Friday, March 30, 2007

"Hello! Cooking Hotline......"

For English, press one. Para espanol, oprima el numero dos. You have reached the home office of the Cooking Hotline. How may I help you?

Apparently my passion for cooking & baking makes me a good target for cooking questions. I actually LIKE it when people call me asking how to make something or what to do now or for a recipe suggestion. Here are some real life examples of calls placed to my cooking Hotline:

How do I make chocolate curls to top a cheesecake?

Simple! With a Hershey bar & a vegetable peeler. Just run the peeler along the side of the bar. As the bar softens a bit in your hand, start running the peeler along the softened edge to make nicer looking curls.

How do I blanch a potato?

Blanching is just quickly cooking a {usually} vegetable in boiling water then putting it in ice water to stop the cooking process. Depending on the size of your potato chunks, they only need to be in the boiling water a minute or two.

I assembled {but did not bake} a ravioli casserole to deliver to a friend tonight, but she had to cancel. What should I do with it? Can it just be refrigerated? Freeze it?

{Apparently I have not talked enough to this friend about OAMC.....} I recommend putting the casserole in the fridge for delivery tomorrow. The raviolis are already cooked all the way through so freezing them in the sauce, dethawing & baking might lead to mushiness.

What should I make for dinner tonight?? I have chicken/ground beef/pork chops dethawed in the fridge.

This is actually one of the more exciting types of Hotline calls as it allows me to express my creativity. After asking the caller if they have other types of pantry staples on hand, I am usually able to come up with something quick & yummy. {Although if their freezer were stocked with meals.....}

Can I use stew meat for beef kabobs?

Um, no. Although it is cut into little chunks for you already {deceiving, eh?} stew meat is a tough cut of beef, meant to be tenderized during a long simmering time in a stew. For kabobs, use a cut such as top sirloin cut into chunks {recommended by several websites I polled}.

One repeat caller loves to call me while at the supermarket. She asked the kabob question & calls to tell me what she wants to make for dinner & asks the Hotline what ingredients she needs. Sometimes she asks other things such as, "Between a scallion & a scallop, which one is the seafood?" I believe it was she who wanted to make fortune cookies for her Valentine's Day dessert. I had to restrain myself from jumping through the Hotline phone & screaming "NOOOOO!" {It's important to know the callers' relative cooking skills & abilities here.} I've made fortune cookies before; it teaches you lots of patience & attempts to callous your fingers against high temperatures. Caller promptly crossed it off her list.

Thank you for calling the Cooking Hotline. I have enjoyed assisting you in your culinary endeavors. Please feel free to call again. Good-byeeee!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Knitting Minds Need to Know

Well, actually just my own knitting mind. If you are pregnant & received a knitted baby gift that was "hand-wash only", how would you feel about that? Would it be a terrible pain?? Obviously if it were a hat or mittens or booties you wouldn't have to wash them that often & a sweater only if the wee one puked on it or whatnot. I realize that something {especially like a sweater} that is machine washable probably would be a lot more practical, eh?? Would you even appreciate a knitted gift?? Be honest, please. Obviously if you are expecting & you know me in real life, there is a good chance that I might want to knit something for your newest peanut. Considering how many hours go into the knitting part {not to mention the agonizing over the perfect pattern & picking the yarn ~ OY!}, I just want to know if I should just pick up something for your babe at Target instead ;>)

I guess if you are not pregnant, you could chime in here too. Have you ever received a knitted baby gift? Did you like it? If not, was it because you are just not into hand-made items or maybe it was dorky/grandmother-ish {no offense meant to grandmothers here}?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Celebrating 100 days...

We are celebrating the 100th day of school this week!! Hip, Hip, Hooray!! Since we only school 4 days per week, it has taken us a little longer than the public schools to reach the 100th day. Today Tatiana made herself a crown to wear all week & I inscribed it with the words, "I survived 100 days of Kindergarten."

Of course, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, so we made little peanut a crown too that says, "Future Homeschooler".

The books I have picked out for this week are:

Mrs. Bindergarten Celebrates the 100th day of Kindergarten {read this one on Monday~perfect intro for this week!!}
100 Hungry Ants
The Wolf's Chicken Stew {read this one yesterday}
I'll Teach My Dog 100 Words {read this one yesterday}
Centipede's 100 Shoes

Yesterday we all made signs to hang on the homeschool wall that said what we each could eat 100 of. {Tatiana: 100 pizzas & 100 ice cream cones, Sienna: 100 french fries, Me: 100 cups of Chai, Rick: 100 hershey kisses} Here we are the happy students with their 100 Cheerio necklaces {ok, well by the time Sienna's was done it had about 90-something}:

I also have planned to discuss what life was like 100 years ago, make a list of what $100 could buy, see how far 100 steps takes us from our house, & end the week with a celebration with 100 balloons and a 100 piece snack {after which I should probably do 100 sit-ups}! It will be a fun last week of school before Spring Break. As for April, I am planning a "Easter" unit study for the first week {if I can get my act together, book recommendations anyone??} and we will be doing animal-related
FIAR books for the rest of the month, capped off by a trip to the zoo on April 27th with my wonderful mother. I just love having school relate to other activities in our lives, especially since spring is {officially} here & al the little creatures are coming out to play. Makes so much sense that way!

I am already excited about the next school year & making plans for what sort of things to cover. I am thinking of adding cursive handwriting, some sort of creative writing/journaling, spanish & history. Sound like too much for a first-grader? We probably would not cover everything, everyday. For history I really like the idea of TruthQuest & using real books to teach. I especially like how this curriculum is about God's Hand throughout history. It seems like real books make things come alive for a child in a way that textbooks never can. Just yesterday we were reading the book Knitting Nell {about a girl who loves to knit!} and in one scene she is hugging a sheep. I asked Tatiana why she would do that. She said because wool comes from sheep & yarn is made from wool. {Insert jaw drop here.} I'm sure she remembered this from another awesome book we studied called "A New Coat for Anna". It was really cool. Well, we are off to homeschool group now for some friends, learning & fun. Hope everyone is having a lovely week!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What's in the freezer?

Beth's post inspired me to write this post & share what recipes I've recently put in the freezer. We mostly eat chicken, but I am thinking next round I will do some ground beef recipes. I can't wait until the weather warms up more so I can start grilling again. I *love* my grill!! {Probably should get the gas tank refilled so I can actually USE it.} Here are the items I made for my last session:

French Bread Pizzas w/Easy Pizza Sauce ~ this pizza sauce is SO incredibly easy....I added a pinch of sugar to sweeten it up a bit. I used a bag of french bread hoagie rolls from Sam's Club, $2.87 for 6 big rolls, which made 12 pizzas. Not bad, eh?

Honey Nut Chicken Strips from Rachel Ray's 365 No Repeats

Carribbean Chicken ~ light fruity flavor, probably will taste good grilled

Creamy Chicken Divan ~ this was yummy, but not super flavorful. More on the comforting side. I purchased a 4# bag of frozen broccoli florets at Sam's Club for $4.32. Seems like a great deal, especially considering that you've got only the usable florets & you don't have to spend any time chopping. I also used Healthy Request Cream of Chicken Soup & Lite Sour Cream to save on calories.

1 bunch broccoli ~ lightly steamed {or enough broccoli to barely cover the bottom of each pan}
1 can cream of chicken soup
4 c. cooked chicken, diced
1/3 t. poultry seasoning
16 oz. container sour cream
2 c. shredded cheddar
1 1/2 c. crushed Ritz crackers
3 T. slivered almonds
2 T. melted butter

This will make either two 8x8" pans or one 9x13". Place broccoli in the bottom of pan {if using frozen, no need to steam or dethaw}. In separate bowl, combine soup, chicken, poultry seasoning, salt, sour cream, and 1 cup shredded cheese. Spread mixture evenly over broccoli. Top with remaining cheese. Mix together crushed Ritz, almonds & melted butter. Sprinkle over the top of dish. Bake at 350° F for 35-40 or until topping is browned and filling is bubbly around the edges.

Pepperoni Ziti Casserole ~ I used whole wheat pasta & skim ricotta.

And then tonight for dessert I made Dirt Bombs, except I made them in mini-muffin tins {baking for only 13-15 minutes} so they'd be kid sized. {Seriously, can you really go wrong with anything dipped in butter then rolled in cinnamon-sugar???} Perfect for a play date snack, I think. {Little messy on the eating part though.} So far, two BIG thumbs-up from mom & daughter #2. YUM-O!!

The only thing I can't vouch for flavor-wise is the Honey Nut Chicken Strips. They seem like they're heavy on the spices, but we shall see. The only major problem I have been having for about the last 8 months is recipe storage. For the last 3 months I've actually been handwriting all the recipes I want to try out in a notebook!! I downloaded a free trial of Big Oven online, but then cheaped out when it came time to purchase the program. Also, I've read a lot of horror stories about computers crashing and entire recipe boxes being lost. I think I am just going to type out all my recipes into Word saving each recipe file, then print each one out and keep them in a binder. Kinda like my own personal cookbook. I really like something tangible that I can hold & see, as opposed to a computer database {which I have been using up until this point}. This way, I can easily share the recipes by copying & pasting from the Word file and I'll also have my "hard" copy for when I'm recipe planning. Whadda ya think? How do you store your recipes? I just love trying new recipes. I almost can't wait til the next round of OAMC. Guess I'll just start planning....

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Even the Best Laid Plans....

....go awry. I had all these high hopes about house cleaning. {And house cleaning is definitely not near the top of my "Things I Enjoy Doing" list.} I was going to start with the kitchen. I even looked up a kitchen spring cleaning plan {which I still will use when the time is right}. Then my part-part-time job started again, with less time to complete my work than usual. My freezer stash was also rapidly dwindling. Throw in a cheerleading scrapbook that I've been helping my cousin with & the biggest wrench of all, a neck injury, and all my plans went out the window. I don't know how it happened, but one morning I woke up with a really stiff neck. I thought it was just body aches from the cold I had at the same time, but things only progressively got worse. I couldn't even turn my head. And then there was the chronic pinching/pulling pain. I found myself staring at a leftover Vicodin prescription wondering if I shouldn't just take one. I am not a big medicator though. Needless to say, I couldn't even keep up with the day-to-day housework, let alone some big cleaning endeavors. I am still not fully healed, but well on my way to recovery. Tatiana & I will be venturing into the City tomorrow so I can have another massage therapy treatment. She is well-versed in mass transit, but I think for a child, it is something that never quite loses its magic. So, spring cleaning is still on my to-do list, but I guess I will have to wait to begin until at least next week. Who knows? Maybe somehow this week I can squeeze in time to clean out a junk drawer or two. {Yeah, I know. Who else has TWO junk drawers??} I also have big plans for refinishing a used dresser, putting all Tatiana's clothes in it & putting a free new mattress in her trundle to use as a guest bed. My deadline for that will be March 29th when my niece and sister-in-law will be having their quarterly sleepover at our house. It will motivate me to git 'er done. What is on your March to do list? Spring cleaning? Projects?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Aldi & Spring Cleaning

March is National Frozen Food Month! And will be spring cleaning month here on ASL. If you blog, feel free to join in the Spring Cleaning Fun & let us know how you are making your house happy this month. Once I am fully recovered from my cold, I will be happily cleaning & organizing all most areas of my house. {No, I am not pregnant/nesting/crazy.} I am looking forward to sharing some cool cleaning websites, tips & maybe some before/after pictures of my own house.

But, in honor of National Frozen Food Month, I thought we'd discuss one of many people's favorite discount food stores: Aldi. I used to shop there quite often as we lived in their backyard. Not figuratively. Literally. It was nice to just be able to walk to the end of the fence to pick up a gallon of milk or a $1.99 pizza. Now that we live about 20 minutes from the nearest one {and not near my main grocery stop, Woodman's} I don't shop there as often. Maybe once a month. I am planning on going more frequently though to try and cut down on our grocery bill. I am a huge kind of a food snob, so some things I just don't buy there. We recently tried their beef hot dogs & Rick said they were disgustingly greasy. {This from the guy that pretty much will eat whatever you put in front of him.} I do like their cheap canned veggies {for the kids} and their canned diced tomatoes for Spanish rice. I also have always like their Spaghetti sauce too. Last time I went, their milk & eggs were both more expensive than Woodman's, but I had to buy the milk anyway because I needed it. Their not-from-concentrate OJ was slightly more expensive per ounce than the 96 oz. jug of Tropicana I bought at my main grocer. I used to really love their french toast sticks too, until I discovered OAMC & just freeze my own pancakes/waffles/french toast.

Please help me save money at Aldi. So here are my questions: How often do you shop there? What do you love to buy there because it is a really great deal {and tastes good enough}? What will you not buy there because it is either not saving money or doesn't taste good?