Monday, September 28, 2015

The Ultimate Pioneer Home-Made Food - Beef Stew

 This is one of those old recipes that there's never been a written recipe for, at least that I know of. It's passed on from cook to cook, that's the way I learned it, and that's the way I'm passing it on to you!  Once you know how to make it, it's yours for life. Very simple, and very delicious.

Any cut of beef will work for stew. It used to be (back in the dark ages when I was a young wife just starting out) that "stew beef" was the throw-away meat left over from the other, more expensive cuts. You could get it for next to nothing, and it had lots of fat in it. Times have changed, however, and now "stew beef" is considered a cut of it's own and they charge premium prices for it. Don't let them fool you, and don't pay expensive prices for throw-away odds and ends of meat. Buy a cheap cut. It doesn't matter how tough, because the stewing for hours will soften up the toughest meat.

 I cheat a little bit here. An Au Jus gravy mix packet from the store has all the salt and beef bullion you will need. It's much quicker and easier than worrying about bullion, which I never use for anything else anyway, so never have in the pantry.

And that half an onion behind it is the next thing you'll need.

 This is called a mandolin, not to be confused with this one:

One is an instrument you play with your fingers, the other one will take your fingers off in a red hot second if you use it carelessly!

If you have one of these (and use it right) it will slice up that onion in a matter of seconds. If you don't have one, you can do it the old fashioned way, it's not a requirement, just a way to make your job quicker.

Once your beef is diced and your onion is sliced, put them in a skillet and brown them together. You don't want to cook the meat all the way through, you just want to brown the outside.

You don't have to do this step, either, if you're in a hurry. It just seals in the juices and keeps the flavor in the meat a little bit better than if you skip the browning.

That crispy dark brown on the edges is what you're looking for. That's the best, tasty part!

Toss them from the frying pan into the slow cooker.

This is the part where you add your seasonings.  Mix the Au Jus with water till the lumps are gone. Pour over your meat and onions.

Toss in a tablespoon or so of minced garlic, and a heavy sprinkling of ground sage, and maybe a little bit of pepper.  You won't need a lot of salt, because it's already in the Au Jus.

 Pour on three or four cups of water. It should cover everything in the pot. The exact amount will depend on the size of your slow cooker.

Turn your crock pot on high and walk away. That's all there is to do for the next three or four hours.  You can turn it on low and leave it for six to eight hours if you're going to be away from home.

About two hours before you want to eat, cut up four or five red potatos (regular spuds will work just fine, too) and a handful of baby carrots (one or two regular will do, too). Again, this amount will depend on how much your crock pot holds.

Here's a note for you:  Carrots will cook faster and more evenly if you split them down the center lengthwise so the heart is exposed. Cut them in half, then cut into bit size sizes.

Your pot will have cooked down, and the water will be way too low when you add the vegies, so top off the pot with warm water.

Put the lid back on and leave on high for at least two hours.

You can also add other things, like a can of corn or a handful or barley right now, if you'd like.

A few minutes before you want to serve it, mix a tablespoonful of corn starch with a half cup of hot water. Mix till it's smooth and liquid, then pour in. That will thicken it up to make it stew instead of just soup.

Serve with crackers, or with bread and butter. It will warm your tummy up better than anything else on a cold winter evening!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Anything boys can do, GIRLS can do better - AND in a skirt!

This morning while using my favorite procrastination tool (Facebook) I came across this post:

Hi Friends. I have this friend, ***************. And she has two beautiful daughters. Her oldest daughter, Matti, is in first grade this year. Matti is being bullied by others because she likes to wear bow ties and loves super heros. ******* & I are not ok with this. Will you post a selfie of you (or your daughter, grand daughter or girl friends) wearing your favorite super hero gear (or bow tie or anything else that's not "girlie but you love anyway) or doing your favorite non girlie activiy? Help us show Matti that it's ok for girls to like ‪#‎allthingsawesome‬! We love you Matti! You are perfect just the way you are! Thanks friends! Please feel free to share this post!
‪#‎bulliessuck‬ ‪#‎girlscantoo‬ ‪#‎superheros‬ ‪#‎ninjaturtles‬ ‪#‎showsomelove‬‪#‎hunting‬ ‪#‎fishing‬ ‪#‎keepfighting‬ ‪#‎likeagirl‬

So heres mine, Matti!

See this bed?

I built it! Not only that, I designed it!
Here's proof - this next photo is my driveway while we worked on building it.  Notice all the tools in that picture? There's a power sander (Riobi), a circular saw (Skil - the best you can have!), and a power drill and screwdriver (Black & Decker). I put the brand names in there so any guys reading this will know that I'm serious - I know my tools. They're mine, I didn't borrow them from a neighbor or my husband. (I don't think my husband has ever once used them.)

 After it was all built, we sanded, stained and sealed it. You can't see it, but theres a copy of an ancient sailing map that takes up the whole footboard. It's pretty awesome!

So after it was built and stained, we had to take the whole thing apart and drag it piece by piece into the house. Not easy, that headboard probably weighs 150 pounds!  Here's me putting it together in my bedroom. It doesn't really need those carriage bolts, the whole thing fits together like a jigsaw puzzles because I designed it that way - I designed it to be awesome! But the bolts are just extra secure.

Here's the finished bed!

So don't you girls ever let anyone tell you that something you want to do isn't "girly" enough, that it's not "gender appropriate" or that "girls aren't good at that sort of thing". 

We can do anything they can do! AND when we grow up, we can do it in skirts and high heels.  So the next time a boy challenges something you want to do, you just challenge him to walk ten feet in four inch stilletto heels. If he can't, or is too chicken to even try them on, then you just smile, nod and say "I thought so."

Then you go right on being your awesome super-girl self!


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Pioneer-Hippie-June-Cleaver Woman Cooking Show

It's always kind of annoyed me that you find these cooking shows that everyone is crazy and raving about, only to discover that the stuff they're serving up  is actually specialty gourmet food that no one in middle America has the ingredients for in their cabinet.

At no time in the history of the world have I ever gone to my fridge and said "Oh, I have some extra arugula and saffron, what shall I make with these?"

Number one, greens don't last more than a couple of days, and I only grocery shop every two weeks. I don't have a pristine garden in my backyard. Heck, I live in a suburban apartment, so I don't really have a backyard at all. So I can't run out and snip those extra fresh herbs that I don't normally use. Greens don't do well in the freezer or in a can, so they're not something I could stock up on for someday in the future.

And saffron?  Currently going for $48 for a half-ounce - yeah, call me cheap, but I'm never, ever going to cook with that! Ever.

Cooking with Dione Lucas originally aired in 1948. 
Recently, on one of the oldies channels that are so popular on TV now, I came across a cooking show that was more my style.
Ancient and outdated by today's standards, it's still in black and white, and the newest fabulous thing that the cook raves about is a stove where you can actually regulate the heat with that knob on the front. (I kid you not!)  That's more my kind of show. She showed how to make a beautiful cake the other day (the 'other day' being closer to 60+ years ago when it was filmed).

When did we forget that cooking does not require a box?  With all the health conscious "clean eating" things making the rounds right now, its becoming more popular to cook your own food without using anything processed. Which is great - but when did cooking without something-already-prepared-when-you- buy-it become such a novelty? I have a friend who is a grown woman, with grown children and grandkids, who has never made a loaf of bread in her entire life. She's terrified to even try without help, because there's some mystical myth about how the pioneers did it and it was so complicated and difficult. (it's not, trust me.) And that's exactly how I felt about crepes, until I tried making them recently, only to find out they're actually very easy to make (and super yummy to eat!)

yeah, that's me... the pioneer woman
Please don't mistake me - I am not a "foodie", nor am I super health conscious. I just want to feed my family decent food on a lower-middle-class budget.  I know people who look at me like I'm odd, and give me a hard time about being some sort of pioneer-hippie-June Cleaver woman, the Cliff Claven of homemaking because I know how to do these sorts of things. Well, I'll give you a secret - you learn a lot of this sort of thing when you grow up and live most of your life without being rich. Sure, someday I'd like to try cooking with white truffles ($220 an ounce!!) but I doubt it will be any time soon. That doesn't mean we can't eat decently in the meanwhile.

Honestly, folks, I promise you it's not that hard.There's always a learning curve when you first set out to learn how, because it's new. But don't let that get you down, it's worth it in the end.

this would be the hippie half
With this in mind, the recipes and  tutorials I post are for good, honest, old fashioned, home-made, non-processed food - with no boxes in sight! (well, not many of them anyway...) If I post a homemaking tip here, you can believe it's tested and approved by the average, American, working-middle-class girl.

If there's something you'd like a recipe or tip for, please let me know! If it's something I can help with, I will absolutely show how I do it - the old-fashioned-pioneer-hippie-June-Cleaver-woman way.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Surrounded by Boys

I complain (a lot) that I am the only female in our household. Even all our pets are boys. It's just not fair!

I've come to grips with the fact that I will never have pink curtains, or rose floral wallpaper in my bedroom (which is actually okay with me, I'm not a big fan of pink), and that I will only ever buy frilly little dresses for other people's little girls.

I've come to terms with "fair's fair" on the toilet seat issue. What's the point of fighting it when I'm vastly outnumbered.

I've learned that there are some battles worth fighting - but fart humor isn't one of them. Boys are going to be gross no matter how hard I try to teach them otherwise.

I've learned that guys need guy time, and that I really don't like fishing anyway, so I don't need to go on fishing trips with the fellas. It's okay if I get a manicure instead while they're out playing with slimy things like worms and catfish. I will, however, happily cook what they bring home.

And speaking of cooking...

I have learned that trying to sneak a vegetarian meal past male carnivores is tantamount to high treason and sedition.  It could prove the overthrow of the world as we know it if there is a meal without meat involved!  I get away with it once in a while, but not very often.

Cooking bacon, however, proves that you CAN buy love...

So here's my manly-man recipe to share for the day.

(I found this online months ago, and I'll be darned if I can find the original site again. If this is your recipe, please let me know so that I can properly attribute the fabulousness and genius you so richly deserve for coming up with this!)

Moink Rolls

8 to 10 strips of thick cut bacon
1 lb. ground beef -
BBQ seasoning powder
1/2 pound brick cheese - whatever flavor you prefer, we use Colby-Jack
BBQ sauce - your favorite flavor
French's onion straws

It's easiest to roll this if you start it on a sushi-mat or waxed paper.

Lay out the bacon strips side by side, slightly overlapping.  Season the raw meat with the powder (we used teriyaki sauce instead and it was fantastic!) and press a thin layer over 2/3 the length of the bacon, leaving a few inches overlap at one end.

Slice the cheese brick into 1/2" square bricks and lay at the end of the ground beef. Roll up the meat around the cheese, using the overlap ends of bacon to seal it closed (Make sure to seal the ends of the roll, or the cheese will leak out). Put on a baking dish (ends on the bottom) and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Glaze with BBQ sauce (or more teriyaki sauce if that's what you used in the beef) and put back in for another 5-10 minutes.

Top with onion straws. Slice like sushi and serve warm.

I end up with screamin' happy boys every time I make this! Enjoy!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Menu Planning

 The most dreaded question of my day is when my husband calls from work and says "What's for dinner tonight?"  I don't know why he does it, he just does.  I think it might be because he knows his wife and knows that thinking ahead is not my strong point, which leaves me looking in the fridge at 5 pm in a panic that I don't know what to fix for dinner.

Or, I'll wake up in the morning to find some sort of meat out of the fridge, sitting on the stove (generally with nothing under it so it puddles), and have no idea what it's out for. Those are the days I call him at work and ask what it's for, and he'll tell me "Oh, I thought we'd have ... for dinner tonight." Like I'm supposed to read his mind and know exactly what he was thinking.

Neither one of these really works for the day, let alone for the grocery shopping.  So I went looking for a system of menu planning that would work for us.

I am not a notebook sort of girl, so those household planning notebooks that are so popular don't work for me. If it's closed away in a notebook on a shelf, I'll forget it's even there.

The lists on the fridge worked, but then you've got to remember to print them and plan the week, and they give you no help in the planning part of things.

I needed something between the two, and since I couldn't find someone else's I had to make my own.

So this is what we came up with.

I made mine out of wood (mostly because I found a really awesome sale on craft wood at the craft store - which is the only reason for the filigree at the top and bottom, heaven knows I'm not that ambitious to do that by my own hand!)  It could just as easily be done printed on a piece of cardstock and a couple of those dollar store magnetic cups for lockers they sell during back to school season.

All you really need is a few magnets and a couple of boxes to hold the cards. A clip to hold the menu cards would be helpful, too, if you like that better than a plain old magnet. If you want to use what you already have, set a couple of mugs on top of the fridge to hold your cards. You can even cut a plastic soda bottle in half and glue a couple of magnets to the back of that to make your boxes - anything that will keep the cards in sight and in easy reach.

So here is how it works.  First, you make up the menu cards for the dinners you like best. I like to write the dish at the end in small letters so you can see what the card is for without actually taking it all the way out of the box (you can see this in the pictures of my board below).

Here's an example of some of mine:

Here's the beauty of these cards - they don't just list what is for dinner, the box at the bottom includes what I need to put on my shopping list! It's not everything the recipe might need, I leave off what's likely to already be in my pantry normally, I only ever buy things like heavy cream when I have need of it, so it's listed. Yeast I may or may not have in the cupboard at any given time, so I list it anyway, knowing I need to double check whether it's already there or not.

I have almost 50 of these cards printed  - so when I'm planning for my next shopping trip, which is every two weeks on the day after payday, I pull out the cards.  I choose 14 or 15 cards, whatever dinners I want to have "on tap" for the next two weeks.  

Using the cards I choose, I make up my grocery list. (Gotta remember to add breakfast and lunches to that list, too, since these are only dinners!) What I am going to need is already listed on the cards, which makes it so much easier than trying to remember, or pulling out the actual recipe cards. I you're in too much of a hurry to jot down a list, you can slip the menu cards in your wallet and take them to the store with you, your list is right there on the cards.

Once my shopping list is done, the "on tap" cards go in the box at the left. The rest of the cards go in the box on the right, like so:

So that's it, really. Simplified. In plain sight. Easy to use. You can even take turns deciding what's for dinner - pick a card, any card! Great for kids, because they can help choose - when you're deciding what dinners you want to put on your cards, when you are planning your week's (or two week's) meals, and/or each day when you're deciding what to have or dinner that day.

I hope this is helpful. This is a perfect example of adjusting a system to work for you and your family. This is the way I do it, but if something like it, but a little different, works for you - then use that little different system. The only "right way" to do it is the one that works best for you!

Here are the blank cards for you to add your favorite dinners to.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Insider Secrets of the Dollar Store

I've seen a lot of articles about what to buy or not buy from the Dollar Store, and they've been good - but I've got an insider's view. (I work there!)

There are a few tips for shopping at any dollar store.

1. If you're going to get the best out of shopping there, shop often and regularly.

Once in a while dollar stores get really great stuff. But it goes right back out the door almost as quickly as it goes on the shelf. If you want the best deals, you've got to know what's regularly there, when the truck comes in every week, and be there in time to get it before someone else does. Because, believe me, there are regular shoppers (I shopped there so often they finally put me to work!)

You never know what you might find! When Borders book store went out of business, Dollar Tree got hands on a large amount of their inventory. For a while we had $25 best sellers on the shelf for a dollar! Dollar store buyers are great opportunists, so you never know...

2. Some items are not worth trading low cost for low quality. 

Do buy bandaids at the dollar tree, especially if they don't stay on your kids for more than an hour anyway, like mine. Do not bother buying their generic q-tips however, they're useless.

In the fridge section, skip the prepared foods unless it's a brand name you recognize. They taste like they're worth a buck, and they're not very nutritious. Do, however, buy the Mrs Freshley's goodies in the cookie aisle. They're very good. (especially the swiss rolls!)  Do not bother with the microwave popcorn, unless there's a brand name like Act 3 or Pop Secret - the generic stuff can barely be eaten, it's so gross.

As a general rule, you can rely on the list below, but don't be afraid to try something out for yourself. It's only a buck, after all, so you can try something and not be out to much if you hate it.

Do buy:
mylar balloons (Great value, but they will not fill latex with helium, so don't bother asking)
plastic hangers
R2 writing pens (best ever, we don't bother buying any other kind anymore)
Craft stuff
School supplies in August
Party decorations - they have great seasonal stuff
Gift bags and tissue - they're going to be thrown away an hour after you gift them, why pay more than a buck?
ziplock sandwich bags - just as good as brand name
Dish cloths and towels, hot pads
Knick-knacks (especially Christmas, they have a whole village of little houses and figurines, very cute!)
Dishes and glassware (watch for chips and cracks, though, they get knocked about a bit)

Don't bother with:
Q tips
Vitamin E - the pills are powder, not the oil that works so well.
white boards (they don't work very well, if at all)
Make-up (though they do get brand names and some nice brushes once in a while, keep an eye out)
Plastic cooking utensils (they melt - you'll save money in the long run spending an extra buck or two for nicer ones)
Can openers (They never work for more than a month)
Tools - unless you just need cheap for one project, because they are not sturdy

Note: Unless you are ordering a huge amount of one thing, don't bother ordering online - the shipping costs can be ridiculous. But if you are planning a big even and need a thousand of something, it is an available option instead of hitting every store in the area, hoping you can gather enough of that one gizmo you need.

3. Never assume something will be in stock. 

The store associates never know what's coming till it gets there; we usually find out what's on the truck when it comes through the back door. Most of the main stock stays roughly the same, but it does shift once in a while.

4. Dollar stores are not kid-playgrounds. We love kids, but we are a business, not a babysitter.

Okay, that's not really a tip for shopping there, but it is a tip to keep your friendly neighborhood clerks from going insane.  Just sayin'.

That being said - the toy section can be great fun. Just don't expect high quality toys that will last. If you want a toy to keep someone amused for a couple of hours, that's your department.  Again, though, keep in mind that those dollar store buyers like toys, too - they'll get good stuff if they can. As of last week, the BeyBlade fighter tops that go for around $9 in the regular stores were at Dollar Tree for a buck apiece!  So keep an eye out there, too - you might find some really great stocking stuffers for later in the year.

5. Speaking of holidays..

It is a store merchandising policy that all holiday stock be two to three months ahead of the holiday. Which means Halloween will start in August, and Christmas will start showing up on the shelves in October. The day after the holiday it will disappear to make room for the next big event. So start looking for it early, plan ahead to find the good stuff. If you wait till the week of any given holiday, you will be too late.

*  *   *

To end with a giggle - I was working one afternoon when a very nicely dressed group of twenty-something young people came in. I had to really try not to laugh out loud when I heard one young man (I swear he was wearing an Armani suit!) on the next aisle over phone someone to excitedly tell them;

"No kidding! I'm in this store, and every thing is a dollar! Can you believe that? I didn't know there were even stores like this!"... "No really - everything!"... "Seriously, they've got food and everything!"

Lucky kid. Must be nice to never know cheap-o stores even exist, right?

Still, I can't help it.  I love dollar stores. If I was rich, I'd still shop there.They make my frugal-bone tingle, and that makes me happy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Well, that's quite enough of THAT laziness...

I have been so neglectful of this blog, I apologize.

Lately, my life has been up in the air. There was some talk of a new career, an out of state trip that didn't turn out the way I'd have rather, a threatening situation and a burned book all thrown in together. (Don't worry if that doesn't make any sense, unless you were here it's not supposed to.)

However, through it all, we have been praying. Though the answers were not what we wished them to be, we are still here, still going, still safe and strong. Prayers and answers are funny that way. I've often wished, instead of guiding that God would send me a printed itinerary of the future. That way, I'd know exactly what to plan for. Knowing me, however, I'd end up using it to argue the points along the way that I didn't like as well. Once again, Heavenly Father knows best. He certainly knows this particular daughter.

More than ever, it seems like almost everyone I know is in the same boat - working for a living, IF they're lucky enough to be employed, struggling to make it till next payday, striving to bloom where they're planted in non-prime soil. (I'm right there with you, digging roots into alkaline desert soil when they'd rather be in ocean beach sand.)


All that being said, life is settling into the regular routine again. Here I go again. I'm recommitting out loud, in front of God and any readers that stop by, to get this blog active again, and to keep it that way.

For a start, since we all know that chocolate fixes (almost) everything - here's a quick fix for you.

Crazy Fudge Cake - also known as Crazy Cake, Wacky Cake, and Depression Cake. Takes NO eggs, but is dense and rich, dark chocolate cake that is absolutely delicious!

1. Do not use Dutch chocolate - this needs good old dark Hershey's cocoa powder.
2. It only needs one bowl, and if you're desperate you can even mix it up in the pan you bake it in. Just make sure you mix it very well.
3. Unless you want sweetness overload, don't bother frosting. You can if you want, but it's super rich all on it's own.
4. If you let this sit out and it gets a little hard (stale), serve it covered with warm milk, and it is absolutely fantastic! If you slice it thin and put it in a warm oven for an hour, it makes fabulous biscotti!

(This recipe card should print perfectly as a 4x6 recipe card. Print and enjoy!)