Thursday, April 28, 2011

Comment Trouble (Again) **Is fixed! :)

It appears that there is some sort of Google-related trouble with leaving comments on my blog.  I am able to leave a comment, but when I sign out of the account to become anonymous I get an error message and am not allowed to comment.

I hope the problem will be fixed soon.  In the meantime, I'm sorry if it frustrated you!  Go make a red velvet cake and you will feel much, much better! :)

Thanks so much for reading!

Edited 4/29:  I think it is fixed now, so comment away!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What's Cooking Wednesday - Red Velvet Cake with the Super-Special Frosting

It's birthday season at my house! John turned 10 last Saturday, Daniel will turn 8 on Friday, and then in another three weeks or so James will turn 12. So I have been thinking about birthday cakes. Almost every birthday cake we have had through the years has been homemade. I usually let the birthday child choose what type of cake he wants. Occasionally, I have actually decorated cakes, like the famous Pooh or Bob the Builder cakes of the past, or the baseball, soccer, race car varieties with some plastic figures stuck on top. Now that I think about it, this week could be my last chance to make the figure eight race car track cake that is just right for a boy's eighth birthday! Hmmm...But most often there is just a yummy cake with candles, which our children have always been happy with, thankfully!

The absolute favorite cake, the one most-often chosen by birthday children and adults in my family, and the go-to cake for our Christmas Eve feast is the Red Velvet Cake, made from Edwin's mom, Gail's recipe. Here is what Gail had to say about it:
The recipe was one of Grandma Helen’s. I think she pulled it out of a women’s magazine (Home & Garden, probably). The first I remember it was a Christmas when I was 10 or so. It was the most beautiful cake I had ever seen…and tasted pretty good, too. She was always trying out new recipes on us. Some made the cut and some didn’t. Obviously, the red velvet cake did. Many people make a similar cake now, but they always use the cream cheese frosting…not as good as the other, I think, but easier.
The cake may be a fairly standard recipe for red velvet cake, but the ICING! This is what makes all the difference. Like Gail said, most people frost red velvet cake with a cream cheese frosting. But our family heirloom cake is topped with a yummy, creamy icing that has no cream cheese, but plenty of milk, butter, and sugar. It is smooth and creamy, and holds up very well in the refrigerator (or on the garage workbench if it happens to be Christmas in Minnesota and there is no room in the refrigerator!). Actually, I believe this cake is better a couple of days after you make it, which makes it perfect for making ahead of time (Something I love to do with most things, but hardly ever seem to do with this cake. But we always think it tastes better on day 2 or 3, if it lasts that long!). 

Read on for the recipe!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Surely He has Borne Our Griefs and Carried Our Sorrows

Isaiah 53

Who has believed what he has heard from us?

And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant,

and like a root out of dry ground;

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men;

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he opened not his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,

and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

so he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away;

and as for his generation, who considered

that he was cut off out of the land of the living,

stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked

and with a rich man in his death,

although he had done no violence,

and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;

he has put him to grief;

when his soul makes an offering for guilt,

he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;

the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,

because he poured out his soul to death

and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many,

and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Community Living

Since it seems I am always writing about food these days, I will start this post by saying that for dinner last night we enjoyed six free pizzas from Punch Pizza, thanks to their Pre-Easter Feaster coupons.  As you might imagine, there were quite a few folks there for free pizzas, so the kids and I waited in line (some of the time in the chilly rain) for nearly an hour.  At least the day had improved from a morning that looked like this:
Standing in long lines at neighborhood restaurants and events is actually kind of fun for me, and it is just the thing for analyzing a cross-section of the people living around us (or at least the ones who are in the know about free food deals).  The pizza-fest last night was very similar to Ben & Jerry's Free Cone Day, which we never miss for obvious reasons.  It seems the entire town is there, and it is really just a big social event.  And it is one of the few times that Minnesotans just stand around and have a chat with total strangers.

"What?" my southern friends may be saying, "doesn't that happen every time you wait in any line for any thing?"  Nope, not really up here.  Now it may not be hard for you to guess that I often initiate conversation with strangers in line at the grocery store, because that's just me.  But, as I've mentioned, I do not always fit in so well here.

This brings me to my point, however, and that is this: I am starting to feel like we belong here.  After all this time, I have begun to understand Minnesotans better, I have gotten to know some of them personally, and I have become a part of this place.  The cashier at the grocery store knows me.  The tall guy at Chipotle recognizes our Tuesday lunch group and knows we order salads.  We know and love our neighbors.  We always go to the big concert with fireworks near July 4th, and we see people we know there.  And this is good.

This same sense of community is a bit wider-spread when it comes to the beloved Minnesota Twins, the hometown team.  Our family went to this season's home opener at Target Field, and it was such a fun thing to be a part of.  (We even saw someone we know there!)  It felt like the whole state was paying attention.  Everywhere we went that day almost everyone was wearing Twins shirts, hats, jackets, you name it.  And that continues on a somewhat smaller scale every single game day, even though the Twins are struggling a bit.  Even in the pizza line last night we were not the only ones following the game on the cell phone.

It does seem that some of the things that really did not matter as much to me when we were still in the moving around mode have started to matter more.  We have always enjoyed the close-knit community of our church family, and are so very thankful for that.  But it is gratifying to enjoy the larger community as well.  If only some of these nice folks could do something about the winter weather!

Back to food:  One of the bits of conversation I had last night was about cooking over a camp fire, a piece of Minnesota life that we really do enjoy around here.  A lady told me how to fry doughnuts in a coffee can, and I can not wait to try it!  She was somewhat surprised that we had never done it, though the kids piped up that we had roasted powder sugared mini doughnuts on a stick over the fire, so that made her feel better.  If anyone out there has actually fried doughnuts in a coffee can, I would love to hear about it!

Psalm 16:5-6:
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What's Cooking Wednesday - General Tso's Chicken

Saturday night I cooked something I have wanted to try at home for a long time, General Tso's Chicken.  Edwin and I always order it from our favorite little Chinese place near our house, and that worked out great when we used to send the kids to bed early and split one order as a sort of stay home date night.  Then one day we actually let our kids eat some of our beloved "Chinese food," and they discovered how good it is.  Now the $11 cheap date has turned into $40+ of take out.  It's no wonder Edwin started suggesting I look for a recipe for that delicious General Tso's!

Well, I have looked around for what might have been years, but I have never tried any of the recipes I found.  Then last week I received the May issue of Food and Wine magazine, and guess what recipe I saw?  General Tso's Chicken (click the link for the recipe), and I decided the time had finally come.  It was definitely worth the wait.  And it was even better than our cherished takeout.

I followed the recipe almost exactly (I used chicken breasts instead of thighs, because I just like white meat better.), though I did triple it.  We had two guests plus our family, and I wish I had quadrupled the recipe.  We ate every.single.bite.  It was very tasty, even though it was not as spicy as we are used to.  I will definitely add  a lot more of the Chinese chile-garlic sauce the next time.  YUM. Enough said.

By the way, each Wednesday I have been linking up with Raising Homemakers.  Be sure to browse through the many homemaking blog posts there.  I found some good blogs by browsing through the links there!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What's Cooking Wednesday - Yummy Kebabs

Well, it is not my intention for this to become a recipe blog.  But those seven days in a week really fly by, so it's already that time again!  I hope to post later in the week about our trip to the Twins' Home Opener and all the other things that have been going on, but for now let's see what's cooking!

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that it really is OK to cook the same things again and again when you have company, especially if your company is usually different.  I branched out and tried something sort of new last Sunday, since it was one of the the first weekends the weather has been nice enough to grill outside.  This is a momentous occasion for us, believe me! 

I've made kebabs before, and there are many things to love about them, not the least of which is the endless variety of options for pleasing your crowd.  You can use chicken, steak, pork tenderloin, sausage, shrimp, or even a sturdy fish, and a million combinations of vegetables and fruits to go with the meat.  You can even leave out the meat altogether.  This time I made chicken kebabs with onions, green and red bell peppers, and zucchini.  I tried new recipes for the "flavoring pastes," from my cookbook called Perfect Recipes for Having People Over by Pam Anderson.  I'll post the two I used below, but the book is worth having.  It has many terrific recipes for all kinds of gatherings.  To me, the cookbook's name implies that it contains recipes for a crowd, though it turns out that Ms. Anderson's definition of a crowd is 6 to 8 people, which is more like my everyday life.  Still, the recipes are easy enough to double or triple if your crowd is larger than hers!  I doubled the flavoring paste recipes for our relatively small crowd of 9 last Sunday.

To help get most of the food preparation done ahead of time, I cut up the chicken the night before, then made the flavoring pastes and cut up the veggies before church.  Putting the kebabs together is messy business with the raw meat, so I prefer to get that done before the company arrives.  Some might think it is a fun group activity, though!

Orange Rosemary Paste, from Perfect Recipes for Having People Over by Pam Anderson, p. 59

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
2 teaspoons brown sugar

Jamaican Jerk-Style Paste, from Perfect Recipes for Having People Over by Pam Anderson, p. 59

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons hot red pepper sauce
1/2 cup frozen limeade concentrate

The directions for both pastes are basically the same:
Heat oil and spices in a small pan over medium-high heat until they start to sizzle.  Add remaining ingredients, and simmer until mixture reduces to a thick paste.  (If you are impatient like I am, you will not wait until it resembles a paste; I found it was still yummy even though it wasn't exactly as thick as paste.)  Mix the paste with the kebab ingredients (Cut the meat into larger chunks than the veggies for even cooking.), then thread onto skewers and grill.

I cut up more veggies than I needed for the kebabs by mistake, so I threw the leftover veggies into a little aluminum foil packet and cooked them on the grill, too.  It turned out really well!  Just be careful to cook the veggies long enough to feel good about the raw meat juices they had been mixed with earlier!

I served the kebabs with yellow rice with green peas, a green salad, and some ancient grain bread.  Simple and nutritious, and it looked beautiful on the plates!  We had a store bought angel food cake with strawberries and whipped cream for dessert, along with some ice cream since Cub had a buy one ice cream get TWO free special.  The flavoring pastes made a huge difference in the taste of the kebabs!  I am sure we will be re-using these recipes this spring and summer!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What's Cooking Wednesday - Eat the Leftovers

I must admit right up front that this is a serious Do-as-I-Say-Not-as-I-Do moment.  Just tonight I "fed the sink" some food that could have been enjoyed by my family, but instead it stayed in the refrigerator too long and died there. Ugh.  And to think, if I had only managed the leftovers better I could have enjoyed some good food that was.already.cooked.  Have I mentioned how much I enjoy eating food that I did not just cook?

So, why am I, unqualified as I am, even daring to give advice on this subject?  Once upon a time, in a life not too long ago, I read a book called Dinner's In the Freezer by Jill Bond.  And in the midst of having five small children only seven years apart, the concept of preparing food ahead of time was a life-saver - a necessity, even.  Our family lived by the *cook ahead once a month, always have something to eat as long as you can thaw it* plan for a long time.  It was great while it lasted, but in time I became more able to manage planning menus on a weekly basis and cooking almost every day (though I do still double many recipes that I cook and store the extra in the freezer).  But somewhere along the way between then and now I must have forgotten how to manage the refrigerator and the leftovers.

In her book, Mrs. Bond mentions the need to have a Clean Out the Refrigerator Day, known as CORD, on the menu frequently.  I used to do that faithfully, grabbing everything out of the fridge and letting everyone choose what to eat, and reheating it plate by plate in the microwave.  That is not always the best way to do it, especially if you like to have everyone sit down and start eating at the same time (I do), since the serial microwaving can take a while.  But there is more than one way to slay the fridge monster.

Here are some ideas, and I promise to try to take my own advice:
  • If you know that you will not eat the leftovers, cook less food.  Quit wasting it.
  • If you know that you will not eat the leftovers soon, package them up (don't forget to label it!) right after the meal and put them in the freezer.  Do not think that you will put them in the freezer if you decide not to eat them in a few days; you won't (Oh wait, that's me, but you might not either.).
  • If your family (read, husband) does not appreciate leftovers or does not enjoy eating the same meal again very soon, then be sure to follow one of the first two suggestions above.  Your other option is to come up with creative but different ways to use the leftovers the second time.  I'm sure someone out there has some ideas.
  • Eat the leftovers for lunch the next day and be done with them.  This works especially well if you have a biggish family who happens to be home for lunch most days, but I hear that you can pack lunches to eat away from home.
  • Plan a night each week as the designated CORD dinner.  If you have an especially busy day or afternoon each week this might be a good night to choose.  Decide ahead of time to give yourself a break from cooking. 
  • Last but not least, and this is the one I stink at, check the refigerator often.  See what's in there that should be "on special" that day, and find a way to eat it, or really go ahead and put it in the freezer.  But then you have to check the freezer too...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Goodbye Winter?

It's the 144th day we've had snow in our yard, but I think it may be the last!  The pond across the street is still frozen, so the view from my front door isn't exactly springy yet.  And we are among the fortunate ones in the neighborhood, since many homes facing different directions have yards that are still totally white!  But I now believe we will not have snow piles near the driveway until June, like I truly believed earlier!  It has warmed up nicely around here; I have hope that spring will come.  Do we count highs in the 50's and lows in the upper 20's or 30's as spring?  I guess we do here, so I guess spring has come, outdoors anyway.

Our furnace has been mostly off for the month of April, but it's not because we don't need it.  It died an on-again-off-again, slow death, and now the indoor temperature is holding between 59 and 63.  That sounds so warm if it's the outdoor temperature, but it is chilly in here!  It is perfect for sleeping, but getting up is tough (er than usual).  Tomorrow is the day for the new one to be installed!  I am looking forward to being warm again, both inside and outside!

See you tomorrow for What's Cooking Wednesday!  For now I better figure out what is cooking on Tuesday!