Sunday, March 11, 2018

Still sticking to a budget

Not quite four months in, I'm sticking to my grocery budget of $200 per week.

Turns out, I don't hate it, and it's encouraged me to do two things; one of which I should have done twenty years ago.

1. I'm switching to the Mediterranean diet which I feel is a healthy diet. I've always felt yogurt, oats, grains, greens, and legumes were the right way to eat. Turns out, it's a thing.

2. I am also wasting less food. For example, I had par-boiled some beans the other day, to have on hand for easy cooking. Promptly forgot they were only par-boiled and when I asked The Mister to make chili for dinner... Ahem. Well, they it was some mighty toothsome chili. I might've thrown it away, before, but today, Sunday, I am cooking my chili so it's ready to go for tomorrow.

I'm also making Ham and Bean Soup (Click here for the link) with the leftover ham from The Mister's lunches, and inviting my siblings over. And making homemade bread with slightly expired bread flour. Shh, don't tell. And making yogurt! Dang! Who put a bee in my bonnet?

Add to that some writing on book two of the Changeling Desires series, grooming the dogs, and grocery shopping. Well, I'm not sure the dogs are going to get groomed. We'll see how productive I really am.

Okay, back to sticking to my budget, I've found going to the grocery store only once a week doesn't really work for me. In my effort not to waste food, I don't want it to go bad waiting for me to cook it. And as I'm not always Johnny on the spot, if the veggies are particularly perishable, I wait to buy them until the day I'm going to cook them.

Perfect example of this: I was planning on making pad Thai last week. But, I thought, bean sprouts and cilantro are very finicky and I shouldn't risk it. Turns out, pad Thai never happened. Phew. This week, though, oh, it's happening. But, if I'd bought my veggies, just look how mad I'd be at myself.

Well, that's it for now.

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Monday, March 5, 2018

Chickpeas in Creamy Pink Sauce with Runny Eggs and Ham

In my quest to eat more vegetarian fare and Mediterranean-style meals, I find myself branching out more than I used to. And that's saying a lot because I've always been an adventurous eater. But the results aren't always noteworthy and this was one of those meals.

spicy cream chickpeas review
I tried something new, it was from Bon Appetit's March issue and they called it Spicy Creamy Chickpeas with Runny Eggs and Prosciutto. It's not vegetarian and not exactly Mediterranean, but I felt there were enough aspects of both that I'd give it a try. After all, I can pick the ham off.

I changed up my title as I didn't find this dish spicy in the least. I put 'creamy' after chickpeas as it wasn't the chickpeas that were creamy but the sauce. And, I used ham instead of prosciutto.

While The Mister didn't question whether this is a dish I would try, or not, he did briefly question whether he wanted to go out for a burger.

Turns out he liked it better than anyone else.

I love runny eggs. I like pink sauce on pasta. I really enjoy chickpeas. And, I like ham. But all together? It just didn't work for me. We ate it with toast instead of the flatbread the recipe suggested and that was the best part of the meal.

It burned on the bottom of the pan, so I had to avoid scooping too low. It called for a TON of cream. The eggs took a lot longer to cook to runny than the recipe suggests. Two minutes? More like 12.

So, while the husband enjoyed this meal, and my kids pondered moving in with Grandma (this normally doesn't affect whether I'll remake something), I decided this is not something I'm adding to the rotation. I did however learn something valuable from this recipe. If I need a lid for a skillet and don't have one, I can use a sheet pan. Genius!

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

All because I'm a sucker

Who else is a sucker for their kids?

My baby, looking up at me with quivering blue eyes: Mama, I just love your homemade chocolates.

Me, cold-hearted and steely eyed: You mean those chocolates I only make once a year at Christmas?

My baby, now with pleading hands: You didn't even let me help you make them at Christmas. Can we please make some chocolates for Valentine's. I just really, really, really, really love them, they're the best of all the chocolates. And want to spend time with you, because I love you so much.

Me, trying to remain distant, but feeling my resolve weaken: No, it's too much work. Plus, your hands get covered in chocolate, and it makes a mess of the kitchen. Do you really want to clean up the kitchen on Valentine's?

My baby, tears glistening at the edges of her eyes, and a sly smile spreading: Mama, I always wanted to learn. Don't you always say girls can do anything they want? That we're just as good as boys? Please teach me all your wise ways.

Me, breaking down into sobs: Alright, baby, alright! Of course, we can make chocolates even though they're a huge hassle and dirty every dish in the house. For you, anything.

My baby, turning to the side and exchanging a slick high-five with her older sister,who knows I can resist her ways with greater ease: Thanks mama! You're the best.

Me: Wait, what...

In my defense, this image was what was in my head... Yes, I have photographic proof of that one time I broke my baby's heart. And if you don't follow us on Instagram you didn't get to see our chocolate making fun back when it happened. So, check out the Instagram link down below.

There she is, watching with rapt attention, directly after I'd denied her the opportunity to help make Christmas chocolates. Uggh. You can see why I caved. But, we were making these as gifts and kid hands... shudder.

Yeah, so this is how I've spent my Valentine's morning. Not luxuriating and eating already made truffles. Nope. Making homemade truffle fillings so my kids can really trash the house this evening and dip them, themselves. Here's my dark chocolate approx. 75% melted. I needed to get my chocolate and my cream mixture down to 90 degrees F at about the same time. Extremely tricky, but I got close.

 The insides of a peanut butter truffle. In case you were curious

And the insides of mint truffles. Might have broken my blender on this one. It's because my immersion blender, that I haven't used in five years, wouldn't turn on. It does taste yummy. So, that's something.

Now, wish me luck that my kitchen and I make it out in one piece after tonight. It's not just my two girls, who are blessedly older, but also my three nieces ages 5, 7, and 10. Yup. Five little girls and a big batch of melted chocolate. What could go wrong?

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Who said you shouldn't make homemade puddin'

If you want an easy, but impressive, dessert, go with made from scratch chocolate pudding. Made from scratch anything has a wow factor associated with it, but facts are facts, made from scratch doesn't always translate well. See homemade cakes. Which brings me to wonder, why can't I make a cake from scratch and really love it? I dunno. I've tried. Goodness knows I've tried. Must be some chemical magic in the box mix that I can't recreate.

But, homemade chocolate pudding is another story. It tastes a million times better than store bought. Is made from only ingredients you can pronounce. And is so quick and so easy, but homemade, so you look like a culinary rock star. And who doesn't like looking like a culinary rock star?

I personally love it when my kids chant my name and declare I must open a restaurant that serves cheesy hotdogs, mac and cheese, and chocolate pudding. And yes, I know only one out of those three items are actually homemade by me. Still, I like it.

Scratch Chocolate Pudding
1/4 C cornstarch
1/3 C granulated sugar
skimpy 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
3 C whole milk
1 C good quality Semi-sweet chocolate chips. I prefer Guittard
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine cornstarch, sugar and salt into medium saucepan and stir to mix.

Pour milk into the above in a slow drizzle while whisking furiously, to avoid lumps.

Cook over medium low heat while alternating between whisking and scraping the bottom and sides of pot with a silicon spatula. You do not want to let this go too long without stirring, as the milk will potentially scorch to the bottom and not taste delicious.

Pay attention. After approximately 10 minutes, and just before your pudding comes to a simmer, the mixture will begin to thicken. Once it coats the back of a spoon and you can leave a trail with your finger, lick, it's thick enough. You really don't want this to go above a barely there simmer.

Now that it's perfectly thick, add the chocolate chips.

Whisk and spatula for about 2 minutes more to allow the chocolate chips to melt and incorporate.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. It'll look like your pudding is separating, but keep whisking and it'll all come together.

Press plastic wrap directly on the top of the pudding to avoid the dreaded skim and let cool. My Grandma would've spooned it into fancy bowls and let it cool on the kitchen counter, tempting us until dinner was through. I cooled mine in the fridge this time for about an hour. It was still slightly warm when we ate it.

Most important step: top with a drizzle of cream. Yup, pure cream and prepare for old fashioned, creamy, homey, chocolaty goodness in every spoonful. Add more cream as needed.

This really brought me back to my childhood; when I licked the bowls clean. Mostly to savor every last drop of the cream. We ate a lot of desserts with a drizzle of cream over the top. Not whipped cream. Weird but good. But, now I know why my mom got after me for licking the bowls clean. Same reason I got after my kids for doing it.

Aww, love the sharing of an old-timey, family tradition. And to be clear, the tradition I'm talking about is not the licking of bowls.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Trouble shooting homemade yogurt

So, you want to make homemade yogurt, but it seems too daunting. Needing to stick to a rigid temperature schedule or all is lost, gives you heartburn. Maybe you're worried you'll give your family botulism. Or at the very least, you fear everyone who tries it will get food poisoning.

Take it from me, it'll be okay.

homemade yogurt troubleshoot
After the first time, it's easy. Not sitting on the front porch drinking a lemonade, easy. But, sitting on the front porch eating an ice cream cone that you have to lick from time to time because it's hot out, easy. But dang, the ice cream (yogurt) tastes so good, it's worth it.

I've had a time or two when it didn't work out or when I looked at it and thought... umm... I dunno, I'm just going to toss it. But, I think that comes with the fermenting territory. Go with your instincts. That one time I thought the yogurt had a pink-ish tinge to it, it probably didn't. It probably would've been fine to eat, but I'm not willing to risk it for the sake of a gallon of milk.

Then there was the time it didn't thicken, AT ALL. Who knows what went wrong. Too much starter. Too little starter. The milk didn't get hot enough, in the first place. Maybe I didn't cool it enough before adding the starter.

The point is, I've had two maybe three times where I wasted my milk and my time. That's it. And everyone who's eaten my yogurt is still alive. And now I can basically make a batch in my sleep.

It's worth it to me to know exactly what's in my yogurt, milk and starter yogurt. That means no preservatives, no thickeners, and no sugar. And no yogurt tastes as good as my yogurt.

The picture above is my most recent batch just after fermentation. See how thick it is. That's before any straining. That spoon wasn't going anywhere. I wanted to share my experience here because I made several, we'll call them, mistakes in its making.

I didn't let the milk get up to 180 F. It made it to 178 and change F. That was after I selected the yogurt/boil function on my Instant Pot and then let it slow cook low pressure for another 30 minutes. I wasn't about to wait any longer.

It cooled to under 110 F. Which is a little cooler than normal, because I wasn't exactly Johnny on the spot with my thermometer.

I did use exactly 4 Tbl. of starter. So that I got right.

But, I let it go for about 11 hours, instead of ten.

All this just goes to show, I made the perfect pot of thick, tangy homemade yogurt with an imperfect process.

If you're trying the Mediterranean diet, or just want to ditch the sugars in too many commercial yogurt brands, give homemade yogurt a try with this recipe and tutorial. You won't go back to store bought.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Perfectly cooked chickpeas/garbanzo beans

Chickpea or garbanzo bean? I say chickpea. Except when I say garbanzo bean.

As I continue incorporating the Mediterranean ways into my way of cooking, via the Mediterranean diet, I'm becoming more familiar with these versatile legumes. Okay, who are we kidding, I am intimately familiar with hummus... and falafal. But I haven't really cooked with chickpeas myself. I just devour them at every Middle Eastern restaurant I visit.

homemade chickpeas
But not today.

Today we cook chickpeas from scratch.  And not in the Instant Pot, like I had originally planned when I bought the dang thing, because I've been burned too many times, now. Thanks Instant Pot/bean ruiner.

Chickpeas from scratch
1 lb. chickpeas
Small palmful Salt, approx. 1 teaspoon... maybe

First, sort and rinse chickpeas. Beans are packaged au natural. That means they haven't been washed and can include bits of grit. So I just pour the package into a colander and rinse while running my fingers through the beans, looking for anything unsavory. p.s. I've yet to find a rock, but I still do it.

Then, because I am not smart enough to pre-plan, quick soak the beans. If you are the type who is on top of things, you can soak your beans the night before. Or even sprout them. This is something I want to try as I'm really into fermenting. Just not, that into fermenting to have already tried it.

This means, bring eight cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Add 1 lb chickpeas to boiling water. Bring back to a boil and let boil for 3 minutes, or so. Remove pot from heat, cover, and let sit for an hour.

Now, this just gets us to soaked.  They aren't cooked yet.

Drain chickpeas.

Add enough fresh water to cover chickpeas by a couple inches and add your salt. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and let cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes. This results in a pleasantly tender, but not mush, chickpea.

Use in any number of dishes however you want. You can leave them as is, if you are eating the chickpeas whole, or you can cook them a bit more if you're going to mush them for hummus or even, dare I say it, refried beans for the more adventurous amongst us.

Stay tuned for all the chickpea fun.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Get some culture (s)

This is not my first go round making yogurt. But it is the closest I've come to, dare I say, a consistently good product.

There's a couple reasons for this, I suppose. The main one is my Instant  Pot's yogurt function. Now, I'm not singing the Pot's praises from the rafters, just yet. Unless I'm talking about steel cut oats and yogurt. In that case, where's my ladder?

The other reason is my starter. I used Siggi's. If you haven't given Siggi's Icelandic yogurt a try yet, just, do yourself a favor and run to the store. Thick, creamy as heck, and so, so good. I started buying Siggi's because it was lowest in sugar content. It's scary how much sugar is in the other major brands. Especially considering yogurt is supposed to be healthy. Not with 22 grams of sugar per serving, it's not.

But, Siggi's costs a pretty penny, and I'm on a budget. So that means homemade yogurt for this family. Luckily, it's dang easy with the Pot.  If you don't have the Pot, Click here for how to make yogurt without an Instant Pot.

If you do have an Instant Pot, here's a simple recipe for how to make homemade yogurt. It seems like there are a lot of steps involved, and there are, but the steps are either really quick or take hours of hands-off time. So, it's not bad.

1 gallon milk (I use 2%)
4 Tbl plain or vanilla yogurt with live active cultures (I actually used vanilla and it worked fine)
That's it.

Special Equipment
8 qt Instant Pot Duo Plus (The one with the Yogurt button. If you have a smaller Instant pot, halve the ingredients)
instant read Thermometer
Silicone spatula for stirring
several vessels for straining. I use a collander, a large pot, and a mixing bowl
And a clean tea towel

How to make Yogurt in an Instant Pot 
1. Start time is important. I always start before 10 am. That way you're not waiting up until 2 in the morning or something awful.

2. Pour 1 gallon milk into Instant Pot's bowl and have your 4 Tbl of starter yogurt set aside in a bowl and ready to go.

3. Secure Pot's lid. Apparently it doesn't matter if the steam release handle is open or closed, but I always do this with it closed.

4. Push Yogurt button until BOIL, pressure amount: more, comes up, and let it do it's thing. It takes 30 minutes, maybe. I don't pay that much attention.

What's happening is you're heating the milk high enough to denature the proteins.  This allows the whey proteins to bind to water and make a desirable texture in yogurt. Thanks Google.

5. Remove lid carefully so you don't burn yourself, stir the milk gently (don't scrape the bottom in case any milk has scalded), and take the milk's temperature.

But if you're anything like me, your milk will NOT be up to 180 F. It'll be more like 170 F. I don't know if it's because I live at a higher elevation, or what, but I always have to take one more step. If yours is up to 180 Yeah! Skip step 6.

6. Turn off Instant Pot and push the Slow Cook Button, pressure amount: less. Set it for 30 minutes. Again, I keep my steam release handle in the closed position. Once the 30 minutes is up, take temperature. I'm usually up to the 180 F. If it's 179, I'd just go with it.

7. Cool the yogurt to 110 degrees. You  can leave it on your counter and let it cool naturally, but I am impatient so put it in my sink with cold water. Sometimes ice, too. Now, watch it very carefully. It'll cool faster than you think if you use cold water. Just a few minutes. Take the temperature after about 3 minutes and probably every minute after that until it's at 110 F. Always stir gently before taking the temperature.

8. When it's 110 F. set Instant Pot bowl on counter and remove 1 cup of warm milk. Pour the warm milk into the reserved 4 Tbl of starter yogurt. Stir until all lumps are gone. Pour the yogurt/milk back into the rest of the warm milk, still in the Instant Pot bowl. Stir gently to incorporate the yogurt cultures throughout.

9. Place Instant Pot bowl back in Instant Pot. Push Yogurt Button until pressure amount: normal comes up and set your timer to 10 hours. This can be a personal preference, but I find 10 hours gives me a nice, gentle tang and good thickness. You can do it more, 12 hours even, or less, 8 hours, for instance. But I've had good success with 10.

10. After the 10 hour ferment, your yogurt should be thick enough a spoon can stand upright in the middle, or pretty close to it. Remove bowl from Instant Pot, pour yogurt into a large bowl, cover, and let cool in refrigerator over night.

11. Next morning, assemble your straining equipment. Place tea towel in strainer. Place strainer in mixing bowl. Place mixing bowl in large stock pot. If you have a better method than this, please use it. Mine's pretty cobbled together. But it works and I didn't have to buy any special yogurt straining equipment.

Carefully pour yogurt into the strainer with the tea towel. Put back in refrigerator and let strain for several hours. You may need to dump out some of the whey to allow your yogurt to strain appropriately. My mixing bowl isn't tall enough, so my strainer bottom ends up in the whey. You can see how this would be a problem.

BUT DON'T THROW AWAY YOUR WHEY!! Keep it. Make pancakes and biscuits later in the week. It really is that light green color. In fact, make these fluffy, wonderful biscuits.

12. Pour strained yogurt into your Kitchen Aid and whip it, whip it good until it's light, smooth, and just a touch fluffy.

13. Store in fridge for up to two weeks, I'd say. That's about how long I let mine go and haven't died. I always put a piece of tape on the lid, and make note of the date the yogurt was made.


Update 2-12-2018 Check out the post I made on trouble shooting the yogurt making process, and don't stress it too much, it'll work out fine.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A couple of girls and SCIENCE

Lately at the Hearth we've been working on the girls' science fair projects.

The completely voluntary science fair.

That's okay. I love that my girls love science, even if it's not mandatory science. One wants to be a vet, what pre-teen girl doesn't? And the other a chemist. Okay, the be fair, she wants to be a potion-maker. But I've informed her that's a chemist. And she's completely on board with it.

Luckily, The Mister is all about science. I help the girls with their English/History/Girl Scouts stuff. He's in charge of the science/math/tech/computer stuff. It's a nice balance. Aw, love.

The Great Egg Launch
Yeah, you read that right. My Youngest wanted to make an egg tosser. The boy in The Mister was giddy over this project. The nerd proceeded to make us research free body diagrams, force, gravity, and throwing arcs. I mean, what little kid has a free body diagram on her board? This kid.

egg tosser

No neighboring houses were targeted in the name of science. It was too cold.

I don't know what to call this one... Which chemical reaction makes a car go the furthest
My Oldest wanted to make chemical reactions. The boy in The Mister also loved this because explosions. He he he. She learned that by combining baking soda and vinegar you produce carbon dioxide and that Mentos and Diet Coke isn't actually a chemical reaction, it's a physical reaction called nucleation. I dunno. Science.

Ha ha. Our first attempt. The Mister in action, carefully placing the car down and RUNNING. We thought it would be a grand, fiery explosion. He made us stand 50 feet away and wear protective eye wear. Nothing happened.

Okay, this is what happened. The vinegar only reacted with the outer layer of baking soda, hardening the inner layer. Thus, a disappointing performance.

Several Mentos and Diet Coke experiments later, and the car finally moved. But we had to crush the Mentos and shake up the car, then put it down. So much for safety regulations.

Well, the good news is both kids and dad had fun. And girls and science gets another win.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Asian Inspired Lettuce Wraps

Contrary to popular opinion, these are not Thai lettuce wraps, though that's what I've always called them. They have peanut butter, that makes them Thai, or so I thought.

Upon further research, satay and spicy peanut sauces originated further down the Malay peninsula and Indonesian archipelago. So, in an effort to give credit where credit is due, these are now called Asian inspired lettuce wraps.

eve rousseau
Lettuce wraps themselves, aren't even of Asian origin. They're either a British or American invention. So, Asian inspired seems the best way to go. Besides, I use a variety of ingredients from across Asia, so I can't pinpoint an area of origin. But be aware, they are exceptionally yummy.

Don't let the list of ingredients dissuade you from making this recipe. None are too exotic to find in your every day grocery store and many you'll already have on hand in your pantry. And, aside from some minor mincing and chopping and dicing, most everything else just gets stirred up. This is a quick-cooking recipe. You'll have dinner on the table in 30 minutes. This serves my family of four with enough left over for a couple lunches the next day.

Asian Inspired Lettuce Wraps
Bib lettuce
2 Tbl. veg oil
1.5 lb ground turkey or chicken
1 onion, diced
1 inch piece of ginger root, peeled and minced fine. This is approximately 2 heaping tsps. of ginger, I'd say
2-8 oz. cans diced water chestnuts
Salt and pepper to taste
Splash of water

4 Tbl. soy sauce
2 Tbl. creamy peanut butter
1 Tbl. honey
2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
dash of garlic powder
squirt of Sriracha
3 Tbl. Teriyaki sauce (even better if it includes sesame seeds)
Dash of sesame oil if you have it. I didn't, but it wouldn't hurt

Pickled carrots
3 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1/2 C. rice wine vinegar
1 Tbl. white sugar
1/4 tsp. Kosher salt

Cucumber cut into matchsticks
Lime wedge
Green onions, diced
Extra Sriracha

Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 Tbl. oil and saute diced onion until translucent. Add minced ginger and cook for a couple minutes until fragrant, but not brown. Add ground turkey or chicken and cook until cooked through and browned. Add diced water chestnuts when meat is cooked through. I love the bite water chestnuts add to this dish. You don't want to cook them, you want them crunchy. If the meat mixture is over-browning on the bottom of pan, add a splash of water, but no more than 1/4 cup, I'd say. Scrape bottom of skillet.

Meanwhile, make sauce.
Place all sauce ingredients in bowl and whisk until combined. Add to cooked meat mixture and let simmer until everything is warm.

Meanwhile, make pickled carrots
Add all ingredients in bowl and let sit until ready to eat. You can do this a couple hours in advance.

Meanwhile, prepare garnish and lettuce cups
Cut cucumber, slice limes into wedges, dice green onions, wash cilantro, and wash and break apart lettuce cups.

To serve, place a couple lettuce cups on everyone's plate, scoop out a nice serving of the meat mixture into each lettuce cup, top with garnishes of choice, and devour.

This is sure to become a staple in your dinner rotation.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Too scared to buy groceries

My grocery list this week stared me down and flipped me the bird, leaving me afraid to load up my cart.

So, what did I do? Crossed off everything that wasn't absolutely necessary. Peanut Butter? The kids can scrape the jar clean. Pecorino cheese (I like it better than Parmesan) for pasta? Unnecessary! Aluminum foil? An extravagance we can live without. Psst don't tell my sister, but I snuck over to her house and took a square. Turns out it wasn't something I could live without, but now, I am fighting with myself not to save that square in case I need foil again before I get around to buying some.

And then, I ended up spending only around $130.00. I need to buy a few more things, but I'm still going to end up around $145. Far below the $200 I am allotted. The peanut butter, cheese and foil would've been fine.

What happened to the woman who would spend a fortune on groceries without blinking? She is long gone and it only took a little over a month. I just kept thinking, how much will everything cost at the other store? I can't risk it.

I suppose the more I do this, the better I'll get, but in the meantime, we are working on living (mostly) without, and yes, like my Grandma would've done when I was a kid, the foil is sitting in my drawer. Just in case.

Thanks, Sister!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Perfect drop biscuits made with buttermilk or whey

If you make one thing I've shared all these years, make these biscuits. This is it. The one recipe I want you to make. My signature recipe.

buttermilk whey biscuits
When I have my grandparents over for dinner, I always make these biscuits. My Grandpa, who is the best, will forgo dessert every time for one more biscuit with jam. I wonder if it reminds him of a simpler time. He lost his mother at a very young age and had to take over the household chores, cooking and cleaning, while his dad and brothers worked during the great depression. In Oklahoma, no less. So, just know, these biscuits are special.

They're not the most beautiful. I'll give that award to rolled biscuits. But, my mom made drop biscuits, and that's what I make. They're craggy and tender and buttery and light, and beautifully easy. And that's beautiful enough for me.

Two things about these biscuits. You need buttermilk or whey (if you make yogurt and if you don't make yogurt, try it with this easy recipe), on hand. I quite often have both. Whey makes for a seriously soft crumb. The Mister prefers a whey biscuit to a buttermilk biscuit. And, they're a bit fussy. By that I mean, you have to melt the butter beforehand. If you forget, you have to wait a minute or two while the butter melts and cools so it isn't blazing hot. But once you get the hang of it, you can crank them out lickity split.

Best Buttermilk Drop Biscuits made from scratch
adapted from America's Test Kitchen

2 Cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 Cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 Cup cold buttermilk or cold whey (I know, that's me for you. Random, weird-ass ingredient nobody else has)

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Now, the very next thing you must do, before anything else, is get a small saucepan, put your stick of butter in it, and start melting it over low heat.  As soon as it's mostly melted, remove it from the heat and let the residual heat from the warm pot melt the rest. This will also help cool the butter a bit faster.   

You want the melted butter to range in temperature from room temperature to just a bit warm.  The magic comes when you add the melted butter to the cold buttermilk or whey!

Combine all the dry ingredients in a  large-ish bowl.

Pour your buttermilk into a measuring cup, then pour the cooled, melted butter into the buttermilk.  Stir.  You want the cold buttermilk to rapidly cool the butter so that it makes hard little butter bits in the buttermilk. The reason for this is SCIENCE!!!  Once the biscuits go in the oven, the butter is going to melt and create steam which is going to make for light and fluffy drop biscuits.  

See, the cold buttermilk has turned the melted butter into hardened butter bits.

Now, pour your buttermilk/hardened butter bits mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  

On a cookie sheet topped with parchment, portion out the dough into 12 dough balls.  I like to make them taller versus wider. This is because I find splitting a tall biscuit easier than a flat biscuit. Pro tip, there.

Now, I cook mine for 12 to 13 minutes. They come out lightly golden, perfectly poofed, and wonderful. Yours might take 11 minutes. Or 15. Pay attention the first couple of times. You're not looking for dark golden brown here.

buttermilk drop biscuits
And that's it. My family doesn't even let them cool before they're splitting them open and slathering on butter and jam.

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Friday, January 5, 2018

OMG Soup part deux. Life on a budget.

Eating on a budget has some challenges. I made excellent Instant Pot Stuffed Cabbage and had ingredients left over. In the olden days, wanting to make something easy the next day, I'd have headed to the store after dropping the young off to school, bought some artisinal rolls made with local, Utah cheese, some nice peppers, maybe a tossed salad and some exotic fruit, and would have made loose meat sandwiches for dinner.

Now I can't do that.

scratch bean soup
So, instead, I considered what I had. One pound of ground beef, half a bottle V-8, all my usual veggies... Well, that's the beginning of soup, right there. And, I had a base recipe to go off of, this more involved soup that tastes amazing, by the way, and is only more involved because I dredge and brown stew meat. Plus, bonus points, I get to free-style cook; cook intuitively with only my instincts to go off of, which I love!

Don't stress if we don't have exactly the same ingredients. Use what you've got and let me know how you did it so I can try it your way, next time. Every summer when they're in season, my local grocery store will roast you a bushel of Hatch chiles. I then portion them out and freeze them until needed. Remember to peel off the blackened skin. That's not delicious.

Let's make soup.

1 lb ground beef
1 onion, diced
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 ribs celery, diced or sliced to your specifications
Frozen roasted Hatch peppers. Again, this might be unique to my soup, but it added some nice flavor. **Peeled, thawed, and diced
1 1/2 C. Soup base. A mix of beans, lentils, oats and groats. I use Bob's Red Mill.
Some V-8. I had about 3 cups. If you have more, use it. If you don't have it, that's fine.
Beef base
A couple Parmesan rinds.
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

In large dutch oven, add two Tbl. olive oil. Saute onions until translucent over medium heat.

Add ground beef and brown until dark brown and flavorful. Season with salt and pepper.

Add carrots and celery and cook until just beginning to soften.

Add peppers and soup base to pot.

Fill dutch oven with liquid until it's two inches from the top. I used a combo of V-8 and water. Scrape the browned bits off bottom of pot.

Throw in some beef base or chicken base (I'd normally use chicken, but had run out, so beef it was) equivalent to how much water you are using.

Add a couple Parmesan rinds for flavor and to thicken the soup a bit.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil and let simmer with lid on but slightly askew. This is where you'll have to read your soup base instructions. Mine says to cook for 1 1/2 hours, but that leaves everything awfully toothsome. So, I tack on an extra hour and go 2 1/2 hours.

Serve with the buttermilk biscuit recipe I'll share with you Monday and everyone will declare you to be the hero of the night. And I'm awfully vain, so I like being the hero of the night.

Here's the link to the perfect drop biscuits

And, on top of all this fun we've already had, hopefully the soup and biscuits will last you two meals. Now, that's a good time in my book.

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Instant Pot Stuffed Cabbage Rolls 1st time success

There's a puzzle piece missing in my life. Several, actually. But in this case, I need a friend with an Eastern European Jewish American mother, willing to take me under her wing and teach me all she knows.

As I currently don't have that level of support, but am taking applications, really sending out bribes, I was all on my own to figure stuffed cabbage rolls out. Also, I have never made an actual main course in my Instant Pot. So, this was a double first-time adventure.

I mainly used two recipes already available online. Grandma Lil's and my internet crush, Smitten Kitchen to come up with my own version of stuffed cabbage. And, I finally used the saute function on the Pot.

Let's get to it.

stuffed cabbage

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
1 head cabbage, I used regular green cabbage
1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, diced fine
1 large parsnip, grated (I love parsnips! Other recipes also used carrot, but not me)
1/2 C. uncooked white rice
3 C. Spicy V-8 plus an extra splash or two
1/4 C. brown sugar
4 Tbl. lemon juice, I used bottled cause it's what I had
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

1. Par-cook cabbage. With trivet in bottom of Instant Pot, place cabbage head in whole. Select pressure cook, 5 minutes. I unfortunately only cooked mine for two minutes, and the middle was still raw. So, in doing further research, I'd up it to 5 minutes. Quick steam release when 5 minutes is up. The first couple leaves were a bit mush. I picked those off and saved them to layer on the bottom of the Pot. Apparently tomato-based dishes like to scorch.

2. Using the saute function on the Pot, add a couple tablespoons olive oil and saute the onions for a few minutes until translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add the grated parsnip, another sprinkling of salt, and saute for another few minutes until softened. Set aside to cool. Wash Pot.

3. Filling: In large bowl mix ground beef, uncooked rice, a good pinch of salt, you want your filling to be well-seasoned, some pepper, and a splash or two of V-8. In other recipes they used tomato paste, but I didn't want to open a tomato paste just for a tablespoon or two, so I went with the tomato juice I was using for the sauce. Add sauteed onions and parsnips and mix until just combined.

4. Sauce: In medium bowl combine Spicy V-8, brown sugar, lemon juice, a Tbl. of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until needed.

5. Rolls: Carefully pull off cabbage leaves and lay them flat. Cut off the bottom of  leaf where the vein is thick. It'll make folding unwieldy.

6. Place a scoop of meat mixture in the bottom-middle. Fold either side over the meat and then roll it up to the top. Continue until the cabbage leaves and or meat mixture is gone. I was stingy with the meat mixture, or something, but I ran out of cabbage leaves before I ran out of filling. So, I made some really pathetic rolls using raw cabbage that I kind of sandwiched around the filling. It worked fine.

7. Place a couple cabbage leaves in bottom of pot. Put trivet over cabbage leaves. Stack cabbage rolls in single layer on top of trivet. Pour a nice dousing of sauce over cabbage rolls. Cover the first layer with cabbage leaves or chopped up cabbage core and place another layer of rolls on top. Pour rest of the sauce over. Make sure you don't go beyond the max capacity for the Instant Pot. The rolls will swell thanks to the uncooked rice.

8. Here's where things get a bit sketchy. I had to leave before my cabbage rolls were done cooking. So, I had a couple things to consider. I could cook it on high pressure for 9 minutes, as one recipe suggested, and let it finish cooking until it naturally re-pressurized. But almost all the other recipes said cook for 18 minutes, let naturally re-pressurize for fifteen minutes, then quick release. So, I did my own weird thing and let them cook for about 16 minutes at high pressure, knowing the Mister would be home to do the quick release within about 20 minutes.

**Next time I make them, and there will be a next time, I'll cook them at 18 minutes, high pressure, let re-pressurize for 15 minutes, then quick release, so I'd recommend that method for you. Even though I was forced to go rogue.

9. Here's also where things didn't work out exactly to plan. As I wasn't home, the Mister tossed out the sauce the rolls were cooking in. Dagger to heart. So, when you make them, hold onto the sauce. If it's thin, remove the cabbage rolls and turn the Pot back to saute, letting the sauce reduce a bit. I imagine it's delicious, as the rolls were excellent and they cooked in the sauce. But I'm sure they would've been even better with.

Results: Both kids enjoyed the filling more than they enjoyed the cabbage around the filling. The adults though, enjoyed it as a whole. The parsnip added a sweet earthiness that I think really added something. And even though I used Spicy V-8, it wasn't the least bit spicy.

Give this a try and let me know what you think.

In case you want to make what I'm making, tomorrow's dinner will be my OMG soup and the best biscuits you'll ever eat. I'm using the other lb. of ground beef I thawed, and didn't use for this recipe, plus the left-over V-8. I've got carrots, onions, celery, beef base, and a bean soup-base already on hand.

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Cheers to the last month of 2017 and hope for a wonderful 2018

Happy 2018.

Now that the formalities are taken care of let me just say, the last week sucked! Sinus Infection. And despite an avowed dislike for antibiotics (I love my gut flora), I got a prescription and thankfully feel almost human again.

Luckily, my family ate during my illness thanks to pantry items, frozen meals, and my twelve year stepping up and wanting to cook. And the Mister didn't complain once as he helped me flush out my nasal cavities and carried cup of tea after cup of tea to my weakened form. Okay, I didn't make him neti-pot me. I did that myself. But he did everything else.

The best part, it was winter break. I didn't have to drag my pitiful ass out of bed to make breakfast and drive kids to school. And because my kids are fairly self-sufficient, I was able to fester in relative peace, watching as they tried riding the dog like a horse.

Christmas squalor built up a bit, but I couldn't have cared less because the pressure in the right side of my face felt like a balloon ready to pop. Well, that, and the Mister almost single-handedly installed my Christmas presents: new light fixtures. I've hated the lights in my house for almost ten years now. I did get up to help hold things and hand him tools as needed.

I even missed most of my annual New Year's Eve party. My sister pitied my mucus-filled soul and took over the event. Everyone had a blast while I slept for three hours straight for the first time in five days. Sorry helpful gut bacteria, I'm making homemade yogurt today, to help.

Oh, exciting budget news to report, the Mister showed me a graph yesterday, and we spent just over $800 on food and dining out for the month of December. DECEMBER! Fist pump. I am not only succeeding at staying on a budget, but am officially rocking it. Let's see how it continues.

I'm in the groove now and have found the most important part of sticking to a budget is flexibility. I can't be pinned down to a weekly menu, I just can't. I can have ideas and if I want to make them, fine, but if I want to make something else, I just gotta. So, the importance of the pantry and freezer can't be understated.

I also have the Mister grocery shop with me. It's time spent together which is always nice, even if we are checking prices and tracking the cost of what we're buying with a calculator.

Coming up later this week, I'm making stuffed cabbage rolls in the Instant Pot. I've never made stuffed cabbage rolls in my life! And, the best thing is, the cabbage rolls have been waiting to be made for coming on two weeks, now. Thank goodness cabbage sticks around.

Also, my second batch of Pot yogurt. Instant Pot yogurt, that is.

Now, where's my neti-pot?

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