Monday, May 30, 2011

Fish anyone??

Superman loves to fish. Up 'til now, he has pretty much been a catch and release fisherman. He loves it for the sport, but never kept anything because he hadn't been shown how to clean them and no one would cook them for him. When I found out I put my foot down; he could no longer throw any keeper size fish back. We were going to have fish - and a lesson.

This weekend he, hubby, and one of hubby's cousins went fishing and brought back some bream and shellcrackers.

Lesson time.

First, I showed him how to clean them. Various parts of this grossed some of the girls out. You should read Ri's post from today. She had a problem with, of all things, the scales. Not the scaling so much as the actual scales. She found them completely gross. Her blog post is funny - perhaps more for me given the fact that I've seen her near panic attacks. Superman has been informed that he will clean ALL fish before they enter the house, preferably in an area of the yard she can't see too well from the house. :) Cutting off the heads was another part that some of them disliked (that part didn't bother Ri though), but I was told they found the sound of it worse than watching it. Then, of course, there's the gutting. Some of them should probably never watch someone dressing out a deer.
Next, I showed Ri and Bree how to cook them. In this case, I choose the classic pan frying method - one of the best ways to eat small fish.
And last, but not least, I showed them all how to pull them apart so that it would be easy to find and remove the bones as they were eating them. When I held the skeleton up by the tail fin, in order to show them what it should look like when they were done, T.Lynn just about lost it. She said it was just plain gross to see the bones being pulled out right there at the table. I think we need to try and work on that whole weak stomach thing.

It's been a long time since we've had freshwater fish in the house, so I didn't push the issue of tasting it.......this time. Superman liked them. Of the girls, Bree and Kay ate it, and Ri tried it, although she may be permanently scarred (emotionally speaking) because her's was the only one in which a scale had been missed and she bit into it. She was gracious enough to admit that it tasted good, but I am, as of yet, unable to envision her eating anymore small, freshwater fish. Maybe the ones that are big enough to filet, but not the littler ones - which in my opinion, taste much better.


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In progress

Sorry about the mess, I am currently installing Mom's new design!


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Crockpot Cooking: Pizza Casserole

As promised, here is the recipe for pizza casserole. This is another one we do in advance and take to church for lunch. We cook it on high for about an hour Sunday morning, then plug it in when we get to church, turn it on high, and go in during the greeting time (after singing) to turn down on low.

Pizza Casserole
Ground Beef                Pasta (your choice)
Pizza Sauce                 Milk
Motzerella Cheese       Pepperoni (or pizza toppings of your choice)
Onions                        Garlic
Italian Seasoning          Fennel Seed
Parmesan Cheese

Begin by browning your ground beef and cooking your pasta. We like rotini, but just about any pasta will work. I don't know how you like yours, but we boil ours with olive oil and kosher or garlic salt. Remember not to cook this all the way. It will turn to mush if you don't leave it kind of firm. I think ours cooked for about 7 minutes.
When the ground beef is just about finished, add in your onion.
The onion doesn't cook long, just 'til it starts to turn translucent, then add a couple of cloves of garlic, minced. Cook for a couple more minutes, then remove from the heat.
Go ahead and crush about 1/2 tsp of fennel seed.
I have a morter and pestel, but I used it for Grandma's medicine, and I just have issues about using it for herbs and spices again. So, I resorted to my pre-morter and pestel method - I put it in a ziploc bag, and bashed it with a rolling pin. Not on the towel, by the way; I just put that under the bag so you could see it, otherwise the fennel blended in with the countertop.
Everyone in the pool! We're going to mix this right in the pot.
As you can see, we were out of rotini, so we used macaroni this time.
Ground beef, with the onions and garlic, 1 teaspoon italian seasoning, and the crushed fennel seed.
Add your pizza toppings. I cut my pepperoni into fourths; it makes it easier for little people to eat, and then I separate it since it tends to clump together.
Next, add your pizza sauce. How much you add will depend on how much of the other ingredients you used. I ended up using most of two jars of sauce(15.5oz each) to approx. 4c. macaroni, 1 & 1/2 pounds ground beef, 1/2 of a large onion, and 2 &1/2 ounces of pepperoni. See?!? Measurments - most of which are fairly accurate. The pepperoni was precise - I weighed it for you on my kitchen scale. Pepperoni can overpower everything else if you use to much.
Then fill your jar about half-way with milk. Maybe 1c?
Shake it up to get the rest of the sauce out and pour it into the pot.
Give everything a good stir (it looks good already) and...
...stir in most of your cheese. I used a 4c. bag of pre-shredded motzerella.
Put the last of the motzerella on top, sprinkle with parmesan and cook on low.
I would not cook this all day, as the motzerella tends to burn easily, but this does work fine when put in at lunch, or in the morning if your going to eat it for lunch.
Excuse the less than professional plating technique. One of the girls took this for me while I was out for one of Beenie's guitar lessons this evening. Those extra, group lessons have been great, but I'll be glad when the evening lessons are over - I much prefer the morning ones.

This recipe can also be done in the oven. In fact, this was another oven recipe I converted to my crockpot so I would have additional options for Sunday fellowship lunches. The original recipe called for egg noodles, and they are fine when you do this in an oven, but turn to mush in the crock pot. Just prepare everything, except for the noodles*, the same way as listed above, and pop in the oven at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes.
*Since they won't cook as long in the oven, you should completely cook your pasta before assembling the casserole. If using egg noodles, cook according to package directions.

Let the kids choose what toppings they want in the pizza casserole and they'll be happy to eat it. :)
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Monday, May 23, 2011

And then the vultures descended.

I made bread today. It's not exactly earth shattering news since we make bread quite often, but today  I made extra bread because I wanted to be able to turn a loaf of bread into croutons. The vultures devoured my last batch at an astonishing rate, so I wanted an entire loaf just to set aside and make into croutons. I wasn't exactly measuring (I know you're shocked) and only two of my loaf pans are standard size, the others are slightly smaller, so I actually ended up with four loaves of bread. That's okay - I was perfectly happy. There would be plenty of bread for everyone to enjoy, and I'd be able to make a big 'ol batch of croutons. It was perfectly timed too. The bread came out of the oven when most of the girls were outside. It would be safe while cooling on the counter, so I was perfectly content to go check my e-mails.

Rookie mistake. I should know better. I mean, come on, my oldest is 21!! How much more expirence do I need at this? I went back to check on the bread, pulled back the oversized flour sack towel, and discovered three beautiful loaves of bread and one heel. The vultures had been at work again, and I hadn't even heard them all come in the house. Actually, all of them never did come in the house; some are still outside. I did hear the door once or twice, during cooking and then after, so I think what happened was that they formulated a recon team to let them know when it was done, and then slip out with some of the booty once it was. Within a few more minutes we were down by another half loaf, and currently only 2 loaves grace my kitchen counter. At this rate I'll have to lock one of the loaves in a closet somewhere if I want to make it into croutons on Wednesday.

"Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts."  - James Beard

I think my daughters would agree with Mr. Beard.
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Saturday, May 21, 2011


I apologize. There won't be a crock pot recipe today. We worked in the yard all day and I'm exhausted, and sunburned. In fact, the only reason I'm on the computer was because they didn't have the Domino's that delivers to us listed in the phone book.

So this is it for today. I'll be back next week with a recipe for crock pot pizza casserole - a real hit with the kids.

For now, I'll return to my chair, put my feet up, wait for the delivery man and possibly rub some more aloe lotion on my face, arms, and neck.
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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Happy Birthday!!!

10 years ago today we were blessed with our last little one. T.Lynn is very much the baby of the family. Everyone dotes on her; from her sisters, and her PawPaw (my father), to Superman and even my step-brothers. She is still small for her size and everyone is super-protective of her. I can hardly believe she's 10.

We spent the afternoon at the mall (I must have failed somehow - she loves the mall). We went to Build-A-Bear and she built a bunny, named Cinnamon. We now have to take pictures of it and send them to Grandma (my mother) so she can see what Cinnamon looks like. I think T. should be in the pics too, since Grandma would like that almost as much as seeing Cinnamon. :D T. said they were very silly about the heart they put in the bear. Not that the heart was silly, but kissing it and everything else was. At 10, we're just too big for that. After building Cinnamon, we went to our favorite pretzel place (one that makes their pretzels with organic, whole wheat flour - can you beat that?) for a snack before heading back home.

We'll round out the day with one of her favorite suppers, followed by ice cream and cake that her sisters made for her while she and I were out today.

Happy Birthday honey!!
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Monday, May 16, 2011


I love to see things growning. Particularly if they are beautiful volunteers. Don't ask what they all are. I can't remember what all I planted last year.

This may be bachelor's button? There are only a few of these.
A good part of the front bed is full of these.
Some are very light pink, but others, like this one, are somewhat darker.
They have this neat little x coming out of the center.
These are on the far right side of the same bed.
*I've done some checking and I think this is coreopsis. I did plant that last year.
I know this one. I love hollyhock.
They're biennals, so I've waited quite awhile to see them bloom, unfortunately they have contracted hollyhock rust and will need to be removed. You can see some of the spots on the leaf to the left.
Such promise, but I'm afraid if I don't remove the ones in the front yard it will spread to the ones in the backyard.  These are single blooms, which I prefer; the ones in the back are double blooms. I'm sure they'll be beautiful too. I just have to wait a bit longer for them to bloom because they are in a spot that gets more shade.
The lemon balm thrived last year after I moved it to the shady side of the deck. It overwintered well and it looks as though I'll have to keep my eye on it this year if I don't want it to take over the bed on that side.
The sage did fine over the winter as well and is now starting to bloom.
And finally, the parsley. We used it several times during the course of the winter, but have stopped since it has bolted and is beginning to flower.
If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can see the beginning of several umbrells.
Here's one of the larger ones. By the looks of all the clusters that are already starting to form, we will have a lot of parsley seed.
As you can see, I'm a bit of a lazy gardener. My somewhat indolent attitude is due in part to the long growing season. Once the hot sets in, it's here forever. So for me, I never seem to feel a rush to get the things in the ground. I know I'll regret that one day when we have freak freeze in September, but it can't be helped this year since nothing is planted yet. We'll probably get around to it later this week. I would like to wait and put one of the beds of green beans in much later though. I've heard from someone I know that they have successfully done late plantings of green beans as far out as July, but it probably depends on the type of bean.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Crockpot Cooking: Venison

I know. Lots of people turn their noses up at eating deer. After all, most of us have seen Bambi. Who wants to eat anything that's that cute? And we were all sad when the hunters shot his mother. Right? Then there are those who've never eaten anything that didn't come from the meat section of their local grocery store.
Let me lay some misconceptions aside.
1)Yes. Bambi was cute, but they aren't still that little and cute by the time hunting season rolls around.
2)They lose all appearance of cute when they keep eating the stuff in your garden. And they seem to like the stuff in your garden better than anything else.
3)The deer have led a much happier, more sanitary, and humane life than anything you've bought out of your big chain, grocery store meat case.
4)No, they don't need to keep living that humane life forever. Do you know how many deer there are?? Trust me, the population could stand to be thinned down a bit before they eat everything and start starving to death. We are not currently in danger of over-hunting.
5)When prepared properly, they are delicious. Besides, they are much leaner than beef, and aren't we all trying to eat healthier?

There. Now that we've blazed through all your doubts and misconceptions, find yourself a hunter and trade him some baked goods and/or homemade preserves for some deer meat. Hunters that really enjoy hunting always have more deer than they can fit in their freezer.
There are tons of ways to completely ruin venison. Trust me, I've had my share of poorly cooked deer, but there are many excellent ways to prepare it as well (one of my favorites is for it to be roasted long and slow, and then turned into barbeque - mmmmmmmmmm!). If you want to make it seem more like beef, the following is a good method.

Venison in Mushroom Gravy

Deer meat - any cut but the tenderloin (good luck getting that from a hunter anyway); you don't want to waste the tenderloin with this method of cooking. Save it for grilling.
Beef stock (or water and beef base)
Red Wine or Milk
Onions                        Mushrooms
Butter                         Olive oil
Flour                          Seasoned meat tenderizer
Pepper                       Worcestershire sauce

This does take a couple of days to prepare (don't worry, it's easy), so think about it in advance. If your deer is frozen, take it out to thaw the morning of the day before you want to cook it. It needs to be thawed by evening-time, the day before you want to cook. If I've confused you, sorry. Ex: If you want to eat it Friday evening, lay it out to thaw Thursday morning. There you go, that's less muddled.
The evening before you want to cook it, cut it into smallish chunks and put it in a glass dish. Cover it with buttermilk, put a lid or plastic wrap on top and put it in the fridge overnight.
The next morning pour it into a colander to drain.
There was more meat here than there seemed to be. Kay used our largest colander.
Rise it with cold water and leave it to drain while you prepare the onions and mushrooms.
Lightly saute the onions and mushrooms in olive oil and butter.
What? You don't see the mushrooms? Confession time. We didn't have fresh mushrooms - since they were canned we just threw them in the pot later.
Scoop out the onions and mushrooms with a slotted spoon, leaving the butter and oil in the pan, and set the pan off the element for the time being. Put them and the venison in the crock pot. I know, I know. The mushrooms aren't in this picture either. Trust me, they were in the final product.
Add flour to your butter and oil to make a rue. Yes I know. We didn't get all of the onions out of the pan. It's okay. Everything ends up in the same pot anyway.
Slowly brown your rue, then make your gravy using the stock, or water and beef base. Don't add quite as much liquid as you want because you will do one of the following at the end: Add 1 cup of wine, or 1 cup of milk. I like it with the red wine, but we didn't have any yesterday, so we used the milk instead. It's just as good that way. Also, add 5 or 6 healthy dashes of Worcestershire sauce, and season to taste with seasoned meat tenderizer and pepper.
Then pour your gravy over everything else in the pot and cook on low all day.
No - there is no 3 or 4 hour option for this. Not if you want just any old cut of venison to be tender.
This is great served over rice, just like beef tips, but I was in the mood for potatoes yesterday.
Mmmmmmm - it was good, and if you look close enough, you can see some mushrooms in there. :D
This was Kay's bowl. There are green beans under the potatoes and meat (shudder). I like green beans, but not all mixed in with my other stuff.

I know I used the word we in here, but in all honesty, I did none of the work this time. Kay and Bree cut the meat off the deer shoulder Thursday evening, and I told Kay how to prepare it for the crock pot as I was running around trying to get out the door for Beenie's guitar lessons yesterday morning. So, thanks girls. It was delicious. 
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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Crockpot Cooking: Ham and Potato Casserole

This was one of those, "I'm tired of bringing the same old thing to the potluck, so what can I adapt to put in a crock pot?" kind of a thing. I usually do this in a regular, rectangular casserole dish, and I will admit that the top browns quite nicely in the regular oven, but this just gives you one more thing that can be done in a slow cooker, plus I hope it will inspire you to think outside the box and see what other recipes you may have that can be adapted to the crock pot.

Ham and Potato Casserole

Potatoes                      Ham (diced, or leftover)
Cheese                        Potato Water
Milk                            Sour Cream
Butter                          Flour
Parmesan cheese         Garlic salt
Salt                             Pepper

Peel and chop your potatoes and then par-boil them. How long you boil them will depend on how long they need to be cooked in the crock pot. If this will cook all day, you probably don't want to boil them but about 7 min, but whether you will eventually cook them all day or for about 45 min in the oven, you still want them to be fairly firm. Drain them, saving the potato water.
The next thing you want to do is make your own cream of potato soup. Melt butter in a large frying pan and add flour to make a rue, simmering slowly in order to cook the rue, but not brown it (exactly like it was done at the start of bechamel used in the macaroni and cheese recipe). Then add milk and potato water, equal parts is fine. For the crock pot version, you want this to be fairly thick because the moisture won't cook away in the crock pot like it would in the oven. Add garlic salt and/or regular salt and pepper to taste. The garlic salt really adds to it, but if you don't like a lot of garlic you may want to use part regular salt and part garlic.
Once your cream of potato soup is ready, add your par-boiled potatoes and ham. Left-over ham really tastes much better, but we didn't have any. Mix well but be gentle - you don't want to mush the potatoes.
Add in your sour cream - about 1 cup.
Then mix in your cheese. As you could see from the last photo, my pan was too full to add anything else, so I just finished mixing it in the crock pot.
You can use just about any type of cheese you like. This was a fiesta blend that the store had on sale. I've also used this recipe in order to finish up all the odd and ends of cheeses we had in the fridge.
For this size recipe I used a little over 1 pound of cheese.
Wipe the edges, to keep things from burning and then top with parmesan cheese.
Cook on low 6-8 hrs, or on high for 3-4.
Mine was a little thin this time. Someone was using the sink so I didn't drain the potatoes very well. It's okay, it still tasted good.
I love using luncheon plates. It makes a smaller amount of food look like so much more :).

This makes a fine crock pot meal, especially if you use your cooker a lot and need some variety, but I wholeheartedly suggest you also try this recipe in the oven. Prepare it the same way, pour into a rectangular casserole dish, top with the parmesan cheese, and bake at 350 until the casserole is bubbly and browned on top. It looses some of it's moisture so it sets up a bit firmer, which I like, and the crusty top is also really good. Either way, this is something that can be made in advance and held in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook it.
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