Sunday, November 20, 2011

Need a gong this Thanksgiving

Have you ever felt something so strongly words don't do it justice? I find myself there this Thanksgiving. Listing the things I'm thankful for seems empty and self-serving, like I'm bragging or patting myself on the back. What I really want is a giant gong. Something bronze, preferably with a big hammer. Something loud and resonating. Something that says, "THANK YOU!!!" I don't have a gong, unfortunately. If you want to lend me yours, I'll take good care of it.

So since the internet equivalent to words without words is photos, I'll share one of something I'm grateful for.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving and don't forget to give thanks!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thankful Things Place Cards

I'm hosting Thanksgiving next week for my husband's family and a few close friends. Because there are so many of us (we're expecting 30+ guests this year) we're usually more of a buffet-style-paper-plate-and-plastic-cup-grab-a-seat-anywhere crowd. We're still serving buffet style, but I thought it would be nice to have place settings at the 11 available seats (8 at my new dining room table and 3 at the kitchen counter). Instead of place cards with guests' names at each seat I made Thankful Things place cards.
Ignore that crumb in the corner. :-) The idea is for each setting to have a different thing we're thankful for. One tag says "Family" another will say "Friends" and another "Health." You get the idea. Okay, I'm not very crafty so I was pretty proud of these. And they were really inexpensive. I used my own wrought iron napkin rings and jazzed them up with the same gold pen I wrote with on the tags and some really inexpensive fall bead thingies from Michael's. (Don't you like my crafting vocabulary?) The "thingies" were 30 cents a piece on sale. I extracted six or seven strands out of each thingy and wrapped them around my napkin rings. Then I used brown thread to tie the gift tags. The gift tags were the most expensive item at $4 a package and the pen cost me about $2. All in all though, not bad. Hopefully the food will look this good!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Stockup Recipe: Crockpot Brown Rice

It's that time of year. I don't know if it's the cold weather or watching the squirrels bury their acorns under the old oak tree in the back yard but suddenly I'm filled with the urge to stockpile food. As I write this my freezer is pretty much empty besides some summer vegetables, old hamburger buns, push-up yogurts, one container of leftover chili and a bread-pan lasagna. However, my pantry is brimming with uncooked staples like rice and beans, so I'm starting there.

This 32 oz. bag of brown rice from Wal-Mart cost me $1.28. It holds 5 cups of dried rice, which equals about 20 cups of cooked rice. For $1.28. That's a heck of a lot of cooked rice, you're right. Here's how I use it. I don't flavor it while it's cooking except for some salt. I used to make big batches of specific types of rice but then we got tired of eating it over and over. So instead, I keep the rice plain and add a little butter and salt or sugar (depending on your preference) at dinner time. I might also add some steamed veggies and flavor it with either beef or chicken bouillon paste and a little water. You can also use it to make:
  • Dirty rice.
  • Fried rice.
  • Rice and beans.
  • Green rice.
  • Stir-fry.
  • Chicken soup or with chili. 
  • Stuffed peppers.
  • Meatloaf mix.
  • Rice pudding.
  • Chicken rice casserole.
  • Crockpot Italian Chicken.
Just a couple of ideas. Rice freezes and reheats nicely. Best of all, when you use your crockpot you just throw it in and forget about it. Thanks to Stephanie O'Dea at A Year of Slow Cooking for a great idea.

Crockpot Brown Rice
32 oz bag of brown rice (5 cups)
10 cups water
1 1/2 Tb sea salt

1.) Butter the bottom and sides of the crockpot.

2.) Add the rice.

3.) Add the water and salt and stir to combine. Cover with lid.

4.) Place the crockpot on the "high" setting and cook for about 3 hours. You'll know it's done when blammo the rice is puffed up to the top of the crockpot, the water is mostly all absorbed and the rice is tender. If there's a little extra water, that's good. Turn off the crockpot and let it finish soaking into the rice. Be careful not to overcook the rice or you'll end up with rice paste.
5.) Fluff the rice with a large spoon and let it cool. You can set the rice aside in the fridge and then bag it up the next day. However, be aware that the rice at the bottom of the pot might cool into a cake because the rice on top is weighing it down. I just broke it up with a big spoon.
6.) Measure out two cups of rice into a 1 quart freezer bag or container and press out all the air. Label your bag with the date, measurement and item and freeze it for later use. I got 8 bags of rice in the freezer and set aside another 2 cups for dinner that night for a total of 18 cups. Not bad!

Reheating: When it comes time to use that rice, just defrost it a couple of minutes in the microwave inside the bag so that you break up the block of rice into chunks. Transfer to a bowl, discarding the freezer bag, and nuke one minute at a time, fluffing with a fork. You can also add a teaspoon of water if you'd like.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

French Collapsible Wire Salad Baskets

I'm getting romaine lettuce and even arugula in my Produce Box these days. The leaves are crisp and bright green...and need a good washing. My standby method for cleaning salad greens is to rinse them under cold running water then lay out each leaf on a clean kitchen towel, roll them up jelly-roll style and, grabbing both ends of the towel firmly in one hand, swing the towel back and forth outside. Some people just use a salad spinner but I'm old fashioned like that. Plus I have so many serving platters and gadgets in my kitchen cabinets I don't have room for another bowl.

Enter an old-fangled gadget my Mom used when I was growing up--the french collapsible wire basket. It rinses off easily and lays flat in a drawer and fits an entire head of romaine lettuce. I can spray the lettuce inside the basket then send one of the kids outside to shake it dry. Just like when we were kids. Wait, does that make me my mother?

Earlier in the year when the spring greens were in season I searched everywhere, including online, for one of these beauties without avail. I asked Mom where she got hers. She couldn't remember but she started looking around in my hometown for another. Also no luck. Finally, she just sent me her old basket. "What am I going to do with it?" she said. "I have a salad spinner."
I haven't seen these in stores but if you want to get one I've seen them sold on Amazon and eBay and even etsy as "vintage" French egg or salad baskets. Even if other people have moved on, I personally use my wire basket all the time. At the very least it would look great hanging from a hook in your kitchen.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Two Uses for Leftover Halloween Candy

Got Halloween candy? Here are a couple of creative ways to use it.
Caramel apples rolled in the kids' favorite candies like M&Ms, candy corn and/or Pop Rocks are always in season. Just follow the directions on the back of a bag of caramels to make them. The kids can help wash and dry the apples and insert the sticks as well as unwrap the caramels and customize their own apples. Careful with the hot caramel though.
My favorite way to use the chocolate candy is these decadent Candy Bar Brownies with Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Frosting. And they're so simple.
Candy Bar Brownies with Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Frosting

2 cups of chopped assorted candy bars (we used Snickers, Kit-Kat, Crunch, M&Ms, Hershey's White Chocolate Cookie Crunch, regular Hershey's bars, Reese's cups, Milky Way and Three Musketeers)
1 bag of brownie mix (and ingredients according to package)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 bag of chocolate baking chips

Preheat oven according to package instructions and grease an 8"x8" pan with Crisco.
1.) Mix the brownie batter according to the package directions.
2.) Fold in the chopped candy bars.
3.) Spread the batter in the pan and bake according to package instructions. Batter will just barely cover the bottom of the pan but don't worry. It will spread as it bakes.
4.) Bake the brownies according to package instructions and let cool.
5.) Meanwhile, melt the peanut butter and chocolate chips in a bowl, one minute at a time, stirring with a spoon until smooth and combined.
6.) Spread the frosting over top of the brownies and place in the fridge for an hour until firm. Cut the brownies into squares and serve. Store in a covered container at room temperature. Mmm...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pumpkin-Orange Spice Muffins with Cinnamon Ginger Streusel

Ahh, fall is here. We recently took a car trip from North Carolina up to Connecticut and got to see a virtual, real-time fall season. The leaves were just starting to turn in North Carolina. They were in full glory by Maryland, tapered off in upper Pennsylvania and were at the tail end of the season by Connecticut. Luckily, we saw fall in reverse on the way back and are home in time to enjoy North Carolina in the peak of autumn. Our porch is blooming with yellow and burnt orange mums and we've collected enough pumpkins to make even Linus jealous.

What better way to celebrate fall than with these Pumpkin-Orange Spice Muffins with Cinnamon Ginger Streusel. You won't be able to get enough of their yummy pumpkin citrus spice flavor, moist, dense crumbs and crunchy streusel topping. These freeze and reheat well. Enjoy!

Pumpkin-Orange Spice Muffins with Cinnamon Ginger Streusel
Makes 2 dozen
(Adapted from Gourmet, Nov 2006 issue)

3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups canned pumpkin puree
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup applesauce
4 large eggs
3/4 cup white sugar*
3/4 cup brown sugar*
2 tsp dried orange peel
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves

Cinnamon Ginger Streusel Topping:
4 Tb flour
2 1/2 Tb brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 Tb butter
1/4 tsp ginger

Preheat oven to 350'
1.) Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl (flour through salt).
2.) Mix together the wet ingredients and spices in a separate bowl (pumpkin through spices).
3.) With a fork or your fingers combine the streusel topping in a small bowl and set aside.
4.) Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in batches, using a large spatula to combine, careful not to  over mix.
5.) Scoop out pumpkin batter into 24 paper-lined muffin tins.
6.) Spoon streusel evenly on each and press topping into batter.
7.) Bake for 18-20 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

*The original recipe called for two full cups of sugar. I added the streusel topping and substituted applesauce for some of the oil. I thought this would make up for some of the sweetness so I reduced the sugar to 3/4 cup each. I missed the full sweetness of the muffin though. Next time I'd add the full two cups of sugar but I leave it up to you.
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