Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Changes in Life

I haven't been on here in so long, and it is not because of a lack of desire.  We have moved to Nebraska.  We are living at my nieces home and raising chickens, ducks, turkeys, cattle and learning how to ride horses.
The house is an old stone house, which is beautiful!  The bad news is that the internet and phone are not as good and I often cannot even log in to the blog.
I hope to find some time to get into town to get some posts done!  Until then, I miss being here and feel I have so much to share and no ability to do it.
Well, we are all healthy - the farm is fun - and we are certainly living lots of life!!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Proper Send Off

My sister and her family just left the country and headed back to Cambodia.  They have an orphanage that they are operating there called Cosette's Hope Children's Home.  My mom and dad came up from NM, and we got together for a couple of dinners.  I was responsible for the Italian meal.

As I was planning the menu, my sister informed me that her husband has never been a pasta guy, but that maybe it was her sauce that he was not a fan of.  Well, I love a challenge, and started searching out a menu that might change his mind.

Thanks to Marie at Proud Italian Cook, I found an idea for a large pasta dish with roasted veggies.  When our two families get together it is a crowd, so the description is what caught my eye first.

This is a pic of the veg after it had been roasted.  Cauliflower; Carrots; Onions; Broccoli; Carrots; Red, Yellow and Orange Peppers: and Cherry Tomatoes roasted with Garlic and Olive Oil.
After the Rigatoni was cooked, I added it all together in one of those big catering pans, sprinkled some fresh grated Parm on it, and to the fridge it went.  

In my crockpot, I made a Pork Ragu from Michele Scicolone.  You can find her recipe in her book The Italian Slow Cooker (highly recommend!) or here. Like Giulianna, I too made a few changes here and there, but kept mostly to the recipe - because it is just that good!  Since I already had the Rigatoni, I didn't want to repeat it for the pork.  I wanted to make Polenta, but since my mission was to wow my brother-in-law, and the fact that my husband is not a huge fan, I decided to do Garlic, Parmesan, Mashed Potatoes.  

I roasted several heads of garlic in the oven while the veg was cooking, and boiled up 10 pounds of potatoes.   I didn't use a lot of cream or milk, but instead added olive oil to the potatoes.  Mixed with the parm, they were super creamy.  I put those in a big pan too, ready to be heated in the oven the next day.  Before heating them back up, I added a layer of parm to give them a delicious golden crust. (Later, as we were setting them on the counter, my sister informed me that her kids didn't like mashed potatoes.  Oh well, they'll keep)
Since my dad thinks that everything needs a side of spaghetti (even spaghetti!), I made some of that for him with my homemade sauce.  Add to that a large fresh salad and - Done!
My counter was beautiful with all the huge trays of food.  I am just sorry I didn't get pictures of it all.  But when you have 22 people wanting the food, they don't want to wait for the pictures.  

For dessert, I made Bocconcini con Crema (cream puffs) with chocolate and vanilla puddings inside.  The first batch I made, I didn't stir them long enough, and they were a little flat.  I really don't mind making them, but knowing how many I wanted to make (ended up with 72), and already with blisters on my hand, I switched to my hand held mixer with the small paddles attached.  They turned out exactly as I had planned - light and airy.   I used my small cookie scoop since we had so many little hands.  I thought it would be easier for them to handle and less chance of pudding on the floor! 

 After we were done and everyone was full, we had a few leftovers.  BUT hardly any of the potatoes.  My sister was stunned!  She couldn't believe how much her kids ate.  At one point, one of my nieces said, "Mom, can you cook like this?", and my sister answered, "No.  Sorry."  It was the best compliment I got that evening.  That, and watching the kids exit the kitchen and grab little bites of potatoes on their way.

As for my brother-in-law.  Well, he may not be a true convert, but I think I opened his eyes to Italian as being more then frozen meatballs in a jarred sauce.  ;)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Frugal Mom Strikes Again

Not too long ago I was making potato soup for dinner.  With 8 of us in the family, it is a lot of potatoes to peel.  My daughter asked why I bothered peeling them since she and I like the 'rustic' feel of peels on our potatoes.  But, since my husband is like my father and doesn't like the peels, and I am my mother's daughter - they were getting peeled.

But when I looked at that pile of peels in a pile on my cutting board, I knew I had to do something with them.  So, I tossed them in a little olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and roasted them in the oven until they were golden and crispy.

They were delicious right off the pan, but added a great crunch to our soup that night too!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Resolutions for a Healthier New Year

So, it's a little late in the year already to be posting about resolutions.  However, since Chinese New Year was just the other day (and the celebrating really continues for two weeks), I will use that as my New Year post. 

Anyway, one of the things I am trying to do (besides the usual "I am going to work out") is concentrate on what is going in to this old body.  I decided to make Miso Soup.  This starts with a Dashi stock made from seaweed.  According to the Dr. Oz show, seaweed is one of those wonder foods.  You don't even have to eat it to get so many of the good benefits!  You can make it in soup and it pulls all those minerals into the water.  And the benefits of miso go on and on!

A few days ago we made a trek to the Korean Market (H-Mart ~ if you have one nearby, you really should go).  I got two kinds of seaweed.  One for the Dashi (kelp) and one to go into my soup to be eaten (wakame).

My two little ones were fascinated by the kelp and could hardly believe that it grew in the water.  They even interrupted breakfast to get a good look!

  • 8 inch kombu (dried kelp), cut in half
  • 2/3 oz. katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) - I couldn't find these this time, so I just left them out.
  • 4 and 1/4 cups water


Wipe the kombu with clean cloth. Put water in a deep pot and soak kombu in the water for about 10 minutes. Put the pot on low heat and remove the kombu just before the water boils. Add katsuobushi. Remove any foam that rise to the surface, and turn off the heat. Let it set until bonito flakes sink. Place a paper towel in a colander and strain the stock through it. This stock is called ichiban-dashi (first stock).
*Makes 4 cups

I also made a much bigger batch then this.  It freezes so well, but because I didn't use the bonito flakes, it is clear and I can use it for a starter for other dishes too.  The super sensitive may detect some 'fishy smell', but it so small, I don't even notice it anymore.

After I made the Dashi, and got it in all the containers, I made Miso Soup for my lunch.  
First I cut about 2 oz firm tofu into little squares.  Depending on how hungry you are, or how much you like tofu, you can add more or less.  It is such a good lean protein - I make sure I buy the non Genetically Modified type.

Bring the Dashi to just below boiling, add the tofu and 1-2 tsp of the Wakame seaweed.  It GROWS! so be careful how much you add.  Let that cook for a few minutes until the seaweed opens all the way up.  

Next add 1-2 teaspoons of the miso paste.  I buy the brown container.  My husband likes the spicier red (but not in his soup - just on everything else!).  You don't use a lot at a time, but it keeps well in the refrigerator if you keep it tightly sealed.


Gently stir in the miso until it dissolves.  Serve hot and enjoy!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Comfort Food for Uncomfortable Tummies

So, the game and family time was fun.  Right up until my sister called me Monday morning and told me that her youngest woke up sick and that she was extremely sorry.  Monday night it began.  One of my sons was sick right before bed.  And then another.  And another. 

I hoped and prayed my two youngest would somehow miss it.  But late in the afternoon on Tuesday, the last of the brothers joined in the party, followed by my oldest daughter.  And then Wednesday, the last of the 6 joined the group.  It's hard on a mama to watch her babies be sick, no matter how old they are!  Fortunately, James and I were spared!  I still don't know how, but I will take it.

So, I knew that it wouldn't be a heavy cooking week, but that these tummies would need something they could handle and still get some good protein and mama love.  I opted for chicken noodle soup.

This time I took my chicken breasts and while they were still mostly frozen, ran them through my food processor and made ground chicken.  I seasoned it all up, without overdoing it, but wished I had some fat in them just to make them more moist.  Then, I made tiny little meatballs.  I ended up with a whole cookie sheet of them.  They were adorable!

I took the broth that was left over from the wings, and removed all the fat.  This was easy as it had sat in the fridge over night.  It wasn't quite enough stock, so I added some chicken broth to it to fill my big stock pot.  The meatballs joined a little onion, garlic, carrot and celery in the pot.  I let it sit all day and even though they were sick, I could tell it was starting to do the trick!

For dinner I planned on making homemade egg noodles, but by that point, I was just tired from cleaning and sanitizing everything all day. I found some ditalini in my cupboard and added it to the pot.

I made such a big pot that we were able to eat it all week, which turned out to be a good thing because it was all anybody ever wanted.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Wing Feed

We had my sister's family over for the football game.  Two of her daughters and their families joined us, so we had a quiet gathering with the 23 of us!  

James made 30 pounds of wings - bbq, plain (for the younger set), and of course, buffalo.  We don't deep fry these, but he tries to stay true to his Buffalo roots in other ways.  We first bake them in the oven and collect the juices that run off.  After they have been turned and drained a few times, he finishes up with the browning.  

The bbq ones get coated in sauce and then go in under the broiler.  Careful!  There is a fine line between caramelized and burnt!  
The Buffalo wings get tossed in a bowl with Frank's Red Hot sauce and melted butter. 

We made sure to have plenty of celery and carrot sticks and bleu cheese on hand.  And LOTS of napkins at the ready.  The kids think it is a blast to just throw their bones into the "bone bowl" in the middle of the table.  Although, some of the older boys like to keep theirs on the plate to compare with their cousins, and see who ate more.

So, even though we lost the game - we had a great time with my sister and we plan on getting together next weekend for the play offs.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cranberry Shortbread

First, let me say that I am stunned by the amount of time that has gone by since I last posted.  I am still stalking following the other blogs, but just haven’t found the time to sit and blog.

I would like to say that it is because I am so busy running up mountains, or creating new things in my kitchen, but I think it is mostly from the stress of closing a business, finding a job (my husband, not me), and having family in for a wedding and Thanksgiving.
1111 Cranberry Shortbread Bars (1)

Anyway, I am here now, and will get on to what this post is about: Cranberry Filled Shortbread Bars!  I got a recipe from a friend and just had to try it.  It sounded so good and perfect for the holidays.  My kids loved it, and even my non-dessert eating husband thought it was good.

For the filling:
8 ounces (2 1/4 cups) fresh cranberries
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
3 Tbsp water

2 cups all-purpose flour (I am an unbleached only kind of gal)
2 Tbsp Cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and place the wire oven rack in the center of the oven.  Butter (or spray) a 9x9 inch pan.

Cranberry Filling:  In a medium saucepan, place all the filling ingredients.  Then, over medium-high heat, cook the ingredients until boiling.  Continue to boil the filling until it becomes thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes (mine took  a little longer – think altitude and humidity play a part).  Remove from heat and let cool while you make the shortbread.

Shortbread: In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, cornstarch and salt.
Use an electric mixer and cream the butter until smooth (about 1 minute).  Add the sugar and beat until smooth (another 2 minutes).  Beat in the vanilla extract.  Gently stir in the flour mixture with a wooden spoon just until incorporated.

Evenly press two-thirds of the shortbread into the bottom of the pan.  Then evenly spread the cranberry filling over the shortbread base, leaving a 1/4” border.
With the remaining dough, using your fingers, crumble it over the top of the cranberry filling.  Then lightly press the dough into the filling.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top.  Remove from oven, place on a wire rack, and while still hot, cut into 16 squares.  Allow to cool completely in pan.
1111 Cranberry Shortbread Bars (3)
Next time, I will double the recipe and use a bigger pan.  I will probably add some finely chopped almonds to the topping or maybe almond flavoring instead of vanilla.  I only had dark brown sugar on hand, and it worked just fine too.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Things I'll Never Buy Again

The sun has been shining and the Roma tomatoes were on sale.  Perfect combination for making homemade sun dried tomatoes.  I decided to do mine in slices.  I laid them all out on the cookie sheets and drizzled them with a little olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of salt.  I covered them with a layer of cheesecloth to keep any bugs or birds away, and then let the sun do the rest.

Since James started eating them like chips, I either had to start whacking his hand with a wooden spoon, or make some more.  Of course, as soon as I had them all cut and on the sheets, the weather took a turn for fall.  With temps in the high 60's the tomatoes weren't drying so fast.  
Into the oven they went.  I set it for my lowest setting (in my oven's case - 170 degrees) and just checked in every now and then.

The other thing I won't buy - salad dressings.  They really are so easy to make, and since I make enough to last just a few meals, I don't have to worry about all the preservatives that I can't pronounce.  We start with balsamic or red wine vinegar, add some garlic, shallots, lemon juice and salt.  If you let it sit for a bit before you add your extra-virgin olive oil, the acid in the vinegar and lemon break down the pungency of the garlic.  You can do it to your own taste but a good start is 1:2.  I put it all in a small Mason jar and when it is time for salad, I just give it a couple good shakes.

I can't believe we never did this before.  I tell you - I won't go back to the processed stuff!

(Homemade sauce will be another day!)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Healthy! Fun! Life!

With the temperatures dropping out of the upper 90s, I was able to give in to my need to bake!   And bake I did.  Once I finished, I realized that my baking actually represented the title of this blog.

First, I made whole wheat bread.  I even dug out the grain mill to grind my own flour.  It has been so long since I have made bread, that I made one mistake and the loaves weren’t as beautiful as normal – but still yummy. 
090211 Baking day (2)
So, there is the “healthy” part.

The next part was just "fun"!  My kids love cinnamon rolls and usually they are only on a special occasion table – a must for Easter and Christmas mornings! 
090211 Baking day (5)

And here is the Italian bread I made.
090211 Baking day (11)

What does bread have to do with “life”?  In the Bible, Jesus says “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35).    So bread is referred to as a part of our spiritual life.  And in Exodus, when Moses was leading the children of Israel out of Egypt.  They are tired and hungry, and God provides a kind of bread (manna) to sustain them.

For us, this bread represents life as a family.  A time to gather together and connect; to build relationships that will last a lifetime; to eat a meal that not only nourishes our bodies, but our souls as well.

And maybe, just maybe, that is why I am renewed by baking for my friends or family.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Mood Boost

I don't like the treadmill - I think we all know this - but today I decided to go ahead and spend some time on it.  A friend of mine suggested a tv show to help the time go by, but it's in the basement, and there isn't a tv down there.

Instead, I chose some music.  Normally, I would pick something pretty rocking, but today, I turned to a different sort of play list.  I typed in "Jeremy Camp" into my streaming radio, and let the phone do the rest.  I ended up spending 40 minutes on the treadmill, and since it is slipping from the move, I have to have it at a bit of an incline (and bummer!  no running), until James can tighten it up for me.

It turned into such a wonderful time.  I focused more on the music, then on the workout, and then focused more on my Savior then on the music.  It was a wonderful, refreshing time, and I was able to go back to the family and help them with their needs with a better attitude and outlook.