Saturday, November 21, 2015

Make and Freeze Thanksgiving

Pin It Thanksgiving is a great holiday.  I have great memories of helping prepare food with my mom and my grandmother.  In the last couple years, my mom and I have noticed that even doing dishes as you go all day long, there is still a mountain of dishes at the end of the meal.  I love to cook--but I hate dishes.  Even though I'm not hosting Turkey Day at my house, I love the once-a-year foods for this meal, so I'm cooking my favorites and I'm doing some tricks to make things easier.

Make and Freeze Dressing
Serves 4-5
1 pkg  herbed bread cubes
1/2 c. butter
1 c. onion, chopped (1 medium)
1 c. celery, chopped (2-3 stalks)
1 can low sodium chicken broth (14 oz)
1 tsp. sage (or poultry seasoning)

Chop up the onion and celery finely and saute in the butter in a skillet over medium heat for about 10-12 minutes, until translucent and soft.  In a large mixing bowl, pour the cooked onion mixture over the breadcrumbs and stir.  Slowly pour about half of the chicken broth over bread and mix.  Add more broth until the cubes have absorbed and they are soft but not soggy.  Add the sage and stir.

Here's the time saver--at this point, you have two choices.  1.  Let the mixture come to room temperature, put it in a zipper bag and freeze it.  On Thanksgiving, you can put the mix in the nice baking dish and cover with foil and bake at 350 for about an hour or in a crock pot on low for 2-3 hours (you may need to add a bit more chicken stock as you bake).  2.  You  bake the dressing immediately then freeze and just use the microwave to reheat on meal day.

P.S.  I was watching America's Test Kitchen this morning, and they put their dressing in the bottom of the roasting pan and placed a "deconstructed" turkey (the breast and the thigh/legs) on top and baked it that way for extra turkey flavor.  Looked good to me, I might have to try that. 

Make ahead fruit pie
I'm afraid that pumpkin pie is not my thing--although I can make one (and you can do it the day before).  If you want to do pie the easy way, like me.  Make the fruit pie filling in advance and freeze it in a zipper bag.  When you are ready to make the pie, just put it in the crust and bake.  No, I don't make my own crust--Pillsbury works for me.  You CAN make and freeze an entire pie, before you bake--it just takes about 2 hours to bake from frozen (and you have to shield the edges of the crust so they don't burn).  Here's how I do pie filling for the whole year all at once.

Cranberry Sauce

If you haven't ever made your own cranberry sauce, try it this year.  It takes about 15 minutes and its so delicious.  I did some instructions a few years ago, so give it a go and throw it in the fridge or freezer until Thursday.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Super Light Packing

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You already know by now that I enjoy traveling and I pack light.  I challenged myself last month for my lightest packing adventure yet.  I was heading to Disneyland--my flight would get me there around 10:00am and my return was the next night around dinner.  Often I stay at a hotel just across the entrance, but this time I did Hotwire and ended up about a mile from the park.  Not that far, but I didn't want to take a shuttle/cab to the hotel, check in early and leave a bag and then get myself to the park (and the reverse would be true the next day--I'd give up park time to head back to to the hotel to get my bag before the airport).  I could have rented a locker at Disneyland for $7 a day both days, but like I said--packing light challenge.  So, how much do you really need for a 32 hour trip?  Turns out, not too much. 

I realize that this method probably doesn't work when traveling with small kids, but some of the tips could help cut down on a few things.  I'm a believer of "buy it there if you need it" rather than throwing in everything just in case.  You rarely end up needing it. 

So, here's what I took:
1 regular size cross-body purse
1 t shirt
1 pr underwear
Rain jacket (it folds up into its own pocket, from LL Bean)
Make up:  mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow stick, sponge, blush, moisturizer (I rarely wear more than that anyway)
Hair pick, ribbon and elastic
I wore the same pants and the same shoes both days--I do that at home all the time--don't you? No?  Oh well, the jig is up for me then.

Here's how I compacted my toiletries.  You know those tiny zip bags that extra buttons come in when you buy new clothes?  I used those.  I had enough moisturizer for bedtime and getting ready.  For the deodorant, I sliced off a bit and smooshed it around in the zipper bag--then split the bag wide open when I used it and rubbed it on my skin.  Too "redneck"?  Maybe--but it worked.  My toothbrush came prepasted (it was like dehydrated paste, but you could just use a mini zipper bag).  I also did a bag with medicine.  As a bonus, the toothbrush was disposable and the mascara was at its end, so I tossed them before I came home.  Hotels come with shampoo and conditioner, so for one night--it works. 

That's it.  Two days, no luggage and a purse smaller than my everyday bag.  I brought home more than I took with a few souvenirs (it is Disney after all).  I enjoyed every moment in the park!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Travel Printable

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Its no secret to my friends and family that I like to travel.  I'm a fan of going to familiar places over and over as well as exploring new ones.  I love Disneyland and the beach and food and getting stamps in my passport.  I'm also getting more adventurous--Segway tour in Rome; awesome!  Cooking lesson in Florence; highly recommend.  Surfing in Hawaii; wow, there is some cardio!  I'm in the midst of changing up some of the pictures and decorations in my living room and thought I'd do something in a frame about travel.  I found this quote (attributed to someone named Susan Sontag) and thought it fit my personality.  I've made 3 versions--one with a map as the background, one in sparkly gold and the other in a more subtle gold.  The high resolution jpgs will print nicely on shiny photo paper.  Click the Google link below for the high rez files (they are called Travel Print).



Friday, July 24, 2015

Fresh Lime Squeeze

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I gave up diet Coke (again) a couple months ago.  Most of the time I don't miss it, but sometimes you just want an icy cold drink with lime-y goodness mixed in.  This week I've found a superior substitute! 

Earlier this week I escaped to the Uintas and the Mirror Lake Highway for some hiking and stopped by the town of Kamas on the way home for lunch.  

The Hi Mountain Drug store has a soda fountain and restaurant that is adorable, and I highly recommend a stop (its only about 40 minutes from Salt Lake; well worth the drive).  After hiking all morning, I ordered the Fresh Lime Squeeze--boy was it tasty.  I watched the server mix it up and asked her what was in it--pretty simple stuff (which I generally have in the house anyway, except the soda).  So, now I'm hooked on this new beverage. 

What you'll need:
Fresh limes
Seltzer water
Simple Syrup (instructions below)
Ice or a chilled glass

Make the simple syrup by mixing equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and heating over medium heat until the sugar is all dissolved and the liquid is perfectly clear (I made a 1 c. sugar/1 c. water batch so I could make several glasses without having to make up syrup each time).

In a chilled glass, add 4 Tablespoons of simple syrup and the juice of 1 1/2  limes and 1 1/2 cups of seltzer.  You can add more syrup if you want it sweeter or more lime juice if you like it tart.  I think I'm going to swing by the store and pick up some of "pellet" style ice--I think it would make it even better.  I picked up my limes at the Hispanic grocery store because they always have them for less $ (I bought a bag of 15 for about $1).

Sit outside and enjoy the summer sun and the tart lime of your fresh lime squeeze--and head to the Mirror Lake Highway--its gorgeous up there. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Summer BBQ

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I received products at no charge for this post from  BzzAgent, but all opinions are mine.

May was pretty rainy around here--not too many opportunities for outdoor eating, but I was determined to have a "summer meal" anyway.   Smith's grocery store has a Red, White and BBQ event going on at their stores this month.  Lots of ideas for outdoor cooking.  I went for the classic steak. 

I got the meat out and into the McMormick's Grill Mates Brown Sugar and Bourbon seasoning packet and let the meat marinate for about 30 minutes while I got other stuff done for the meal.  I followed the America's Test Kitchen advice on cooking awesome steak.  I took the meat out of the marinade and used paper towels to dry it off thoroughly.  I sliced the steak into 2 pieces and placed it on a wire rack in a cookie sheet.  I used a meat thermometer that has the probe that goes in the  meat and the wire that goes outside of the oven.  I baked the steak at 275 for about 25 minutes, until the temperature of the meat was 105. 

I used a cast iron grill pan and got it super hot.  I put my baked steak on the hot pan and cooked for 2 minutes per side.  Take the meat out and tent it with foil to let it rest before serving. I ended up with a perfectly medium steak--nice pink, but not bloody red.  The marinade flavor was faint, so next time I might marinate overnight.

I added a wedge salad on the side along with a baked potato and corn on the cob.  I garnished the steak with some crunchy bits called Kroger Top'ems--I liked the crunch, but the mesquite flavor was a bit strong.  They'd be good on a salad or even on the baked potato. 

Wedge salad with blue cheese, red onion, red grapes, bacon and balsamic vinaigrette.

 And as a side note--Bzz Agent sent me some Sriracha Ketchup, which I tried another day in some fry sauce.  Kicky and delicious.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Ruffled Maxi Skirt

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I'd been looking for a mustard colored skirt in the fall-and kept looking all winter and finally figured I'd have to make my own (never found one, or at least not one I liked). I decided I really wanted it to be ruffled like a gray skirt I bought at Macys. I then started looking for fabric, which turned out to be just as challenging as finding the skirt in the first place. You'd think as popular as ruffles are mainstream stores like Joann's or Hobby Lobby would have lots of cute knit fabric-but not the stores in my town. So I turned to Etsy and finally found some 2" knit ruffle fabric.

The making of the skirt is actually pretty simple, but the ruffles on the fabric do add a level of concentration. I had to pay really close attention when I cut out the front and back so that the ruffles lined up. I also did a basting stitch along the raw edges to make sure the ruffles didn't get bunched up when I sewed the pieces together. 

If you already have a long skirt, just use it as a pattern and cut your pieces about the same size (its stretchy knit, so you don't need much seam allowance).   If not, measure your waist and cut that measurement in half (so if your waist is 32", the top of your pattern will be 16".  Again, it's stretchy knit, so I didn't leave a seam allowance).  For the bottom of the skirt you decide how wide you want it to be (I went about 6" wider). 

Baste (or use straight pins) all the ruffles along the long edge of the pieces. You'll be glad you did when you go to sew the front and back together.

Put the front and back pieces together (right sides together) and sew up the long sides.
Now is the time to try it on-if it's too big you can adjust it now. Once you're sure it's the right size, measure around and add an inch (so if your measurement is 32", you'll need to add 1". 

To make the waistband I bought some regular jersey knit that matched as closely as I could find.  I like my waistbands to be about 6" tall when finished, so that means I cut a rectangle of fabric that was 12" tall and 33" wide (remember your width will match your skirt).  You can also use 2 pieces, each 12x16.5. I like to have my waistband taper, but you can just sew it as a rectangle. If you want to taper, you lay it out and trim the sides-then sew up the raw edges.

You'll have to fold the waistband over (wrong sides on the inside). 

Flip the waistband so that all the raw edges line up. Sew around (use a serger or if you don't have one, use the zig zag stitch so that it will stretch).  I had some custom labels made, so now is the time to sew that in too.

Ta-da, you have a new skirt have that is flouncy, bouncy, full of fun, fun, fun!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Star Wars Day--May the 4th Be With You!

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I love the original Star Wars movies, but Return of the Jedi holds a special place in my heart.  Daring rescues, cool light saber fights and adorable Ewoks!  I clearly remember going to see it in the summer of 1983.  I had gone on a trip to California with a singing group I was in--and came home to hear about lots of flooding in Salt Lake City.  So much flooding that they created a "river" right through downtown.  Our family went to see the river and then headed to the Century Movie theaters--these awesome theaters that were in dome shaped buildings (at least I thought they were awesome).  I even got to buy treats with my leftover trip money. It was a pretty great day.

Tomorrow is May the 4th and to celebrate I decided to do some baking.  I went looking for inspiration on Pinterest and found a deliciously delightful blog called Yummy Crumble and knew this was the cake to make!  It didn't require a bunch of cake decorating skills like fondant or piping--but it is a multi-step messy process.  I made a few changes from the original because I couldn't find some of ingredients (and I didn't have a madeline cookie pan and neither did any of my neighbors).

Vanilla Bundt Cake
I liked the recipe on Yummy Crumble, so I'll send you over to her blog to get the recipe. Be sure to REALLY grease that bundt pan-mine was non-stick and I drowned it in non-stick spray and I still had one spot that didn't come out clean.  My cake took 43 minutes (I check it at 35 min and it was still really wet in the middle).  I did the cake first so that it could be cooling while I got the decoration stuff prepped.

"Sand" topping
Oatmeal cookies (the crunchy un-frosted kind from the cookie aisle)
Caramel topping (bottled from the ice cream section)

I used 12 cookies and pulverized them in the Vitamix.  Glaze the cake with a thin layer of caramel topping.  I spread it around with a rubber spatula and then pressed the cookie crumbs all over.  I did this while the cake was still on the cooling rack and on top of a cookie sheet to catch all the excess (and re-use the crumbs).


Sarlacc monster
Butterscotch chip jaws and tentacles
Almond slivers

I melted the chips in the microwave (heat in 30 second cycles and stir until all melty).   Put it in a zipper bag and clip the corner and pipe into 4 different fat squiggles for the tentacles.   For the mouth, I squeezed a rounded triangle shape onto a wax paper square and let it set for about 5 minutes and then draped it over a water bottle and popped it in the fridge (with a container on each side so it didn't roll around on me) to harden up. About 1 minute after it was in the fridge I used a butter knife to make some ridge marks on the back of the "monster." Honestly, this was the trickiest part--the water bottle really wanted to escape on me.  I used some white frosting to make teeth.

You stick the almond slivers around the inside, and then make a pile of frosting in the hole and set up the monster pieces. 

I'll be serving this fine cake with some Yoda Soda (ginger ale) and some ice cubes from my fancy Darth Vader and Han Solo in Carbonite molds.  Should be a fun celebration.