Thursday, December 29, 2011

Menu Planning Thursday

My first menu for 2012.  Our evenings were so busy this past week that we ate out twice so  . . . you'll notice some similarities to last week's menu because I had already purchased our meat.  No big extravagant New Year's Eve menu (we are homebodies) -- although I did splurge and buy hubby some crab legs.

Here is our menu for the week:

Sunday: Happy New Year with the in-laws (and hopefully lots of my favorite Korean soup)
Monday:  Italian beef sandwiches, roasted red pepper strips
Tuesday:  Leftovers - whatever we discover in the fridge/freezer
Wednesday: baked salmon in parchment, rice pilaf, and green beans with buttered roasted almonds
Thursday: homemade pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms, and caramelized onions
Friday: BBQ ribs, coleslaw, and roasted sweet potatoes
Saturday:  grilled cheeseburgers, green salad, sauteed onions and mushrooms

New Year's Day in a Korean home means spending time with family and reminiscing.  We always spend January 1st with my in-laws and my mother-in-law makes the most wonderful Duk Gook soup.  It is a mild broth based soup with oblong flat rice "noodles" called cakes.  The soup is garnished with cooked strips of egg white, egg yolk, sesame seeds, and julienned seaweed.  I think it is my favorite Korean dish.  Each family has their own recipe.  Here is my mother-in-law's version of Korean Rice Cake Soup or Duk Gook.

Rice cakes come in a variety of shapes, but this oblong
flat shape is the most popular for this soup.
8 cups of broth (beef or chicken, cook's choice)
1 package of rice cakes
4 to 5 ounces of thinly sliced beef roast (raw)
1 T sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced finely
2 T soy sauce
3 eggs (separated)
3 scallions, thinly sliced (white parts in broth - light green as garnish)
sesame seeds
seaweed sheets

Begin by soaking the rice cakes in cold water for 20 minutes.  

Heat a large dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add sesame oil.  When hot,  saute the beef and white parts of the scallions until cooked through.  Do not overcook.  Add the cloves of garlic and as soon as you can smell it, pour in the broth.  Drain rice cakes and add to soup.  Cook for 20 minutes, the broth will thicken slightly as the rice cakes release some of their starch. Add salt, pepper, and soy sauce to taste.   

As it cooks, prepare the garnish.  Beat the egg yolks and fry in a non-stick skillet like an omelet.  Do the same with the whites.  When slightly cooled, roll each up and julienne.  Set aside.  Roll up the seaweed sheet and julienne or purchase seaweed in thin strips.  

To serve, ladle the soup into a bowl.  A large short bowl works best as the soup cools quickly and all the ingredients are visible.  In the center of the bowl, sprinkle 1/4 of the egg whites, egg yolks, scallions, seaweed strips, and a pinch of sesame seeds.  Serve immediately.  

To make ahead, prepare broth with meat and veggies and store in the refrigerator.  Bring soup to a boil before added soaked rice cakes.  (If you add them before storing, they simply dissolve into the broth and make a thick soupy mess -- trust me I speak from experience!)

Happy New Year!   


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Clown Brownie Cake

As I shared last week, my Dad's birthday was Tuesday but we celebrated this past Monday.  "Papa" as the grandchildren call him, doesn't particularly care for clowns -- he believes that "clowns are creepy".  What better way to celebrate his birthday than to create a Clown Brownie Cake?!?!  I used this recipe from Simply Recipes.  It is one of my favorites and has never failed me.

In addition to this decorated cake, Mom made his favorite dessert -- an eclair cake comprised of layered pudding and graham crackers topped with dream whip.  Refrigerate it for a few hours (or even overnight) to allow the graham crackers to soften.  I must admit it is one of my favorites, too.  We've always made eclair cake with regular honey grahams and chocolate pudding but I think that chocolate grahams with cream cheese pudding or even pistachio pudding would also be wonderful.  If you are not fond of dream whip, feel free to substitute cool whip or real whipped cream.

Anyway, here is a picture of the clown cake.  Not one of my best cakes (I wasn't feeling that day) but not bad for a self-taught baker, I suppose.  Maybe some day I will take one of those Wilton decorating classes and then I'll look back at all my previous attempts and laugh.  There is something charming about homemade cakes, don't you think?

Tips and Tricks

Like most people, every once in a while I come across a shortcut, tip, or helpful bit of information. These are a few that I have used lately.

The first idea occurred to me as I was draining the pineapple rings to make pineapple upside down cake.  Why not use the juice in place of the water in the cake mix?!?!?!  It seems so simple but I've never heard of anyone doing it before.  Hubby claimed it was the best version he had ever eaten.  Let's agree to ignore the fact that I just wrote (gasp) "cake mix" and gaze upon the sticky sweetness of the brown sugar crust of the cake below.  Definitely use brown sugar -- I promise you will not be disappointed.       

The second one is something I have wanted to do for some time now.  I finally set up my Outlook calendar with all those important tasks that I somehow seem to forget.  Here are a few things I included reminders for:  
  • change furnace filters on the 15th of each month
  • yearly appointment for HVAC cleaning and check-up
  • yearly appointment for fireplace cleaning
  • yearly appointment for physical exams
  • schedule 6 month dental cleanings
  • yearly appointment for vision screenings
  • yearly appointment for Jackson's veterinary appointment and rabies booster
  • family & friends birthdays and anniversaries
  • reminder in October to make plans for holiday activities (when to go caroling at the zoo, visit the Christmas Around the World exhibit, etc)
  • enter all work related days off into the calendar 
  • monthly reminders for paydays
  • monthly reminders for bill due dates
The final tip for this post involves cleaning.  As a preschool teacher I often had to remove crayon from tables.  The best "non-toxic" cleaner for handling this task is plain old white toothpaste (not the gel kind).  It is abrasive enough to do the job but not so hard on the surfaces.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thinking . . . SPRING

For Christmas this year, hubby bought me a four foot grow light.  I have used improvised lights in the past but this is my first "real" one.  I was so excited today thinking about all the wonderful possibilities for the next planting season.

Let me step back for a just a moment.  Last year I purchased my seeds in February and dutifully started them in little seed starters, misted them with water 2 - 3 times a day and placed them in my window.  I even devised a makeshift "ledge" for them with an old door.  (Thankfully hubby was oblivious to the intrusion).

As you can see, they quickly became very leggy.  I replanted them into larger containers up to their leaves but only the tomatoes, peppers, and a few cucumbers survived.  I lost all the flowers I had started early.

So, this year I am anticipating a greater percentage of success - with my new grow light.  Perhaps even starting some of perennial flowers in a few weeks so they are large and substantial come late spring.  I know that geraniums do well as house plants as I have grown them in the past.  I'll have to do some research and see about others.

Anyway, hubby purchased the Jump Start Grow Light System  for me via Amazon.  I'll post pictures once we have cleared away the holiday things and I have a chance to set it up and try it out.  So exciting . . .

Monday, December 26, 2011

Monday Recipes . . . Spinach and Cheese Casserole

Our usual vegetable standby for Thanksgiving and Christmas is a broccoli and cheese casserole with lots of Velveeta and butter. For Christmas this year, I wanted to try something new.  After searching through my cookbooks, I came across a spinach casserole that sounded interesting.  I made it with just a few tweaks.  It was good but definitely needed more seasonings.  I revamped the recipe this morning and here is the revised version.   I recommend wringing out the spinach in a clean kitchen towel (dark colored only as the green color will bleed into the towel towel).  


Spinach and Cheese Casserole

2 packages of frozen spinach, thawed and drained very well
3 eggs - beaten
4 T butter - cut into cubes
16 oz low fat small curd cottage cheese
3 T flour
6 T parmesan cheese (plus more for the top, if desired)
2 t salt
1 t pepper
3 T garlic powder
3 T onion powder

I like to take the spinach (after squeezing out the water) and cut it into smaller bite size pieces.  It takes an extra minute but makes serving much easier.  Mix all ingredients together and pour into a greased 8 inch square casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. If desired, you can sprinkle more parmesan cheese on top during the last 10 minutes of baking. This is one of those "the crust is the best part" sort of dishes.    



Thursday, December 22, 2011

Menu Planning Thursday

This next week will be more challenging to plan with the holidays and a birthday party for my father.  Finally he and my mother will be the same age again (at least for the next six months) and all will be right with the world. 

Here is my menu for next week:
Sunday:  Christmas dinner at my parents
Monday:  Happy Birthday, Dad!
Tuesday:  Crock pot chicken noodle soup
Wednesday:  Spinach and cheese quiche with green salad
Thursday:  Lemon Butter Salmon (hubby) & Orange Chicken (me) in parchment
Friday: Paula Deen's Sesame Chicken Strips, rice, sauteed mushrooms and peapods
Saturday:  special New Year's Eve dinner at home (a surprise for hubby)

Sesame seeds come on a wide variety of colors.  
I think all are wonderful!
I love Paula Deen!  She is entertaining and we share a love of butter - but must admit that I usually reduce the amount of salt in her recipes.  I tried her sesame chicken strip recipe a few months back and we loved it -- hubby even had seconds, which is always a good sign.  If you are at all sensitive to salt, I would suggest not adding it to the marinade.  If needed, you can always salt them after they come out of the oven while they are still hot.  Or perhaps add salt to a dipping sauce.    

6 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/2 lemon, juiced
2 teaspoons celery salt
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1/3 cup sesame seeds
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted


Lightly grease a 15 by 10-inch jelly roll pan. Cut chicken crosswise into 1/2-inch strips. In a large bowl, combine sour cream, lemon juice, celery salt, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and garlic. Mix well. Add chicken to mixture, coat well, and cover. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In medium bowl, combine bread crumbs and sesame seeds. Remove chicken strips from sour cream mixture. Roll in crumb mixture, coating evenly. Arrange in single layer in prepared pan. Spoon butter evenly over chicken. Bake for 18 to 25 minutes or until chicken is tender and golden brown.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Preserving Family History

"Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family"
                                                                               - Anthony Brandt.  

My mom is the keeper of the family history.  She has spent countless hours collecting birth/death certificates, written letters to supposed relations, searched the Newberry library for evidence, and finally compiled the names, dates, and memorabilia. Perhaps out of a desire to save future generations the effort, my mother has made it her mission to document her own life in photos.  

Mom is rarely without her camera.

Rarely will she venture out without her camera.  We once overheard a mother speaking to her young child, explaining that he shouldn't waste his film.  "Only take the picture if you know it will be good."  Mom couldn't wrap her head around that telling me, "better to take a picture and see that it didn't turn out than to have missed the opportunity".  Perhaps it is from her that I inherited my fondness for photography, however, I must state that my subjects are rarely of the human variety - but that is a post for another day.  

As a psychology student, I am enrolled in a human development course.  One assignment required an interview with a senior citizen so that we could apply geriatric theories to our subject.  I chose my grandmother, Bernice.  At 82, she has gained a greater perspective on life. She was the perfect choice.

During the preparation of my paper, I found myself connecting with the subjects of her stories.  Although I had heard many of the them before, there was something unique about the interview process that brought to life these individuals I had never met.  From her descriptions, I could imagine the house she grew up in, what family dinner at her home was like, and how frightening/exciting it must have been to elope at 18 and travel from Sioux Falls to Texas with my grandfather. Afterwards, I felt a sense of pride in her accomplishments and for the life she has lived.  

Mom has always wondered which of her own children should inherit the compiled family history journals and  memorabilia that is "her life" (currently occupying 50+ photo albums and an old chest) after she passes.  For a long time my sister was the chosen one.  Perhaps we'll need to talk about that now.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Recipes . . .Turkey and Mushroom Potstickers

I have made it my mission to reduce the amount of food we waste.  Sometimes that means finding creative solutions to my "over purchasing"!  This recipe came as a result of my grabbing two bags of enoki mushrooms from the Asian market (they are just so appealing) and wanting to use up some scallions and baby carrots that were starting to turn soft in the fridge. 
Enoki mushrooms - so very cute
and yummy, too!
1/2 lb ground turkey
1 bunch of enoki mushrooms (1 cup of any other kind julienned)
6 shredded baby carrots (more or less to taste)
6 scallions - sliced thinly (save green parts for the sauce)
1/2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
2 teaspoons of onion powder
1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 package of won ton wrappers (I used the round ones)

1/4 cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
2 teaspoons of brown sugar
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil
2 teaspoons of sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon chili oil

Mix all sauce ingredients and set aside.
To prepare the pot stickers, mix all ingredients together (except the won ton wrappers). Add a small amount to the center of a wrapper and moisten the edges with a finger dipped in water.  Pinch the wrappers together, removing all the air from inside.  This process is easy but time consuming.  When you've finished, add 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil to a pan and cook 6 -7 at a time over medium high heat until the bottoms are well browned.  Carefully add 1/2 cup of water and cover.  Allows pot stickers to steam for 2 minutes.  Remove cover and continue cooking until water has evaporated.  Serve warm with dipping sauce.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Signs of Winter #1

We woke this morning to a thin layer of snow.  I love the first hour after a snowfall when it is still clean and touched only by the animals.  I was so glad I had remembered to refill the bird feeders yesterday.  As I opened the front door to get a better view, I noticed four male cardinals enjoying the black oil sunflower seeds.

Footprints in the snow.
One of the male cardinals.

 My abrupt presence, of course, startled them and they flew up into the trees to await my departure.  One was particularly vocal and I was suddenly pulled back into Dr. Dilger's high school animal behavior class when we learned the calls of all the local birds . . .  "here, birdie, birdie, birdie birdie" (that is how we learned to recognize it, anyway).  I love taking photographs of the birds.  Many will stand still as though posing.

Here some of my other photographs of birds.

A robin I photographed this past spring.

I caught this bird while on vacation at Disney World in Florida
two years ago.  I imagine he was thinking, "You are in the happiest
place on earth, why are you taking MY picture?"

I saw (actually heard) this woodpecker while
we were at Castle Rock Lake in Wisconsin
this past summer.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Menu Planning Thursday

Thursday is the day I plan my menu for the following week. I chose this odd day because Friday is garbage day and whatever I do not plan to use will be tossed (ugh). Also I am trying to reduce our waste be it food, toiletries, household cleaners, or other "stuff". For two people, we were creating a lot of trash and recycling. I have been working on creating recipes to use up odds and ends and small bits of leftovers.

I used the once a month cooking (OAMC) program for a quite a while and it was great. However, with a full-time course load of classes and a full-time job, I was always forgetting to defrost something. When I am finished with graduate school in 2013 I know I will go back to it.

Here is my dinner menu for next week:
Sunday: beef roast, glazed carrots, and mashed potatoes
Monday: "the sandwich" (recipe to follow)
Tuesday: chicken and rice casserole with steamed broccoli
Wednesday: beef tacos (using the leftover roast from Sunday), tomatoes, lettuce and cheese
Thursday: homemade mushroom and pepperoni pizza, salad
Friday: Korean BBQ (Bulgogi) with steamed rice, seaweed, and kimchi
Saturday: BLT sandwiches (to use up the tomatoes and lettuce) and fresh fruit

"The Sandwich" is something my family and I first had while visiting my Uncle Ron and Aunt Ginny in Colorado in the late 70's. It is typical of the decade -- too much of everything. What is it about winter that makes a large slab of bread with meat, cheese and veggies is so appealing?

1 large loaf of Italian bread (the taller the better - you'll see why)
1/2 to 3/4 of a lb of hamburger
1/2 jar of spaghetti sauce
butter or margarine
8 oz of shredded mozzarella cheese
1 onion diced
1 sweet pepper (any color that suits you)
1 lb of mushrooms
2 tsp of vegetable oil

Brown the meat, drain, mix with the spaghetti sauce, and set aside. Dice the onion and sweet pepper finely and slice the mushroom thinly. Heat a bit of oil in a skillet and saute the veggies until soft. You can also grate in a bit of garlic, if you like.

Next, slice the bread lengthwise so you have three long layers. Spread the hamburger mixture on the bottom layer and top with 1/2 the cheese. Add the middle layer and butter the top of it. Spread the veggies evenly over the buttered bread and top with the remaining cheese. Before adding the final section of the bread, butter it also.

My favorite part of this is the crusty edges, however, if you want to keep the bread softer, you can cover loosely with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees or until the cheese melts and everything is heated through. This will not freeze well but reheats beautifully wrapped in foil in the oven.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holiday Gift Giving

Ten more shopping days until Christmas.  I am nearly finished.  I ordered quite a few things online this year and saved myself the hassle of walking the mall.  Funny, though, I sort of miss it.  There is something very satisfying about walking in the door with all your gifts, wrapping each and setting it under the tree and stepping back to admire your efforts. 

Ordered gifts may be less of a headache initially but waiting for each to arrive, ensuring it isn't broken or the wrong size/color, and praying it doesn't need to be returned is almost more work and doesn't allow the satisfaction of a job well done.   

Each year, there is one gift that (in my own mind at least) just seems perfect.  Last year, it was the rock hunting equipment for my nephew.  This summer we took a field trip to Morris, Illinois to break it in! M & I packed a picnic lunch and spent the day collecting the "perfect specimens".  If you ever get a chance to venture out that way, stop by and see their local artist in residence.  He creates outdoor sculpture from reclaimed metal and plastic.  It is quirky and quite beautiful! Here is the link to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources if you want more information on fossil hunting.  The IDNR staff can direct you to the artist's home on your way out of town. 

This year, the perfect gift is for my mom.  It is actually two gifts.  The first is an autographed photo of Judge Judy.  I sent an email to the show asking for it and her staff was kind enough to send one for each of us.  I am going to purchase a mat and frame it for her.  I know it will be a big hit. 

The second part of her gift is a boat tour on the Chicago River with the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF).  We'll also go for lunch afterwards.  I purchased a membership that gives us reduced parking near the boat launch, access to free seminars, and reduced tickets on the tours.  I can't wait to go!  Check out all the available CAF tours here.  You can also learn more about their memberships.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Update on "the kids" . . .

I grew up in a pet friendly home with lots of dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, and even a turtle my grandfather found along the side of the road.  Unfortunately, my mother said he smelled bad so he had to go!

Anna's favorite place to sleep
was on my pillow.
Anna, however, was the first pet that was my own.  She adopted me eight years ago.  She was 12 then and had spent nearly a year in a large room at Save-A-Pet.  I sat down on the bench next to her and we became fast friends.  She came home a few days later.  

When I got married and moved with my new husband to our home in the northwest Chicago suburbs, Anna adjusted quickly.  We had no idea how sick she would become.  After being diagnosed with high blood pressure and diabetes, she lived another year.  Eventually her little body gave out and we made our final trip to the veterinarian's office.  With one small injection, she laid her head in my hand and was gone.  Even now nearly a year later, the pain is still very raw.  She was a wonderful friend who lived to be nearly 19 years old - pretty old for a shelter cat.   

Our baby, Jackson. 
Shortly after Anna's passing, a new baby arrived. Jackson is so different from Anna - loud, active, and always running!!!  He has his moments when he wants to be petted and cuddled, unfortunately, that is usually around 3 a.m.  He doesn't hesitate, however, to wake you up so you don't miss the moment.  I complain about him but love him none the less.  Some day I will have to tell you about him getting stuck in the fireplace -- crazy cat!  

Quite a delay . . .

Have you ever started a project? 

There is a natural progression to the process.  You begin with vigor and such wonderful intentions.  There is a great deal of planning and preparation.  Then, as you work, life creeps in and takes over.  Suddenly, it is pushed aside and you forget about it for a while.  That is what happened here.

2011 has been an eventful year and I promise to share all about it as we move into 2012.  I have quite a few new passions including couponing, gardening, and canning.  Again - I will tell you all about it. 

Let's start over.

Lots of love,