Thursday, July 20, 2017

It's Getting Spicy Up in Here!

Not that kind of spicy - food spicy - yum!
If you know us at all, you know that Greg and I both enjoy cooking. Greg especially enjoys grilling, roasting, and smoking meaty things out there in the garage where he keeps all his big grilling/roasting/smoking machines. He cooks inside, too, as do I, but I leave the hot outside cooking to him...

Anyway, with all this meat cooking he does, he's learned about rubs and marinades, and makes many of his own. We have all the usual spices, and a few special ones for him to use in these flavorful concoctions.

So, for Father's Day, I happened upon an Instagram post about this web site called Raw Spice Bar. This company sends three fresh-ground spice blends each month for the duration of your subscription. I signed Greg up for six months.

So far, he's gotten two packets of spices along with some really tasty recipes to use them in.

No, we haven't opened the packets yet. We've just had so much chaos here with the kids moving out, and this weekend will be a quick trip to Colorado for some extended family time. When we get back, we'll whip up some new recipes. (Who wants to try that Scotch Bonnet Salt with me? HOT! And there's a luscious-sounding power smoothie recipe I'm anxious to send with Greg for breakfast next week.) You don't have to use their recipes, though, if you have another use for the spice blends they send. They list all of the ingredients so you can experiment a little if you want.

Shipping takes awhile, but it's worth waiting for. We had a hiccup with shipment of our first packet, but their customer service was awesome and they sent us another right away.  

Anyway, if you're interested in something a little bit different to give to someone who likes to cook, but has enough "stuff", this might be a choice for them. 

(I'm not affiliated with them nor getting any kind of reimbursement for telling you about the web site, I just really like it.) 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Empty Nest (The Sequel)

As the title of this post suggests, our nest is, once again, "empty". For the past three years (+ a week or two) our daughter and her children have lived with us. It was lovely, loud, chaotic, crowded, sweet, hard, and a blessing to be so close to our grandchildren. It was our privilege to be able to help Jess out at a very difficult time, and she slowly but surely worked her way back to independence. They didn't go far, and I still have the boys during the days, but the evenings are sure quiet now.  She worked really hard and is very excited to make a home for herself and her children, one that is just theirs.

As for our house, it's due for some spiffing up, and if I get my way, a major change. I'm not digging in yet, though, as Jess is still moving their things out. While that happens, I'm making plans for painting and floors and am excited to set up a guest room again.

This summer has been just so busy. We've had the library reading program once or twice a week, swimming, my sister visited, a trip to the zoo in Omaha, a trip to Sioux City, Jessica's 30th birthday (she jumped out of a plane to celebrate), Wednesday movie matinees, trying to garden (it's a jungle out there. Oy.), Layla had a hospital stay with asthma, Jess had to be in Minnesota for a week for job training, and this coming weekend we're heading to Colorado for a family gathering. Since the end of May I've lost a sweet cousin and then his father, my uncle. It will be good to get together with cousins and our remaining uncle on that side for a day of family and fun.
Perhaps August will slow down after school starts?

I'm still working part-time as assistant manager at the local movie theater, too. Some weeks I work a lot, other weeks not so much. It all balances out.

So, while I haven't been blogging, I do post on Instagram fairly often. It's just day-to-day stuff with the grands and food, mostly. If you're interested - . I like Snapchat sometimes, too. I'm "prairiegram" there if you want to add me.

I say this every time I post after six or eight months that I'm going to get back to blogging, and I really, really want to, so I pledge to try. I want to share the updates in the house at least. And maybe I'll get back to seasonal decorating again. Oh! I'm teaching three new classes for Community Ed this fall. It'll be fun to share those here as well. I'm excited to put them together. One is about using the Instant Pot (or electric pressure cooker). I love mine and while I don't use it daily, there are some things that I use it for exclusively. The second class is about making your condiments at home - ketchup, mustard, mayo, salad dressings, etc. The third one is about easy holiday entertaining with "dips, drinks, and delectables" thrown in. That one pretty much wrote itself.

See, I can't stop talking once I start. Thanks for reading - I'll be back. No, really, I will.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Soup Day

Even though it is now November, we're still having lovely weather here on the prairie. Every now and again there is a touch of chill to the air, though, and today the wind was from the north, and the sun was fleeting as the clouds blew in. It was a great day for soup for lunch!Usually when I'm home alone during the day I forage the refrigerator for leftovers and cobble together this and that to make something of a meal for lunch. Today I just kept thinking of a soup recipe I've made before in the Instant Pot. Since I had fresh-made beef stock (from t-bone steak bones and scraps), I quickly threw stuff in the IP, and within 20 minutes had a piping-hot bowl of nourishing and tasty vegetable beef soup.
The original recipe that I used for inspiration calls for potatoes and white rice, neither of which were in my pantry. Instead I used mushrooms and the last bit of a box of rotini pasta. I also substituted green beans for the peas, and black beans instead of garbanzo.This made a full pot of soup, so I enjoyed my lunch, then packaged up the remainder in glass jars to freeze for another meal. I love having extras to freeze for later.I'll be doing a couple of soup days for freezer cooking in the near future. It's an easy and frugal meal, and makes a perfect lunch for me and to send with Greg.Tell me what your favorite soup is - I'd love some ideas for new recipes to try!
Edited to add:It was so chaotic around here when I was trying to publish this post that I forgot to include the recipe. Oops! Here it is:

Pressure Cooker Vegetable Beef Soup

Yield: 6 servings
·      1lb. lean ground beef
·      1 tablespoon oil
·      1 large onion, diced
·      1 rib celery, chopped
·      6-8 mushrooms, quartered
·      3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
·      2 14-ounce cans beef broth (I used homemade)
·      1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
·      1 12-ounce bottle V8 juice
·      1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
·      2 carrots, peeled then sliced into thin coins
·      1 can cut green beans, drained
·      salt and pepper
1.  Preheat the pressure cooking pot using the browning or sauté setting. Add ground beef to the pressure cooking pot and cook until browned. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels.
2.  Add oil to the pressure cooking pot. Add onion, celery, and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.
3.  Add beef broth, tomatoes, V8 juice, beans, carrots, and browned ground beef to the pot and stir to combine. Lock lid in place, select High Pressure and 4 minutes cook time. When timer beeps, turn off pressure cooker and do a quick pressure release.
4.  Stir in green beans and pasta, season with salt and pepper to taste. Turn on sauté function and cook until pasta is done to your liking.
(You could put the pasta in before pressure cooking since it only cooks 4 minutes, but I didn’t think to do that. It would save a little time at the end.)



Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Time Keeps Slippin', Slippin' Away

Well. I  had no idea it had been nearly FIVE months since I fell down the Instagram hole and left my blog on the wayside. About the time we entered the 21st century and got smart phones, I guess. I'm still old-school in that I "do" email and most of my online time is on my laptop. We'll thank old Mother Nature for the need of a big screen. Ahem.
So what's happening here on the prairie? Harvest is in full swing. Greg's company finished seed corn harvest a few weeks ago. Now it's the farmers who are cutting down the corn fields. We love it when the world opens up again and we can see far and wide across the prairie. There has been some hard frost, so the minute pirate bugs are no longer making warm afternoons miserable. Sunrises and sunsets are stunning.
The family is doing well. Jessica and the kids are still living here with us. Some days are awesome, some days are long, but we are blessed to have them.
Bradley's losing teeth left and right, Silas is learning to read, and Layla is talking a blue streak. All are happy and healthy. Jess is hoping to be able to move out by spring, but I think they'll stay close.
I'm still enjoying my part-time job as assistant manager at the local movie theater. It's a great opportunity to get out of the house and see people and balances all of the alone time I have while everyone is gone during the day.
I am truly home alone since our sweet 10 year-old cat, Max, passed away last week. He was an indoor/outdoor cat and we knew the risks of letting him out. He insisted, and we acquiesced. He paid the price.  We have a moratorium on pets for awhile.
Last spring Jess and I got booth space at the local flea market store in town. Admittedly, we don't put much time into it, but have had some fun searching out deals with "the booth" in mind. Jess scored a few piles of pallets over the summer and we've been tearing those apart and putting them back together as wine racks and serving trays. There is a holiday boutique next week in town, and we've rented a space to sell some of our creations there.
The garden did not do great this year, but again, I didn't put lots of effort into it. We enjoyed some homegrown cucumbers - our single plant really produced nicely. We did add a few new raised beds, and the compost from the plant nursery had pumpkin seeds, so there is a lovely crop of pie pumpkins and assorted gourds out there.

So that's about it for catching up this evening. I have several things to tell you about in the next few weeks, so I hope you stick around!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Old MacDonald Had Some Puppets

About a year ago I was posting photos of a felt puppet project I'd started. Old MacDonald and all of his farm animals transformed that felt into sweet hand puppets. I made three sets, one for us and two for gifts. They were such fun to watch come together and we all enjoy playing with them.

The patterns and instructions came from Just Another Day in Paradise. (They are hand drawn patterns, so obviously a lot of work went into them. Thanks so much to Larissa for sharing.) These were not difficult to make, but there were tons of little pieces to keep track of.

I started by cutting the mitts, one pair for each animal. Then I tried to sew by color of felt - all of the orange pieces, all of the grey, all of the pink, etc. Then I did as many eyes as I could at once, and the hooves were on several, so I tried to do all of those at the same time. It didn't always work out, so there was a lot of changing of thread colors, but it did go quickly when I was able to spend some time working at the table. When we began work on the new flooring, the puppet project was put away and ended up staying put away until the summer was over and we were into Fall. I had to finish them, though, since they were birthday gifts for nephew. My Alex and Kale had been waiting since May for their birthday gift, and Connor's second birthday was quickly approaching in October. I probably sewed on them for between 10 and 12 hours altogether, but I was making three sets, so if you just want to make one set, cut that time by 2/3. A full set of puppets in one afternoon is awesome. A full set of puppets in one day is awesome. A full set of puppets after four months? Well... nope, they're still awesome. A couple of hours on a Saturday morning was all it took to put the final stripes on the kitties and the curly-q tails on the pigs. Somehow I ended up with extra stray pieces like eyes and hooves. I did finally just say no to hooves. They didn't fit anyway, and what little one was going to care about it. None. So I cut myself some slack and called them good. And they are so good! They're so CUTE.

I did, of course, change a few things as I put them together. I gave the old farmer guy overalls instead of jeans and shirt - my nod to Grandpa Adams, I guess. None of my three farmers have a hat yet, and that needs to be rectified. I think some of one of the kitties' stripes are different, I left off the blue on the bottom of the ducks, and of course, those evil hooves.

The felt came from the marts of Wal for the most part, but some was from I've always had great service and fast shipping from them, and can get a variety of colors not offered at the local box store. If you have to go out and purchase all of the felt for these, it would be a little bit of investment, but you get nine puppets. I had most of what I needed already.

As for play value, well, besides being fun to look at, there is the song. Songs build vocabulary. Did you know that often times children will sing words that they don't say yet? Plus, you've got the bonus of the song teaching children all of the animal sounds. I don't know why knowing animal sounds is important, but don't we all test young children on this all the time? "What sound does a cow make?" "moo."  Yeah! and we clap wildly. Okay.

There is also the dramatic play value. Kids can create scenarios between animals and/or the Old Mac guy. They have the power to control the puppets, to lead and construct the story. Plus, these guys are just fun to look at.

If you decide to sew up a set, I'd love to see them.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Delicious Nutritious

It is one of my highest priorities to serve nutritious food to these grands of mine. They eat many of their meals here, so there are definitely tons of opportunities for me to amp up the nutrition in what is served to them. They are mostly good eaters, especially good vegetable and fruit eaters, so this is a fairly easy task for me. 
A few weeks ago I was watching a replay of a Periscope presentation about healthier meal planning strategies. One of the four or five points made was to offer a veggie tray every day. That one struck me as such a simple way to have snacks, an appetizer, or even a side to your meal. Usually we only make up veggie trays or cruditè for special occasions. Why not make every day a veggie tray day? So one morning last week, I dug out the sectioned server that has a lid, and spent a few minutes cleaning and cutting up several kinds of vegetables. I had to go to work that evening, but made sure Greg and Jess knew the veg tray was in the frig for them. 
It was decimated when I got home. 
They'd had a busy evening with a parent meeting at school and wrestling practice, both at supper time, so the kids snacked on it beforehand and the grown-ups after. 
On Sunday I was getting food from the frig, and Brad asked, "Are you getting out the veggie tray? I love the veggie tray!" I didn't have one prepared, but quickly pulled out a few containers and he made his own. 
This morning it took only five minutes to pull this one together. There is the requisite broccoli and carrots, cauliflower, green bell peppers, orange and red baby peppers, cucumber, and celery sticks. Black olives fill the center spot.
I'd prefer a bit more color, but we ate up all of the "flavor bomb" cherry tomatoes (those were SO GOOD - from Sam's Club - I hope they still have them next time I go). They will inhale those black olives and the broccoli. Last week we had pea pods from our Bountiful Basket, but they didn't care so much for them. These trays are good for at least a few days, maybe a week, though the cucumbers won't last that long.
If they want, they can have some homemade Ranch or bleu cheese dressing to dip the veggies in, but lately they've been eating them plain. I would prefer they eat the veg with the dip than not eat them at all. 
With Bountiful Baskets and garden season coming up, I look forward to putting together a veggie tray each week for snacks and to serve with meals for as long as they enjoy it. I'm thinking this will be a great way to introduce new or very seasonal vegetables to try. What are your favorite veggie tray components? I'd love to hear if you have a dip suggestion or what your family enjoys for crudite. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Instant Pot, Semi-Instant Food

For the past few months I've seen many a blog post about this thing called "Instant Pot" and how it revolutionized food prep in many a kitchen. We have a small pressure canner, and Greg thinks I could cook in it, but I don't. I don't even use it for canning much of anything, but my mother instilled in me a deep and permanent fear of the pressure canner, even though I know in my head that what I have is many times safer than what she used. 
So, I have three crockpots, and Jess has hers here, too. That's a lot of real estate taken up by four different sizes of the same appliance. Yet, I use all four, sometimes two or three at the same time. I appreciate being able to cook a meal or make a big pot of sauce or beans to portion for the freezer, all while not having to tend to it much. But, it did take hours and hours, then there was a big, heavy, hot, dirty ceramic crock to deal with. 
No one had to twist my arm when I had a few Amazon gift cards and could pay for half the cost of this new one-pot-stop that not only pressure cooks beans in a tiny fraction of the time the crockpot can, but it also cooks pasta with sauce, makes hard-cooked eggs perfectly, and cooked potatoes for our Easter potato salad in, you guessed it, a fraction of the time it normally takes.
Steamed asparagus was the first food in the pot. It needed just a another half minute or so, but that was my error. I was more worried about over-cooking it. Next up was supper - pasta with meat sauce. The meat and some onion were sauteed in the pot, then I drained the meat before pouring in the full box of penne. I poured the sauce over the top and added a touch of water so the liquid covered the pasta. The timer gets set for half the number of minutes the box says to cook. It takes a few minutes for the pot to come to pressure, then six minutes later, Presto! A big pot of deliciousness.

Later, I cooked five pounds of potatoes for potato salad in 20 minutes. I made the mistake of using high pressure instead of steaming, so some of the potatoes "popped" out of their skins, but they still worked for the salad. I just cooled the potatoes on a rack, then refrigerated overnight.

On Sunday morning, we ran out of boiled eggs before finishing our Easter lunch salads, so I popped seven of them in the IP and 18 minutes later they were cooled and peeled. It was exciting to cut the first one open and see a beautiful yellow yolk with no gray ring. Then to have them peel perfectly even though I'd just purchased the eggs the day before, made me giggle a little.

On Monday I tried frozen chicken breasts and salsa. In about 40 minutes I had tender shreddable Mexican chicken for quesadillas. In the crockpot this would have taken a few hours and the texture would have been drier.  

On Tuesday, I had to try the beans. Dry beans, rinsed well, covered in water in the IP. In less than an hour they were cooked and mashed for refried beans. LESS THAN AN HOUR.

I didn't use it on Wednesday. Yesterday I had to work over the supper hour, Jess and Scott had a Kindergarten meeting for Silas, and Bradley had wrestling practice. I could foresee chaos reigning the evening. While cleaning out the refrigerator to get ready for the weekend, I popped some leftover roast beef and a package of pasta in the pot with some beef stock. In 10 minutes their supper was cooling on the counter. All they did was reheat and serve with the veggie tray I left for them. It worked out great. Greg could have made the meal himself, but he's not used the IP yet, and was reluctant to try it while he was watching the boys. After he plays with it awhile, he'll be happy to whip up quick meals when I'm at work.

Why did we invest in this new appliance? First, because of the time saved while cooking. Typically you cut cooking time in half, sometimes even more. Second, space. I can now put my four crock pots  and the steamer in storage and that will free up quite a lot of room on the shelf, allowing for better organization in that space. Cooking with pressure keeps more nutrients and color in the food, and I've found the meat to be moist and not mealy like it gets in the crock pot sometimes. It also saves on dirty dishes when you can toss everything into one easy to clean pot.

Why did we choose Instant Pot over the other electric pressure cookers? Greg did some research before we decided to buy, and the IP is the only one with a stainless steel pot. The others have a non-stick lining and we didn't want that. We purchased from Amazon.

There are many tips I'm picking up as I peruse online recipes for the Instant Pot. There are also many recipes we want to try. I'm putting together a list of blogs with good pressure cooker recipes and will post those in the near future. Right now I need to go read about how to make the chicken stock.