Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Chopping Up a Watermelon at 4:00AM

"Why are you chopping up a watermelon at 4 o'clock in the morning?", my dear husband asked.  My reply, "I don't know what else to do at 4 o'clock in the morning." 

You see, sometimes in life you have to view your circumstances and take advantage of opportunities that otherwise will not come around again.  The watermelon on the counter at 4:00am was one of those "opportunities."  Carpe Diem.

Last night I fell asleep tucking Jett in. (It's about 60/40 on any given night this will happen. "Curious George and the Baseball Game" is a really relaxing book.)  I woke up around Midnight to have a brief conversation with my husband that included his intention to be ready for the day by 4:00am so that he could get to the farm to plant. This meant that I needed to get up and shower and prep for the day at 3:30am. (Why? Well that's a good question that involves a toddler who is a light sleeper, a noisy hair drier, and a fear that I'll be faced with a day of meetings and my hair sticking out in all directions, or worse, hair that's still wet.)

So, by 4:00am, I had a choice, a) go back to bed, and risk bed-head in all of its glory, or b) get up and start the day.  Obviously I went with "option b".  Now normally this would be my perfect time to do homework, but I submitted my last final for the semester on Sunday night.  The list of things I could do at this time of the morning is quite long (and apparently includes blogging) but the watermelon was there starring me in the face, as I came to the realization that now would actually be the only time I could cut up the watermelon.  What an "opportunity"...

So there I was standing in the kitchen holding a large knife, hacking up a watermelon in the wee hours of the morning. I contemplated life, Costco, and why I bought a watermelon in the first place.

I couldn't help but think back to my high school musical "Guys and Dolls", standing on stage more than a decade ago in character as Miss Sarah Brown, watching Sky Masterson sing "My Time of Day", and thinking about what a romantic concept the early hours of the morning were. 

Chopping up a watermelon at 4:00am was not exactly the picture I had envisioned...

Good morning friends!  I hope you have a wonderful day, and if you have a hankering for watermelon, I have three tupperware in my fridge ready to share.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Chicken in Every (Crock) Pot

In 1928 the Republican Party used the quote “A Chicken in Every Pot…” in a political campaign for Herbert Hoover as president.  Wikipedia tells me that this phrase actually has its roots in seventeenth century France when Henry the IV wished his peasants prosperity.  What does this have to do with anything?  Well for one, this is a phrase my mom has said on occasion and I didn’t really know what it meant until it appeared in my economics text this semester.   Cool.   Secondly, I put a chicken in the Crockpot this morning and my house didn’t burn down, so I’m thinking that’s pretty good prosperity. 
If you have been so kind to have read this blog before, you know that I have an irrational fear of my Crockpot.  I’ve stated this in occasional conversation in the last few months and I’ve determined that this should be right up there with topics you don’t discuss in polite company like religion or politics.  I have been told that I’m crazy, and the Crockpot is the working mom’s best friend.  I think I’ve actually offended a few people as though the Crockpot is their friend. It’s all very strange.
But, today was the second time in 2013 that I used the frightful appliance, and the house is still standing.  I may be ready to conquer my other irrational fears like getting stuck in an elevator or watching a movie about crop-circles on the SciFi Network.  Or not…
I’ve been contemplating the restaurant desert that is my favorite town, and have been hungry for Indian food.  Hy-Vee Chinese buffet doesn’t count, but it's honestly the closest thing we have.   So for my Crockpot adventure I did a Google search for Tandoori Chicken in the Crockpot, where I found a blog post by author Stephanie O'Dea who used a Crockpot for like every day in a year, and I would guess her house is still standing.  I’ve never stumbled on this blog before, but I already know I like the author as she has a similar aversion to chicken guts, and lots of ideas of what to do with a Crockpot.  So about 6:25am this morning between straightening my hair and waking sweet baby, I attempted a loosely crafted version of this dish.  (There is no Jessica-edited recipe, no pictures.  I used the Rachael Ray style of measuring and stuck a lemon in where the guts used to be.  Very culinarian.) It turned out to be very tasty and my family actually ate it.  Crockpot lovers, you win this round.
In other news, I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been studying economics and Starbucks. (Literally, I have a project due on the organizational theory behind Starbucks…sadly, I haven’t been drinking enough…Starbucks.)  Technically it is “Spring Break” but as good as JCrew is for retail therapy, somehow buying a wardrobe that looked like it belonged in St. Barts, hasn’t actually not gotten me to a sunny beach.  If you’ve posted pictures of your tan and umbrella drinks on Facebook, I would normally say I’ve deleted you.  This year I’m saying, please take me with you!  Mama needs a vacation. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Accidental Crockpot Creation

I have no idea how this happened, but I'm pretty happy it did.  If you've been following the blog for awhile you know that I'm completely afraid of my crock pot.  I don't know how to use it, the recipes that I've found are usually multi-step, include cream of something, and I'm always afraid that I'll leave for work and burn the house down. 

I was inspired by Hy-Vee's $3 dinner idea for Beef and Vegetable Lo Mein when I logged on to activate my new fuel saver card.  It was yum at first site and I wasn't sure how I was going to pull it off...enter the crock pot.  I knew I had a package of frozen steaks in the freezer that desperately wanted to be eaten, so in the morning I popped them (still frozen) into the crock pot with a garlic clove, half an onion, a little olive oil and a splash of soy sauce.  I turned it on low and hoped for the best (and that our homeowner's policy was current.) 

Over my lunch hour I stopped at Hy-Vee, which is literally my place "where everyone knows your name", waved hello to all the friendly employees that I have come to love, and ran into several friends who were also grocery shopping sans kiddos.  I picked up some fabulous produce, including the organic broccoli and seasonal oranges pictured above, and only broke the rules for four cans of diced tomatoes.  My total was $68.04. 

When I came home from work about 5:30pm we still had a kitchen to speak of and the meat smelled incredible. I quickly washed and chopped up some broccoli, mushrooms, and scallions, heated a pan and coated it with olive oil. I threw in another garlic clove and sauteed the mushrooms and broccoli.  I sliced the meat and put it in nearly last since it was already cooked.  I added a little of the drippings from the crock pot to the pan for extra flavor, and squeezed half an orange for a little citrus note.  Scallions went in just before I put everything on the plate.  While all of this was going on in the pan, I quickly boiled some lo mein noodles (which believe it or not, I had in my cupboard!)

It was a truly fabulous Use-it-Up night!  I still don't totally trust my crock pot, but I might be gaining just a little more confidence in it...

What I Used-Up:
Three frozen steaks
Lo Mein Noodles
1/2 onion
1 orange
1 head of broccoli

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Spring Break 2013

I figure we are about two weeks away from the 2013 barrage of friends' photos from spring break trips from Cancun to Key West.  So I'm really super excited to be the very first among you to post pictures from our thrilling spring break staycation.

This trip was a big deal for our little family as we determined that it was the very first time we all stayed away from home together for more than one night.  So as my little sister packed for her semester-long Italian adventure, her big sister's family hit the road for a thrilling weekend in Beatrice, NE. Leaving after work, we made a stop at Grandma Clara's for pizza and playtime, and then proceeded to roll into the big city around 10pm.  Way past everyone's bedtime. 

Daddy left the next morning bright and early to work cattle, leaving Jett and I to a day of exploration.  First we enjoyed the gourmet breakfast bar at the hotel, where Jett enjoyed watching the pancake machine.  We were upgraded to a room with a view.  Jett's favorite view of a Ford dealership, and just beyond the horizon we could see the shining bright green of a John Deer implement.

After taking in the view and lounging in our suite, we set out to see the sites and found a very big, very orange playground at the YMCA. 

It was a balmy 40 degrees so before long our course was changed indoors where we watched elementary basketball practice.  All that exploration made us hungry again and Jett got to have his very first McDonald's Happy Meal.  Excitement didn't quit as we got to watch a man in a red lift and bucket fix the lights on the golden arches. 

Our morning adventure left us feeling quite exhausted so back to the resort we went for a little siesta.  We woke up just in time to join our cousins at another fun park.  For a little afternoon snack, we visited Dairy Queen where it was about 105 degrees, and if you closed your eyes and used your imagination the Blizzard machine sounded just like the roar of the ocean.

Soon it was time for the main event, the St. Paul Lutheran School carnival.  There were games of all kinds from cake walk to bean-bag toss - our favorite! 

There was even a big fake cow that we got to touch. We happily waved goodbye to everyone and finished our adventure with pizza at a quasi-alfresco cafe on a beautiful deck looking out on the inside of the furniture store in the mall. 

I sincerely hope that I haven't made you too jealous. I wish you lots of sunshine and excitement on your own spring break trips this year!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Freezer-Friendly Mini-Meatloaves

Today I could not be more thankful that I took a little time this past weekend to make up a delicious freezer-friendly quick cooking meal.  Like most people in the U.S. I'm either fighting "the flu" or more likely a virus thing that's wiping me out, but isn't bad enough for meds.  Fun stuff. 

So when it comes to my regular thought around 4pm, of "What am I going to make for dinner?" cooking does not sound like a lot of fun.  But neither does fast food.  So it is the perfect night for the meal I'm about to share with you. 

Meatloaf balls are an idea that I stole from my Aunt Karina who served this at a Sunday lunch once.  Mini-meatloaves are perfectly portioned, cook much faster than traditional meatloaf in a loaf pan, and make ahead beautifully for the freezer.  They are also made for a Use-it-Up recipe!

Meatloaf Balls
Approximately 2 1/2 cups bread, broken up into small pieces
1/2 onion chopped
2/3 cup shredded carrots
2 eggs
1 cup ketchup
3/4 cup mustard
1/4 cup spicy ground mustard or 1 tsp Worcesters sauce
2 lbs ground hamburger

Start by prepping all of your companion ingredients first. (This was a total revelation to me.  Prepping everything else first and putting the meat in the bowl last makes for a much easier clean-up process, and reduces the risk of accidentally touching something after you've touched the meat.)

I like to leave my ingredients fairly chunky as you will see.  Many recipes call for making breadcrumbs by putting bread in the food processor, but I like the texture and think the end result is more moist. 

After the bread, chopped onion and carrots goes some salt and pepper (about 1/2 tsp of each), two eggs, and a generous squirt of ketchup and mustard (approximately 1/2 cup of ketchup and 1/4 cup of mustard.)  I didn't have any Worcester sauce, which I like to use, but I did have spicy ground mustard which works very nicely for a bit of kick.
In a separate bowl I mixed 1/2 cup of ketchup and 1/2 cup of mustard together to make a very traditional sauce for the top. 

Two pounds of ground beef go in next, and then the fun begins... Mix together all the ingredients using your hands.  I portion my balls by taking a generous fist full and packing it tightly together.  I've found that this recipe yields exactly 12 mini-meatloaves.  You can make them bigger if you prefer a little larger portion.

Knowing these would go into the freezer, I put mine directly on to some Glad Press-and-Seal wrap.  I covered each ball with the sauce, and put another piece of wrap over top to seal them up.  To prevent freezer burn, I put each package of six in a ziptop bag. 

When I wanted to make these for tonight's meal, I took out just the number I needed.  I put them into a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes, but this time would be reduced if you thawed them in the refrigerator prior. Check to make sure the meat is completely cooked before serving.  Enjoy!

What I Used-Up:
The last of a loaf of bread
2 lbs beef
1/2 onion
The last of a bag of baby carrots
2 eggs
The last of a bag of sweet potato fries

Monday, January 14, 2013

Blue Cake for Breakfast

It's been just over a week since our trip to Costco, and we've consumed or used nearly 3/4 of the 5lbs of berries I bought.  For a family of three (with one who doesn't eat any...ehem...Kevin), that's pretty remarkable!  If you've been following the blog for awhile, you know that we love smoothies around here, and at least twice a week Jett and I share a big berry/spinach smoothie.  We also love to eat berries for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between.  On Saturday morning I made one of my favorite blueberry muffin recipes which took care of nearly 1lb of blueberries.  Jett calls it his "Blue Cake."

Double Blueberry Muffins (Courtesy of Gale Gand's cookbook "Butter, Sugar, Flour, Eggs")

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups fresh or thawed frozen blueberries*
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line 12 muffin cups with liners.

Cream the butter in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer) until smooth. Add 1 cup of the sugar and mix. Add the eggs, vanilla, baking powder and salt, and mix.

In a shallow bowl, mash 3/4 cup blueberries with the back of a fork. Add to the batter and mix. With the mixer at low speed, add half of the flour and milk. Repeat with remaining flour and milk. Fold in the whole blueberries by hand until well mixed.  In a separate small bowl, mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar with the cinnamon.

Use an ice cream scoop to fill the muffin cups three quarters full.  Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the muffins and bake until golden brown and risen, 25-30 minutes.  Let cool, and enjoy!

*I love that there are more blueberries than flour in this recipe! I have also substituted raspberries for blueberries, and it turns out wonderfully.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Tale of Two Grocery Trips

We begin this story on a sunny Sunday afternoon, as we hopefully piled into the car after lunch to make our way to Costco and begin our experience as "members".  We made a couple of stops on the way while Jett slept in the car.  Then we pulled into the lot, and as if by fate scored a spot right by the door. 

The plethora of food and other stuff was overwhelming, but we were up to the challenge.  With Kevin pushing the cart and Jett on my hip, we picked out flats of blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. At my sister's suggestion, we purchased some artisan lettuce to split with her, and Jett would not let me leave the produce cooler without a mammoth bag of mini peppers (the kid is CRAZY about them!)

On to paper goods next, we were out of everything and before long our cart was nearly full.  It seemed that at every end cap we just missed the samples by a matter of seconds, probably a sign to me to stick to the Use-it-Up challenge.  I faltered in the cereal aisle buying two jumbo boxes of Ancient Grains granola.  And because of this I feel as though I should admit how addicted I am to this cereal.  If it was the end of the world and I could only save three material goods I would take a flashlight (for practical purposes), my wedding ring, and Ancient Grains granola.  This may have been the logic that did in the Mayans...

Jett got suckered in to buying squeeze packs of applesauce in bulk.  I tried to stop him, but he couldn't resist how much cheaper these were at Costco than Walmart or Trader Joes.  Kevin bee-lined for Nabisco snack packs and graham crackers, and I caved.

We finished the adventure with a trip to the concession counter for the world's largest yogurt parfait and called the $90.14 spent on groceries a success. 

Our next tale began just hours ago, as a happy kid and I piled into the car on a foggy dreary morning to run some errands on my day off.  He was good as gold at the dry-cleaners and sweet as can be at the recycling, but Hy-Vee was a whole other story. 

We pulled in and he immediately remembered the car shaped carts that weigh 500 pounds and hold half the groceries of a normal cart.  They are my favorite too.  He shouted "blue, blue, blue one" all the way to the door.  As we entered, on a whim his choice turned to the orange car that was parked near the front and after a thorough clean up with Clorox Wipes, we hit the road.  He drove happily through nearly half of the produce department until he remembered that he actually wanted the blue one. 

My delightful child had a terrible two sized meltdown while I received parenting advice from 100 much older, wiser patrons who thought blocking the aisle while telling me how to handle my yelling child would be a good idea.  (It may have been just two, but that was enough for me.)

We made it out of Hy-Vee in record time with a $22.89 bill for milk,  eggs, bananas, and orange juice.

May all your grocery trips be as eventful.

Over the weekend I'll be posting some freezer friendly ideas, and tell you what I do with a flat of blueberries.