All of Us!

All of Us!
Finally! All together with enough time to spare (??) to capture a picture of all six of us in the same spot, same time. Now this is a precious photo! I tried to get one last year for our Christmas card and didn't succeed. So when I had the chance I threw out the lasso and rounded everyone up (at my niece's graduation party) to grab a couple snapshots. My oldest son, Casey, and his girlfriend Nika are on the left; and my youngest son, Brady, and his girlfriend Jenne on the right; that leaves Bob and I in the center. (Bob is the one who doesn't look very happy about having his picture taken!!)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Our New Hired Hand, Maybe

We received a surprise on Thursday - a little addition to our family . . . maybe.

When I pulled into the driveway later Thursday night after work and was making the bend to turn into the garage, I noticed something unfamiliar sitting on the front steps of the house. At first glance, I screamed because I thought it appeared to be a wolf. Now, don’t go laughing at me and everything, imaging I was thinking I was Little Red Riding Hood or something (and “my, what big eyes you have . . . “) but from first glance it did appear to be that. Then as I got up alongside for a more accurate view, I noticed it was just a big dog. What actually, I thought, materialized seemed to be more like a cross between a collie (yes, Lassie) and a . . . wolf.

Now, I know that there have been wolves released out in our parts, so it isn’t my imagination going wild. He had a tan color and a longer-looking snout, so I don’t think I was that far off. Bob, on the other hand, would beg to differ. He thinks he looks like a cross between a collie and a coyote. (We have coyotes out and about around us, too).

Anywho, we thought it was our neighbor’s as they had been down the day before looking for their dog. Upon placing a phone call to them, it wasn’t though. Their dog had been killed, probably run over, and moved about eight miles away. All I can say is, shame on that person. Man up if you hit someone’s dog. If it is in the road and unavoidable, it is unavoidable. But if not . . . man up, and if you have a beef with someone, don’t be so petty and childish as to kill their animals. Man up! That aside, he didn’t know whom this dog belonged to either, but thought he might have seen it wandering around a few days before.

So back to “my” dog. He is kind of shy and we have determined that if no one comes to claim him, then we will (may) keep him as a farm dog. We have been in need of a farm dog. Someone to keep the racoons away from the silage bags and the possums and coons out of our garage. We have a door to the garage that is nailed shut as it is rotting and no good and we haven’t gotten around to replacing it yet (that and the garage door itself). The cats have pried back a corner at the bottom so they can crawl into the garage in the winter time. And we let them. Poor things. The only problem is, we now also have a resident possum that likes to sneak in there, too. And, let me tell you, this thing is not any small little timid possum. This sucker is huge. It is as big as some of the biggest racoons I have seen – and we have some big racoons around our parts. Them damn (pardon my french) raccoons have dug holes in our silage bags, made themselves at home in the silos and they seem impossible to get rid of. And we also have a three-legged racoon that keeps coming into the garage when the door is open. A dog could possibly do the trick.

But we don’t want a dog that is going to chase the cows. They do fine on their own walking out of the freestall barn up to the milking parlor. They don’t need any extra help. But someone to help watch over them would be nice, too. Hence, the problem. We need a trained hired hand. Someone who has been there, done that. Those are sometimes hard to find. But, Wolfie . . . (yes, I have already named him and what a catchy name it is, too! Don’t you agree?!!) . . . Wolfie may just fit the bill.

He seemed quite shy at first and not knowing where he was from or how wild or possibly dangerous he may be, I kept my distance the first night. This also meant that when I let Pongo out so that he could do his duty, I had to go, too, to stand watch. Pongo is a little shy about doing his duty, and rightfully so, and now he is having someone watch, let alone follow him around when he has a job to do. But, alas, he had to put up with his guardian angel doing just that.

Wolfie stepped off the front steps when we came out and he jumped down off to one side or the other, giving us space. I talked to him as I went out, keeping myself between him and Pongo. He shied away.

The next morning, Friday, he was still there. We put out a couple calls and no one seemed to know who he belonged to. Could be the Amish down the road, but they would certainly come looking for him if they had lost their dog. I wasn’t sure what to do about feeding him because, as Bob said, he may hang around if you do, and we weren’t sure just yet if we wanted him to “hang around.”

Later that morning, we picked up our taxes in Mt. Horeb, ran some errands in New Glarus, Monroe and Argyle, went out to lunch and returned home around 3:00. When we returned, Wolfie was still sitting on our front steps. I told Bob that I was a little worried that maybe he was hungry or hadn’t eaten for awhile because I had never seen his tail come up. He always had it tucked under his stomach – he either was scared, hungry or being defensive, or a combo of all three. But I couldn’t stand to see him hungry, so I made the decision then and there that I would feed him. I had to do a little cleaning of my fridge, but I was able to get some scraps together for him. I put them in an ice cream pail and set it out for Wolfie to decide if he liked what was on the menu at the O’Connor farm or if he was going to leave without a tip. I let him be, and a half hour later, I got my tip. I went out to check on him and he was plunked down on the mat in front of the door. When I opened the door, he jumped up but did not go far. I stepped out, talked to him a little and that is when I saw his tail come up and start to wag. I extended my hand out and, with a few nervous baby steps, he came over and licked my hand. Not that my hand wasn’t shaking a little bit anyway, just because I wasn’t sure if he was still hungry (his pail was empty) and I wasn’t really serving up hand for supper. But he licked my hand. How nice. I was pleased, he was pleased.

If he is going to stay, however, I have to make sure things are okay with him and Pongo. Anytime Pongo goes out, he is right there on top of him sniffing at him. Now Wolfie is about 4-5 times bigger than Pongo, so Pongo is not quite sure what to make of this. He sort of looks up at me like “whatcha got me into here, Momma?” I just tell him to do his duty and try to coax Wolfie away from him best I can. There have not been any fights yet, but then again Pongo hasn’t growled at him either. Pongo and Paris (Brady’s dog) haven’t come to a good understanding yet, either. Paris is young and spunky and all over Pongo because she wants to play. Pongo is old and grumpy and not in the mood when Paris is around. So, we have another hurdle to get over here, too, if . . . that is, IF, Wolfie stays.

And, there is also the thing about Bob. He hasn’t gotten close to Bob yet either. So he hasn’t been following him up to the barn or around the farm. He has been doing his exploring all on his own or following the cats around. Oh, yea, there is that, too. The cats are scared of him. Their tails fluff all out when he comes around. The first night there wasn’t a cat to be found anywhere, not even in the garage. I think they didn’t dare come out of their hiding spots to make the trek to the garage. Now they sashay along a little until they spot Wolfie and then they are streaks of fur heading to the nearest high spot of building. If Wolfie sees them, he trots to them. Unfortunately, for him the cats are long gone by the time he gets there. I’m not sure if he means them any harm or is curious. But if he hopes to call this place home, he has to get along with Pongo and the cats. Anything else is intolerable.

So, now, a couple days have gone by and he is still sitting on our front steps. We haven’t seen a possum or a coon in the last few days, so he must be auditioning for a job. He may have gone just a little bit overboard, though, but that is okay as long as you don’t get too close to Wolfie or at least pet him for too long. Yes, he must have chased a skunk away that second night, because Wolfie is not smelling very pretty these days. Bob has noticed more paw prints around the farm, too. It looks like he has ventured down by the freestall barn, but we have not heard any commotion, so maybe he is keeping watch over our flock (herd), too. He has now been getting real dog food and water so he seems content. And, he lets me pet him (when I can get past the smell).

Maybe he is looking for a home. Well, we are kind of a looking for a cheap hired hand; maybe he will do just fine.

Oh, and if you are wondering when I named him Wolfie – it was that second day he was here and he had cleaned up the food, wagged his tail and licked my hand. I thought Wolfie was appropriate because of his looks. Actually, I’m hoping that he is less of a wolf in sheep’s clothing and more of a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Oh, scratch that, I’m beginning to think he is looking less like a wolf and more like a Collie – more like a Lassie – I just need to put a little more meat on his bones.

That is, of course, if he proves that he is a trustworthy asset to our farm crew.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Is It A Doughnut Or A Donut?

So, is it a doughnut or a donut? Doughnuts have a disputed history. One theory suggests that doughnuts were introduced into North America by Dutch settlers, who were responsible for popularizing other American desserts. In the 19th century, doughnuts were sometimes referred to as one kind of olykoek (a Dutch word literally meaning "oil cake"), a "sweetened cake fried in fat."

History of the Doughnut

Hansen Gregory, an American, claimed to have invented the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847 aboard a lime-trading ship when he was only sixteen years old. Gregory was dissatisfied with the greasiness of doughnuts twisted into various shapes and with the raw center of regular doughnuts. He claimed to have punched a hole in the center of dough with the ship's tin pepper box and later taught the technique to his mother.

According to anthropologist Paul R. Mullins, the first cookbook mentioning doughnuts was an 1803 English volume which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes. By the mid-19th century the doughnut looked and tasted like today’s doughnut, and was viewed as a thoroughly American food.

And, did you know that there is a National Donut Day? National Donut Day is on the first Friday of June each year, succeeding the Donut Day event created by the Salvation Army in 1938 to honor the women who served donuts to soldiers during World War I. The holiday celebrates the doughnut (a/k/a "donut") — an edible, torus-shaped (i.e., ring-shaped) piece of dough which is deep-fried and sweetened. Many American doughnut stores offer free doughnuts on National Doughnut Day. In 2009, both independent doughnut shops and large national franchises offered free doughnuts in the United States.

National Doughnut Day started in 1938 as a fund raiser for the Chicago Salvation Army. Their goal was to help the needy during the Great Depression, and to honor the Salvation Army "Lassies" of World War I, who served doughnuts to soldiers.

Soon after the United States entered into World War I in 1917, the Salvation Army sent a fact-finding mission to France. The mission concluded that "huts"* that could serve baked goods, provide writing supplies and stamps, and provide a clothes-mending service, would serve the needs of US enlisted men. Six staff members per hut should include four female volunteers who could "mother" the boys.

*The canteens or social centers that were established by the Salvation Army in the United States near army training centers were called "huts".

About 250 Salvation Army volunteers went to France. Because of the difficulties of providing freshly-baked goods from huts established in abandoned buildings near the front lines, two Salvation Army volunteers (Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance) came up with the idea of providing doughnuts. These are reported to have been an "instant hit," and soon many soldiers were visiting Salvation Army huts.

A legend has spread that the provision of doughnuts to U.S. enlisted men in World War I is the origin of the term doughboy to describe U.S. infantry, but the term was in use as early as the Mexican-American War of 1846-47. By the way, it is still a fund raiser run by The Salvation Army.

And, there you have it, my history lesson about doughnuts, or donuts.

Donuts -- A Comfort Food

In my last post, I talked about comfort foods. One of the more comforting foods on my list are homemade raised doughnuts. I say this because when I think about these types of doughnuts, I remember all the times making them with my mom when I was growing up, and/or being at my Grandma Sponem’s and helping her make them, or coming to her house after she had made them, and/or raiding the kitchen when she wasn’t looking. Oh, it isn’t like Grandma would be too upset, but she never wanted you to spoil your appetite before a meal. I have to say, that no one could ever make these like my Grandma Nettie. She was the consummate cook, baker and bottle-washer.

Fortunately, she passed those most treasured recipes on down the line to my mom, too. Of course, maybe my all-time favorite of her’s would have to be butterscotch pie. I think I have finally mastered that one, so that it is now somewhat closer to her’s. It has now become traditional that I make that pie for such holidays as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

My mom, however, has perfected the raised doughnut part. And, she has spoiled the grandchildren (okay, and us kids, in-laws, too!) with bringing them to any get-together we have. They (we) all look forward to a tray (or two or three) of these pastries. Yes, they are a dessert, but if Mother brings them, she inevitably puts them out with the appetizers and there are none usually to be found when it comes time for dessert. It is first-come first-serve, and if you snooze, you lose, when it comes to my mom’s donuts. I have seen near hysteria break out when there is only one left. It can become a free-for-all to see how is going to get it.

Getting Down To The Nitty-Gritty: Mix, Rise, Fry, Eat

I had pulled my raised doughnut recipe out recently and was waiting for just the right time to make them. Needing a little comfort food on this cold, rainy-is-it-going-to-turn-ice-or-snow kind of day, Sunday proved to be just the right time, so I gathered all my ingredients together and started my dough. (See pictures above for some of the ingredients, 2nd row center, and the donut utensils, 2nd row right, I used). Note that in the picture of the ingredients, the yeast has already risen almost to the top of the measuring cup (about ready to spill over the sides) before I had mixed it into the rest of the ingredients. It does rise fast, so watch out!

(I should add a disclaimer here about the pictures above before I go any further. I am just learning to add the pictures, so yes they do look like a jumbled mess at the top; but hopefully, I'll master that, too, soon.)

Once I followed through on the instructions of the recipe (which I have provided below) and my dough was mixed, I set my mixing bowl with the dough in it to raise on top of my stove. (See picture above, 3rd row, left). I had things in the oven plus a beef broth simmering on the stove, so it proved to be just the right environment to help the dough double in size. I also placed a warm dish towel (doused with hot water and wrung out) over the top to aid the warm environment needed.

When the dough had doubled in size (see picture above 3rd row, center left), I punched the dough down, took out half of it, gently folded it over a couple times (which is really not a fold but more of a molding motion), and placed it in the middle of my floured workspace on my kitchen island. (See picture above, top row). I then rolled it out into a large oval and began the cutting process with my donut cutter. I carefully flipped each donut from hand to hand to shake off any excess flour and placed each on a lightly floured jelly roll pan. I did the same with the donut holes. (See picture above, 3rd row, center right). You will also note that the pans are laying on my apron-of-choice for the day. Since I was dealing with the flour, white was the way to go. I received this one from the Cooking Club of America, to which I am a member, and it also has my name on it. I think I will find this handy in the years to come, so that I will be able to remember who I am!!

Once I had all the dough rolled out and any scraps re-rolled, I started my lard on medium low to render it down to a nice hot oil. (See picture, 3rd row, right). With a candy thermometer in my oil, when it had reached 350 degrees, I carefully started dropping the donuts three at a time adding a couple donut holes, too. (2nd row, left, above, shows the frying process). It does not take long for these to fry so you have to be careful. You don’t want them to brown (which did happen towards the end with a couple of mine).

My process goes like this: the donuts go into the frying pot; then when they are done I pulled them out with a fork, they are then placed in a large oval shaped metal strainer I have that sits inside a cake pan with a paper towel in the bottom. Each is then transferred to another cakepan with a paper towel in the bottom to be stacked sideways to drain some more.

When all the donuts were fried, I started my glaze which only took a couple of minutes. Once the water boiled, I took it off the heat and started whisking in the powdered sugar. I think I used slightly over the amount needed (of powdered sugar). I next then dipped one side of the donuts in the glaze and set them out on the trays that I used before. They now were covered with wax paper to catch the glaze drips. (You can use a rack also, but I currently don’t have enough to cover this batch). (For pictures of the finished product, see the bottom three pictures on the left, above).

Now, the only thing left to do besides clean-up, was to taste test.

Oh, yummmm! Yes, I have to admit . . . that is the best part.

And, now that I saved my oil, maybe next weekend, I will have to make frycakes . . . oh, be still my beating, grease-soaked veins!!!

Raised Doughnuts
2 oz. yeast (3 pkgs of dry)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1/3 cup butter
1-1/2 cups scalded milk
2 eggs beaten
5 cups flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Stir yeast and 1 T. of sugar in the warm water. Let stand 5 minutes. Scald milk and put butter and rest of sugar in milk. Cool until luke warm and then add yeast and eggs.

Add flour (now will be a soft dough). Let raise in warm place until doubled. Turn out on board. Cut in 1/2 (if doubled recipe); punch down and roll out until 1/2 inch thick; cut using donut cutter; let raise on pans (that have a touch of flour on them) in warm place.

Doughnut Glaze
1/2 cup boiling water
1-1/2 lbs. powdered sugar (or more if needed to get glaze consistency)

Add water to sugar. Dip hot doughnuts into glaze; move to cooling rack.

Monday, February 21, 2011

When The Weather Outside Isn't Very Comforting, It's Time To Turn To Comfort Foods

I’ve mentioned before in my posts that nowadays when I wake up on the weekends, I don’t necessarily plan out every waking hour of my day anymore. That used to be the case when the boys were young, at home, in sports and other activities, and my day would be an hour-to-hour or minute-by-minute marathon of running here and there. Now when I awaken each morning on the weekends, I have the “luxury” of being more complacent in my “older” empty-nesting years with just figuring (1) if I can open my eyes – whew – first step accomplished, I’m still alive and kicking; (2) rolling out of bed – second step hurdled, I can still walk; and (3) what am I going to conjure up in the kitchen today. Really, now, if it walks and talks, it has to be fed, right?

Some days I want to be artistic and creative in the kitchen, creating new dishes, modifying old ones. It's in the blood -- I come from an artistic family. My mom took art correspondent courses when she was first married and was a very good artist. Not that I am patting myself on the back or anything, but I did fairly well myself, with one of my proudest accomplishments having a drawing that went and was displayed at the Wisconsin State Fair when I was in high school. Casey took up the interest in art early on in his years and has continued it through the rest of his young years. Recently, he was the Art Director for a toy company in Chicago, but this week he starts a new job with a company in New York. Brady is also good at art and did start technical school in graphic design. It is funny how full circle things come because Casey has his Grandma Eidsmoe’s old art correspondence books and even more coincidental, he also has art correspondent books from Grandma O’Connor, as she took courses, too.

Be that as it may, other days in the kitchen I want to slip back into comfort foods. Last night when I went to bed the forecast was that we were in for another snow storm (of some sort). Whether it be snow, rain, ice, sleet or hail, it would all be determined by the temperatures. It was predicted that it would start after midnight Saturday night and go into Monday with possible accumulations (if snow) of two inches in our area, but with blowing and gusting winds, again. When I awoke this morning, (after checking off numbers 1 and 2 above), I looked out the window – nothing. Hmmmmm . . . that was good, at least for now. Knowing that the weather was going to be . . . (looking for the correct technical weather term here) . . . oh, yes, yucky, my thoughts turned to comfort foods – old standbys.

I let Pongo out the door so he could do his duty, started the coffee, and headed to the freezer. There I found what I was looking for – the plain, old, standby – beef chuck roast. I was feeling like it was going to be a roast, mashed potatoes and vegetables kind of day. Taking my first sip of coffee, I checked my blood sugar, gave myself my insulin and threw the roast in the microwave for a four-minute quick thaw. If I was on the ball, I would have taken it out last night and put in the refrigerator to thaw, but a lot of the time (okay, most of the time), I’m not that much ahead of myself. And, this works for me.

I took out my large stainless skillet and coated the bottom with some extra-virgin olive oil and turned the burner on medium high. When searing meat, you need a fairly higher heat. Not too high, but not too low. When the oil was starting to heat up, I placed the roast into the pan and put a cover on it. It will start to sputter and splatter all over the place, if you don’t. I then seasoned the top with a good dose of salt, a good cover of pepper, a sprinkle of Cavender’s Greek Seasoning, and a little Emeril’s seasoning. (For picture of ingredients, see third row pictures above, center). Once the bottom side was seared well, I used my big strong tongs and flipped it over to the other side. (See bottom picture above.) I always make sure I season the first side right away so it has time to melt into the meat before turning. After seasoning the second side and sure that the bottom was now seared well, I added a little red wine to the pan and after letting that cook in for about 5-8 minutes, I added about a quarter of a box of beef broth. I next poured a little Kitchen Bouquet into the sauce to give it a richer, darker texture. Still on the medium heat, I let that cook for about 5-6 minutes.

Next, I pulled out my roasting pan and poured the rest of the box of beef broth into it. I then took the roast out of the skillet and set it in the middle of the roasting pan, and added the juices from the skillet. (See third row pictures, right). Then I deglazed the skillet by pouring a small amount of red wine into it and when the pan was rendered tidbit free, I added that to the roasting pan. Now time to add the rest of the goodies. I took a bag of baby carrots and dumped them out around the edges of the roast (in the juices), then topped that with some mushrooms and on top of the roast I placed some slices of white onions. I put some aluminum foil over the top of the roasting pan, sealing the edges and placed it into a preheated oven at 375 degrees.

Once all that was done, I didn’t need to touch anything until about half hour before we were ready to eat. At that point, I peeled some Idaho potatoes since I was planning to make mashed potatoes. Having covered them sufficiently with water, I salted the water and set them on the burner to cook.

Here enters the great debate about what type of potato to use for what type of potato dish. My rule of thumb usually is if it is mashed potatoes, I am going to use either Idaho or Russets. (Picture of reds & Idahos above, 3rd row, left). I always have one of those two on hand. If making lefse, Russets. Baked potatoes, I go to Golds, Idaho or Russets – my fav for baked, though, is Golds (See picture, second row, left, above). Their skin is more tender and when I make baked potatoes, I tend to like to pierce them a couple times, put butter on top, and sprinkle a little garlic powder on the butter, all wrapped in tin foil. It melts into the potato when baking and provides a softer, silkier skin. For potato salad, I’m all for Idaho. They hold up better to the tossing they get during the prep time. I also am in love with Baby Reds. I like these in a red potato salad; or boiled, drained and tossed with butter and parsley; or cut up and baked in a scalloped Dijon mustard sauce. For scalloped potatoes, I’m strictly Idaho or Russet. I guess you could say that I am one particular potato head!

Okay, now that you know my deep dark secrets about potatoes, let’s see, where was I? Oh, yea, mashed potatoes. Since Bob likes gravy and I like butter on my mashed potatoes, I had to start some gravy. One other thing I absolutely love to have with my mashed potatoes, and that is cream style corn. I love to top my potatoes with butter, then a spoonful or two or three of the corn. Brady has picked this yummy little habit up from me, too. So, I also opened up a can of corn since I don’t have any canned corn in the freezer. It has been a couple years since I have put up canned corn, but I have some special memories of that, which I will leave to another blog. Hmmmm . . . maybe I have spoken of it before – I think I might have mentioned it in Auntie’s Eulogy.

Anyway, next step, I took a couple hoagie rolls out of the freezer, thawed them a tad in the microwave, sliced them in half lengthwise, buttered them (more like slathered them – that’s me the butter queen!!) and sprinkled them with some parsley-garlic powder. I took the roast out of the oven and placed the garlic bread in at the same temp. (See top picture, right, above.)
(If you wanted to know my timing, I had the roast in the oven by 8:00 a.m., and took it out around noon). I wanted the roast out so it would rest and soak up the juices while doing so. (For picture of finished roast, see 2nd row, right, above). In addition, I needed some of that juice for my (Bob’s) gravy. Having accomplished that and the potatoes now done, I drained the potato juice off into another pan and added some of the roast juice. I put that on the burner and mixed up the thickening – a little flour and cold water a little at a time to form a paste and then a nice velvety thickening. Once my gravy juice was almost to a boil, I turned the heat down and slowly whisked in the thickening. That done, I turned it on simmer, took the bread out, plated everything up (in bowls or platters) and we are finally ready to eat. (See top picture, left, above.)

The timing was great because when Bob had come in after chores he turned the TV onto our new free Starz channel (another whole discussion – satellite companies!!). The movie 2012 was on and anytime we had caught it before it was usually half over with. This time it was only about five minutes into it, and I was able to catch most of it while hustling around the kitchen. Regardless, it was now just getting over with, so we were able to sit down to eat. And I wasn’t going to disappoint with having no dessert today either, because I had also made glazed raised donuts (and, of course, donut holes).

Reaping the rewards of a morning in the kitchen is always very satisfying. And, on a rainy, cold, windy day, it is even more comforting when you sit down to a hot meal of all things familiar. The only thing missing now is a nap!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bacon Can Solve My Problems, At Least For One Night

When I arrived home last night after work, I was faced with the age-old question – what to make for supper? Why is it such the strained question of the day? In the past, I have tried to pre-plan meals for the evening, but those have usually been thrown out the window by (1) a husband who is picky (and may I say - spoiled) in that he may decide he is just not into “that” for that particular evening meal; and (2) the spoiler (yep, raising my hand, as that would be me) who may decide I’m really not in the mood for that either, or feeling like making it that evening.

I was getting down to the wire because Bob was going to be coming in soon and I still hadn’t figured out what my mood was. Then all of the sudden it dawned on me that I wanted to try my own version of Fettuccine Carbanaro. I usually have these thoughts or inspirations sneak up on me, and that is when I hit the kitchen running. Well, I was actually already in the kitchen, so I didn’t have to run too far.

I peeked into the frig to make sure I had bacon – check. Next, I checked the fettuccine, oops, not enough for a meal. I have a pantry full of different kinds of pasta, but since this was going to be a new recipe I was going to spring on Bob, I figured I had better play it safe and just go with egg noodles. (If he likes a recipe, I can always change up the pasta on him another time). I always have plenty of low-fat cream cheese on hand, so that was okay. Everything else, I figured I could wing it.

I got the bacon out and with my kitchen shears, started snipping the one-pound slab of bacon strips into small little bite-size pieces. Next, I threw them in a non-stick skillet on medium heat and started browning them. Then I grabbed my pasta cooker and filled it with water. I asked for and received this a couple years ago and would not ever replace it. Actually, I don’t think I will probably have to replace it in my lifetime! It is a four-piece pasta cooker from Food Network made of 18/10 stainless steel, thick layered construction. It is so versatile because I can cook pasta in the strainer basket, or steam veggies using the steamer insert. In addition, I can keep an eye on things with the tempered glass lid. (Now if that isn’t advertising – I don’t know what is! Haha!)

Once my water started boiling, I added some salt and then threw in a half bag of noodles. With the bacon now browned and crisp, I tossed them into a stainless steel strainer (on top of a bowl) and let the grease drain off. When the noodles were properly cooked, I pulled the strainer out and let them drain. In another pan I started the sauce. First I added about a cup of milk (I used low fat), 3/4 of a stick of low-fat cream cheese, and about two tablespoons of flour. I whisked this together over low heat. Once the cream cheese was incorporated, I added a good pinch of salt, a couple pinches of pepper, 1 tsp. of Cavender’s Greek Seasoning, 2 tsps. Parmesan Herb seasoning (McCormick Perfect Pinch), 1 tsp. garlic powder and then let this meld together. I turned the heat down to a simmer as it was starting to thicken up. Then I added the bacon (holding back about a small handful) and mixed it well. Here is where the recipe either makes or breaks, so I took a little spoon and did a taste test on the sauce. It needed just a pinch more of salt to bring out the true flavors, but otherwise, I was magnificently surprised and happy.

Next, I dumped the drained noodles into the sauce to let it coat. Once coated, I poured the noodle mixture into a flatter serving bowl, sprinkled it with paprika, dotted the mixture with the remaining bacon and then topped it first with a sprinkling of shredded Parmesan cheese and additionally a dappling of shredded Romano cheese.

I served this all up with a side of cooked green beans, dappled with butter and pepper and a light sprinkling of Parmesan Herb seasoning, and some warm rolls. I have to say the presentation of the noodles was pretty and I wish I had taken a picture to show you. (Going to have to remember to do that next time).

By this time, Bob had come in when I was dishing things up. Of course, (if you will recall from other posts) he gave me the look and the “what the heck is this” declaration. I followed that up with my usual “sit down, shut up and try it first” response. So he sat down, put a little on his plate, tasted and then scooped up a bigger portion.

I always figure if anything new I try meets with his picky, spoiled little taste buds, then it is a job well done. Tonight, another miracle! Another job well done.

The portions that I gave above (and below) would probably serve four to five. In this case, we had enough left over for me to take a small portion for lunch today and a smaller "Bob" serving (than he had last night) for him for lunch today. (Well, at least he better have it for lunch today, because if he doesn't it's a case of you snooze, you lose, as I'll snag it up for my lunch tomorrow).

Yes, I know, my hubby’s portions are sometimes a little more than what they should be. Hmmm ... I guess that bodes well for my cooking skills.


Noodles Carbanaro (My Way)

Half pkg. egg noodles
1 pound bacon
1 cup milk
3/4 pkg cream cheese
2 T. flour
1 tsp. of Cavender’s Greek Seasoning
2 tsps. Parmesan Herb seasoning (McCormick Perfect Pinch)
1 tsp. garlic powder
Shredded Parmesan Cheese
Shredded Romano Cheese

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

That's Amore!

"That's Amore" is a 1952 song by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Jack Brooks. It became a major hit and signature song for Dean Martin in 1953. Amore means "love" in Italian, giving a general translation in English to "that's love.” Through the years I remember hearing Dean Martin sing this song and it always brought thoughts of soothing thoughts and romantic scenes running through my mind like a corner Italian bistro with a table set for two, a bottle of wine and two lovers holding hands, gazing starry-eyed into each others eyes. Ahhhhhhh....

Well, so much for my daydreaming! Today, I take Valentine’s Day as a chance to show my love and appreciation to those I love, and to be the recipient of same! If it isn’t said every day, then V-Day is as good as a time as ever to say I “HEART” U! So, I look forward to this day, when I know that I will receive flowers and a well-thought-out card from my husband; Bob knows he will get candy, some well-thought out gift, and a well-sought-after card; my boys (and their girls) will be getting something special from me, too.

I posted on Facebook yesterday that Bob has not failed me in the last 20 years with “surprising” me with flowers for Valentine’s. It is usually always red roses, but in the past he has changed it up some. One year it was white roses, one year white calla lilies and red roses and even a mixture of different colored roses. He doesn’t want to get too predictable, and I do like that. I may be selfish, but I love getting flowers for Valentine’s Day. I don’t need the candy or anything else. But the flowers – they warm my heart. It also helps get the through the Winter blues; gives me hope that I will soon be out there tending to my rose bushes and other flowers in my gardens. Call me selfish if you want, but I would have it no other way. And, again, this year he didn’t fail me. When I got home I found a beautiful display of a mixture of a dozen roses with colors ranging from red, pink, white, yellow. It, of course, warmed my heart.

This year, I was doubly surprised because the boys, Casey and Brady, their girls, Nika and Jenne, and their dogs, Pongo and Paris, surprised me with red roses and a card. I was able to meet up with Brady and Jenne outside of a Madison hospital where Jenne’s dad had surgery yesterday. Not the typical location for an exchange of gifts, but it works. Brady and Jenne were able to open up their gifts and they presented me with the red roses. Casey and Nika are coming back this weekend, so they will have to wait for their’s until then.

I always try to change things up every year. In the past, sometimes they have all gotten the same thing. One year, I gave them all a large bowl (which I called their popcorn bowls), filled with candy and chocolates and a little something special to each. Some years they have gotten clothes, CDs or DVDs. Bob’s gifts this year were lots of candy and a couple Packer Super Bowl t-shirts (which he wanted and I was holding off getting for me). Brady got a Brewer’s zipup and Jenne got a Packers t-shirt, and of course, they also got candy. Casey and Nika . . . well, I guess since I am posting this before they arrive home, I can’t tell what I got for them. But I hope they like it.

Jenne told me that after two-and-a-half years together, she finally got flowers from Brady. That makes a momma proud that he has finally stepped up! Way to go, Brady. And on my way home, I talked to Casey and chastised him when he told me he hadn’t gotten Nika anything but a card that he drew himself. Of course, he was joking with me just to get a rise out of me – which the boys know they can do! But he stepped up, too, with flowers, candy and a card. Hmmm . . . maybe they HAVE been paying attention through the years.

One thing Bob and I always traditionally do, too, is we go out to eat. Since we are farmers and I also work off the farm, sometimes our Valentine’s Day dinner date might not necessarily coincide exactly with Valentine’s Day itself. This year, we went out to eat at Longhorn Steakhouse on Sunday, the day before Valentine’s. We were able to get away for a few hours in the middle of the day, to enjoy a meal by ourselves, and hold hands at the bar while we waited for our table. Not anything too fancy or overly romantic, but it works for us. Many years ago, Bob and I had started a little tradition where we always got a heart-shaped pizza for Valentine’s Day. We hadn’t done that for awhile, so last night when I left work, I stopped and picked one up on the way. It was late when I got home, after 8:30, so this was just right for us. On Sunday after we got home for our date lunch, I made, frosted and decorated some simple Valentine Day cookies. I found that one cookie cutter I did not have was a heart-shaped one, so after lunch we had a couple errands to run and I looked for one, but alas, couldn’t find one. So round I went with. That works just as well, too.

Everyone has their holiday traditions and starting a Valentine’s Day one isn’t too bad of any idea. We live in a fast-paced world today and taking the time out of one day of the year to show your love and appreciation for those that you love isn’t too much to ask. And everyone has their own way of showing that love. If it is untraditional or unorthodox, who cares – if it works for you, that is all that matters. It certainly works for me.

The Groundhog Day Blizzard

February 1, 2011, a Tuesday night, proved to be a testament to the power of prayer and a mouth that should have been washed out with soap. We were expecting to get hit with what the meteorologists were calling blizzard conditions starting at around 3:00 p.m. CST. I put my feelers out to my husband (at the farm) and to my sister in Dodgeville that once they saw the snow start to come down, they should call or email me right away because at that point I would head for the hills. My sister Kristi emailed me around 3:30 to say it had just started snowing in Dodgeville. Bob waited until 3:45 to say it has started, so you better head home now. He said the snow wasn’t coming down that hard, it was just that the wind was picking up and getting stronger by the moment.

So by the time I finished up a few things at the office, I finally headed out the door about 4:30. Yep, should have probably gotten on the road a little sooner, but whether I am trying to get out the door in the morning to head to work, or get out the door at night from work to head home, I am always trying to get one more thing done. Hence, the case again. The winds almost seemed like they were whipping in from the East (I suppose more of a Northeasterly wind) because everything was drifting on the east side of the road. The whiteout conditions were the worst. I couldn’t see anything except for a few feet in front of me; okay, maybe more like yards, but seemed like feet! I had my headset on and, as usual, was talking to him all the way home. My end of the conversation was mostly limited to two or three word expletives like “Holy Sh_t” or “Oh My God” because each mile down the road seemed to bring a new adventure. These are the types of adventures I don’t really care for.

My 35-mile ride home seemed to take forever. What normally would have taken me 45 minutes turned into around two hours. Not your scenic Sunday drive, that’s for sure! In essence, if I really want to give myself a little credit, I would say that I did leave just in time. Some of the roads were starting to plug up from the drifts across the road. And since my trusty four-wheel drive Durango is no longer in service, my front-wheel drive Grand Prix had to learn to buck a few drifts she wished she hadn’t seen or will ever see again. My biggest fears along the way were meeting cars. Those that I would meet would be heading North, as I was heading South. Their lane was the one that was completely drifted in, heading into my lane. When the whiteout conditions were happening, the approaching car couldn’t see me and if they were trying to avoid the drifts in their lane and were driving in mine, it does not bode well for them or me. Luckily, once I got off the four-lane highway and was on the two-lane roads, I met very few cars; only two, in fact.

Once I got into town, I quickly ran into the store to pick up a few extra staples that I thought I might be running low on because we had already planned that I wouldn’t be at work the next day. I knew that the last four miles out to the farm might prove to be the worst, but heck at least I had milk with me! I can say for certainty, though, that once I got to my driveway – and even though Bob hadn’t plowed it for me yet – it was a sight I had been looking for in the past two hours and could have gotten out and kissed the ground underneath, except I would have had to dig down quite a bit to find it. The milk truck had just pulled in so I did have some tracks to follow. When I pulled up to the house, Bob was just getting ready to head down the driveway to plow for me, just a tad too late, but that’s okay as long as I had the milk truck tracks.

The name for our little snowfall – The Groundhog Day Blizzard. The snow continued into the night and got worse with high winds meddling a little, too. I haven’t seen snow and blizzards like this since I was a kid. At the farm we received about eight inches of snow Tuesday. Then Tuesday night into Wednesday, we got socked with 18 inches more. We now have mounds, or more appropriately, hills of snow piled higher than our tractor with the cab on it. Now these were the types of snow hills we liked to play on when we were kids. This snow has stuck with us for a couple weeks with below zero temps and below zero wind chills. (The picture above is of the farm after we started digging out on Groundhog Day).

It has definitely been a rough Winter, but the one good thing is that Jimmy The Groundhog didn’t see his shadow. Heck, for that matter, Jimmy probably couldn’t get out of his hole in the ground. This means, of course, that we will have an early Spring. Now I don’t care if Jimmy’s prediction percentage is good, bad or in between. When you have had a long, rough Winter, any little slip of hope that Spring will be just right around the corner is good enough for me. So if Jimmy wanted to come out of his hole, cross his fingers behind his back and tell me that Spring is on the doorstep, I’m a believer. Hope is one thing that no person (or animal) should take away from another. Just look what Jimmy has done for the economy – now that I think Spring is coming rapidly, I’ve been busy ordering plants. I’ve made new plans for what I am going to do outside in the yard. See, Jimmy has got the rhythm of what the country really needs. Hope!

Now here we are the day after Valentine’s Day, and I am happy as a lark. The weather is in the 40's (we even had highs in the 50's on Sunday), it is staying light longer at night (my car lights don’t even come on now until I am a couple miles from work) and the Winter Blues are starting to melt away. Speaking of melting away, even this huge dump of snow is melting away. The snow banks along the way home, where there was sometimes only one lane to drive in, are now to the point where you can actually meet a car and not have to worry about who is going to end up in the snowbank.

The birds are out and about, too; some never having left this Winter – which is a reminder that I need to get out to check my bird feeders. The birds have made quite an impact on what I had put out there so far this year, so I need to try to stay ahead of them. After all, if they wanted to suffer through Old Man Winter’s bad mood swings with me, I had better give them a good feast as a reward.

Yes, I’m looking forward to Spring, and it can’t come soon enough. And, if Mother Nature and Old Man Winter are still crotchety and want to throw one or two more snowfalls at me, I can suffer through it, too, just like the birds have. After all, hope has different names like the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, and in the dead of Winter, hope is called Jimmy The Groundhog.

The Miracle of Birth; The Sadness of Death; & A Devastating Tragedy

[I wrote this on January 22, 2011, but just didn’t have a chance to finish it up and post it. So now here it is.]

It is amazing how different things in your life change in the blink of an eye. I was driving home last night when my Mother called to tell me my niece, Tracy, and her husband, Ryan, had their baby. Leyton Ryan was born at 5:16 p.m. after Tracy suffered through 17 hours of labor. I feel for her. I had approximately two hours of labor from start to finish with both my boys, so I can be compassionate, though not knowing the true extent of her pain for a grueling 17 hours. When I spoke with her this morning, she said that the pain was so intense up until the time she received the epidural, but “don’t let anyone fool you, those epidurals hurt, too!” I mentioned to her that I bet I knew her feelings in those last few minutes of intense pushing and pain, “what have I gotten myself in to” and “I’m never going to do this again.” Which she said were exactly the thoughts. But as I so truly remember, and she agreed, those thoughts quickly melt away the minute you see the product of those nine months of pregnancy -- when you get to peer into the little face of the creation you have just witnessed. It is truly a miracle.

After I got home, with the thoughts so clear in my head of the happy event that just occurred, I was preparing supper and started watching the Tucson memorial service where President Obama spoke. Bob groaned a little when he came in to see that I was watching it, but he, too, quickly got swept up in the moment. It was touching, inspirational, moving, and a tear-jerker. At first, I was afraid it would turn into a political rally by the way the Dean of the University of Arizona started to introduce President Obama (and, mind you, I am a Democrat and love Barack – but there is a place and time for that and this was not it), but saw the shift of sentiment once Obama set forth to deliver the message he was sent to do. Again, I was reminded many times during his memorial delivery of how life is so precious and that we have to enjoy and live every moment, because we never know what is right around the corner. My most memorable portions of Obama’s memorial tribute last night were the words he spoke about little 9-year-old Christina Taylor Greene and how at such a young age she was so committed to community and public service. He spoke of what her expectations of life were, how the bookends of her life were not so dissimilar being born on a national tragedy, “911" (9/11/2001), and leaving this world on the day of and amidst another national tragedy. Yes, the end of her life did bring the nation to its knees just as the beginning did, but Barack also asked that we as a nation live up to the expectations of Christian and the other youth of our nation. Again, very awe-inspiring to listen to and yet very reminiscent of a slideshow of the pictures of each of our lives. Definitely brings you back to the saying, "Live each day to the fullest as we never know what tomorrow will bring."

This has been a week of beginnings and endings of sort. They say that when one enters this life, another passes. I found that to ring true. At the beginning of this week a dear friend’s mother and the great-grandmother to my niece/goddaughter passed away. It was about this time last year when I was sort of reunited with Margaret. She was in the nursing home where my Aunt was before she passed away. I would try to stop in and visit with Margaret every time I was there, if even to make a point to walk to her room just to say “hi” if I was running out of time. At times I was there longer; she and I would have longer conversations; not about anything specifically to start out with but just news from town or generalities, but it would always inevitably turn into conversing about memories of some sort; that I am always intrigued about and can sit for hours listening to stories of “yesteryear.”

So, I was saddened to hear the news of her passing on Monday. I had actually been thinking about her over the weekend because I happened to see someone that had been at the nursing home convalescing and my initial thoughts were I needed to stop in at the nursing home just to have a quick visit with some of the residents I loved to visit with. Unfortunately, that thought came and went too quickly and the next thing I know Margaret has passed. As I said, we never know what is around the next corner.

Then last night a miracle in the form of the start of the next generation of our family. I have seen the babies born from my Mother as the eldest girl (one older brother) and a little span of years between the next younger sibling. I swaddled, fed, burped, changed, bathed them and watched them grow up to have babies of their own. I have swaddled, fed, burped, changed and bathed them. Now, I get to do the same to the next generation.

The cycle of life is a powerful thing. It can be so magnificent when you witness the miracle of birth and yet when you see tragedies evidenced with the shooting in Tucson. It can bring you to your knees in pain, suffering and sorrow. I guess it keeps our perspectives in check when we reach for each new day. Birth, death and the dawn of a new day – never anything to take for granted.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Little Trial And Error Makes It All Taste Better

A couple weeks ago, when Casey and Nika, Brady and Jenne were home for the weekend, we went to my niece Kristal’s basketball game in Darlington on a Saturday morning. Since Casey and Nika were home for the weekend, my plans were to make lunch and dinner for all of us. My dinner plan for that night was lasagna, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to make for lunch. So before we left the school, I asked the "kids" and we decided on hamburgers and deep-fried homemade french fries. I needed to make a quick trip to the store to pick up some buns and a couple other little things, but while in the store I thought as long as I have the deep-fryer going, maybe I should make some homemade cheese curds, too. Nika had never had cheese curds, and Casey was telling her she was missing out on something special.

Earlier in the week, my office had gone out for a birthday luncheon and we went downtown in Madison to a new restaurant that had opened up recently, Graze. The birthday boy got to pick the place and this is where he wanted to go. Tim had said he had heard they had the most amazing cheese curds and that once you had them, you would never want for them any other place. He was right!

So, after I had told this story to the kids, I felt my next task would be to compete with Graze’s version of cheese curds.

Once we got home we got the burgers started and I pulled out my beer batter recipe. I told Casey he was going to have to suck it up (since he doesn’t drink and never has), but he said it was okay, he could handle it being in just the batter! We cut up the potatoes into french fries, placed them in buttermilk and let them soak for a couple minutes. Next we gave them a quick rinse and patted them dry, then they were put into the deep fryer for their first dunk. Once they had begun to crisp up a little, we pulled them out and let them drain for a bit. Then they went back in to crisp up. Once the fries were done and the burgers were topped with cheese and had melted, we served them up and then onto the trial and error for the cheese curds.

We dunked the cheese curds in the batter and then dropped them into the deep fryer. These turned out good, but I was not totally satisfied. I needed to perfect this, so I saw another opportunity for my next food experiment.

The next night after everyone had left, I decided that I would give the leftover batter a swing with some onions. I love onion rings, but Bob (not being an onion fan) is not particularly fond of them. What he does not care for is a stringy onion, that when you bite into the onion ring the whole onion ring comes slithering out and sometimes, unfortunately even I have had this problem, you can end up slurping that onion ring whole which makes for a very uncomfortable swallowing experience. The original recipe I had did not call for any seasonings, which on the curds I felt it was something it needed. So now to find the perfect combination of seasonings for the batter. I added a little garlic powder and some pepper to the first batch. I used white onions and cut them into some what thin ringlets. I put them in the batter and then set the bowl into the refrigerator to somewhat harden the batter and set them on the rings. I kept them in the refrigerator for about an hour. This did prove to be a good idea, because the batter hung to the ringlets much more properly. When I deep fried them, they came out so tender that they actually melted in your mouth. Bob thought the same. But this batter still needed some perfection.

Last night, I decided to try the onion rings again, but this time I added another half cup of flour and then added some Cavender’s and garlic powder, along with some black pepper. Ummmm, much better. I even cut the onion slices a little larger and, walla, so much better. (One star for me). Bob thought the larger slices would be bothersome to him, but they weren’t. Ahhhhh! (Two stars for me!) After draining, I sprinkled them with a little salt and pepper, and yes, they were so, so much better.

Cooking is so much like life -- a little trial and error never hurts – in fact, it always makes things better.


And here is my refined recipe:

Beer Batter

1 egg beaten
1 can of beer
1-3/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2-3/4 T. Cavender’s Greek Seasoning

Beat the egg with a fork, then add the beer; next add the dry ingredients and whisk until throughly incorporated.

Where's the Beef? (It's In The Sauce, Baby, It's All In The Sauce!)

The thought of something a little different for dinner today had my mind racing when I woke up this morning. I was thinking some kind of a beef sauce over either noodles or boiled potatoes. Once my morning rituals/routine was over with, I went to the freezer and pulled out a package of sirloin steak. One large piece of meat! I put it in the microwave to thaw. Four and-one-half minutes later I pulled it out and set it out to rest for a moment. I then poured some EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)(thanks to Rachel Ray for that signature word!) into a non-stick skillet and let that start to warm up on medium high heat.

Next I took the meat and cut off all portions of the fat and sliced it into strips and then smaller 1 to 1-1/2" pieces. Laying the pieces out on the cutting board, I then sprinkled them with kosher salt, pepper, and Cavender’s seasoning, turned them over and repeated the same on the other side. (Never be afraid to salt the meat, it needs it to bring out the true flavors!) Next, I filled a large flatter bowl with flour (about 1" deep) and tossed some pieces in and rolled them around in the flour. Once they were thoroughly coated, I laid them out in the hot pan to begin to sear and brown (at about medium heat), repeating the process until all the pieces were coated with flour and were dropped into the pan. Before turning and once the pieces began to show that the flour on the top side was “melting” I next sprinkled a thin layer of sugar over the top of the pieces. Sugar. . . yes, sugar. I do this as it aids in caramelizing the pieces of meat. You just lightly sprinkle them, and, no, they won’t take on a sweet taste (but it does aid a little in the flavoring of the sauce). Once they were sprinkled with sugar, I then turned them over to brown the top side.

When all the pieces were browned (and still pink in the middle) I then went to my cupboard for beef broth. And, unfortunately, I didn’t find any. Fortunately, though, I did have chicken broth. I have found that you can easily substitute chicken broth for beef broth. All you need to do is add some beef bouillon cubes, if you have them (which I always have on hand) and/or add some Kitchen Bouquet. I did both, in this case. I turned the heat down to a medium low, and added about a cup of chicken broth and then dropped in three beef bouillon cubes and drizzled some Kitchen Bouquet over the top. The KB gave it a darker, richer looking sauce. I let this meld together for about 10 minutes and then turned the heat to low once I knew the bouillon cubes were dissolved. I gave the mixture a good stir to mix things up, put a cover on it, turned it on low simmer and let it simmer for an hour and a half. Midway through the process, I added about another half cup of chicken broth.

Next I waited for Bob to come in to decide which way to go – noodles or potatoes. He said he was sick of potatoes at the moment so wanted noodles. So I put some water on to boil and once it came to a boil added some salt and then the wide dumpling noodles. (How much you might say, it was about half a bag). Once the noodles were cooked, I drained them and placed them into a larger flatter bowl/platter. I then poured the beef mixture, (which by now had turned into a dark, rich, thick velvety sauce) over the noodles and tossed them a bit to mix the sauce in with the noodles. I then topped them with a sprinkling of shredded Parmesan cheese and then a thinner layer of shredded Romano cheese.

I served this with some warm rolls and buttery kernel corn.

When Bob comes in from outside and I am in the midst of “experimenting,” he will always pick up the covers off any pans on the stove (or peek in the oven) and always, predictably always, gives me the same old wrinkled up nose routine of “what the hell is this?” Most of time he is very pleasantly surprised at the finished product. This produced quite a bit of food, but by the time we were done eating today, there was only a small bowl of leftovers. Even though he won’t usually say the words, that is his way of saying “not bad, baby, not bad!”

I have to say that I thought so myself today, too . . . not bad, baby, not bad!