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.

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.

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.

Friday, June 2, 2017

National Doughnut Day

It was a long time coming but today is it, NATIONAL DOUGHNUT DAY.  As a lover of doughnuts, it was a long hard 12 months.  The first Friday in June.

Last year I went to Giant Eagle at around 8 am and in the entrance was a table full of boxes of a dozen doughnut assortments.  I'm particular and wanted mostly chocolate this year so I went back to the bakery where the selection was slim pickings until a bakery worker told me they had a special section today in honor of the day over by the fresh baked breads.  Wow!  They had long johns with white cream and Bavarian cream.  The jelly doughnuts had either white icing or powdered sugar.  All the regulars were there such as glazed, raised with sugar, white and chocolate cake doughnuts with white, chocolate or maple frosting.

This year is the same deal, "buy a 1/2 dozen and get another 1/2 dozen free." There were racks and racks of fresh doughnuts just waiting for the shopper who was there for the special.  A nice way of saying half price.

A selection of Giant Eagle doughnuts

I'm a kid again or at least a kid at heart.  I love raised doughnuts.

Dunkin Donuts Assortment

They can be glazed,
 sugar coated,
  or even be long with white cream
inside them.  It makes no difference.  I just love doughnuts.

I'm not fond of the the Boston cream though.  As a child we ate cake donuts.  My son prefers the Boston cream and I'm always sure to get at least two of those for him.

I remember my neighbor making raised donuts.  She used a biscuit cutter to cut out the doughnut and then a whiskey glass to cut out the hole.

She didn't use a fancy grease fryer.  She just used a pot and a slotted spoon to turn and lift the doughnuts out of the grease onto brown paper bags to absorb the grease.

She then dropped them into another paper bag filled with granulated sugar to coat the doughnuts before placing them on a tray.

What a wonderful day today because I get to fill my sweet tooth with my favorite breakfast food. . .a wonderful raised doughnut.  Happy National Doughnut Day.