Sunday, December 29, 2013

pin 10: homemade pasta sauce

The Pin: Great Grandma's Pasta Sauce
The Verdict: Easy-peasy, basilriffic, yummy, but not the end-all-be-all sauce

Okay, I don't normally call out people's grammar or punctuation as I know my blog is filled with errors (my journalist friend Greg has said I could benefit from a copy-editor) as I often write in a hurry. BUT, this blogger hit one of my pet peeves with her misuse of the word infamous.  She wrote, "Jason’s grandmother makes her infamous pasta dish."  as everyone seems to like this pasta dish (she is recommending others make it), I believe she meant "...her famous pasta dish."  You see, infamous means something that is famously BAD. Okay, I'm done now.

On to the review:
Making this sauce is a snap. While you do have let it simmer for 2 hours, if you make it on a lazy day (snow day, Sunday, whatever), it seems well worth it. Then again, I'm a basil and garlic whore, and there is A LOT of basil and garlic in this recipe.  My house smells amazing!

Half way through the simmering process, I decided it needed a bit more zip, so added more oregano, pepper, and salt.

I made a batch of it, and will freeze it in single/double servings packs, so when I want some spaghetti I can just grab a pack and be done.

This sauce is tasty, and I will enjoy it more than Ragu. It is so easy, I will for sure make it again, using the recipe as a base and add whatever herbs I fancy. I recommend it for novice sauce-from-scratch cooks. :)

new favorite quick meal

So, I'm now obsessed with turkey kielbasa sausage. I want to eat it all the time. My new favorite quick meal is kielbasa and pierogie's. Add the veggie of your choice (whatever you have), and violia! A perfect meal in under 10 minutes. :)

**I promise, this is not becoming a cooking blog. I've just been on a cooking kick the last few days.*

Saturday, December 28, 2013

what's in store for 2014?

I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, and even more rarely do I follow them, but this year I'm going to try!

2013 brought with it a lot of stress, due mostly to over-extending myself, which in turn meant I gave my pets less attention than they deserved, spent more money, ate out (and unhealthily) more, and generally ran myself ragged, all while feeling guilty for not spending enough time with friends and family.

Of course, I did some awesome things, too: I trained for my 1/2 marathon, saw more plays, and made a point of seeing some of my old friends more often.

But, balance is key, and balance is something I did not have in 2013, so my resolution for 2014 is to achieve more balance in my life. 

Some ways I hope to do to achieve this balance include:

  • staying home during the week more, so I can eat at home, play with pets, do my shit, & keep my house/clothes clean.
  • say no to invitations sometimes (and not feel guilty about it), so I can actually enjoy the invitations I say YES to!
  • Climb often & keep running :)

pin 9: whole wheat pizza dough

Pizza time! I have a pizza dough recipe I like (this honey wheat pizza crust),that I posted on my "Against the Grain" a few years ago, but I saw this recipe on Pinterest, and I thought it was worth a shot as I'm always looking for ways to make my favorite Friday meal healthier.

The Pin: 100% Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
The Verdict: Mixed:  Easy to make, insane amount of prep-time, super yummy crust.

Apparently I should read recipes more carefully because I planned to have this Friday, until I read that the dough should sit in the fridge for 24-72 hours. Yikes! That's crazy; this better be the best pizza dough ever. I made the dough Friday morning (late) and made the pizza for lunch on Saturday, so it sat in the fridge for the minimum time suggested.

Slight tweaks I made to the recipe: 
  • I substituted honey for the white sugar
  • After you take the dough out of the fridge, it should rise for an hour on the counter. My kitchen is usually cold, so I stuck it in a warm oven for 45 minutes.
  • Sadly, I don't have a pizza stone, so I pre-baked the crust for 5 minutes before putting on the toppings. 
  • Because I was just making 1 pizza (I halved the recipe), I didn't bother with the parchment paper, and instead just made the pizza on my pizza pan, but in hindsight, it would have been useful for faster clean up.
On her blog, the author indicated that this pizza doesn't get "crispy," but I found mine got to a good crispness level.  Crispiness was an issue with my other recipe, but I had no such problems with this -- perhaps because I pre-baked the crust and/or didn't use the parchment paper? 

My sauce and toppings:
For my sauce I used the crushed tomato recipe (on the same blog post as the honey wheat crust) because it is still the best tasting sauce I've ever made. YUM. so easy. You should do it.

My go-to homemade pizza toppings are cheese, left over hamburger, and bell peppers, but this time I opted for basil leaves, turkey pepperoni & some left over bell peppers. I used mozzarella cheese (but I usually just use whatever I happen to have): I'm not a big cheese person, so her recipe called for way to much in my book. I probably used 1/2 a cup or so.

How does it compare to my Honey Wheat Crust?

  • On the one hand, it has a lighter flavor (I taste more pizza than crust) and it was easier to get a crisper crust.
  • On the other hand, I had to prepare the dough days in advance. LITERALLY (I'm really hung up on this).
  • I think the 100% whole wheat is a better dough than the honey wheat, but not significantly better to win out over practicality. That said, if I plan ahead and just think to make the dough during a Scandal commercial break, I could make this a normal part of my menu. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

pin 8: chicken soup with lentils and barley

The heart healthy recipes continue! Fortunately, my parents gave me a small deep freezer and a super food saver for Christmas, so I will be eating well even when I'm busy. :)  Okay, down to business:

The Pin: Chicken Soup with Lentils and Barely*
The Verdict: Delicious! This is definitely going to be a staple in my meal rotation.

Just like the lentil and kielbasa soup, this is relatively easy to make, but it would definitely be too much to deal with on a weeknight. This is a perfect Sunday (or freezer) meal.

Changes to the recipe:

  • I substituted leftover turkey from Thanksgiving for the chicken.  Having to cook meat beforehand for this soup would make the prep time on this a little much, so I highly recommend making it with leftover meat.
  • I think it could have used more garlic and basil, salt & pepper. I used fresh (for both the basil and garlic), but could barely taste them. I also use low sodium everything, so found I did need to salt it. I pepper everything, so it's no surprise I needed to pepper it!
*Please note, one of the pins for this recipe (the one I pinned) only lead me to an ingredient list. From there, I had to Google the recipe to get the full thing. I linked to the actual recipe above. 

pin 7: lentil soup

Some of my readers know of my heart disease phobia,* and with that phobia in mind, I've decided to take control of my heart health in 2014. This means learning to cook with barely and lentils (among other things). As you can imagine, I've been pinning recipes on Pinterest like crazy, and this is the tale of one such pin.
The verdict: Pretty damn good!

I followed her recipe exactly, although I just bought the brand of turkey sausage that was on sale & I didn't accompany the soup with bread.  I have to say, this is a good winter soup. It is hearty (heh, pun intended), and the kielbasa makes this dish delish. It was also fairly easy to make: the prep time was minimal. 

A word about Lentils: I don't think I've ever eaten lentils before, and their flavor is strong, but not unpleasant. It is one that I think may take some getting used to, but overall, I like this dish, and will eat all 10 servings of it over the course of the winter. 

Things I might do differently:  Because the spice of the kielbasa is my favorite thing about the soup, I may play around with adding other spices/herbs - not much, just something to take it up a notch. I may also throw it in the crockpot, so the flavors can mingle a bit more.  I will also quarter or halve my sausage circles so I can have more bites that include the meat. My roommate, who likes things to have a carnival of flavor will likely say this is too bland for him.

For vegetarians: the recipe says you can omit the sausage and use all vegetable broth (rather than 1/2 veggie, 1/2 chicken), but I think you will really need to spice it up if you make this. There just isn't that much flavor outside of the sausage.

One last tip: After dinner mint recommended.

*My phobia began upon learning that women's heart attacks often present themselves differently from men's, and women sometimes have heart-attacks without knowing it, which can lead to their body being wrecked, or them being dead.  I spend about 30% of the time wondering if I'm having a heart-attack.  This PSA with Elizabeth Banks is both hilarious and terrifying; enjoy! (plays automatically)

pin, revisisted

This fall, I followed the pin to spray paint my door handles, and I loved it, but after a few months, I have to admit that the paint is coming off of my door handle on my front door (my original review)

I still think this was a valuable pin, and can give a short-term fix, but if you can spend the money on new hardware, that may be the way to go.  Still, I think if you are trying to update hardware that is not often touched (a light fixture, for example), then I would still use the spray paint.

Pin 6: making ornaments from cd's

Disclaimer, I didn't actually make this pin, but a friend of mine did on a craft night I recently hosted, so I'm including it.

Pin: DIY: Mosaic Ornaments 
Pin rating: TERRIBLE

It is very difficult to cut the cd's, and the chance of cutting one's self accidentally is high. The end result pictured on the website, even for talented artists, is difficult to achieve, and the reward (even when it does look great) is not worth the time or risk of injury.

It may work better if you have heavy-duty scissors and can cut very small pieces, but overall I would NOT recommend this pin. :(

pin 5: bird seed ornaments

Pin 5:  Holiday Birdseed Feeders
Pin Rating: Excellent!

This pin was super fun, easy, inexpensive, and kid-friendly. I loved it!  Sticking with the holiday theme, I used Christmas cookie-cutters, but you could do this any time with any shaped cookie cutters. So fun!

pin 4: draft dogers

Pin rating: Excellent! Easy & Economic. Best for homes without dogs.

My front door currently lets in a lot of cold air. A LOT of cold air, so I decided to try to make some draft dodgers. This tutorial on Pinterest seemed easy enough, so I gave it a try.  

Fuzzy Socks - Because I would have these draft-dodgers up longer than the Christmas season, I tried to find some fuzzy socks that were not red and green, and I found two pars of blue and green extra long fuzzy socks for 2.47 at Target or Walmart.   One pair of these socks is long enough for a normal door width, so if you can find them, they would be more economical and require less sewing than having to buy 2 pairs of normal length fuzzy socks.

Popcorn kernels - This project took MUCH more popcorn than I anticipated. I used more than a 45oz jar for one dodger.

Stuffing - you can get this at any craft store, and this will be the most expensive item. Hobby Lobby and Michael's almost always have 40-50% off coupons on their website, so I would use those to keep this pin ultra cheap.  You can buy a small bag; you really don't need very much of this at all.

Needle & Thread - any scrap thread you have around the house should get it done. Anyone can do this - you just making a few stitches to close up the socks.

So, I followed the direction exactly, and sewed up my socks. Perfect! I love my little draft-dodger sock snakes & made two.  Unfortunately, so did my dog,but I probably should have seen that coming...

Sunday, December 01, 2013

my rant about those who rant about "happy holidays" greetings.

Before I start seeing all the "keep Christ in Christmas" Facebook
posts (and likes) chastising anyone who would dare say Happy Holidays, I urge you to remember that Christmas is not the only holiday being celebrated right now*. Let me say that again: Christmas is not the only holiday being celebrated right now.

 People who get bent out of shape over someone saying "Happy Holidays" because it is somehow taking "Christ out of Christmas" baffle me.  I just don't get how someone wishing me well takes Christ away.  Did that greeting make it impossible for me to reflect, pray, or prepare for the coming of Christ in some way? Did that greeting shut the doors to my church? I'm pretty sure that isn't how it works.

Further, those who make the assertion that "Happy Holidays" is so horrible, seem to be ignoring Christ's message of tolerance, peace and love by refusing to gracefully accept that other's offer of good will.

I routinely say "Happy Holidays," "Merry Christmas, " or "Happy Hanukkah" depending on who I'm talking to or how they greet me. I don't celebrate Hanukkah, but if you wish me a happy one, I say "right back atcha, dude." Whatever the words, the message is the same: "Peace and good will to you, my friend."  That's what all those things mean. The rest is semantics. How is Christ ever taken out of that?

So, if someone says "Happy Holidays" to you, instead of taking that as a personal affront to you and your God, choose a kinder assumption that the person is simply wishing you well regardless of the holiday you celebrate during this time, and wish them well in whatever way you think is appropriate.

*Some other holidays being celebrated during the Nov-Jan holiday season:

  • Thanksgiving
  • Hanukkah 
  • Winter Solstice
  • Soyal
  • Ashura
  • Bohdi Day
  • Kwanza
  • New Year's