Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

So this week is officially the half-way mark in our summer.  In five weeks, the kids are back in some sort of school ~ all of them.  

Here is what we have done so far.  I don't think the second half will be as exciting, so this may well be the list for the whole summer: 

  1. We visited my mother-in-law for the first time in three years.

  2. We all rode on a ferry with grandma.

  3. We went to the Boeing Museum of Flight on the free night only to find out it was closed for a private party. To save the night, we headed north to the University of Washington to the Museum of Natural History. The boys are finally old enough to enjoy museums!!!!

  4. The Good Guy and I survived two two-day trips in the car with all five of our children

  5. The Musician is enjoying a 6 week stint at a nearby university for a high school summer school program.

  6. The Thinker went for a week long camp at the Grand Canyon.

  7. The Engineer and the Comedian went on their first overnight camp outs without their folks.

  8. Princess Pat and I saw Toy Story 3. She cried the entire way home. Teddy bears and baby dolls should not be villains!!  

  9. The Engineer, the Comedian and I went to see the Karate Kid. It was so much better than the original.

  10. We have gone to the neighborhood pool once as a family, though the younger three boys have gone quite a few other times.

  11. We signed up for Netflix and canceled cable. I love it. The kids hate it. Oh well.

  12. The Engineer's front right tooth got hit in just the right way so it died! We are awaiting insurance approval for a root canal and filling. Poor kid!

  13. We ended physical therapy for the Comedian. Get this. So we have him on growth hormone, right? His thigh bones grew so fast that his muscles couldn't keep up. His hamstrings were so tight that he couldn't extend his legs all the way, so he was squatting enough as he ran/played/whatever that he strained his ACL. Yup. Life is just one thing after another around here!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lemon Blueberry Pie

About ten days ago, I got a graham cracker crust out of the pantry, intending to make some kind of summery no-bake pie.  That darned pie crust just sat there and the longer I didn't make a pie, the more it mocked me.  I would clear off the counter and there it would be, "Hi Kristen, remember me?  You were going to make a pie for your family.  You haven't made anything all week.  Don't you feel horrible?!"  You have never felt guilt until a store bought pie crust has mocked you.

I finally decided enough was enough.  I opened the freezer and there was some lemonade.  I haven't ever made a lemonade pie, but I know you can.  I looked up a couple of recipes, but they all took cool whip and I only had whipping cream.   Because of my secret fear that my whipped cream will become butter, I never seem to whip it quite enough, so I knew any pie with a cool whip base wouldn't work with my sadly droopy whipped cream. (What I really need is one of those cream whipper gun type things with the cartridges!)

So, after finding a recipe that took lemon juice, not lemonade and heavy cream, not cool whip, I tweaked it and got this pie.  It practically throws itself together in about 15 minutes, but plan ahead; it needs to be refrigerated for a few hours before serving. 


Lemon Blueberry Pie:(adapted from a Taste of Home recipe)
1 can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 9 inch graham cracker crust
1 can blueberry pie filling
In a bowl, combine the condensed milk, lemon juice and vanilla.  Stir for a few minutes until well combined.  In a separate bowl, beat the cream until thick.  Fold into the lemon juice mixture and pour into the pie crust.  Refrigerate for about 10 minutes and then spoon the pie filling on top.  Refrigerate for 2 hours or more and then serve.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Homemade Cream Soups: Make Your Own Monday #25

It is my belief that all convenience foods are based on something that used to be homemade.  Frozen waffles, boxed cookies, fully-cooked entrees; once upon a time, a home cook made them from scratch.  Cream soups have been in the grocery stores since 1934 when the Campbell's company introduced Cream of Mushroom soup to the masses.  What on earth did Suzie Homemaker do before that fateful year?  I'll tell you.  She made a bechamel sauce like this one.

Realistically, we don't always have time to whip up a sauce from scratch, but if we still want to use something we have made, there are some solutions.

1. Make a pantry mix ahead of time.  This can be stored in an airtight container for a few months.  Here is a recipe from the cookbook, Marlene's Magic with Food Storage by Marlene Peterson:
Cream Soup Mix:
2 cups nonfat powdered milk
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup instant chicken bouillon
2 Tbsp dried onion flakes
1 tsp basil
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp pepper
Combine all ingredients.  To make: use 1/3 cup mix and 1 1/4 cups water in a blender.  Mix until smooth, then transfer to a saucepan and heat, stirring constantly until thickened.  Add sauteed mushrooms, cooked chicken or sauteed celery to get the desired flavor.

2. Bottle your own soup.  I did a post last year on Home Canned Cream of Mushroom soup. I have since used all of the pints I bottled and am looking for a good deal on mushrooms so I can make another batch.
To make cream of chicken or celery soup, use chicken stock instead of beef, add chicken or celery for the mushrooms.

3. You can make a bunch of  White Sauce Butter Balls and freeze them.  Then, when you need some cream of _____ soup, you can make some up quickly.

 Simply combine 2 cups of flour, 2 cups butter, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1 tsp thyme, 1 tsp basil.  When the mixture is completely combined, use a small ice cream scoop to scoop out tablespoon sized heaps onto a cookie sheet.  Freeze until solid and then put into a sealing plastic bag or other container.

To use, heat up about 2-4 balls (depending on how thick you want it) with 1 1/3 cups milk (or 2/3 cup milk and 2/3 cup broth), cooked mushrooms, chicken or cooked celery.  Cook and stir until thick and bubbly.

There.  If you want cream of broccoli or cream of asparagus or whatever other cream of's there are available,   use your imagination and substitute.

I am not going to tell you that I don't have a case of cream soups in my pantry.  They are just too convenient not to use.  I am just giving you some homemade alternatives that I have used and think are pretty nifty.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grilled Steak Kabobs

Recently, I went to dinner at some friends house and the man of the house grilled a marinated tri-tip roast.  It was about the best thing I have had in ages.  Since then, I have been looking at marinades, trying to see what I could come up with to simulate that other one.  Instead of experimenting on full sized roasts, however, I have used much smaller pieces of meat.

The original recipe came from  I substituted.  I tweaked.  You're used to it, right?

Grilled Steak Kabobs:
3 steaks ( I used petite sirloin...because that's what I had)
2 peppers, any color
1 onion
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup coconut oil (use whatever you want here)
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp chervil (it's a parsley cousin, use parsley if that's what you have)
1 tsp white pepper (it's milder than black; use 1/2 if you use black)
Cut the meat into chunks.  Combine marinade ingredients pour over meat in a glass container.  Let marinate in the fridge for a few hours (although, if you use mostly frozen meat, like I did, you can afford to let it marinate on the counter for the last 45 minutes). While the meat is marinating, soak your wooden skewers in water. Cut the peppers into 16 square, each.  Cut the onion into 8 wedges (halve it, quarter it, eighth it).    Arrange the peppers, onion and meat on the skewers in any artistic manner you choose.  Alternate colors or veggies or whatever.

Carry them out to your preheated grill (I use a gas one, so I have absolutely no instructions for a charcoal one)  Cook on low for about 15 minutes for medium and 20 minutes for well done meat.  Test by pressing down on the meat....if the juice is clear, it's well done....usually.  I imagine a grill pro could give you better instructions.  I grill, like I cook.  I often wing it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Potatoes, Brats & Green Beans

I had some leftover brats.  Not enough to feed the entire gang, but enough to fill us if I sliced them up.  I also had something new to try out; some Tropical Traditions coconut oil.  I will be fiddling with it a lot this week and then next week, I will be hosting a giveaway, so you can try out this yummy stuff, too.

Anyway, this skillet meal is a fabulous way to use up those few extra brats that may be left after a barbecue.

Brat Potato Skillet:
(adjust your quantity to suit your family size; this served 8)
5 cooked brats, sliced thickly (about 5 slices per brat)
10 redskin potatoes
2 cans green beans, drained well
3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 onion, diced
2 Tbsp oil (I used coconut, but you could use any)
1 tsp dried rosemary
salt & pepper
Quarter the red potatoes and boil until just done.  Drain completely.  Saute the onion in the oil.  Add the rosemary to the onion before it's completely cooked to release the flavors of the herb.  Toss in the green beans and bacon, warming through.  Add the potatoes and toss again.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Homemade Egg McMuffins: Make Your Own Monday #24

These are one of my family's favorite breakfasts; whether they are homemade or bought on a car trip.  The nice things about making them homemade is that you can make up a bunch of them and then freeze them.  Frozen eggs aren't the best all by themselves, but with the bread, cheese and meat, they are just fine.

To keep the eggs the same size as the English muffins, either use a small can with both ends removed or a pancake form.  You can see I used both.

For a really quick meal, use precooked sausage patties available in the frozen section of Walmart or Sam's Club.  Canadian bacon is also precooked, so it goes together quickly if  you opt for that kind of meat.    I also use a big griddle to cook 10 at a time.  You could always use a frying pan or an electric frying pan.

Homemade Egg McMuffins:
1 package English Muffins (6-10 usually)
As many of the following as you have muffins:
Cheese sliced (we like cheddar, but you could use any flavor)
Breakfast Meat (Canadian bacon, sausage, ham or bacon)
Heat or cook the meat. Remove to a plate where the meat can drain if necessary.  Beat each egg and pour it into a form to cook.  Meanwhile, lightly toast the English muffins.  As soon as the eggs are cooked, build the McMuffins by layering the egg, then the cheese, then the meat.

If you are going to freeze them, wrap them individually in waxed paper, foil or plastic wrap.  Put them into a bigger ziplock bag or storage container and freeze. To eat, you can defrost them overnight in the fridge or microwave them from the frozen state.  If they are defrosted, you can put them in the oven to heat up: 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.  Watch them so they don't burn!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Homemade Root Beer: Make Your Own Monday #23

Many years ago, one of my sons was given a root beer making kit along with a bubble gum making kit and a lollipop kit.  We had great success with the gum and candy, but the root beer, which was made with a yeast base was a complete flop.  All of the boys still talk about the horrible yeast pop.  Boy, was it baaaaaaad.

Enter our dear family friend, Ms. Genki (she is using a Japanese pseudonym here on my blog for purposes of anonymity).  She introduced us to another, more successful, more tasty version of homemade root beer using dry ice.  It restored my sons' faith in homemade beverages and finally washed away the nasty yeast taste that had lingered for 5 years.

While I was in the Seattle area, I asked Ms. Genki if she would allow me to add her recipe to my Make Your Own series.  She graciously said yes.  So, here is her recipe, which originally came from her sister, being made by the Comedian:

Homemade Root Beer:
5 gallons water
1 2 ounce bottle root beer extract
5 pound sugar
1 pound dry ice

Pour 5 gallons of cold water into a large 5 gallon beverage container or bucket.
Add the bottle of extract and stir.
Stir in the sugar until dissolved.  If you don't have a really long spoon, you may have to immerse your hand a bit....make sure it's clean. :-)
Add the dry ice, a small chunk at a time.  If you add it all at once, it will bubble over and make a huge mess.  It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to add it all.  

Leave it to bubble and steam.  When the action stops, the soda is ready.  Put the lid on the beverage cooler and serve.  It will stay fizzy for only a few hours, so don't make this too far in advance of serving.  Remember it makes 5 gallons, so make it for big crowds, or plan on adjusting the amounts.
Make It From Scratch
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