Thursday, June 29, 2017

Just a Spaghetti Kind of Day

In our house as a child Thursday was always Spaghetti Day and my favorite meal of the week.  My Mom never made her own sauce but the taste was superb.  She added her mixtures of sauteed ground beef to one can of Chef Boyardee Mushroom Sauce and one Can of Chef Boyardee Meat Sauce.  The popular Walt Disney song has been a by-word in our house, "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down," or in this case takes the acid out of the spaghetti sauce.


I spent a lot of time in my kitchen getting my homemade spaghetti sauce to taste like my Mom's mostly out of the can recipe but I succeeded. I always buy 73% ground beef because it has more flavor because of the fat content.  I confess I do use a couple of jars of prepared sauce as fillers for my tomato, tomato paste and ground meat recipe.  After I have a base I add one jar of store bought mushroom sauce because I don't put mushrooms in my skillet with the meat and one jar of onion and garlic sauce to add to the content but not the flavor.



I had better than a half a bag of ravioli in my freezer, so I made my spaghetti sauce with the ground meat and the ravioli.  I just didn't layer it into the lasagna style that you see above.  We ate ravioli the old fashioned way with meat sauce over it.


As much as I enjoyed the ravioli, it just didn't quench the urge I had for my Mom's Thursday Night Spaghetti.  So last night we ate spaghetti with the meat sauce that was left over from the ravioli.  Good spaghetti sauce never goes to waste in my house because I love so.  I always have at least a half pound of thin spaghetti pasta on the shelf so that I can enjoy the best of the best.

So when you see that butcher's special of ground chuck, think about making what I called as a child, "bisgetti."   As always, "Try it -- You'll like it."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Choosing & Using the Right Cooking Tools

Over the years, I have lost some very helpful tools and acquired others.  Life is so much simpler when you have the right tools to do the job.



Making a good meatloaf is the result of having the right tools.  It is better for flavor to use ground meat that is higher in fat content.  This now means I have to shop for ground meat in the pick 5 section of my supermarket because they insist on making lower fat content packages in the regular section.  This causes the meat to ooze fat while it is cooking.  So I make my meatloaf in a stainless steel pan that has a groove around the edges to collect the fats during cooking.


The meat sits in the middle on a flat surface while the edges are curved to collect the oil drippings.  HINTS: I always save a coffee tin to catch the drippings so that they don't go down the drain or make a mess in the trash basket.  My son started putting a sheet of aluminum foil lining the bottom and sides which can be let congeal and then thrown away.



Once the meatloaf is cooked, it is handy to have a spatula large enough to lift the entire meatloaf from the pan onto the platter for setting before cutting.





I bought the pan which was actually advertised as a lasagna pan.  With the lowered edges I can't see the benefit in making lasagna in the pan, but it is perfect for my meatloaf.  The elongated spatula that is pictured, I acquired when two of my daughters were working for a pizza shop that went out of business.  The owner of the shop told the girls who also managed the shop for him to take whatever they wanted.  There was a similar one at Bed Bath and Beyond but it cost $95.  I found the exact same spatula online at a restaurant supply website for $3.


Another tool that was acquired from the pizza shop was this double handled block cheese cutter.  I use this when I make home made pizza.  It cuts the entire pizza with one cut.  I can then use the cutter to make the pizza 6 or 8 cuts depending on how many I'm feeding.

I also use this tool to cut and shave my 10 lb. block of chocolate that I am melting down to make my chocolate molds or for dipping pretzels.  This work by cutting off chunks big enough to be shaved or broken down further using this tool.


 This smaller spatula is a find that I made on a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond.  I use it to cut my lasagna or frittata.  By using the spatula to measure and cut in squares, I have the perfect size pieces for serving.

My son uses it to flip over easy eggs because it is easier to handle and has a cutting edge that fits under individual eggs.

This spatula would also work well at that birthday party for cutting the cake after the first slice has been made by the birthday person.

The pie crust cutter is another tool that I have found other uses.  I do have a hard boiled egg cutter that I formerly used to cut up my hard boiled eggs for potato and macaroni salads.  I have since found that using the pie dough tool works better and chops the egg into smaller pieces that lend more flavor to the salad.  This also serves to not leave egg whites in chunks which to my taste detracts from the flavor of the salad.

I then use the hard boiled egg cutter to cut the last egg for decorating the salad along with slices of fresh pepper if I'm taking it to a party.

It takes time and experimentation to find the right uses for all of the tools that you may already have in your kitchen.  Just because you bought it for one use doesn't mean that it can't be used for something totally different and become a tool you would miss if you didn't have it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Another Season of Winged Visitors

In April, my winter months proved less than rewarding with my feathered friends.  I put out my seeds all winter long and tried several types of feeders when one didn't produce any takers.  I've totally turned over my feeders to two types that another bird enthusiast told me he uses in his yard.

Bird on Sunflower below the feeders
I've been enjoying nature with a chipmunk who climbs the bird feeder and helps himself and a baby bunny who hop around between four yards across from the side of my house.  It's so nice watching them come and go.

Last year's season was productive and I saw a variation of adult sparrows feeding their chicks.  One night I started to leave the deck when I spied a ball of fluff at the bottom of the steps.  I was horrified thinking that a neighborhood cat had gotten to a chick.  It had the tiniest of tails and was not well plumed yet.

Sparrow Chick
The other success was my attempt at attracting hummingbirds to my yard without using those messy sugar water feeders.

Fuschia Hanging Baskets
Last year, I started out the season by hanging two fuschia baskets in an attempt to attract the delightful birds to my deck area.  When the fuschia plants started to burn out and the flowers started to become fewer, I decided I had to try another method of attracting those spectacular birds that can fly up, down, back and forward.  They are so small and  zip though the air so fast sometimes you question if you saw them at all.  My attempt to winter the fuscia didn't work out so I had to replace them.

Hibiscus that I wintered.
I had better success with the hibiscus but it died over the winter and I had to replace it with one from Home Depot.  One thing about hibiscus is that the flowers are so fragile and I had placed the plant near the area where the other birds visit my bird feeder.  I noticed one of the blooms had been knocked off the plant.  The other drawback is that each hibiscus bloom only flowers for one day and then it closes up to fall off the plant.  It took a couple of days.  This year I placed the plant on the top step to my deck where it gets sun and rain but is within my view when I sit out.

hummingbird at hibiscus


I was finally rewarded at twilight one evening when I noticed the tiniest of fluttering around the hibiscus.  It was a hummingbird investigating the cups where the blooms had fallen off.  Hopefully, it will return to give me bird watching pleasure.
Trumpet Honeysuckle

Last year, I replaced the fuscia with a scarlet trumpet honeysuckle hanging planter.  I placed it on the hanger closest to my porch and to my amazement it attracted a hummingbird within a half hour of when I put it up.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to take a picture of it but it flitted around all of the open trumpets on all sides of the planter and didn't pay any attention to me sitting less than 3 feet away from it.

Chicadee

The chickadees came back in May but I haven't seen them lately even though I hear them when I sit out on the deck.

Cardinal on solar light
My cardinals are back and see an assortment of fledglings and adult birds that come to the feeder.

Goldfinch on feeder

The goldfinches came early summer but have just started coming back in August.

My biggest accomplishment is seeing a bluejay at the feeder.  They are been elusive in the past and only heard warning the other birds when danger was near.

Jaybird on fence across the alley
The ferrel cats from last year have been replaced with my chipmunk and bunny so I'm happy again with nature.

Black Crested Titmouse

I get the greatest feeling of accomplishment when I spy a new breed of visitor to my gardens and bird feeder.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Sea World Orlando Visit with William Paul Dudas, Jr.

It seems like a million years ago that my family and I went to Orlando for the week.  The entire trip is nothing but a memory now except here where I immortalized it forever.

Bill with his pizza and coca cola
We arrived by Amtrak and as soon as we were settled in our condos, Bill was off in his wheelchair to pool side where they have a restaurant under a canopy where we all met up for a lunch.

Monday and Tuesday, were lazy days by the pool for me, Bill, his sister and great granddaughter.  Two of my grandchildren and their mother went to Disney, where my granddaughter got made up by the Princesses. My other two grandsons went to Universal and had a fun filled day.






The baby had a lot of fun playing in the water spouts with her Mom and Aunt.



On Wednesday, the fun continued for my granddaughter as she went to breakfast with the Princesses.  Bill, his sister's family and I from the Penthouse spent the day at Sea World.

Bill and I in our scooters
The bus leaving the timeshare picked us up at the gatehouse stop.  We all had early admission passes so we were on the 7 am bus.  That was good timing because the walk from the bus stops to the park entrance was at least a couple of city blocks away.  The first thing we did when we entered the park was to trade my son's wheelchair for a scooter and get one for me.  I don't think I would have made the day if I didn't have the scooter.  It was all I could do to walk from the bus to the entrance and back again without one.


The first display you see when you enter the park are the flamingos.

Bill at the Sting Ray Area
Bill was into getting his all day food pass and quickly lost the rest of the family as he rode away from us going lickety split in his scooter.  I think it was intentional and he readily admits that it was.  By that time, being with Mom was not his heart's desire.  I finally caught up with him at the Sting Ray Pool.  We talked for a short time and he was again off he went to anywhere away from Mom.



From there it was off to the Waterfront and the Seaside Fire Inn to get our food passes for the day.  Lost him again after he got his pass.  I looked for him outside but he was gone and I just went my merry way taking pictures as I went.  He later informed me he had gone through the buffet but I didn't see him and went on my way.


My first stop was the Manatee exhibit.  I used to visit the gulf coast of Florida and I remember the manatees.  I love those mammoth sea cows.



A ride over the Overlook Path took me past Dolphin Cove.  I took several photos but I never got one close enough to see the dolphins hanging out over the sides waiting for food.


Then it was a trip through Turtle Trek.  They shooed me through so that that they could get me out fast after the show.  It was at this point that my scooter started running out of battery power and I limped my way back to the entrance to exchange my scooter.  I could have just stopped at any display and they would have sent one to me but I was out to see what I could see.



After I got the new cart I went up around the opposite side from where I had been past the dolphin nursery but they would not come near enough for me in my scooter.  It was a bad day for seeing the dolphins.



From there I met up with Bill who was stretched out sleeping on a bench waiting for the Shamu Show at 11:30.  He joked that a park attendant had stopped to ask if he was ok.  Bill was always a prankster and he delighted in the fact that he was able get someone just by resting on a bench.  

I went on up to the show and got a spot just above the splash zone.  It was so funny watching the handlers wave their hands in a direction and then the whales would flip their tails to send water cascading in that direction onto the crowds.

After the Shamu show was over, I made my way back to the entrance again and bought some souvenirs for people who were taking care of my animals at home.  After I turned in my scooter, I had a long walk back to the bus stop to get the shuttle back to the resort.  It was a very hot muggy day and the bus that was there was going to the water park before he came back to pick up for our resort.  I got on anyways and rode around to the water park and then back to Sea World where I found Brittany and Bill waiting in his wheelchair for the bus ride back to the Hilton property.  

It had been a fun day but I was tired and ready to stay in at the resort for the rest of the day.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Special Occasion Cheesecake - Wedding Day

Anyone who loves cheesecake will get into the swing of things by making some one's Valentine's Day a memorable one.  You Can also use this for wedding showers and wedding tables.

There are so many recipes for good cheesecake that it is hard to pick one.  I have one but due to a family tradition, my daughter has banned me from sharing it. So needless to say, I have to rely on other good recipes for this edition of my blog.

Individual Heart Molded Cheesecakes
Let's start out with perhaps the simplest of cheesecakes and make them individually in a a mold such as the ones made by thebigapplemama.com.  The link takes you to the recipe for making this delicious cheesecake individually for your family and friends.

Heart Shape Cheesecake
Next on our list of cheesecakes is one that is just that a cheesecake made in a heart shaped cake mold and not decorated  With this cheesecake you have the best of all worlds in that you can use the recipe above and leave it up to the individual to use the topping of their choice while enjoying the cheesecake flavor.

Since I can't use my own recipe, I'm suggesting that you use the recipe of the one that I linked you to for the rest of these Valentine's Day offerings.

Cherry Cheesecake


The first is my personal favorite.  It is a cheesecake decorated with cherry pie filling and whipped cream topping.
Strawberry Cheesecake
A good portion of the people prefer strawberry topping with their cheesecake.

Blueberry Mini Cheesecake
Others are partial to blueberries.


My final suggestion takes a little more decorating ability and is made with raspberry jam swirled on top of the cheesecake.

Whether you top these off with whipped cream or not is totally an individual preference.  I vote for with whipped cream.

Try these for that special someone in your life in their favorite flavor.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cheesy Potatoes Made into a Frittata

This is my son's version of my Cheesy Potato recipe.  He had been taking pieces of the cheesy potatoes I made and mixing it into his morning omelette.  So, what does he do?  He goes out and buys what he thinks should go into this dish and makes his own.  My son was a fanatic when it came to cheese and eggs.  He loved anything made with these two ingredients.

For those who don't know this is an omelette style recipe or Frittata rather than a quiche.  Quiche is when you pour your mixture over a bottom crust and it is an open face pie style.  Quiche is a fancy pie with no upper crust.

Cheesy Potato Omelette
  It's hard to believe that this great guy is no longer here changing my recipes.  I told him what I put into mine and he went out and changed it up by replacing the cream of chicken soup with a can of cream of mushroom soup.  He didn't use any sour cream.  Instead he scrambled a dozen eggs which he did not put into the potato mixture but poured over the top of the prepared potatoes.

Then, to top off his style of cooking, he chopped up a tomato and sprinkled it over the egg mixture.  Into the oven it went and the above casserole is what came out.  To be honest, I was not sure I would like it with the eggs spread over the top and with the tomato bits.  I finally tried it and I have to admit it has it's own flavor.  I still want to try this recipe with the O'Brien style mixture with green pepper and onions but now I have to wait for another occasion that we need a side dish for the meal.  I have found I like working with fresh chives now so that may be the replacement for onions in my next attempt.  We have enjoyed the flavor of cheesy potatoes enough for this year.  We will have to wait for another day when I decide to make something homey like meatloaf.

So for another day, we have given you a choice for your cheesy potato dish.  Again, you can't go wrong when you add to or take away from a recipe, you just have use the "try it -- you'll like it" method.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Managing Money Wisely

My grandfather taught me "A penny saved is a penny earned."

A few years ago I took a money management course in conjunction with refinancing my mortgage.  While they had some interesting things to tell me, through experience I had already put a lot of their tips into practice.

As background, I have been identity thefted and know how cumbersome it is to correct what someone else has attempted to do to your credit worthiness.  Luckily, in my case I caught it early because I put into effect one of the most important ways to use your money wisely.  That is to keep an almost obsessive compulsive check on all of your banking and credit accounts.

In my case, I keep an excel spreadsheet that outlines all of my income, bank accounts and monthly bills.  I check my bank balances every day online and match those against what payments I have scheduled or sent checks and what has cleared my account.  If there is a discrepancy, I make a note of it and check the same a few hours later.  If the discrepancy continues, I then contact the bank or vendor to question what has occurred and to make sure it was something that was legitimate.

On the spreadsheet, I have notated the date a bill is due and by color coding if I have scheduled the payment and with another color code if the bill has cleared my bank.  In another column, I keep track of what the bank shows as my balance and what payments have not yet cleared the bank.  This tells me how much money I have free to spend on other cash expenses such as food, prescriptions or gasoline for the car.

I had been in the habit of using my debit card for cash expenses and getting rewards for using that card.  Recently, my bank terminated the practice of giving rewards for using the debit card but are giving rewards for using my credit card with them.  As a result, I have started moving the cash that I had used to pay bills to my credit card by making payments in advance to cover certain bills.  This way, I am continuing to get the rewards for using my card.

Now here is a tip that I learned at the money management class.  I'm not totally in agreement with using this method but this is what they told me.  When you are paying your mortgage, you are delinquent if you don't pay them on the date the payment is due or prior to that date; but, it is prudent to hold off making that payment until just before the end of your grace period.  Like I said, I don't totally agree with this but as it was explained, this gives you more control over the usage of your money.  You do what you think is prudent.

I have paid off my mortgage due to an unexpected insurance claim.  Because I no longer have a mortgage, I am now able to pay down some of my credit cards with the money that was being used for that payment.

I have taken great care to make sure that my payments are on time and to some extent paid well in advance of my due dates.  This keeps the credit reporting agencies happy and really does have an impact on your credit score and worthiness.  The other toss of the coin, is that you should never owe more than 20% of your credit limit on any account.  It's the old adage, if it appears that you don't need the money, creditors are more apt to loan it to you in bigger abundance.

Another thing to watch is the type of credit cards you are holding.  Try to acquire cards that don't require an annual fee and have the lowest interest rate.  As you use your cards wisely and your credit score climbs, you will be offered cards with better rates.  If you decide to take the offer of a lower rate, pay off the card that has a larger interest rate but don't close the account.  By doing that, you have a larger amount of available credit and still only owe the original amount.

I took out a home equity line of credit that has a much smaller interest rate than any of my credit cards.  With the money, I paid off store cards with high interest rates and a couple of my credit card balances.  With this money, I now pay the monthly payment required by the bank towards my interest and make additional payments against the principal.  As I pay off the amounts I used to pay off each card, I then pay off an additional card with the next highest rate of interest again using that payment money to pay against the Line of Credit.

As you pay off your debts, take the money that you used to pay those bills and put a percentage away each month in an interest bearing account.  Be sure to notate what you are saving this money for so that you are less apt to go on a spending spree.  With the remaining percentage of the previous payment, pay down another creditor until it is paid off.  Each time you pay off a creditor your credit score gets a little better due to your income to credit ratio.

I have now put interest rates next to my creditors name on my spreadsheet.  When I am making a larger payment to pay down my credit card debt, I pay more on the ones that have the highest interest rates first.  On another note, I get invitations from banks every day for additional credit cards with transfer of balance offers.  Some of these also give rewards.  I have found that these normally carry higher interest rates and I shred everything that I get like that before discarding them.

It all boils down to knowing at all times what you have as assets and using them to your best advantage.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sesame Chicken: Bake It Without Shaking It.

A few years back, there was a product called Shake and Bake.  It was the lazy man's way to coat chicken parts for baking in the oven.  It involved pouring the mixture in a bag with wet chicken parts and shaking the bag until the chicken was coated with the crumbs.

Shake N Bake Chicken parts for the oven




Now I ask you, "Is this the way to make good chicken?"  True it is healthier to bake your chicken rather than frying it in oils.

My sister-in-law made a recipe that called for mayonnaise to coat the chicken and a bread crumb mixed with sesame seeds for a shower that she was hosting.  I'm not fond of any chicken except roasted chicken with stuffing, but this recipe for Sesame Chicken was one of the best that I've ever tasted.

Sesame Chicken from the Oven

The breading is moist and flavorful and not dry like you would expect since it was baked on an open sheet pan in the oven.

Sesame Chicken with Broccoli
In this day of thinking heart healthy, this recipe is one that I would recommend for your Sunday dinner menu.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Wedding Cookies - Oatmeal Date or Fig Bars

This little bit of taste treat is another wonderful addition to the wedding cookie table even though I normally only make it for Christmas.

Christmas wouldn't be complete without a batch of my Mom's Oatmeal Date Bars.  These cookies are so easy to make but they don't make a lot of cookies.  The recipe I have makes a 9" square pan of cookies.



There is no reason you can't substitute figs for the dates.  Imagine that!  A substitute for Fig Newtons.  This has always been one of my favorite store-bought cookies.  I could eat a whole tin of Fig Newtons in a sitting.



My love of dates has long been my downfall when it comes to baking cookies.  When I was a child, I raided the dates from the pantry shelf every year.  It's interesting that I tried to get dates earlier in the year but they didn't have them on the shelf at the supermarket.  They had prunes and cranberries but not dates.  This is interesting because I love dates so much. 



If you need a larger amount of cookies for your wedding needs, my suggestion would be to double the recipe if you need a larger amount of cookies.  This would easily make a 13" x 9" pan and give you enough cookies to add to your holiday trays.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Wedding Cookies: Biscotti

My father-in-law was a dunker.  He loved dunking his cookies in his coffee to eat them.  Biscotti is one of the cookies that can get hard if you aren't careful.  They can also be spongy and easy to eat.  This is one of the easiest cookies to make and one that is good no matter what time of year.  I know my father-in-law loved these and the honey cookies that get hard if not stored in an airtight container with a slice of apple.

Continuing on with my Cookie stories, I spent a lot of time in the grocery store last year deciding whether to make Orange or Almond Biscotti for Christmas.

Orange Biscotti made right
I was torn between the flavors and since I don't have another orange cookie on the list, I decided to make the Biscotti orange. 

My orange biscotti in a storage container
If you remember, I made Peppermint Biscotti a few years ago but I wasn't happy with the end product.  I think the color turned me off since it came out pink from the ground up peppermint sticks.


Peppermint Biscotti
Everything started out fine as I followed the steps in the recipe.  I used the spatula attachment to mix the margarine, sugar, eggs and orange extract.  Once I was ready for my dry ingredients, I switched over to the dough hook and proceeded to mix in the dry ingredients a little at a time in my Kitchen Aid mixer.  The dry pour attachment is a big help in keeping the dry ingredients from flying out of the mixer.



Another use for having the right tools to do the job.  After using the dough hook it was time to roll out the dough into logs.


Next the logs were put into the oven for 35 minutes.  Following the directions, the logs were then cooled before cutting into slices and putting back into the oven for an additional 15 minutes.

The results was that I misjudged the size of my logs and my Biscotti are the size of what they are named for biscuits.  Next time I need to keep the dough a little wider and not so round.  That's the lesson for today.  Time and trial are the best cooks or bakers.  Even though they taste wonderful, the next time they should turn out more like small cake slices instead of round.


Almond with chocolate

Biscotti with chocolate drizzles
For weddings though you need to be more creative and garnish you biscotti with nuts or even chocolate drizzles.  Almond slivers in an almond biscotti is a favorite for weddings.






Almond Pistachio
Chocolate with Nuts

Almond pistachio is another taste that I like since I'm partial to any baking done with pistachios.  My personal favorite is a chocolate biscotti with nuts.  Today is my birthday and chocolate with nuts would be a great selection for toasting my special day.


That's my baking story for today.  Happy baking.