Sunday, October 31, 2010

Military Blog Hop Winner!

This just goes to show that it is never too late to sign up for anything.




The winner of the Military Spouses' Blog Hop is.......





.....

....

...

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.......Lora of "My Camo Kids: An Army Wife Life!"

So Lora, visit Crystal's Country Store, and then contact me at
MrsMamaHen(at)gmail.com

Congratulations!!!

A Reminder.....and "The Prize" for the Military Spouse Blog Hop

I love Crystal Miller's Goat Milk Soaps. I have ordered them from her for years now. On the occasion that I run out and have to buy "store soap".....I practically go through withdrawals.

So the reminder part of the post, is "reminder" --this is the last day to sign up for the Military Spouse Blog Hop.

And the Prize...one of those military spouse bloggers who signed up, will be selected to get two bars of Crystal's wonderful goat milk soap.

These are the two favorites in our house...the "Pumpkin Spice" (mine) and the "Bay Rum" (hubby's.)



She also has other kinds, like "Fuzzy Navel" and "Lavender with Flower Buds."

They are all wonderful!

When the winner is selected, I will have you send me your mailing address, and your two selections.

You can check out Crystal's Store here: CrystalsCountryStore.com

Crystal has no idea I am doing this....I just love her stuff, and thought you might too :-)

Chillin'

Chillin'



Stretchin'



"What?"



Cats have the life.

My Grandma

This morning I woke up, and got a little sad.


I had a dream I was at my Grandma's house. We were sitting on the back porch talking. The back porch of the house that my grandfather built.


This is my mother, as a little girl, while the house was being built.


I love having dreams about my grandparents. Because for just a little while, it is like they are back. I'm talking with them, enjoying their presence.




But then, I hate having dreams about my grandparents. Because right after you wake up, you have that moment when you remember reality, and it makes you sad all over again. For moments before, Grandma was there, and now she's not.




Just feeling a little reminiscent this morning.


Does this ever happen to you?

Homeschool Bumper Stickers

Earlier this school year, I had some bumperstickers made. When I did, I ordered a few extras. If anyone has a homeschool senior out there, like I do, and you are interested in one of these, they are $5, that includes postage to you.



They are the "euro"-style oval bumperstickers.


If interested, contact me at MrsMamaHen(at)gmail.com


I only have a few, and when they are gone, they are gone :-)

Military Spouse Blog Hop

From now until the end of the month, I am hosting a blog hop for military spouses. This post will be pinned to the front page so it can be easily found.


Feel free to enter your blog, and spend some time visiting the blogs of other military spouses. We have to support each other in the military community!

(And Psssst! Here's a secret. One military blogger will be selected from the list for a very special give-away! And, if you share the hop on your blog, you'll double your chances!)





All blogs entered must be those of military spouses, and must be "family friendly." Any link that are added that do not meet those simple guidelines, will be removed ASAP. Only enter your blog url once. I will create a separate list for the drawing.


Thanks!


Entry period will end October 31st, at 10pm Alaska Time.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Winter or Fall?

Yesterday Jen and I got ready to head to the store to do my grocery shopping. Here was Jen, waiting in the van for me.


This was the commissary parking lot. Parking lines are just a "best guess" in the winter. I ended up shoveling 3 times yesterday.


This morning I went outside to shovel snow again. At about 9:30 or so, the sky looked like this.




About 45 minutes later, a peek at the ski hill across the road.


Later this week, I am going to go for a little drive, and introduce you to a place called North Pole, Alaska.

No, not THE North Pole.....but it thinks it is! You'll see why........

Maple-Orange Glazed Cornish Hens

This recipe has moved. Find it --> HERE

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cooking 101 - Lesson 1 - Kitchen Essentials, part 2

Continuing from the last post, these are more of the things that I consider "essentials" to the kitchen.


Tongs


I can't tell you how important a pair of tongs is, whatever style you like. Trying to turn a hot piece of meat over in hot oil with a fork or a spatula is hazardous. The meat can plop over, splatter hot oil, and you might find yourself with a lovely red beauty mark. Tongs.



Wooden Spoons, or other "cooking" spoons


I have several of these. My wooden spoons are actually made of bamboo. I find that bamboo is very durable. These will last for years and years. The great thing about wood or bamboo, is that the material does not conduct heat. You can leave it sitting in the pan for a few minutes, and you aren't going to burn your hand when you reach for it again.



Spatulas


I would recommend having 2 or 3 spatulas in different sizes. A spatula should be thin, but strong. If it is too thick, you can't slide it under delicate foods. If it isn't strong, your food will fall off a drooping spatula. My large metal one is great for serving a honking chunk of lasagna. My little metal one is perfect for getting brownies out of a pan.


A Slotted Spoon


A slotted spoon is exactly what it sounds like. A large serving spoon, with slots or holes in it. Sometimes you need to scoop up food but not the liquid it is in. That's what this is for.



A Ladle


A ladle is like a little bowl on a handle. If is for scooping liquids and solids, like stews.



A Colander


A Colander, or strainer, is used for....straining. I personally like metal ones, because they can double as a steamer basket in a dutch oven.



Now on to the cookware.


A Frying Pan or Skillet


Skillets are wide and shallow, and designed for sauteing, frying, browning foods. I would recommend having a large and small one. Whatever style you like. Cast iron, stainless steel, non-stick. Your choice.



Saucepans


Saucepans are cooking pots, not just for sauces. The most commonly used sizes, seem to be 3 quart and 2 quart. Most have long handles.



A Dutch Oven


A Dutch oven is like a large saucepan, without a long handle. They are ideal for cooking large quantities, soups, stews, etc. They are normally about 6 quarts in size. They are used for cooking or baking. You've seen my blue one quite a bit. I love the blue one, because it is enameled cast iron, and can go from the stove top, straight to the oven. Because it is cast iron, it also heats steadily and evenly, without hot spots or scorching of the food. Enameled cast iron is also safe for a glass-top stove. Simply pick it up when you move it, and don't slide it across the surface. Traditional Dutch ovens are made for baking, and have lots of detail and information that I couldn't possibly include in this post. Maybe for a future post.



A Stock Pot


Now this is a stock pot. It is very similar to a Dutch oven, but is larger and taller. Many cookware sets come with one. I don't use this as often as I do the Dutch oven, but its size is perfect for making stock/broth, and for cooking long pasta like spaghetti or fettuccine, because the noodles fit into it without breaking.



Now on to the bakeware.


Bakeware comes in every shape and size imaginable. There are kinds that are very multi-purpose, as well as kinds that have special purposes.


Some of the basic baking dishes, are cake pans, pie plates, and muffin pans. Basic cake pans can be round, square, rectangle. I would recommend having a 9x13 inch and a smaller 9 inch square or round pan. Those two can handle most of your baking needs, not just for cakes, but for many other things, like lasagna and everything else. Also, a 12 cup muffin pan and a pie plate/dish.



A few specialty cake pans, that I don't think are necessities, but are very common, are a spring form pan. A spring form pan is a two-piece cake pan. The side unlatches and removes from the base, leaving the dish intact. This is perfect for delicate things like cheesecake. Things that you would remove from your pan, but don't want to turn up-side-down to do so.



Another specialty pan is a Bundt Pan. These pans contain the same amount of cake batter as a 9x13 but are so pretty.



Loaf Pan


Loaf Pans are designed for baking loaves. Whether it's a loaf of pumpkin bread or a meatloaf. They are much like a cake pan, but are a little taller, and normally 9 inches long and 4 - 5 inches wide.



A Cookie/Baking Sheet or Stone


A cookie sheet or stone is designed for baking items, open to the heat of the oven. Some are flat, some have a lip around the edge. I like my stoneware ones, but many prefer metal ones. I think stoneware heats more evenly, but it takes a little longer to warm up that metal. For instance, when baking a batch of cookies, the first pan will take longer, allowing for the stone to heat up. Whatever your choice.


Bar Pan


A Bar pan is very similar to a cookie/baking sheet, but the bar pan has a definite side to it, about 1 inch tall. Bar pans are commonly about 10 x 15 inches. They can do double duty as baking sheets too. If you only have one, this will do the job of both. You can also bake messy things on one, and the side will keep the liquids from spilling over onto your oven floor.



A Roasting Pan


A roasting pan is a baking pan that has a rack inside it to lift the food off the floor of the pan. They are idea for cooking things like chicken, ham, turkey, etc. It allows the fats of the meat to drip off, and not pool around the meat. These come in many styles; rectangle, oval, lids or no lids. Some don't have racks, but have little mounds in the floor that serve the same purpose, creating a space for the fats to pool under the meat.


And last but not least...


Potholders.


Have several, and keep them handy. I have had these potholders for years and years. They should be thick, but not too thick. You want them to insulate your hand, but be flexible enough to wrap around the handle of a pot you are trying to grab.




Printable List: Kitchen Essentials


Cooking 101 - Lesson 1: Kitchen Essentials

Over the years I have had many messages from friends and readers in regards to teaching cooking classes. Maybe some day in the future that is something that I will persue, but in the mean time, I have decided to do weekly "Cooking 101" posts each Tuesday. This is the first of the series.


This list is of the things that I think are vital to a kitchen. As with all things, there maybe things that you have that you feel you can't do with out, or there may be things that I use, that you don't. And that is fine. These are the things that I must have in my kitchen, whatever brand or style.


An Apron


I have lots of aprons. Some I made, some were gifts. Half aprons tie around your waist, and hang down from your waist. A full apron goes around your neck, and covers the front of you as well as your lower half. Now any time I have had food splatter, or had something spill, it wasn't my lower half that got dirty. I have had more food get on the top half of me, so I much prefer a full apron. If grease splatters from a skillet, I don't want it getting on my clothes and ruining them.
Aprons seem so old fashioned, but there is something wonderful about tying one on and getting to work in the kitchen....or anywhere else. (I have a work apron that I wear when painting or gardening too. Keeps my clothes clean!) So I highly recommend having one. They even seem to be "in" again.



Mixing Bowls.


Mixing bowls come in every size shape and style imaginable, but there is one thing you should take into account when picking one. The design. If a bowl is wide and open like the nesting set I have shown, they are great for mixing things by hand. But when it comes to beating things with an electric mixer, you want a bowl that is deep with higher sides, like the other two shown. The electric beater will sling ingredients against the side of the bowl, and if the bowl is too shallow, you are going to be wearing your food.



An Electric Mixer.


My husband gave me this mixer many years ago as a birthday gift. It is a standard hand-held mixer. There are also stand mixers, the most popular being the Kitchen-Aid mixer. I do have a stand mixer (A Bosch) but I primarily use it for bread-making. This hand-held mixer is used for everything from whipped cream to cookie dough and everything else in between, and is very versatile. You can use it for beating both large and small quantities of ingredients.



Measuring Cups.


I have a couple sets of measuring cups. The White, Metal and Blue Ceramic ones are for dry ingredients like flour, sugar, etc. You scoop your ingredients and then level them off with a scraper or knife, even with the top of the cup. A set generally includes 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup, and 1/4 cup.

You want a set that is durable. Sadly, while I love my blue ceramic set, because they are so darn cute, they are not very durable. I have only had them a year, and they are badly chipped from being knocked against my flour & sugar canisters, dropped on the floor, etc. Also, they are not an accurate set. Like I mentioned, dry ingredients are normally leveled from the top edge, but those blue ones have a line inside them that you measure to, so they aren't a good set for a new cook either, because you have to "eye-ball" the line.



The clear glass measuring cup is specifically for measuring liquids, like oil, milk, etc. You use the lines on the side to see how much you have measured, and the handy spout is for pouring. Every kitchen should have both wet and dry measuring cups.



Measuring Spoons


Measuring spoons also come in every shape and design. I have a couple sets, because there are times when I have lots of dishes going, and one set might already be dirty, and I need to measure something else, and not want to take the time to wash in between (like Thanks Giving.) Here you want to be careful. I bought a set several years ago, that looked great. It was metal, sturdy, and inexpensive. But after I took them home, I got to looking at them. Their measurements didn't look accurate to me. So I measured out some salt with the new teaspoon, and compared it to another teaspoon I had, and the new set was WAY off on the measurements. 1 "teaspoon" was actually 1 1/2 teaspoon. All of the new measuring spoons were drastically off on their measurements. So the "Dollar Store" is probably not the place to get something like that. Spend a couple dollars, and get a good set. They don't have to be expensive though, just accurate. I have had the metal set there for 20 years, and it is probably my favorite set. The white ones are handy, because they are adjustable, but are only good for measuring dry ingredients. Vanilla will run right under the divider.



Rubber Scrapers/Spatula


There is nothing better for scraping around a bowl to get every last bit of something, or to make sure everything is mixed. I think having one large and one small is a good idea.



A Whisk


Whisks are use for combining ingredients that are thin, and perfect for "whipping" things that you are trying to incorporate air into. The wires break up food bits, like flour in gravy. I have a regular one that I use the most, and a mini one for mixing up small batches of things like barbecue sauce.



Pastry Brush


There are many kinds of pastry brushes out there. These are the two I have. The one on the left is a bristle brush. It is ideal for putting thin, even coats of something on - like brushing milk on a loaf of bread, or coating a pan with grease. But the silicone brush is ideal for things like barbecue sauce on ribs. It holds thicker things, and is easier to clean. If I could only have one though, I would choose the bristle one. You can't use a silicone brush to give a nice, even coat of milk on bread dough. It simply doesn't hold the milk, and the "bristles" are too thick.



Knives


Every kitchen should have three basic knives. A chef's knife (top) for cutting & chopping, a serrated knife (middle)for cutting things like bread, and a paring knife (bottom) for doing small work, like peeling apples, or cutting up strawberries. Knives should be sharp. You are more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than a sharp, because the dull knife will require more effort, and can be hazardous.


I like cutting things up with a chef knife, because the blade can go all the way across the food item, and cut completely. When chopping things like carrots, I keep the tip of the knife on a cutting board, and use the blade of the knife in a scissor action. It keeps everything stable, and reduces the risk of cutting yourself.



Kitchen Shears


Now, this isn't something that I personally consider vital, but many people do. I do have a pair, they are like very strong scissors. They are designed for cutting through meat and bone. I mostly use mine for cutting open food packages and snipping herbs from plants, but have been known to cut a cornish hen in half with them. You don't have to a have a pair, but they are very convenient.


A Vegetable Peeler


These are self-explanatory, and really make peeling easier. You can take the peel off a potato or apple, sparing as much of the "meat" as possible.



A Sieve


A sieve (pronounced siv)is a metal strainer with very fine holes or mesh. They can not only be used for straining out liquids, but also used for sifting flour and other dry ingredients.



The fine mesh.



I also have a very small one. This one is really handy if you have a tea bag break.



A Pastry Blender


A pastry blender is similar to a whisk, but is used for "cutting" butter or shortening into dry ingredients. You would use one of these when making things like a pie crust, or biscuits, or scones.



A Cutting Board.


Cutting boards also come in all shapes, sizes and materials. I have several.

Clockwise from the top left - Butcher Block wood, Tempered Glass, Bamboo, and plastic


Now the "kitchen police" will tell you to have one for cutting raw meats and such, and another for cutting vegetables and fruits. That you don't want cross-contamination. But I will be honest....I don't do that. I cut everything on which ever board I want.


The white ones are made of a type of plastic, and are dishwasher safe. I usually use one of those when I am cutting up fish....just because I think that fish is gross. But most often I use my butcher block one.


I think the thing about a cutting board, is you want it to be easy to clean. You don't want a soft wood one either. Wood cutting boards should be made from hard wood. If you can easily cut your cutting board, it is too soft. As long as the surface of your cutting board is smooth, it is easy to clean. But as it wears out, and gets rough, that texture can hold bacteria, and the cutting board is needing replacing.


Food poisoning has never occurred in my kitchen, but YOU do what YOU are comfortable with.


A Rolling Pin


This is my rolling pin. Rolling pins also come in many styles. Everyone has their favorite. I like this one because it is one piece, and it is sturdy. I use it not only for rolling things out, but for bashing meat to tenderize.



A Grater/Shredder


This grater belonged to my grandmother. I love it. I think of her every time I shred cheese or zest an orange. A grater should be sturdy, not bend easily, and have a handle for stability. There are many styles to choose from.



I will post the rest of my "essentials" in the next post.