Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gorgeous New Yarn

I went to a neat little yarn shop the other day, you know, the kind with amazing yarn in every color, thickness, and material in the world.  Ah, if I had a million dollars...  I did splurge and buy one skein I decided I couldn't live without.  It's a brand called Mini Mochi made of 80% Merino and 20% Nylon.   It was the color that stole my heart though.  A beautiful varigation of greens, purples and blues, all my favorites.  I'm not sure what this gorgeous new yarn will become, but I'm excited to find out :)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Dinner

Roasted Rosemary-Dijon Leg of Lamb
Roasted Rosemary-Garlic Red Potatoes
Creamed Peas
Strawberry Balsamic Pie

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

I have been having a lot of fun lately experimenting with homemade syrups.  Syrups from the store are usually loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup, and the ones that aren't can cost a pretty penny.  Making your own syrup is healthier, cheaper, and honestly it's just fun :)  The basics of making syrups are super simple, in fact, the basic recipe is called "Simple Syrup".  This is just equal parts sugar and water.  This type of syrup is good for flavoring tea, or homemade soda.  For thicker or "Heavy Syrup" the ratio is two parts sugar to one part water.  This is what you would use as a base for fruit syrups for pancakes, or, as in this this recipe, for Chocolate Syrup. The first time I made this, I was hooked.  It's so simple and so good. You will never want to buy the stuff in the brown plastic bottle again, trust me ;)

Chocolate Syrup

What You Need:

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

What You Do:

In medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.
Add water and stir until combined.
Bring to a boil over medium heat.
Boil for 3 minutes stirring constantly.  (Be careful not to let it boil over.)
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Pour into a glass jar and store in the refrigerator.

Add 1 tablespoon of syrup to a glass of cold milk for the best chocolate milk in the world!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Best Biscuits Ever

As delicious as yeast breads are, sometimes you just want something bread-like quickly.  Hence, the biscuit, that golden, soft, flaky, buttery disc of goodness.  As with most of my recipes, this was a work in progress for many years.  I made batch after batch of biscuits using various ingredients and amounts.  Luckily I had very willing taste testers :)  As with most things, the simplest turned out the best.  Here is my simple biscuit recipe.  Warning: They are really yummy and you can NOT eat just one!

Stephanie's Biscuits

What You Need:

2 cups unbleached white flour plus extra for rolling
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup lard (yes, folks, I said lard!)
3/4 cups milk

What You Do:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.
Cut in butter and lard with a pastry cutter until mixture is crumbly.
Add milk all at once and mix until combined.
Turn out onto floured surface and roll to about 1/2 inch thick.
Cut into biscuits using 3 inch biscuit cutter.
Re-roll leftover dough and cut again, repeating until all dough is used up.
Bake at 450 degrees for 12-15 minutes until puffy and golden brown.
Makes about 10 biscuits.

Serve with butter and jam for a yummy breakfast or afternoon snack.  If it's Saturday, whip up this easy country gravy and have biscuits and gravy for breakfast.

Country Gravy with Sausage

What You Need:

1/2 pound ground sausage
2 cups milk
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

What You Do:
In medium skillet, cook ground sausage until brown and crumbly.
Remove sausage, reserving drippings in pan.
In measuring cup, whisk flour into milk.  
Pour into pan with reserved drippings.
Add salt and pepper.
Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly, stirring often.
Serve over those yummy biscuits :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Menu Planning

"What's for dinner?"  I honestly don't like that question.  Especially when I'm asking myself at 5:00 pm.  I've found that the best way to keep our family on budget and non-stressed at dinner time is to make out a menu plan every week.  First I look through all of our local store ads online and write down the things that are on sale.  Then I take into account the things I have in the cupboard.  Then I come up with our breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the week on a cute little chart I print out and put up on the fridge.  The kids love this, and I love them NOT asking me what's for dinner every night!  I also know that I'm making the most of the grocery money because I am planning meals around what is on sale whenever possible.  It takes a little bit of time every week, but it is totally worth it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Keeping Birthdays Simple

Tonight we are celebrating my middle son's 8th birthday.  This got me to thinking about the modern standards for kid's birthdays.  I think in today's society, children's birthdays have really gotten out of hand.  It's seems to be the expected thing now to throw these huge parties, invite everyone in the class, and spend hundreds of dollars on cake, decorations and gifts.  After all, how much you love your child is measured by how much money you spend on them, right?  Sadly, much of our culture seems to think this way.  Of course you want your son or daughter to feel loved and valued, but isn't there a better way than buying them cheap plastic toys, (that they will break in a month) and sugaring them up with store bought cake loaded with chemicals and dyes, not to mention using the mountains of wrapping paper, balloons, streamers, plastic cup and plates that will end up in the landfill?  I think there is. 

Here are some thoughts/tips for keeping birthdays simple.

  • You don't have to throw a party every year-  Of course we always celebrate our birthdays as a family, and there will always be a cake and presents, but you don't have to have a full blown party every time.  Every few years is fine.  We try to rotate with our 3 boys so that each year one of them gets a "real" party.
  •  Keep the party small-  You don't need to invite every child in the classroom.  Really, you don't.  Keep the guest list to a few of your child's closest friends.  We usually aim for around 4 friends.
  • Limit gifts to one from each person-  I know this is a hard one, and we are not 100% strict on this, but it is the goal.  The reason for this is that I really want to impress upon my children to value giving more than receiving.  Instead of making the focus be "What do you want to get for your birthday?" we try to bring it back to giving by asking the rest of the family "What do you want to give?"  When each member of the family purposefully and thoughtfully chooses one gift for the recipient, it is a lot more meaningful than having a mountain of gifts that your child tears through, not even really knowing/caring who they are from.
  • Give homemade/non-plastic gifts-  After years of watching the piles of plastic toys amass in our kids rooms, most of them broken within weeks of being bought, I've gotten to the point where I've finally had enough.  Our kids do not need all this junk.  Simple, thoughtful gifts will mean so much more in the long run, especially when they are hand made.  Blankets, stuffed animals, hats and such, are some of the things I have made my boys that they still treasure.  For toys, choose traditional toys you know will last.  Books are highly valued in our household.  Puzzles and old-fashioned games are good options too.  My oldest son loves to draw, so for his last birthday I made him this with cute airplane fabric.
  • Make homemade cake-  Instead of store-bought cake, take a little extra time to make one.  And let the birthday boy/girl help you make it!  Kids love to be a part of making and decorating their own cake.  You can have some one-on-one time with your kiddo and create sweet family memories.  Plus, homemade cake tastes so much better and you know exactly what is in it.  I always let my kids choose the cake flavor, fruit filling, and frosting.  Sometimes the combos they come up with are interesting, but it is their cake, so I make it to order, lol.
  • Use homemade/reusable wrapping paper-  It always amazing me how much money people spend on wrapping paper and ribbons and bows only to have them ripped apart and thrown in the garbage.  I'm all for making things pretty, trust me, I love pretty things.  But when it's not something that lasts, I just can't justify the waste of money and resources.  Something as simple as using brown paper grocery bags with a nice ribbon is a really frugal, recyclable option. There are also some great ideas for making reusable fabric wrapping here and here.
Now these are not hard and fast rules, but they are goals I am trying to reach little by little.   It's not always easy.  Sometimes I struggle with guilt when I see the small, but thoughtfully chosen pile of gifts.  I wonder, will my child grow up and be resentfully that he didn't get a big birthday party every year?  But I know that teaching our children the value of simplicity and to be a generous giver and a grateful receiver, these are the things I want my children to hold on to.  I want them to remember the day of their birth being celebrated, not by the amount of money spent on them, or how many presents they got, but by the thoughtfulness and care taken to create lasting family memories of love and simple joy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New Hat

I saw this adorable hat on fuoriborgo's blog and I just had to make it!  It took me a few tries to get the gauge right because I used thicker yarn.  Here is the free pattern.  I used Vanna's Choice yarn in Dusty Purple with a size H hook and did the "baby" size pattern.  I made the flowers up.  I think it turned out great!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Muffin Making

I love to cook.  I especially love to bake.  Some people get stressed about cooking, but for me it's how I de-stress.  When things are crazy you will find me in the kitchen making a batch of blueberry-lemon scones, peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies or some new creation.  I think that's what I love about it, the creation. Taking handfuls of totally unpalatable stuff like ground up wheat, baking soda, and raw eggs, and throwing it together with butter and sugar to make delicious melt-in-your-mouth cookies.  Or how something as basic as flour, yeast and salt can become fresh baked bread, crisp and golden on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, whose tantalizing aroma fills the house. Today it's the scent of banana wafting from the kitchen.  Our local market has great deals on bananas when they get too ripe.  They are only 25 cents a pound right now, so today became muffin making day.  Muffins freeze really well so I can make several batches and save them for easy breakfasts.  They come in very handy on Sunday mornings when we're busy getting ready for church.  Just pop them straight from the freezer into the oven  and reheat for about 10 minutes.  You will have a warm, simple (but yummy!) breakfast in no time!

Banana Nut Muffins

What You Need:

3/4 cup unbleached white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup cane sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup honey
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

What You Do:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  
Grease muffin tin, set aside.  
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flours, baking powder, salt, sugar and cinnamon. 
 Set aside. 
 In small mixing bowl, whisk two eggs.  
Add milk, melted butter, and honey.  
Whisk until well combined.  
Add wet mixture to dry ingredients, stirring until just combined.  
Do not over mix.  
Gently fold in mashed banana and walnuts.  
Spoon evenly into greased muffin tin.  
Bake at 400 degrees  for 15 minutes.  
Makes 12 muffins.

This are especially delicious straight out of the oven slathered with butter!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Time to Dig

It finally feels like spring around here.  The sun is shining and daffodils are up in full force.  There are rumors of another frost (noooo!) but I'm hopeful things are warming up for good.  My garden last year did not turn out so well.  Between weeds and the deer, we lost a lot of produce.  This year we have a dog to hopefully keep the deer out of the yard, and I'm building some raised boxes with some free wood from our neighbors to help keep the weeds out.  But first we have a lot of digging to do to clear all the weeds and grass that have taken over my poor garden.  We spent a good part of yesterday out there and I'm heading back out again today to work on it a bit more.  Luckily the ground is so soft and the hula hoe is so awfully handy, that it is actually going pretty quickly.  My body is protesting from the unaccustomed exertion, but it is a good tired feeling.  You can crawl into bed after you've scrubbed the dirt out from under your fingernails and feel like you've earned a good night's sleep.  So I'm off to dig some more!

For breakfast this morning I made one of my favorites, quiche with spinach, bacon and onions.  So yummy!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Saturday Mornings

I am quite fond of Saturday mornings. Besides the obvious benefit of getting to sleep in (a little bit!) it is also the day I get to make breakfast.  We eat breakfast every day of course, but on Saturdays I have time to make real breakfast.  You know, fluffy golden pancakes covered in real maple syrup, plump juicy sausages, and eggs fried in butter till the yolks are just right.  I actually grew up never eating breakfast.  I wouldn't touch an egg to save my life and don't even mention oatmeal!  Fortunately I grew up and discovered the wonderful world of breakfast.  Over the years, as I have taught myself to cook from scratch, I have ditched the bisquick and packaged powdered gravy (yuck!) and learned how simple and delicious breakfast can be.  Homemade pancakes are definitely the family favorite.  I started with the recipe in my old Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, but I eventually came up with my own.  Here it is...

Honey-Wheat Pancakes

What You Need:

1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 beaten eggs
1 & 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup melted butter
2 T. honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract

What You Do:
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flours, baking powder, and salt.  
Set aside.
In small mixing bowl, whisk two eggs. 
 Add milk, melted butter, honey and vanilla.  
Whisk until well combined.  
Add wet mixture to dry ingredients, stirring until just combined.  
Batter will be lumpy. 
 Do not overmix.  
Pour a scant 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake onto hot griddle. 
Cook 1-2 minutes per side.
Makes 16 pancakes

Serve with plenty of real butter and warm pure maple syrup!

Friday, April 1, 2011

In the beginning...

I have been an avid blog reader for years, but for some reason I've never gotten around to creating my own. I thought it would be too difficult, too expensive , and besides who would want to read about my silly ideas anyway? Well, it turns out it's not too terribly complicated, it's free, and who knows?  Maybe I can even find someone interested in my ramblings. So I'm giving it a go...