Friday, December 28, 2012

Knitted hat

I finished my first project that involved knitting in the round and I'm pretty proud of it. It turned out nicely, but I have to admit that the pattern wasn't the easiest to follow at the end, though.  I've got a bit of a conehead... Also, the band around the head is too loose (even after washing) on everyone. My plan is to remake it using smaller needles for the headband section during our long road trip to Canada in February, but we'll see if the little man cooperates with that plan...

So, for my first giveaway, I'm offering this hat for the masses.  Just follow my blog (button's at the right) and then leave a comment telling me whose big head this hat will keep warm this winter. I'll announce the winner after the new year.

Merry merry, all!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Venison Tenderloin Roast

I'm a lucky girl in many ways, but I am definitely lucky to have to step-father who shares the spoils of his hunting expeditions.  And last year, he got two deer, so there was a lot of sharing!

Since deer season is set to begin again in his area, I'm in a mad dash to finish all of the wonderful cuts of meat we got last year and this tenderloin is actually part of a larger roast I made into stew a few weeks back.  It was a small roast--maybe one pound tops--so it was perfect for a quick and yummy weeknight dinner for two.

Plus, once it was defrosted, it only took 10 minutes to prepare--start to finish! 

Pan-seared Venison Tenderloin
1 lb. tenderloin (whole)
2 Tbs. garlic powder
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 Tbs. cracked black pepper
2 Tbs. olive oil

Heat a frying/sautee pan over high heat.  Add olive oil.

Pat dry tenderloin with paper towels, and evenly apply garlic, salt, and pepper.

Once the oil is shimmery and just starting to smoke, add the tenderloin.  Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side--probably 4 sides--for a rare center and medium rare ends.  It should be dark brown but not burnt.  Turn off heat and remove loin to carving surface and tent with foil to rest for 5-10 minutes before carving and serving.

*You can use a similar preparation for a beef or pork tenderloin as well, if you finish it off in the oven since they are generally much larger than 1 lb.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Knitting in Round

A while back, I posted that I was planning to knit a hat.  After a few consultations with some of my knitting helpers and an Amazon purchase of double-sided needles, I started knitting. Now that I'm about halfway through, I wanted to share the lessons I've learned so far.

Before we get started, please keep in mind that this hat is my first attempt at a few things:
1. I'm knitting off of a chart for the first time
2. I'm knitting in the round for the first time
3. I'm knitting a hat for the first time (I've crocheted hats, but never knitted one)

When reading a chart, make sure you read the accompanying instructions.  I know this sounds incredibly obvious, but sometimes there are things written in the directions that affect how you use the chart (i.e. change of needles).

Make sure you read the chart from right to left--the opposite of the direction in which you are currently reading this post. Charts are put together in the direction (most) people knit, and I'm finding it really helpful in visualizing my project as I knit.

Another cool thing about the chart--it's very easy to keep tabs on how many stitches you're supposed to have, and that you've made the right stitch in the right place, too.  I'm really wondering why I haven't used charts before now and what I was so afraid of! 

Which leads me into my next learning curve topic:  When knitting in the round, MAKE SURE YOU DON'T LOSE ANY STITCHES off the ends of your needles.  I don't know if I just have a stick management issue or what, but I just about had a breakdown yesterday when I started my cabling work and lost about 2 stitches off the ends of each needle in the process.  In order to combat this (and the 30 minutes it took me to locate and re-attach each lost stitch), I "MacGuyver'd" it.

I put hair elastics over the stitches at the end of each needle so I can keep them on while working other needles.  It's a bit rudimentary, but I knit a few rows like this last night, and it seems to be working really well.

I've been making myself knit at least one row a night, so I will get this done by mid-January at the latest (40 rows to go!) though I'm thinking I should be able to finish before Christmas for sure.  Pictures will be posted of the final project for sure, so keep an eye out.

Any other knitting tips you'd like to share? 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Christmas List


Today's freak snow storm has shifted my thoughts to winter, and with that, my favorite of sports--SKIING!

I hope Santa brings me some of this fun ski stuff, because even with the best intentions, I could NEVER make this stuff:


God, do I need new goggles. My current goggles are kids' goggles (my tiny face requires a small goggle) and since I couldn't find women's goggles when I bought them 5 years ago, they're ridiculously uncomfortable.  And since they're 5 years old and made many a ski trip, they're on the brink of totally busted...And these Smith goggles are so pretty!  And they'll fit my face. And my glasses.  And in my Christmas stocking.


I tried these out on a free demo last year, and I kind of fell in love.  I didn't think that after my K2 burning luv's I'd find another ski that I just felt so comfortable on automatically, but lightening struck twice with these.  There's no difference to the 2012/13 model from the 2011/12 model other than the graphics on top (something which Nordica actually admits to publicly, oddly enough), but these graphics are much better than last year's.  I dig.


Standing on the snow for hours can get cold.  And since most of my students (I'm a part-time ski instructor) are having their first lessons, there's not a whole lot of skiing going on.  Most days I barely even put my skis on, actually.  So comfortable and warm base layers are pretty key. 

I'm actually still searching for a perfect set, but UnderArmour makes a pretty good set that wicks that moisture away, keeps you warm, and is very reasonable compared to the other options out there.  I'm not thrilled that they don't make the cold weather pants in a capri length legging, though.  The seams on their full length leggings hit right where you have nerves in your ankles, and with the compression in your boot can cause cramping and just plain old pins and needles.

For the entire winter, I live and die by my SmartWool socks.  I LOVE them and wear them with any kind of shoe I can fit them in (ballet flats don't work, p.s.).  Even if you're not a skier or other snow sports enthusiast, I recommend them.  They aren't itchy on my highly wool-repellant skin, have a bit of elastic woven in to keep their shape so they don't sag, and have different "padding" and support patterns according to activity which really doesn't help with foot fatigue.  And they're machine washable (not dry-able).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Presidential Porter

Last night was fun.  I grouted my kitchen counter (project pics to come), listened to the Candy Show (my new name for last night's debate), and drank some of the President's Porter.  Because I know you all follow this blog religiously, I know you remember when I posted about when the White House released the recipes, too!

Well, here's the porter!  Doesn't it look pretty on that new counter?

It needs a few more days to carbonate I think, but it is REALLY good.  It doesn't have the usual bitter aftertaste that most porters seem to have and isn't sickeningly sweet even with all that honey.  It's also a gorgeous dark brown with red coming through with the light.  I didn't filter this beer, and it's pretty opaque.  Since it's still under-carbonated, there's not really any head to speak of, but what did appear was almost stark white in color. 

I would definitely make this beer again, but I guess I need to make the honey ale first...  And if Romney comes out with a good soda pop recipe, I'll try that, too. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It's Oktober!

I feel like if you're a home brewer, there are a few things you HAVE to make every year:
1. A holiday/spiced beer for Christmas or the fall
2. An Oktoberfest

Here's what mine looked like.  And I say lookED, because that keg is KICKED!
As you can see, it's a little cloudy, but I'm really thrilled with how it turned out. 

One of the reasons I hadn't made an Oktoberfest before this year was that I didn't have any way to lager the beer (fermenting at low temperatures like 55F).  And I still don't, but I waited until the weather cooled off and the house was under 65 during the day and I dare say it worked!

I'm really disappointed that this beer is gone.  It's probably the best Oktoberfest I've ever had!

P.S. I totally cheated on this one, I went with a recipe kit from my favorite home brew store, Keystone.  Go pick it up!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Raspberry Maple French Toast

I'm lucky enough to have raspberry bushes that produce just as much fruit in the fall as they do in the late spring, and an arsenal of recipes to make sure none of them go to waste.  This is one of my favorites.

Raspberry Maple French Toast
French Toast
8 slices of day-old challah, 1/2 inch thick
4-5 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 Tbs cinnamon

Heat a skillet, griddle or frying pan over medium heat.  Lightly beat eggs, milk, and cinnamon in a shallow dish.  Add a single layer of bread and then flip the bread to coat the other side.  Let it sit in the egg for a minute to soak.
Add a pat of butter or a non-stick spray to the pan and put in a single layer of bread.  Cook 3 minutes on one side until lightly browned and flip.  Cook 3 more minutes until lightly browned and remove to a warm oven until ready to serve.  Repeat with the remainder of your bread. 

a pint of raspberries
2 cups of maple syrup
4 Tbs/ 1/2 stick of butter

Add the butter to a pan over high heat. Once melted, add raspberries and cook until berries start to break apart.  Add syrup and cook until heated through.  Poor syrup into a gravy boat or small pitcher (I use a pyrex measuring cup with a spout).

Serve warm over the french toast (or pancakes).

Serves 4-6

*You can use frozen berries with this recipe
*You can also substitute blueberries, blackberries, or even strawberries
*Day-old bread is not necessary, but it makes it that much better
*You can also strain the syrup if you're adverse to pulp or seeds

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pan Roasted Cabbage

I love a cabbage, garlic and cumin combo, so I came up with this recipe one night when I had a random head of leftover cabbage.  After everything is said and done, this dish will cost you about $2 to make, and feeds about 6 people very hefty side servings.  Goes great with chicken, steak, and pork.  It's a little sweet, a teeny bit sour, and perfect for a fall evening.
First thing to know about cabbage is how to cut it. Remove any leaves from the outside that look wilted, damaged, brown, mushy, or otherwise unappealing.  Cut it in half from the core and then cut a little triangle around the core to remove it.  Cabbage can be a tough little ball of leaves, so be careful.  You can also use a food processor to shred the cabbage after removing the core, but I find it to be too much clean-up.

Then, cut the cabbage in about 1/8 inch (smaller if you can manage) slices.  I cut those in half.  The smaller you can make the slices, the quicker it will cook and caramelize.
Pan Roasted Cabbage
1 medium head of green cabbage
2 tablespoons of oil (I used olive)
3 large cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of honey
1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
salt and pepper to taste

Mince the garlic and add to a large skillet with the oil, cumin and a bit of salt over medium heat.  Once the cumin aroma starts to come out, add the cabbage, stir to combine and cover for 10 minutes or until the cabbage has softened.  Stir again, add the honey and vinegar, and cook uncovered for another 2-3 minutes.  Cabbage should just start to brown.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 6-8.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ale to the Chief: White House Beer Recipes

We might not all be destined to be the Commander in Chief, but now we can drink like him!

After a few weeks of online petitioning, bloggers demanding, and homebrewers drunkenly whining, our fearless leader and his even more fearless chef and brewing partner released the recipes for their White House Beers.  And apparently they are amateur bee-keepers as well...

And being that this weekend in the Philadelphia Honey Festival, it makes the release of this recipe very timely.

Here's the link to the recipes, and bit more on the background, and an interview of the big O talking brewing

I'm planning to do the Honey Porter first...SO EXCITED!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Linguini and hot sausage in a fried sage cream sauce

When I first read about this in a NYTimes column early this week, it sounded gross.  I mean, fried sage?  In a cream sauce?  And then you have hot sausage?  Nothing about this seemed like it would make sense, but I have a sage bush(?) in my garden (that I can't seem to kill and I barely even use the stuff) and those food writers at the Times haven't steered me wrong yet, so I went for it.

This is a modified recipe, as I didn't use theirs and frankly don't remember or care to spend the time finding the link.  I made it for two, and we had two large servings, with just barely enough left over to not save it for a lunch the next day.

1/2 lb of Linguini (not fresh)
1 cup of heavy cream
1/2 lb of hot italian sausage in the casing
2 Tbs Fresh sage chopped finely (or use little leaves)
1 small shallot, sliced thinly
Olive oil

Start your pasta water boiling, and a large skillet on medium/medium high with a drop of olive oil. 

Cut the sausage into 1/8" slices (think bite-sized).  When the pan is hot, add the sausage and cook for 5 minutes or until both sides are browned.  Remove sausage from pan and set aside.

If you have a fair amount of oils left in the pan, just add the sage and saute until it turns to a dark green, scraping up any bits that may have been left in the bottom of the pan along the way.  You may want to add a small amount of oil if you didn't have a fatty sausage, but be light-handed with the oil.

When the water is boiling, salt it and add the pasta.  Cook to package directions.  Before you drain your pasta, be sure to save a mug of pasta water.

Once the sage is a bit crunchy and the desired shade of dark green, add your thinly sliced shallot.  You can also substitute a bit of onion and minced garlic, but I liked the sweetness of the shallot and think garlic would have been a bit much with the sausage.  Saute until it becomes translucent and starts to brown.

Turn off the heat, and slowly add the cream, about 1/4 cup at a time.  Stir to incorporate, making sure that the cream isn't curdling.  Once you've added the cream, turn the heat back on to medium.  Add the sausage back in as well.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Allow the cream sauce to simmer and thicken to your desired consistency--I'd recommend just a bit thicker than the cream started out.

Add the drained pasta to the sauce skillet and toss to combine.  If you'd like a looser sauce, add the reserved pasta water (less than 1/4 cup at a time) until you get your desired texture.

Serve and enjoy!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Fall's coming!

You know fall's coming in my house when a few things happen:
1. We get another windfall of raspberries
2. The joy of grilling outside has been completely replaced by our renewed love for all things pasta
3.  I start talking about knitting projects again.

buttercup beretIn the spirit of #3, I saw this SUPER cute little hat pattern, and endeavor to try it soon.  It may even replace "Ugly Red Hat", which I crocheted in college and pretty much wear all winter.  I'm also hoping that a nice beret can jazz up my outfits since I've basically given up on wearing jewelry for little guys' first year of life at this point...

The pattern designer made it out of a wool and silk blend yarn, but I've got my eye on this sweet Kelly green cotton yarn I've had for years.  I also have not successfully knit in the round before, so I may have calls into my mother and friend, Erin, to get this one accomplished.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Blind Faith Beer Clone

A few weeks ago, the big guy seemed flabbergasted at the fact that we had no more IPA's left in the basement for us to drink and made me promise to brew more ASAP.  So I chose two, brewed one, and even employed a new hopping technique in the process!

The first one I brewed up was a Blind Faith (Magic Hat) clone.  Blind Faith is one of the few truly hoppy beers that Magic Hat produces, but it still has a pretty light mouth feel.  I remember it being pretty light in color, but it's been a while, so I could be completely wrong on that one.

The coolest thing about making this recipe is that it called for dry hopping (throwing a bit of the hops in after/during fermentation and during the boil) and with our new kegging system I used a new technique to dry hop.  I threw the 2 oz. or so of the hops into a muslin bag, tied it to the inside of the keg so that they sat in the beer without clogging up the intake and voila!

I think the only thing that this clone got right was mouth feel, but I still like my beer.

This weekend, hopefully I'll be able to brew an Oktoberfest!

Friday, August 24, 2012

On the menu for next week

I realized that even though I've been doing a pretty good job of sticking with my meal-planning, I haven't shared my experiences in this arena lately.

I have not stuck with a meal planning service--I didn't LOVE the recipes, and our fickle tastebuds tend to crave things that weren't in any of the menus I found.  I did, however, find a lot of inspiration of how I should be doing things and continue to use the models of execution from many of the websites I found.

So what exactly am I doing?  I've started bookmarking recipes and (GASP!) making a running grocery list of items we'll need to execute those menu items for the next few weeks.  You'll notice some things are crossed off, and that's because their procurement was delegated to the big guy who drives past a butcher on his way home from work.  Other things missing from the list are things I have in my garden, so no tomatoes, eggplants, herbs, cucumbers or raspberries will show up on here until October.

And what will we be cooking?
-Peach sauce for the little guy
-A shrimp, peach and spinach hot salad thingy (once I make it and figure out what I'm doing I'll post about it)
-Pasta with hot sausage, fried sage, and a cream sauce.
-Grilled flank steaks (probably slightly Mexican-style w/ fresh salsa and tortillas)
-Grilled chicken breasts marinated in a yogurt curry sauce.
-Eggplant (roasted, fried and baked into a "lasagna", possibly into a chutney I saw)
-Pretty much all meals will be accompanied by a tomato salad since it's that time of year.
-Left over corn chowder to eat with hamburgers and hot dogs over Labor Day weekend

It's amazing how just this little bit of conscious planning has really taken away the stress, made me a better grocery shopper in terms of both time and money, and has really made our evenings that much more enjoyable.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pistachio Milk

I definitely think this could be a contender for weirdest breakfast of the week, but I DARE you to try it and tell me it's awful.

A few weeks ago I was reading FoodBabe's Blog, and she posted a pistachio milk recipe.  Intrigued, I set out on the semi-daunting task of finding unsalted, unroasted, shelled pistachios.  It took a minute and two grocery stores, but I found them at the fancy farmer's market near the in-laws.  Biggest draw back:  $20 a lb.

This recipe is easy-peasy, so try it if you have a $20 spot to burn, because it really is worth it.  It also only took about 2 minutes to make, though cleaning up the food processor took about 5.

The pistachio milk is really satisfying, nutty, and even a little thick (thanks to my less than fine mesh strainer), and a half jar and a banana was a perfect breakfast.  I added a bit of vanilla, and I think for a really awesome fall drink, I'd warm this up and add a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Other possibilities going through my brain:
-Making this into an icecream
-Booze--why does it always come back to booze?  I'm thinking a bit of spiced rum could be nice.
-Whip it and put it on a chocolate dipped graham cracker
-Smoothies--Add some oranges and a creamsicle appears!

Drink the pistachio milk.  Seriously.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Corn off the Cob

Apparently I am on the same writing and cooking schedule as a NYTimes food columnist--Corn is on my brain!

In an effort to send better quality videos your way (with minimizing effort on my behalf), here's a really great video to show you how to remove the corn from your cobs.

Stay tuned for a recipe for corn chowder...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tomato Basil Bisque

August to me means lots of fun foods from the garden, and a panic attack trying to make sure I use everything before it spoils!  To preserve those 80 lbs of tomatoes I've been picking, I make this super yummy soup with a portion of them.  Everything could come from my garden (save the dairy), but alas, my garlic didn't do anything this spring...

Here's the recipe for the only tomato soup I'll eat!

Tomato Basil Bisque
1 medium onion, chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
About 5 lbs of tomatoes, peeled and seeded (view the video tutorial here)
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1-2 TBS of basil pesto

Heat large sauce pot on medium with olive oil. Add onions and garlic with a pinch of salt, stirring frequently until they become translucent. 

Boost the heat to high and add one tomato, stirring until it fairly well disintegrates and much of the liquid has evaporated. 

Then slowly add the remaining tomatoes (this eases the mess more than anything).  Bring to a simmer and then set heat to low, stirring occasionally.  Let the soup simmer for a few hours until it has reduced by at least 1/3 (sometimes a bit more if you have watery tomatoes). 

Off heat and using a stick blender, blend the tomatoes to your desired consistency. 

Slowly stir in the cream (to avoid curdling, keep the mixture off the heat), and then add in the pesto.

Consume immediately, or store in fridge for up to a week/freezer for a few months.  I recommend reheating on the stove--the microwave changes the texture and can make for some curdling.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Apple Peach Pear Sauce

This started as an attempt to make baby food and get rid of some fruit just starting its downward spiral, and I must say it's probably one of the yummiest things I've made in a while.

2 pears, peeled, cored, cut into large chunks
3 apples, peeled, cored, cut into large chunks
2 peaches, peeled, cored, cut into large chunks
1/2 cup of water

Put all ingredients into a sauce pan (medium to large) and cook over medium heat until fruit softens a bit.  Stirring helps to even out the cooking, so I encourage occasional stirring.  Estimate 10-15 minutes for cooking max.  Whiz everything in your food processor until you get the consistency you desire, and enjoy!

I made two servings for the little guy to take to school (2 oz. cups) and froze the rest (though I stole a huge spoonful for me beforehand!).

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Summer Harvest

Wednesday Night's Haul
The garden is doing so much better this year than last, and I couldn't be happier!  So far this week, I've harvested about 10 lbs of tomatoes, 3 eggplant, and my gorgeous mother gave me about 7 lbs of cucumbers. 

So what am I going to do with all of this?  Since we'll never be able to eat all of this fresh, we're going to have to find a way to make it last. 

I still have about 5 jars of tomatoes that I canned last year in my pantry, so I'd rather not start canning yet.  I'm leaning toward freezer meals/condiments to use up the tomatoes:
-Tomato Basil bisque
-Vodka Sauce
-Ratatouille (also helps to get rid of the bushel of squash I got from my mother)

The cucumbers are a bit trickier, but I have a few ideas:
-Grammy's freezer pickles (so friggin easy, and we LOVE them)

I love that this tomato has a beak!
And on the greek vein, I'm going to roast my eggplants, and make the greek version of babagonoush (must find recipe) which apparently doesn't include tahini.

I'll post some recipes soon, but if you want to get started on canning, take a look at last year's tutorial.  There's even a video on peeling and seeding so you can make all this yummy stuff!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Great Baby Food Debate

We've been sending little man with baby food to school for about a month now.  Though, at first he was apparently a little confused at being given food (vs. milk) at school and didn't eat too much, that has all changed.  At last teacher report, he quote, "ate up dem apples like I ain't ne'er seen no baby do," so I've been sending even MORE and he keeps eating "dem".

The biggest surprise to me in this whole baby food making thing, is that people seem to have quite the range of emotions when they learn I'm making the baby food.  Other than here, I don't really advertise it since the whole parenting landscape (among other parents) can be quite a mine field I'm finding...  Some are quite surprised, impressed, and others appear to be incredulous, annoyed, and even offended that I'm making the baby food.  Most, just don't seem to get why I would even want to do this.

So, I've decided to list my reasons to clear up any confusion:
1. I am cheap!  2 oz. of gerber carrot puree is 99c.  99c!  I bought 2 lbs of carrots for $2 and made about 30oz. of carrot puree.
2.  I want to be able to pronounce everything that my kid is eating.  It's just a personal preference so that I don't sound dumb.  Though I did probably sound dumb when I asked the doctor how much food he should eat...
3.  It's really not that much work or time for me.  Last night I spent exactly 30 minutes peeling, chopping, steaming, and pureeing carrots.  And it's 30 minutes I was going to be in the kitchen anyway because I was already making dinner.
4. I actually find it easier to make my own than worry about whether he has enough food in the pantry. Even this weekend, I just made sure that I grabbed a banana from our hotel while traveling so I could mash it up in the car if we ran out of food.
5. I honestly, find this to be a lot of fun.  I like playing with my food processor and checking off the list of foods that little man has eaten.
6. I am CHEAP!  Even without teeth, little man is eating about 4 oz. of food everyday on top of his 18+ oz. of milk.  That would be an additional $28 each week, and would almost DOUBLE my monthly grocery bill!  I want to save that money for when he's a teenager and literally eating me out of house and home.

I don't think that parents that aren't making their baby's food are bad parents (I had a woman imply that I was being snooty the other day).  I like to cook.  And experiment.  If you don't like to cook, or play with food, or aren't good at multi-tasking during the dinner-making process--this isn't for you.
Plus, I found that an apple core makes a great teether the other day while making his apple sauce!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Baby Food Experiment

So, weeks ago I vowed to make little guy's baby food.  And while that has been happening, I haven't made "baby food".  I've just been mushing or pureeing a fruit or vegetable for his consumption.  And frankly, for a while it was WAY too much to send to school with him.

A few weeks ago, I saw this great recipe for something I make all the time, but for a baby this time.  Apart from an easy way to start introducing meats into my little man (6 months and not even an inkling of a tooth), I never even thought about quinoa for him.  And why not?  We eat quinoa all the time.  And it's good.  And it's a super food or something...

I still haven't gotten around to making this--it's 90 effin' degrees in Philly every day this summer--but it's on my list.

Apart from veggie purees, any suggestions from the peanut gallery?  Do babies even care if they get a whole meal's worth of taste in one bite?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Life...a little less stressed!

This meal planning thing is actually working.  Last night, I went to bed on time for the first time in about 2 months, enjoyed a wonderful stress-free dinner with my husband (grilled curry lamb chops and watermelon), and even spent a few hours playing with the little guy before he went to bed....Heaven.

And the best part?  We've gone a week and a half without even MENTIONING ordering out--something we always talk about doing, fight about where we're getting the food from, and then end up eating grilled cheese.  I'd venture to say we've saved about 30 cubic feet of air and $30 so far with the elimination of take-out in this week and a half.

This week, I've got a few things on the menu:
Tonight, grilled chicken (not sure how exactly yet), coleslaw (I made a bunch on Sunday), and watermelon and blueberries.  However we prepare the chicken, I'll probably freeze an extra breast or two so I can just grab and go next time.
Tomorrow, I'm thinking hot dogs (we love hot dogs), the rest of the coleslaw, and maybe some zucchini pancakes.  I'll, again, make some extra (it's the same amount of work) and freeze them.
Friday will be grill-a-palooza since family's coming in for the weekend.
Saturday, PHILLIES GAME!  (I'm obviously not excited), so hatfield franks at the ballpark it is.
Sunday, grill pizzas.  This means I'll make a bunch of pizza dough, and freeze probably 2 batches for another day since I've used up my freezer dough stores thus far.

I'm also hoping to brew another batch of beer this weekend (maybe Friday) since we kicked our first keg last week!  I have to photos up for you soon--it's beautiful.

What do you all have planned for the coming week?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Meal Planning Sites

After my last post, I tried prioritizing a few things in terms of what was bothering me the most and what seemed to be the biggest issues.  I found that dinner seemed to be the root of a lot of my angst. After a long day at work, I have a long evening of parenting, cleaning, paying bills, advising my girls of poise and purpose, laundry, and bottle washing before I even get to think about dinner.

I figure if I can get dinner under control, it would solve the poverty issue, the time issue, and a lot of this stress.  My solution: meal planning!

First, I found this blog:, which is a really great account of how a woman in NC stopped eating processed foods completely.  Now, while I try my best to eat as little processed food as possible, I genuinely enjoy my instant oatmeal, Dunkin Donuts, and pizza.  But when I cook, I really don't use processed food, so the recipes and meal plans were great inspiration for me.  There are also a few weekly menu plans, but the odd ingredients (coconut oil, almond butter, etc.) just don't really work for us and the grocery stores I have available.

Then I found another blog:, which is similar in ethos to 100 days of real food, but modified all of the recipes for bulk cooking and freezing and even has a shopping list and portion adjustable menus.  I downloaded the July menu, and I was pretty impressed.  Because you can adjust the menus to however many of you there are, it really takes the guess work out of things.  Even the shopping list adjusts when you change the number of portions.  I was even able to delete recipes that I didn't want to do (ham, yuck), which was really nice. 

I've made a few of the recipes (which are taken and adjusted from other websites) so far, and they've been pretty good.  I also substituted a few things (couldn't find sweet chili paste and I wasn't about to make my own tortillas when I'm trying to save time), but most of the ingredients were really easy to find and I already had many of them in my pantry. 

Enchiladas pre-oven
The one recipe I managed to get pictures of was the Thai Enhcillands.  They sound weird and I wasn't sure it would work, but there were really good and it was perfect for a night when we were tired and didn't want to do ANYTHING.

I'm not sure that I saved any time doing things this way, but it definitely saved me a lot of stress since so much less thinking was involved.  I even managed to get out of the grocery store for less than $150 for about 3 weeks worth of groceries and do that in under an hour...

Biggest take away from this part of my experiment--when I have the time, energy, and ingredients, I need to make a few extra servings and freeze it. 

Biggest advantage found so far--we didn't get takeout (or even suggest it) once last week...$!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cooking on a budget, with no time and hoping it's healthy

This month, I'm feeling REALLY limited on time and money.  Between the 4 weddings this summer/fall, multiple family trips and visits, being an advisor to my favorite women of poise and purpose, and figuring out how exactly this parenting thing works I'm well...stressing.  So I've made a personal pledge to myself to take a time-out and get some things in order before the end of this month.

Step 1.  Schedule a hair cut.  I've finally stopped losing my hair (post-pregnancy side-effect) and I look like the dirty hippie I am on the inside but am not allowed to look like at work.  And I'll be honest, the vain woman in me makes me be more productive when I look pretty.  I'm like Melanie Griffith in "Working Girl" I guess.  Status: scheduled for the end of the month.
Step 2.  Make a budget.  I realized the other day I have NO idea what our family income or expenses are now that we have the little guy. Status:  I've entered in my income and expenses, as well as our "family" expenses (daycare, groceries, utilities, etc.) split into monthly increments.  The big guy is reviewing and entering his info so we can figure out where we can make adjustments for more wiggle room/savings.
Step 3.  Figure out how to cut back on the grocery budget without sacrificing the yum.  This is a tough one for me, since I really value good food.  But, I think with some advanced planning and increased lunch packing for both of us, I can probably get our grocery budget down at least by 25%.  Status: Researching online meal planners, calendars, etc. for ideas. I need to cross-reference them with food costs and what the little guy can eat at this point, since I'll probably start packing some real food for him to take to school soon.
Step 4. Figure out how to make more time for me to breathe.  Probably the toughest of all, since I've found that I rarely actually sit once I get home every night.  I'm hoping that the pre-planning of meals will help a lot with that since I'll be able to plan time for my sewing, which I miss dearly.  Status:  I'm planning to sew on Saturday since the big guy cleaned out our office where my sewing stuff is located.

I plan to keep track of the websites I'm looking at, and will share them in a few weeks to let you all know what I've learned.  [Insert shameless request for suggestion here].

Looking forward to less stress come August!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Raspberry Chocolate Milk Stout Update

Last night was my monthly homebrew club meeting--the night of judging for our raspberry beer competition.  I went in completely blind, as I hadn't even had a chance to sample my own beer before judging, so I had no idea which beer was mine.  Surprisingly, there were 10 beers (there's only like 15 of us in the club) and only three were darker beers. 

So how did I place?  Dead last!

And the best part is, it's because no one could taste the raspberry!  Of course, when we talked about how each entrant got the raspberry into their beer, I realized why.  I used 6 oz. of strained raspberry jam to bottle; the winner used 3 lbs of raspberry extract (canned syrup) and most everyone else used at least 2 lbs of fresh or frozen berries.

I think I'm going to make a syrup of my own to add to the beer when drinking to see if I like the taste of the raspberry in my beer.  That way, if I decide to make it again, I have a better idea of how much raspberry to add to get the flavor I want.

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's officially summer!

I know it's definitely summer when the raspberries start coming in.  And I've picked a quart off the bushes for two nights running!

Be Jealous.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Whoa is me (garden)...

I came across this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer Friday, and it made me remember the sorry state of my poor poor garden...


 So, I finally weeded it this weekend as a Father's Day present to me and my husband.  Isn't she pretty?

Well, the after picture surprisingly doesn't look much better right now.  I weed and then throw down the weeded parts back onto the garden to keep the weeds down.  I know this sounds strange and counter-intuitive, but I swear it really helps keeps weeds (in my case mostly grass) from creeping back in.  One of the things I find most helpful in this project is rhubarb leaves.  You can't eat them, so why not use them to keep the weeds down?
Raspberries are really starting to come out, and even a few have started changing!  I've gotten a scant pint off the bushes so far, so we are a happy family. Raspberry preserves are just around the corner!

Plus, I had the handsome guy on your right helping me with all of my gardening tasks this weekend, while the big guy got his father's day wish--to nerd out alone inside...

I'm thinking I'll have to move the tomatoes next year--the tree in my neighbor's yard is starting to cover part of the garden and they need full sun for sure.  Plus, the tomato blight (a weird disease that makes for lame tomato plants if you don't rotate your crops after a few years) is starting to creep in.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Feeling kind of awesome

June 1-8 was Beer Week here in Philly. A pretty big deal in such a beer drinking town.  And guess who was part of it?  ME!  It's kind of a small (and pretty lame) accolade (especially seeing as I wasn't even mentioned in the event description), but I had two of my beers featured as the homebrew to beat a commercial version during a teaching event.  Apparently, a woman even described my tripel as "a rainstorm in my mouth"!  I really don't know what that means, but it sounds cool!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Garden planted?

Can you believe that it's June and I STILL don't have all of my garden planted?

We had a bit of an epic fail with starting some plants from seed inside.  Basically, I kept forgetting to water the seedlings once they sprouted until I could get outside to plant them, so they died, a cruel slow death on my window sill...

In order to salvage my garden and possibly get some food from it this summer, I went into over drive a few weeks ago, and directly sowed some seeds.  PROBLEM!  My big guy had put Preen in the garden (I know, I know), so nothing could really sprout, though somehow my acorn/butternut squash hybrid did and is looking rather spritely right now.  Since I went through all of my other seeds, I broke down and bought a rosemary plant, which I can never seem to make a perennial in my garden, and a packet of basil seeds at the Depot.

Though I have sprouted the seeds and was smart enough to do so outside in a container this time, they're still not quite ready for planting and live on my patio table as an odd centerpiece.  Nor have I gotten around to planting the rosemary...

I am woefully delinquent in my gardening duties this year (weeding?  what's that?), I have to remind myself of how much better I'm doing this year as opposed to last when I was barely pregnant and dog tired.  Hopefully, I have myself together a bit more when it comes time for pickling and canning!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Baby Food Time!

Right around the 4 month mark, I noticed that my little one was reaching for my food.  Of course, at first, I thought I was just seeing things and assumed that it was a symptom of the "my baby is advanced and awesome" syndrome that so many mothers have.  Then, he tried to eat my raisin toast.

When we went in for his 4-month well visit, I mentioned this to his Dr., and she said to try some foods or cereal.  So after consulting with friends, family, and a random facebook group I'm part of, I decided to start with rice cereal, just in case he wasn't really ready for food...

I really expected it to be a disaster.  Spitting, coughing, smearing, and general displeasure and grossness all over the place.  But, boy, was this kid ready to eat.  He ate that first teeny bowl of rice cereal so quickly and eagerly that he started crying for more while I was mixing up another bowl!

We did some banana a few days after that, and MAN!  He ate half of it.  I could also see the sugar high in his eyes...but half of a banana!  And apparently a few days after starting the bananas, my husband ate one in front of the little guy, and he cried and reached out for it.  When they say, the baby will tell you what he wants, they weren't kidding!

Since he ate a whole banana, I haven't gone back to the cereal.  It literally has no nutritional content, and there are so many foods he can try that are good for him!  (And to the folks who say "he'll sleep longer with a belly full of cereal" I say, this kids has slept at least 6 hours at night since he was two weeks old...)

Last week, we tried avocado.  Little guy did not like.  So I mixed it with banana.  Little guy did not like.  So I mixed it with more banana.  Again, little guy did not like.  He ended up looking like a bird pooped on his face, and extremely unenthusiastic.  (As a rule, high eyebrows=happy; low eyebrows=annoyed)

This week, we're trying sweet potato.  I had to add a bit of water to it after mashing; little guy did not like the thickness at first, but thinned out a bit and we were good to go.

On the menu for next week?  I'm thinking pears, but the big guy gets to pick the little guy's next food, so we'll see.

I'm going to try to not go the pre-made baby food route.  I just don't see the point in spending the money on it when I just have to mush up some of what I eat for him now and eventually just cube up some stuff.  I've found some really great resources in friends and websites for ideas, and I realized that everything they're recommending for your kid, is stuff we eat anyway.  And maybe it will help me and my other guy eat better in the process...

Just to be clear: Am I ruling out ever buying/using store bought baby food?  HELL NO!  I'll probably get a few jars from the store for back up and to have jars...

How I'm making little guy's food right now:
-mashing up soft things (so far no food processor needed)
-introducing one new thing a week, while continuing to feed him the previous weeks' items as well
-once I know he likes something, I make a bit of it a time.  For example, after I realized he likes bananas, I mashed up a few in little bowls since it takes about as much time to it for three bananas as it did for a half of one.
-starting next week, I'll probably have to start freezing my mashed up bits in ice cube trays.  More than three items at one sitting might be a little too much for either me or the little guy to handle.
-I have not purchased any special "baby" eating items like a little spoon or plate.  I use a custard cup and a normal teaspoon.  Again, I don't see the point in the extra expense, but to each his own.

I found this website through a recommendation.  It has great lists of what's good to try at what time, and even some recipes, though I have not explored that part.  Of most interest to me has been (and probably will continue to be) the food preservation techniques (freezing, etc.).

I'm really excited to see what little guy will eat as our garden starts producing things he actually CAN eat.  Right now our options are non-options (rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries), but I've got squash, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant and I don't even remember what else for him to try throughout the summer and fall.  I might even try to through a melon in there real quick before it gets too late...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bottling Day: Raspberry Milk Stout

I've been so terrible about posting on my brewing lately! Truth be told, I've been terrible about a lot of things that don't directly affect my little man, as evidenced by the fermented carboys sitting in my dining room for a few weeks now.

Saturday (May 5) was National Homebrew Day, so after weeks of saying I was going to bottle the beers on hold, I sucked it up and bottled with my husbands's help.

I truly hate bottling--it's the worst part of brewing in my opinion; it's messy and wet, it takes forever, requires no creativity, and then you have to wait at least 4 weeks (usually 6 or more) to actually enjoy the beer!  In addition to saving up for that sewing machine, I'm also saving up for a kegging system so we don't have to deal with the bottling BS anymore.

This time around, it wasn't as messy or as time-consuming as normal (a blessing with a 3-month-old).  I attribute this not to a new-found groove my husband and I have created for ourselves, but to the fact that we had CASES of clean and empty bottles due to the months of inactivity.  Things really only needed to be rinsed out and sanitized rather than our normal homeless person shuffle through the recycling bins for empties to re-use.  Plus, I had two cases of empty 22's and 3 growlers, so that took up about 3 gallons right there (out of 5).

Since I find no creativity in bottling, I've started thinking of ways to actually make it more fun.  This time around I decided to bottle with flavorings.

My homebrew club decided that June would be raspberry beer month (brew any style as long as you added raspberries), so I made a chocolate milk stout and bottled it with some of last year's raspberry jam (strained of seeds).  For some reason, I couldn't figure out from the recipe I used how much sugar they recommended for bottling, so I guessed using 5oz. from a partially open jar in my fridge.  I boiled the jam with the same amount of water, ran it through a wire mesh strainer, and then added it (cooled a bit of course) to the beer in the bottling bucket while it was still siphoning from the carboy to make sure no yeasties were killed in the process.

Here are some pics of our not-so-scientific process:

Step 1:  First we make an appetizer to make sure we don't get cranky while we bottle.  Saturday's cranky-killer was crab stuffed mushrooms.  If I get any requests, I can post a recipe...

Step 2:  Fill up your sink with sanitizing solution.  We use Isophor, an iodine solution that doesn't require rinsing.  Your husband should also attach the really dopey looking bottle cleaner to the faucet (and break the aerator on the faucet in the process).  This makes bottle rinsing a lot easier.

Step 3: Sanitize your bottling bucket, siphon, and wand.

Step 4:  Set up the carboy in a higher spot than the bottling bucket and siphon your little heart out.  The most important part of this step is making sure that none of the yeast cake (the beige goo at the bottom of the carboy) gets into the siphon itself by keeping the end of the wand above it.  If you don't, you'll have cloudy beer (important for competition and not freaking your friends out).  Also good to note: siphoning without making a mess takes a bit of practice, and finally I'm getting pretty good at it after a few years of brewing.  When you're done siphoning, you should only see the yeastie mess on the bottom and probably a 1/4 of beer.

As I mentioned before, this is a good opportunity to put your bottling sugar in (whether it's corn sugar, maple syrup, or in this case raspberry jam) since it will mix it in as it siphons and take out any heat that might be big enough to kill the yeast.

Step 5:  Take a really cute picture of your kid so that you can embarrass him later in life by illustrating what drunks his parents were while he was an infant.  This step is obligatory for all new parents, ps.

Step 6:  Clean, sanitize and drip-dry your bottles.  We just use the dishwasher rack, but you can buy expensive bottle trees to dry them if you like.  We're cheap, and frankly, this doesn't take up any storage space in the interim, which seems to be an issue with my brewing equipment lately.

Step 7:  Move that really heavy bottling bucket up onto a table or counter (or even a stool so that the spigot hangs off with enough room to stick a bottle under it.  We also use a bottling wand (it has this really cool "stop pouring" button in it so you make less of a mess), so we need at least an extra 12 inches.  I also put a paper towel pile under neath to catch any drips.  If I don't, the drips turn into splatters and we're walking around sticking to the floor in random spots for at least week afterward.

Step 8:  Put that beer in those bottles!  As you can see, you really just shove the bottle onto the wand, let her fill up, and then take it off.  As an FYI, the more empty the bottle gets, the slower the beer moves and the longer it will take to fill each bottle.  I highly recommend filling up the larger bottles first (growlers, 22's, etc.) before your arms are getting tired.

Step 9:  Cap the bottle.  We've got a capper, which literally just smooshes (technical terms here) the cap around the rim of the bottle.  If you do it wrong, you'll know--the cap will fall off immediately, you'll see it's crooked, etc.

Step 9:  Wait.  A lot.  This is the worst part by far.  For most beers, I'd recommend waiting at least 6 weeks, but sometimes (especially if it's warm out) you can drink them after 2.  Some beers really benefit from a long aging--particularly those that are really high in alcohol.  I made a belgian tripel last year that is so much better after 9 months of waiting than it ever was at 6 weeks.

I still haven't bottled the "Baby Bicker Brew", my ode to my little man, (but that should happen this weekend!) and then I'm allowed to brew another beer.  I'm thinking a Red IPA for the summer...thoughts?