Saturday, June 21, 2014

One of THOSE Mothers Part 2: When Life Gives You Lemons

So a couple of weeks ago I admitted to being cheap because I make as many of my own cleaning supplies as I can out of stuff I already have like vinegar, dish soap and baking soda because, well, I'm cheap but also because I can't take the way most commercial cleaners smell. One of my biggest issues is that when a cleaner says it smells like, say, oranges it should smell like oranges and not a chemical approximation of oranges. I like the idea of using citrus cleaners but the reality always leaves me opening a window for ventilation.

A couple of years ago I tried making natural citrus cleaner with a recipe I found on the internet that involved cut up fruit, water, yeast and brown sugar fermented for about a month. Other people swear by this stuff so how bad could it be? Yeah. For me the smell was as bad as a commercial cleaner and it stained if I sprayed it on something and let it set too long. And the yeasty smell lingered. With bread or beer that isn't a bad thing but in my bathroom it was kind of gross.

In the last few weeks I've made two batches of lemon curd so I had a bunch of lemon carcasses that I couldn't bear to just pitch out. I Googled "homemade citrus cleaner" again and the whole first page was the awful fermented recipe but somewhere in there I found a different one. Are you ready for this?


Put cut up lemons in a glass jar, fill with white vinegar till the lemons are covered, screw on the lid, give it a shake and let it sit for two weeks. Give it a shake every once in a while and add more vinegar as needed as the lemons soak it up. At the end of two weeks, strain it through a fine mesh strainer.

I used a pint Mason jar and wound up with a full cup of lemon-infused vinegar. I diluted it half and half with water in a spray bottle and went to town on my kitchen counters this morning (my husband made pierogies last night so there was grease spattered everywhere).

This stuff? This stuff is awesome! And it smells like actual lemons! I'm wondering now how it would work with limes because I'm supposed to make a Key-ish Lime Pie this week (I'm hoping I can find Key Limes but not counting on it).

Okay, chemistry experiment done, I didn't destroy anything and my counters are clean -- total win! Have a great weekend and if you have any homemade or less-toxic cleaners that you swear by leave them in the comments.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

This Week In Culinary Disasters

Okay, I'm not a bad cook. I'm a wildly inconsistent one, though. Sometimes I knock it out of the park for weeks at a time and then, uh, there are weeks like this one.

It started out really well last Saturday with Double Chocolate Scones for which I bought a quart of buttermilk to only use one cup. Sixteen scones baked Saturday afternoon + a family of five = they were all gone by Sunday afternoon. That should have been a minus, shouldn't it? Have I mentioned math makes me cry? Anyway, I had three cups of buttermilk to figure out what to do with so of course that meant pancakes. So far so good.

It was the shortcakes that shook my confidence. Scones are easy because you need to separate them. With shortcakes and other biscuity things you need to bake them kind of smooshed together so they rise and I always forget. So the shortcakes tasted just fine, they were just shorter than they should have been.

Then there was the mayo. I made macaroni salad on Monday with regular mayo instead of the drippy-egg-yolk-yellow-did-I-mention-it's-gross?-gunk that's marketed as being "Amish style" by people who I'm not certain have ever met any Amish cooks. I have and I guarantee you that stuff is wrong. Anyway, somewhere between the macaroni salad and the chicken salad I was making a couple of days later someone other than me used up the rest of the mayo and put the container back in the fridge. It was late and I'd already changed into pjs by the time I discovered this so I did what anyone with a half an idea would do: I Googled "homemade mayo."

Yeah. Two things: when Emeril says "use a blender" then do that rather than trying to make do with a mixer and don't forget whose recipe you clicked because while I'm sure Emeril and Alton get along well in real life what happened in my mixing bowl was decidedly not friendly. It was just as well, really, because as I was standing there looking confused and swearing at the nonsense I was making my eleven-year-old made toast out of the two last pieces of bread. *sigh* I put everything back and had a bowl of cereal instead.

Now bread I can do, just not at 8:00 at night. I've had this recipe for so long that I don't remember where I got it (my stepmother is the most likely suspect) and it's so forgiving that even I can't screw it up. And it's reeeeally good. Like really really. Ready?

Honey Oatmeal Bread

You'll need:

1 1/4 + 1/4 c of water
1/2 c of honey
1/3 c of butter
5 1/2 - 6 1/2 c of flour
1 c of quick oats
2 tsp of salt
1 package of yeast
1/4 tsp of sugar
2 eggs

1. Proof the yeast in the 1/4 c of warm water and using the 1/4 tsp of sugar following the directions on the package. Set aside.

2. Combine the rest of the water, the honey and the butter in a saucepan and heat it till it's very warm but not hot. If it's too hot it'll kill the yeast when you combine them in step 3.

3. In a large bowl combine 4 c. of the flour, the oatmeal and the salt. Add all of the honey mixture, the yeast and the eggs and mix together.

4. Mix in the remaining flour and knead it until it's a sticking-together ball and then dump it onto a clean work surface that you've dusted with flour so it doesn't stick. Really knead the hell out of it for about eight or nine minutes. Feeling agressive? This is a good way to work it out.

5. Butter or oil a large bowl and put the dough into it, turning it around to make sure it's well coated. Cover it and set it someplace warm until it doubles. You can use a warmed oven but I just stick the bowl in my microwave and hope I don't forget it's in there.

6. Has it doubled? Punch it down and separate it into two dough balls. Form them into loaves, put the loaves into oiled or buttered and dusted with flour pans. Recover them and put them back into whatever space you were using to raise the dough the first time. Let them rise again for about an hour or so.

7. Preheat your oven to 375F. Mix together 1 Tbl of water and an egg yolk and brush it on the tops. Don't give it just one pass, really slap it on. Sprinkle some oatmeal on top and kind of press it down with your fingers gently so it sticks well. Bake for 35 minutes.

8. When they're done, pull them out and let them cool for about five minutes before you pop them out of the pans. Brush vegetable oil on all surfaces (again, don't be stingy) and let them cool completely.

9. If you're like me and can't wait till they've cooled completely then at least wait till you're pretty sure your mouth won't blister if you cut a piece and take a bite. Keep ice on hand just in case.

10. If at this point you still want a chicken salad sandwhich, put the loaves to cool someplace WHERE THE DOG CAN'T REACH THEM and go and buy some mayo, already.

That sandwhich? Made more delicious by the waiting for it. You're welcome. Have a great week!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

One of THOSE Mothers

I was debating what to do with this place and I think I've decided to keep it. For one thing, most people who read the other blog probably don't have any desire to read about my domestic disasters but I still want to talk about them. For another, I...uh, really can't come up with another reason so we'll just go with "burning off excessive chattiness" and leave it there.

So, what do I mean by "one of THOSE mothers"? I mean one of those mothers who makes her own cleaning supplies. No, not a hippie earth mama, that's Zan. No, I'm just cheap. And lazy. And did I mention cheap? Because yes. Oh, and I HATE the smell of most cleaning supplies, even the stuff that says it's unscented. I'd much rather buy a soap scented with something I can take and mix it up with other things I already have on hand. Which leads me to today's domestic disaster.

My two basic bathroom cleaner recipes go like this:

1 part warm vinegar
1 part dish soap

Put in a spray bottle, shake it and go. It's awesome on soap scum but you have to let it sit so the vinegar can do its job.

The other recipe is for something with a little grit for scrubbing.

1 part baking soda
1 part dish soap

Work it into a paste and add a little water if it's too dry. Spread it out on whatever stain you're tackling, let it sit for a couple of minutes and rinse it off.

You see where this is going, right?

So today as I was mixing up cleaner to put in my trusty spray bottle I thought to myself, "Self, I wonder if maybe a little baking soda would give it some oomph." Well, of course it would. I poured in my 1 part baking soda and it oomphed all over the counter and the floor and what was left in the bowl didn't stop oomphing for a good fifteen minutes.

Did I mention that I knew that would happen and I did it anyway?

In my defense, I was distracted by a not-so-serious conversation with some friends. My floor is really clean, though. And it did actually work well but it wouldn't spray out of the bottle so I wound up just pouring it out onto my sponge and working it in by hand.

So I'm still not sure what's going to be happening here but, whatever it is, it'll probably be messy. You all have a great day.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pumpkin Spice For Everything!

Really.  One of my favorite things about fall is all of the pumpkin spice things come back and stay till around Christmas.  In August the family took one last trip to Hershey Park for the summer and there we discovered that the new Kiss flavor is pumpkin spice...and oh my they were as delicious as you're imagining.  Our bag lasted till about eleven the morning we opened them and unfortunately they aren't out in any stores here yet so I've been craving them which brings me to what I did this morning.

The best fudge recipe ever, in my opinion, is also the easiest and it's totally adaptable so that's what I used as the basis for this morning's candy making.  Basically you take whatever chocolate chips you want and melt them with a can of sweetened condensed milk, add a dash of salt and some vanilla and that's it.   There's no messing around with a candy thermometer and it's incredibly creamy.  Did I say adaptable?  You can either just cut it up as fudge or roll it into about inch balls and then in something else (like powdered baking cocoa) to get something vaguely truffleish.  This batch I'm going to cut into fudge sqaures.  I used 18 oz of Nestle White Morsels, one can of sweetened condensed milk, a dash of salt, a teaspoon of vanilla, a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice, some butter and a double boiler.  I don't actually have a double boiler so I used a glass mixing bowl over boiling water and buttered it with a REALLY thin layer of butter so the fudge slid out more easily.  I also lined an 8x8 baking dish with waxed paper. 

I started with this.

Bring some water to a boil (make sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl you're going to use) and put the bowl over it.  Pour in the morsels or chips and the condensed milk and stir frequently.  The morsels will hold their shape pretty much until they're totally melted but once they break down you need to stir constantly till the mixture is smooth.  Then take it off the heat (just move the bowl, I set it on the next burner) and working quickly add the salt, vanilla and spice and stir till it's smooth again and the color is consistent throughout.  Pour it into the prepared baking dish, gently shake it till it's more or less level and there are no bubbles.  Take another piece of waxed paper and gently press it onto the surface then refrigerate it till it's solid.  When it's done, take it out and let it sit for about five minutes, take it out of the baking dish and cut it up. 

I tasted some of the melted fudge that hadn't scraped out of the bowl while it was still warm and it was still pretty overwhelmingly white chocolate but tasted again after it started to set up and the pumpkin pie spice flavor was a lot stronger.  We'll see and I'll let you know what the kids think as soon as they taste it.  What's your favorite easy candy recipe? 

UPDATE:  The verdict is that "it is soooo amazing!"  It's really rich so I'll cut these into smaller pieces but yeah, it's good. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Soup, Glorious Soup

A couple of weeks ago it was stock, now it's just straight up soup.  One of my favorite things about fall is that it's soup season, just throw everything into one big pot and let it simmer for a while and you're done.  Easy, right?  The easiest soup I've ever made is the one I made last night which I hadn't made in a long time but I have about 42 28 oz cans of tomatoes in my pantry and I really need to use them up. 

How did I wind up with 42 28 oz cans of tomatoes?  There's a grocery store local to me that gives gas points for buying bundles of things, for example buy 5 cans of tomatoes and get 20 points, which equals 20 cents off per gallon.  From that particular deal we wound up with 50 cans of tomatoes and had $2.00 off per gallon.  We haven't actually paid at the pump for gas in about a year but I have a ton of tomatoes to go through and I don't want to just make sauce with them because from another deal we still have 27 jars of sauce (and we eat pasta once a week...did I mention the 15 bags of gnocchi I still have in the freezer?).

So...this soup recipe calls for a single 15 oz. can but since all I have are huge cans I just doubled everything else in the recipe.  I found it in a Betty Crocker "Simple Soups and Breads" recipe booklet I bought at the cash register of some store years ago.  You'll need

1 2lb loaf of Velveeta, cubed (yes really and trust me on this one)
2 15 oz cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
2 15 oz cans of corn, drained
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes and chili peppers, undrained
2 cups of milk

Throw everything in a pot over medium-low heat, stir it frquently and as soon as the Velveeta is smooth and melted you're good.  No, really, it's that simple.  The only thing is that it takes a loooong time for the Velveeta to melt (about 20 minutes for the double batch I made last night) but, honestly, that's it.  One tweak for my family is that I used plain tomatoes because that's what I had on hand and my husband and son spiced theirs up with Red Hot sauce but that was just as well because my younger daughter won't eat anything even remotely spicy hot.   She crumbled corn bread in hers.  These amounts made 8 servings and I have some left over for lunch today (it's really good the next day, IIRC...we'll see!).

So, that's it and it's gluten free, too, if you're concerned.  What's your go-to easy soup?  Comments are open...have a great day!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dining Room Redo, Part 1

Hey, how are you guys?  I know, it's been a couple of weeks but I really hadn't done anything else to The Little Cabinet That Could and had nothing else going but plans.  Oh, did I have plans.  I told you guys about how I pine for a dining room and when my Darling Husband finished our basement space into a living/family room I was one step closer.  We cleared all of the living room stuff out and were left with a gas fireplace, an old dresser that I go back and forth about and the bigger brother of my little cabinet, a four-shelf two-door pantry that's currently holding a bunch of kid related stuff. 

It sat that way for months because we couldn't decide what to do with it.  When we moved in here over ten years ago one of the first things we did was repaint everything a different color.  I mentioned that my grandfather's decorating ideas extended to, "Eh, Ivory/Cream/Beige goes with everything," and so we went colorful:  the kitchen and our bedroom were pink, the two extra bedrooms were peach and the then-living room, entry way and hall were the most gorgeous shade of sage green.  The full effect of all of that didn't hit me until one day when I was sitting on the end of my bed putting my shoes on and I looked up and could see my room, the hall and one of the extra bedrooms all at once and it looked like the inside of a doll house.  Yikes.  What made it worse was that we'd used flat paint on everything which was a pain in the behind to clean.  Because of this experience I backed off and let my husband pick paint colors and luckily he has great taste.  The sage green was beautiful but didn't really work in our space (it looked like a cave) so he repainted the living room, entry and hall a lift-your-spirits sunny yellow that is so much better but is ultimately really safe.  We kicked around maybe putting up blue and white curtains, which is a classic color combo but not quite as warm as I wanted.  I wanted cozy and colorful but not doll house and I was still trying to figure it out when I cleaned out my purse one day.  This purse.

Isn't that beautiful?  I got it a couple of years ago as a birthday present and I love it not just for the print but also because that color combination is just stunning.  That yellow there?  That's almost the exact shade that we have on the walls in the dining room.  That's the kind of warm I was thinking about and it was on my shoulder the whole time.  I passed it by my husband who was perfectly okay with whatever I wanted to do as long as it didn't involve him having to repaint anything.  I found some really pretty colors at Lowe's but before I had a chance to show my husband what I was thinking about we started talking about the fireplace mantle.  He's been considering taking the whole thing out because it clashes so much with the floor (which was not as noticable when we had an area rug in front of it) but I love it so I asked if we could maybe paint it and again he said that as long as he didn't have to do it he was fine with whatever I wanted to do.  When pushed he said he'd like it to be sea foam green.  Sea foam green you say? 

So I planned and I waited for my husband to take the kids to his university's homecoming this weekend and then I went to Lowe's, didn't listen to my intuition and the universe delivered an expensive lesson in ALWAYS listening to my intuition.  This has nothing to do with the actual redo but if you're reading this and your inner voice clears it's throat pay attention to it.  I locked myself out of my house three times this week.  The first two times were because the back door latch is touchy and sometimes just breathing on it, let alone actually shutting the door, makes it lock when that wasn't what I intended.  The first time it was easy enough to get back in because the plate holding the latch was loose and I just had to jiggle it to get it open.  That freaked me out a little bit so I tightened the plate and problem solved, right?  Nope, the latch was still touchy and still dropped when I went out to play with the dog.  That time I had to call my father-in-law to come and let me in because I'd tightened the plate and jiggling it didn't work.  While I was at Lowe's yesterday getting paint I passed the key making counter and thought to myself that I should really get an extra key and hide it outside somewhere but put it off because I was on a mission.  Inner voice whispering to you yet?  I got home with all my paint supplies and headed out the front door to our shed and because my brain registered that I had keys in my hand I automatically locked the door as I went out.  I realized my mistake as soon as I shut the door.  Husband and kids a hundred miles away, father-in-law with them.  *Sigh*  I went to my neighbor's and called a locksmith and twenty minutes and $80 later was back in my house.

Okay, so here's the mantle that I started with.  Please excuse the glare.


Nothing really wrong with it and it's in excellent condition but again it clashes with the floor.  I took inspiration and direction from Kate over at Centsational Girl.  The mantle redo she did for a friend is so beautiful but not quite what I was going for so while I followed the same basic steps I did a couple of things differently.  For example, I wasn't really going for a totally smooth professional looking finish so I didn't worry about the primer I used filling in the grain.  For this project I used an edger, an angled paint brush, a four-inch foam roller, a 60 grit sanding sponge to scuff the surface, a 320 grit sanding sponge to smooth it out between the primer coat and the first coat of paint, tack cloth to clean up the grit, a Sharpie Paint marker in Gold, Kilz Latex white primer and Olympic Interior Latex Semi-Gloss in Sea Sprite.  Oh, and about a pot of coffee, a call to my real life best friend for encouragement, another call to my brother to recount the trauma of being locked out and a surprisingly delicious store brand Mandarin Orange Chicken frozen meal.  Maybe I was just hungry.

I have no pictures from the actual process because I keep forgetting to do that but here are the steps I took.  First I wiped it down to make sure there were no candle wax drippings or smudges or anything.  Then I lightly scuffed the surface with the 60 grit sanding sponge, just enough to take the protective coat off and give the primer something to grip.  I cleaned up with a tack cloth and have you ever used one of those?  I had a cat once who got stuck playing with a roll of masking tape and let's just say that I feel her pain.  Then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I couldn't return the paint and started priming.  I used a really light touch because like I said I wasn't going for totally smooth professional looking and I wanted the grain to come through.  Kilz lives up to it's "dries-in-an-hour" marketing so I sanded again and used the tack cloth again and as soon as the first brush stroke went on I knew I was in love.  Seriously.  Again I used a really light touch and the first coat went really quickly.  As soon as I was done I put a wet paper towel over the paint still in the tray (a tip I learned from my husband), wrapped the roller, brush and edger in aluminum foil and stuck them in the refrigerator (a tip I learned from my sister) and went to bed.  When I got up this morning I put on a second coat and let it dry and could barely contain myself waiting because I wanted to do the fun part. 

My husband had patinaed (is that a word?) the shiny brass metal trim around the fire box as soon as we bought it because it was just too 80s looking.  When I was first contemplating painting the mantle I realized that I wanted the medallion to stand out a little bit and considered giving it a faux treatment but when I was at Lowe's ignoring my intuition I couldn't find anything that I liked that was under $20.  While I was talking to real life best friend I happened to spy a Sharpie Paint marker my daughter had used for a school project and as it turned out it was the perfect tool.  The tip is thick enough that it kind of outlined the carvings rather than getting down in the grooves which is exactly what I wanted and was dreading trying to do with a teeny paint brush.  It's imperfect but that's why it's so charming to me.


So here's the finished mantle.

I have some touching up to do but it turned out better than I'd hoped.  Like I said, it's not perfectly smooth professional looking but I wasn't going for perfect, I was going for beautiful and as we all know those can be two very different things.  My husband hasn't seen it yet, I'll let you know his verdict.  What are you working on?  Comments are open.

UPDATE:  My husband may be a chemist by trade but he's an engineer by nature which means he's a perfectionist in most things, especially home improvement.  One of the reasons he loathes painting is that he sees all of the flaws when he's finished.  I once got up for a drink of water in the middle of the night and found him staring at the ceiling in the soon-to-be dining room, beating himself up for all the roller marks that only he could see.  I'm not a perfectionist, I'm a make-it-prettierist.  So I approached this project with a certain amount of trepidation, wondering what he'd think of it.  When he brought the kids home from camping last night I made him go in and look because I figured if he really hated it that it was better to know right away.  He LOVED it and thanked me for saving him the headache of doing it.  My older daughter was thrilled that I'd used her Sharpie, my son wants to "detail" his dresser with a bright green Sharpie now and my younger daughter didn't even notice because she barely had her eyes open and went straight to bed.  This morning she said she liked it.  I have enough paint left over (and I so love the color) that I think I might use it on The Little Cabinet That Could, too.  Have a great day, whatever you're doing!  

Friday, September 28, 2012

Chicken Stock For The Soul

One morning last week I had to move four take-out containers full of left over grilled chicken to get to the milk and I thought, "What am I going to do with all of that?"  Then I saw a pepper that I'd intended to slice up for the kids for snack a few days earlier and behind that I saw some carrots and celery and I thought, "I know exactly what I'm going to do with all of that!"  It'd been a while since I'd made chicken stock but I had all the stuff and the time and it was a little chilly so why not?  I wound up making Creamy Chicken and Rice Soup on the stove top and it was soooooo good.  I used a recipe from that I cannot for the life of me find right now but made several tweaks to it. 

3 cups of chicken stock
3 cups of milk
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of flour
2 cups of cooked rice
2 cups of cooked chicken, cut or torn into bite sized pieces
1 cup of frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
Old Bay seasoning

The original recipe called for a bunch of spices but I'd already spiced the stock with everything the soup recipe called for so I called that one done.  In a large saucepan (I used a dutch oven) make a roux with the butter and flour over medium heat and then add the milk and chicken stock and stir it till it's smooth.  Add the frozen vegetables and chicken, bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer for 25 minutes.  The orignal recipe called for onions but I knew our dog would wind up with some of this somehow and onions aren't good for dogs so they were out.  In the last 5 minutes add the rice and adjust the seasoning.  I added so much Old Bay seasoning that the surface of the soup was RED but it was just the kick it needed.

Anyway, when I was making the stock I posted on Facebook that my kitchen smelled amazing and a dear friend commented that homemade soup is her quintessential symbol of love.  I get where she's coming from though for me it's baking.  I might make cinnamon rolls tomorrow.  If I do you'll hear about it.  What food for you = LOVE?  Comments are open...have a great weekend!