The Shocking Thing I’ve Done

When we go off to college, many of us pick up a few bad habits. (Some worse than others, so don’t let your imagination carry you off.) For me, the worst and most lasting one was Dr. Pepper. Nothing else comes close.

I was trying to remember when exactly it set in, and I’m going to say freshman year. I went to the University of Dallas, which offers the unbelievable opportunity to spend a semester on UD’s Rome campus, with your classmates, UD profs, and a Eurrail Pass. It was as dreamy as it sounds. I went in the spring of my sophomore year, and one my fellow Romers got her hands on some Dr. Pepper. Prior to that, I was making do with Coke, which was fine, but not the same. I took one look at that 6-pack of European cans of DP and told her to name her price. So, I know that by the time I went to Rome, I had the monkey on my back.

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Since then, Dr. Pepper has been a constant presence in my life. And living in Texas, it has never been hard to find fellow die-hards. When I waited tables, one of the bartenders and I had a song about a Double Decker. Have I been to the Dr. Pepper museum? Of course, and I made a special trip with a friend just to go there. Was I sad when Dublin Dr. Pepper went the way of the Flowbee? You bet. (Wait. This just in. A cursory Googling has revealed that you can actually still buy Flowbees. Dublin Dr. Pepper, no. Flowbee, yes. It’s a world gone stark raving mad, I tell you.)

So, you know how you can get away with more junk when you’re young and stupid than when you’re older and wiser? Well, I used to be able to chug Dr. Pepper and eat whatever I wanted, and it didn’t seem to matter. Now that I’m 42, that’s not so much the case anymore. There have been times off and on through the years when I’ve tried to cut back, but I always end up going back to drinking them like a chain-smoker going through a pack.

I made a bold move two weekends ago. I decided that I’m not buying it for the house anymore. None. And no special trips to Sonic or wherever to get one. If I’m having lunch with a friend, or at the church on Wednesday night, fine. But no more making sure I’ve got my stash. Unless you’ve done something like this, I’m not sure you can fully appreciate what a big honkin’ deal this is.

Instead of soda, I’ve been drinking more water, trying beverage recipes off Pinterest (mint lemonade–thumbs up), and having hot tea. I’ve been wanting to be a tea person for a while because it can be so good for you, and because there are a million flavors. Let’s face it, my tongue is used to being awash in fizz and sugar, so it needs more than a steady stream of water.

The first week was not nearly as bad as I was afraid it might be. I was prepared for a tough week. I think my personal resolve to be done with it instead of negotiating with it, has been a big part. And a lot of prayer. I’m trying to be a better steward of the healthy body God has given me, and I know it pleases Him for me to let go of junk and put healthy stuff in instead. When we pray according to His will, He will answer!

Here are a few things I’ve picked up in case you ever decide to kick the soda habit:

  • Your habit may be a big part of your day, but you still may not be addicted (or as addicted as you thought). Find an online questionnaire and answer it honestly. I was encouraged.
  • Tell at least one person in your house–your spouse, roommate, a parent, etc. Make sure that person knows that you give permission to call you out, and let him/her know the best way to do it. (Like a drill sergeant? With encouragement? With new ideas? With health reminders?)
  • Plan alternate drinks, and pick ones you can get excited about. For instance, I look forward to a cup of hot tea or a glass of red wine at night.
  • You may be sleepier and more lethargic. Give yourself a break, and indulge as much as you can of that. It’s temporary.
  • I’m just going to say it. Add more fiber and/or Metamucil to your day. Let’s leave it at that.
  • Caffeine withdrawal headaches start behind your eyes, and can radiate out. If you start to have a headache, take something early. You might even call your doctor to see what the strongest thing you can take is. A heating pad or warm neck roll is nice, too.
  • If you are on an anti-depressant (I am), be very consistent in taking it. This is a bad time to get lax on that, and if you feel an internal “shift” in the wrong direction, call your prescribing doctor.

So, there you have it. If you know me personally, you may have stopped reading this when you blacked out.

Now that I have more room in my fridge, what should I put there instead? Maybe it’s time to hit Pinterest and see. If you have any suggestions, please post them in Comments. I welcome all the help I can get!

Taking on the impossible: Bringing order to Pinterest

Pinterest? I held out. I resisted. I didn’t see the point since I already had Bookmarks. (Not that I ever referred back to them…) But ever since I started using Pinterest, I’m all in. I drink the Kool-aid.

And then I can use the leftover Kool-aid mix to make icing, play-dough, and stain for my pallet projects! Then make a wreath out of the paper packets and burlap!

The only problem is how easy it is to get pin-happy, filled with great intentions. Which often wind up in what I call The Graveyard of Good Intentions. Oh, well. All you have to do is start deleting pins, and then rely on your Mom ADHD to forget they ever existed. Problem solved!

Seriously, I recommend creating at least one board of pins you tried and liked. It gives you a feeling of accomplishment to see how many pins are on THAT board, it makes it easier to find ideas you want to do again, and it lets your friends know when you have vetted a pin. After all, not all pins are created equal. Can I get a witness?

I’ve kind of been in clean-out mode here at Chez Bussey, so I directed that energy at my Pinterest boards and started weeding. There are well over 300 pins on my Recipes and Food board. Some are duplicates as it turns out, and some just aren’t going to happen. As I slogged through recipes, an idea occurred to me. Why not take some of these and “assign” them to months this year? I’m pretty good about using my board as a resource for entrees, but not as good at the other stuff. So, I decided to try a new soup, bread, salad dressing, and snack for the kids each month. Fun!

I went through my board and printed off all recipes in those categories. If it wasn’t worth printing for this project, I deleted it. Actually following the pins to their original blogs or sites helped get rid of others. Some went to sketchy sites, and some just didn’t sound as great when I read through the whole recipe.

Once I printed all of those, I made a Soup stack, a Bread stack, a Snack stack, and a Salad Dressing stack. I had 11 soups, but that’s okay. I’m sure between now and December, I’ll pin another soup I can add. And if not, I am happy to skip a soup recipe during the blessed and chaotic month of December!

Then I just went through and assigned the recipes, four months at a time. In other words, I did January through April first, and so on. I didn’t worry about whether or not the recipes went together because they will be made over the course of a month, not a meal. I took into consideration seasonal produce and what sounds good at different times of the year. A potato soup with bacon and roasted jalapenos will sound like perfection when it’s cold outside, but give me a light Mexican lime soup in the summer!

I also thought about a couple of kid-related things. First, is it a recipe one or both kids would like to help with? Let’s do that in the summer when they’re home. Second, is the snack something that could go in their lunchboxes if they like it? White bean salad, yes. Weight Watchers banana chocolate wontons, not so much. Lunchbox-potential snacks were assigned during the school year.

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I stapled each month’s stack together, wrote the month on the top recipe, and clipped it to this thing that hangs behind my chair in my work room. I got it years ago at JoAnn or somewhere, and it was called a mitten box. This is its second incarnation; it was painted before it moved to the new room. I like it because it has that little shelf with the door, and hooks on the bottom. I swapped out the hooks with these clips I spray-painted and mounted. I keep Groupons and kids’ school stuff (like schedules and locker combos) on it. And now, monthly recipe stacks.

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If you know me at all, the Wonder Woman display makes complete sense.

As I go along, I’ll blog about how it’s going. In case you’re curious, here’s what is in store this year!

  • January: kettle corn, honey mustard with dill salad dressing, Outback bread copycat, hibachi soup (please let this be a good recipe!)
  • February: pumpkin yogurt, creamy poppy seed dressing, baguettes, and Pioneer Woman’s perfect potato soup
  • March: sweet and salty roasted chickpeas, roasted garlic and buttermilk salad dressing, rosemary olive oil bread (a la Macaroni Grill), crock pot sweet potato and black bean soup
  • April: jicama and honey mustard dip, Greek salad dressing, My Mother’s Peasant Bread, tomato tortellini soup
  • May: white bean salad, lemon vinaigrette, crock pot bread, red pepper bisque
  • June: cheeses crackers (homemade Cheezits), Olive Garden copycat dressing, “throwed rolls”, mushroom and barley soup
  • July: crispy edamame, cilantro orange creamy dressing (if this is as good as it sounds, I’ll chug it), brioche, Mexican chicken lime soup
  • August: Weight Watchers chocolate banana wontons, apple cider vinaigrette, French bread, sausage and tortellini soup
  • September: skinny moose munch, low-fat Ranch, no-knead Dutch oven bread, tomato soup
  • October: apple and pear slices that won’t brown, creamy balsamic dressing, leftover oatmeal bread, mushroom soup
  • November: apple chips, creamy cilantro tomatillo dressing, no-knead dinner rolls, buttermilk potato soup with bacon & roasted jalapeno
  • December: English muffin and fruit butter, ginger dressing, decadent sweet milk bread

Sounds good, huh? If you want any of these recipes and don’t want to wait for the future blog post, they are ALL on my Recipes and Food board on Pinterest. As I try them, I will move the good ones onto my Pins I Actually Tried and Liked board. I move (as opposed to repin) the good pins, and I usually add a personal comment in brackets.

Happy New Year!

Don’t Look It in the Eye!

A thousand blessings on boy-child for wanting to wear girl-child’s costume from last year, for his costume this year. Score! Especially since I made her costume last year. Have you seen those ghost costumes that are hooded cloaks with layers and layers of white tulle? I’m way too cheap to pay the $70 from the catalog, so I made it. It ain’t perfect, but it gets the job done. (I’ll post a picture of them both at the end.)

Parenting a preteen means adventure awaits around every corner. Halloween is no exception. At first, she wanted to be a punky biker-y vampire, but braces make it impossible to buy something off the rack that will make good vampire teeth. Scratch that.

Since she’s been on a Percy Jackson kick, we went with Medusa. Great idea, right? Ah, but the success of a Medusa costume rests squarely on the snake headpiece. Thus began my quest.

By the way, don’t you love how kids throw out some great costume idea and then enjoy the luxury of not giving it another thought while you, in hot pursuit of feeling like a good mom, scour the internet and your own creativity to figure out how to make it happen? What’s worse, there were many times I would present an idea only to have it received by “a face.” Next year, she’s making her own costume. She’s old enough, and it will be good for her. (And for me.)

The toga was a non-issue. I wasn’t spending twenty bucks on a store-bought toga when I had a 40% coupon for JoAnn and my eye on the $3.99 poly satin in the green color she wanted. Yes, please. I looked at a lot of online how-to’s for togas, but this video was my favorite. Good coverage, and something that wouldn’t unravel at a party or trick-or-treating. I added a yard of sparkly chiffon as a sash, a pair of clearance flip-flops, and the snake jewelry we found at Party City, and everything from the neck down was ready.

I looked at a lot of ideas online for Medusa headpieces. I saw a lot of what we didn’t want, and the good stuff was pretty involved or store-bought. Thank you once again, Martha Stewart. If I had a pile o’ cash and a staff, I would totally do this.

But I don’t.

I found one idea online I kind of liked, so I used that as a springboard. Here’s what I ended up with. Not bad! (And before you ask–Yes, that’s the “Sexy Lady” Korean rapper from the viral video behind her! Pretty rockin’ costume, huh? I’m giving you the link, so don’t Google sexy lady video. I repeat, do NOT Google that!)

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Here’s how to do this, step-by-step. You’ll need the following:

  • headband, either a double headband or one of those with connected oval shapes going across
  • spool of fairly heave gauge wire, color doesn’t matter (I got mine in the jewelry section at the craft store; it’s 16 gauge)
  • ruler
  • small snakes (I found these bags of 20 coiled snakes at Spirit Halloween)
  • wire cutters
  • needle-nose pliers
  • spray paint

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Cut the wire into pieces 8-9 inches long. How many you need to cut depends on how many snakes you’re going to attach. I ended up with about 15. Any more than that, and the headband may have trouble supporting them on Medusa’s head.

Next, wrap the end of a piece of wire around the top of one of the snakes. It doesn’t have to be at the very top. I liked the way the coiled snake heads pointed back. Be sure to use your pliers to give a good squeeze to hold that sucker tightly.

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Now you wrap the snake around the wire. It won’t be flat against the wire, but that’s okay. You could take the time to wrap the wire around each snake, and it would look better, but it would take more time and probably more wire. I was in a bit of a time crunch, but you may have a better grasp on time management than I do!

Once the snake is wrapped around the wire, take the end of the wire and attach it to the headband with the pliers. Try to bring the wire down and around another part of the tail. Once you get it where you want it, give it a good squeeze with your pliers. If you have wire ends sticking up, it’s not a big deal. If you have wire ends sticking down into the scalp of the wearer, that is a big deal. Although it will stay put!

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Don’t bring the snakes too far down the sides because it will make it harder to stay on. When you’re done, you should have something like this.Image

Now this bad boy is ready for the step that always puts me in a good mood. Spray painting! (Shut up about the fumes.) In the picture above, I have the headpiece lying on a piece of scrap surface I use for spray painting. If you read the post about the bone wreath, you may recognize the tell-tale shape behind the snakes!

We decided to spray paint the whole thing silver, and then blast some green here and there. Then girl-child used a toothpick and some yellow acrylic paint for the eyes. Here’s the “after” picture:

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Luckily, girl-child has thick, curly hair, so I teased it, put in the headpiece, and put in some extra snakes I spray painted silver. Once the headpiece was on, I could bend the snakes to go out in different directions. I would wait until it’s on to do this. Also hold the bottom tight while you bend the top part. You don’t want to mess up your “wiring” where it is attached.

Am I happy with it? I really am! And she got lots of compliments at the Halloween party. She even turned a black belt into stone. Temporarily.

Here are both kids before the party. It’s kind of nice having a practice run before Halloween night!Image

Happy trick-or-treating, y’all!

Creepy Crafting… Mwa-ha-ha-ha!

I’m going to skip adding a handy-dandy little poll here to see how many of you are on Pinterest. Let’s just give each other knowing looks and nonjudgmental nods. If I had to calculate the ratio of pins I pin to pins I actually execute, it would make me weep. Instead, I choose to focus on pins I actually HAVE done, and that makes me feel better about all the weeks hours of time have probably logged. Thank you, Pinterest, for not having a widget that tells us how much time we have wasted spent there.

Since this blog is primarily about the many things that happen in my kitchen, I’m going to show you the two Halloween wreaths girl-child and I finished at the kitchen table. I’m not gonna lie. Planning to blog about it was just the push I needed to make sure these wreaths didn’t retire to Almost Done Land, which borders So Near and Yet So Far-skia and The United Republic of Good Intentions.

I got all the stuff I needed to make an eyeball wreath and a bone wreath. First, a word about the eyeball wreath. In the original version, there are lots of ping pong balls with googly eyes attached. I am a fan of the googly eye. When I got a bag o’ eyes at Dollar Tree, I was amused to learn how to say it in French. Observe (pun intended):Image

But when I went to Target and Academy, I found out that those little suckers are more expensive than I thought. I figured I could get a nice big bag of ping pong balls for not a lot of money. But at about 50 cents each, there was no way this eyeball wreath was going to be affordable. (On the original blog, she says she ordered a bag of practice balls online, so maybe that’s cheaper.) Last year, I bought a bag of ping pong ball-sized eyeballs at one of those Halloween stores, so I decided to go that route. I found the same ones at Party City, and at 10 eyeballs for $2, I bought ten bags.Image

That left me some extra to use around the house. (I have a glass vase full of last year’s eyeballs. I never feel alone when I’m watching TV.)

I got the wreath form at JoAnn when I got the wreath for for the bone wreath. But more on that in a moment. Here are some action shots of the eyeball wreath’s evolution:ImageImage

When she finished hot gluing all those eyeballs onto the wreath, we just hot glued a length of black satin ribbon so I could hang it over my fireplace where our Christmas stockings hang in December. Check out my crows on the mantle in front of my lanterns. And that little purple thing is a glass skull that holds a candle. Last year, I hit a lot of after-Halloween sales so I could have cooler decorations. I got some “wicked” deals!Image

Okay, so let’s dish on the bone wreath. How many times have you seen a Pinterest project that calls for “dollar store” something? And how many times have you thought, “Well, I don’t know what dollar store YOU go to, but mine never has that!” For instance, I love the idea of propping open a garment bag to use as a spray paint tent, but they don’t have garment bags at the dollar store. Calling you out on that one, Sister Whoever You Are.

So, when I saw the great-looking bone wreath, and it said it used dollar store skeletons, I pretty much wrote it off. But when I went to Dollar Tree, and saw that those actual skeletons were actually THERE, I about hit the floor. But not until I snagged six of them for my wreath. So, if you want to make this, and there’s a Dollar Tree in your area, hurry.

As instructed, I came home and dismembered the little guys. The parts pop apart pretty easily, and you can snip off all the little loops and nobs with any pair of scissors. Don’t overthink this. Do you feel like a serial killer, making neat little piles of parts? Yes, you do. It’s important to be able to turn that off at will.Image

The process is fairly simple. You start with the big torso pieces and glue them not too neatly around your wreath, then start filling in with the other bones. Don’t feel like you have to do all the femurs, then all the ulnas, and so on. (Did you know I started college in pre-med classes?) But I do recommend saving the skulls until close to the end. They need to show clearly.

I used a floral foam wreath, which turned out to be a mistake. Let’s call that a cliffhanger while I show you what it looked like when I was done gluing:Image

I took my little bone pile out to the garage to begin spray painting. Honestly, I just love spray paint. I don’t think it’s the fumes (well, not JUST the fumes…) I love that you can transform so many things just with a can of spray paint. And anything you can spray paint once, you can spray paint again later. As a crafter and DIYer, I offer thanks to the humble can of spray paint for offering me the reassurance that many, many, many things do not have to stay the ugly color I find them in. But enough about that.

In the blog, she said she used silver and then some misting of black here and there to give dimension. I used a combo of silver, bronze, and black because I had all of those on hand. First, I decided to finish off a small can of white and try to use it as sort of a primer for that green foam. This is where things looked less and less like the Pinterest picture.

It became apparent I would have to do something to cover all the styrofoam. I knew better, but I guess I hoped for a surprise. You just can’t spray paint styrofoam and have it look like anything but painted styrofoam. So, I focused on getting the bones painted the way I wanted them while I tried to think of what I could cover the inside and outside edges with.

Lucky me! Before I closed the blog post, I scrolled down to see if she had gotten many comments on the wreath. I found some Related Links and followed one that showed where she did the same wreath but with moss glued in all the spaces. It looked good. And when she told me she got the moss at the dollar store, I knew I could trust her.

I was right.

Hot gluing crumbly floral moss to styrofoam is messy and frustrating, but it worked out. When I was done, I sprayed the whole thing with a clear coat, hoping that would help hold the moss in place. I love the wreath! Here it is on my front door:Image

So, there you have it! Pinterest projects we actually did and liked! I actually have a board with that name, so I have repinned these to that board. Yes, repinning my own pins. Shut up.

Happy Halloween!

Hatch-Cha-Cha!

After a bit of a hiatus, I’m back in the blogosphere. I have something really cool I have been wanting to write about, and the recent launch of a friend’s new blog was the kick in the pants I needed. (Go, Kathleen!) Speaking of friends, I am confessing that the title of this post is plagiarized. (Go, Annie!)

I grew up in Texas’ Metroplex, which is the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Then I married a fella from Albuquerque, New Mexico. That’s when the Hatch-ification of Jennifer began. I had never heard of a Hatch green chile, let alone tasted or cooked with one. I would have thought a green chile was a green chile… and I would have been very, very wrong. In that part of the country, green chiles are ubiquitous. Everywhere you go, you have the option of adding it to your burger, breakfast taco, or pizza. My husband told me these lovely stories of walking home from school during Hatch season, the smell of roasting chiles in the air. It is a very distinctive smell, and now that I have been indoctrinated, I will confess that I love having my car filled with it. But, I’m jumping ahead.

There is a very finite Hatch season, so get ‘em while you can. Incidentally, Hatch is a place, not a type of chile. The chiles themselves are Anaheims, but there’s some kind of mystic voodoo in the soil or the air that makes Hatch chiles special. A whole culture has risen around them. One year, I bought mine from a guy who ran a sandwich shop/liquor store/produce market. I’m not making this stuff up. As he roasted my chiles, we chit-chatted about recipes and stuff. He had been to Hatch, been a camp cook with a Hatch-centric menu, the whole thing. The next year, I went to Market Street. I love Market Street, and the chiles were great, but that guy had no interest (or ability) in bonding with me over chiles.

Here’s how it works. You find a place selling Hatch chiles, and you go get a batch of fresh ones. They are available in mild, medium, or hot, but they are all green. Even If you get mild, you might get an occasional rogue pepper. Funny stuff. Anyway, you pay for your chiles, then take them to the dude by the roaster.

He will dump all your chiles in the hopper, then fire it up and keep it turning and turning. Very soon, the smell of the roasting chiles will fan your way, and you will hear the popping and cracking of the chiles blistering. When they’re done, he will open the hopper’s “hatch” (yes, I did!), and empty them all back into your box. Personally, I buy a whole box, but you can buy less. As I drive them home, the smell fills my car. You can’t get THAT from a cardboard pine tree.

At home, I let them cool a little before I start bagging them. They are still hot, so giving them some time to cool down preserves my fingerprints. I do it the way my in-laws taught me in my newlywed years—put two or three peppers in a snack-size bag, seal it up, and repeat. Once I have them all bagged up (except for what I am going to use in the next few days), I let them finish cooling in the fridge before moving them to the freezer. (If you go to my Freezer Cooking, Part One [May 2012] post, you can see them off to the right in that metal basket thing.)

I try not to put anything in the freezer while it’s still steaming hot. I’m sure my brother, Professor Dragonbreath, could verify or debunk this, but my Spidey Sense tells me I’ll get nasty, texture-destroying ice crystals if I don’t bring the temperature down first. (I am calling him Professor Dragonbreath because he is a major chile-head foodie and likes really, really, really hot food.)

You can keep your Hatch chiles in your freezer for up to a year. So, if you plan it right, you never have to go without. When you’re ready to use them, just thaw them, then peel all the roasted skin off, stem it, and seed it. You can leave the seeds in if you want a little more heat. The season just passed here, so I have a new batch in my freezer right now. If you want to try them, now you know what to do when they’re back next August.

A note on Hatch lore. My in-laws swear that if you freeze, thaw, and then refreeze chiles, they will make you really sick. I don’t know why that would be, and I can’t find anything about it online, but I am sticking by conventional wisdom on this one. To the point that once, when my freezer lost power for long enough to thaw everything in it, I went ahead and tossed out all my chiles. It made me sad, but I wasn’t about to fly in the face of The Warning.

I get asked a lot how I use the chiles. Hatch Green Chile 101 is chopping one up to go on your cheeseburger. You can also use them to make verde sauce or chunky salsa, or put them in breakfast tacos, cornbread, or fajitas. Really, if you like Mexican food or Tex-Mex, opportunities will reveal themselves. I also like to cook Indian food, so I use them in those recipes. If you guys are interested, I’ll poke around my recipes and find some for you.

On the subject of recipes, get a load of this. Last year, I got the idea to use Hatch chiles in aioli (like homemade mayo, but better). I took a basic garlic aioli recipe and tweaked it. The result rocked like a KISS concert. I dubbed it Awesome Sauce, and we started using it as a spread on burgers, sandwiches, and paninis; we spooned it on scrambled eggs; we used it as a dip; we spooned it on anything—meat or veggie—that came off the grill; and Professor Dragonbreath even marinated with it.

When this year’s Central Market Hatch Recipe Contest launched, I thought, “Why not?” It was good enough to make me a finalist. (As an aside, Professor Dragonbreath was picked as a judge at another store. Look at us go!) I had a bit of a dilemma in presenting a sauce in a contest like that. The judges go around and taste everyone’s dish, and I didn’t want to peel the top off my plastic container, hand them each a plastic spoon, and say, “Dig in.” I decided to offer the sauce in four different uses—beef taco al carbon, turkey Panini, breakfast taco with bacon, and with crudite.

On the day of the contest, I made everything fresh (except the sauce, which is a little better after a night in the fridge) and headed off. There were 12 finalists, and such a range of dishes I wondered how the judges would compare, well, margaritas to corn cake to pork tenderloin. We each had a section of table to get set up. I was #2. If I knew then what I know now, I would have done a nicer presentation.

Oh, well. The lady next to me had done this—and won—twice before, so her table looked great. The judges don’t care about that, but it’s fun. By the way, she looked just like Rachael Ray. Here are some of the finalists:

There were three judges—Southlake Central Market’s bakery manager (I think), Southlake Central Market’s Executive Chef, and Johnny Carino. Not a guy from Carino’s. Johnny Carino. That’s pretty cool. Here they are (Carino is the bald guy):

I’ll cut to the not-so-exciting end. I didn’t place. That’s okay, though, because it was a lark and it was a cool thing to be part of. Here’s a picture of all the goodies in my goodie bag. Not bad! I am already thinking about a recipe for next year. It’s in the Vault.

If you’re interested, here’s the recipe for Awesome Sauce. If I’ve given you the recipe before, this one is a little different. Further R&D brought a few changes.

Awesome Sauce

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 egg yolk

1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice (about ½ lime)

1 Tablespoon cilantro

1-2 roasted hatch green chilies, peeled, stemmed, seeded, and chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 turns fresh black pepper

½ to ¾ cups olive oil

Chuck everything but the olive oil in a blender. “puree” or “liquefy” until just combined. Slowly pout the olive oil in the “hatch” (see what I did there?) on top of your blender lid. If you want it to be thick and spreadable, stop at ½ cup. If you want it a little looser (to drizzle), use ¾ cup. Let everything blend until it is all completely incorporated. There should be no standing oil at the top.

You’re done.

Uses: spread it on a sandwich, burger, or Panini. Spoon it over roasted or grilled meats or veggies. Use as a dip for crudite. Spoon on eggs or in a breakfast taco.

Freezer Cooking, Part One

Every time I do a big cook-a-thon freeze-a-thon, I get asked how I go about it. I have done this many times over the years, and I am going to try something different next time around. But I do want to share what I have learned so it may help you, especially as you head into the summer. It’s nice–really, any time of the year when you think about it–to have meals ready to go for days you either didn’t plan dinner or just don’t feel like it. There actually are some great reasons to do it, whether you like to cook or not. For instance:

  • Convenience of having breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and/or desserts and snacks already put together and ready to go
  • Saving money by stocking up when stuff is on sale prior to your cookapalooza (You also save money by not wasting because you aren’t buying a whole onion because you need half an onion for one recipe. Instead, you’re buying a bag of onions because you need a bag of onions!)
  • Having dinners you know your family likes ready so your menu planning takes two minutes. Just add salad.
  • Being able to help someone else out with zero preparation. The neighbor had a baby? No problem! You have fifteen meals to choose from when you offer to take dinner one night!
  • Optional: Eating healthier by choosing recipes that are, well, healthier. And if it comes down to eating fast food or one of your frozen meals, let’s face it–It’s going to be healthier.
  • Optional: Variety of adding some new players to the mix. Here’s what I mean. Let’s say your family doesn’t really eat a lot of soup, or make a lot of smoothies. You are neither used to nor inclined to go to all that trouble for something outside the norm. But, if you are making ten smoothie kits at once, or a big batch of lentil soup that will go with four meals, you are more inclined to “mix it up.”

I actually have a Pinterest board just for recipes and strategies for this. Not only can you stockpile your freezer, but you can stockpile your pantry with premade baking mixes and sauce mixes. I haven’t done that yet, but I’ll let you know if I do!

There are websites and books that spell all of it out for you, but you have to commit to their menus. If you look up “freezer cooking” or “once-a-month cooking,” you’ll find plenty of resources. So, if you don’t want to think about anything and are lucky enough to have a family who is not picky, that’s a great place to start. You’ll get the menus, the shopping list, and the step-by-step. I was given a book like that when I got married, and that’s how I tried it out.

Jennifer’s Basic DIY Freezer Meal Strategy (details in post)

  1. Choose recipes
  2. Make Master Shopping List, including any tweaks or swaps
  3. Clean out fridge!
  4. Shop for all your supplies and remind yourself that all the money you just spent is actually a great deal
  5. Mass prep food for assembly
  6. Keep appliances busy until all recipes are done; as you do, divide, store, label, and freeze
  7. As you enjoy your meals, keep track of which ones are hits and which ones are misses

Now, I like to pick my own recipes and make my own plan. Having some experience with freezing food, I have a handle on what freezes well and what doesn’t. So, if you’re new, search some sites (like this one) for the scoop. I start out by going through my recipes and pulling the ones I want to consider. I am considering starting to use those Post-It flags to mark recipes that freeze well; that would move this step along faster. Then I pull the ones I know I want to make. The ones I am dying to try, or that the family loves, or that a friend swore was great. Then I eliminate ones that have ingredients that I will have to overbuy for. So, if I have one recipe that needs one tablespoon of sour cream, it’s out. I don’t have the fridge space to store extras we don’t normally keep on hand, so I save that recipe for another time.

Next, I look to see which recipes are going to work best together, as far as prepping large amounts of the same thing. I always have several that call for ground beef or cubed chicken because those are easy to cook in large batches. At this point, I start to see about how many meals I am willing to crank out. This makes it easier to decide if any other recipes get the axe.

Once I have all of my recipes, I start the Master Shopping List. I just go through each recipe, checking what I already have, and adding to the list. What will happen is you’ll have quantities marked out and updated several times. When you’re done, you know you need, let’s say, five pounds of ground beef, six pounds of chicken breasts, two packages of sausage, four boxes of pasta, eight onions, and so on. As you make your list, keep in mind that you can tweak your recipes, but you need to do it now. For example, if you want to grate your own cheese, put block cheese on your list instead of grated. Mark on the recipe if you’re going to change the quantity of anything or make a swap. I almost always do half the onions and twice the garlic. But that’s just me.

Don’t forget to buy your bags and pans to store all your meals. Whenever possible, use gallon bags. They freeze flat and store easier, plus they are cheaper. But for other recipes, like baked pastas and casseroles, pick up those foil pans that can go from freezer to fridge to oven. I also have some round containers from a restaurant supply store I use for soups and sauces. But those can easily go in bags.

Take your handy list and check your coupons, if you use them. If you are patient, take this list with you on your regular shopping trip the next few weeks, on the hunt for sales and bargains for your cookapalooza. If you’re not patient, get after it. Go to your grocery store and/or warehouse store, and load up. Here’s my last list:

NEWS FLASH! NEWS FLASH! Before you go do your shopping, you must–I repeat, MUST–thoroughly and completely clean out your refrigerator. Do not try to jam it all in while everything melts on your counter. Besides, you can’t stay organized with all that stuff in there that needs to go, anyway!

Once you get home, put everything away as neatly as you can. My advice is to keep all nonperishables on your counter or kitchen sink rather than messing with trying to get it in the pantry just to take it all back out. Plus, if you too suffer from parenting-onset ADHD, it helps to have some “visual cues” to keep the big picture in mind.

Now, have your husband pick up Taco Bell, and get a good night’s sleep.

Once you begin cooking, remind yourself that you do not have to do this all in one day. Absolutely not. As long as you complete at least one recipe on the first day (so you can serve one of those servings for dinner that night and freeze the others), you’re fine. There is no need to freak out, man.

Here’s your strategy once you’re in the belly of the beast. Start prepping in mass quantities like they do in restaurants. All of the ground meat that is supposed to be browned, brown it. All of the onions that are supposed to be chopped, chop them. And so on. Here’s a picture of this goin’ down in my kitchen:

That’s on the stove. Here’s the counter:

I would process a bunch of onions, put them in that bowl, do more onions, and so on. When I was done, I had a huge bowl of chopped onions ready to use in any recipe. Same for garlic:

You will notice the crock pot in the background on that onion picture. It’s actually not mine. I borrowed a second one because you should pretty much always have at least one thing going in your crock pot while you’re cooking and assembling other stuff.

Once you have most or all of the processing done, your fridge will look something like this:

Now, you’re ready to start making actual meals. As I said, keep at least one crock pot going at all times. Then just go through your recipes and see what you can have in the oven at any given time, and what can be on your stove at any given time.

As you complete recipes, divide them into separate meals for freezing. Let food cool a bit before you store it and freeze it. You don’t want a lot of steam in your bags because it creates air space and ultimately freezes into unwelcome crystals. Boo. When you put food in their freezing containers, minimize air. If it’s in a bag, push out as much excess air as you can. If it’s in a pan, put a layer of plastic wrap or foil right on the surface of possible, and then put the lid on. A word about labeling. I haven’t come up with a great system. Masking tape peels off. Permanent marker gets streaky when you thaw. If I double bag something, I put a piece of paper between the bags with name of the meal and the instruction. If you have foil on a pan with a lid, you can write the name on the lid, and the instructions on the foil. You can kind of see that here:

Now, all that’s left is putting it in the freezer! Your hard work will yield something like this! It’s okay to walk out to your freezer from time, gaze lovingly on your bounty, and smile.

One last thing. Keep your copies of all new recipes separate so that when you try them, you can make notes or throw them out if they’re grody to the max. As an aside, I’ll tell you that for the past several years, I have everyone in the family rate new recipes. I try a LOT of new recipes, so I don’t want to keep anything that’s just so-so. I have everyone give a 1 to 10 rating, and write those at the top of the recipe. If some of us love it, it stays, even if others don’t. I do the same thing in my cookbooks. It’s enormously helpful.

I hope this helps put some structure around the idea of freezer cooking. It seems like a lot to take on, but I’ll be honest… it is. But having lots of meals on hand is so worth it! Last time, I ended up with 30 or 40 dinners in the freezer. We’re still eating them!

In a future post, I’ll share Part Two, which will explain my NEW approach to freezer cooking. And sometime after that, I’ll write about how to organize a meal swap group with other moms who want to stock their freezers, too.

Now, where is that Buffalo Chicken Garbage Bread…

Today’s Post Is Brought to You by the Letter “M”

As in molcajete… and molinillo. If you’re like me, you pretty much have a kitchen wish list at any given moment. On my list for years has been a molcajete, and for months, a small collection of molinillos. I get emails from a site called Mex Grocer, and an irresistible sale collided with the right items in stock, so I pulled the trigger. Fed Ex finally arrived yesterday with my heavy box that I gleefully ripped open, setting aside the big bubble wrap for a summer idea (I’ll post about our summer bucket list soon). Smiling and tippy-toe dancing, I unwrapped my treasures. They do not disappoint. My kitchen already feels more like my natural habitat.

Most of you are thinking, “Great story, Jen. What the pickle is a molcajete?!?” Glad you asked! It’s one of those Mexican mortar and pestles made of volcanic rock. You have probably seen them at good Mexican restaurants where they make your guac tableside. The bad versions are the little plastic ones you sometimes get salsa in. I wanted one that was big enough to make salsa, guac, and other Mexican sauces, and I really wanted one that looked like a pig or a donkey. Score! Here she is:

Here’s the rub, as it were. Unless you are lucky enough to be born with a Mexican grandmother whose well-seasoned molcajete has been passed down to you (like those well-maintained, well-seasoned iron skillets that rock), you have to season your molcajete. You can’t just start throwing in avocados, onion, garlic, peppers, and stuff, and go to town. Unless you enjoy the texture and flavor of stone grit being sloughed into your food. Which I don’t.

There’s a lengthy process for seasoning these things that requires soaking it, grinding rice multiple times, grinding spices, and finally getting to the point where you can enjoy your molcajete with abandon. Here’s a great post in one of my favorite blogs, The Homesick Texan, about how to season a moljacete. And like that skillet, the more you use it, and the more it absorbs the ghosts of the sauces you make in it, the better it will make your food taste. Now, admit it… you kinda want one, don’t you?

I’m a realist, so this is my first–but not my only–molcajete. I remember watching an old episode of Rick Bayless’ show, and his kitchen had multiple molcajetes. (Ooh! A tongue-twister! Try that after sucking on a serrano!) That’s when I knew. They will be mine. Oh, yes. They will be mine.

Now, what about those molinillos? They are carved wooden stirring sticks used for Mexican hot chocolate to mix it and froth it. If you have not had Mexican hot chocolate, do us both a favor, and hie thee hence! Get some, and soon. It will only strengthen our relationship. It is readily available at any grocery store among the Mexican yummies. Abuelito is the brand you are most likely to find, and it’ll do you just right. There are some great recipes like the complicated chili I wrote about in a previous post, where you need Mexican hot chocolate. It comes in chunky chocolate disks, so you either use the whole thing, or chop off what you need with a knife, or use your microplane or grater to get what you need.

But I digress. A little. So, the molinillo is used to froth it up and make it even more impossible to put down. I can’t wait to try, but they are so darn pretty, I don’t know if I can bring myself to use one! Here are the two I got:

See what I mean? The goal is to have a whole little bouquet of these, displayed in some kind of really cool cup or pottery. But right now, I only have two. And get a load of this: They are very inexpensive! I think I paid $6 or $7 each! I’ll gradually get more, and then I will use one. I have between now and when it gets cold to hoard more.

One more thing about this buy I have to show you. I’m such a sucker for a personal touch in something as impersonal as an Internet sale. Here’s the packing slip that came with my goodies. Besides the note, I stuck the blue sticker from the molcajete on it. I kept the little sticker because it makes me happy, and I wanted to share that with you. Just read it–you’ll understand.

And since I’m on a shopping confession spree here, I’ll add one to the mix. I had avoided–subconsciously on purpose, I’m convinced–Anthropologie (I intentionally made this link take you directly to the kitchen section. You’re welcome. If you need a Wish List from me, all you gotta do is ask.). Its site, its stores, all of it. That’s all over. I love that store, and I haven’t even perused the left side, where all the home furnishings are! Check out this stuff I got for my kitchen. It is so me, and every time I add something to my kitchen that I love, it feels more and more “right.” About the picture. On the left? Yeah, those are nesting measuring cups. Did you ever? The big tea cup is now my salt container next to the range. Do you keep chunky kosher salt next to your cooktop? I do, and having it in something I love actually makes it more fun to salt things. And then look at that salt and pepper shaker set, and the spoon rest. Come on!

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Adios!