Monday, April 14, 2014

How to brighten a gloomy day?

The last few days here in Indy have been beautiful.  Sunny, upper 70's, lower 80's temps...just a gorgeous few days.  Monday brought thunderstorms and rain...and more rain.  And tonight is to be in the 20's and possibly snow.  As quickly as the wonderful weather brought good moods, Indiana's ability to change so drastically can sap that mood just as quickly.

Then the mailman came.  And this made the day her MUCH less gloomy!


What rain?  LOL

I'll be perusing my favorite plant catalog today!  Let the garden planning begin in earnest!

Have a wonderful Monday!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Improvising

I often say that I may not be good at a lot of things, but I can improvise with the best of them!  Sometimes you just have to think outside the box for solutions.

The other evening, while in the midst of working on homework, my husband tells me that a beloved employee at his work was coming back after being off for a bit.  And could I bake something?  Cupcakes are easy to send to work as you don't need silverware and plates to eat them.  

I needed to get them done quickly if I was going to get them iced at a decent time.  I only had one cupcake pan.  Time to improvise...

Instead of using the cupcake pan, I used a sheet pan, canning jar rings and cupcake liners to get this:



This really does work!

Before baking:


After baking:


I was able to make 23 cupcakes (who really gets 24 out of a batch anyway?) in one round in the oven. 

Here's another quick hint to improvise...Those pricey cake mixes that are "Funfetti"...make your own!  I just add some cookie sprinkles to the cake batter.  Make sure you're going to bake them pretty quickly afterwards or the cookie sprinkles will start to "bleed" their color through the batter.  I usually just add them in immediately before putting the batter in the liners.

Make a quick powder sugar frosting with some strawberry flavoring and you're good to go!


These were the ones that the hubby took to work.  I kept a few out and iced 4 for the kids.  We don't eat a lot of cake type things.  The cupcakes that were left, I did not ice.  I put them into a Ziploc and froze them.  Then in the future when someone has a craving for a cupcake, you just pop them out of the freezer and being cupcakes, they thaw pretty quickly.  Just ice and you impress the kids (or hubby) and you didn't even have to bake!  LOL

Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Celebrations!

Since this is my 100th blog entry, I thought I'd talk about celebrations, more specifically, the food we serve.  Just because you have a get-together doesn't mean you have to break the bank to do it.  You just have to get creative.

I play Bunco with a wonderful group of ladies once a month.  This month was my first time to host and cook for them.  I love this type of stuff!  I'll post the pictures first and then explain what I did.



Just to label things first, in the upper picture starting from the upper left and working around like a clock.  There are three types of cookies in that bowl, the next bowl is a bacon/tomato/ranch pasta salad then on the tray are spinach/artichoke cups and taco cups, then a plate of crackers and some bacon cheese dip.  

In the bottom picture is a chicken cordon blue casserole, on the plates are mousse cups with homemade whipped cream and the others are cups of sour cream, guacamole, the chopped tomatoes & shredded lettuce are not shown.

The Chicken Cordon Blue casserole was really easy to make.  The recipe is here.  I used some of the Magic Chicken to make this.  It was really easy to put together a head of time and just wait to put the cracker crumbs on top just before baking.

The taco cups were interesting.  I took a biscuit cutter and cut rounds out of tortillas, then I pushed them down inside mini muffin tins and bake them for about ten minutes on 350 degrees.  This makes them crispy like hard taco shells.  I then made regular taco meat, adding a can of drained black beans to it.  When time to put it all together, I put a scant teaspoon of queso dip in the bottom of the cup, followed with a tablespoon or so of the taco meat.  Top with some shredded cheese.  They bake just long enough to make sure they're melted through and the cheese is melty.  I served them with guacamole, sour cream, taco sauce and shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes to put on top.

The Spinach Artichoke cups were amazingly similar.  I used Wonton wrappers and put them in the mini muffin cups the same way I did with the taco cups.  I spritzed them with Pam before baking.  Here is the recipe for them.  I prepped the shells ahead of time and prepped the stuffing early.  Just before time to serve, I used a small ice cream scoop to put the dip into the wonton cups and then baked them until warmed through.

The bacon cheese dip was the favorite of the night.  I have to admit, it was good even after it cooled off and eaten with a fork.  This would be one of those dips that would be much better served in one of those cute, little crock pots so that it stayed warm.  I did add a couple of more pieces of bacon into the recipe than it called for...I like bacon!  It was great served on crackers.

The mousse cups I initially tried to make were a failure.  It happens.  Plan B was those little Athens Tart cups made of Phillo dough.  They worked great in a pinch.  I made a boxed mousse, cheap and easy.  I put it in a Ziploc bag, cut off the corner and filled the tart cups.  Then I made homemade whipped cream in just a few minutes and spooned it on top.  Nothing fancy but quite yummy.

The pasta salad is something I played around with over the summer and there really isn't a recipe.  I boiled some bow tie pasta, drained & rinsed it.  About 3 cups total.  I mixed 1/2 cup mayo with a pack of ranch powder mix and about 3 tablespoons of milk.  I added half a dozen pieces of chopped up cooked bacon, a handful of chopped grape tomatoes, a teaspoon of garlic salt and a cup of shredded cheese.  You can make this ahead of time and if it gets a bit dry, you can add a few tablespoons of milk to it to moisten it back up.

Nothing was fancy or overly pricey but it was yummy and fun.  I wanted to have something that people could eat as their dinner and also have the options of some finger foods that could be eaten while we were playing Bunco.

When you have a party, reception, get-together or what have you, you can make some easy quick things to eat that are fun and won't break the bank!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cheap Eats

Hello everyone!  If this winter isn't bad enough yesterday, here in Indy, it was 68 degrees, sunny and beautiful out.  This morning is was like 20 degrees and snowing and sleeting and raining...I wouldn't have been surprised to look out the window and see locusts.  Before you think I'm just whining about snow, I grew up in Pennsylvania, right on Lake Erie so, snow isn't exactly a new thing.  Only in Pennsylvania when the snow starts, it stays until Spring.  This back and forth stuff here of mid 40's-high 60's for a day or two and then plunged back into the sub-zero temps and snow is just crazy.  It's no wonder everyone is sick!

Enough about the freaky Indiana weather!

Being someone who is always looking for ways to reduce the food budget as well as someone who likes to experiment with new ingredients...which can sometimes be quite expensive.  They can also be things that I want to try but am leery of paying a premium for things that my family may not like.  We all know how finicky kids can be...husbands too sometimes!  LOL

A few months ago, someone suggested a place called Angelo's.  It's not a grocery like Kroger or Marsh.  They buy things that are damaged, dented, close to date, or a store is discontinuing the item.  There is no set inventory.  They stock whatever they get that week.  

I generally do one big shop a month and have a follow up shop later in the month for fresh produce and milk.  Ok, let's be honest, if my husband or I get near a store that sells milk, we're stopping to get some.  This family goes through so much milk, we should own a cow!  Anyway, I have started to run by Angelo's before my once a month big shopping trip.  I find some really neat things in there.  

Like I said, you NEVER know what you'll find in there...here's a sample:  


Specialty oils

Vegan items

LOTS of marinades & sauces

Noodles of all kinds, standard and ethnic varieties

Everything from gravy mix to Thai quick meals

More Ethnic items

They even have gallon cans of sauces & other items

Many different juices & waters

Even cleaners and soaps

Ok...distracted by Truffles...walk away from the Truffles....LOL

They even have automotive items and some over the counter medicines

They have some freezer items too.  Breaded chicken and such

I missed getting a picture of the dairy compartment...must have been when I was sidetracked by the Truffles!  I will have you know though that as a diabetic, I walked away from the Truffles.  It was hard, but I did it!  LOL

I did pick up a few things though.


I got 8 bags of caramel Bugles, a bag of dog food, a bag of croutons, 2 bags of Quaker Popped snacks, a box of Bisquick, a tub of caramel dip for apples, a 2 pound tub of Land O Lakes, a jar of olives, a box of chocolate Mousse, a packet of icing flavoring and a couple of Saute Express packets.  The Bugles alone sell for about $1.69-$1.89 to buy them retail.  Everything I purchased was in date and with the exception of the top of the Bisquick box, all packaging was undamaged.  I don't normally buy Bisquick mix but my teen will make pancakes with a mix but not with a cookbook...I don't understand her at all!  LOL.  I purchased everything in that picture for $22.12.

Angelo's is considered a food salvage store.  I don't care for that term, because I didn't find anything that I'd call trash that was salvaged.  Whatever they call it, I'm not mad to have found a place to get food at a discounted price.

If you get the chance, check out Angelo's!  They're at 201 S. College Avenue in Indianapolis.  If you're not in Indy, check out your phone listings for Food Salvage stores.  Check it out, it may not be your cup of tea (which Angelo's had a nice selection of by the way...LOL) but if you don't go, you won't know.  Happy hunting!

Just as a side note...I think it's just wrong that I left there with dog food and not those Truffles!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Potato peelings...who knew?

In the past, when ever I had to peel potatoes I'd always save the peelings for the compost pile.  Potato peels are great for this as long and they are thin and cut rather small.  Well, as long as you don't mind a raccoon or an opossum visiting on occasion.  

I mean, what else could you do with them?

Well, a couple of weeks ago a friend's Mom had something on her Facebook page about potato peelings.  Someone was eating them.  And I was told they were somewhat addictive.  I asked Helen about them and she said that you take the peelings and soak them in salt water for a bit to impart some flavor in them.  Then drain on paper towels to get the excess water off.  And then you fry them.  The peels.  Who knew?

Tonight, the hubby was helping me with dinner and I remembered this as he was peeling the potatoes.  The deep fryer was out.  Why not?



The husband was skeptical.  The kids thought I was nuts.  I figured I'm not out anything but a little compost material if it didn't work.



This was just the first batch.  With the peelings from 4 potatoes, I had the baskets of my fryer filled twice each.  



Out of 4 fryer baskets, this was all that was left.  Gone in under 15 minutes!  LOL.

As I do with all new recipes, I made these exactly as Helen told me too.  I think for my family, the next time, instead of soaking in salt water, I'll just soak in water to rinse the starch off and then after they're fried, I'll use a season salt on them.  You could use about any herb or seasoning on them...garlic, rosemary, Parmesan cheese...use your imagination.

In all my geekiness, I tried to research the origins of this and as suspected, it is thought to have came out of trying to not waste anything edible during lean times.  What was surprising was that I found a lot of suggestions of using not just potatoes but also sweet potatoes and carrots.  

I foresee us trying them all!  LOL

***EDITED TO ADD***

Helen shared with me that you can also do this with apple peelings.  Once they are fried, she said to sprinkle them with a mixture of Cinnamon & sugar.  I'll be trying this in the future!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Slow down!

Today, I drove back to Putnam County, where I used to live for a dear friend's Mother's funeral.  I have lived in the city now for almost 11 years but I so love getting back to the country.  I just need to make sure that I'm doing it more than just for funerals.

The farther I get from the city, the more I'm noticing the changes.  It's not just the scenery changing from the urban buildings to sprawling farm fields.  As I left the interstate, I noticed that people are moving at a slower pace.  They seem more relaxed.

In all honesty, I'm not sure if I noticed this more because I was allowing my mind to wander as I made the long drive out there or if I was just thinking and reminiscing about a wonderful woman and the laid back time we spent at her farm sledding down her hill in the winter or spending time at the ball fields with her while my daughters played softball with her granddaughters.  Opal was a truly wonderful, fun, adventurous woman whom I was fortunate to have the opportunity to know.

The service was very sweet and quite a tribute.  As we left the funeral home, we drove across Greencastle, a very quaint small town (although small, it is the biggest town in Putnam County) and continued out of town, each road we turned on more rural than the last.  It was probably about 20 minutes from the funeral home to the cemetery.  

What struck me most about the drive to the cemetery was the respect shown by random strangers on the road.  By that, I mean that as the procession headed to the cemetery, I saw NO moving vehicles other than those in the procession.  I was about three-fourths of the way back in the line and it was amazing to see the respect shown to the group.  The police blocked off ONE intersection right at the edge of town, otherwise, they didn't block streets. 
 
Why is that?  Because in the country, everyone stops for a funeral.  They get as far off the road as they can and they STOP.  This is done as a sign of respect for the dearly departed.  And it is something that I was shocked to see not being done in the city.  I do it but a lot of people honk at me, yell at me and worse but it was how I was raised.  

It brought tears to my eyes to be moving with the procession and as I crested each hill or rounded each corner to see cars, trucks, semi's, farm vehicles, everyone, pulled to the side of the road and stopped until the entire funeral procession passed.  No honking.  No yelling.  Just quiet respect.

Today, although I said good bye to a very lovely woman, I was able to reconnect with some dear old friends.  I also had a needed reminder to to slow down.  Appreciate those around us.  Appreciate taking the time to enjoy what is around us.  In the city, people tend to rush, rush, rush.  Everyone is in a hurry.  No one slows down to really see their surroundings let alone to enjoy them.

So to everyone out there, I hope that you will take a minute to slow down and appreciate the people and things that are around you.  Learn to really look at things.  There is beauty in the  city just as in the country if you take the time to see it!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sunshine. Finally!

The sun is finally shining today!  I really needed to see some sunshine.  I was telling a friend that I really need to see something besides white snow outside.  The sun is a welcome sight today!

If you are like we are, you're kinda over being stuck inside.  If you look you can find something unique to see in your area.  Here in Indy, some friends of mine kept talking about the "Ice Tree".  I had never heard of such a thing but we thought it was fairly close so we'd check it out.  

Here is what we found:


For those interested and on Facebook, here is the information on it.  

This is just something that a family builds in their backyard every year for the last 50 some years.  It's very impressive to see.

Keep in mind that if you're on Facebook, you can post asking your friends if there is something cool in your area to see.  Facebook can be more than just for playing games!  Ask friends, ask neighbors, ask co-workers about neat things off the beaten path to go see.  You might find your own colorful ice tree!

Get outside quickly, from what I hear, more snow is coming in a few days.  Sigh.  

It's almost Spring.  It's almost Spring.  It's almost Spring...