Sunday, May 27, 2012

Making use of my time...

...while the kids are *all* hanging out with their grandparents!  It's eerily quiet here....

I've got tons of catching up to do on my blog, but for now, I'm getting lots done to prep for my upcoming September wedding!  Today's project was colored jars, which were inspired by this pin.

I'm really happy with how these turned out...
especially the green one!

Our wedding is going to be a laid-back outdoor affair at a forest preserve, so we're going with a rustic theme and no particular colors (which I this will make decorating not only easier, but more fun as well).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Last night's project...

Recently, my loving fiance got me a new cellphone that I am wholeheartedly in love with.  For serious, you guys.  It's my first "smart phone", which very well could be the reason I love it so much, but this thing seriously rocks.  I can now keep track of my account (and I *do* -regularly, even!), my kids reward charts (I LOVE the iRewardChart app...  it's a star-based chart system with different tasks and rewards you can set yourself.  It's pretty sweet)!  I can even blog from my backyard now!  ...which I'm not doing at the moment, given that it's only 8:30 in the morning and I'm pretty focused on getting coffee in my bloodstream.  ....Oh, how my life has changed in about a week,  I question how I lived without it!  Kidding.  Sort of.

I love my phone so much that, of course, I had to make a pretty little case for it.  After much searching on Ravelry, I finally decided on this one.  It's so pretty...  unfortunately, I only had a little bit of yarn so I ended up running out before it was big enough to make the envelope-style case that I wanted.  Luckily, it *was* big enough to make a "sock" or sleeve...

I love it!

Here it is all buttoned up.

Needless to say, I still want to make the lined, envelope style case but I have plenty of other unfinished projects to finish before I move onto that one.  And, for now at least, I'm pretty happy with how this one turned out.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The sweet taste of summer...

Yes, I know that it's not summer yet, but it will be soon and I say bring it on!  ....I wonder if I'll still be saying that when the kids are out of school in a few weeks?  Hmm, anyway...

When I think about summer, one thing that comes to mind is bare feet.  Then I think about how nice the sun will feel.  Then I think about cookouts.....  oooh, summertime food!  Mom's potato salad, Martha Stewart's 1-2-3-4 lemon cake, homemade marshmallows, fresh pickin's from the garden...  I can't wait!

Yesterday's sunshine inspired me to bring out my sun tea jar, which I discovered leaks like crazy when I opened the fridge this morning and found a giant puddle of tea.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  It *is* older than me -it was a hand-me-down from my Gramma.  I was planning on doing a post about sweet sun tea the old-fashioned way, but it looks like I'll be showing you "single"-servings instead...  which might be for the better since not everyone has a sun tea jar, but most people have a few empty [mason] jars laying around...

Rye looking sweet holding the kids' sun tea.
Raspberry hibiscus sweet tea tastes like kool-aid!

Sweet Sun Tea
printable version of this recipe (with images)
printable version of this recipe (without images)

Here's what you'll need:

  • one quart [mason] jar, with a lid
  • filtered water
  • 3-4 tea bags (I like Tetley black tea, my kids like Lipton Raspberry Zinger, but you can use whatever you like )
  • 2-3 Tbsp. sugar or agave nectar, to taste (I like to use half and half...  sugar for the steeping, then agave for extra sweetness afterward)  - you could also use honey, of course
  • a few hours
Put the teabags and about half of the sweetener in the jar.  

Fill it up with water, screw the cap on...
You can already see the kids' raspberry hibiscus tea doing it's thang.
So pretty.

Give it a shake to get things going.

...and let it steep in the sunlight for a few hours...

how long depends on how hot and sunny it is,
you should be able to tell when it's done based on the color.  

Give it a taste.  If it's not strong enough, let it sit a bit longer.  If it's too strong, add a bit of water to dilute it.

Scoop out the tea bags and toss 'em in your compost.  If needed, add more of the sweetener of your choice to taste.

Serve over ice, with a lemon or lime wedge if you like.
...I didn't have a lemon or a lime...
This made me sad until I tasted the tea and it's awesomeness.


...and while I had her outside, Rye got to help a little with the garden!

She's so strong!

Watering the potatoes.

Thanks for the help, little lady!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Canning my day away...

I love to have homemade chicken stock on hand.  I use it in so many recipes that It just makes sense for me to make it, rather than waste money (and unnecessary packaging) on the store bought stuff.  I've frozen it before, which is fine if I'm going to use it right away, but in most cases canning is my storage method of choice.

Chicken stock, duck stock
(surprisingly, the chicken is the darker stuff)

When I first started canning, I was totally intimidated by everything I had to learn...  until I realized that it's all pretty basic stuff, so long as you don't so anything stupid.

I think the most important things to keep in mind are....

  • Protect yourself and your surfaces.  Lay down towels to put hot jars on, use oven mitts, wear an apron...  that sort of thing.  You don't want to melt your counter tops, and you *definitely* don't want to melt your skin.
  • Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize!!!  I love my dishwasher for this.  Jars and rings can go in the dishwasher, just be sure to take 'em out while they're still HOT...  I'm about to explain why...
  • Hot into hot onto hot!  Everything should be hot!  Everything, being what you're canning, and all of your supplies.  Hot stock goes into a hot jar that gets topped with a hot lid and sealed with a hot ring, then it all goes into hot water in the hot pressure canner (or water bath, depending on what you're canning- I'll get into that later).  Keep your stuff hot because heat kills bacteria, which is the whole point of canning- to keep food fresh.  Also, if you don't mix hot and cold, your glass shouldn't break.  Simple as that.
  • Pay attention.  Just watch your stuff.  Especially if you're using a pressure canner, granted they have all sorts of safety features now so it won't explode all over you, you still need to make sure that the pressure is consistent.
I started canning with jams and pickles, which are great things to start with since you don't really need any special equipment.  This was how I discovered pickled green beans, which will have to get their own separate post because their pure awesomeness would end up taking over this post.  But yeah, pickles and jams  (and jellies and preserves) can be canned in a water bath instead of a pressure canner because they are high in acids and therefore don't need the high heat of a pressure canner to kill bacteria since the acids will do all of that dirty work.  In fact, I learned the hard way that using a pressure canner can actually *cook* your pickles and make them mushy.  Gross.

But today I'm telling you how I make my chicken stock...  and anything that has meat or veggies (except for pickled ones, of course) should *always* be done in a pressure canner.

Chicken (or other meat) Stock
printable version of this recipe (with images)
printable version of this recipe (without images)

  • chicken carcass; or other meat of your choice (try to strip as much of the meat off the bones as you can, a little bit will add some flavor, but don't be wasteful about it)
  • water
  • a splash of white vinegar (this helps to pull the calcium from the bones, giving you a heartier stock)
...these are your three main ingredients...  I've made stock before with just chicken and water, which is fine since my chicken stock gets used in cooking and I can always add other flavors later.  The rest of these ingredients add flavor, but are totally optional.

  • sea salt
  • carrots, onion, celery (whole or chopped, it doesn't really matter since it's going to cook for a few hours)
  • herbs of your choice (my favorites for chicken stock are thyme and sage)
Now put everything in a slow cooker or a large stock pot 

and cover with water. 

If you're doing it in a slow cooker, just turn it on low and let it cook overnight.  If you're doing it in a stock pot, simmer it over low heat for 3-5 hours (or until it looks and tastes strong enough for your taste).

Strain through a fine mesh colander into a large bowl or a clean stock pot.

At this point, you can either freeze your stock (after allowing it to cool, of course), or you can choose to can it!  Which is, after all, why we're here today.

So by now, you should have already sanitized your jars and rings in a hot dishwasher or a pot of simmering water, and your canning lids in a saucepan of simmering water.  From here, you need to follow the instructions that came with your pressure canner for processing instructions.  Mine says to process for 20-25 mins at 11 lbs. pressure.  

I have a Presto canner that my mom gave me for Christmas a couple years ago.  I love it and I need to use it more!  This is what Presto has to say about canning "soups" (stocks would also fit into this category).

I hope that you found this all to be interesting and helpful!  Now go get canning!  If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or on my facebook page.  Good luck canning!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Butter chicken and whole wheat naan

When a craving for Indian food hits, it hits me HARD.  Generally, I'd hold out until we can make it to an Indian restaurant, or I'd give in a buy a pouch of the ready-made stuff.  Last night I learned just how easy it is to make it myself!  And I can't even begin to explain just how satisfying it is to know that I can make such delicious, authentic tasting food *myself*!

There *is* a chicken thigh under all of that sauce!
I promise!


Butter Chicken
printable version of this recipe (with images)
printable version of this recipe (without images)

8 chicken thighs

3-4 Tbsp.  chana masala spice blend, plus some for sprinkling on the chicken (other recipes I found called for garam masala, but I couldn't find it -or the ingredients to make it- at the store I happened to be shopping at so I got a pre-mixed spice blend that you're supposed to make with chick peas that I ignored the directions on since I was only looking for a flavor that would work for butter chicken)

2 sticks of unsalted butter
2-3 cloves of minced garlic
large onion, diced
28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 cup of heavy cream
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400*.  Place chicken thighs in roasting pan skin side up and *lightly* sprinkle with spice blend.  Bake for one hour or until things are cooked through and skin is starting to peel and bubble.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large, deep frying pan (or a smaller stockpot if you're unprepared like I was).  Simmer onions and garlic in butter over low heat until the onion begins to caramelize; about 15 minutes.  Sprinkle spice blend over the melted butter mixture and let them toast a bit; 2-3 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes and heavy cream and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes.  Taste and salt to your preference.  Simmer over low heat until chicken thighs are cooked, stirring regularly.

When thighs are finished, add them to the butter sauce and simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Enjoy over rice with a side of naan.


Whole Wheat Naan

printable version of this recipe (with images)
printable version of this recipe (without images)

2 tsp. honey
1 1/2 c. warm water (110* F/45* C)
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. minced garlic (optional)
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c white flour

olive oil for cooking

In a large bowl, dissolve honey in warm water. Sprinkle yeast over the top, and let stand for about 10 minutes, until foamy.

Stir the olive oil, salt and garlic into the yeast mixture, then mix in the whole wheat flour and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour until dough starts to come together. Tip dough out onto a surface floured with the remaining all-purpose flour, and knead until all of the flour has been absorbed, and the ball of dough becomes smooth, about 10 minutes. Place dough in an oiled bowl, and turn to coat the surface. Cover loosely with a towel, and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

When the dough is doubled, pinch and roll into golf ball-sized peices, formed into tight balls. Let rise for about 45 minutes, until doubled.

Cooking option 1: Heat olive oil over medium heat in a cast iron skillet or griddle.  Stretch dough, one piece at a time into a long, thin oval and place on the hot skillet.  Lightly fry until it turns golden brown, with a few darker spots where it hit the heat directly.

Cooking option 2:  Preheat oven to 400*.  Place stretched dough on a lightly greased cookie sheet or baking stone and brush with olive oil or melted butter.  Bake for 8 minutes or until browned.

Serve immediately or store in a zipper bag in the pantry or freezer.


This dish was a little spicy for my fiance and O, but Rye, Moo and I all *loved* it!  Rye, my formerly "picky" eater, was even the first to finish!

I'm looking forward to my leftovers!