Saturday, November 12, 2011

We cut the cable!

Yesterday began our TV experiment. We have cut the cable! Yes, you read that right, with two boys ages 8 and 10 who love to watch cartoon network and a little one just beginning to show interest in Nick Jr., we have decided to cut the line. We aren't going completely TV free. We still will have the local channels only because they were free with our new internet connection, and we have Netflix streaming and are considering Hulu Plus. We may have come to this decision eventually but were forced to consider our options after our relationship with AT&T U-Verse went sour. Without going into the whole sordid story, after several years of service, somehow the cables that they used to install the boxes suddenly were no longer compatible and we would either have to pay $275 for them to rewire everything, or we could cancel and sign back up as new customers, but after the introductory period, for the same service we were currently receiving, we would be paying about $40 more per month. After researching our options and considering just how much we were spending every month, bearing in mind the few channels that were actually enjoyed with any regularity, and the quality of some of the shows that the older kids were becoming fond of, we decided it was a good time to go cold turkey. As unbelievable as it may sound, even though I am the one who is diving into the whole homesteading, self-sustainable, minimalist, etc, etc life-style, it took some convincing from my husband to give this a try. And even though I barely watch any television myself, I still had a hard time with the idea of cutting the chord, mostly because I was concerned about how the kids would react. So far, so good, but it's only been a day and they have certainly expressed their feelings about the situation. But when hubby mentioned taking advantage of the lack of zombie time in front of the TV to spend more time together and the $1000 dollars a year saved that could be used toward the trips that we love to take, how could I say no?

For good concise articles offering more reasons to cut the chord, click here and here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pork Chops and Bread Crumbs

Last night I made the pork chop recipe found here. Yes, I love! They were absolutely delicious!! I followed the instructions as written with the exception of doubling the sauce using one can cream of mushroom and one of golden mushroom as recommended in the reviews. I also sauteed fresh mushrooms in the pan after frying the chops and just added the rest of the sauce ingredients, warming it on top of the stove, and never added it to the baking pan. We ended up with way too much sauce- I only did four chops instead of six- even though we used some in lieu of gravy for our mashed potatoes. I plan to freeze it and use it over chicken in the crock pot some other night for a quick dinner. I think in addition to the yummy sauce, what really made this a stand out recipe was the homemade bread crumbs that I used. I've been steadily saving the crumbles that are left after slicing my loaves each week and had about a cups worth in the freezer which was more than enough. I added some Italian seasoning to it since the recipe called for Italian bread crumbs and I think it worked perfectly. If you don't already have some handy, making bread crumbs is beyond easy. Just leave a couple slices out on the counter for an hour, then break them up and blend them in the blender or food processor until the desired consistency is reached. Experiment with adding seasoning after or while blending and using already seasoned herb breads. There are so many possibilities!

Monday, November 7, 2011


Ok, here it is, what you've all been waiting for, da, dadada, da da daaaaa...I have perfected a homemade sandwich loaf! No trans fats, no preservatives, no high fructose corn syrup. Just fresh from the oven (well, weekly at least) homemade goodness. I'm sure there are those that have done this before me, but I feel like I can honestly call this recipe all my own. I must credit the original recipe that I started with. You can find it here. I made several changes to suit my own tastes and relied heavily on input from reviewers on the original site. I've found that this bread lasts at least a week in a plastic bag and holds together perfectly as a sandwich. Without further ado...

(Pic to come!)

Honey Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Makes 2 loaves

Start with:
2 ½ c. water, 110 degrees Fahrenheit
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
¼ c. honey
3 c. white or regular whole wheat flour 

Mix with paddle mixer or wood spoon until well blended and let sit for 20-30 minutes until puffy

2 Tablespoons melted butter or olive oil
1/8 c. additional honey or molasses
2 teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons vital wheat gluten 
Additional unbleached bread flour until dough cleans sides of mixer (approximately 2 1/2 cups).

Knead 8-10 minutes on low until the dough is smooth. Or knead by hand. (I like to finish 1-2 minutes by hand after my mixer has done it's job.)

At the end, if desired, add about 1/2-1 cup total steel cut oats, milled flax, chopped sunflower and/or chopped walnuts, millet, etc. Knead just until mixed. Place in a large, lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise about an hour, until the dough has approximately doubled. 

Punch down. Divide with a sharp knife and shape into loaves. Place the loaves in greased pans, cover again with plastic wrap and let rise until it tops the pan by 1”. (I generally remove the plastic toward the end for about the last 15 minutes to allow the dough to really poof.)

Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Rub tops with a stick of butter while still hot and remove from the pan as soon as it's cool enough to handle. 

Note: If adding seeds, I recommend kneading by hand after adding them. I almost burned up my mixer because the dough became too heavy.

Note 2: Vital wheat gluten is what makes this a perfect sandwich bread. It helps the heavy whole wheat rise better and gives it that soft texture that helps it hold together for sandwiches. It can be reduced or omitted for a slightly hardier loaf.

Note 3: Although NOT slicing the entire loaf before storing can help it last a little longer, I find it's just so much easier to have it sliced and in the pantry ready to use. So I slice it up and store it in a gallon size Ziplock. Works perfectly for us. :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A little Halloween Fun and Biscuit Success!

This year for Halloween we joined forces with some friends to build a haunted yard. We spent most of the day before Halloween at their home enjoying a pot luck barbecue and carving pumpkins while the guys set up, then headed back over on Halloween night for trick-or-treating. I had a little extra fun with the dishes I brought.
Potato Salad with Grated Carrot and Radish Eyeballs

Fruit Punch
For the potato salad, I just made a standard salad with mustard and mayo then added grated carrots and radish for extra color. The eyeballs are partially pealed radishes with holes dug out to fit a lifesaver and some mini chocolate chips in the center. I've seen these done with olives too but I just used what I had on hand. Tip: If you're going to add radish to your potato salad, do so sparingly. It was very strong.

For the punch I mixed a can of orange juice and a can of lemonade concentrate then used a bit of the mix to cook tapioca beads, adding more as it started to gel in the pan. Once the tapioca was cooked, I added a few drops each of green and red food coloring and put the whole lumpy gelatinous goop into the orange juice and lemonade mix. To that I added a two liter bottle of sprite, several sour patch straws (or gummy worms), Swedish fish, and three large scoops of rainbow sherbet and voila, I had Putrid Pond Water Punch, complete with worms and fish eggs.  I assure you that although it looks absolutely disgusting, its tart lemon flavor is delicious.

Aaand last but not least, I made some pretty darn good biscuits today! The recipe can be found here. I reduced the salt to 1/2 teaspoon and replaced all of the shortening with real butter. Some of them were a little lopsided but overall they rose nicely and had a glorious buttery flavor. Another recipe I've looked at uses an extra 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup milk. I might try that next time just to see what happens. For our Halloween breakfast, I also made these, but cooked them in muffin tins. I made and indention in each before baking and filled that with cubed ham and cheese and called them Halloween Blobs. I have been told they must go on the regular breakfast menu rotation. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture before they got gobbled up.

Update*** Check out these beauties. I added the extra flour and milk, plus an additional approximately 2 tablespoons of flour because the dough was too soft to work with. They are still a little lopsided, but these are the softest, biggest biscuits yet. Definitely found a keeper! The original recipe can be found here. Below the picture you'll find my version.

2 cups plus approximately 2 tablespoons- 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
3/4 t. salt
1 T white sugar
1/3 c. COLD butter
1 c. milk

Whisk together dry ingredients, cut in butter with a pastry blender or fingers then add milk. Press or roll out dough to about 3/4 inch thick and cut with a large biscuit cutter. Work the dough as little as possible. Repeat until all the dough is used. Bake at 425 for 13-15 minutes. Enjoy 100% trans-fat free giant jumbo buttery goodness. Makes about half a dozen.

I also captured a picture of the so called blobs. These are a great portable breakfast with a little bit of protein! I wonder how they'd taste with some cream cheese on them.

PS. Notice my new baking sheets? I got two at Walmart. It's the Nordic Ware "Natural Commercial Bakeware" and they cost me just over $10 each. Here's a link to the same thing on Amazon. The rolled lip keeps them from warping in the hot oven. They clean up easily and bake like a dream. I've only used them twice, for the biscuits and for a batch of pumpkin spiced cookies, but so far, I really, really like them! I will need at least a couple more before I embark on my annual Christmas baking extravaganza. These replaced my cheapo flat sheets that I discarded after my last biscuit baking catastrophe that ended with the use of the kitchen fire extinguisher.