Sunday, November 30, 2008

Final Christmas Card Challenge

November is the last month for the Christmas Card Challenge. I now have 66 handmade cards done by ME for all my friends and family! I've never been able to make enough cards in the month of December to cover everyone. I've often felt a bit guilty about that. Not this year. I'm really looking forward to sending them out.

This card was done with a technique that use spray starch and Pearl Ex. It really looks nice and shimmery. The snowman is then heat embossed with white embossing powder to make him pop. I've used a lot of nontraditional Christmas colors for my cards this year.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Surprises

I took the holiday on the first year I got married. It seemed to be a holiday that shifted around the family a lot. No one person willing to take it on. My thinking was it was all the cooking. Even today 21 years later it doesn't scare me. I love to cook and feed my family good food. What does scare me is the offers of people wanting to bring stuff. With my husband's side of the family one does not know exactly what you'll get. Not that they are weird, but I don't know them well not growing up with them. I have to admit though there have been some odd surprises they have all been pretty good.

There was one year a green bean casserole with a one inch thick coating of sour cream on top. My husband HATES sour cream with a mad passion. You can't even sneak 1 T of it into a dish... his sour cream senses go off! If it were an actual useful sense I'd have him team up with Spiderman, but all of mankind doesn't need to be protected from sour cream. His cousin set the 9X13 inch dish of sour cream green beans right on the table. I could tell my husband was on the verge of retching. Since nothing on the table was nearly that big except the turkey I slyly suggested we set it on the kitchen counter as it took up SO much room. That I'd send a smaller bowl of it around. I got a silent very thankful look from my husband.

There was the year of the green salad with dried cranberries and sugar glazed pecans. We like savory salads at my house. So, biting into something sweet in a salad was about as shocking as the time I inadvertently sprinkled chocolate chips on my salad at a dimly lit salad bar not knowing it connected to a dessert bar. After the initial shock of the sweet bits and the tart dressing it was actually quite good.

This years surprise came in another form. Starting on Monday we began slowly cleaning the house a little bit each day. Then Wednesday was the push to finish everything up. My daughter volunteered to clean the bathroom. Not that we need a volunteer it's not that bad, but I was surprised she did it without being told to do it. I just let her run with it. Keeping any of my own ideas or suggestions to myself. She'd come out and say, "I'm putting the rugs into the washer" or "I just mopped the floor." I knew things sounded like they were going well. I let her have full credit for a job well done. The big surprise came Wednesday night when my son alerted me to a sign on the bathroom door.
He was very aggravated. "Mom," he says, "Can she do that?!!" I looked at the sign and had to chuckle. I knew exactly how she felt. I've wanted to put a similar sign on the front door many times and have my family check into a hotel for the night. You work so hard and the family mess up your hard work before the company even gets there. We have 2 bathrooms, so I told my son yes she can do that.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dead Man's Chicken

Remember when you were a kid and your parents laughed at you for doing something completely out of your realm of knowledge. You were a little offended that they laughed, because you didn't know any better. Then your parents saw that you were offended and realized it was a bit unkind of them to laugh at you. Realizing that you just didn't know. A bit of knowledge that you hadn't received yet in your young years. So, they try and smooth it over, but they still can't stop snickering. You are still a little miffed!

Well, the shoe was on the other foot a few weeks ago. I was the snickering parent. I saw things from the other side.

One evening my daughter had soccer practice and my day hadn't gone exactly as planned. I didn't get the chicken in the oven before I had to take her. So, I asked my 17 year old son, who does cook, to get the chicken baking. I didn't want us to be eating dinner at 9 O'clock at night. Baked chicken seemed pretty easy to me. No he had never baked a chicken, but how hard can it be. I went over the cleaning, seasoning and temperature for baking. He said he'd call me if he had any other questions. Even he said, "I've had baked chicken mom how hard can it be."

I arrived home from Soccer practice to a home smelling deliciously of baked chicken. Even better news according to my son and the meat thermometer it was done. Yeah! I rounded the corner to the kitchen and to my surprise there it was... doing what looked like to me the "dead man's float." A technique that the kids learned in swimming practice. Now that I think about it why would one learn the "dead man's float" in swimming practice? That's for another day. Back to the chicken... I couldn't help myself I laughed. My son asked why? I asked, "Why is the chicken doing the "dead man's float?" Thinking he'd think it was funny too. Now he's offend and says, "Well, I didn't know which way to put it?!" Then I'm realizing he honestly has hurt feelings and that was one detail I obviously left out of our 5 minute Baked Chicken 101. Now I'm back pedaling... he thinks the chicken is ruined. I say, "No the chicken is just fine. In fact some people like to bake their chickens and turkeys this way thinking it makes the breast moister. It's OK. I just don't bake them this way, so the sight of it made me laugh. It reminded me of the dead man's float."

He is less offended and even jokes along with me. He says in a deep authoritative voice, "Why yes mother, this is my special chicken baking technique called 'Dead Man's Chicken'."

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Homemade" Contradiction

The contradiction is a recipe for a certain food has the food already prepared as one of it's ingredients. This contradiction came up again today. Over the years I've encountered the contradiction several times and it just puzzles me and makes me laugh at the same time. I love to cook no secret there. Making something "homemade" or "from scratch" has never scared me in fact I relish it. I love knowing where the ingredients have come from and having control over what goes into a recipe. Over the years it has served me well as I make a great many fabulous foods that get raves. I love to spoil my friends and family with good food. I love to share my good recipes and I love to ask for and receive good recipes.

A few years ago I was at a friends house and she had the best baked beans I had ever eaten. Knowing she loved to cook as much as me I asked if she made them. We all know there are some pretty good canned versions of baked beans, but to make my own would be great. A resounding yes came back. I asked if I could have the recipe. She said, "Of course." This is what she gave me...

Baked Beans

4 (16-ounce) cans baked beans

1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup molasses
1 cup BBQ sauce
2 tablespoon yellow or brown mustard
5 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
1 (6-ounce) can french-fried onions, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In large bowl, mix together beans, pineapple, molasses, BBQ sauce, mustard, bacon, and a third of the onions. Add some salt and pepper, to taste. Pour beans in 9 by 13-inch casserole dish and sprinkle remaining crushed onions and bacon on top. Cook in oven for 1 hour or until beans brown and bubble. Serve warm. Serves: 12 servings

First open 4 cans of baked beans?! Where does the homemade come from? I've never made this recipe. We so seldom eat baked beans that if I'm going to open a can we're going to eat it as is.

The next homemade contradiction came a few years later when at a friends house for BBQ Ribs I found the sauce to be the best I'd ever eaten. Again a friend that loves to cook I was hoping she had made the sauce.... and she did. She said she'd love to share the recipe for it, but that she didn't have it written down. So, I picked her brain.

Kim's BBQ Sauce

1 bottle
of BBQ sauce, (any flavor will do)

1/4 cup Sweet pickle relish
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar

Add lemon if you want, add molasses if you want. Simmer all day.

Again with the bottle of BBQ sauce. Usually if I open a bottle of BBQ sauce it's going straight on the meat, but I actually have made this several times. Not exactly as above. It's something I taste as the day goes on and add a little of this and a little of that until it tastes good. The one thing that's odd, but I think is the most important is the pickle relish.

Today's "Homemade" contradiction really made me laugh only because of where the recipe came from. My daughter had pneumonia right now and she asked for homemade chicken soup for dinner. Not something I've made before. I knew I'd need a good chicken stock with which to start. So, I went straight to the Martha Stewart Website and got the below recipe.

Homemade Chicken Stock
This recipe makes more than you'll need for many recipes, but the stock can be frozen for up to four months. The gelatin from the chicken bones is released during the long cooking time yielding a rich, flavorful stock.
Makes 5 quarts.
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
6 sprigs fresh dill, or 2 teaspoons dried dill
6 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 dried bay leaves
2 leeks, washed, white and pale-green parts only, cut into thirds
2 carrots, scrubbed, cut into thirds
2 stalks celery, cut into thirds
1 four-pound chicken, cut into 6 pieces
1 1/2 pounds chicken wings
1 1/2 pounds chicken backs
12 cups (two 48-ounce cans) canned low-sodium chicken broth
Place peppercorns, dill, parsley, bay leaves, leeks, carrots, celery, chicken, wings, and backs into a large stockpot. Add stock and 6 cups cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a very gentle simmer, and cook for 45 minutes. Liquid should just bubble up to the surface. A skin will form on the surface of the liquid; skim this off with a slotted spoon, and discard. Repeat as needed. After 45 minutes, remove chicken from the pot, and set aside until it is cool enough to handle.
Remove the meat from the bones, set the meat aside, and return the bones to the pot. Shred the chicken, and set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use. Continue to simmer the stock, on the lowest heat possible, for 3 hours, skimming as needed. The chicken bones will begin to disintegrate. Strain the stock through a fine sieve into a very large bowl. Discard the solids. Place the bowl in an ice bath, and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to airtight containers. Stock may be refrigerated for three days or frozen for four months. Refrigerate for at least eight hours, or overnight. If storing, leave fat layer intact to the seal the stock. Before using, remove the layer of fat that has collected on the surface.

I'm reading the recipe. It's sounding very good. I have all the ingredients except leeks I'll substitute yellow onions. I prefer thyme to dill and I have fresh thyme in the garden. I get to the end of the recipe for "Homemade" Chicken Stock and it says "add 12 cups (two 48-ounce cans) canned low-sodium chicken broth." If I'm going to open canned chicken broth I may as well not bother with the rest of the recipe right?! It says to make chicken broth start with chicken broth. That just really confuses me. Why go to the extra trouble.

Well, when you're a mom and your child with pneumonia asks you to make her Chicken Noodle Soup from scratch you go ahead and follow the recipe. I'll report back as to how it was in the end.

How we liked it... I've made equally great chicken stock from using plain water to start. Add the other ingredients and you can't go wrong. I'd save your money and not add 12 cups of chicken broth and use 12 cups of water. The soup turned out great. Everyone including my "soup is not a meal" teenage son liked it. He did think it needed more chicken; where as, I thought it had too much chicken in it. My daughter had requested spaghetti noodles instead of the thicker egg noodles. I knew it wouldn't be bad with the change, but thought I wouldn't like it. I had broken the vermicelli up in 1 inch lengths and cooked them in the soup right along with the carrots. The vermicelli was fine and I liked it. Kind of reminded me of the little noodles in Lipton's Chicken Noodle soup that I loved as a child.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Daylight Savings... Not for a weak stomach

I'm wondering if anyone with a dog has experienced the daylight savings time change and how it messes with their pet’s internal time clock. My dogs have sure had problems over the years. I've been blessed with 3 great dogs over the past 21 years. Everyone one of them didn't like the time change in relation to what TIME they got their meal. The first 2 handle the change gracefully almost taking the mistake in asking for their meal at the old 5pm instead of the new 5pm as an "Oh my bad sorry. I’ll have a meal any time you give it to me."

Not my current dog, Little Star. She is a black miniature poodle. They are known to be quite a bossy breed. Yeah she's bossy, but she's my baby. She’s also a chow hound extraordinaire. She's 6 now and every year it takes about 6 weeks to convince her she's not getting her meal until it says 5pm on the clock. She’s quite insistent that she’s hungry right now! She stares you down with her intense dark brown eyes. Almost willing you like a marionette she walks you towards the food bowls. Then you catch a glance at the clock and snap out of it realizing it’s not 5pm yet. If she had a thumb she would have snapped her fingers and said, “Drats.”

Last spring she was pretty hopping mad about the time change. Every 10 minutes until the clock read 5 pm she'd ask "Can I have my meal now? How about now? And now?!" So, mad and disappointed in fact that it made me really think... do I need to put her stomach on daylight savings time? I decided then that I would no longer torture the poor thing. When fall came I’d keep her stomach on HER schedule.

This past Sunday came and we had all “fallen back” with our clocks. Sunday 4 pm rolled around and right on time she came to tell me it was dinner time ... the old 5pm it being 4 pm now. My son who feeds her told her no. She whirled on me and shot daggers with her cocoa brown eyes. I realized that I hadn't told anyone else our bargain about Poodle dinner time. So, I informed the family that Little Star's stomach was not on Daylight saving time any longer and she will be fed at the same time every day regardless of what the clock says. She was already my friend for life, but now she's just beaming with a belly full of food.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

October's Christmas Card Challenge

I made six of these cards. They are a paper piecing project that was actually quite easy. I saw the card on Valita's Designs & Fresh Folds. I originally made the first card with background colors of my choice thinking they'd look great. BUT the original colors were so nice I ended up duplicating them as close as I could for the other 5 cards in my monthly challenge. I printed out the pattern and it came out the perfect size to use right away. I clicked out the circle first. Then holding it over a scrap piece of paper I clipped out each package for a template. Keep the upper portion of template to use for placement of packages on your pattern paper circle. For the base pattern paper circle.... I don't have nestabilities, but I do have CM circle cutters and finding the size I needed it to work out great. On the burgundy top piece of ornament I actually dusted off a pair of pattern scissors. They were fun to play with and made me wonder why do so many people (including myself) pooh pooh pattern scissors. They do have their place in crafting. I inked the edges of everything except the ribbon using a finger dauber. I liked the subtleness of this look.