Doin' It Halfway Since 1996

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus

Category Archives: Cooking/Homemaking

Easy Peasy Recipe: Ham and Beans

So, the other night, I fixed the easiest, most simple (and probably cheapest meal) I have in my recipe collection. I don’t think it’s particularly special to my family and probably pretty common.

Ham and Beans. This isn’t really my recipe, but my grandmother’s. Though, I’ve modified it so I can use my fancy schmancy new fangled kitchen gadget, the slow cooker.

Anytime I eat this, it conjures memories of walking through my grandparents’ door, to be greeted by the smells of leftover Thanksgiving goodness and love. In fact, every time I make it, I find myself relocating for five minutes to the ten year-old version of myself and sitting across from my grandfather at the dinner table. One of the important elements of my relationship with my grandfather was his attempt to pull me out of my perpetual grumpiness. Eating this meal reminds me always of his calling me a grump lovingly and jokingly until I finally pulled out of my prepubescent emotional slump and laughed alongside him.

As a child, I used to imagine my great-grandmother, who I remember mostly from pictures, teaching my grandmother how to make a good pot of ham and beans. As a young woman, on a visit home from college, I inquired of my grandmother how to make it. And she taught me. Later, when I married, I realized how integral this same meal was to my husband’s fondness of his grandmother as well. So it has become a favorite of ours, and now of our girls’. It’s almost a family legacy in a bowl.

Tonight is the first time I’ve made this meal since the tragedy. And it’s making me miss my grandpa. It’s making me miss the house that was a childhood haven. It’s making me miss my family.

It’s making me reflect on all the love my grandparents showed me through my life. It’s making me thankful for the time I had with Grandpa and encouraging me to spend more time with Grandma.

I share this recipe so that you can also enjoy some good old comfort in a bowl.

I always save the bone with some meaty pieces from our holiday meals (generally Thanksgiving, Christmas, and/or Easter). It’s a trick that grandma taught me. I put it in a zip lock bag and freeze it until I’m ready to make this meal.

Ham and Beans

1 Ham Bone with meaty pieces

2 cups dry navy beans

1/4 cup chopped onion (any variety will do – this time I used red because it’s what I had)

1/4 chopped green pepper

The night before, rinse and sort 1 cup dry navy beans. If you need a good tutorial on how to do that, visit this 5dollardinner.com tutorial – just ignore the part when it come to cooking them.

Soak them in eight cups of water in the slow cooker overnight (don’t turn on the slow cooker, just let the beans soak).

In the morning, pour the beans and water into a strainer. Remove any split, broken, or shriveled beans. Give the beans one more quick rinse.

Dump the beans back into the slow cooker and cover with eight more cups of water.

Add the ham bone, onion, and pepper. You can add salt and pepper, if you’d like. I find the ham salty enough to flavor the beans.

Cook on low for eight hours or on high for six hours.

When the beans finish cooking, remove the bone (and any tendons that come off) and shred any big meaty pieces, returning the meat to the slow cooker with the beans.

Serve with your favorite cornbread and Enjoy!

 

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Strawberry-Watermelon Ice Lollies

Summer is here. It was a rough start. But yesterday was a wonderful reminder that even in the midst of trouble, life does go on and it’s still good.

My status on facebook yesterday read: “Signs that summer is here: little girls wearing flip flops and sundresses, a week of Vacation Bible School, swim lessons, enjoying a quarter of a humongo watermelon as a before bedtime snack, and watching fireflies in the backyard. Le sigh.”

I remember years ago (like two kids ago) perusing through Martha Stewart’s magazine and stumbling upon this recipe for Watermelon Pops. I have since considered making these whenever we have watermelon. However my kids are watermelon fiends and they rarely leave freshly cut watermelon uneaten.

But tonight, we cut open our first watermelon of the season. It was so sweet and juicy. And it was gargantuan.

They had a few wedges, took a bath and went to bed. There was still 3/4 of a watermelon left (it’s seriously huge).

Then I had the brilliant idea that I would be the cool mom in the morning if I offered watermelon popsicles (or ice lollies, as my daughter has named them) for breakfast.

Then I had an even brillianter idea (that would be two light bulbs instead of just one) to add in some strawberries to the mix.

And this was born. Frozen summertime bliss on a stick. Because everything is better on a stick.

Strawberry-Watermelon Ice Lollies

2 cups chopped watermelon

2 cups sliced strawberries

4 tablespoons sugar (or sweetener of your choice)

Water as needed (I put water enough to get to the 5-cup setting on my blender pitcher)

Blend in a blender to liquefy.

Spoon off the froth that forms on the top.

Pour into Popsicle Molds.

Freeze.

Serve.

Although I used 4 tablespoons of sugar (the strawberries were a little tart, I might have been able to use less sugar had they been sweeter), I think this is a healthier and cheaper alternative to what’s in the stores. I anticipate that they will be gone by the end of the weekend. And I won’t feel guilty about that in the least.

My popsicle molds, the blue/green and pink/yellow I purchased at IKEA for something like $1.49 each. The others are Tupperware brand (and a super fun lead up to our upcoming trip to Disney).

Just a side note: Apparently, my family has misplaced a few of our molds. So, this recipe would have made 18 ice lollies. However, I only had 15 molds. What’s a girl to do? Pour the excess into a glass, add a small amount of Cointreau, and make herself an, ahem, adult beverage.

Second side note: These are a little watery. If you prefer a thicker fruit pop, work in batches (like good ol’ Martha suggests) and use a little less water. I may try that next time.

Mom’s Potato Soup

As winter settles in, sometimes I just feel like a little comfort food. And few foods are more comforting to me than Potato Soup.

With Thanksgiving a week behind me, I still have a few lingering left overs. I thought I’d put them to good use tonight to make my Mother-in-Law’s so-simple-but-not-famous “Mom’s Potato Soup.” I still have some potatoes from the 10-pound bag I got for $1.99 at Kroger. They need to be eaten. I also have a few slices of ham (not in the original recipe) and I’m tired of making sandwiches from it.

A few years back, my mother-in-law, who is phenomenal in the kitchen, lovingly spent many hours writing up and combining her blended family’s most loved recipes. Some from the earlier years, when her boys were kids and some from more recently when she remarried. She’s included recipes from just about everyone (I even made a cameo with my fresher than fresh salsa). It’s a wonderful recipe book that I’ve used many times over. Some include annual traditions and childhood book readings. Others are just recipes eaten on any ordinary day that, when prepared, take us back to fond memories of time spent together as a family.

And the recipe for her potato  soup is one I refer to very often. She says it’s her most requested recipe. And for good reason. It’s so easy to make and so delicious. If you have these staples on hand (which many of us do), try it out. You won’t be disappointed. Just a note: there are no real measurements here. Cook enough for your crowd. I’ve put the ingredients in bold, so you don’t miss one. The words in italics are my additions/variations for tonight’s pot.

Mom’s Potato Soup

Russet Potatoes, peeled and sliced (enough to fill your pot) I used seven medium sized potatoes tonight

1/2 Onion, diced

2 cloves of Garlic, pressed (more if you like)

Put the above ingredients in your pot. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the ingredients. Cook until the potatoes are just soft. The longer you cook them, the more like mush they’ll be. Pour off half the water and replace with milk and  1 tablespoon of butter. This is where I added the chopped up ham slices. You could also put in real bacon bits. Or add no meat at all; it’s just as good without it. Salt and pepper to taste. IMPORTANT: Don’t allow your soup to boil once you’ve added the milk. It will curdle.

Add 2 slices of American Cheese  to each bowl (we used shredded sharp cheddar tonight).

Couple this soup with some crusty bread from your favorite bakery and enjoy. It’s so warm and delicious and good. It’s almost as good as getting a hug from mom herself.

Late Night Rendezvous

It was a normal Monday afternoon, like any other. I was running a few errands with my girls when I saw it. The sign. The store hours.

“Open 24 hours”.

I had forgotten that in some places in the United States, there are grocery stores open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (they don’t exist in small towns and Alaska).

But there it was. Right next to the bin with the apples.

B.H. (Before husband) and B.C. (Before Children), I used to LOVE going grocery shopping late at night, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning. I don’ t know why. Maybe it’s because all the really interesting people come out late at night. Maybe it’s because the store is empty. Maybe it’s because I like being alone (I’m one of those weird people who has no problems going to a movie by myself).

So I had a thought. What if I did my grocery shopping at midnight? I mean, the store’s open. The kids are asleep. Hubs is home. It is the perfect time for a night owl stay at home mom like me to go grocery shopping.

So I shared my thought with my husband. And after he finished laughing at me, he agreed that it might not be a bad idea.

So, I did it. I put the kids down for the night (or at least a few hours because none of them sleep all through the night . . . ever. That’s a whole other post entirely). I grabbed my coupons and headed to the store.

I turned the corner and whoa, prime parking. There was the parking lot, in all its empty glory, giving me my choice of any parking spot I wanted. I didn’t have to compete with the grandma who wants to park as close to the store as possible. There was no game of  chicken with the lady on her lunch break who is running in just to get a few things. Except for the entourage of college students huddled outside the store puffing on some cigarettes, all was quiet.

Like any good American, I parked as close to the store as I possibly could. I walked into the store, grabbed my cart and commenced the shopping experience. Do you know how it good it feels to compare prices without a child vying for your attention? You don’t? Well let me tell you, it feels pretty darn fantastic. I like to take my time. I like to see what my options are. I don’t like to be rushed into my purchases, even if those purchase are just groceries. I compared the name brand over the counter drugs to the generic store brand. I looked at my coupons to see if they were really going to save me money. I got first pick of the Manager’s Special discount items. I actually went down the candy aisle without a meltdown. Well, there was an internal meltdown because I told myself, “No, we didn’t come to the store today to get that Ghiradelli chocolate.” I rationalized with inner two year old, and then moved on.

I did feel a little odd, as I was one of the few in the store who was actually pushing a cart. Apparently, most people who shop at that hour are singles who need no more than a carried basket. Or people who are just running in to get a single item like diapers or milk or ice cream. I soon got over it and just enjoyed having the store practically to myself.

One annoyance was the maintenance man who was changing the light bulbs at the front of the store. His light bulb fixing contraption made a high-pitched beeping noise. However, I’m a mom. To three little girls. I am an expert at tuning out annoying high pitched noises.

My favorite part of my shopping trip however, was the frozen section. In this particular store, the lights in the freezer had some sort of motion detection. The aisles were fairly dim, but as soon as I stepped toward the aisle, a section of the freezer lit up. As I ventured further down the aisle, sections kept lighting up. I felt like I was on the red carpet or I was walking on a deck of the Starship Enterprise. I’m not sure how those two correlate. In some alternate universe it would be like Carrie Bradshaw on the arm of Jean Luc Picard. It made me special. Like the freezer section was saying, “Welcome. We’re so glad you’re here. Let us show you our selection.” And we don’t care that you’re wearing sweats and flip flops.

All in all, my late night trip to the grocery store brought back fond memories of my single days, when the basket was lighter, and the total on the receipt was a much smaller number. However, it was abundantly clear that I was not a single lady doing my shopping in the middle of the night. A jumbo pack of toilet paper? Check. A couple packages of diapers. Check. Check. A container of generic Tums? Check.

I shouldn’t need to go to the grocery store any time soon. I stockpiled enough to get me through to possibly Christmas. But if I do, you can bet your pretty little head that  I’m going to do it without the kids. I’m going to go at midnight. And I’m going to go in my pajamas.

Crock Pot Question

I’ve noticed that because of the holidays, many of those triple crock pots are on sale. Like, for the same price as a single crock pot (they’re usually around $100 or more. I’ve seen them for as low as $50). I’ve often thought they would be convenient to have, for parties.

And then the thought hit me . . . what if I used one for each meal of each day? Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and sometimes Dessert? Would I save money? Would we eat out less? Would I find time to do other things that I really want to do (i.e. home school, train for a half marathon, keep up with the house, feed Hubs a warm meal for once)? Will I get burnt out? Can I do it? Will I finally find some food that my kids will eat BESIDES macaroni and cheese?

I think that the answer to all these questions is a big resounding YES!

While the use of a crock pot for a year isn’t a new one: A Year of Slow Cooking,

The use of a crock pot three times a day for a whole year might be. The internet is a vast arena for crock pot recipes. I have a few cook books and magazines. I think I can do it.

And I can write about it.

Would you read it? Would it give you ideas to feed your family better and more easily? What do you think? What parameters should I set for myself?

What do you think dear readers? Sound off.

Smokey Sliders on Hawaiian Rolls with Baked Sweet Potato Fries

A few weeks ago, Hubs and I were given the rare opportunity of a date night combined with a free babysitter. Because Hubs likes video games, we chose Dave and Busters. It was our first time there. I thought it would be a good time since it’s supposed to be an adult version of Chuck-E-Cheese’s. For good measure, here’s a picture of how I took Hubs to school on Guitar Hero. Of course, he’d already had a few, um, adult beverages, so I can’t take all the credit. But, I can play a pretty mean Guitar Hero/Rock Band guitar.

It ended up being a little more family friendly than we anticipated (meaning we were a little irritated that we had to compete for a turn at the games with all the ankle biters in the place – we left ours at home for a reason). The food, however, more than made up for all the kids in the place.

I ordered their sliders, advertised to be served on King’s Hawaiian Rolls with their special sauce and a pickle. And since I HEART sweet potato fries, I chose them as the substitute for the regular fries. I don’t know if it was because I was overly hungry or if it was because I was relishing at the fact that I could sit at the bar because I didn’t have my kids with me or if it was because the food was that good. I don’t know. But it was fantabulous.

So fantabulous, in fact, that I found myself thinking about the sliders and fries and wanting more. But, free sitters are hard to come by (which you need to counter the cost of money you spend on all the games you play), I don’t want to drive 45 minutes to go back to Dave and Busters, and I’m totally capable to make my own version of these.

So, after grabbing up two packages of Whole Wheat King’s Hawaiian rolls at the store, I went to work making my own version. These sliders, while inspired by Dave and Busters, are a mixture of several different recipes I’ve had in the past (one from a Pampered Chef party, and one from my father-in-law’s brilliant use of Smoked Paprika).

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

For the sliders:

2 1/2 pounds ground beef or chuck

1/2 onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup paprika

Kosher Salt and Pepper to Taste

2 12-count packages Hawaiian rolls of your choice (I used Honey Wheat because it sounds healthier, but I don’t know that it really is – plus we’re making mini burgers here . . .)

Put your the ground beef in a gallon sized zipper type baggie. Add the Chopped Onion, Smoked Paprika, and salt and pepper. Zip the bag and smash all the ingredients together until well-mixed (this is great if you’re having a bad day, just don’t smash it too much or you might rip the baggie).

Press the meat mixture into a jelly-roll type pan (I used a Pampered Chef large bar pan that measures 16 X 10 inches).

For the Sweet Potato Fries:

4 Medium Sweet Potatoes

4 tbsp olive oil

Kosher Salt and Pepper to taste (I used 4 pinches of salt and 5 shakes of pepper)

Wash and peel the sweet potatoes. Cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. Put the fries into a bowl. Drizzle olive oil on top of them. Add salt and pepper. Mix to coat.

Put the fries onto a baking sheet in a single layer.

Cooking:

Put the meat mixture and the prepared sweet potato fries in the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Pull both out. Flip the potato fries. Put them back in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes longer. Meanwhile, drain the grease from the sliders. Cut into 24 equal-size (or as close to equal as you can get) pieces.

Lower the Oven Temperature to 300 degrees. Warm Hawaiian Rolls according to package directions. Pull out the sweet potato fries.

After warming the rolls, Pull them out.

Eating:

Cut the rolls in half, top with one of the sliders, garnish your slider as desired (I didn’t make a secret sauce, I just put a little marbled cheddar, ketchup and mustard on ours) and enjoy!

It’s a meal fit for my Hawaiian king and my three little princesses. Delicious.

They’re so delicious, in fact, I’m thinking about firing up Rock Band right now, just to take Hubs to school again.

Good broth resurrects the dead

So says a South American Proverb.

My family is venturing on a new diet path. Well, I’m venturing on a new cooking/food path, and so by default, my family is too since I’m the one who does 98.5% of the cooking. The book/cookbook “Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrat” has thrice entered my small corner of the world. So I decided to check it out from the library to see what it was all about. Then, the next day, the speaker at MOPs (Mother of Preschoolers) was talking about nutrition and brought this book with her.

And I really liked what I read. This book makes sense to me. I started doing more and more research. This cookbook and its author have both fanatic followers and haters. I won’t get into all the controversy over this cookbook and diet here and now. I will just say this: this cookbook is not for everyone, especially vegans and vegetarians.

Now if you are a friend of mine who is a vegan and/or vegetarian, I’d just like to insert something here. This post isn’t for you. You won’t like it or its pictures. And while I’d love for you to read through to the end, I would like to continue being friends. So, if dead chickens and those who eat them anger you AND you wish to preserve our friendship, please stop reading now. I will also add this: I really do admire that you stick to your strong convictions regarding anything having to do with animal product consumption. It’s that stick-to-it-ness that I lack in some areas of my life. So, kudos to you for being a vegetarian/vegan. And that’s it. Stop reading now if you belong in the dead chicken hater category.

Now that I got that off my chest, on to the stock. In all my research, I read this interview with the author (and another author with a similar platform). One of the questions asked was this: If you only had energy for ONE make-from-scratch food, what would it be? Both of the authors’ answer was homemade broth.

So, here I am, making a double recipe of homemade chicken stock from the cookbook. It has been quite an experience, and not the one I expected. On top of that, it’s like a two-day process (three, depending on how long you let the chicken stock base simmer). So, as I type, I have two full stock pots simmering on the stove.

The recipe calls for this (and I doubled it, because I wasn’t going to spend all this time preparing a stock without reaping double benefits from it):

1, whole free-range chicken (or 2 to 3 pounds of bony chicken parts such as necks, backs, breastbones and wings), gizzards from one chicken (optional), 4 quarts cold filtered water, 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1 large onion – coarsely chopped, 2 carrots – peeled and coarsely chopped, 3 celery sticks – coarsely chopped, and 1 bunch celery.

And so I began. I had already purchased what I needed (or so I thought) for this stock. Just a little side note: when one decides to prepare a new recipe, it is best if that person writes a list of items needed for said recipe and takes previously mentioned list to the grocery store with him/her. This will save multiple trips to the store. It is also important to take stock (pun intended) of the items one thinks he or she has for the new recipe. It very well may turn out that those items also need to be on the list.

I knew that I would need a lot of filtered water (just an fyi, eight quarts of water is 32 cups – and yes, I googled it). I knew that my humble Brita filter pitcher would have a hard time keeping up. So, this should have been the first step in the whole process. I could do the other steps while the filter did its job. However, upon retrieving the pitcher from the fridge, I discovered that the little indicator window on the top was telling me, “It’s time to change my filter!” I threw out the old filter, washed the pitcher, and put the new filter in a cup to soak for 15 minutes.

I decided that I could prepare the veggies while waiting. I started chopping. No real problems here, except that organic onions are much more potent than non-organic varieties.

 

I put half of each veggie into one of two stock pots. Since I now had to filter two to three pitchers of water to get that black “dust” out of the water, I decided to add the vinegar to the stock pots. Except, I had no plain ol’ distilled white vinegar. I had four different kinds of other vinegars, but not the kind I needed.

With forty-five minutes until the bus arrived, I decided to throw my two younger children in the car and make a run to Kroger. Besides, I forgot to buy the parsley at the store yesterday. I had planned to get it later tonight, but might as well get it now. And I should buy some apples to try out my new Pampered Chef toy that arrived in the package today (that’s another post entirely). Luckily (or unluckily depending on one’s perception), my youngest decided that napping was not on the schedule for today, so I could make a quick run to the store.

Mentally preparing myself I needed parsley, apples and vinegar. And why not just buy the filtered water, so I didn’t have to wait so long for my Brita to do the work? Yes. Fast, simple shopping trip. And I must say, I haven’t gotten through Kroger that fast since before I had children. I didn’t come out without an impulse buy, though.

Back home, everything else went fairly smoothly. I measured and poured the water in the stock pot.

I tackled the chickens and cut them appropriately (cutting off and up the wings, neck and gizzards – all which go into the stock). Here’s where you look away/scroll down to the next picture if you don’t want to see a dead amputated and decapitated chicken.

I put the chickens in the pots and started the cooking process. I’ll let them simmer overnight, drain them in the morning, refrigerate, skim off the fat, store and freeze the finished stock. I’ll use the chicken for something else later.

Now, the hard part is to determine how I will use the cooked chicken. If you didn’t notice the ginormous butternut squash that made a cameo in the vinegar picture, check it out. Chicken, roasted butternut squash, and fresh basil drizzled with olive oil atop a bed of quinoa? I think that sounds pretty darn delicious.

After all that work, you’d think we’d have something healthy and nutritious for dinner. Nope. Frozen pizza. Did I mention that this whole new way of eating is a process? And that there’s no way it’s going to happen overnight? OR that I’m not going to let all the food that was already in my freezer go to waste just because I’m trying to change the way we eat around here? I didn’t? Ok. Well, now you know.

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