Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of...?

I'm not one of those bloggers who likes to publish a "Best of..." post at the end of the year.

I figure if you want to spend your last few hours of 2012 looking at my humble little blog, then by all means, go for it.  But you'll have to dig around on your own.   I'm not going to tell you which posts are the "best".  If you really want to know, there's a widget over there --------> that shows which of my posts have been viewed the most.

On the other hand, if you're like most folks, you aren't even reading this message.  You're off partying with friends or playing board games with your kids or listening to a radio countdown or watching a ball drop on TV.  Which is as it should be, I think.  I'm headed that way myself.

Enjoy yourself tonight.  Enjoy your family and friends.  Have fun.  Stay safe.

I'll see you next year!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Bi-Monthly Book Look - November/December

I did it, but barely.  I read the 26 books I set out to read this year. 

I was able to finish six books - five novels and one non-fiction -  in November and December:

The Flame Alphabet - Ben Marcus
My Rating: 1 out of 5.

I had high hopes of enjoying this book after reading the jacket flap.  Adults were becoming ill, sometimes fatally so, from the sounds of children's speech.  It seemed like such an interesting, if far-fetched premise, and the type of sci-fi/suspense story I could really get into.  Umm...not so much.  The plot was weak, and there was a Jewish sub-text that didn't seem to have any relevance to the story. I should have ditched this book early on, but I kept reading in hopes of find out why the adults were affected by communication with their children. Unfortunately, I felt as lost at the end as I did at the beginning.  

The Giver - Lois Lowry
My Rating: 4 out of 5.

Gathering Blue - Lois Lowry
My Rating: 4 out of 5.

Messenger - Lois Lowry
My Rating: 4 out of 5.

Son - Lois Lowry
My Rating:  4 out of 5.

I've read more young adult fiction this year than I have since I was a preteen.  This series of four novels was recommended by Kat's mom after I read the Hunger Games series. 

This series consists of three unrelated villages, the third being a haven for those who can escape the first two (as well as other) dystopian societies.  By the fourth novel, the connections between the characters from the different villages is made known.

Like Hunger Games, there are some disturbing premises in these stories.  Unlike Hunger Games, there is very little violence involved.  There are some supernatural elements involved, but if looked at symbolically rather than literally, they don't seem to detract from the plot.

The books, the first of which is a Newberry Medal winner, are well-written and suitable for 'tweens, teens and adults alike.

The Battle of Westport: Missouri's Great Confederate Raid - Paul Kirkman
My Rating: 2 out of 5

I am not a Civil War buff, but The Battle of Westport and surrounding events is of interest to me for its local history.  Unfortunately, this book was hard to follow.  The author seemed to be "all over the place", and I was often confused about who was fighting for the North, who for the South, whether they were in Missouri or Kansas at any given time, etc.  Many of the players' names were the same or similar, but the author would use full names here, only surnames there, until I couldn't decipher who was being written about at times.

I do think an account of this battle is worth my time to read, but I will first seek out a book that is less confusing.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Pork Chops in Onion-Mushroom Gravy

In the interest of cooking "real food" and trying to get away from most processed foods, I've revamped a family-favorite recipe here. This is something I used to make with condensed cream of mushroom soup and dry onion soup mix. Now I use fresh mushrooms, fresh dairy, and fresh onions. It only takes a few minutes longer to make, and in my opinion, tastes better.

Pork Chops In Onion-Mushroom Gravy

Bacon grease or oil of choice
4 pork chops, boneless or bone-in, trimmed of fat
1 medium onion, diced
4 ounces (half a carton) button mushrooms, sliced or chopped
3 Tablespoons flour
2 cups meat stock (I used pork, but could use beef or even chicken)
1/2 cup half and half
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 300°F.

In a large skillet (preferrably oven-proof), heat 2 tablespoons of bacon grease, then brown all chops on both sides.  Remove chops to plate and keep warm

In same skillet, add additional bacon grease if needed, then saute chopped onions and mushrooms until onions are tender, about 5-7 minutes.

Stir in flour and cook for about 1 minute, adding small amount of additional bacon grease if needed.  Whisk in meat stock and half-and-half.  Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes until gravy thicken and flour loses raw taste.  Season as desired with salt and pepper.

Return chops to skillet or transfer to an oven-safe baking dish.  Pour or spoon gravy over top.  Cover skillet with lid or baking dish with foil. 

Bake for 75 to 90 minutes or until chops are very tender.  If gravy is too thin after cooking, thicken further with a cornstarch or arrowroot slurry.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Day After

What a week! 

When I signed off last Tuesday, Kat was missing her second day of school because she was sick.  We found out on Wednesday she had bronchitis, and she ended up missing school all week.

My Facebook followers already know this, but for those who don't, on Wednesday night we had a small smoldering fire in our attic.  It's a long story, but the short of it is that it happened when we threw a breaker and tried to get our power back on, so we found it quickly and there was no damage.  Our fire department was able to extinguish it with a portable water sprayer, so there wasn't even any water damage.  It was caused by a bare wire in our attic, which has since been replaced by an electrician and inspected by our city codes department.  In the near future (early January?) we'll have the electricians back out to update all the wiring in the house to prevent future mishaps.

A hole burned in a rafter, about the size of a softball. 
You can see the bare wire just to the left.

One thing I'd like to say about the fire is that, although we had a good deal more time to evacuate than we would have had the fire been blazing, the idea of grabbing photos, keepsakes, etc., did not even cross my mind or Shane's.  Kat had just gone to bed, so we woke her and got her into coat and shoes and out the door.  Shane grabbed our laptop computers for no other reason than they were easily at hand and he thought it might make dealing with banks, insurance, etc., easier if we did incur a loss.  We each grabbed our phones, wallets and keys, and we each moved a vehicle out of our driveway and into the driveways of some vacant homes on our street.  That was it.  To get anything else out simply didn't occur to us.

Now, you might be wondering what we did about the cats.  We love our cats, but we did not bring them out of the house with us.  Again, this was a smoldering fire, and while we were taking precautions and not trying to extinguish it ourselves in the dark, we did not feel as if the entire house was going to go up in flames.  Our three indoor cats have never been outside, and in this case, we felt they were safer staying inside for the firefighters to rescue if it came to that. 

Thursday was spent dealing with electricians, inspectors, and insurance adjusters (by the way, no claim was required), a sick child, and a grown child with a stalled car in the seasons first snow-fall of the year.  It was a beautiful day. (sarcasm)

Friday evening, with Kat showing signs of improvement, we spent a short time at our friends' house for a small Christmas party.  Saturday we returned to the same friends' house for a cookie exchange and brought home more cookies than we'll eat in a month!

Sunday was Christmas on my side of the family, at my Dad's house.  We met my 80-year-old dad's new "girlfriend", feasted on ham and other good food, and played a gift exchange game.  The party-poopers in my family far outnumber the partiers, so no one was too disappointed when Dad said it was the last big Christmas gathering he would host.  Also -- my next-older sister patted my somewhat jiggly tummy and asked me if I'm pregnant.  Oddly, she remained standing.

Monday was a great day (no sarcasm this time).  We enjoyed breakfast out with Shane's dad and step-mom, and did a little shopping on our way home.  Hitting the stores on Christmas Eve isn't bad when you aren't buying Christmas gifts; we were just buying a few things we needed for home.  Breakfast held us over for the day, then we had an early dinner out with my daughter T and her husband M at a Chinese buffet restaurant.  We weren't the only ones with a good idea - the place was packed and the food was delicious, especially the sushi.  M somehow ended up with three fortunes that night, although he only had the one cookie.  Fortunate, indeed!

Yesterday, of course, was the big day!  Kat seemed thrilled with the gifts we (and Santa) gave her. 

Queen Anne's Revenge!
TARDIS socks!

Shane and I don't exchange gifts, but we do fill stockings for each other and help Kat get one gift for each of us.  I was very happy to get 4 skeins of sock yarn, a yarn cannister, a portable craft lamp and a couple of pairs of warm fuzzy socks.  I made a ham and egg pizza for breakfast, and for lunch I literally pulled odds and ends from the fridge to snack on.  We all sat around watching Kat play or playing with her, watching funny videos on Youtube, and relaxing in general.  It was a very low key day that suited us all just fine.

And now...I hope to get back into some daily routines, sans holidays, illnesses and near-disasters.  Washing dishes and doing laundry sounds good to me. 

Ordinary is the order of the day.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Happy Holidays To All!

With a very full social calendar beginning Thursday, and a very sick Kat beginning yesterday, I've decided I'm going to take a break from blogging until after the holiday is over.

I wish a very Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, and a wonderful week to everyone, regardless of what or when you celebrate.

I'll see you on the 26th!

Monday, December 17, 2012

And I Thought Memory Was The First Thing To Go

Yep, that's me.  Yesterday was my birthday and I turned 49. Now, I didn't know this, but when you turn 49, you lose all ability to make decisions

Shane asked me what I wanted to do yesterday, but I couldn't decide

I sat with my recipes in front of me (aka, Pinterest) and considered what to make for dinner, but I couldn't decide.

When I asked Shane what we should do about lunch, and he bounced it back to me with "It's your birthday, what do YOU want to do for lunch?", I didn't know whether to laugh, scream, cry or strangle him.  Not only couldn't I decide about lunch, but I couldn't even decide how to feel.
Yep, it was one of those days.  I finally asked him to please take over because I didn't know what the hell I wanted other than to not have to make decisions.

So, in the end, we stayed home all day in our jammies, ate chicken soup for lunch and I made meatloaf for supper.  Turned out to be a pretty good birthday after all

And, you know, I'm feeling much more decisive this morning.  Today I'm going to make cookies.  Definitely cookies, or maybe I'll make fudge.  Some brownies might be nice instead...

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Foto Fest with Random Ramblings

I caught Siesta drinking water from Shane's glass and trampling his blueprints.

Up On The Rooftop.

Shirt-sleeve weather on Dec. 1 and 2 was perfect weather
for hanging Christmas lights...

and waving to me while hanging on for dear life.

Blurry, but I like it!

End result.  The white blobs in front and center are deer.

New, thinner tree fits our room much better. 
Blob in front and center is Siesta.

Purple and gold.  We unintentionally picked our school colors.
Some days, all you can do is sleep...

or scowl.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12 Treats of Christmas - Day 12 - Easy Cheese Stick "Eggrolls"

Last, but not least, of the 12 Treats of Christmas is this repeat of a recipe I posted in October, but it's just perfect for holiday parties or at-home snacking.

Easy Cheese Stick "Eggrolls"
1 package string cheese (16 oz. = 16 pieces, usually)
1 package wonton or egg roll wrappers
Peanut oil or other oil for deep frying

Heat oil in a deep fryer to 375°F.

While oil is heating, remove wrapper from string cheese pieces.  If using egg roll wrappers, you will need one wrapper per piece of cheese.  If using wonton wrappers, you will need to cut each cheese stick into thirds crosswise and use three wrappers.

Wrap each piece of cheese "burrito-style" by placing a single wrapper in front of you with a point toward you.  Place piece of cheese across the wrapper near the center.  Fold the point nearest you up and over the cheese, but a 1/2-inch or so below the top point.  Brush exposed edges of wrapper with water.  Fold in side points, then roll cheese toward top point, pressing to seal all edges.  Set aside and cover with a barely-damp paper towel while rolling remaining cheese sticks.

Deep fry appetizers in batches in hot oil until wrappers are golden brown and bubbly.  Drain on paper towels and cool slightly before serving.

Alternately, place rolled appetizers on a lined baking sheet and bake 375°F degrees until golden brown, turning once to brown on all sides.  Let cool slightly before serving.

(BTW, I think I first saw this recipe somewhere on Pinterest, but I don't see it on my boards now, so I don't know who should get credit.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

12 Treats of Christmas - Day 11 - Bubbly Cranberry Punch

Bubbly Cranberry Punch

2 (15-oz.) cans jelled cranberry sauce
1 cup orange juice
1 cup lemonade
2 liters ginger ale
ice cubes

In a large pitcher or punch bowl, whisk cranberry sauce until smooth. Stir in orange juice and lemonade until well combined. Chill this mixture until just before you are ready to serve the punch.

At serving time, slowly pour in ginger ale. Stir gently, then add ice cubes as desired.

Makes about 3 quarts of punch.

Monday, December 10, 2012

12 Treats of Christmas - Day 10 - Easy Wintertime Salsa

I call this Wintertime Salsa because it's an easy salsa to make in the winter, when garden fresh tomatoes and peppers might not be available. It uses canned and dried ingredients, but still has a fresh taste compared to grocery store salsa sold in a jar.

Annie's Easy Wintertime Salsa

2 14.5-ounce cans stewed tomatoes, with juices (use home-canned if you have it)
8 slices of pickled jalapenos (use less for a milder salsa)
2 tablespoons of the juices from the pickled jalapenos (use less or omit for milder salsa)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon bottled lime juice
2 teaspoons dried cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Set one can of stewed tomatoes aside.

In a blender or food processor, combine remaining ingredients and process until fairly smooth.

Add reserved can of tomatoes and process (or use pulse setting) for approximately 1 second at a time, repeating 4-5 times, until tomatoes are blended in, but still slightly chunky.

Pour into a bowl and serve at room temperature or chill, if desired.

Makes approx. 1 quart of salsa.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

12 Treats of Christmas - Day 9 - Cherry Chocolate Malt Cupcakes

I originally made these for Kat's birthday in July of 2011, but they are so festive looking, I knew I needed to include them in the 12 Treats of Christmas!

These cupcakes are dense and fudge-y, more like a brownie than a cake.

Cherry Chocolate Malt Cupcakes


1 stick (8 Tbs) softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup Hershey's semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup cherry preserves (I blended in food processor to make a smooth consistency)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup chocolate malt powder
pinch of salt (I omitted because I used salted butter)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used 1/2 cup all-purpose white, 1/2 cup white whole wheat)

Frosting (big batch; you could make half...better if made the day before)

3-1/2 sticks butter, softened
2/3 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt - only if using unsalted butter
1 teaspoon corn syrup (can omit)
2 pounds (approx. 6-1/4 cups) powdered sugar
1/4 cup water

1 (5 oz.) package of malt balls (Whoppers), crushed, for garnish
12 whole maraschino cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with cupcake liners.

Put the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan on the heat to melt. When nearly melted, stir in the chocolate. Leave for a moment to soften, then take the pan off the heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the butter and chocolate are smooth and melted. Now add the cherry jam, sugar, salt and beaten eggs. Stir with a wooden spoon and when all is pretty well combined stir in the flour.

Scrape and pour into the muffin papers in cupcake pan and bake for 25-28 minutes, or until toothpick test comes our clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out.

To make frosting, cream together butter, cocoa, vanilla, salt, and corn syrup.  Slowly mix in powdered sugar.  Add water to desired consistency.  Frosting will be a very light brown, but will darken by the next day.  It will also have a more pronounced chocolate flavor the next day.

When the cupcakes are cool, pipe icing on cooled cupcakes using a large star tip.  Sprinkle with crushed malt balls and top each cupcake with a cherry.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

12 Treats of Christmas - Day 8 - Pineapple Smoked Sausage Bites

Sweet, sour and salty combined in one tasty treat!

Pineapple Smoked Sausage Bites

1 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons ground mustard
1 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 pounds miniature smoked sausages

In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, flour and mustard. Gradually stir in the pineapple juice, vinegar and soy sauce.

Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat; cook an stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.

Add sausages; stir to coat. Cook, uncovered for 5 minutes or until heated through. Serve warm.

Makes about 8 dozen sausages.

Friday, December 7, 2012

12 Treats of Christmas - Day 7 - Mocha Chocolate Thumbprints

Coffee and chocolate ganache.  The perfect combination!

Mocha Chocolate Thumbprints

3 c. flour
2/3 c. brown sugar
2/3 c. sugar
3/4 c. butter, softened
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp instant coffee -- I used two Starbucks Via sticks
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c. cocoa
1/4 c. milk

Heat oven to 350°F. 

Cream sugars and butter together, then add eggs.  Add cocoa, coffee, salt and baking powder, then flour; add milk to moisten.

Cover dough and chill for 1 hour to overnight  (I didn't, and they turned out fine, but the dough might be more manageable if you do.) 

Roll into 1-inch balls and then make an indentation with either your thumb or rounded side of a teaspoon after laying them on your parchment covered cookie sheet. 

Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes; transfer to a cooling rack and make certain they are fully cooled before adding topping.

For the ganache: 

6 to 7 ounces milk chocolate chips
4 to 6 tbsp heavy cream (I used evaporated milk)

Place chips in a microwave safe bowl; microwave at 50% power for 2-4 minutes (depending on your microwave).  Stir chips and add 4 tbsp heavy cream.  If the mixture seizes, add 2 more tablespoons on top and microwave for another 1-2 minutes and stir until smooth.  It should be about the consistency of pudding

Add a heaping teaspoon full on top of each cookie and allow to solidify before freezing or storing.  Sprinkle with white nonpariels, if desired.

Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

12 Treats of Christmas - Day 6 - Flaky Sausage Foldovers

Here's another great appetizer to take to a potluck or to enjoy at home.

Flaky Sausage Foldovers

1/2 pound pork breakfast sausage (regular or hot)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 15-oz can or jar of pizza sauce
1 pkg. refrigerated pie crusts, near room temperature
1 egg, beaten

Heat oven to 425°F. Brown sausage in small skillet; drain well. Stir in garlic powder. Add 1/4 cup of the pizza sauce; mix well.

Unfold 1 pie crust. With rolling pin, roll into 13-inch round. With 3-inch cutter, cut 11 rounds*. Repeat with second pie crust

Spoon about 1 teaspoon sausage mixture onto each round. Fold each in half; seal edges with fork or fingers. Cut slit in top of each with sharp knife. Place on ungreased (or parchment-lined) cookie sheet. Brush each foldover with beaten egg.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden. Meanwhile, heat remaining pizza sauce in small pan until hot. Serve warm appetizers with warm pizza sauce for dipping.

Makes 22 appetizers. *

Source: Pillsbury Holiday Appetizers and Desserts December 2003

* I was able to get 20 rounds from each crust and had plenty of filling for a total of 40 appetizers.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

12 Treats of Christmas - Day 5 - Crockpot Peanut Clusters

Candy doesn't get any easier - or tastier - than this!

Crock-Pot Peanut Clusters

One 12-oz. bag (2 cups) white chocolate chips
One 12-oz. bag (2 cups) milk chocolate chips
One 12-oz. bag (2 cups) semi-sweet chocolate chips
One 16-oz. jar (3 cups) salted dry roasted peanuts (the salt really adds to this recipe)

Combine all ingredients in Crock-Pot set on LOW.  Stir frequently until all chips melt and peanuts are evenly coated.  While you don't have to stir constantly, do stir the mixture often so that it doesn't burn around the edges of the Crock-Pot.  If your slow cooker has a KEEP WARM setting, use that after the chips have all melted and while you are spooning the candy out.

Spoon candy into miniature muffin tins lined with decorative mini muffin papers.  Alternately, drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper or parchment paper.  Store in a cool place (or the fridge) until candy is firm.

Makes about 50 peanut clusters.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

12 Treats of Christmas - Day 4 - Brew Pub Pretzels

These are great to take to a party or to enjoy as an evening snack at home.

Brew Pub Pretzels

3/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
4 teaspoons cooking oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 quarts boiling water
2 teaspoons water
1 egg white
1 T. water
Coarse salt
8 ounces shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup strong ale or beer
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds or caraway seeds (optional)
Dash black pepper

In a large mixer bowl, combine milk, sugar and yeast. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, oil and flour. Combine well. Using dough hook attachment, knead until dough is soft and elastic.

Place dough in oiled bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise until dough has doubled in size. Punch down.

Heat oven to 475°F. Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper; set aside. Roll dough into a 10x6-inch rectangle; cut lengthwise into twelve 1/2-inch strips. Roll each strip into a rope about 16 inches long (I recommend at least 20 inches long). Shape each rope into a pretzel.

Place pretzels 1/2 inch apart on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 4 minutes. Remove from oven. Reduce heat to 350°F.

Dissolve the 2 teaspoons salt in boiling water; reduce heat to simmer. Slide pretzels, a few at a time, into water and simmer, uncovered, for 2 minutes, turning once. Using a slotted spoon, remove from water; drain on a wire rack. Place 1/2 inch apart on well-greased (or parchment lined) baking sheet.

In a small bowl, beat egg white with 1 Tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg white mixture; sprinkle lightly with coarse salt. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to wire racks; cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan combine process cheese spread, ale, celery seeds and black pepper. Cook and stir over medium-low heat until cheese is melted. Serve with pretzels.

Makes 12 pretzels.

Monday, December 3, 2012

12 Treats of Christmas - Day 3 - Old-Fashioned Black Walnut Cookies

To me, nothing brings to mind an old-fashioned Christmas better than the taste black walnuts, in fudge or in these cookies. These cookies are a little "fussy", so I highly recommend following these tips:
  • Don't try these without parchment paper, or maybe a Silpat, on your cookie sheet. I really don't think they'd come off any pan, even a non-stick one, without parchment or a Silpat.
  • After combining all the ingredients, let the batter rest for about 10 minutes. It will get lighter and foamier and not spread so much on the cookie sheet. It also seemed to make the cookies easier to remove from the parchment.
  • As with most cookies, don't put the batter on a warm pan. If you have only one or two pans, let them cool between bakings.
  • Finally, keep your eyes on these. One pan came out beautifully at 10 minutes, but the next, also at 10 minutes, were a little over-baked.

Black Walnut Cookies

2 cups brown sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups chopped black walnuts

Heat oven to 375°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. (My addition.)

Beat brown sugar and eggs in large bowl until light and fluffy.

Stir together flour, salt and baking powder, then beat into egg mixture.

Stir in black walnuts. Batter will be very thin, like pancake batter. Let batter rest for 10 minutes until light and foamy. (My addition.)

Pour about 1/8th cup of batter (I used a small ice cream/cookie scoop) onto parchment lined cookie sheets, keeping batter 2-3" apart.

Bake at 375°F for 8-12 minutes, depending on your oven, until just lightly browned. Watch these carefully because once they start to brown, they brown very quickly.

Transfer cookies, still on parchment paper, to cooling rack. Let cool completely before removing from parchment (you may have to peel it from the bottom of the cookies.)

Store in an air-tight container.

Makes 3-4 dozen.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

12 Treats of Christmas - Day 2 - White Rotel Dip

Shane is no lover of Velveeta. Aside from the fact that it is an extremely processed "food", he just doesn't like the flavor or texture. Instead, we make our Rotel Dip with cream cheese.

White Rotel Dip

1 8-ounce bar of cream cheese (or equivalent homemade cream, yogurt or kefir cheese)
1 can Rotel or similar diced tomatoes with chiles, as hot or mild as you like (or home canned)
1/2 pound pork breakfast sausage, crumbled, cooked and drained
diced tomatoes for garnish

In medium saucepan over low to medium heat, combine cheese, Rotel and sausage.  Heat and stir until mixture is smooth.

Spoon into serving dish; garnish with diced tomatoes if desired.

Makes about 2 cups.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

12 Treats of Christmas - Day 1 - Chewy Chocolate Cluster Candy

Welcome to the Haphazard Homestead's 12 Treats of Christmas!  For the next dozen days, I'll be featuring some tried and true recipes for holiday treats, both sweet and savory.

Credit for the first treat goes to Mennonite Girls Can Cook, where I originally found the recipe.

Chewy Chocolate Clusters

1 12-oz pkg. chocolate chips
2/3 cups butter
1 bag marshmallows (large or mini)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups crisp rice cereal
1 cup shredded coconut

Melt chocolate chips, and butter over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Add marshmallows; stir until melted and smooth.

Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla, then add cereal and coconut until dry ingredients are well-coated.

Drop by spoonfuls (or use a small ice cream scoop) onto a cookie sheet or on to waxed paper.

Roll in additional coconut if desired.

Chill until set.

Makes 4-6 dozen, depending on size.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The T Doesn't Stand for Timely

You might remember that I put in a request to have our cable disconnected on November 6.  I was told by the phone rep at our cable company (which shall remain nameless, but whose initials are TWC) that they would "disconnect at the pole" on November 9.

I just got a knock on the door from the technician who said he's here to "disconnect cable but leave internet".  Yep.  Just what we ordered...three weeks ago.  By the way, the pole you're looking for isn't in our yard...go around to the house behind us.

We knew the cable was still on, but we haven't been using it.  In fact, when we lost power for a short time on Saturday or Sunday, we didn't even bother to re-scan for channels; we figured we'd get to that if/when we wanted to watch something.  We've been caught up in Netflix discs of Doctor Who instead.

I wonder if we'll be charged for those three weeks?  I do know we won't be paying for them.

Old-Fashioned Decorating

Here's a tableau I saw once in a flea market
and recreated here at home.

It's an old step-ladder adorned with kitchen utensils and other household items that are old or made to look old.  Keeping
ribbons and greenery to a minimum enhances this simple look.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Simple Decorative Table Covering for Any Season

Look at me!  I actually did a craft!  This project is SEW simple to make with a machine, and would even work up quickly by hand if that's your style.  All you need is a yard of woven cotton fabric in any color or design you like and at least 1/2 yard of any coordinating fabric.

Square up your cuts of fabric.  I do it by pulling a thread, but maybe you know of a different way.

Cut the larger piece of fabric in as big a square as you can.  Because of crooked bolting and uneven cutting, it will almost certainly be less than a 36-inch square.  Fold and press edges in 1/4-inch, then fold them over another 1/4-inch and press again.  Then top stitch all the way around.

Do the same thing with the smaller fabric, making a square as close to 18 inches as possible, and hem it all the way around as well.

Depending on your table, you may want to adjust these sizes.

Place larger cloth on table with points toward table ends and sides.  Place smaller cloth on top at a 45° angle (with points toward table corners).  Place centerpiece as desired.  Or, you know, you can put it on the table any way you like.

These are simple and inexpensive to make, so why not have some for every holiday or season?  I find that in our house, a full table cloth is likely to shift or get pulled on by our unruly cats, but these smaller table toppers work great.  When the table is pretty, we're much less likely to use it as catch all surface, too.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Meal Plan

I haven't done a weekly dinner menu on the blog in a long time, so I thought I'd do that this morning.  All the turkey leftovers are gone, and I now have several jars of canned turkey stock in the pantry for future meals.  It's time to start eating some of the venison and pork in our freezer.

Sunday:  Copycat of Macaroni Grill's Penne Rustica. 

This was actually a leftover makeover, but not from Thanksgiving.  We went out last Wednesday night for a belated birthday dinner for Shane.  Without getting into much detail, we were all disappointed with our meals from a well-known chain steak house.  Kat ordered a Parmesan-crusted chicken dish, but brought most of it home as leftovers, which eventually found their way into this dinner. 

I made a few changes to the recipe.  I subbed in a cup of turkey stock for a cup of the cream (and used half-and-half instead of cream to begin with), I added quite a bit more garlic, and omitted the shrimp since we didn't have any in the freezer.  This turned out to be a nice baked pasta dish and quite the improvement over the original chicken dish from the restaurant.  We served it with a green salad and bacon-cheddar scones.

Monday:  Venison chili with corn chips, sour cream and shredded cheddar; peanut butter sandwiches; celery/carrot sticks. 

I call this one of my school lunch dinners, because we always had peanut butter sandwiches and celery/carrot sticks at school whenever we had chili.  I need to get a chili recipe posted on the blog.  My chili used to be ultra-simple:  ground meat, tomato soup, packaged chili seasoning, chili beans.  Lately, though, I've been using tomato sauce and pinto beans grown and canned from our garden, as well as chili seasoning I put together myself.  I need to get those changes on paper -- or on blog, as it were.

Tuesday:  Pork Chops with Onion-Mushroom Gravy

Here's another recipe that used both canned soup and dry soup mix, but that I've changed to include homemade versions instead.  I should probably get those changes recorded, too.  This dish will be served with potatoes and Brussels sprouts, but I haven't yet decided on the recipes for those.

Wednesday:  Texas Chili Cheese Bake

This is a fun dish using leftover chili layered over toast and shredded cheese, then broiled quickly to heat it through.  We'll probably have leftover Brussels sprouts and some home-canned peaches or apples to go with it.

Thursday:  Chinese Steamed Pork Dumplings, Egg Drop Soup, Garlic Green Beans, Almond Cookies

I'll be trying my hand at Chinese steamed dumplings.  If they turn out alright, I'll post the recipe.

Friday:  Kansas City Steak Soup with Venison, Cornbread, Home-canned Fruit

This is a family favorite but I'm trying something new this time:  I'm going to make a HUGE batch and pressure can it.  I've done a lot of pressure canning this year (pinto beans, green beans, chicken stock, even fish), but it will be my first time canning something like this with so many ingredients.  I can't wait to try it!

Saturday:  C.O.R.N. (Clean Out Refrigerator Night)

In other words, I'm taking a night off!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Nowadays, Even Sandwiches Are Controversial

I hope all of you had a very nice Thanksgiving.  Ours was wonderful, if very un-traditional.  I made most of the dishes ahead of time, so yesterday all that needed to be made was turkey and stuffing.

Kat went to a midday feast with her mom and step-dad, which left Shane and I with several hours of free time.  I spent mine in the RV, sewing.  Shane spent his in, out, and under the RV, getting it winterized for the off-season.  Around 4:00, we came in and started working on our Thanksgiving supper.  Shane deep-fried the turkey while I heated the side dishes.  By the time everything was ready, Kat was home to eat with us.  We enjoyed our meal while watching a movie.  Eating in front of the TV made it as much a holiday as anything else did; that's not something we do often.

We really enjoyed our casual, quiet holiday.  I think making side dishes ahead of time is the way I'll "do" holidays from now on.  Although we ate late in the day, we weren't tired from cooking all day, so cleaning up was a breeze.

So now, what to do with the leftovers?  Enter the controversy.  I plan on making Kentucky Hot Brown sandwiches.  I have never had one, have never been to the Brown Hotel, and in fact, have never been to Louisville at all.  I just thought the sandwich I saw in a magazine looked tasty.

Apparently, though, some folks get a little "tetchy" if the sandwich isn't made exactly according to The Brown Hotel's original recipe.  And, OMG, if you accidentally (or intentionally) call it a Hot Browns instead of Hot Brown, watch out!  Bobby Flay uses white cheddar and gives the bread a French toast treatment, both of which are apparently no-nos.  My Recipes' version calls for Parmesan (Mornay sauce), but is otherwise similar to the original.

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner; Styling: Buffy Hargett, via My Recipes

My version will probably include white cheddar (which I have on hand) and Parmesan (which I have on hand), and will probably not include the egg-dipped bread.  It will probably have double the bacon.  And for that reason alone, it will probably be the best recipe of the bunch.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Grinding Away

I know I haven't been around much.  Here's why:

- Between Thursday of last week and yesterday, we processed and froze 84 pounds of venison.

- We killed our meat grinder.

- I made Shane a cake for his birthday, which was yesterday.  I used this recipe, but made some changes to include cocoa and little molasses.

- I set up some Spicy Cranberry Relish to lacto-ferment.  It should be done by Thursday.

- I made Make-Ahead Gravy for Thursday's feast.

- After using what I needed for the gravy, I canned 4 pints of perpetual chicken bone broth.

- I zested and juiced some lemons and limes for future recipes.

- I'm making these French fries to go with tonight's supper.  I'm trying the twice-fried or double-fried method this time.  These are between fryings.  If you are interested, do a Google search.  There are WAY too many results to link just one.

- I managed to work in a little bit of laundry and housework between other jobs.

- Somehow, I managed to find time to plan meals until the end of the year.  Mostly just the main dishes, but it's a good starting point for more busy days ahead.

- And just for fun, we had dinner with some friends on Saturday evening.

I'm on a roll!  If you don't hear from me by Black Friday, send a search party.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Busy Days

Just "popping' in to say hello and let you know I haven't abandoned the blog.  Shane's birthday is Sunday...Thanksgiving is right around the corner...and it's deer season here right now (we process our own meat when we get it).  As you can imagine,  I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by my kitchen to-do lists right now.

I do manage comment once in a while on Facebook, so if you haven't already, you might want to "Like" me there to keep up with what's going on at the Haphazard Homestead FB page.

Have a great weekend, and I'll be back as soon!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Herbed Pork Loin with Roasted Potatoes

This dish takes a few hours to make in the oven, but it's worth the time.

Herbed Pork Loin with Roasted Potatoes

Pork Loin:

1 (2-1/2 to 3 pound) boneless pork loin roast
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 Tablespoon dry parsley (or 1/2 cup packed chopped fresh parsley)
1-1/2 teaspoons rubbed sage (or 1-1/2 Tablespoons fresh sage leaves)
1-1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary leaves (or 1-1/2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves)
1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves (or 1-1/2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat oven to 350°F.  Pat the pork loin roast dry with a paper towel, then score the fat with a sharp knife at 1/4-inch intervals.  Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  (If you have an oven-safe skillet, this can become a one-pan meal.)  Add the roast and brown on all sides, about 3 minutes per side.

Transfer roast to a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick spray.  Or, if using an oven-safe pan, just lift the roast and put a wire rack beneath it in the skillet.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining 3 Tablespoons of olive oil with the herbs, garlic, salt and pepper.  If using fresh herbs, combine this mixture in food processor.  Spread the herb paste over the top and sides of the pork roast.

Bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 145°F.  Remove to serving platter.  Let roast rest at least 10 minutes to allow temperature to rise to 150°F before slicing.  Cover and keep warm until potatoes are ready.

Increase oven temperature to 450°F.  While roast is resting, prepare potatoes.

Roasted Potatoes:

1/4 cup olive oil
8 small potatoes, quartered (peeled or not, your choice)
1 medium onion, cut into several wedges or large chunks
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks (optional)

In same pan or skillet you used to cook the pork roast, stir 1/4 cup olive oil into pan drippings.  Add cut up vegetables and toss to coat evenly.

Return pan to oven, uncovered, and roast for 60-65 minutes or until tender and golden, stirring halfway through cooking time.  Serve with sliced pork roast.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Bye-Bye Cable

The cable guy (neither Larry nor Jim Carrey) is supposed to disconnect our cable service today, leaving us with just Internet service, which will cut our bill from $103 a month down to $40. 

We're getting rid of cable primarily because we don't spend enough time watching television to justify the expense.  Kat watches an hour or so a day of cable cartoons or shows such as How It's Made or Mythbusters;  Shane and I don't even bother to turn the TV on most nights. 

Case in point:  I saw a banner hanging up in town recently, congratulating a local man on his success in a show called X Factor.  I had to do a Google search to find out what X Factor is, and find out why our town is fussing over a man named Tate Stevens.  Apparently, this alumnus of our local high school and employee on our city's road crew is doing quite well on X Factor.  But I was surprised to learn it was a talent show.  I thought it was about eating bugs or sleeping in scorpion infested coffins or something like that.  Oh, that's Fear Factor?  Fear Factor...X Factor...what's the difference?  It's all the same to me.

That's just one show.  I've never watched an episode of American Idol or Desperate Housewives.  I know those aren't new shows, but I can't even tell you what the new shows are called.  Anything we do know about and want to watch, we can find either online or via Netflix.

See what I mean?  It just isn't worth $63 a month we've been paying to NOT watch TV.  Seriously, we should've ditched it months or years ago, but of course, we were under contract until this week.

What about you?  Do you have an expense for a service you really don't need anymore?  It could be anything, not just cable.  Maybe it's something small, like a subscription to a magazine you don't read, or something bigger, like a gym membership you never use.  Could you cancel it to save some money each month?  Or redirect the money toward something you need or would enjoy more?  It's might be worth your while to consider it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Apple Cider with Ginger Lemonade - Hot or Cold

Hot Cider with Ginger Lemonade
Here is a delicious drink that can be served as a refreshing cold drink or a cozy hot drink.  If you can't find ginger syrup, try your hand at making your own.  If you're in a hurry, use lemonade reconstituted from frozen concentrate or a drink mix powder.

Apple Cider with Ginger Lemonade

1 quart lemonade, sweetened to taste (see recipe below)
1 quart apple cider (can use apple juice if you prefer)
1/4 cup ginger syrup or to taste
cinnamon sticks for garnish

Combine all ingredients.  Serve chilled or over ice for a cold drink.  For a hot drink,warm gently in a slow cooker or in a pot on the stove; serve in mugs with cinnamon sticks for garnish. 

Homemade Lemonade

1-1/2 to 2 cups granulated sugar  (to taste)
2 cups water
1 cup fresh lemon juice
additional water

Make a simple syrup by combining sugar with 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan.  Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil.  Remove from heat.

In a 2 quart pitcher, combine syrup with lemon juice.  Stir until well-blended.  Add cold water to make 2 quarts.  Chill before serving or serve over ice.

(Flavor improves after sitting a few hours.)
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