1.28.2011

A Veggie for a Veggie Hater

My fiance hates vegetables. He is 27 and will still make the five-year-old yucky face if I should ever sneak one into a meal.

But last night, I didn't even sneak. There were blatant 1/2" orange-colored cubes in our risotto, the sight of which made him shudder. As we're trying to get "bikini ready," I am determined to make healthier meals and I was set on making this Risotto with Butternut Squash and Prosciutto (adapted from Epicurious).

MUCH to my surprise, he said the flavors blended so well, that he couldn't tell the squash was there! And what he doesn't notice, he'll eat. In fact, he went so far as to say I can put it on the rotation! Wow! At least I know he'll eat one veggie (during the winter anyway).

Veggie haters and non-haters alike should like this dish. The flavors really do blend pretty well, though I felt I needed to cut the stock a bit and amp up the wine in its place. It's a nice "warm and comforting" dish.  Perfect for winter (though you could easily sub a different vegetable and shrimp to make it in summer). Of course, one beauty of risotto is it's inherent creaminess. That and how well it takes on the flavors of the liquids in which it's cooked. Let me know if you prepare it and what alterations you make.

Risotto with Butternut Squash and Prosciutto (adapted from Epicurious)

6 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces prosciutto (org. called for pancetta)
2 cups butternut squash, chopped into 1/2" cubes
1/2 cup finely chopped onion (or 6-8 teaspoons onion granules)
2 cups arborio (available in rice or Italian section of grocery store)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, plus extra

1.  Simmer broth and wine together in a medium saucepan (at least 2qt/1.9L). Reduce heat but keep hot.

2.  In a large sauce pan (ex.5 qt/ 4.7L), heat oil over medium heat.

3.  Add prosciutto and saute for approximately 5 minutes, or until cooked through.

4.  Add squash and onion. Stir to coat. Add arborio, stir, and saute for 1 minute.

5.  Next, add two cups of stock/wine. Reduce heat if needed - liquid should be lightly bubbling. Stir frequently until all liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the remaining liquid 1 cup at a time, allowing the liquid to absorb before each addition.

6.  Stir in butter and parmesan cheese. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with extra parmesan cheese.

Enjoy your veggies! x

1.27.2011

Gleaming Faucets

Sadly, nothing gets me in the mood to clean quite like the smell of Windex. In fact, it's the only even semi-hazardous cleaner I still use (luckily, I don't have children). I have yet to find anything that delivers the same sparkling results (aside from possibly steam) and I don't just use it on my windows and mirrors. Once I've finished my bathroom mirrors, I spray a little Windex on a clean side of my microfiber cloth and wipe down the stainless faucets. They're clean and shiny in seconds! I've even received complements on how well-maintained my sink and shower faucets look. They glimmer like new!
Of course, the eco-friendly way to do this is with a hand-held steamer. I own the one produced by Shark. (I purchased mine at Bed, Bath, and Beyond with a 20% off coupon, available by signing up for their mailings.) I love it for cleaning countertops, cabinets, chairs, couches, etc, but I swear (and I'm sure it's in my head) nothing shines glass and stainless quite like Windex ;)
Back to cleaning! x
1.26.2011

Time to Save Some Money

Like a lot of housewives, I do all of the shopping (among a million other things!) I feel a bit guilty sometimes about spending my fiance's paycheck, without contributing one, so I like to save when I can. I'm a huge fan of online product research, comparison shopping, and using coupons. For groceries though, comparison shopping in a small town with only two big-box stores and a Kroger is a bit limited. Most grocery coupons have always been limited to the Sunday paper (to which we do not subscribe)... until now!
This weekend, I hit the jackpot. Both of the coupon sets that come in the paper now have websites: www.smartsource.com and www.redplum.com . You can access these sites from your mobile and then group all the ones you want in an email to yourself and print them when you get to a computer! Even better, if you have a Kroger in your area, they now have a mobile app that links to your store card. You select the coupons you want and then add them to your card. Then, when you check out, all you do is swipe it and the discounts automatically come off! No printing required!
GeoQpons, Groupon, and many other free applications also have local and retail coupons so check them out if you have a smart phone. To find all the ones available to you, just try typing "coupons" into the search feature of your phone's app store.
In just a short amount of time, I've saved quite a bit. Every little bit helps! Put those savings toward a much needed vacation!
Happy saving! x
1.25.2011

Saving time, courtesy of Ziploc and Pyrex

Confession: even though it's just my fiance and I, I have a habit of preparing a recipe in full. Sometimes because I forget to cut it in half and sometimes because I think we'll eat more than we do. So, recently I've rediscovered the usefulness of Ziploc and added a new use to my Pyrex glassware containers.


For example, this weekend I tested out a new Buttermilk Pancake recipe. Of course, I made a full batch for just the two of us, which means we had 10 large pancakes leftover! Obviously, we wouldn't be eating all ten that weekend so it occured to me that I could group them by five (three for him, two for me) and freeze them in my Ziploc Vacuum Bags.
If you haven't seen these, they are a cheaper alternative to large vacuum sealers and available at big-box retailers, next to the regular freezer bags. You get a small hand pump that you set on the circle of the bag (each bag is printed with instructions) and you pull out the air by pulling up the handle of the pump. Just a few seconds and your food is sealed away and ready to freeze! Now, when we get a craving for buttermilk pancakes, I won't have to bake a thing! I'll just pull out a bag of pancakes and defrost them on the bread setting in our microwave. It gives the convenience of packaged food without unknown or unsafe ingredients! How great is that!?
Similarly, when I made a pot of Clam Chowder, we had a TON of leftovers. So, I got out two Pyrex containers, filled one with leftovers for lunch the following day and another with leftovers for a future dinner and lunch, which I threw in the freezer. That way, there's no wasted food and there will be one night in the next few weeks when, instead of cooking, I can defrost the soup and still offer a warm, comforting, home-cooked meal (perhaps on a sick or snow day?).
These items can be used for nearly everything - from extra rolls or muffins to leftover veggie or chicken stock to most meals. This can make life so much easier for a busy homemaker. And, since you're baking or cooking anyway, why not prepare a little extra to have on a raining day?
Happy freezing! x
1.20.2011

Blueberry Muffins and the Kitchenaid Mixer (take two)


My fiance and I love muffins for breakfast! We just ran out of the Oatmeal Muffins from my previous post (I froze some of them and defrosted as needed) so, I thought I'd try the Oversized Blueberry Muffin recipe from my new Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook (don't judge :P we're 10 years old at heart). I also thought this would be a good second trial of my new Kitchenaid hand mixer. So, I got everything ready and off I went! And then not... the mixer once again had trouble whisking just two cups of flour with just a touch of baking soda and salt! I know, I could have tried the beaters but they wouldn't give the same results and if I can do it by hand, it shouldn't have a problem. Once I did get the dry ingredients whisked, I started on the liquids. More trouble! I just needed to whisk "two large eggs until smooth" and it didn't want to do it. Try as I might, it just wanted to push the eggs around! Eventually, I resorted to increasing the speed and jabbing at the eggs to break them apart (I bet that was a sight to see!). Then, I added sugar and increased the speed even more. The next few liquids went in easier and I finally had a consistancy I could work with. I then folded in the flour mixture, buttermilk and blueberries by hand. The last thing I wanted was for the mixer to create a lumpy or tough muffin.


Next, I used my trusty cookie scoop to drop the batter into my muffin pan. Oops! I hadn't read part about "the batter should be level with the lip." So, I gave each muffin a second scoop, sprinkled them with sugar and threw them in the oven. When I rotated them half-way through, I knew these were going to be big. By the time they were done, the batter had overflowed the cups and each muffin was actually touching the next! My double scoop had actually been a heaping muffin cup and created a very funny muffin. Lesson learned - next time I'll use one large scoop and one smaller scoop. The second batch of 6 can out much better that way but in the laughter of the overflowed muffins, I forgot to respray the muffin tray! Oh what fun! I really must get that 12-cup Goldtouch muffin pan I've been eyeing at Williams-Sonoma.

Funny appearances aside, the muffins taste delicious! I'd still call them a success! Any housewife knows mistakes are bound to happen, unless perhaps you're Martha's clone, and it's always best to dust off your apron and keep going!

Happy flubbing! x

1.19.2011

Colonial Comfort on a Chilly Sunday

At around 3 o'clock on Sunday, my fiance started thinking about dinner. Since it was a rather chilly Sunday, he told me he wanted something warm and comforting. Now, I was raised in Virginia but I've never really embraced a lot of southern comfort food. So, when I heard "warm and comforting," I immediately thought British. I'd had some recent success making pasties (past-ees, not to be confused with paste-ees :P) so I thought I'd try another variation. I made something like a deli-version chicken Cordon bleu with a swiss cheese sauce. Luckily, they went over very well! He complemented me several times. Now, pasties are intended to be a meal on their own (historically, they would have often been taken to-go by miners and such) but throw some mashed potatoes or steamed veggies on the side and the serving can be cut to half a pasty, stretching the below recipe to up to four meals. (I know these days it's all about saving money and making things stretch.) Luckily, these reheat well and quickly in the microwave or oven so leftovers are great for a quick dinner after a long day of errands. (I know I'm not the only one who hates to come home and cook after running around town all day!)

So, keep these in mind for the next snow day! They're a bit time consuming if you prepare your own dough (though most of that time is for the dough to chill) but they're very easy and so good! You can also experiment with the contents to use up leftovers (beef stew or roast chicken, anyone?) or create new varieties. The possibilities are endless! x

Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasties
Yields 4 Pasties

Swiss cheese sauce
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk, heated
1/2 cup swiss cheese, grated, or torn into pieces
1/4 cup white wine
1 teaspoon Paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Pasties
1 recipe of favorite 2-crust pie dough or store-bought dough
1/2 pound sliced chicken breast
1/4 pound sliced ham
1 Tablespoon milk
1 egg

For the sauce, melt butter in a small, heavy saucepan. Add flour and whisk gently to create a roux. Once thick, add half of the heated milk. Whisk until thick and bubbly. Add the cheese and whisk until melted. Once melted, add the remaining milk, white wine, paprika, salt and pepper. Whisk until once again bubbly.

Preheat oven to 400F.
1.  If using homemade dough, gently form a large ball, using all dough, and refrigerate for 30 minutes (or according to recipe). Then, divide dough into four equal sections and roll into 7-inch circles.
Or
1.  For store-bought dough, defrost according to package instructions then, cut out four 7-inch circles (you can use a cereal bowl as a guide). 
2.  Lay out all four sections on a baking sheet, using wax paper between layers if necessary, and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
3.  Spoon a layer of sauce onto each pastry, leaving a 1-inch gap around the edge.
4.  Divide the chicken among the four pastries, leaving a minimum 1/2-inch gap around the edge.
5.  Drizzle another layer of sauce if desired.
6.  Divide the ham among the four pastries, leaving a minimum 1/2-gap around the edges.
7.  Drizzle another layer of sauce if desired.
8. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and egg to create an egg wash. Using a pastry brush, wipe the edge of each pasty, all the way around.
9.  Fold over each pasty into a half-moon shape and seal each closed with a fork or pinch with thumb and forefinger.
10.  Using a pastry brush, lightly wipe the tops of each pasty with the egg wash.
11.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown.

Caution: cheese sauce will be hot

Inspired by The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook. Sauce adapted from http://www.cooks.com/rec/doc/0,1715,154161-255195,00.html

1.17.2011

Laundry Must-haves

Everyone knows laundry is never a fun chore but it's one that every homemaker must do. So, why not make sure you have the right products to get the job done more effectively and efficiently?

Recently, I have discovered Borax. What I didn't realize when we moved here was the hard water. What I did notice was my clothes wearing out and fading faster than they had in Virginia and my darks, especially thicker pajama pants and jeans, would seem to develop a bit of a foul odor while air drying. We started buying clothes more frequently and machine drying some of the darks we already had to cut down on the smell. After a while, I couldn't stand it! I spent all this time trying to care for our clothes and my fiance was spending a lot of money on new clothes and high-priced detergent and all was failing. So, I began to research hard water effects, under suspicion that was the culprit. Sure enough, sources stated that hard water can substantially lower the effectiveness of your laundry detergent, meaning your clothes aren't getting clean, and it can leave mineral buildup on your clothes, which makes them fade and deteriorate faster. By online recommendation, I started adding 1/2 cup of Borax to every load, using my normal amount of detergent (I use Cheer for HE). I cannot believe the difference! Our newer clothes are holding in good condition and aren't fading and even our older clothes seem softer and brighter. Even better - no foul smells! I cannot recommend Borax enough! I picked up a 5-pound box at our local big-box for around $2! That's pennies per load to ensure your clothes are getting clean and remain looking their best!

I also use Shout Color Catchers to keep clothes looking bright, as well as cut the number of loads I have to do (huge plus). These are fantastic! I throw 1 in with nearly every load to catch any dyes that may get washed out. The dye is trapped in the cloth instead of transfering to other clothes. So, now I can wash my reds with the darks and pinks with the mediums without worry! (Admittedly, I usually throw 2 cloths in if there are new items in the load.) Then, once the load is done, I grab the cloth out and let it dry to be reused. They don't say it on the box but, provided the cloth isn't dark when it comes out, it can safely be used through quite a few loads, grabbing dye every time! These are generally around $3 or $4 at big-box stores for a count of 24 and using them the way I do can stretch one box for a few months!

So, for around $6, you can ensure your clothes will be clean and stay looking their best, as well as reduce your work load!

Happy washing! x
1.14.2011

Glowing Williams-Sonoma Product Reviews

Before I was a blogger, I posted many reviews on various retailers' websites. Most recently, I've discovered the ever-exciting Williams-Sonoma. Please see my review profile to read about the growing list of wonderful products I have purchased there. If you have never been but your at least a semi-serious home cook or baker then be sure to find a location near you or browse their lovely website for all manner of quality goodies and recipes!!

Happy shopping! x

My New Favorite Skillets

To prepare for tonight's dinner of Ginger Pot Roast and Yorkshire Pudding, I've set out a casserole dish and one of two favorite skillets. That skillet is the All-Clad 9" Stainless Steel French Skillet, which I was lucky enough to win on Twitter (thanks All-Clad!)

It is a simply beautiful workhorse, delighted to prepare everything from jambalaya for two to chicken cordon bleu to, in this case, Yorkshire pudding.  The exceptional tri-ply combination of aluminium sandwiched between layers of stainless heats quickly and evenly, even on induction. I always heat mine first on low, then heat fats (if using), and then add the ingredients. Butter melts beautifully, my meats brown perfectly and it can go from stovetop to the oven, up to 500F. I've yet to prepare a dish that wasn't improved by using this pan, or its sister 11" skillet (which I purchased online after weeks of research, before winning the 9"), over my previous Farberware skillets.

In addition to making my meal preparation easier, and the results even more delicious, this skillet is also very easy to clean. Something I found surprising for stainless steel. After eating, simply take a touch of Dawn (or your preferred gentle dish soap) to a soft dish cloth and wipe. Should you find that anything remains after cleaning, it can easily be removed with the smallest bit of Bar Keeper's Friend and water. I sprinkle just a little BKF on the skillet and wipe in a circular motion from the inside out with a damp cloth or paper towel. This forms a runny paste which works brilliantly at removing anything that Dawn may leave behind. Then, simply wash again with a bit of Dawn and dry with a soft dish towel or flour sack. Your skillet will be as shiny and beautiful as the day you bought it!

I've tried many skillets, different brands, non-stick and stainless, and these are, by far, my favorites and certainly feel that they are worth the extra money. They're made in the US, are clearly high-quality and, from what I hear, they'll last a lifetime! x

The Beauty of the Sally Lunn

The story is told that this delightful bread is named for a young woman who once sold her breads in Bath.

That young woman must have indeed made wonderful breads for one so lovely as this to be her namesake.

I prepared this recently, from a recipe from The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook, p 163, but numerous recipes can be found on the internet. It's quite simple and fills the house with the most pleasing smell, even while rising. What I particularly like about this bread, aside from how easy it is, is the quantity it produces and its freezability. This bread rises and bakes in a 10- to 12- cup bundt or tube pan and really fills it, so it produces quite a large amount of bread. When it was fresh from the oven, my fiance and I, of course, ate a few slices, some drizzled with honey (delightful!) and others plain. Then, I threw three slices in the food processor to be used as bread crumbs for the crab cakes I was preparing that evening.

Knowing we couldn't finish the entire bundt, I cut the remaining bread into 1/4 loaf sections, bagged them, and threw them in the freezer. This proved quite convenient when, a few days ago, my fiance impulsively decided to make macaroni & cheese, which required a bread crumb topping. I pulled one of the quarters out, defrosted it on the bread setting in our microwave and then processed half of it into crumbs. We ate the other half while we were cooking. Even after being frozen and defrosted in a microwave of all places, the Sally Lunn proved as light and sweet and fresh as it had the day I baked it!

This is a lovely little bread that takes only a few hours to prepare, most of which is rising time, and then, when quartered, can be stretched through four meals! I can't ask for more than that! x

1.13.2011

The Kitchenaid Architect Series 9 Speed Hand Mixer

When my fiance came home from work today, seeing the freshly made oatmeal muffins, he asked how I liked my new hand-mixer. I'm sure he was hoping my reaction would be ecstatic, considering my last model was a simple 150 watt, 5 speed model from Procter-Silex but, after our concern that the item had been previously used and returned or refurbished (based on torn packaging and fingerprints), I'm sure my response was no surprise.

I told him that I was "admittedly disappointed." My disappointment worsened as I explained to him how I attempted to whisk the dry ingredients on both power 1 and 2 and noticed the mixer struggling several times, even stopping twice. This mixer has a dc motor, instead of the traditional ac motor, which Kitchenaid claims allows the mixer to maintain speed and power, even as heavier ingredients are added. On QVC, which was the sole carrier of this product when I was ready to purchase, this feature was compared to cruise control. Well, if this were a vehicle, I would have stopped on the highway!

I continued to tell him how, at one point, the whisk attachment actually fell out of the mixer, even though I had not hit the eject button and it had been locked in. We agreed that, while this may have been a difficult task for a whisk, if I could hand whisk the batter, the mixer should have had no problems.

It is a lovely looking mixer - shiny Candy Apple Red - and came with exciting attachments (turbo beaters, dough hooks, a "pro-whisk," and an immersion stick) and the reviews on this product were excellent - you'll soon see that I absolutely never purchase a new product without first researching it extensively. I plan to try out a few more recipes with this mixer before contacting Kitchenaid or QVC but, I must caution that this product is not living up to the Kitchenaid reputation. I hope this experience was a one-off and that the mixer will prove its worth on the next batter.


Good night all! x

Oatmeal Muffins and the Kitchenaid Mixer

I had a bit of a sleepy start this morning, as I was up rather late typing up recipes and reorganizing my kitchen, but by about 10 am, I was ready to hit the kitchen!

Sur la Table had posted a few days ago, on Twitter, a lovely sounding Oatmeal Muffin recipe. I decided to give it a go, as we're trying to eat a bit healthier in preparation for an upcoming vacation. I had all the ingredients on hand and this would be a good opportunity to test out my new 9-speed Kitchenaid hand mixer, which arrived last night.

The recipe was rather simple. Whisk together nine dry ingredients, then add the liquids. Piece of cake, right? Well, I put all the dry ingredients into my mixing bowl and attached the whisk to my mixer. The mixer did combine the ingredients but I must say, it did stuggle a bit. Then, I added the liquids and ended up hand whisking it toward the end. The mixer attachment actually came off! (Yes, it had locked.) Perhaps, I'll try the beaters next time.



The muffins baked for 20 minutes and I set them out to cool for just a few moments before diving into one. It tasted rather good... healthy... but I thought it needed just an added touch of sweetness so I dribbled just a little honey on top and it made a world of difference! Lovely!


Now, it's time to marinate the pot roast for tomorrow night's dinner. I received the Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook for Christmas and I'm rather excited to try the Oven Braised Ginger Pot Roast (p 121) and the Yorkshire Pudding (p 124).

'Til next time! x

The "About Me"

I always hate that question... of course, I'm not very witty and I simply despise rambling about myself (ironic for a Blogger, I know) so I'm never certain what to write. In this case, I suppose a small introduction is in order, in case anyone out there decides to read this.

Let's see... well, I am currently 26... I'm a college graduate (Go Big Blue!) but I've been a homemaker for a little over a year now. I'm also a stay-at-home puppy mom. Our Golden Shepherd's name is CoCo and she's quite a handful, but in a good way. Now that my job is taking care of my wonderful fiance, our dog, and the beautiful house in which we live, I've developed a love for cooking and baking, as well as sewing and keeping our home clean and organized. I'm still learning so, here you can watch me stumble through it all.