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Archive for June, 2009

Yesterday I wrote about Investment cooking and today’s dinner will follow that theme.  I have a 2.5 lb pack of ground turkey from Sam’s Club in the refrigerator and tonight we will have tacos – eating half the filling and freezing half for later.  I thought I would share my recipe for Taco Seasoning Mix today – I mix this up in bulk and always have a jar in the pantry.  I know it is cheaper than envelopes of mix and also like that I always have it available and don’t have to worry about picking up packets at the store before we can have tacos.    I try to keep taco shells in the pantry at all times and I always have bags of grated cheddar on hand in my fridge.  I also keep sour cream and lettuce as staples in my fridge, so as long as I have some ground meat, tacos are an easy, quick meal.

This recipe takes a lot of spices – I usually buy my common spices in bulk at Sam’s Club.  A couple other cheap sources of spices are Asian or other ethnic markets and bulk spices from a health food store.  Commonly used spices such as found in this taco mix recipe can also be found for good prices at places like the dollar store and Big Lots.

This recipe will fill an average size cleaned out peanut butter jar.  You can cut it in half or double for other size containers.  I paste a sticker with the cooking instructions right on the jar.

Taco Seasoning Mix

½ c. instant minced onion

¼ c. salt

¼ c. chili powder

2 T. cornstarch

2 T. crushed dried red pepper

2 T. instant minced garlic

2 T. ground cumin

1 T. dried oregano

Mix all spices together well.  If your jar is large enough, you can just layer everything into the jar and shake really well.  I shake again every time before I use the mix.

To use, fry the desired amount of ground meat in a large frying pan until almost cooked through.  Drain if desired.  For each pound of meat, stir in 2 T. seasoning mix and ½ c. water.  Cook until meat is done and serve.  For a tasty twist, we usually use ¼ c. beer plus ¼ c. water for the liquid.

Enjoy!

Best regards,

Lynn

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Have you heard of Investment Cooking?   It goes by many names – Freezer Cooking, Once a Month Cooking, Cook once eat twice, etc.   If you haven’t heard of it, here are some links I have collected that not only explain the basics but give some appropriate recipes.

http://alpha.searchlikeme.com/slmpages/554/

I have long had an interest in the idea and have practiced it in modified form off and on, though I never had the energy to do a full blown weekend marathon of shopping and cooking in order to have a month’s worth of meals in the freezer.   In addition, many of the things my family enjoys eating are not suitable for cooking ahead and freezing.  However, many dishes are and it is incredibly nice and easy to be able to pull something out of the freezer on a night when you are busy and tired and want to get a home cooked meal on the table.

Dishes that I like to freeze include pasta sauces, soups (freeze without noodles and just cook the noodles before serving – see my post yesterday on chicken soup), sloppy joes, pulled pork, etc.  Anything without starches and with a non-dairy sauce tends to work pretty well.

Yesterday my husband and I ran out to Sam’s to pick up some of the week’s supplies and also something for dinner.  I had been thinking about making a favorite grilled meal later in the week – Jamaican Jerk Pork Tenderloin from Cooking Light – you can see the recipe at the link below:

http://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/recipefinder.dyn?action=displayRecipe&recipe_id=226513

The recipe looks long, but it really only involves throwing a lot of ingredients into a food processor or blender to make the marinade.  The only other tricky part is learning how to cut the tenderloins as instructed.  You might butcher them up a bit the first few times, but do not despair – they will cook fine anyhow.   Send me a comment if you need a little coaching with the cutting.

Anyhow, Sam’s sells pork tenderloins in two packs, so I made sure I had enough ingredients for a double recipe.  Doubling the marinade required very little additional effort, though it did max out the capacity of my food processor – I remedied that problem but buzzing things down a bit as I added them and that gave me the extra room I needed.  I then made one batch of the recipe to grill in a day (it should marinate overnight in the fridge for best flavor) and tossed the other one in the freezer.  I use the biggest zipper bag I can get – if you have an Aldi’s, they sell 2 gallon zipper bags at a great price.  That way, you can put the cut tenderloins in the bag flat and they will thaw quickly.

In addition, we bought a 6 lb. pack of hamburger (typical Sam’s Club size) since my son wanted burgers for dinner last night.  After I prepped the pork tenderloin (took about ½ an hour), I divided the hamburger into three 2 pound portions.  One portion went straight into a bag to freeze for tacos or something else some other time.  One portion was seasoned and made into patties for last night’s dinner.  The last portion was seasoned and made into patties and frozen for quick homemade burgers some other night.   Over all, I spent less than 1 hour prep time and ended up with 4 meals, not counting the one pack of frozen burger.  I’d say that is a pretty good return on investment of my time.

So, next time you get ready to cook something, think about whether the recipe could be doubled for a future easy meal.  I plan to try to build up my freezer stash a bit over the summer to get ready for when I go back to work in the fall.  I have a large pack of ground turkey in the fridge to make tacos later this week – I am sure I can make a double batch and freeze some for later.  I will post the recipe when I do.

Best regards,

Lynn

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Yesterday’s dinner was very tasty.  I compiled a list of Chicken and Rice soup recipes to try, but ended up making my own anyhow.  Here is a link to some of the interesting ones I found – I may try them sometime in the future.

http://alpha.searchlikeme.com/slmpages/587/

Instead I used my basic quick chicken soup recipe, which can be modified for whatever starch you have on hand.  I’ll call it:

Fast Chicken and Whatever Soup

1-2 T. olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 celery ribs, diced

1-2 carrots, peeled and diced

6 C. water plus enough bouillon powder to go with 6 C. water (usually 6 t.) OR use 6 C. Chicken Broth

1 can chicken or 1-2 Cups cooked and diced chicken

About 1-2 Cups Cooked egg noodles, pasta, or rice

In large sauce pan, heat olive oil, then add onions, celery, and carrots and cook on medium heat until veggies start to soften but do not brown (it’s not the end of the world if they brown a little).  Add water and bouillon (or chicken stock if that’s what you’re using) and let simmer for at least ½ an hour, making sure veggies are as soft as you want them.    Add chicken and rice and heat completely.  Serve.    This recipe should serve at least 4.

Comments:

In place of Bouillon, I like to use a product called “Better than Bouillon” – less salty and more stock-like.  They sell it at Meijer’s – it is about 5 bucks a jar and must be refrigerated after opening.

When you have time or extra veggies, chop and freeze things like carrots and celery so you have them ready to go into a fast soup.

I always keep canned chicken in my pantry for emergencies.  I buy a stack of cans at Sam’s Club – I think you get 5-6 largish cans in a stack for maybe 12 bucks.    Very handy for a quick soup or casserole and I don’t think it’s much more expensive than cooking up some boneless chicken breasts yourself.

I like cooking the noodles, rice, etc. separately, draining if necessary, and then adding to the soup at the end.  It keeps the broth a bit more clear.  We actually serve the noodle separately – each person adds what they want to their bowl, then dumps some soup on top.  Keeping them separate keeps the noodles from thickening the broth while leftovers are in the fridge.

If you have some fresh parsley, sprinkle some in at the end.  I leave seasoning with salt and pepper to individual diners.  This soup made with Bouillon likely will not need extra salt, but some fresh ground pepper is nice.

Enjoy!

Best regards,

Lynn

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I apologize for not posting yesterday.  I was out of town at a funeral.  I had hopes of writing a post after I got home, but traffic was horrendous, so I just wanted to put my feet up and relax.   Today is a bit of a lazy catch up day.  I am planning soup for dinner.  Since I have some leftover rice in the fridge, I am going to throw together a chicken rice soup.  I will post the recipe tomorrow if it goes well.

For today, I thought I’d post my family’s absolute favorite biscuit recipe.  I’ve had this recipe for a million years – it is a knock off of Red Lobster’s Cheesy Biscuits, but I think this recipe may be even better than the restaurant biscuits.  It is very easy and tasty.  I make them whenever we have soup and they also reheat well – quick 10 seconds or so in the micro and they are a great snack.

Red Lobster Style Garlic Cheese Biscuits

2 c. Bisquick

1 c. grated cheddar cheese (I buy the pre-grated stuff in bags)

1/2 c. cold water

2 T. butter or margarine (I prefer to use real butter in all my cooking, but do what makes you happy!)

¼ t. garlic powder

¼ t. dry parsley flakes

1/8 t. dry oregano

Preheat oven to 450 F.  Put Bisquick in a medium to large mixing bowl.  Stir in grated cheese, and then stir in cold water.  Add a bit more water if needed.  Drop by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet (I prefer instead to use parchment paper on my cookie sheet and then I don’t have to grease and clean up is a snap).   I usually get about 8 biscuits, but your mileage will vary depending on how big you make them.  You can also wet your hand and gently shape or pat the biscuits into a bit more of a round shape right on the cookie sheet if you like.

Bake at 450 for 8-10 minutes until lightly brown.

While they are baking, melt the butter and stir in the next 3 ingredients.  Brush this seasoned butter on the biscuits as soon as they come out of the oven and serve immediately.  Enjoy!

Best regards,

Lynn

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Yesterday’s haircut appointment was a wonderful success.  The salon I went to is a spin-off from a salon I have gone to off and on over the years.  It’s probably the most expensive place in town, but likely cheap relative to more cosmopolitan places.  The last salon I went to was only slightly cheaper and their products were WAY expensive.

The salon I went to yesterday was clean and bright and very modern looking.  Everyone working there was dressed in black, with matching black aprons for the stylists.  Only moments after I arrived, the stylist came out to greet me.  At her chair, we spend a good 5-10 minutes discussing what to do with my hair and she was attentive and asked several questions.  Next step was a seated massage and hand steam in a dim room – ah, pampering.  Then on to the shampoo room, then back to the chair for the cut.  She took her time and adjusted a bit of the cut when I had a concern.  She also spent a good time styling my hair and discussing how I might go about it at home.  Lastly, she took me up front for a “makeup refresh” – a light dusting of powder and some lip color.

At no point did she try to sell me product, in fact she was pretty conservative in her use of product – only mousse and root lifter.   On our way to the desk to check out, I asked her about products and she said, “well, the hairspray and root lifter you said you were using at home will work fine.  You can always come back later and get the mousse if you want.”    I told her that I’d like to get the mousse while I was there, so she took me over to get some and showed me the prices before I went to pay.  Cheaper than the other salon and these are Aveda products, which I love.

My total bill including product and tip came to $60.  I was there just over an hour.  I thought it was a great experience and will go back.  She also told me that in between haircuts I can pop in for a $5 bang trim if I need one – that is one of the issues I have with haircuts – the bangs grow out so darn fast and I really don’t like to go back for a haircut any earlier than 8-10 weeks later.  What can I say – I am cheap, busy, and lazy!

So, what kind of cut did I get?  Well, I went from hair that had been growing out for a year, so not much of a style – hitting mid-back and bangs pushed to the side since they were down to my chin!  She gave me a cute chin length bob that is layered such that it has some volume when dried.  Piecey bangs cut comfortably about my brows.  She said I could push them to the side if they got too long and I couldn’t get in for a trim.  Really cute and I was amazed how well the Aveda mousse held the style all day (and it was over 90 and WAY humid) without any other help.  My hair is pretty straight and fine and tends to collapse easily.

It still looked good this morning and I debated whether I should try to wash and style myself or try to preserve what she had done.  I figured I had to do it sooner or later, so I gave it a try.  Not as cute as when she did it but not bad.  I am a bit klutzy trying to work a round brush and a blow dryer at the same time!

As long as I was out, I decided I would get to work on the wardrobe planning as well.  Driving to the salon, I got the idea that it might help me if my wardrobe revitalization plan was not too open ended – I have my list of things I am looking for, so I decided I also needed to narrow down a bit and focus on one season and set some kind of budget.  So I thought, let’s set a budget of $500 and focus on the fall wardrobe.

Now to most fashionistas, a $500 budget is nothing.  But to a conservative Midwesterner like me, it feels quite generous.  To those who might say it is outrageous (and there will be a few, I’m sure), let me say that I have a decent job, am extremely conservative about spending, and could not tell you the last time I actually bought a piece of clothing and if I did, it probably cost no more than ten bucks!  It seems like a good amount to let me stretch for some good pieces without being ridiculous.  And it will include my haircut, shoes, accessories, etc., so we are already down to $440…

Anyhow, as I was leaving the salon, I spied a cute little boutique across the way and popped in.  Generally I don’t go to boutiques – too expensive and I like big anonymous stores where I can dash in and out without anyone trying to help me.  The lady working at the boutique was friendly in her greeting and then left me alone.  I saw some cute trench coats on sale, but despite the store being nice and cool inside, mentally I just did not want to try a coat on in 90 degree heat!  When I got home, my husband said, well, that’s the best time to shop for a coat, because they are on sale.  Oh well.  I may try to go back soon.  They had some really cute chunky pendants in their jewelry case – bold amber pieces, which I love, and they were pretty reasonable.  But I figure I need a few staples first before I move on to accessories.

I decided to head to our mall and assess just what they had before I assumed I had to go to Indy or Chicago for good shopping.  Macy’s was full of old ladies and old lady clothes.  They do have a juniors department, but most of that looked too young.  With work, I could find something there, but probably need to focus elsewhere.  They did have an incredibly crisp white button down shirt in the petites by Jones New York.  Price was about 60 bucks and it was nicer than the one I saw at the Gap for $44.  I just worry about a $60 white shirt – ooooh, I am sooooo klutzy, I know I would spill mustard on it the first day I wore it!

My mission was fact-finding so I hadn’t planned on trying things on, but I did see some nice medium heeled shoes in The Rack Room and tried them on.  Cute and comfy but I got paranoid about my taste and took pictures with my cell phone to go home and ask people for opinions.  The Gap had some promising jeans.  I went ahead and tried on some Levi’s in Kohl’s – am I the only one who gets annoyed with vanity sizing??  I started and finished college as a size 8, have had two kids, and am certainly no smaller  now than I was 20 years ago, and yet somehow a Levi’s size 4 is now too big on me!  Are they really fooling anyone?

My conclusion was that a trip to Indy is indeed in order.  Keystone at the Crossing has a Nordstrom’s and a Sak’s as well as several smaller stores to check out.  I will try to make a day trip there sometime in the next few weeks.  I will keep you posted.

For now, stay cool!  My cousin in Germany is freezing in 50 degree weather and I am roasting in 90 degree weather – wish we could put our climates together and average them out!

Best regards,

Lynn

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I just finished reading Kendall Farr’s The Pocket Stylist and found it quite interesting and helpful.  I only wish she had some pictures!  What I learned meshed well with the plan that has been formulating in my head for the reworking of my wardrobe.    I preferred her message of dressing to flatter your body type rather than that of Christine Schwab, whose book, The Grown-Up Girl’s Guide to Style,  seemed like a giant book of “don’ts” with not a lot of help on the “do’s.”

Before reading Kendall Farr’s book, I had started to formulate a plan.  My work environment is somewhat casual.  Most of the other professors wear khakis and button downs or polo shirts unless they need to be in a suit for a meeting or jeans to work in the lab.  I developed a similar uniform of khakis with flats and polo shirts in warm weather, then switching to turtlenecks in place of the polos when the weather turned cool.  Last year I did add a few belts to my wardrobe at my husband’s suggestion and they did help pull my look together and also emphasized that I have a nice waist.  Overall safe and appropriate, but BORING.

I also have several pairs of jeans in my wardrobe – last year I bought a couple pairs of dark wash flared jeans that were in current style, but somehow they didn’t look quite right on me.  From Ms. Farr’s book, I realized that with my small frame, I might be better off with less of a flare – maybe a boot cut.  AND, here’s the biggie, maybe it’s time to move away from those comfy flats to at least a small heel to get a little length in my legs.

I fall pretty clearly into Ms. Farr’s type B body type, which is shoulders and hips of about the same proportion with a defined waist.  She suggests that for this body type you emphasize your nice waist but wearing clothes that are fitted to show off that feature.  Since I am also petite, I need to work on getting more of a long line.  Really, it is not rocket science, and I can DO rocket science, so fashion should be a snap, ha!

So, here’s the plan.  I am going to start reworking my wardrobe gradually.  Over time I would like to accumulate the following as the foundation of my wardrobe:

  • At least one pair of knockout perfect fitting jeans – time to relax my spending limit on jeans – I hate to pay over $20 and tend to shop the sales at Kohl’s , but one nice pair of high end jeans might be better than 3 or 4 pairs of so-so jeans.
  • A couple of tailored button down shirts, with at least one being white.  I have a white button down, but it is a bit oversized and now I see I need to move away from bulky.
  • I struggle with coats.  My husband finally made me throw out several coats that I inherited from his mother, but I still wear her very nice, but a little too big trench coat.  I need to find a more fitted trench coat, maybe starting with a mid-thigh length rather than the longer ones, which tend to overwhelm my height.
  • Let’s not even talk about winter coats, but I do need one.  Rust colored puffy coat that my husband bought me a few Christmases ago is sporty, but not very stylish.
  • Shoes are a struggle for me.  I really worship comfort.  I love the look of pumps but can’t stand to wear them day in and day out.  I need to find some mid-height heels (Ms. Farr says shoot for 1.5- 2.5 inch heels for everyday) and convince myself to incorporate them into my day to day wardrobe.
  • This isn’t really part of the wardrobe, but I am WAY overdue for a haircut.  Last summer I cut off about 9 inches of hair to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths (I was inspired by a magazine ad showing that Hilary Swank had donated her hair) and ended up with a nice, new look.  I went to the same salon for the follow-up haircut and started to realize that it was ok, but didn’t really excite me and though the stylist was nice, I wasn’t really connecting with her.  I got too busy to try to find someone new and so my hair has been growing out for almost a year.  I could almost donate again!  But I am definitely looking shapeless and overgrown.  I am not too salon paranoid so I just have to give myself a kick and call one of the nicer salons in town and make an appointment!  Ok, ha, I just made an appointment for this afternoon!
  • Lastly, I will work on accessories.  I have found that I love belts and want to incorporate them more into my look, since they seem to work for my figure.    I always wear a necklace, watch, rings, and small stud earrings, but often wear the same pieces out of habit rather than what pulls together the looks, so I will start thinking more about that.

So there I have the starting point.  It should help with both my work and casual wardrobe, though for the 90 degree days we’ve been having lately, all bets are off!  Summer is a whole ‘nother problem!

I hope to start with the jeans first.  We have a Macy’s in town, but that’s about as high end as we go.  I will look there for nice jeans, but I don’t think they carry some of the major high end labels.  I will be in Chicago soon but I won’t have time for shopping, so I may try a day trip to Indianapolis by myself later this month.

I will keep you posted!  Wish me luck with the haircut.

Best regards,

Lynn

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I am very sorry for being absent for the last several days.  Late Saturday afternoon, I was happily googling the topic of passive homes, when I must have clicked on SOMETHING very, very nasty.  The website I was trying to view stopped loading and when I went back to my Google page, everything I clicked on would lead me to these crazy ad sites rather than where I was trying to go.  About a minute later, these windows with dire warnings about spyware and infected computers started popping up, though I recognized right away that those windows were actually some type of malware themselves.

I hollered for the other Dr. Z (home IT specialist and all around smart guy) and he came up to have a look.  “Have you backed up lately?” was his first question.  “Ummmm…..”  Well, not in a while.  But I told him I hadn’t added too much since my last backup – it would not kill me if I lost a few things.  He suggested trying an anti-virus run first.  It found several things and threw them into the vault, but upon rebooting, the problem was back.  Dear husband promised to try to sort it out on Father’s Day – what a nice present for him, eh?

He spent several hours on my computer, bitterly complaining about how annoying it was to actually know something about computers, so that he always had to fix things.  I told him it beat the heck out of having to pay the Geek Squad to fix it.   He also threatened to buy everyone in the house who didn’t already have one a Mac.  I told him that was a bit extreme considering that all the kids and I did was surf the web and use MS Office once in a while.

After backing up as many of my files as he could by hand onto a portable drive, he concluded that what had infected my computer was so nasty that he preferred to wipe everything and reinstall Windows.  So he spend Father’s Day finishing that up.

I spent yesterday reinstalling the software I actually use.  On the plus side, my computer is nicely decluttered!  On the downside, the most recent version of the files I track family expenses on somehow did not make it into the backup.  I had an couple day old backup on a thumb drive, so I was able to reinstall that, but had to spend about an hour re-entering receipts I had put in late last week.  Could have been worse.  I promptly set that software to backup those files EVERY time I use the software.

So, all is well that ends well, but I am sorry to have ruined his Father’s Day that way.  I did make him Chicken Crepes and beignets for dinner.   I will post those recipes some other time.

I guess the lesson learned here is – BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP.  And – when it comes to surfing the Internet, a good dose of paranoia is helpful.  I thought I was pretty cautious and still ran into problems.  You can bet I will be watching links on web pages a lot more closely before I click them!

So, go now – backup your files, run your anti-virus software, and make sure that software is set to run automatically and often.   What, you don’t have anti-virus software??  Go straight to visit Miss Kim Komando’s site – she has vetted many good free options.  A search for Kim Komando should let you easily find her site.

Best regards,

Lynn

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