Month: December 2017

Homemade Chicken Pesto Pasta with Tomatoes

Homemade Chicken Pesto Pasta with Tomatoes

  I don’t always feel like making my pasta from scratch, but every few weeks I will.  It really does taste incredibly light and bears almost no resemblance to the boxed kind. If this skill is something you’d like to master, you can get a […]

Chicken, Vegetable and Wild Rice Soup

Chicken, Vegetable and Wild Rice Soup

  I am making this tonight because I’m on a health and fitness roll. I am having a difficult time taking 10,000 steps a day.  I certainly don’t go outside for a walk, not in this cold, rainy weather.  Just because I live on a […]

Breakfast Burritos for Dinner

Breakfast Burritos for Dinner

 

Just for the record, I wrote this way before Christmas, when our bacon lovin’ vegetarian granddaughter was visiting and I was stumped as to what to make for her!  So, no, I haven’t given up on my healthy New Year’s goals!

Bacon on Breakfast BurritoThis breakfast burrito isn’t a “recipe,” but it is a good idea if you want dinner on the table in minutes.  It’s great for breakfast, too, of course.  I’m pretty sure no one has much energy for making dinner this week — especially if the kids are still out of school!

Heat the oven to 400°.  Line a baking sheet (with rim!) with a ton of foil.  Lay bacon on foil, touching but not overlapping.

Check after 15 minutes, then re-check every 5.  You may find that some strips will be done earlier than others.  Remove these to paper towels and return the rest to the oven until they’re all as crispy as you like them.

Heat a skillet on medium.

Breakfast BurritoPlace a flour tortilla on a plate, and cover with shredded Mexican cheese.  Microwave no longer than 45 seconds.  Repeat with rest of tortillas.

When the bacon is done, remove to paper towels.  Scramble your eggs.

Lay bacon down the center of the melted cheese on the tortillas, then spoon scramble eggs down the center.

Foil for baconWrap up and enjoy.  When bacon fat has cooled, you can wrap up the foil and toss it.  Or keep it in a mason jar in the fridge, for grilled cheese sandwiches later on.  Sinful but delicious.

Here is a photo of my bacon fat in its foil.  No clean up!

You’re very welcome.

Enjoy!  Now go get a hot bath and relax for a bit.

Happy New Year!

Vicky

 

 

 

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Healthnut Soup

Healthnut Soup

  This Healthnut Soup will not win any beauty contests, if you throw the fresh spinach into the pot at the beginning.  The overall color will be a green gray, which is not exactly enticing.. So cook all the veggies and, just before blending, throw […]

Mentally Preparing for Healthy

Mentally Preparing for Healthy

  My daughter gave me a FitBit for Christmas and I’m pretty darned tickled. I’ve had this blog for about 3 months so far and I wonder what all that sitting and typing has done to the size of my rear end.  Thankfully, I can’t […]

Life is Short

Life is Short

 

It’s the day after Christmas and it’s not my favorite day of the year.  Exactly 47 years ago on this date, my father dropped dead of a massive coronary in front of my family.

I was 17 at the time and, needless to say, that is not something I have ever forgotten.

Loss can define one’s life, if you let it.  I like to think my loss has shaped, rather than defined, my life.

I loved my dad very much.  He was brilliant, but he was also talented, passionate, funny, and loving.  He also swore like a sailor.  I imagine that’s where I got my mouth.  Hmmm.  I suppose, in retrospect, he would have preferred I had chosen a different way in which to follow in his footsteps.

Life is Short Empty ChairHis being a youthful 49 when he died did not make a huge impression on me at the time.  I remember buying flowers for his grave.  The flower vendor asked me what they were for and, when I told him for my Dad’s grave, he said “wow, that’s awfully young.”

I distinctly remember thinking, “it’s not that young.”  Looking back, from the vantage point of being 63, I sort of marvel at my youthful perspective.

I like to think that his life was more of an influence on how I live my life than his death.  But his death, and my having had to come to grips with it, was a pretty powerful force.

Other kids went blithely through their teenage years, unaware that anything so devastating could alter their young lives forever.  Having to cope with my loss made me a bit jaded, a bit paranoid, and a lot more mature, in many ways, than my more happily naïve classmates.

I have always been a worrier, but experiencing how quickly my life could be damaged cemented that trait.  My tendency to worry is not something I’m thrilled about, but it is what it is.

My mother getting brain cancer at the age of 59 and dying in her 60’s merely cemented my tendency toward paranoia.  As you can imagine, raising 5 kids was pretty nervous-making.  I still worry about them on a daily basis, as I do about my husband, every time he begins his long commute into the city.

On the plus side, learning how short life is was a huge bonus in how I’ve lived my life.

I take the time to feel grateful for all that I’ve been given.  I actively thank the Gods that Be often, sometimes several times a day.

Since I turned 39, I have exercised nearly every day, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half.  Even after hip and knee replacements, I have been faithful about doing my exercises, as much as I can hate it.

I try to make each day enjoyable, no matter what’s on the agenda.  Let’s face it, doing laundry and cleaning the cat box are not exactly joyful activities.  Finishing them, however, is a small cause for celebration.

One of the reasons I enjoy making nice dinners and setting the table with placemats, good silver and candles is because it gives us something enjoyable to look forward to, after a long day.

I try to live a mindful life.  I try not to let the months fly by with little to remember them by.  I take the time to stop and look at the huge Rogue’s Gallery on our wall above the stairs.  I inspect those old photos and remember to treasure the memories they bring me.  Some are sad but most are very happy memories of the people in my life that I love, the children I’ve raised.

I made it a point to remove people from my life that are poison to my happiness.

I take risks, trying to put my faith in the Universe that All Will Be Ok.

I adopted our two youngest kids.  If having kids is a crapshoot, adopting them is even more of one.  Sometimes you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.  Well, somehow I managed to win the adoption lottery, twice.

We moved here to the boonies 10 years ago, knowing that Bill’s commute would be grueling.  We loved the place at first sight and within 5 hours had put in an offer and put our own house on the market.  We took a huge risk, moving into the middle of nowhere to a house that had so many problems I can’t count.

10 years later, in exactly one month, Bill will be done commuting and we will be rewarded with a home we love, in the calm quiet of the country.  This house still has more problems than I can list, but maybe now he’ll have a bit more time to tackle them.  (Ha!  And he’s thinking he’ll have more time to be lazy!  I haven’t told him yet.)

I try hard to not sweat the small stuff.  I am always aware of the fact that our lives speed by, that Life is Short.

My dad often said, “Live every day like it’s your last day on earth, but plan as if you are going to live forever.”

Pretty good advice, if you ask me.

I miss you, Dad.

Vicky

 

 

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

  I was setting the table for our Christmas Eve dinner today and I put new tapers in the Santa candle holders.  Of course, I lit the wicks first and then blew them out and trimmed them to 1/4 inch. My mother always told me […]

Black Forest Ham and Cheddar Quiche

Black Forest Ham and Cheddar Quiche

  No cutesy decorations on this baby.  I am pooped.  I don’t know exactly when I started cooking for Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Brunch, but it feels like a month ago.  My achin’ back. But I’m done, done, done.  It was a freezer soup […]

How to Teach the Kids “The 12 Days of Christmas”

How to Teach the Kids “The 12 Days of Christmas”

 

LIttle Xmas Tree

Here’s a quick post with an idea on how to teach your kids “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

My granddaughter is “5 ½ and ¾,” which is pretty close to the truth.  She’ll be 6 in a month.

 

Anyway, way back in the day, when I was expecting my second baby in February, I was going crazy with anticipation.  I decided to needlepoint “The 12 days of Christmas” for Christmas Decorations.  22 stitches per inch!  I must’ve been out of my ever-lovin’ mind!

These all go on our little tabletop tree in our eating area, and my granddaughter asked about them, so I filled her in and we started singing “The 12 Days of Christmas.”  We’re regular Von Trapps, here.

Well, she couldn’t remember the words, of course.  So I came up with the idea that if I printed out the lyrics, and drew some pictures, she could sing along.

Given my lack of artistic ability (the cow looks like a big fat lab with a growth between her legs), it was a miracle that she could then remember the lyrics.

 

Xmas Lyrics

It’s worth a try and it’s a lot of fun!

Merry Christmas!

Vicky

 

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Lemon Poppyseed Cake with Lemon Sugar Drizzle

Lemon Poppyseed Cake with Lemon Sugar Drizzle

  Looks like these guys all want a slice. I thought I was really on a roll today.  Sort of. My damned oven will not stay at 350°.  If I set it at 355°, it goes to 325°.  If I make that 375°, it goes […]

No Bake, Make Ahead Chocolate Peppermint Torte

No Bake, Make Ahead Chocolate Peppermint Torte

  This is the nicest dessert for your Christmas or Christmas Eve Dinner.  You can make it a few days ahead of time, wrap it lightly with foil (non-stick foil is best — not plastic wrap, which would stick to it), and store in the […]

A Spaghetti Sauce Worthy of Christmas Dinner

A Spaghetti Sauce Worthy of Christmas Dinner

 

Penny in LoftMy granddaughter was here for four nights and the silence right now is kind of deafening.

Don’t get me wrong – we loved every minute.  But this morning I had to peel her off the walls, she is so hyped up about Christmas.

This photo makes her look like she doesn’t have any pants on!  She was actually wearing light pink tights.

We’ll only have 8 here for Christmas Eve dinner.  It’ll be fun, but I’m still missing 4 kids and their partners.

I’ve been thinking of an easy, make-ahead menu for weeks.  The last thing I want to do is be stuck in the kitchen when everyone else is sitting around, drinking wine and having a good time.

It’s all one big room, anyway, but it’s the principle of the thing.

All of the items on my menu can be made days ahead of Christmas Eve dinner.  I’m just praying that my stupid oven doesn’t start hip-hopping all over the place, like it has been lately.  Getting it to stay at 350° or 375° is nearly impossible, so we’ll see.  At least, I’ll always have an excuse if something doesn’t turn out right, right?

Santa OrnamentMy daughter sent this homemade ornament and I love it.  I’m so happy that she is doing the same thing with her kids that I did with her and all of her brothers and sisters.

This recipe is my mom’s Spaghetti Sauce.  Back in the day, being Irish and German, we didn’t call it Bolognese.  My daughter-in-law swears it’s the best Spaghetti Sauce she’s ever had and I agree.  I never bothered to ask my mother where she got it; probably from her mom.  Anyway, it’s funny because I saw one of the Italian chefs on Food Network make Bolognese one time, and he used cinnamon and allspice, as she did.  He also crushed his canned San Marzano tomatoes with his fingers.

I’ve got a couple of Tips du Jour for you:  When you open a can of tomatoes or tomato sauce, you’re going to get some of sauce on the top of the lid, right?  Do yourself a favor: just wash off your cans before opening.  Think of how many hands have been handling those cans and how much dust they’ve accumulated over the months.  Ick!  So, wash them off.

Secondly, one time when I was in college, my roommate opened a can of orange juice and put the lid in a towel.  That was back in the day when you had to use a can opener for orange juice, so the edges were super sharp and wavy.  I grabbed the towel after washing my hands.  That damned lid cut deep into the bottom palm of my hand.

I still have a huge scar, 40 years later.  So, when you’re throwing out your lids, dig out a bubble wrap envelope that came with Amazon, and put the lids in the bottom, so you don’t go pushing down your garbage and cut your hands.

Anyway, this recipe is really good and can be made 3 or 4 days ahead of time.  Then it can sit it out in the garage fridge.

Browned Ground BeefMom’s Spaghetti Sauce

Serves 6

2 pounds 7% ground beef

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 large, sweet onions, chopped

2 Tablespoons chopped garlic

½ teaspoon dried rosemary

2 teaspoons dried basil

1 Tablespoon dried parsley

Pinch each of cinnamon and allspice (you won’t taste it but don’t omit!)

1 1/2 cup Dry Vermouth (the sauce won’t taste of wine!)

2 large cans whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes, squished up with your fingers

1 large (15 oz.) can tomato sauce

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

Dash of sugar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

One pound to 1 1/3 pound thin spaghetti

Freshly grated Parmesan

Heat a large Dutch oven (or large, non reactive pot, like stainless steel) to medium high.  Salt and pepper, then brown the ground beef thoroughly in olive oil and remove to a bowl.  While that’s browning, chop your onions.

Chopping the onions is the most time consuming step of this recipe.  You can cheat a little and use your food processor, if you like.  Cut off both ends and cut the onion in quarters.  Then peel them and throw ’em in the food processor.  Pulse until the onion pieces are about 1/3 of an inch big.

Lower the heat on your Dutch oven to medium and add enough extra virgin olive oil to coat.  It may look like an awful lot of onions, but don’t worry.  If they’re sweet, they’ll do your sauce good.  Cook your sweet onions until they are soft and translucent.  When you put your onions in the pan, add a teaspoon of salt.  When they are cooked, add the garlic and stir.

Now, add the rest of the ingredients to the onions, including the ground beef.  To squish up your tomatoes, do this.  Put a large sieve over your pot.  Now, reach on in there and squish away with your hands.  When you’re done with the first can, dump it out and go onto the next can of tomatoes.

Cook on medium so that the sauce is at a low bubble.  Stir occasionally, making sure it’s not so hot that the bottom is sticking.  Adjust the heat so it won’t stick, if necessary.  Cook for an hour or two, at least.

You can also put it on very low and continue to cook for a few more hours, to let all the flavors marry.

When you’re ready to cool the sauce, taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasonings.

When cooled, put in fridge for a few days.  The morning of your dinner, reheat on low.  Let it sit for the afternoon, warming away on the stove.  The smells will be amazing.  Cover if it’s getting too thick.

Right before you want to eat, heat up a large stock pot with salted water.  Cook the spaghetti according to package directions, until al dente.

You can either combine the sauce with the pasta (which is what I do) or you can place the cooked spaghetti on each plate and ladle sauce over it.  What a pain.

Pass the freshly grated parmesan at the table.  Yum!

Hope you’ll try this – it’s wonderful!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Vicky

If you don’t have a Dutch oven, here are a couple of options on Amazon; they are all enameled.  Do not use regular cast iron when making Spaghetti Sauce because it will react with the acid in the tomatoes!

This first one is a 5 quart Dutch oven on Amazon:  http://amzn.to/2kVnXc9

This second one is a 6 quart Dutch oven from Lodge (who makes all sorts of great cast iron skillets):  http://amzn.to/2zbLZ8b

This next choice is a 7 quart Dutch oven on Amazon:  http://amzn.to/2CUjwGb

And finally, here’s the Le Creuset, which is 7 1/4 quarts:  http://amzn.to/2CUQBBx

 

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Parmesan Chicken Nuggets

Parmesan Chicken Nuggets

  My granddaughter, who is “5 ½ and 3/4,” is one of the pickiest eaters I’ve ever met.  That usually doesn’t affect me, since she doesn’t visit very often, but her pickiness does make life rather difficult, when I’m trying to figure out meals. She […]

Spritz Cookie Recipe

Spritz Cookie Recipe

  My granddaughter is down the hill with Boompa, so I’ve got a minute to myself. By noon, I think I had used every baking utensil in the house.  And for me, that’s saying a LOT.  I have more utensils, tools, pots and pans and […]

Ground Beef or Chicken Tostadas

Ground Beef or Chicken Tostadas

 

Bill will finally get his tostadas tonight.  I’m having chicken, but he’s getting good old ground beef with taco seasoning.  My stomach is just not up to that tonight!

Small Xmas TreeOur 5 year old granddaughter is here for 4 nights.  She keeps us laughing, with some of the stuff that comes out of her mouth.

It’s so nice to have another person in the house.  Sometimes we rattle around in this place like a couple of ping pong balls.  Somehow she fills it up again.

We are going to make Snowman Face Parts and some Spritz cookies this week.  They are a great project for little kids.  If you don’t have a Spritz cookie maker, and you’ve got kids or grandkids, you should check this one out on Amazon.  If anyone screws up the design, since it takes a bit of practice, just put the cookie dough back into the cookie press.  Here’s your link:   http://amzn.to/2yOD1xu

Make sure you use cold dough and a cold cookie sheet each time you press the cookies.  Also, use a cookie dough recipe designed for a press, so it’s not too thick.  I found it weird to assemble at first, but I figured it out and made a few notes, and now I keep the entire thing in a big freezer bag and put my notes in there.  A year between uses is a long time to remember stuff like that.  I also read that there is a video on the Wilton website you can watch.  It’s not rocket science, seriously.  I’ve had mine for years and years.  Of course, it doesn’t get a lot of use, but this is really well made.  Oh, and don’t bake your cookies on parchment paper.

I can’t imagine you don’t know how to make tostadas, but just in case, here’s what I do.

Ground Beef or Chicken Tostadas

Corn tortillas (they now come in a large size!)  Awesome.

Canola or vegetable oil

Refried Beans or Black Beans or Pinto Beans, rinsed

7% Ground Beef or Shredded chicken

One sweet onion, chopped

Taco Seasoning and Water (if not, use salt and pepper)

Shredded Mexican Cheese Blend (or Queso Fresca or other Mexican cheese)

Shredded lettuce (I like iceberg for its crunch)

Chopped tomatoes

Sliced avocados or guacamole

Sour cream

Chopped cilantro

Sliced olives

Salsa or Taco Seasoning

Sour cream

Heat your oven to 200°.

Tostada FryingHeat a large skillet on medium.  Chop your sweet onion and cook in a little Canola oil or vegetable oil until soft.  Add 1 pound of 7% ground beef and turn up to medium high.  Cook until browned through.  If you want to use taco seasoning, add it now and cook, according to package directions.  If you make your own taco seasoning, add it and about a cup of water.  Let it bubble away until the sauce is the consistency you like.  If you don’t use any taco seasoning, just add salt and pepper.

Open your can of refried beans or pinto or black beans (drain and rinse these).  If you’re super organized, you can cook your raw beans in a slow cooker in the morning.  I never soak raw beans overnight before cooking them.  Just cook them until soft and tender to the bite.

If you like your beans smooth, you can mash with a potato masher, or just throw into your food processor.  I like my beans a thinner consistency, so I’ll add enough water to achieve that.

Shred some iceberg lettuce, and chop a tomato or two.  You can also mash an avocado with some salsa and/or sour cream, or clean and chop some cilantro.  Sliced olives work, too.

You’ll also need some shredded Mexican Cheese Blend.

Now, kick everyone else out of the kitchen, especially kids!  In a small cast iron skillet, heat 1/2 inch of canola oil on medium heat.  To test whether it’s a good temperature, take the handle of a wooden spoon and press it down into the hot oil, until it’s touching the bottom of the skillet.  If bubbles rise up around the wooden handle instantly, you’re good to go.

Using your tongs, just lay a corn tortilla flat on the oil and cook for about 30 seconds.  The tortilla will want to puff up in the middle, so use your tongs to gently press down on it, so it cooks evenly.  Carefully flip, and brown the other side.  You want a very crisp tostada.  Then carefully remove the tortilla from the oil, hold over the pan to drain, and place on a pile of paper towels.  Just repeat until you’ve got enough for your family.  If your level of oil gets too low, just add a bit more and then wait until it’s heated.  You can keep these crisp corn tortillas in a 200° oven so they’ll stay warm.

I did something really, really stupid while making these.  I had covered my taco meat with a lid and set it on low, so it wouldn’t dry out.  While my hot oil was still on the left burner, I picked up the lid on the taco meat to make sure it was doing ok.  Well, what I didn’t count on was this: the lid had gotten a lot of condensation underneath it.  As I picked it up, all this water went into the hot oil and it exploded all over the place.  The entire stove top and even the floor got instantly covered with a nice coating of oil.  I was lucky I didn’t get burned, too.

This made me remember another, major screw-up I had involving hot oil.  Ugh.  Some of the kids were visiting for Christmas and one night, I decided to make them “real” french fries.

I had already cut up the potatoes and had them soaking in cool water, to remove the starch.  I knew enough to only fill the small stock pot half-way up with oil, thank God.  What I blew was this: I did dry off my fries with paper towels, but not enough.

When I lowered my first small batch of less-than-perfectly-dried-off fries into the hot oil, all of the oil violently exploded over the edge of the pot onto the stove top and kitchen floor!  It scared the bejeezus out of me!  (Bill practically had a stroke).  So, another screw-up in the kitchen and another lesson learned!  I hope this little tidbit helps you to never do that, yourself!  Water and hot oil do NOT MIX!!!

Warm your covered beans in the microwave and stir.

Oh, and don’t forget the Mexican beer for the adults!  Add a squeeze of lime but don’t pour until the very last minute.

To assemble, just take a warm, crisp tortilla and spoon beans on the surface.  On top of the beans, add your ground beef.  It will settle into the beans and stay put.  I add the cheese next, so it will melt.  When you put the cheese on the top, a lot of it will just fall off, but your call.

Then top with your choice of shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, guacamole (or sliced avocado), sliced olives, salsa, sour cream and/or cilantro.

If you’d rather use shredded chicken, just bring your skinless chicken breast to a gentle boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes, cover, and turn off the heat.  Let it sit for 15 minutes or so, then remove from water, rinse off that crud, and shred with a fork.  Then set chicken aside in a pie plate in your 200° oven.  If you are using chicken tenders, I just bring them to a gentle boil, and immediately turn off the heat, cover, and let sit.  They take very little time to cook and if you overcook them, they’ll taste like cardboard, which isn’t terribly appealing.  Unless you’re a mouse, I suppose.  Make sure you salt these after cooking.

I’ve got a great little Tip du Jour for you, especially if you’re serving a lot of people and are using poached chicken breasts.  Place the cooked/rinsed off chicken in your kitchenaid bowl, and using the paddle, run the mixer on 1 or 2.  You’ll get shredded chicken in no time.  Don’t go as fast as “4” because it will shred too quickly and you may overshred the chicken.  And then your shredded chicken will look like a bunch of kitchen string.

My granddaughter, being a bacon-eating vegetarian, requested a bean and cheese burrito.  Fine with me.  First, I warm the covered beans in the microwave.  They’ll explode all over your microwave, so unless you really love cleaning, you’d better cover them.

On a dinner plate, place your flour tortilla and cover with shredded cheese.  This doesn’t need to be covered.  Cook for however long it takes to melt most of the cheese.  I find that if you go over 45 seconds, your flour tortilla will get really tough to chew.  Better to have some under-melted cheese than eat that.  Spoon warm beans down the middle of the tortilla and wrap up.  Apparently, my granddaughter feels I am a “very good cook,” because I can make a cheese and bean burrito!  I’m not proud. I’ll take a compliment anywhere I can get it.

She gets milk, and we get the cold Mexican beer with lime.  Life is good.

Have a nice evening!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Vicky

 

 

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Hey!  It’s Still Better Than McDonalds!

Hey! It’s Still Better Than McDonalds!

  We were invited to the neighbor’s Open House tonight.  I spent about an hour getting ready, trying to cram myself into my “good jeans,” that fit really well, 10 pounds ago.  It took an hour because, as someone once said (Nora Ephron?) it takes […]

Mail-able Brownies

Mail-able Brownies

  I found this recipe called “Bake-Sale Brownies” in one of my very favorite cookbooks, which is called “The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.”  (here’s a link, if you’re interested:  http://amzn.to/2CICv7k ).  This book has a zillion really reliable and good recipes. It was given to me […]

Raspberry Balsamic Chicken Tenders with Parmesan Butter New Potatoes

Raspberry Balsamic Chicken Tenders with Parmesan Butter New Potatoes

 

I had to take our 13 year old black lab mix, Bo, to the vet this afternoon.  His back legs have been bothering him and he can’t put any weight on his hind feet.

When I opened the door to Bill’s old Camry, he was eager to get in, but he slipped and probably hurt his leg further.  I felt horrible.

He wasn’t exactly happy to be at the vet’s, but at least he got his meds and is plenty happy right now.

Unfortunately, getting him OUT of the car just about killed my back.  I’m in no mood for a punishing dinner, so this is my solution.

This chicken is one of Bill’s favorites, and mine, too.  Instead of raspberry jam, you can use apricot or peach jam.  I wouldn’t go with strawberry, but that’s up to you.  I’m not the food police.

Between the chicken and the potatoes, your time in the kitchen will be very reasonable.  You’re welcome.

First, I’m going to let you in on a very yummy potato “recipe” that your clan will love.  I would put these in the 400° degree oven about 30 to 45 minutes before you plan to eat, depending on their size.  Fork test for tenderness after 30 minutes and go from there.

Scrub some either yellow or red potatoes (babies are best, for the best crust-to-potato ratio, but larger ones will do, in a pinch.  They’ll take a bit longer, though, and won’t have as much butter/parmesan crust as the small ones).

Parmesan Butter New Potatoes

I’m pretty sure this would work with Russets, if you don’t have any yellow or red potatoes on hand.  If you use yellow or red potatoes, just scrub and dry off.  No need to peel their thin skins.

New potatoes, cut in half

Enough butter to coat your baking pan

Freshly grated Parmesan

Kosher Salt

Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Heat your oven to 400°.  Scrub and dry off the potatoes, and then slice in half, length-wise.  In baking pan, put enough butter that it will cover the bottom, when melted.  Place baking pan in the oven until butter has melted and bring it back out.

(I prefer to use a large cast iron skillet and heat it on the stovetop, and then melt my butter, before putting in the oven, but that’s not necessary).

Sprinkle cut sides with a bit of salt and pepper.  When butter is melted, grate the parmesan over the bottom of the pan.  Don’t put in a big lump – you’ll never get it to mix.  Just take your time and grate over entire surface of your baking pan.  This is the best grater, ever!  I have 3 sizes of these and I use them constantly.  The super fine one works for whole nutmeg, too (the only way to go when indulging in an eggnog).  If you don’t have a good grater for your chunk of parmesan, please check this out on Amazon.   http://amzn.to/2j9ZVdf .  By the way, we get our Parmesan (Reggiano) at Costco.  It’s not cheap, but it lasts a long, long, time.  The flavor beats the pre-shredded stuff you get at the deli, hands down.

Now, take your dried-off potatoes and place, cut side down, into the melted butter/parmesan in the baking pan or cast iron skillet.

Cook at 400° for 30 to 45 minutes.  Check after 30 minutes for fork tenderness (by that, they mean a regular fork you eat with, not a carving fork).  Also check the bottom of the potatoes, to see that they aren’t overcooking.  If so, just turn them over and continue to cook until they are fork tender.

Raspberry Balsamic Chicken Tenders

Chicken tenders, tendons removed and dried off

Extra virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

Kosher Salt

Freshly ground black pepper (Joan, get a GRINDER!)

1/3 cup raspberry or apricot jam

2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar

About 10 minutes before you’re ready to eat, heat a large skillet on medium high.  Cover the bottom of the skillet sparingly with olive oil and heat until hot.  If you put too much oil in there, you won’t get the nice, crispy brown bits that come from browning your chicken!

While all of this is happening, sprinkle your tenders with some salt, pepper and thyme.

Saute´ the tenders until a nice, golden color, then flip.  These won’t take long! When done, remove to a pie plate (they’ll exude some juices) and cover with foil.  I would not put them into the oven with the potatoes – 400° would overcook them, and then you’d be eating leather shoelaces in a nice reduction.

However, if you are lucky enough to have a second oven (unlike poor little me), you could set that on 200° and stick the pie plate of tenders in there.  They’ll be safe there until it’s time to put back into the skillet.

Turn down the heat on your skillet to medium.

To your hot skillet, add the 2 Tablespoons of Balsamic Vinegar.  If you have young kids who have never had Balsamic Vinegar, you might want to dumb this down to 1 Tablespoon, just to get them used to it.  I think Balsamic Vinegar is awesome, but I’m no kid.  Obviously.

Stand back, because when the Balsamic Vinegar hits the hot pan, your nose will go “whoa!”

Whisk like crazy, then add your jam.  Only cook for a minute, at most.  Just to get the lumps out.

Take a spoon and test for salt and pepper.

Take your chicken and add back into the pan, so it’s evenly coated.

Remove potatoes from the oven and marvel at their cheesy, buttery undersides.  If you microwave some frozen peas or corn, dinner will be on the table in minutes and then you can get your hubby to do the dishes.

That is, if you allow yours in the kitchen, which I do not.

Enjoy!  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Vicky

Cast iron pans

p.s. I have a large set of very, very expensive aluminum-clad steel pots and pans, which I use nearly every day.  (These are the ones the chefs on the cooking shows use).

Cast iron potsStill, I find myself reaching for my cast iron skillets nearly every night, because they can’t be beat for their ability to brown chicken, meats and things like these potatoes.  I collected mine from various thrift shops and junk stores, but you can buy them for very little money, spanking new.  The plus for these modern cast iron skillets is that they now come pre-seasoned!  Here’s a link to Amazon for the Lodge 10 inch cast iron skillet that you can buy:  http://amzn.to/2zgnppV

Or you can buy the 12 inch skillet with a silicone handle cover.  http://amzn.to/2j9lMkY

You can put these on your list for Santa!  You won’t be sorry you did.

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Chickens in the Country

Chickens in the Country

 

Yesterday was one of those days.  I woke up late and groggy, having spent several middle-of-the-night hours up, in back pain and unable to sleep.

I had a cup of coffee, which helped.  The weather was beautiful, cold, clear and sunny, which helped, too.  I thought it would do me good to take advantage of it and go fill the bird feeders.  Days like this can be rare in Oregon in December.

The chicken coop is not far from one of the feeders, but it was eerily silent.  Considering how much racket those hens usually produce, that silence immediately had me steeling myself.

So, reluctantly, I trudged over there and was horrified by what I found.

Something had dug a hole deep under the fencing and gotten in there, slaughtering every last one.

We have lost chickens in the past, but only the feathers left on the ground were proof that they had been taken.  These hens weren’t so lucky; they were all there.  I literally felt sick to my stomach.

When I got back into the house, I noticed that the compost jar I keep on the kitchen counter was full.  Maybe if I put it in the coop yard, a few surviving chickens might come out of their hiding places inside.

Only one emerged.  I felt very happy but also very sad for the lone survivor.

I realize that chickens have brains the size of a lentil.  But they are flock animals and therefore, social creatures.  It was heartbreaking to see this one gal, all alone.

Ugh.  Owning pets can certainly be heartbreaking, but even livestock can really get to you.  I am no farmer, that’s for sure, and neither do I pretend to be.

I knew I had to go out there and plug that hole, so I did my best, and said my prayers that whatever had dug its way into the coop yard wouldn’t come back that night.

When my son told me I should’ve gone in there and removed all the murdered birds, I told him he was out of his blanking mind.  (That’s not actually what I said).  As far as I’m concerned, that’s one of the reasons the Good Lord invented husbands.  Bill came home around 8:00 and took care of the chickens and blocked the hole further.  So far, so good; knock on wood.

When my husband reinforces the coop fence, I want to find another chicken for my hen to hang with.  I figure plenty of people get rid of their hens when they stop laying.  We had one old gal who lived to the ripe old age of 8 and she hadn’t laid an egg in years.  We didn’t mind; her name was Henrietta, and she followed me everywhere.  One day, while I was weeding the large flower garden in the back, she quietly stayed nearby, pecking away.  Awww, I thought at the time.  She really likes me.

Then I laughed as it occurred to me: well, yeah, she likes me, alright, but she REALLY likes the worms I’m digging up for her!

On Being PreparedAnyway, I was really, really shaken up when I came back into the house.  I went to phone Bill, who was at work.  And then, when I thought my morning couldn’t get any worse, my new phone wouldn’t turn on. I swear to God, I actually prayed for a miracle.  I tried to recharge it.  I would hold down the power button for a minute or two.  Phone CPR didn’t work.  It was gone, gone, gone.  Another $400 gone.  (But, maybe it was still under warranty?)

Last week I needed a new crown.  Then the car acted up and had to go into the shop and the news wasn’t good.  And now I had a dead phone.

Without a phone and car, I am left here, out in the middle of nowhere, all alone and unable to speak to my two daughters, who call several times a week.  It is a very lonely feeling, and I was feeling very, very sorry for myself.

Then, this morning, our neighbor dropped by to invite us to a Christmas open house on Saturday.  She is a real doll, raising two teenagers on her own.  Her life has not been easy, and this year she found out that the cancer she’d successfully treated many years ago had come back.

She told me she just had to raise her younger daughter.  That her ex-husband had married a nice lady “so that the girls would have a mom.”

Wow.  But that’s not I thought.  I won’t write what I thought.

I felt so small and petty and ashamed of myself.  Yeah, we have a number of difficult challenges in our lives; it hasn’t been an easy 15 years.  But this wonderful, brave mom was cheery and optimistic.  And her verve gave me the shakeup I needed.

Her scary ordeal certainly put my paltry problems in perspective, and that lesson couldn’t have come at a better time for me.  Whew.  I am grateful for her showing up to give me a much needed kick in the rear.  Instead of focusing on the things that are going wrong in our lives, I need to count my many blessings.

Maybe, if you’re feeling low today, this will help you, too.

Cheers!  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Vicky

 

 

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Dijon Tarragon Chicken Tenders

Dijon Tarragon Chicken Tenders

 

Good morning!

This is a nice idea for a quick dinner for you.  It really only takes a few minutes and is very good.  This “recipe” is for two, so adjust accordingly.

For TWO:

6 chicken tenders, tendons removed, patted dry

Butter

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Tablespoon Dijon

1 teaspoon dried Tarragon

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup chicken broth

Salt and pepper

Flour

Preheat your oven to 200°.  Put in your dinner plates, to warm them.

Heat a large skillet to medium high.  Pat dry chicken tenders with paper towel.

Then salt, pepper and lightly flour chicken.  Pat gently, to remove any excess flour (this will prevent chicken from being gummy).

In your hot skillet, put in 1 Tbsp. olive oil and 1 Tbsp. butter.

Add chicken tenders and cook on both sides until nicely browned.

Remove to a pie plate and stick your browned chicken in your 200° oven.

To the skillet, add Dijon and white wine.  Keep whisking until this is reduced by half.  Add chicken broth.

1950's ElvesAs this wine/broth mixture is bubbling happily away, you may want to thicken the sauce a bit.  If so, take your shaker of flour and sprinkle over mixture in pan.  Keep whisking and bubbling away, until the sauce is the consistency you like.  It doesn’t take much flour.

Cook long enough for the flour to cook, then add a Tablespoon or two of cold butter, and whisk until melted.

Remove warming chicken from oven and either toss back into the skillet (along with any juices), or place on plates and spoon sauce over it.

This is so good.  I’m not sure that many people use Tarragon, but this is a great recipe to try it.  A little bit goes a long way, so you only need one teaspoon, dried, for two people.

Hope you enjoy!

Merry Christmas, Vicky

 

 

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A Freezer Martha Would be Proud Of

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I’m just kidding.  If Martha ever found something so messy and disorganized in her garage fridge, she’d pass out in a dead faint.  And later, she’d fire her entire kitchen staff.

I spent about an hour this past weekend, freezing my rear end off and organizing my two garage freezers.

Throw out freezer foodWow, it wasn’t that hard, once I got past my reluctance to throw anything out.  Having chickens makes throwing things out a whole lot easier.

Did you know that chickens like two year old Mexican Rice?  How about two year old frozen garbanzo beans that never quite made it to that hummus you were planning on making?  Yep, they liked that, too.  They liked the aged pumpkin muffins, as well as the frozen spinach that was probably bought sometime in the previous decade (I’m kidding – it was only two or three years old).

Freezer doorI didn’t get any photos of “before.”  I would like to say that’s because I didn’t think of it.

Ha. Of course I thought of it.  But the truth is, my disaster area of a freezer was way too embarrassing to share with this blog.  Even if I have only two readers.  Seriously, it was BAD.  It was one of those things where we had to rush to close the freezer doors, before everything came spilling out.

First, I worked on one shelf at a time.  I completely cleared it and put everything on my husband’s workbench.

Then I grabbed a plastic garbage can liner and threw in anything not worth saving.

Organized side by sideThen I got some of my plastic bins that fit my vertical frozen freezer bags.  I filled them with as many frozen soups as I could, and then I replaced the bins on the shelves.

I repeated this over and over until the entire freezer was organized.

Try it, you’ll like it.  I did re-organize my house freezer a few months back, but it has slowly descended back into a state of chaos.  That’ll be next.

One of these days, I’ll hit my dresser drawers.  Maybe next year.

Have fun!  You’ll be so glad you did this.  You’re welcome.

Labels on Xmas LightsBy the way, I have a few pet peeves.  One of these is all these stupid little loops of plastic labelling that are wrapped so tightly around a new strand of Christmas lights.

Yes, I’m very thrilled these lights won’t burn down my house.  I get it.  But I think I counted 4 tags per strand.  And, considering the fact that these modern strands only last a week or two before going out, I will spend an inordinate amount of time this season removing these irritating little tags.  I may start a revolution.

Don’t even get me started on the impossible-to-remove protective covers on bottles of everything from mustard to baby aspirin.  Arrrgh.  Pass the needle nose pliers, please.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Vicky

 

 

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On Evacuation and Freezer Lists

On Evacuation and Freezer Lists

 

I have accomplished three important things, so far today.

The first thing is coming to the conclusion that, no matter how smug I might feel about having a freezer full of food and dinners, that alone will not be of much help in my life.  Not if I can’t remember what’s in said freezer.

I had started a list – a scribbled, messy thing hastily scratched on the page of a tiny notebook.

The notebook was upstairs in my craft loft and it hadn’t seen the light of day in months.  I hadn’t been keeping track of all the dinners I had frozen, or the items I had bought at the store in case of an Emergency.

The other day, I tried to fit in yet another flat freezer bag filled with the previous night’s soup.  There literally was not one square inch of available space, in either the full freezer or the side-by-side fridge out in the garage.

Something had to give, and I was damned if I wasn’t going to keep my freezer bag full of soup.

Thawing Turkey BrothI forced myself to carefully inspect all the stuff I had filled the shelves with.  I think I found about 12 large mason jars of “light turkey broth” from turkeys we ate last year and the year before.

I wasn’t completely sure just why I kept all that broth.  And why did I make it, in the first place?

Yes, I do like to use turkey broth in my Thanksgiving gravy.  I have found that it will easily last a year, no problem.

Usually, one large mason jar will suffice.  And were a miracle to occur, and the kids were all here, then maybe I could use 2.

But 12?  Let me set the record straight.  I don’t like turkey soup all that much.  I much prefer chicken.  No doubt this is because, when the kids were all young, I would make gallons of turkey soup and they all loved it.  Well, they all ate it, and that’s pretty much the same thing, in my book.

So, over the years, I have gotten into this stupid habit of making and storing jars and jars of turkey broth.

Knowing this, I still struggled with the painful reality that I was not going to use this 2 year old turkey broth, anytime soon.

Part of me thought, wait!  You shouldn’t ever throw food out.  The other part of me thought, well, it’s either the turkey broth or last night’s soup.

It took me three trips out to the garage, to corral that old broth.  It was freezing out and the jars were numbingly cold, so I had to wrap them in a towel.

I did it.  I unscrewed the lids, left them on one side of the sink and watched them, off and on, all day long.  Part of me (the stupid part) wanted to stick the lids all back on and race them back out to the freezer.

I left them alone.  When they had thawed, I wondered if the chickens would drink it.  Was it worth it, though, to haul bowl after bowl all the way out to their coop?  After all, it was really cold out and rainy, to boot.

Nope.  Down the drain the aging turkey broth went.  It was quite liberating and it also gave me a whole bunch of empty space to fill with frozen soup.

I very seldom eat any of our frozen soup.  But I like the comforting notion that, if I had a cold or the flu, the freezer bags would be there for dinner, even if I was throwing up that day.

At least Bill could eat.

Scribbled Freezer ListSo, recognizing that, were I ever to dig into the freezer for something, it might be a nice idea to have an updated list of the freezer’s content.

I grabbed that scribbled little piece of ragged paper and typed out a nice, organized list of (most of) the contents of all of our freezers. (We actually have four, but one is the tiny top of a dorm fridge).

Feeling very accomplished, I printed it out and taped it to the inside of my cupboard, where it will no doubt gather dust for a year or two.  I have every intention of keeping it updated, but I know myself a bit better than that.

On the inside of that same cupboard door was my scribbled Evacuation List, on the same ridiculously small lined notebook paper.

Evacuation List typedInspired, I ripped it down, raced to the laptop, and proceeded to type the Evacuation List.

Wisely, I typed everything in a very readable, large font, in ALL CAPS. Wow; now I was getting somewhere.

I really do believe in having an Evacuation List.  We were evacuated one time, (seriously, we were told to leave IMMEDIATELY because of a nearby forest fire), and let me assure you, without the list, your mind will go BLANK.

Let’s face it, if I only had 2 minutes to get out, I would just grab the dogs and Leo and high-tail it out of here.  If Bill were around, I’d take him, too.

But, say I had half an hour; well, things might be different.  First, I would panic for several minutes, while racing from room to room, tearing my hair out.  But, if I somehow did manage to remember my Evacuation List, I might be able to get everything on there into the car.

You’d be surprised how many things I add every month or two.  I wrote one time about my old recipe binders, that bring the past 33 years come swimming back into my little brain.  I stuck that on the list and now, because I actually typed it in ALL CAPS, in LARGE PRINT, I may be able to read what I’ve typed.

Those were the first two things I accomplished.  I am big on accomplishing things.  I believe a well-deserved pat on the back (even administered by myself), is the key to self-esteem.

The third thing I accomplished today was ANOTHER 30 minutes on the exercise bike.

Bill has attached a make-shift rack onto the front of it, so that I can read while biking away.

I do believe in reading.  Even though lots of times I would really rather be watching “The Great British Baking Show,” for the fourth time.

Reading is good for the brain and also a lot less fattening than making cream puffs and then not having anyone around who will eat them.

You know what I hate?  I hate it when you set your timer for 30 minutes.  And, after huffing and puffing for hours, or so it seems, you think: did the timer go off and I didn’t hear it?  Then you pick up the timer and you still have 10 minutes to go.  I really hate that.

Now, I have to make a decision. I could put on my makeup and start some sort of dinner.  Or I could thaw something and have it all ready for us.  Or I could say, the heck with makeup and start getting those lights on the big tree, a job which I kind of hate?  Of course, there are various combinations, but I won’t dwell on those.

Well, maybe I’ll just toss a three sided coin.

By the way, you know how they say to never grocery shop when you’re hungry?  On the flip side, don’t plan dinner when you’re full.

I have this thing, where the first thing I do in the morning is decide what I want to make for dinner that night.  This is before I’ve eaten anything, so I’m pretty hungry.

This morning I made the mistake of eating, without first having decided what to do about dinner.

Now, I’m full and the last thing I want to have to decide is what to cook.  Or thaw.

Think I’ll go get in the shower. I’ll wing it from there.

Decided to skip the rollers, do a 3 minute makeup session, and go grab some Chicken Wild Rice from the freezer.

Turns out, I didn’t have to cross it off my freezer list.  It never made it on!

Cheers!  Vicky

 

 

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