Friday, December 30, 2011
As we get ready to move into 2012, how about considering 3 EASY steps to helping our families eat better? These steps are small, but over the long haul, taking them would have a big impact on overall health. Think about:
1) never using margarine again. Replace it with real butter (and use that in moderation). On the website truthorfiction.com, we found that margarine increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol). Consumption of margarine affects the quality of mothers' breast milk because of the trans fats it contains. Dr. Mary Enig says that consuming trans fatty acids "Affects immune response by lowering effeciency of B cell response and increasing proliferation of T cells." Trans fats can increase blood insulin levels, which increases the risk for diabetes.
2) using REAL SALT or Himalayan salt rather than typical table salt (Morton's, Western Family, etc.). What remains after typical salt is "chemically cleaned" is sodium chloride -- an unnatural chemical form of salt that your body recognizes as something completely foreign. And this form of salt is in almost every preserved product that we eat. Therefore, when you add more salt to your already salted food, your body receives more salt than it can dispose of. Eating common table salt causes excess fluid in your body tissue, which can contribute to cellulite, arthritis and gout, and kidney and gall bladder stones.
3) using cold pressed coconut oil or butter when baking and cooking rather than shortening. The reason for this hearkens back to the same reasons we want to avoid margarine--the trans fat issues.
So with these 3 EASY and really painless adjustments to how we cook, we'll be boosting the nutrition factor of our meals and thus fostering better health in our families. Small and simple can have a big impact over time! Now do YOU have any ideas for simple steps to take this new year for cooking healthier? Please share--we'd love to hear what you are doing. In the meantime, here's to family dinner made easy as we choose to cook with butter, REAL salt, and coconut oil!
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Vinegar's enhance so many dishes. Try using them on vegetables and in soups and tell your family to make dinner a priority because you have!
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
(And here's an observation for ya! Life goes on just fine--including Christmas--when mom's laid low. Alice said it was a little humbling, yet freeing, to see how folks can manage just fine without her micro-management of stuff!)
Anyway, experiencing some winter sickness prompted us to think about simpler times--a time when moms couldn't rush their kiddies off to a doctor's office or neighborhood health clinic. What did they do then when they got ill? They relied on the wisdom handed down from generation to generation--all sorts of home remedies that could be created in their kitchens.
And we happen to have just such a remedy that we've used over and over as we raised our kids: the 1st Aid Mustard Plaster. This is a miracle-worker when it comes to chest colds. It feels cold when first applied, but heats up quickly and does a super job of breaking up any congestion in the chest. It's a terrific way to stave off potential pneumonia or bronchitis. Here's the recipe:
1st AID MUSTARD PLASTER
2 Tbsp shortening
1 Tbsp camphor oil
1 Tbsp dry mustard
Flour (to thicken with)
Water (to make a spreadable consistency)
Mix ingredients well and spread on a clean flannel cloth. Apply to chest. Check periodically as this can burn the skin.
We hope you and your families are staying warm, healthy, and happy and getting ready to welcome in a wonderful new year. While you're at it, though, won't you share with everyone what YOUR kitchen health remedies are? How do YOU fight colds and flu? What are YOUR preventative measures? We're all in this together, so let's help each other. Meanwhile, here's to family dinner made easy as we pull out our kitchen remedies when the cold and flu bugs get the best of us!
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
[Alice talking] "Our family spent the day tubing at Soldier Hollow resort yesterday. We brought up a picnic-type dinner that we ate in the lodge after we were finished playing. There was a slow cooker of chili dogs (hotdogs cooked in with the chili--really good), lots of snackies, and a slow cooker of homemade cocoa (amazing recipe, but bungled). My adorable son-in-law teased me that it was kind of fun to have drinkable pudding--a new experience for him."
So the "big oops?" (And you probably already know this, but for those that don't--we gotta share.) I cooked the recipe in my slow cooker. It didn't need cooking, it just needed a warming. Any recipe with dairy in it--white sauces, gravies, chowders, cheese soups, etc. should NOT NOT NOT have the dairy added early on and cooked for a long period because the prolonged heating causes everything to separate and curdle. Once it does this, there's no reclamation. It just can't be stirred back into a smooth consistency. The trick when making cheesy broccoli or cauliflower soup, for instance, is to start with steamed veggies, add boiling hot liquids (the milk, cream, etc.), and then just warm the soup until serving.
Thus because Alice cooked it rather than warmed it, the cocoa ended up as a curdley, drinkable chocolate pudding concoction. It tasted OK, it was just a little odd. Needless to say, there's leftovers. Anyway, let's look at what to do so this never happens to you (or her again). When making homemade cocoa:
1) Mix your dry ingredients together.
2) Add boiling hot liquids a little at a time and stir well. You start off with a thick paste, and eventually end up with a smooth and thin consistency.
3) Pour this into your slow cooker. Whether transporting or serving at home, don't turn on the heat (meaning--WARM) until about 45 minutes to an hour before serving. Because you started off with boiling hot liquids, your cocoa will be hot enough by just sitting on warm. Cocoa does not need to be cooked--only warmed.
We like to make our cocoa with cream and powdered milk. We add extra cocoa powder--no matter how much the recipe calls for. And we always add pure vanilla. Your cocoa recipe probably calls for something similar. Just remember--boil your liquids initially, then simply keep things warm. Oh, and always add the vanilla as the very last thing you do. That way you retain its flavor.
Have you had any cocoa fiascos? Do you have any cocoa-making tips or good recipes to share? We're all in this together, so please comment--there's no reason we all gotta go through the "big oops." And until next time, here's to family dinner made easier--especially if we know what NOT to do when making homemade cocoa or any other dairy-based dish!
Monday, December 26, 2011
10 ounces flaked coconut
Using a round ice cream scoop form ice cream into balls. Place on a cookie sheet and freeze. Roll in coconut and serve. For added color and taste, add a few raspberries or mint leaves.
We hope you all had a very Merry Christmas! We are still enjoying our families and that means that the celebrating is not over. Tonight is game night and tomorrow we have more family coming. If you are looking for something fast and easy for a dessert, this is a good one. This yummy dessert with it's festive flair will keep them running to the dinner table.
Friday, December 23, 2011
Back in the old days when Alice was feeding her family of 9 on less than $10 a month, she needed a money-saving alternative to cold cereal (folks can only take so much cooked oatmeal and cracked wheat mush!). They were living in Portland, OR, and her friend, Shirley Smith, gave her a recipe for homemade granola.
As you know, most granolas are fairly expensive, this recipe included, so Alice massaged and tweaked it until it was just the money-saver she needed--hence the name, "Pauper's Granola."
It was so good and such a hit, that she ended up making it at Christmas time to sell at bazaars and to give to family and friends. So today we pass this recipe on to you--whether you want to save a little on your grocery bill or just want another idea for a great last-minute gift. You might like this:
3) This is so versatile--you can use it in cookies (we put it in our "Cowboy Cookie" recipe) and you can make granola BARS with it. Before roasting, press the granola onto a cookie sheet with a raised edge and roast until golden brown. Upon removing from oven, use your chef's knife to cut into bars. Let rest and cool before removing from pan. If you want a chewy bar, add a little extra honey and oil to the mix before pressing onto the cookie sheet. (HEY! Homemade granola bars--now there's another good Christmas present idea! Put each bar in its own baggie, and put the number you want to give in a nice, reusable container and tie with a pretty bow. We're doin' this!)
Thursday, December 22, 2011
First a little background on it: [Alice talking]
I was in the bulk-foods section of our local whole foods store, Good Earth. A lady next to me was filling a bag with medjool dates. Wondering what she was going to do with so many dates, I asked her. And here's where the idea comes from:
[Nice lady in the bulk-foods section talking]: "This is one of our favorite holiday treats. I slice each date in half, remove the pit, fill each half with cream cheese, and top with a few toasted, slivered almonds. They are to die for!"
I asked if she adds anything to the cream cheese and she said no--there's no need because the sugar in the date melds almost instantly with the cream cheese, so it's truly sweet enough. Plus the date flavor enhances the whole thing.
So I bought a bunch and tried one at home. Oh my! She was absolutely right. These little babies are dessert in and of themselves. Boy was I glad I had the wherewithal to ask her about her date bag, and I'm very grateful she graciously shared! It's like we always say: We're all in this together, so let's help each other out.
We hope you like this idea for such an unusual (at least we think it's unusual--maybe we just don't get out much) and amazingly delicious treat to add to your crowd-feeding buffet table this Sunday. Until next time then, here's to family dinner made easy as we prepare yet another wonderful and EASY dish for our Christmas celebration!
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
- Set up tables. Cover with a nice cloth that will compliment your color scheme.
- Set the plates on both sides of the table, at the end of the table where you want your guests to start serving themselves. Place utensil bundles at the end of the food — it should be the last thing people pick up.
- The main course should be the first item, followed by side dishes.
- Salads and breads are next, unless they are already on the guest tables.
- Salt and pepper shakers should be at each table, as well as butter.
- Have a separate table for desserts.
A buffet that is set up correctly will help everyone feel comfortable. The questions will be minimal and you will be assured everyone is getting just what they want. If you have a very unruly bunch, bring a large whistle and a big stick! Just kidding! Everyone will get the hang of it. After you formally welcome everyone to your home, you can explain the buffet setup and process. This will help everyone know the routine you have planned for the meal.
So don’t panic, this isn’t hard. You will in fact have an amazing time and your guests will be astonished at your terrific entertaining skills.
These ideas might be helpful in getting dinner hour to happen at your home when the crowd comes.
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
In a large bowl, mix together all dry ingredients. In a mixer bowl, add butter and sugar. Beat until fluffy. Add eggs, vanilla and lemon extract and beat well. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to shortening mixture. Cover and chill for about 3 hours. These cookies are easier to handle if cold.
Roll dough 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 3 inch shapes with a cookie cutter. Place 3 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. If you don't plan on frosting them, sprinkle extra sugar on the top. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until done. This recipe makes about 24 large cookies.
Tip: If you don't have buttermilk, combine 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of milk and let set for 15 minutes.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Two things this morning: First reader "Chris and Kristy" commented on yesterday's post, and her idea is such a good one, we want to repeat it here, in case you don't read the comments. This is really worth repeating, and we want to publicly thank her for taking the time to share:
"I cook lots of chicken in one batch and shred it. Then I put it in bags (1 pound) and freeze it. Makes it super easy to add to any dish. Also, my favorite method for shredding chicken is to use my electric hand mixer. When the chicken is hot, you don't have to burn your hands to shred it and it comes out SO nice! Plus it's super quick."
Throughout the year she buys paper goods (plates, cups, bowls, napkins and plastic utensils) when she finds them on sale. At Christmas time she packages sets in Christmasy bags with handles, inserts tissue paper, and attaches this cute note:
"Everyone deserves a break from the dishes.
Darling, huh? Don't you just love the creativity and resourcefulness people come up with? We like to say "We're all in this together" (meaning Life 101) and it makes us so happy that we are, because of the good things you share and the good example you are. We wanna be on YOUR team!
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
SO here you are: ELLEN GREENAWAY. Ellen suggested vanilla be added to children's playdough--the smell is soothing. JIM ERLANDSON. Jim suggested soaking cottonballs in vanilla and using them as bait in mousetraps. He says it's a no-fail approach to ridding yourself of unwanted pests! Wonderful ideas!
We'll be shipping the vanilla off immediately, as soon as we get our lucky winner's addresses.
NOW: Today's topic: Since we've been talking about last-minutes dinner fixes, here's a great idea for a super quick and easy dessert. And it can be a real money-saver as well if you go the day-old bakery basket as well. Here are the 4 basic steps to create Angel Food Cake Deluxe!
1) Buy an un-iced angel food cake
2) Ice it with your favorite homemade frosting or from a can of store-bought.
3) Crush peppermint candies and sprinkle all over the iced cake. OR, depending on your icing flavor, you can chop up a candy bar and sprinkle it atop the cake.
4) Call it good!
If you're looking for a terrific icing recipe, look no more:
CREAM CHEESE HEATH BAR FROSTING
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2/3 C packed brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla (and of course, we like to add a little more)
1/8 tsp salt
2 C whipped cream
1 Heath candy bar
Blend first four ingredients well then fold in whipped cream. Loosely chop Heath bar. Ice cake, cookies and sprinkle the chopped candy bar over the icing for extra taste and a pretty garnish (or as Alice would do, drop a huge glob into hot cocoa. Oink.).
We hope this dessert on the run is your answer for getting your family to the dinner table.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
1. It eliminates stubborn bad odors in the refrigerator--just wipe down the inside with it. Then to prolong the fresh vanilla scent, soak a cotton ball or small piece of new sponge with vanilla and leave it in your refrigerator. We do this to counteract the lingering smell of cut onion.
2. It deodorizes the microwave also. Just pour a little vanilla extract in a bowl and microwave on High for one minute.
3. It neutralizes the smell of fresh paint. We like that aroma, but for those that don't, mix 1 tablespoon vanilla extract into the paint can when you open it. The vanilla doesn't affect the paint and the house will smell delicious!
4. It sweetens the overall smell of the home. It's an old Realtor's trick (along with baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies). Put a drop or two of vanilla extract on a light bulb, turn on the light, and your house will be filled with the lovely scent of things baking in the oven.
5. It sweetens the smell of the car. Soak a few cotton balls in pure vanilla extract and place them discreetly under the front seat. This is a non-toxic way to enhance your ride!
6. It perfumes or slightly flavors granulated sugar. Just store your vanilla beans in your sugar in an airtight container. Both the beans and the sugar benefit.
7. It relieves minor burns. When you've just experienced a kitchen burn (grabbing a hot pan handle or being splattered by hot grease, for instance), quickly dab on some vanilla extract. The evaporation of the alcohol in the vanilla cools and soothes the burn.
8. It is a skin saver and soother, thanks to its antioxidants. Because it can prevent damage from environmental pollutants and toxins, you might want to try this delicious reviving scrub recipe:
5 vanilla beans
3 Tbsp brown sugar
3 drops vanilla essential oil
3 drops vanilla extract
Squeeze lemon into a bowl; discard seeds. Slice open vanilla beans lengthwise; scrape out seeds with spoon. Add vanilla seeds, brown sugar, vanilla oil and extract to lemon juice. Mix well. Apply scrub to face (avoiding eyes) and massage in for a few minutes. Rinse with warm water, then splash with cold.
9. It is a hunger buster. Smelling a satisfyingly rich scent such as vanilla can trick your brain into thinking you've eaten more than you actually have, says researchers. This cues the body to feel content sooner, thus you'll eat less. Hmmm, who knew?
10. It's a soothing bath additive. Alice adds it to her bath water (about 1 tablespoon) along with 2 cups of epsome salts.
11. It repels bugs--they don't like this smell. Dilute 1 tablespoon vanilla extract with 1 cup water and wipe the mixture on your exposed skin to discourage mosquitoes, black flies, and ticks.
12. It makes a natural and delicious perfume. While bugs don't like the smell, people do. Once in awhile, dab a little extract behind your ears and on your pulse points. Notice all the extra hugs and snuggles you get! (Alice's hubby, Rich, likes eau de vanilla almost as much as he likes eau de bacon and eau de gravy!)
Finally, food-wise, beyond baking: Add it to your milk for a nice flavor snap. We like to add it to the egg mixture when making French toast. It's also a nice addition to the pancake and waffle batter, and Alice adds it to her morning green smoothies and when making homemade cocoa.
The uses go on and on. What do YOU do with vanilla? Please take a minute and pass on your ideas. We have a beautiful bottle of PURE vanilla extract we will be giving away to the best idea that's shared--so don't be shy. Just comment with your idea (here on the blog, not on Facebook) and email us with your address and we'll ship it off to you! How cool is that?
While these ideas may not necessarily make it easier to get family dinner on, they certainly enhance the atmosphere. So until next time, here's to family dinner made easy while we do some cool things with vanilla!
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Don't wig-out on us here! Although serving from the skillet creates a casual setting, it also gives the warm feeling of a casual family dinner. Skillet meals are very much like making a casserole only without having to use so many pans and bowls. Cooking in one pan unquestionably makes for a shorter preparation time. If you haven't tried one skillet dinners, we highly endorse them, especially during this busy season.
First, you need to have a large skillet. This can be cast iron or stainless steel. An electric skillet will also work well. After you find a few recipes that you think your family will enjoy, a skillet dinner will become another source of being able to get dinner on the table quickly, and without much fuss.
Here are just a couple of recipes that we thought you might enjoy trying. Chop your vegetables ahead of time and have them ready to go, this will also cut down on prep time.
TEX-MEX ONE SKILLET DINNER
In a large skillet, cook the ground beef and onion. Drain off any oils. Stir in a can of undrained tomatoes with chilies, pinto beans, water, rice, chili powder, cumin, corn and bring
RAMEN NOODLE CHICKEN LO MEIN
2 packages Ramen noodle soup mix
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 cups mushrooms
2 Tablespoons corn starch
1 red pepper (sliced)
Break noodles in a large bowl and sprinkle with 1 seasoning packet and cover with 3 cups boiling water, set aside. In a bowl, combine the broth and corn starch. In a large skillet, heat oil and stir fry all vegetables until tender. Remove from skillet and set aside. Add remaining 1 Tablespoon oil into the skillet; bring to a boil and add vegetables. Drain noodles from bowl and add to skillet along with soy sauce. Continue cooking until the mixture is heated through and sauce is thick.
Now that was easy, making dinner hour happen once again in your home.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
We especially like this idea because it's meaningful and consumable (Alice loves the idea of gifts that don't turn in to clutter!). AND there's the extra attraction that the gift could come in a container that could be used after the fact.
If you like the idea, too, then here are a few New Years Day good luck food traditions:
Vasilopita is a New Year’s Day bread or cake in Greece. It contains a hidden coin or trinket which gives good luck to the receiver. It is made of a variety of doughs, depending on regional and family tradition. Alice's future son-in-law, Alex, is Greek and last year he brought her some of his mom's vasilopita--they all loved it and thought it was the perfect gift. Here's a good recipe:
1 C butter
1 Tbsp butter for greasing pan
2 C sugar
2 Tbsp sugar for sprinkling
3 C flour
2 tsp baking powder (we recommend non-aluminum, such as Rumford's)
1 C warm milk
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 C blanched slivered almonds
CLEAN coin wrapped in aluminum foil (a quarter works well)
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 10 inch round cake pan with 1 Tbs butter. In medium bowl, cream the cup of butter and 2 cups of sugar together. Stir in flour and mix until batter resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add eggs one at a time, blending each one in well.
In small bowl combine baking powder and milk; add to cake batter and mix well. Finally, combine lemon juice and baking soda in small bowl; add to cake batter and mix well. Pour cake batter into greased cake pan; insert the foil-wrapped coin; bake for 20 minutes.
Remove cake from oven; sprinkle nuts and 2 Tbs sugar over cake, then return it to oven and bake for 20-30 minutes until the cake springs to the touch. Allow to cool on a rack for 10 min.; invert pan onto a cake plate. Serve warm (serve the most senior member first). Alice added sweetened whippped cream to each piece--to her, whipped cream is the universal symbol of good luck!
Pomegranates: Long associated with abundance and fertility, they're eaten in Turkey and other Mediterranean countries for luck in the New Year. Why not give several in a pretty drawstring bag? There are lots of great recipes calling for pomegranate (see our blog in November on pomegranate know-how), and they're especially wonderful added to a morning smoothie!
Lentils: Thought to resemble coins, they are eaten throughout Italy for good fortune in the New Year. Here's a wonderful soup using lentils:
2 tablespoon(s) olive oil
2 pound(s) turkey kielbasa, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 large onion, chopped
1 pound(s) carrots, cut into 1/2-inch half-moons
4 medium stalks celery, sliced
5 clove(s) garlic, crushed with press
6 cup(s) water
2 can(s) (14- to 14 1/2-ounce) chicken broth
2 can(s) (14 1/2-ounce) diced tomatoes
1 1/2 bag(s) (16-ounce) lentils, picked over and rinsed
Celery leaves for garnish
In 8-quart saucepot, heat 2 teaspoons oil on medium until hot. Add half of kielbasa and cook 4 to 5 minutes or until browned. Transfer to medium bowl. Repeat with remaining kielbasa and 2 teaspoons oil.
In same pot, heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil on medium. Add onion, carrots, and celery; cook 15 minutes or until vegetables are golden, stirring often. Stir in garlic; cook 1 minute. Add water, broth, tomatoes, and lentils to pot; heat to boiling on high. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, uncovered, 40 minutes or until lentils are tender. Stir in kielbasa; heat through. Spoon half of stew into serving bowls; garnish with celery leaves. Spoon remaining into freezer-safe containers.
This moist and delicious rice/pea mixture, traditionally served on New Years Day, is said to bring good luck. This is a simple recipe--no presoaking necessary! On the day of your dinner, make rice, then reheat peas and stir together before serving.1 tablespoons cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium red pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 packages (16-oz) dry black-eyed peas
1 large (about 3/4 pound) smoked ham hock
2 cans (14 1/2 oz each) chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon red pepper, crushed
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoon salt
2 cups brown rice
parsley, chopped, for garnish
In 4-qt saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add celery, onion, and red pepper; cook 10 min. until golden. Add garlic; cook 2 min. longer. Rinse peas with running cold water; discard any stones or shriveled peas. Add peas, ham hock, chicken broth, crushed red pepper, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon salt, and 4 cups water to celery mixture; heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 40 min. or until peas are tender.
Meanwhile, prepare rice as package label directs, but use 1 teaspoon salt and do not add butter. In large bowl, gently mix pea mixture and rice. Serve hot. Garnish with chopped parsley if you like.
So with these two dishes in mind, here's our final gift suggestion, with the idea in mind that you could add black-eyed peas to the Lentil Kielbasa Soup (no taste difference and you have DOUBLE the luck!), or add lentils to the Hoppin' John (again, no taste difference and again, you'll have DOUBLE the luck!). In a quart canning jar, create layers of black-eyed peas and the colored lentils. Add some pretty cloth and twine plus the two recipes to the jar with your wishes for New Years Luck, and there you have an easy, inexpensive, and meaningful gift! And not only will you be giving the gift of good luck, you'll also be giving the gift of family dinner made easy!