Friday, July 19, 2013

Facebook to the Rescue

After taking nearly a year long hiatus from social networking, I reopened my Facebook account a few months ago.   I rejoined the masses for the sole purpose of connecting to my family back home, but have found myself enjoying several other benefits of the site.  Lately, it seems like Facebook belongs less and less to the young party people and more and more to the more settled homemaker.  Every day I find great posts about cooking, cleaning, and surviving parenthood. 

A few days ago one of my friends posted an article about using dryer sheets for cleaning. For years, I have been using dryer sheets to clean roasting pans with baked on yuck, but it never occurred to me to take that any further. The list ways to use dryer sheets to clean house started with:

 Use in your bathroom. Cut your cleaning time in half. Makes bathroom mirrors and fixtures sparkle. Cuts right through bathtub scum.

I had to try this one.  We live in an old rental who's previous tenants apparently had an allergy to cleaning and I have spent the past 8 months trying to cut through years of soap scum on the glass doors in the shower.  Nothing I tried seemed to make any difference at all, even when I scrubbed until my arms ached.  So this afternoon, I grabbed a handful of dryer sheets and headed into the bathroom.  In less than 10 minutes I found myself speechless as I realized that for the first time I could actually see through the glass shower door.  

With the doors sparking clean, they really looked like they belonged in a Mr. Clean commercial, I started in on the rest of the shower.  The dryer sheets worked equally well on the walls and trays of the shower and was able to get into the little nooks and crannies I usually scrub with an old tooth brush.  Since our tub drains very slowly, the foot goo down there gets pretty nasty and in this area the dryer sheet did prove to be less than ideal.  After a few moments of pushing the scum around with the dryer sheet, I resorted to Comet gel and wiped that mess up in no time. 

No, dryer sheets are not going to replace all other cleaning products in the bathroom, but they will definitely become part of the scrubbing routine.  Now that the baby is asleep, I am almost excited to go back and see what they do on the sink and toilet.  Yes, nice easy cleaning solutions can make me that happy! 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Wife of a Southern Man: Biscuits

Growing up, I thought men lived for homemade cinnamon rolls topped with gooey, melt in your mouth caramel.  Imagine my surprise to meet Superman and learn that he didn't even know cinnamon rolls were suppose to have caramel on top, much less be made at home.  It didn't take me long however to discover that what Southern men live for is biscuits.    Like most of his ilk, my husband would eat biscuits with every meal.  Thankfully, biscuits are much quicker to whip up than cinnamon rolls are.  Although I had to call a halt and cut down on biscuit production when we started going through a pound of butter every week.  Can we say heart attack?

Perfect biscuits can be a bit elusive, but once the secret is mastered they can easily be added to almost any meal.  The true secret to biscuits is in the butter.  It must be BUTTER.  Not margarine or shortening or vegetable oil.  Only real, old fashioned, calorie laden butter works.

 Additionally, the butter must be cold.  Don't even think about warming it up to room temperature and creaming it into the dry ingredients.  Instead, use a sharp knife to cut the required butter into 1/8 inch cubes and crumble it into flour and leavening with clean, dry hands. 

Sissy's Southern Style Biscuits

2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup cold butter (cubed)
3/4 cup cold milk

Mix together dry ingredients in medium sized bowl.  Crumble in butter until well incorporated (the bowl will look like it is full of pea sized crumbs).  Add milk and knead in lightly to create dough. 

On a floured surface roll out dough into a sheet 1/2 inch thick and cut biscuits out with the mouth of a drinking glass.  For quicker biscuits, omit this step and shape dough into balls by hand then flatten to 1/2 disks.  Just keep in mind that these are what Superman calls "ugly biscuits," but they taste just as good. 

Place shaped biscuits 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet.  Once biscuits are panned, place them in  the refrigerator while the oven pre-heats to 475 degrees.  The cold dough produces light, flakey biscuits. 

Bake at 475 for 12 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve right away (with more butter of course). 

*                               *                            *

As much work as I have put into my biscuit recipe, it is not perfect.  That market has long been cornered by Bojangles'.  If I can ever get my hands on their recipe, then I will claim to make perfect Southern style biscuits.  For now, I just make good biscuits. 

Baby's first meal out was at Bojangles': she slept, we ate.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Wonderful White Sauce

White sauce is deliciously simple and should be a staple in any cooks bag of tricks.  Using a little imagination and 20 minutes, one can create restaurant quality meals at home.  It is a great accompaniment to pasta and chicken of course, but also can be used as the base for cheesy dipping sauce or homemade mac and cheese.  Thickened and heavily peppered it is also what many folks call Country Gravy and will transform last night's biscuits from fossilizing hockey pucks into breakfast (wrap the biscuits in a damp paper towel and microwave 30 seconds to soften). 

Besides it's versatility in flavor and use, white sauce is very easy to create in any quantity desired. Really it is more of a formula than a recipe.

1 Tbs Butter -to- 1 Tbs White Flour -to 1 cup milk 
Easy peasy!  That said, I am going to present my first tutorial along with my recipe for Easy Peasy Pasta.   It is a great summer weight pasta that is quick, easy and incredibly tasty. Uncharacteristically, this recipe has no onion or garlic, but derives the majority of it's flavor from the bacon.  As a one dish dinner, this meal feeds 4. 

Easy Peasy Pasta
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs white flour
2 cups milk
4 strips turkey bacon
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1 cup fresh or frozen sweet peas/ English peas
salt and pepper to taste
pasta prepared to package dirrections

Melt butter in a large, non-stick pan.
Add flour and work into butter using the bottom of the spoon to create a smooth paste.
Slowly pour in a small amount of milk and work the same way as the flour. Once a smooth paste is obtained the remaining milk can be stirred in with out worry. 
Stir sauce frequently while it thickens.  For this recipe the sauce will need to thicken to nearly a gravy consistency to make up for the water that the vegetables will release when they are added.  Salt and pepper to taste.
Cook bacon until firm and chop.
Add chopped spinach and peas to sauce and heat through.
Stir in diced bacon and remove from heat.  Serve immediately over hot pasta.
There it is, easy peasy just like I promised.  This dish is inspired by a fancy $12 dish I ate at a Miami Beach bistro a few years ago.  It lacks nothing in taste compared to the original, but feeds 4 people for right at $3.  For that kind of savings, I will gladly do the dishes myself.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Wife of a Southern Man: Sweet Tea

Here in July, I know we all are feeling a bit patriotic and all warm and fuzzy about the big American family.  Yet as someone who has moved around the country a bit, I can tell you that this big messy family has as many differences as it does likenesses.  Truthfully, that is part of what makes us so beautiful.  Nothing drives it home more than being a northwestern girl married to a southern man.  Our differences in culture and speech allows for a lot of discovery and a even more laughs. 

For me culinary differences has been a great source of adventure.  I am constantly learning how to prepare new southern style dishes and a few of them I have become quite proficient at.  With that in mind, I came up with the idea of a weekly series of posts entitled The Wife of a Southern Man.  Since these southern folk (Superman included) drink sweet tea like us northern folks drink coffee, maybe even  a bit more enthusiastically, I thought that a few pointers on that front would be a great place to start.  No tea will not make or break a marriage, but I sure love the reaction I get every time I hand my husband a glass of perfectly brewed sweet tea. 

The instructions for brewing a good batch of tea can be found every box of tea bags ever manufactured, but there are a few additional hints for consistently perfect sweet tea. Trust me, I learned these the hard way: through trial and error. 
Have a picture set aside for tea only. Tea picks up flavors easily and can become tainted very quickly. (If you use a pot instead of a kettle for boiling the water this applies again.)
For ideal southern style sweet tea, use 1 1/2 cups sugar per gallon of tea. Be sure to stir in sugar while tea is still nearly boiling hot.
Make a fresh batch every 2-3 days, if it lasts that long. Old tea gets cloudy and will develop sludge.
Always serve sweet tea ice cold. 


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Go To Goulash

As much as I love slow food and cooking from scratch, with a new baby in the house I find myself relying on quick meals a few nights a week.  This goulash is similar in concept to Hamburger Helper, but is almost homemade and costs merely $1 more for three times the yield.  Not to mention it tastes a whole lot better and has a recognizable ingredient list. 

This happens to be one of Superman's favorite meals and it dresses up enough to serve to last minute dinner guests as well: just add a salad and garlic toast.  Serves 4-6. 

Go To Goulash

1 lb ground chuck
28 oz diced tomatoes with juice
28 oz cut green beans, drained
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1 lb pasta noodles, prepared to package directions

In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and garlic, cook until just tender.  Crumble in ground chuck and cook until no pink remains.  Drain off any excess fat remaining in pan.

Stir in tomatoes and green beans, then cook over low heat to warm through.  Add hot pasta and stir well to incorporate.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot.   

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

You've Got Your Own Bed

Co-sleeping is probably the only early parenting issue Superman and I were unable to come to an agreement on before Onyx was born.  We both knew she had to be breastfed and cloth diapers were just a given, but we had widely different ideas as to where our little girl would sleep.  Each of us had opposite experiences and opinions.  After co-sleeping with four babies, I couldn't imagine laying my baby down in an empty crib to sleep alone.  He had never shared his bed with an infant and insisted that he was not about to start.  When he set the play pen up next to our bed I didn't argue, but in my heart I hoped never to use it. 

On our first night home with the baby, Superman saw my exhaustion and sent me to bed with her. That night I hoped he had resigned himself to sleeping with baby in the middle at least for a few months.  I had only slept a few hours when I realized that my husband was laying on the other side of the bed stiff as a board and wide awake.  Groggily, I asked him what was wrong and the disgruntled man informed me that he was unable to sleep for fear of rolling on our daughter.  A few minutes later he packed up his pillows and moved to the couch.  At the time I was too tired to do anything other than promptly fall back asleep, but when I woke up in the morning to find him gone it was all I could do not to start crying.  I still hoped it would get better, but the next night was the same and just before sunrise I found myself trying to transfer Onyx to the play pen so my husband could come back to bed.  I say "trying" because he had no sooner settled himself back into the bed when she started crying and he headed off to the couch once again. 

If nights were bad, days were worse.  It seemed as if the baby and I were taking refuge in the bedroom while Superman holed up in the living room, leaving the kitchen and bathroom as a shaky no man's land.  While we hadn't so much as argued over the new sleeping arrangement, it seemed as if we were at war.  The distance was excruciating.  I wondered if I had been na├»ve to think that I could be a good mama and maintain my relationship both.  As much as we loved our new baby, both of us just wanted the us we knew to come back and the only way to get there was to reclaim our bed. 

Night three was exhausting.  I knew that I had to teach our little girl to sleep by herself, but I am not the kind of mama who can let her baby "just cry it out."  Over and over I nursed Onyx to sleep only to have her wake up yelling the moment I laid her down.  We paced the tiny kitchen, snuggled on the couch, listened to music, sat in front of the computer; yet no matter how deeply she seemed to sleep it just wouldn't last.  Finally when I was just about to my breaking point, I laid her down and she simply sighed.  I held my breath just waiting for the insulted screams, they didn't come.  I tip-toed to the bathroom just hoping for enough time to relieve myself, but the silence remained long after I had reemerged and stood over the play pen expectantly. 

Finally, I slipped into the living room to retrieve my husband.  He was skeptical too and we both held our breath while climbing under the covers. With a strange mixture of tiredness and relief I curled up against him and I could feel the tension of the previous days melt away as he wrapped his arms around me.  "That's better," he mumbled into my hair and sighed.  We were back where we needed to be and thank God, the baby was asleep. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ames Family Breakfast

Living in my husband's home town, he frequently finds the opportunity to show my a glimpse of his childhood.  The other morning I decided it was high time to show him a glimpse of mine and set out to create one of the ultimate comfort foods of my childhood:  sourdough pancakes. 

Not trusting myself to eyeball the process and come up with a satisfactory "dough" I once again hit up the internet for some direction.  Seriously, what did we do before internet searches?  This recipe had all the right ingredients, so after quickly jotting down the proper quantities of each I headed back into the kitchen and got to work.

I made the doughs just as the recipe instructed up until the moment they went on the hot griddle.  Then instead of using a large scoop of batter, I opted for a much smaller scoop and spread it thin like my Grandpa would have done.  While the doughs were cooking fried several eggs over easy and a stirred up a small batch of Mapleine syrup for a complete George Ames Special:  served with the eggs sandwiched in a stack of doughs. 

Quite honestly, I was in breakfast heaven.  The sourdough pancakes came out just like the ones I remember from my childhood.  Superman wasn't quite so impressed (like me and fried bologna sandwiches), they just didn't taste right to his southern pallet.  He ate them politely, then asked for "real pancakes" next time.  He even turned down my offer for seconds ***SHRUG*** which worked well for me since I wanted the last stack for myself anyway.  I polished off every single one of those doughs and even forgot to save one to eat for an afternoon snack all rolled up with peanut butter and jelly. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Quick Loaf

A few days ago, I peeked in the refrigerator and realized that **GASP** we were out of bread.  Now as the Queen of Carbs I just couldn't let that plague my kingdom, so I took immediate action.  With my sourdough starter still on late pregnancy hiatus in the fridge, I scanned the internet for a simple white bread recipe.

After briefly considering a batter bread, I settled on this Rich White Bread recipe that requires no kneading and is made in the food processor.  It looked quick and easy, and since it only yields one loaf there was little commitment.  Since a few reviewers labeled it as "too dense" I added 4 tsp vital yeast gluten, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly. 

The process of making the recipe was as painless as it looked and the resulting loaf rose nicely (which is always a pleasant surprise with quick breads).  Once baked the loaf was as beautiful as any baker could ask for and had an enticing aroma, but we somehow managed to resist cutting into it until the following morning. We both enjoyed it as toast for breakfast and shared what remained of the loaf with my aunt and uncle over a country dinner.   I must say that this recipe produced very tasty bread and I will keep it on hand for future carb related emergencies.  It is a bit dry, so next time I will slightly increase the butter content.