Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review: Small Batch Baking

This is one of the small gifts I bought for myself at Christmas time.

We're a family of two adults and one child.  We love our salty snacks and treats, but we have a hard time eating our way through a full-sized cake or pie and we never eat all of a batch of cornbread.   We have better luck with cookies, but sometimes even they go stale before we eat them all.

I've tried freezing baked goods, but they end up forgotten for months, then finally thrown out or composted.

I guess it's a good problem to have, as far as problems go, but we do like a baked treat once in a while and I hate wasting food.  That's why I thought I'd try small batch baking.

This is a nicely designed book.  The recipes are categorized by type and are simple to make in most cases.  Any special pans needed -- such as small pie pans or cake rings -- are described near the front of the book.  The recipes range from simple cornbread muffins and buttermilk biscuits to more elaborate cheesecakes, souffles and pavlovas.  Most recipes make 2 or 3 servings.

The only bad thing I can say about the book is that there are no photographs.  In order to keep myself from going wild with cookbooks, I usually insist they have photos before I buy them.  I made an exception in this case because I knew the book would be so useful to us.

So far, I've tried the recipes for "Old Fashioned Cornbread" (a wonderful flour-less version with molasses that I will post tomorrow), "Chocolate Raspberry Oatmeal Squares" and "Blueberry Upside Down Cake".  All were very good and I'm looking forward to trying more recipes.  With more than 450 pages in the book, there are plenty of them to try.

If you're like us and have a small family, or a small appetite for sweets, this is the book for you.  If you have a larger family or one that loves sweets, this is still the book for you.  After all, who says you can't sample more than one small batch recipe at a time?

Disclaimer:  I was not paid or compensated for this review.  It's just my own opinion of a book I recently purchased for myself.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

First the bad.  Kat has been under the weather since she woke Saturday morning.  She had headache, tummy ache and fever Saturday, then headache without fever yesterday, and tummy ache without fever today.  I think it might be a mild flu bug.  A different school district in the city closed down today because of flu, so I guess it's going around.


Now the good.  Even with a sick kiddo, we managed to have a pretty nice weekend.  We got a lot done around here, but still had time to relax with some movies, a jigsaw puzzle and some reading.

Shane had an unexpected three-day weekend.  His job site was shut down on Friday because they were waiting on materials. He took advantage of the day off by working outside all day.  He tilled the soil in the raised beds and broke ground for some new beds for this year.  He tilled in some horse manure into all of those areas and also added some wood chips to some of the beds to keep the soil loose.

He disassembled part of Kat's play fort, with her permission since she has never really played on it much, and will use the parts to make who knows what.  Right now, a couple of pieces are positioned to make an a-frame lattice, but I don't know if they'll stay that way.

He spent more time outside on Saturday and Sunday, burning yard debris in the chiminea and re-working some of the ornamental beds in the front and on the sides of our house.  Nothing was planted yet, but a lot of areas were readied for both edibles and ornamentals.

As for me, over the weekend I tackled that basket of filing, did my grocery shopping, did my weekly household accounting, and I tried my hand at making 30-minute mozzarella cheese using this recipe.  That was a lot of fun.  I thought it wasn't going to work out, then all of a sudden the texture of the curds changed and there was the mozzarella.  I did learn that it's next to impossible to take photos while making cheese, but here is one of the finished product.

Homemade mozzarella.

I made a couple of very homemade pizzas for supper.   I made scratch crusts, sauce from last year's garden tomatoes, pepperoni I made from some of the venison in our freezer and topped it all with the homemade mozzarella.  I had read a couple of times that the cheese wouldn't melt right, and I can confirm that now.  It really doesn't melt at all, it just gets soft.  But oh well, it tasted good, and that's what really matters. 


And finally, the ugly.  Here are pictures of our back yard right now.  This time of year, it's ugly, ugly, ugly, and that the weather was gloomy when I took these didn't help.  By June, though, it will be quite pretty.  Our back deck is especially ugly right now.  The rails came off when we thought we'd put a sun room there, and the plastic resin lattice we had as skirting wouldn't hold paint and kept blowing down, so we took it off. 

The plan is to put a new back door in our house (it's waiting in our garage) and then to eventually remove the deck and build a new one.  The door will go in as soon as weather and time allow, but we have no idea when the deck project will happen.  At the very least, we'll put some basic railings back on for safety's sake.

Eager to start planting.  Can hardly wait to get the camper out, too.

Wood chips and manure to be tilled in.

Tilling the raised beds.

Back yard in winter.  Anyone want to buy our old pop-up?

Junk-covered patio, wood pile, clothesline.

Our big, fat, ugly deck must go.  Rain catchment tanks off to the right of it.

So that was my weekend.  I actually enjoyed it this time. We struck a nice balance; I hope we can do that more often in the future.

What did you do this weekend?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Gardening Has Begun

We noticed the tree trimmers were working in our neighborhood yesterday, so Shane stopped and talked to one of the workers on his way home.  The guy just happened to be a crew lead and just the man Shane needed to see.  He arranged to have a load of wood chips delivered bright and early this morning.  They showed up around 7:30.

The load of mulch was free, because it saves the company the money and time they would have spent hauling it back to wherever it is they haul it back to.

We'll be using our mulch in flower beds, tree rings, etc.  The finer stuff might go into some of are veggie beds to help keep the soil loose.

If trimmers are working in your area, stop and ask them for some chips for mulch.  The worst that can happen is that they say no, or charge you a small fee.  Who knows, though?  You might just get it for free.


Yesterday Shane also picked up a truckload of horse manure.  It has aged enough that it can go straight into our raised beds and flower beds.

His crew is waiting on materials and are at a stand-still on the job site, so he has an unexpected day off.  He's getting ready to till in that manure as I type this.


We're in Planting Zone 6, but we've had a very mild winter; the ground hasn't even frozen this season.  We're thinking of going ahead and planting peas this weekend or next.  After scouring the Internet, I've found adages such as "peas in by Valentine's Day" and "peas in by President's Day".

In the past, our peas haven't done well.  I think we've been planting them too late.  If we plant them this weekend, we'll be 2 to 3 weeks early, but I think we're going to take the chance.  The seeds are from last year (but still good), so we won't be out anything but our time if they don't grow.

We are also thinking about planting them in succession, some each weekend, so that we'll have "insurance" if the earliest ones fail.

Anyone else, especially Zone 6 readers, planting anything yet?

Kansas City Steak Soup

I know I posted this recipe on my old blog, but it's worth repeating.

This is the favorite soup in our house.  It's supposed to be a cut-down version of the steak soup served at Kansas City's Plaza III Restaurant.  I don't know if it is the actual version, but it's certainly close.

Canned beef consomme really boosts the flavor of this soup, but a quality beef stock (canned or homemade) can be substituted.  If you have ground venison in your freezer, it makes a great stand-in for the lean ground beef.  It's what you see in this picture.

Try it...and I'll bet the next time you'll double the batch.

Kansas City Steak Soup

4 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
2 - 10 oz. cans beef broth or consomme (I highly recommend the consomme instead of broth)
1/4 cup diced carrots
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced celery
1/2 cup chopped canned tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet browning sauce
1 beef bouillon cube
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
5 ounces frozen mixed vegetables
1/2 pound lean ground beef, browned and drained

Melt, but do not brown, the butter in a large soup pot. Add flour and stir to form a roux. Cook on medium heat without browning for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add consomme to roux and stir until smooth and lightly thickened. Bring to a full boil; add the carrots, onion, celery, tomatoes, bouillon cube and pepper. Allow to regain a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are just tender, 20-30 minutes.

Stir in browning sauce to achieve a richer color and flavor.

Stir in frozen vegetables and cooked ground beef. Simmer for 15 minutes more.

Makes about 4 servings.

This post has been shared at the Delicious Dish Tuesday Blog Hop.

Coping With Frugality

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Diggin' In


This is a room in our house.  It doesn't have a theme, or a color scheme, and it's often a victim of neglect.  Except for the bathroom, it's the smallest room in our home, yet it does the most work. 


It's our home office, computer room, craft storage room, and catch-all space all rolled into one.  Some of our books live here, as do the few movies and music CDs that we own.  We toss thrift donations in here until there are enough to bag up and take to the store; eBay or craigslist items are housed here until someone buys them and they are out the door.  Oh, also...the cats' litter boxes are in here.

Piles o' crap.

It's a little room and hard to keep clean and organized.  Since we got our laptops, it's been even messier because we aren't in there to see or deal with the clutter as much as we used to be.

Every quarter (maybe even twice a quarter), I get fed up with the mess and start diggin' in.  Yesterday was "office cleanin' day" for the first quarter of 2012. 

It's not a perfect room and never will be, but it looks better, doesn't it?

Still need to tackle that big basket of filing in the background.

The eBay/craigslist shelves and things that need to be returned to family and friends. I vow that all of it will be gone, one way or another, by the end of February.

Oh, look!  It's a place for people to sit.

Aah!  So much better.

And five boxes of stuff going to the thrift store.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

To Chicken, Or Not To Chicken

Somehow I've got it in my head that we won't really be homesteading, urban or otherwise, until we get some laying hens.  Silly, I know...vegans "do" homesteading without chickens.  Still, it's just a notion of mine.

Looks like this year won't be the year we become "official" homesteaders.  We've talked it over and the time just isn't right for us to take on chickens.  Remember, it's our year to finish projects...not take on new ones. 

Maybe next year will be the year we get our hens.  Until then, I have an "egg lady" that can buy farm-fresh, free-range eggs (and honey) from.

So we won't be chickening this year.  But with luck, we'll be greenhousing, and irrigation-systeming, and maybe even solar-paneling.  Maybe we'll be homesteading after all.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Carrot-Craisin Salad

I'm not much of a fan of raisins as an ingredient in other dishes, so I decided to rework the typical carrot salad with raisins.  Here is my (IMO, yummier) version using dried cranberries and carrots.  I like this recipe because I almost always have all the ingredients on hand.

Carrot-Craisin Salad

1-1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup Craisins (dried cranberries), coarsely chopped
1 clementine, peeled and chopped or equivalent of canned mandarin oranges, drained
1/3 cup mayonnaise (or to taste)
1 - 2 T. honey

Combine all ingredients in medium-sized bowl.  Stir to coat carrots and fruit well.  Chill.  Top with additional cranberries if desired.

Makes four 1/2-cup servings.

Monday, January 23, 2012

I ♥ Mondays

I don't really look forward to weekends.  There.  I said it. 

Weekends wreak havoc on my routines.  The house gets messy.  Plans get made, but are rarely kept, for reasons both within and beyond our control.  The house seems crowded and we (all three of us) have little spats and tiffs we don't have during the week. 

The television stays on too much of the time.  We stay up late Friday night just because we can, then sleep too late Saturday morning.  We feel lazy, sluggish and grouchy all day because of it, but we still repeat the pattern Saturday night and Sunday morning. 

There are exceptions, of course, and enough of them for me to go on having great expectations for carefree weekends with my family.  Mostly, though, I wind up feeling mildly dejected by the time the weekend is over. 

For instance, let me tell you about this last weekend.  It was so underwhelming that I have nothing to say.

Please don't misunderstand; I love my family.  But I think Monday mornings are the best.  Everyone is up early.  Routines are back in place and we're all where we're supposed to be.  I can put the house in order and it stays that way for more than five minutes.  I can actually hear myself think. 

All is calm, all is bright...

until it all hits the fan again by quittin' time tonight.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tangy Cheese Dip

This recipe is based on one of the snack ideas from the Healthy Snacks for Kids book I just finished.  I tweaked it by adding more garlic, switching the oil to safflower, using sharp Cheddar cheese and adding a pinch of salt.  I like it, but I think using medium Cheddar would work fine, too.

Tangy Cheese Dip
(based on recipe in Healthy Snacks for Kids)

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 T. olive oil
1-3 T. milk
pinch of salt

Combine cheese, garlic, yogurt and oil in food processor or small food chopper.  Process until quite smooth.

Keep thick for a spread, thin slightly with milk for a dip, or thin with more milk for a sauce.  Once desired thickness is reached, salt to taste.

This is better after sitting a while.  Missy likes to dip thick pretzels sticks in it for a snack.  It also heats well, making me think of adding jalapenos or tomatoes with chilies next time for a nacho dip.

After letting this sit a day or so in the fridge, the flavors really developed.  Either that, or we just grew some very hot garlic.  Next time I'll cut back to the one clove the original recipe called for.  Also, refrigerated, the texture is more like a spread, similar to that cheese spread that we used buy that came in little glass juice jars.  I'm thinking it would be a good cheese for stuffing jalapenos, mushrooms or tomatoes. Or filling crab rangoons or ravioli.  Or giving in half-pint jars as gifts.   The possibilities are endless.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pork Patties with Onion Gravy

We have quite a bit of ground pork from the hog we bought last fall.  This isn't sausage, but plain, unseasoned pork "burger".  I decided to make some of it into patties similar to Salisbury steaks with gravy.  I have to say, they turned out better than I expected. 

Just my thoughts here, but the sweeter the onion in this recipe, the better.  If you can find a Vidalia, Walla Walla or other similar sweet onion, good for you.  If not, any onion will do, but the gravy won't have the hint of sweetness that I think sets it apart from others.

Pork Patties with Onion Gravy

1 pounds of ground chuck
1/2 of a large sweet onion, diced
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs

1 egg
1-1/2 teaspoons Cavender's Greek seasoning (or any seasoned salt blend you like)
Flour for dredging the patties1/4 cup oil (I used peanut)
1/2 large sweet onion, sliced
1/4 cup flour
2 cups of beef broth

Combine pork, diced onion, bread crumbs, egg, and Cavender's seasoning until mixed well.  Form into about 8 patties.

Heat oil in large, deep frying pan.  Dredge patties in flour, then fry in hot oil about 3 minutes per side, or until lightly browned.  Remove from pan and set aside.

In same pan, cook sliced onion over medium heat until soft and just starting to turn golden.  Stir in 1/4 cup flour.

Gradually whisk in beef broth, whisking constantly until gravy is lump-free and thickened. (If you are uncomfortable with this method, you can gradually whisk the beef broth into the flour, then add the flour/broth mixture to the skillet -- it's an extra step but should be easier to keep the gravy lump-free.)

Once the gravy has thickened, return the pork patties to the pan.  Spoon gravy over each patty, then cover the pan and reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer for about 20 more minutes or until patties are cooked through, adding additional water to the gravy if it becomes too thick.

Serve over mashed potatoes or noodles.  Enjoy.

Makes about 4 servings.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

To Begin...Begin

"To begin, begin."
                            --William Wordsworth

This is what my kitchen looked like most of the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve.  It's looked this way since then, too. Truth be told, it looks this way about once a week. 

Some days there are just so many things to do around here that it's hard to know where to begin . On days like this, I don't even try to prioritize.  I just pick something and do it.

I might not get as much done as I would with a properly ordered to do list, but I'll get something done.

Some days, I think that's the best you can hope for.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thoughts on Second-Hand Stuff

Last week I wrote about our decision to NOT replace a part on our kitchen stove.  In the comments the conversation turned to repairing instead of replacing, replacing with second-hand parts, and hanging on to what you already own.  That's where I want to pick up the conversation again today.

In the last two weeks, a couple of second-hand items have come into our home.  One was by design and the other was by chance.

After seeing our friends' Jack LaLanne Power Juicer like the one above over the holidays, learning how well it worked and how easy it was to clean, we decided we wanted one of our own.  Shortly after, Aldi stores had a similar Crofton juicer on sale for $35 plus tax -- much cheaper than a brand new LaLanne juicer.  As far as I could tell, it worked the same way.  I've bought the Crofton brand before and have always had good luck with it, so I went ahead and picked up one of the two juicers left in our local store.

But on the way home, I wasn't completely happy about my purchase.  I decided I'd look on craigslist for a used Jack LaLanne juicer.  I found several listed and three within my price range.  It took all day, but one of the people I contacted finally responded and we worked out a time for me to see the juicer the next day.  I ended up buying it for $40.

Now why would I pay more for a used item than a new one?  First of all, after sales tax, the new one was about $38, so I only spent a couple dollars more for the used one.  Second, I already knew how the used juicer worked and I knew I would like it.  Third, by buying the pre-owned juicer, I didn't create an artificial demand for more juicers to be produced.  Fourth, I may have kept it out of the landfill; if the previous owner didn't sell it, he might have just thrown it away.  And fifth, it came with no packaging for me to have to recycle or throw away.

I was much more comfortable with this purchase and took the brand new juicer back to Aldi the next time I went there for groceries.

The second item we got used was a 42" flat screen TV.  Shane's boss' neighbor was going to throw it away and asked said boss if he'd take it and put it in a job site dumpster (not sure of the ethics of that, but that's for a different post).  Boss called Shane and told him it was available, that it supposedly worked but had some color problems, and asked if we wanted it.  Shane told him sure, we'd take it.

As it turned out, it did work, but it had some screen issues.  It wouldn't work on wide-screen view, but worked ok on full-screen view.  It didn't seem to have any color issues, but it didn't have as good a picture as our current TV.  We ended up listing it on craiglist as a free item, explained it's problem, and had lots of calls from people wanting to give it a new home.  The first person who called us decided to take it.  Everybody involved was happy and the television never saw the inside of a dumpster.  At least not on our watch.

By the way, our current TV was also given to us by Shane's boss.  The boss said the color was dull and upgraded to a flat-screen a few years ago.  We were happy to get it because our old TV was really too small for our living room. The one he gave us is a rear-projection big screen model and all Shane had to do was open the cabinet and dust off the projection bulbs.  That made a big improvement, but after fiddling with the freebie flat screen last week, Shane decided it was time to clean the projection bulbs in our TV again.  Only this time, he also cleaned the mirror that reflects the projection bulbs.

The picture is unbelievable now.  I suppose it doesn't take much to impress us, but we all three sat for the longest time and marveled at the difference a good cleaning made.  I expect this TV will have to flat-out quit working before we consider replacing it.  Unless, of course, the boss decides to upgrade and give us his "old" one again. ;)

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that not all used acquisitions, whether purchases or freebies, are going to work out.  On the other hand, there are lots of reasons that justify giving a new home to second-hand stuff.

What kind of used items have you adopted lately?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Not Much To Show For It

Shane and I did a lot of work this weekend, but you can't tell by looking around the house.  Most of our work was on paper.

On Saturday, while I balanced our checkbook, paid bills, cleaned out my "bill box", cleaned out my catch basket of odds and ends (like billfold, keys, sunglasses, small notebooks, etc.), Shane spend his time poring over seed catalogs and making garden plans.  We stopped for lunch and supper, then watched a movie with Kat and then our day was over.

Yesterday, I read the Sunday paper, sorted through some recipe clippings, cleaned a kitchen drawer or two and started pulling together the documents I'll need to file our tax returns.

While I did that, Shane did more seed searching, this time online.  He spent most of the day at it, getting up a few times to stretch and take care of some laundry.

So, our work this weekend doesn't really show.  There is cat hair on the carpet, the dishes are piled on the countertop and the house is generally a cluttered mess.  I'll admit it...this bothers me.  The clutter is a nagging distraction to me.  But sometimes I just have to let it all go and dig into the paperwork, the sorting, and the other "administrative" chores that running a home requires.

The dishes and cat hair will still be there when I'm ready for it.  Of this I have no doubt.


On a totally different note...

Some people do end up with something to show for their efforts.  In yesterday's Kansas City Star, there was a feature article in the Star Magazine section about Harry S. Truman and his financial struggles, both before and after his presidency. 

You won't see it in the online version, but in the print version of the story, the sub-headline reads:

"Mr. 'The Buck Stops Here' was known for his frugality, but he died a wealthy man.  Surprised?"

Well, I am surprised; surprised at how many people equate frugality with poverty.  One source defines frugality as "prudence in saving; the lack of wastefulness".  To me, those are more closely associated to wealth poverty.

Anyway, if you have the time and interest, read the article.  It's
an interesting article, and it's fun to compare expenses and wages from the early 1950s to those of today.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fruit Salad. Yummy, Yummy!

Yeah, I watched The Wiggles too many times when Kat was little.  Anyway, here is a really quick fruit salad that's totally adaptable to what you like and what you have on hand.  You could also top this with toasted coconut or chopped nuts.  BTW, it's loosely based on a recipe in the book Healthy Snacks for Kids that I reviewed yesterday.

Yogurt Fruit Salad
(based on a recipe in Healthy Snacks for Kids)

1/2 cup Greek-style plain yogurt
2 T. honey (preferably raw and local)
1/2 t. vanilla extract

1 banana, sliced
about a dozen red seedless grapes, halved
1 clementine, peeled and sectioned


about 2 cups of whatever fresh, canned or thawed-from-frozen fruit you have on hand

Combine the dressing ingredients until well blended.  Combine fruit, then pour dressing over.  Toss to coat.  Chill before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

This post was submitted to the Hearth and Soul Hop for 2/14 at Premeditated Leftovers.

And the Delicious Dish Tuesday Hop with Full Time Mama.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book Review: Knack Healthy Snacks for Kids

I recently read a book called Healthy Snacks for Kids by Amy Wilensky.  It's part of the Knack - Make It Easy series of books.

This is a cookbook, but it also offers tips, ideas and nutritional information.  I don't always believe everything I read about nutrition in the mainstream media, but most of the author's advice seemed solid to me.  I did find her tone just a little off-putting and it seems like she mentions Greek yogurt at least once in every 2-page spread. That's ok. I like Greek yogurt,...and don't have to like the author to like the book.

I'm trying to let go of some of my cookbooks, not bring more in, so I'll probably just return this to the library and not order a copy for myself.  It's tempting, though.  I found a lot of great new ideas for snacks -- and lunches -- not just for Kat, but for the whole family.  The book has lots and lots of pictures, which is a must for a cookbook to catch my eye these days.

Overall, I think this would be a good addition to anyone's cookbook collection, but especially for those who have kids.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Some Things Just Don't Matter

One thing we've learned about spending deliberately is that some things just aren't important enough to trade our money for. 

An example of something that isn't important enough to us to spend money on is our range.  It was made in 1991, but both the oven and stove-top burners still work great.  It's a gas stove and I love that.  But over the years, the plastic insert on the control panel has melted.  The oven vents out where the melted part is, so I suspect it's just a design flaw and not the fault of the previous owners.  It's pretty ugly and very hard to clean around those cracks and melted places. 

To replace just that part of the control panel is crazy expensive; I think it was around $80 when I looked into it a couple of years ago.  We think that's too much to pay for a part that just sits there and looks pretty.  We could buy a comparable brand new gas range for around $350, but there's nothing functionally wrong with the one we have, so there's no need to buy a new one.

So, here's how I solve the problem most days.

Guess what?  If we bought a new range, or even just the new control panel part, that often-used pot would probably still be sitting right there, hiding the control panel anyway.  Not to mention that the new part might just melt again. So what would be the point?

What about you?  Would you think things through before making this kind of purchase, or would you replace the part (or the entire range) without a second though? Do you have a "price point" where your decision changes?  For us, we'd probably buy the part if we could get it for $20 or less.  As for buying a whole new stove, we don't plan to until this one quits working.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Biscuit Bake-Off

I decided to host a biscuit bake-off with Kat, our resident biscuit expert, and myself as the only judges.  I made a batch of homemade buttermilk biscuits and a batch of from-scratch baking powder biscuits (using sweet milk) to determine once and for all, which kind of biscuit is best.  Here are the results:

Both batches were baked on stones at the same temperature.  Baking powder on the left, buttermilk on the right.

Both were made with the same fat (real butter) and both ended up with a nice, if slightly different, golden crust.  Again, baking powder on left, buttermilk on right.

Both were made using the same flours, which was a 50/50 mixture of regular all-purpose flour and white whole wheat flour.   Both had wonderful height when baked.  And you guessed it, the baking powder biscuit is on the left, while the buttermilk biscuit is on the right.

This is the baking powder biscuit.  The texture is light, flaky without being dry, with a slightly crispy outer crust.  The flavor is buttery and slightly salty.  Yum!

This is the buttermilk biscuit.  The texture is tender, soft without being sticky, with a softer outer crust.  The flavor is slightly sweet.  Delicious!

The results were unanimous.  The winner is...both!!!

Fluffy and Flaky Biscuits

2 cups flour (or 1 cup all-purpose + 1 cup whole wheat)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, frozen
1/2 to 1 cup milk

Heat oven to 425°F.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.  Quickly grate the frozen butter on a cheese grater and cut butter into the flour mixture.  (I use a food processor for this step, then transfer it to a large bowl.)

Pour in the milk, starting with just a half cup, adding more as needed until the dough comes together.  You want the dough soft, but not too soft to work with.

Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface and knead for just a few seconds.  Roll dough into a rectangle.  Fold it onto itself to make 3 or 4 layers.  Roll it out again and fold it again, making 3 or 4 layers.  Do this one more time.  This step creates flakiness.

Finally, roll the dough about an inch thick.  Cut with a round cutter or glass, using a straight up and down motion.  Do not twist the cutter as you cut.  Cutting this way gives you a taller baked biscuit.*  Combine remaining dough scraps and roll again to make more biscuits.

Place biscuits on a baking sheet or stone and bake at 425° for 8-10 minutes or until golden. 

Makes about 10 biscuits.

Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits

2 cups flour (or 1 cup all-purpose + 1 cup whole wheat)
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small chunks
3/4 cup buttermilk

Heat oven to 500°F.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.  Quickly grate the frozen butter on a cheese grater and cut butter into the flour mixture.  (I use a food processor for this step, then transfer it to a large bowl.)

Pour in the buttermilk and stir lightly until the dough comes together.

Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface and knead a few times.  Roll dough into about an inch thick.  Cut with a round cutter or glass, using a straight up and down motion.  Do not twist the cutter as you cut.  Cutting this way gives you a taller baked biscuit.*  Combine remaining dough scraps and roll again to make more biscuits.

Place biscuits on a baking sheet or stone with sides of biscuits touching and bake at 500° for 8-10 minutes or until golden. 

Makes about 10 biscuits.

*A quick, easy way to cut the biscuits is to roll the dough into a rectangle and place it on the baking stone, then cut the biscuits into squares using a long knife or a rocking-style pizza cutter.  If possible cut straight down through the dough instead of sawing through it.  There are no scraps, so the dough doesn't get tough from re-rolling and there are no small scraps to throw away.

This post is being linked to the January 31, 2012 Hearth and Soul Hop at Premeditated Leftovers.  Click the image below for more details and more made-from-scratch recipes from other bloggers.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Peanut Butter Honey and Oatmeal Cookies

I made these cookies to go in school and work lunches this week.  I usually prefer a chewy cookie, which these aren't.  But they redeemed themselves by being crispy and light instead of hard and crunchy.  The peanut butter flavor is subtle, something I also like about them.  

I made a few changes to the original recipe:   I used real butter instead of margarine, old-fashioned oats instead of quick-cooking and whole wheat for part of the flour.  So, these are also relatively healthy as far as cookies go.  I left out the pecans and raisins, simply because I didn't feel like including them, but I think they would be delicious additions.

I used a small cookie scoop and ended up with 6 dozen cookies.

Peanut Butter Honey and Oatmeal Cookies
(adapted from a recipe from Skippy Peanut Butter)

1 cup honey-roasted peanut butter, creamy or crunchy (or can use regular peanut butter)
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins (dark or golden) - optional
1/2 cup chopped pecans - optional

Heat oven to 350°. 

Cream butter, peanut butter, and sugars in a large mixing bowl.  Beat in eggs until well-blended.

In a separate bowl, combine oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Stir into peanut butter mixture a little at a time until mixed well.  Stir in nuts and raisins, if using.

Chill dough for at least 30 minutes.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls (or use a cookie dough scoop), 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 12 minutes or until golden.  Do not over-bake.  Remove cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes about  6 dozen cookies.

Very Busy Weekend

Wow, what a busy weekend we had!  But a nice one, too.

Saturday we spent all day away from home.  We ran some errands -- both personal and work related, met with a craigslist seller to buy one of those Jack LaLanne Power Juicers, had a nice (mystery-shopped) lunch out at one of the Mongolian BBQ places, and looked around an antique mall for a few hours.  We didn't make it home until after dark.  I'm sure that sounds funny to some of you, but we're hardly ever out in the evening anymore.

Yesterday morning I went out to put in my monthly two hours of volunteer work at the recycle bins only to find out that the bins were completely full.  I'm sure that was because it was our first recycling weekend since Christmas; there were lots and lots of cardboard boxes in the bins.  Since there was nothing I could do there, I came home and soon found out that one of our freezers wasn't freezing completely.  Shane and I immediately unloaded it into coolers and defrosted it, and now it's working just fine.  We tossed a few food items, since I didn't know how long they'd been partially thawed, but we caught it in time to save almost everything.

I took inventory as we reloaded it, and while we were at it, we inventoried our other deep-freeze.  Those were the last two storage places I need to take stock of, so I'm done with that and now have updated lists.  If I can keep a pretty good tally of what comes in and goes out over the next few weeks, I won't have to do another BIG inventory for a while.

Since we were on a roll, Shane continued working on cleaning the garage and made a noticeable difference in it's appearance.  He's not done, but he has a good start.  He wanted me nearby for assistance and to answer questions (my answer was always, "yes, get rid of it"), so I spent my day working in the kitchen.  I cleaned, I baked cookies and wrapped hot dogs (Pigs in a Blanket) for Kat's and Shane's lunches, I cooked a roast for tonight's supper, I made tacos for last night's supper, and I tried out the juicer on both apples and some tomatoes that we pulled out of the freezer when we were cleaning it.

By the time everything was cleaned up again and Kat was in bed, I'd been on my feet for more than 12 hours and I practically melted into a nice hot bath with some of our homemade lavender soap.

So, how was everyone else's weekend?  Frances says her weekend was lazy, but it sounds to me like she did some fun things, too.

Stay tuned for the recipe for the cookies I made yesterday.  I'll try to post it later today.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Product Review - Tea Infuser Travel Jar

At Christmas time, instead of exchange gifts with each other, Shane and I just buy a few things for ourselves that have caught our eyes throughout the year.

Being a tea lover, one of the things I bought myself last month was this tea infuser/travel jar.  I had seen them in the mall, but thought the price a little much and the sales clerk a little pushy, so I didn't buy one there.  I found this one made by Teas, Etc. online. It was a little less expensive than the jar I found at the mall and had much better customer reviews.  For what it's worth, I didn't pay the price shown in this link; if shop around online and you might be able to find it for less.

Here's how it works:

Place loose tea of choice in the bottom portion, which is made of BPA-free plastic.  Add sweetener, if desired.

Pour very hot (to boiling) water over tea leaves.

Screw on both the wire mesh strainer and the plastic lid.  Let tea steep as desired.

Remove plastic lid and drink hot tea through the wire mesh part.  The strainer keeps tea leaves from getting in your mouth.

I like this design better than a regular tea pot.  I think the tea stays hot longer and because I like my tea STRONG, this design works very well for me.  If you don't like your tea as strong, it is suggested that you use less loose tea or use water that is below the boiling point.

I have also used this jar for iced tea.  I steep it basically the same way, but I use half the water and once it's cooled a bit, I add ice cubes.  The strainer keeps the ice from sliding into your mouth.  (That's a big plus for me because I have sensitive teeth.)  Others have suggested using this container for water with lemon or lime slices.

I put this purchase off for months because I wasn't sure I'd like the jar, but since I bought it I have used it every single day, several times a day.  I wouldn't want to be without it, and I'm thinking of buying another.

The only drawback I can see is that it's not recommended for the dishwasher.

This isn't in any way a paid review.  I just love tea and now I love this new way to enjoy it.


PS:  Unless there is something really special going on, I won't be posting on weekends.  See y'all Monday!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Taking Stock

Do you keep a kitchen or pantry inventory?  I like to have a running list of the foods we have in our pantry, fridges and freezers (yes, plural).  It makes menu planning easier and helps keep me from buying things we don't need.

My list isn't always perfect, but it can usually give me a pretty close idea of what we have.  Well, since Thanksgiving (and since Shane came home from working out of town for quite a while), I've completely lost track of what came in and what went out in terms of food.  It's kitchen madness, I tell ya!

Kat goes back to school today and I've got nothing better to do (really??), so it looks my pantry list just got moved to my to-do list for today.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Could You Live A Zero-Trash Lifestyle?

Between composting and recycling, we have reduced our weekly trash output to about half a bag a week. That's half a tall kitchen bag, if you're wondering. We put out a lot less trash than most families on our street. Our neighbors seem to be setting out two or three bags weekly, so we think our half-bag looks pretty good. But we've got nothin' on this local couple. They are experts at trash reduction.

Follow the link to read more.

Image:  Kansas City Star
In a wasteful world, one KC couple tries to live a ‘zero-trash’ lifestyle - KansasCity.com

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Things I Want To Accomplish This Year

Oh, I know we're already a few days into the new year, but it's not too late for me to set a couple of goals for 2012. 

These aren't resolutions, per say.  They are just a couple of mini goals I've set for myself.

The first is a reading goal.  Last year, I set a goal to read 52 book, or one a week.  I reached my goal, and in fact, I read 55 books, but it was tough.  I lost a lot of ground during gardening season and had to really push at the end of the year to meet the goal.

I love reading, but this year, I'm scaling back to a much more reasonable 26 books, or one every two weeks. I fully expect I'll read more than that, but I don't want to feel like I HAVE TO.  If you are interested, you can follow my progress by watching the Goodreads widget in my sidebar.  If you click in, you should be able to see the titles of the books I've read.

My other goal is that I will do more crafting in 2012.  I enjoy crocheting, knitting, cross-stitch and sewing (among other crafts), but I have a hang-up.  If I have chores left to be done, I won't allow myself to sit down and craft.  That's all going to change this year.  I plan to finish some projects I've already started and also start (and finish) some new projects, to the tune of at least a project a month. I'm going to make sure I have some fun craft time this year, whether I like it or not!

This is where that accountability comes in.  The first projects I plan to finish are:

1) Cut and hem 4 pair of light- and draft-blocking drapes.  The drapes are long enough that they cover our furnace registers if I don't pull them back.  Pulling them back defeats their draft blocking properties.  This is NOT what I consider a fun craft project but it needs to be done.

2) This multi-colored crocheted afghan I began for my daughter and son-in-law more than two years ago.  Crocheting is usually fun for me, but all the color changes in this project have got me down.  It's time to be done with this one.

3) Cut out and sew some skirts and pants for Kat.  I bought the patterns and fabric a couple of months ago, so I need to get going on these.

I've also decided that if I simply can't or won't finish something, well, I'm going to get rid of it one way or another.  Who needs the guilt of an unfinished project hanging over their head?  I don't.

Anyone else want to join me in wrapping things up this year?

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Return To Blogging

When I quit posting on my old blog a few months ago, I honestly didn't know if I'd come back to a blog or not. 

I began thinking of a new blog almost immediately and I toyed with the idea of making changes -- many and big -- to what I had been doing.  Still, I was enjoying my time off, so whenever blogging crossed my mind, I just brushed the idea aside.

After a while, though, I saw that one of several things I missed was the accountability that comes with blogging...or with my kind of blogging, at least.  Yes, near-daily posts had been taking up a lot of my time, but I wasn't always using the time I saved by not blogging in a productive way.  I had wanted more time for working outside, organizing my home and spending time with my family.  What I got instead was more time for Facebook and Pinterest.  Because I didn't publicly say that I was going to organize those recipe clippings or dig up the Jerusalem artichokes by Friday if it killed me, I just didn't do them.  Without a blog, who would know the difference anyway? 

It didn't take long for me to realize that I'm a lot more productive with an audience to keep me on track.  It took a little longer for me to decide that "many and big" changes weren't necessary and that a new look, new name and a slight shift in focus would do the trick.

As for my willingness to commit to a blog again, well, I'm still not 100% on board with that one.  The accountability, though, is worth enough to me to give blogging another go.

If you've been where I am, what made you decide to blog again and what keeps you going with it?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Our Traditional New Year's Day Meal

Each year I make a traditional southern New Year's Day dinner.  The meal varies slightly from year to year, but always consists of some kind of pork with gravy, black-eyed peas and cooked greens (to symbolize prosperity...specifically coins and bills), and from-scratch biscuits or cornbread.

Here is this year's version of the meal.

I simmered some smoked ham hocks along with the ham bone from Christmas dinner, all from a hog we bought last fall.  I picked the meat from the bones and then seasoned and thickened it into a rich gravy.  I spooned the meaty gravy over homemade buttermilk biscuits and served it with cooked turnip greens (from last year's garden) and black-eyed peas that I pressure-canned several months ago.  I added some green beans (because Kat doesn't really like greens) and some tall glasses of sweet iced tea.  I didn't make a dessert this year because we still have plenty of treats left over from Christmas, but pumpkin or sweet potato pie would be just right with this meal.

It's a simple meal, but it's rich in flavor and tradition.  I could cook this meal anytime, but I usually only make it on New Year's Day and I look forward to it all year long!

Do you have any traditional dishes you serve on the first day of the year?

Happy and New

Welcome to the New Year and welcome to the new blog.  I'm Annie.  Some of you already know me from my old blog (you might find some useful stuff still sitting over there, but in the interest of fresh starts, I'll not link this blog from that end.)

The new blog will be a lot like the old one, but I hope you'll notice some differences.  I'm aiming for a more casual feel here, with less concern over ending a sentence with a preposition and less worry over whether I'll offend someone by being too this or not enough that.  I figure you're all able to decide whether or not you like it here and smart enough to move on if you don't.

Just like before, I'll be posting recipes and food ideas, ways to save money, gardening, tips for reusing and recycling, do-it-yourself projects, and other odds and ends.  As a family, we aren't focusing as much on bottom-line frugality as we used to.  Shane and I are both frugal and I can't imagine us being any other way, but having reached some of our financial goals, we're loosening up a bit.  Instead of just buying the cheapest, we're now making some of our spending decisions based on qualities such as packaging, area of origin, nutritional value, and expected durability.  Expect to see some of our new priorities reflected in the posts here. 

One last thing:  We know not what we do.  Thus the title of the blog.  Some people have told us we're impulsive; we think we're just quick to do some basic research and make our decision.  More than that, we're unafraid to act once we've decided on something.  We succeed or we fail, but either way we learn something.  We think learning this way beats reading a manual any day.
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