Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Building Alaska" movie review

Part of the fun of homeschooling means we can set the schedule as we want, so watching a history movie after dinner as a family works!
Building Alaska
Tonight's offering was "Building Alaska."  It was so interesting! --So not just for kids or those who homeschool. The projects and the individual characters who shaped the state all along its history were impressive.  
The movie began with the Klondike Gold Rush, and the building of the different railroads, including the one started in 1898.  The paths they forged and the bridges they designed and constructed were impressive feats of engineering, built under such difficult weather conditions and through such treacherous terrain.  Future railroads and highways never got easier, and infrastructure is still a challenge and need today.  
I didn't know that 2 Alaskan islands were bombed and temporarily occupied by Japan in World War II.
The drive for statehood must have been amazing to experience from within.  It seemed that every Alaskan took it personally and had a stake in it.
The photos of damage (buildings, roads, railroads, bridges) and topographical changes from the1964 earthquake and resulting tsunamis were beyond comprehension and description.  The rebuilding process had to be quite an undertaking, as it seemed like every bit of every town and transportation system was destroyed.
The movie ended with a discussion of the future.  The infrastructure needs and the use of Alaskan resources to support the US and business there;  how long those things might last, and what Alaska will have to offer far into the future.  

Worth the 90 minutes to watch...They went quickly!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Who buys something and totally forgets to use it? (Kitchen Scale)

Escali P115C Primo Digital Multifunctional Food Scale, ChromeThat would be me.  I bought an Escali Digital Food Scale (mine's RED) a few months ago, when I was ready to start making sourdough and other artisan breads, which I understand to list weights in most recipes. 

First, I didn't make the sourdough starter, because I was waiting for the scale. (probably not necessary)  Then I put the scale aside, because I lost my starter directions.  Meanwhile, I've been making bread and rolls, dividing the dough by the difficult and inaccurate method of eyeing-and-guessing.  Today, though, when struggling with a big batch of dough, trying to divide it for 5 loaves, something clicked in my brain and I remembered to try the scale.  

It was a little awkward to balance the big wad of dough on the scale to get a total.  I'm sure there's a better way, but for today, I divided it approximately in half and weighed each blob on a piece of wax paper placed on the scale.  I then added their weights to get a total, and divided by 5.  Turned out those pieces were too small, so I redivided into 4 big loaves.  I used my probe method to determine doneness, and with them all the same weight, could feel more confident that if one was done properly, the others were, too.

I took too long to decide to photograph the bread...There were only 2 1/4 loaves left.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

'Tis the Season!

Just little remnants of turkey left of Thanksgiving.  The kids are diving into the Christmas mode, and I'm happy to let them.  It's such an uplifting time, and it goes by so fast!  There is no time to waste, and I want to absorb and appreciate every minute.   I am glad to hear the Christmas music almost 24/7, and to start planning the gifts to make and give.  There are 4 traditions specific to this early part of the Season in our home:

1) Start the Christmas letter...It's great to look back and be thankful for all the growth, progress, and activities. I usually get it about 95% done by the 1st of December and feel SO ahead of the game!  But then time flies before I think of it again... So I end up doing the finishing touches at the last minute, and finally print it out about December 22nd ...or 23rd.  ;-)

White Christmas (Anniversary Edition)2) Watch the movie "White Christmas." I love the part where the men lip sync and dance to the girls' song.  It always gets me when the General walks in and sees all the soldiers there to honor him, and, of course, when it snows.  Laughter and tears...and of course, the falling in love.  Just right for an incurable romantic.  Not only do I watch it soon after Thanksgiving (Princess Artiste is already asking for it), but I watch it whenever I wrap gifts, so usually at least 2 more times.  The kids love hearing it play through my bedroom door, because they know what that means!

3) Put up the lights and set up my beloved ceramic Nativity set, bought for Hubby's and my first Christmas.  This sets our hearts on the Real Reason for celebrating Christmas.  Last year a raccoon ransacked our outdoor storage room, knocking the Nativity set to the floor, breaking parts into pieces.  A very sad sight.  It served us beautifully for 25 years, but it's time to find a new one - A headless Mary will not do!

One Wintry Night4) Dig out our favorite Christmastime book, "One Wintry Night." It starts in a cabin in a snowstorm (the descriptive writing is so great, you can feel the chill outside, and the warmth of the cabin), and has the Christmas story from the beginning, as in "In the beginnning..." from Genesis.  It not only tells us about the night Jesus was born, but the generations and years that led up to it, and why we needed a Savior.  The story is told within a story in such a wonderful way and the illustrations are so exquisite.  Each one a work of art. They're amazing.  It's in chapters, so we can spread it over several days.  

P.S.  If you can't see the images for the book or the movie, please disable your ad-blocker for this blog.  I had to for my own PC using Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Firefox.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Oven Temperature Probe: Not just for meats any more

I almost entitled this post "Don't Be Afraid to Probe your Buns," but propriety got the better of me.
It was a big help to me, awhile back, to realize I could check the internal temperature of bread to determine doneness.  (190 to 200 degrees indicating 'done.')  The many years before, I had to guess.  Tapping the bottoms never worked well, because the bread was out of the oven so long by the time I got it out of the pan and managed to test it without burning myself.
But recently I was surprised to note that my Wolf oven manual gave instructions for using a probe when baking bread.  I never thought it would work to probe dough, and the secret seems to be to insert it after at least 10 minutes of baking, after the bread has been allowed that initial 'pop,' or rise when entering the heated oven, and when there is enough solid structure to support the probe.  I decided to give it a try with the sandwich rolls/hamburger buns I made for our "Sandwich Saturday" Thanksgiving get-together today.  It worked great!  Much better than trying to get a quick temp with the not-at-all-instant-read thermometer. I'm not sure it'll work with every oven to use it on something as small as sandwich rolls...My Monogram oven probe instructions said the probe had to be fully inserted in something in order to work properly, whereas the Wolf instructions just say to make sure the tip is in the center of the roll or loaf. But I think it's worth a try.  The results were fantastic....The rolls were light brown outside, and moist, but perfectly done, inside.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For...Or...Ma Ingalls, I'm not

A few weeks ago, feeling overwhelmed by the stresses and busy-ness of today's life, I wondered why it wouldn't be OK to simplify my life by staying home more and keeping my schedule a bit barren.  After all, Ma Ingalls, of "Little House" book fame, and others like her, never had to (was able to?) leave home, and kept busy and seemingly content tending her house, yard, and family.  I began to yearn for the simplicity of basic life during that time.

Fast forward to this week...A week of snow and temps in the high teens, and add to it, no electricity from Monday evening to Thursday afternoon. I have to say in my defense that the Ingalls certainly had a fireplace for some heat and limited light, which we, shortsightedly planned to include in "Phase 2" of our home's construction...A phase we've yet to reach, if we ever do.  We did have fire, of a sort...our gas rangetop.  Not great for heat or light, but it did provide warm food and drink, which was vitally important.  

When we realized the probability of losing electricity (for a day or so, we thought), and I also realized we were completely out of bread, I made some bread dough, so we could at least do some stove top flat bread or maybe pizza.  The first night in the dark I did the flat bread.  The pan was too hot and it got a bit scorched, but no one seemed to mind.  With some pesto and some shrimp-cauliflower-broccoli-cheese soup, also made in a hurry just before the lights went out, it was a very edible meal.  But the next day, to chase away the grouchies, my remedy was to get inventive.  I had half of the dough left, and I wasn't dying for a second round of blackened flat bread.  I wanted to bake.

I got out my 2 cast iron Dutch ovens.  I knew getting the bottom of the pans too hot...direct contact with dough on the pan, and pan on the fire...was something I wanted to avoid.  So I set the 2 covered pans on top of the griddle/grill pan, hoping for more of an indirect and more evenly distributed heat.  I put the oven thermometers inside and set the heat a bit above medium to let my ovens preheat while I shaped the rolls and let them rise.  Both of these things took quite awhile in our cold house.  I suppose I should admit that I had sprayed the pans with Pam before heating them up, which was a big mistake, so the house was getting slightly smoky as the grease baked off the grill side of the griddle pan and from the burning Pam. This eventually created an odor just slightly less offensive than that of cleaning the wall ovens.  (And battery-operated smoke alarms DO work without electricity.  Usually a good thing...) By the time it might be considered a problem, I was too invested in the experiment to give up.

It took a close to 2 hours to get the rolls almost doubled which coincided very well with the pans' internal temps reaching 375 degrees.  I dropped the rolls in, spacing them as well as I could, 8 to a pan and put the lids back on.  Without a clock or timer handy, I forgot to pay attention to the time when I put the rolls in.  I'm guessing it was something 30-35 minutes.

The result:  My 'indirect' heating method didn't stop them from blackening on the bottoms.  I think I overbaked them a bit trying to get them brown on top.  They tasted a little smokey at first, but airing out seemed to help, the texture was pretty good, and after trimming the bottoms, the family polished them off.  But as a baking method, I can't say I'd recommend it, and don't plan to try it again.

I am definitely not as hearty as Ma Ingalls.  I was VERY happy to regain my heat, lights, oven, TV/DVD player, computer, and to enjoy a warm shower!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Feast

Our electricity came back on at 1:10 PM...Hallelujah!  
Considering the way things turned out, weather and power wise, it is fortunate that we decided to have a quiet family day on Thanksgiving this year, and will welcome extended family this weekend for "The 1st Annual Sandwich Saturday."  Princess Bossy is a huge fan of Thanksgiving and all the traditional fare, done to the hilt.  But she is states away, and the rest of us are not big fans of the turkey dinner. The kids voted and chose White Chicken Enchiladas (served with refried beans, lettuce, and sour cream), the favorite for most birthdays and other special occasions. 

White Chicken Enchiladas
Oven: 350 degrees on convection, 375 on bake

1/2 c oil
1/2 c flour
Blend with whisk.
4 c chicken broth
1 12-oz can evaporated milk (regular milk is OK)
1 10-oz can mushroom soup
1 can chopped green chilies
Heat and stir over med-high heat until thickened and bubbling.  
Stir in:
1 c sour cream or plain yogurt
1 c shredded cheese, cheddar, Monterey Jack, or, our favorite, Pepper Jack
Should be like thin batter.  Add more milk or chicken broth if too thick.

3 - 4 chicken breast, cooked and diced into 1/2 inch or smaller pieces
1 sweet onion, diced small, and sauteed
1 c corn, fresh, canned, or frozen
1 can medium olives, drained and sliced
1 c of the sauce

Forming the Enchiladas:
1 - 2 packages flour tortillas (12?)
1 c shredded cheese
1 can medium olives, drained and sliced
1 bunch green onions, sliced

Grease a 9 x 12", or 10 x 15" baking dish, and pour in approx 3/4 c of sauce to coat the bottom.  Dip flour tortillas, one at a time, lightly/quickly in sauce (doesn't have to be completely covered), then fill with approx 1/3 c filling, and roll, from sides, then one end, and place in dish.  If you have extra filling, just fill in around the stuffed tortillas, then pour remaining sauce over and around all.  Sprinkle with more shredded cheese, the olives, and green onions.  Bake 25 -30 minutes until bubbly and slightly browned.

Warning:  These amounts are estimates, because I never really measure when making this dish.  This may make more than one pan.  Please adjust after the first time you make it, based on your preference for sauciness and the amount of filling per enchilada.

Happy Thanksgiving!

You may think I've been absent to travel to see family or because I'm cooking and baking up a storm for today's feast...Well, 'storm' is the key word there.  It poured snow all day Monday, followed by high winds and rapidly dropping temperatures, turning the snow into ice in short order.  Hubby took Princess Sassy back to the Big City for work...a trip that usually takes about 3 hours, round trip.  Monday (to Tuesday), the trip took 20 hours...with 14 of that on the road.  

Our power went out about 6 PM that evening, then came right back on for about 45 minutes...Just long enough to throw together a pot of soup and some bread dough.  We rejoiced to have lights and heat again 28 hours later, at 11 PM Tuesday night.  But our joy, and hope for warming, showering, etc. were short-lived, as 3 hours later we were back in the dark and cold.  30+ hours into that 2nd outage, we are still awaiting the electric company to release the wire trapped under the fallen tree down our road.  Hubby just hooked up a small generator so we could connect with the outside world via computer, but my hands are so cold, it's a little hard to type!

I am thankful for our gas rangetop, which has allowed us to have hot food and beverages.  I am very thankful that, as of this morning, we have 9 of the 10 of us under our roof, safe and together.  Princess Bossy has been welcomed by a family in her state...also with 8 children...to share Thanksgiving with her.  We are all well and very blessed.  I wish you the same!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

This is what I started to write on Monday... But see my next post up to see how things have really turned out!

Perfect weather for baking, soup-making, and being cozy inside!
You can see why fixing the greenhouse is on my Bucket List!  I don't think greenhouses are supposed to have snow inside....
One of our kitties frolicking in the snow.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bridal Shower Cupcakes

Princess Artiste and Princess Eager helped me make the cupcakes for Sunday's bridal shower.  We decided on pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese icing.
Pumpkin Cupcakes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (bake mode)
Place cupcake liners (we used Wilton's festive gold and silver ones) in 2 standard 12-cup cupcake/muffin pans to make 24 cupcakes.  (We made 48, but in 2 batches.)
Measure into a bowl, and whisk together until well blended, then set aside:
1/4 c corn starch
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp salt
In mixing bowl, mix the following until well-blended:
4 slightly beaten eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 c canola oil, or other vegetable oil
2 c sugar
1/2  28-oz can or 1 15-oz can pumpkin
Gradually add flour mixture, then beat on a fairly high speed for 2 minutes to blend well.  Fill each lined muffin cup to approximately 2/3 full, dividing the batter evenly between the 24.
Bake 25 - 30 minutes, until the centers spring back lightly when touched.  Remove from pans. Cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting (enough for 24 cupcakes):
1 8-oz package cream cheese
1 cube unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 lb powdered sugar
(for better decorating consistency, it can help to add a couple tablespoons of vegetable shortening.)
Blend until smooth.  Spread or pipe on cupcakes, as desired.  Large dots, swirls, stripes, etc. using just a few basic cake decorating tips, like in the Wilton Basic Cake Decorating Setmake for a quick and easy way to decorate the cupcakes.  The variation detracts from any inconsistencies, and people will be impressed.  It's easy, I promise.  
We also added red sugar crystal sprinkles to match the bride's wedding colors. The candle was for the groom's mother's birthday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Marriage Scripture for Bridal Shower... ;-)

I helped co-host a bridal shower yesterday.  All the guests, including those of us hosting, were asked to bring one thing we were thankful for in our husbands, and one Bible verse that helped us in our marriage.  Well, I could think of several things I am thankful for in DH, but most of the Bible verses I thought of were more helpful for our family life as opposed to specific toward our marriage...So I shared this dilemma with our oldest, Princess Bossy, in a recent 'Skype date.'  As I expected, she was able to come up with one immediately, but, not necessarily one I would have expected...

At the shower, the women began to share things they were thankful for in their spouses, but were also sharing that these 'best' traits also caused the biggest challenges in their relationships. Where it is good to have someone opposite in some ways, so they can fill your gaps and balance you, when you approach things in these different ways, it can also cause 'some tension,' to put it kindly.  That's when I was able to share the verse my daughter offered, which after knowing her dad and I the longest and closest, she had no trouble coming up with Exodus 20:13..."Thou shalt not kill."  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pizza Crust Recipe

2 1/2 c warm water
1 Tbsp yeast
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
Approx 6-7 cups flour

Put the first 4 ingredients in the bowl of a mixer.  Mix in 2 or 3 cups of the flour, until it's like thick batter.  If you haven't already, fit a dough hook onto the mixer to knead in more flour, until the dough is cleaned from the side of the bowl.  Knead until smooth and elastic, about 4 or 5 minutes.  It doesn't require as much kneading as bread.  (Can also mix the first part by hand with a fork or spoon, then hand-knead the rest of the flour in.)

Divide dough into 4 pieces and shape into balls on parchment paper.  Spray each mound with Pam and let rest for at least 10-15 minutes. (Make sauce and cut toppings during this time.)  After the rest, flatten and spread the dough from centers out trying to keep a consistent circular shape, into approx 14" rounds with a slightly raised lip on the outer edge.  Trim parchment close to edge of pizza crusts.   Top with your choice of sauce, toppings, and cheese.  (Recipes for our favorites coming at a later date.) The faster you bake the topped pizzas, the thinner the crust.  The longer they sit, the puffier they'll get.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I ♥ my pizza stone!

A friend gave me my first baking stone...A gift she'd tucked away and never used.  It was destined to the same fate at our house, but about that time a thread started on the GW Kitchen Forum in which members shared the specifics of how to use one. It was too simple not to try. The keys to making it work are a hot, well-preheated stone and oven, and, for me, parchment paper .

Place the stone on the rack in the bottom position in your oven and preheat both the stone and oven for an hour at 475 - 525 degrees.  (You will have to adjust according to your oven and your personal taste...start with 500.) I start my dough and toppings after turning on the oven (Recipes coming soon).  About the time the pizzas are ready to bake, the hour has been used.

Some make the pizzas by placing the dough right on the peel, on top of a layer of cornmeal.  This wouldn't allow me to have several pizzas ready to go, and we usually make at least 5. (The kids like to make sure there'll be leftovers for Saturday's lunch.)  With the parchment, I can make the pizzas all at once, and they slide on and off the peel and stone so easily.  Parchment is meant to be used in oven temps up to 450 degrees, but if trimmed pretty close to the edge of the pizza, it will be fine for the limited baking time.

This brings me to advantage #1 of using the stone: Baking time.  We used to bake pizzas on cookie sheets or pizza pans at 425 degrees, for 20 minutes or more.  On the stone, a pizza is done in 6 - 9 minutes!  This fast turn-around time is popular with the kids...No waiting!

Advantage #2 is the great crust.  Crispy and brown, just a little chewy -  Like the best restaurant pies.  We used to give in and buy frozen and 'we-make-it-you-bake-it' pizzas all too often.  I can honestly say we haven't bought either in 3 years.  Our pizzas are too easy to make and so much better tasting.  We have become pizza snobs!  Pizzas baked at home this way are just better.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pizza Night: 525 was the answer

Friday is Pizza Night at our house...as you may have guessed.  DH, DD, and I had to go to the swim team banquet tonight, so we ate Mexican food, but I still needed to make pizza for the rest.

 I have a new oven...My 4th in 2 1/2 years.  I'll have to recap that journey another time.  This one is a Wolf (E-Series) double oven and seems to be the winner, and hopefully the one that will stay for many years to come.  But I was having a little bit of a time perfecting my weekly pizza baking method.  The manual said to use the "Baking Stone" mode at 450 degrees.  The first outing following those directions gave me a pretty good pizza...A little lighter crust than I'd like...and in about 14 minutes, which is double the time I'm used to when using the stone.  I've increased the temperature each week, trying to get the right balance of browning on the tops and bottoms.

I've tried 525 degrees for 2 weeks in a row now, and it seems to be the best.  Tonight's pizza had the brownest crust yet, and each one baked in an amazing 6 minutes.  That means I only have to heat one oven, because they cook so fast, we don't need both.  Although the non-convection oven doesn't turn out a bad result, it's not quite as good and fast as the upper.  I'm sure I'll be glad to use both when DH brings another sports team over and I have to cook 20 pizzas instead of our usual 5.

Thanks! ...and where to go for kitchen advice

A special "Thank you" to my friends at the Kitchen Forum who encouraged me to start this blog and advised me in the process.  For anyone working on a remodel or new build, it's the place to go for any needed advice on layout, appliances, style, etc.  If you need inspiration, the photos of wonderful kitchens there and in the Finished Kitchens Blog are the best ones I've seen....Not only pretty to look at, but wonderful to cook and bake in.  The people there are so generous with helpful advice and if you're TKO (Totally Kitchen Obsessed), and your family is rolling their eyes every time you mention the kitchen plans, you'll find others who understand you!  :-)  

My Bucket List

I had a list of major life goals
1) Graduate from college...Check, did that.
2) Fall in love …Check, did that.  A couple times, but it's the last that counts.
3) Get married…Check, did that.
4) Have babies…Check, check, check, check, check, check, check, and check.  Did that times 8. 

We even built ourselves a house that I designed.  Something I considered more of a fabulous dream than an expected goal.  But, now what?  Here I was at 50, feeling as if the big (and wonderful) goals I’d been planning to accomplish in my life were done, and I was left to sit on the sidelines, watching my kids reach for their goals.  Of course, I rejoice with them, and look forward to weddings and grandchildren, but that’s still as an observer of their lives.  I know this sounds a little simplistic and ungrateful, and more than a little bit selfish, but I was feeling low and tired.

Even while feeling sorry for myself, I had started a list.  It was only in my head so far, and I just hadn’t appreciated what that growing list might do for me yet.  I was forming my Bucket List.  Unlike those you hear about, it didn’t include travel to far off and exotic places, or risky adventure, neither of which particularly appeal to me.  The list holds things I can do right here at home, the place I love to be most…Things I’ve been always meaning to try, or tried previously without getting very far. 

Although none can compete with the highs of new love, or the blessing and miracle of a new baby,  some fun and growth is yet to be had!  Showing it to you all may help me remember to keep after it.

The List (not in any particular order)

1)      Kitchen:
a.       Make a sourdough starter and sourdough breads
b.      Make my own yogurt
c.       Make fresh pastas
d.      Create more veggie-rich meals, including work lunches for DH
2)      Sewing:
a.       Machine Embroidery…I have the machine and I should use it!
b.      Sew for the local crisis pregnancy organization
c.       Sew for myself and the kids again…Make a duct tape body form?
3)      Gardening
a.       Study greenhouse gardening…Get the greenhouse fixed, finished, and working for us
b.      Learn succession gardening
c.       Learn all-season gardening
d.      Establish and plant berry gardens
4)      Yard
a.       Create flower beds around the front porch, and eventually redirect the driveway
b.      Remove sod, and put gravel around the garden boxes
5)      Woodworking
a.       Butcher block cutting boards
b.      Tables and work islands
c.       Start business?
      6)      Raise chickens…?  We’ll see…
7)      Art and Crafts
a.       Learn to knit
b.      Keep a sketch diary
c.       Refresh my painting skills
8)      House
a.       Create our ‘library’
b.      Design a pet area, including a contraption to keep the dogs out of the cat food, or we’ll need a doggie treadmill (Rosie is already almost rolling down the stairs in the morning.)
       9)      Homeschooling
a.       More writing!
b.      Expand the great new math program (Teaching Textbooks) used for grade 7 and Algebra this year for all the kids at all levels
c.       More reading!
d.      History timelines
e.       Have a ‘project component,’ so there are always ongoing projects underway for each child
       10)  Self-Improvement
a.       Daily devotions/Bible
b.      Daily exercise…Oh, ok…
c.       READ…Quit returning books to the library only partially read.
d.      Periodic dates with DH…The Love Dare?
        11) Write blog entries that don't take 2 days to post, and 2 days to read!

That ought to keep me going for awhile….
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...