the counter asked me if I wanted Matzo Ball soup as she just finished it, and it was ready to go.

"Sure, " I said "but I have never had it. I only vaguely know whats in it."


She rolled her eyes at me and said "You come in here all the time and you have never had my soup??"

She then promptly hit her husband with a spoon.

"I know it involves some broth and pasta-like ball. That is as far as my knowledge takes me."


"That is because you are a gentile. You are not supposed to know the magic of the soup" She said as she smiled.

"Well," I said " you all make some fantastic food. I am sure I won't be disappointed."

"If you are, come back here and I will feed you properly and then maybe I might be able to convert you."

This is also the woman that knew I was not particularly religious and had decided she liked me and wanted me to join her Temple so she could teach me to cook. (She had 4 sons, and always wanted a daughter) The Rabbi won't have gentiles in the Temple kitchen so I would have to become a Jew.

"It's not like you're a boy and need to be circumcised or anything. It'll be painless"

Some how I thought that, if I went a long with it, it would be far from painless.

I never did learn how to make this prized soup of hers. She had said, in a moment of seriousness, that if I wanted to create something like it in my own gentile world, I would just have to make my own magic, and I can do it.

So Mairi, this one's for you.

Matzo Ball soup for the Gentile

Soup
2 Quarts Chicken Stock
Chicken, cut in pieces and cooked
1 white onion, chopped fine
Carrots
Celery
2 cloves garlic
Seasoning to taste

Balls
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour (if you don't have this, use all purpose, but the cake flour really helps for texture)
3 tbsp melted butter
1 egg
2/3 cup milk
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt


Now, per usual as I have to spread the love, I am making this in larger quantity than in the recipe. These pictures are just to show you what I am seeing. So you can follow along. (Follow the bouncing Matzo ball?)

You may also have noticed I have gotten vague with the amounts. I want you to make this your own. Don't like onions? Don't use them. LOVE celery? Use lots of it. I tried as best I could to give you amounts for a normal pot of soup but I can guarantee nothing. Use you imagination, use your intuition and use your head. It really isn't hard.

The chicken can either be something you stripped from a carcass and saved, or chicken you are making especially for this. I use boneless skinless chicken breast as it was all I had at the time. I figured there was enough fat in the stock to make up for the loss of all things flavorful in the chicken I used.

I cut and sauteed in a pan with a touch of olive oil until cooked through. Then I drained it and put it into my crock-pot. I then cut the onion (Yeah, which took me almost an hour. I freaking hate it because I can't even look at a raw onion and not well up) the carrots and the garlic and tossed them around in the pan until they began to sweat and started to brown. I saw another blogger brown her carrots in a dutch oven before making the soup as it is supposed to caramelize the sugars in the carrots. I figured I would try it.



These were as small as the onions got. Call me wuss but this just sucks for me.
Add these, and the chicken stock to the crock-pot  And I know you all have lots of chicken stock from the last time you made a chicken right?

Add a little cracked pepper, and I added a little thyme and sage. This is optional too, add what you like.




I then added some white beans that I had set out over night. Here you can use navy, cannelloni or other bean you like. Remember our discussion about my daughter and the beans? Yeah....If you use dried beans, soak over night. You can just get a couple of can too. No harm in that, just rinse them before you add. Adding beans is great thing because it adds essential fiber, protein and amino acids you need, that the American diet is sorely lacking. 





Now if you are smart, you will remember to plug the crock-pot in so when you turn it on it heats up. *grumble* Turn it on low, and leave it on all day. It is technically "done" when it is heated because there are no uncooked items here. The longer you cook it though, the more the flavors meld together.





When you are ready to make the balls (hehe) turn the pot up on high for a few so it will start boiling. These things are dumplings and there are 1001 different varieties. You can try them all if you like, I don't give a rats ass. Everyone will have one they like over another. I actually have several dumpling recipes I use, it just depends on what I am making them for. The one for my Guinness beef stew is fluffy and light on top of the stew. Yes, I put beer in my stew. I make dessert with beer too but that is for another post. The one for my Manhattan clam chowder is heavier but they are small like in Italian wedding soup. This one is like a giant pasta ball.

I use a fork to mash it together, and then I use my hands. 


I LOVE this cutting board. One of my very dear
friends is a cabinet maker and
 makes these in his spare time. They are awesome. 
Resist the urge to open the lid. They will float and expand when done. 








The idea here is to break up the ball and let it absorb the soup and it becomes like a stew. You can just eat the dumpling on it's own but it will be dry in the center. I threw a handful of green onion on top so it looks pretty.

 What is funny is apparently there are several other bloggers that call their version the same thing. Basically it is chicken soup with dumplings in it. There are many variations out there, but you can, as always, feel free to fuck with the recipe (How's that for alliteration?) and make it your own. By making it your own, you make your own kind of kitchen magic.

And this would make Mairi very happy.






Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Happy Taco

Many parents that I talk to have a problem with those common foods kids love to eat as they are not healthy, and if you alter them, the kids go "Ummmmmmm that's gross." or "I'm not eating that." Then I am forced to grumble like sideshow Bob.

Now, I am not one that advocates lying to your kids. I think that undermines trust.

However,  I am not above a little creative naming. Ask my son sometime about how I got him to eat peas by calling them green corn.

My taco recipe makes even the most junk food crazy college student happy. Yes, that's right, it is healthy, and tastes good. I also know that some homesteading sites say "This will taste great and it is 100% fat free, It's organic! It's....bah blah blah!" and it looks and tastes like your mouth in the morning after a bad night in Tijuana.

And it is still easy and something you can make on a weeknight.

This recipe has hamburger in it. It uses prepacked taco mix. It also has complete protein even without the meat, so feel free to use any other substitute you like here. 90/10 hamburger is all I ever use, and for the recipe I only use a 1:2 ratio of meat to beans and rice.

The pictures you are about see are me making tacos for not only my own family of four but for another 11 year old boy, and two 20-something college students. Apparently, I have "ruined" tacos for them as now they can't have them anywhere else without being disappointed. Yay me?

So as I write out the recipe, the amounts in the picture have been doubled and then some. You won't end up with 6 quarts of taco filling unless you super-double the recipe. This is enough, I would think, for a family of 4 or 5 decent eaters with some left over for lunch the next morning, or to make taco omelets with. (I will have to do a post or two on breakfast rehash)

Happy Tacos
1 lb 90/10 Ground Beef
2 12-oz cans of beans of your choice ( like to use 2 different kinds just for visual impact)
1 cup cooked brown rice
2 packages taco seasoning (I am going to try to make my own to lower the sodium later)
1-12-oz can diced tomatoes
Hard corn taco shells and/or soft tortillas


 Brown your hamburger and then drain off the fat.




 Then you add your tomatoes, beans and seasoning. I use a lot of beans. My daughter is the only 9 year old kid that eats them right out of the can...if I don't use beans, she would be inconsolable. That, and she tells me she wouldn't have fuel for her butt to make farts. Yeah, I'm not above a fart joke. If you have ever been to dinner with my extended family, the whole meal is punctuated by flatulence and belching. Makes me miss being home...and you ain't heard nuthin until you have heard my brother. He rattles windows!

I spend an inordinate amount of time during the tomato season slicing,  separating and dicing tomatoes to can up.  This takes a very loooooooooooong time but is so worth it to have summer tomatoes in February. 




When you add the seasoning, and add an equal amount of water as you did tomatoes. (You can use a thinned tomato sauce instead of water, if you really like tomatoes.) It might seem like over kill, but trust me, waiting for it to cook down will improve the flavor 100 fold. I see too many people just throw it in and then mix with only a little water so it evaporates quickly and serve. Tsk Tsk...

I know these pictures are horrible....action shots with the iPhone is not really a good thing to do apparently.


Once it has cooked down and looks pretty, add the cooked rice.




Now mix and re hydrate again like you did when you first added the spices. At this point feel free to add any additional spices you like or just another taco packet if you like them stronger. The reason you re hydrate and cook down again is two fold. For one thing, it then incorporates the flavoring into the rice too. If you added the rice first with the seasoning and skipped the first cook down, you lose all the seasoning to the rice. This way the meat and beans get a chance at it first so the greedy bitch rice doesn't pull a Miss Piggy on the flavors. This really adds dimension to the meal, something kids probably don't care about, but you will notice a difference in the flavor. This also allows you to adjust flavors, if you need/want to.

This is the second cook down phase.  Again, very crappy picture.

Then you can serve however is best for you. This recipe lowers the fat on something that is usually a staple in most households with kids, but also adds more fiber, more protein (and a complete protein at that), and lowers the bill since you are not having to buy so much meat. If you are not familiar on what a complete protein is, pop it into a Google search. This is basically a perfectly complimented protein that your body needs to stay healthy and this can be achieved with no meat if you like. Vegetarians have to live by the pairing rule for complete protein because they are not getting it from meat.  It usually involves a legume of some sort (like the beans) and a whole grain of some sort (brown rice).

You can use whole wheat tortillas, low fat cheese, and use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. 


Enjoy!!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The cookies called Crack

This recipe is something that I have a real following for. I got it from Alton Brown's cookie show, and it is called "The Chewy". Here is the link http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/the-chewy-recipe/index.html

 Really neat episode to watch too, if you haven't seen it. I have always like Good Eats, because it gives you the scientific information so you better under stand what is happening when you cook. Great for nerds like me.

I do things a little differently than he does, but mostly the same. But my friends all love this recipe, and it is affectionately called Crack Cookies. I have never done a single batch either. I always double it, so the link can take you to the single batch recipe. Or you could do the math and halve everything here. No? Thought not.

In a bowl, melt 4 sticks of unsalted butter. Yes, that is a whole pound of butter. I know, already your pants are getting tighter. I am totes lazy, so what I do is use the heat from the oven as it is heating up (350 degrees BTW). I put the butter in the metal bowl and sit it on top until it is melted. Put the bowl into your Kitchen Aid or any other mixer type thing, and add 1/2 cup of white sugar and 2 1/2 cups dark brown sugar.




Now beat it (I now have the Micheal Jackson song "Beat It" in my head....and now you do too! HA!) until it lightens up.


Add 2 eggs, 2 egg yolks, 4 Tbsp Milk, 3 tsp vanilla extract, 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp baking soda and mix well. Then add 4 1/2 cups of BREAD FLOUR. It is in caps because you need to use bread flour. Otherwise they are no different than any other cookie you could make. This is key because it keeps the cookie moist, and chewy. (Hence the name Alton Brown gave it)

Then take it out of the machine. You need to mix in the chocolate chips by hand. You really should anyway, but some of us cheat. This is not a recipe you can cheat with. Don't worry, the dough is still very soft, so it won't be difficult. Recipe calls for 4 cups, but you add as much or as little as you like. I have no idea how much I use, but I know it's a lot!!





Next, throw some plastic wrap on it and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours. I usually do it over night but be sure it stays covered. Otherwise the dough will dry out. You need to do this step too. Again, no cheating or you will get sub-par crack cookies.

I had to clean my fridge so I could take this picture...


Once the dough is set up, it will be hard. This is normal, so get your back into it!! This is a dough hard to use spoons to dish but go ahead and try it if you must. I have a cookies scoop I use that cost me all of 99 cents. It has a silicon back on it you push out the ball of dough with. Really handy and the edges are sharp so they cut into the dough nicely.








Give these cookies some space, they do spread. Bake them approx 15-18 minutes. This may vary based on your oven and the placement of the racks inside the oven so watch them until you have a time that works for you. I am so lazy I use parchment paper so I don't have to wash the pan.



Now, bask in the admiration of the horde of followers that now are addicted to your homemade crack.

Cheers!!

Friday, February 15, 2013

On a bread kick!

This bread recipe is something that you can use everyday. It has some whole grain in it, but still light enough, and slightly sweet, to use for sandwiches and stuff. (Makes great french toast too!) This is of course if you are not using fresh loaves to bribe friends into doing things for you. My long suffering friends know how this works!

I double this and freeze two of the four loaves. One caveat though...you can't double this all at once. I have to make two separate batches because unless you have a commercial Kitchen Aide, it can't handle it. I have a monster 6 quart one, that my husband bought for me when we first got married (I don't want flowers, or candy. I want vacuums and Kitchen gadgets. He's the best husband ever!) and it can't do it without it crawling out of the bowl and trying to engulf the machine like a coral who's neighbor got a little too close. I have two bowls so that helps.

I took this recipe partially from several recipes I found on www.allrecipes.com, but also from an old Betty Crocker cookbook from 1972. I tried several variations and this is the one that makes the best.

Start like you should be starting any yeast bread, proofing!

Add 2 cups of warm water (Approx 108-112 degrees. Don't go over 120, it kills the yeast)
to a warmed bowl (swishy some hot water in there, that should do it) and add 1/2 cup of sugar. I have done this with dark brown sugar too if you like something a little richer. Then mix in 1 and 1/2 tablespoons yeast. If you are following my blog, you might want to start buying jars of the stuff. If you are doing packets, it is about 2 packets worth.

Mix it and it will look like this:


In about 15 minutes it should look like this:

Then you can put it into the mixer with the dough hook and add to it:

4 cups of all purpose flour
1 cup rye flour (You can use whole wheat but this is what adds the sweetness)
1 cup bread flour
1/4 vegetable oil
1 tsp salt (Add this last. I had an experience with adding salt directly to the proof and it killed off my yeast.)

Mix it all together, and it will look like this







 Spray some cooking spray into the bowl and flip the dough so it's coated. Let it rise in a warm place for about an hour, until it has at least doubled in size. This could take longer if you are an ice princess and keep the house in the 60s all year. Then punch it down, put on a floured surface and flatten. Cut into two pieces.


Then knead it a little bit. Make each half into a loaf-ish like shape. 
These are pre-rise size. 


If your loaves are not perfect, no worries. Your loaves will still taste fine. 

You should then let them double in size again, and then put them into the oven. 



This bread is really marvelous. It is perfect for sandwiches, if it makes it that long. When it is warm, it is like a pizza at a Jenny Craig convention...doomed. 

You can freeze it of course. Just don't slice it before hand. Leave the loaf whole. Wrap in aluminium foil, then put that into a freezer bag and it will be good for months. When you take it out, leave it on the counter for a few hours to thaw. You can always pop it in the oven for a few minutes too, and it is just like fresh.

Yeah baby!