July 26, 2010

Randomly Random Life

I do random posts so much that I think my life is just a whole bunch of random. I guess that's how it is when you have kids.

First things first. This is the first tomato from our plants! I plucked it off the vine yesterday and ate that baby with nothing but salt. Oh. My. Goodness. That was a tasty tomato. This will mean more if you understand that I'm not a tomato lover. But lately I have been craving them. I had a BLT the other night for dinner and it was delicious. Just... Don't tell my grandmother. Anyways, we have 4 more tomatoes on the plants and I am looking forward to them.

We have a new addition to our family! Wednesday while at my mom-in-love's she told me that her sis-in-law's resident cat had popped out a litter of kittens, and that one of them was grey, just like my husband's former cat. Ben has told me repeatedly that we could only get a cat if it was grey. So when I heard this I sent him a text asking if I could bring him home. So that evening I traveled home with a small grey cat. We are trying on the name Stan, but really we just call him "Kitteh". The boys think he's hilarious, and he has really warmed up. He's still a little scared of noises and sudden movements, but at least he comes out of hiding to explore now. And he loves to be pet.

He's a dork.

We were SUPER busy this weekend. These are my jars of premade mixes. The boys usually ask for waffles or pancakes or muffins for breakfast, so I decided to just make my own mixes to quickly pull out of the pantry. Just add water! Well, and eggs and oil. ;) I just mixed the dry ingredients together, and then added the amount of dry milk I would need to substitute for "real" milk. Now all I have to do is add water and the other wet ingredients, plus any special "extras" I want. I use a pancake one this morning and it was awesome. So much less work and mess first thing in the morning.

I also made two loaves of whole wheat bread, and a batch of jalapeno jelly to use up the rest of the peppers mom-in-love gave me. And then, we did this.

Last weekend Ben bought lumber to build the shed, and got that floor down. And royally messed up his back doing it. A week of not doing anything and just resting and he was back to doing it again. Despite my hovering and "tsk"ing. The man just can't sit still. He has to work. So I made sure it was BOTH of us working on it, and tried to keep him from doing all the lifting by himself. Because we were both doing it, we slapped that puppy together real fast. All we have to do now is the roof and door. I'm so excited. Now we will have a place for all of our extra stuff that has been living in the garage and bedroom closet. It will be great. It's also the beginning to landscaping the backyard, which I am even more excited about.

I have been baking a lot lately. I must be stressed. It's especially odd if you consider that it's been triple digits here lately, or close to it, and all we have is a swamp cooler. This kitchen gets HOT. But I continue to bake, so I decided to create this "cheat sheet" of baked goods that I make most often. It's just the ingredients list, since I know how to put them all together. I have most of the recipes engraved in  my head, but every now and then I mix them up, or forget the measurement for just one ingredient. So now I can look at my list and double check. I might go back and add the oven temps and times too, since I get those mixed up sometimes as well.

And of course, I can't leave you without doing a knitting update. After my adorable child murderously ripped apart my shawl, I spent 5 hours ticking back 3 rows and then redoing them. I had tried to just drop down each stitch and fix with a crochet hook. But lace is very hard to fix that way, and since I was on the verge of tears and/or smashing a wall (I couldn't decide) I figured it was better to just take the easier, albeit longer, way. If it had been one row it would have been easy to do, but not 3 rows worth. I got it all fixed and redone and then I put it down. I haven't hardly touched it over the past few days. I have been working on a sock. And nice, boring, stockinette sock. I think I lost my lace mojo after the "incident".

July 23, 2010

How And Why: Check Register

Note: I am NOT professionally trained, nor a professional financial expert in any way. Just a semi-ex bookkeeper who is now taking care of the family finances, and who wants to share how she does things with anyone who's interested. 

It's been awhile since I've done a financial related post. Today I thought I would go over a check register (or ledger), how to keep one, and why you should. This is probably because check registers have been on my brain since I am debating changing from Quicken to just good ol' Excel. But more on that later.

Check Register 101
Before I get into the how and why, let's look at what a check register is. Dictionary.com defines a register as
"a book in which records of acts, events, names, etc., are kept."

A check register, therefore, is just a book were said records are of checks, or financial transactions. I know now-a-days most people don't use actual checks much, but any transaction from your checking/savings/whatever account, be it with debit card, ATM withdrawal, online transfer, etc, can qualify as a "check" and needs to be recorded.

The How
Keeping a check register is actually pretty easy. It might be a little confusing at first for someone who has never done it, but once you do a few entries you'll have it down.

A check register consists of a number of different columns - from basic registers with just a handful of columns, to very expanded ones consisting of many, many more. Each column has a title and describes what will be going in those columns. A very basic check register will look something like this:

You can see there is a column each for the date, the check number, the payee, the payment amount (if applicable), the deposit amount (if applicable) and the balance once the transaction is done. In this example you see that on August first there was a check, numbered 1055, made out to Bob's Grocery for $50.00, and that after that check was written there is $50.00 left in the bank account.

Each transaction will go along the same lines, putting the payment or deposit in the appropriate column, and totaling the new balance as needed. To do this you would add or subtract the amount (payment or deposit) from the balance on the previous line. (In the example you see $50.00 has been subtracted from the $100.00 "starting" balance.)

More advanced versions might have columns for a "Memo", where you can put a description of what you bought ("diapers & milk"), and/or columns for a category so you can keep track of your spending for things like "groceries" or "rent". Extra columns like that come in handy if you're trying to stay within a budget.

That's it! Mostly. Just fill it out to keep a running total of what you have left to spend. If you are not using a check then you can replace the check number with maybe a transaction number from your receipt, or most of the time I just put "debit" or "online", just so I know how it was payed. The "starting balance" at the top is what you are starting with when you begin a new register. It will either be the ending balance from your last bank statement, if you're starting from scratch (be sure to add in any transactions you've done since the statement ending date), or the ending balance of your previous register, if you're just starting a new one.  And now, the why!

The Why
A lot of people don't keep check registers. A lot of people say things like "Oh, I keep a running total in my head" or "Well, I just check my balance with my online bank access". And that's all well and good. Until you forget. Or until it's been 3 months later and your electricity company calls you, screaming that you never payed that bill for $46.83, and you don't have any backup of when you payed it and how.

There will be a day that you forget something. If you're one to check your balance online, it can take a few days for the transaction to come out, so you might think you have more money than you really do and overspend. If you're a "total in my head" person, what happens if you have a crazy busy day and something slips? Best case scenario, you're just a few bucks shorter than you thought. Worst case scenario, you've overdrawn your account and now you have overdraft fees, bounced checks, and they're declining to take your debit card for that loaf of bread and eggs you really need right now. It happens, even to elephants.

So, to avoid all that, just keep a check register! It doesn't take much time. You could save all your receipts for the week and update it once a week, or update it at the end of the day. Whatever works best for you. Just do it! It will also give you the opportunity to do a bank reconciliation. But that's another show post!

The Versions and Where to Get One
Ok, I've got you convinced. Now you really want to keep a register of your own. But where to get one? How? You've got a LOT of options. Honestly, you could get started with just a piece of paper, a pencil, and a calculator. Just make a grid with columns and a couple of rows, like the example above, and fill it out! If that's a little prehistoric for you, try these options:
  •  If you get checks from your bank, or another company, most of the time they come with a little checkbook sized register. Use that! Free with the purchase of checks!
  • Most office supply stores carry various sizes of register/ledger books. They'll be anywhere from about $8-$20 depending on the size and complexity. You might even be able to find one in the stationary section of your grocery or drug store.
  • Have Excel, or another spreadsheet program? Make your own register, just like above. You can even use Google Docs (just like above). And if you're really tricksty, you can make the Balance column do the math for you with a formula! If you've already got the program, or want to use Google Docs, then it's free!
  • There are various online sites that offer check registers. The newest kid on the block, that is all the rage, is Mint.com. Some are free (like Mint) some are not. If that's the way you want to go, cool! Personally, I get a little weirded out with the idea of putting all my financial data onto a website. (It could be argued that it's all there via my online bank access, but still. It just wigs me a little bit.)
  • Software, software and more software! There are numerous pieces of software that will do all the tracking for you (well, once you input it of course). Quicken is one, which I use, but there are many others. They are a little pricey (about $40 and up), but they can track multiple accounts, assets, liabilities, generate reports, sing and dance. It depends on what you want to pay for.
I have been using Quicken since I started a checking account (around 16) and while I like it, I'm not quite "feeling it" anymore.  I think it is just a little too much for what we need now. For one, it runs everything by date - which is how accounting works! - but sometimes I will buy groceries at the very end of the month and they count for the next. So when I run a report to see where I'm at, the totals are off. I have been running all our budget tallies through Excel anyway, so I might as well just move everything over rather than have 20 different programs to track the same thing. But I digress.

If you'd like to go the spreadsheet route, but aren't sure how to get started, I am in the process of creating a few different versions, with and without spending category columns, and will let y'all know when they're done so you can get a shiny copy of your own! 

July 21, 2010

Wednesday Morning Garden Update

I walked out into the backyard yesterday evening and saw, out of the corner of my eye, a light orange spot speaking through on the tomato bush. Upon further inspection I found this:

Our first colored tomato! I was so excited. I was beginning to think they would just stay green forever. (Which wouldn't be horrible, as fried green tomatoes are delicious.)

Our jalapenos are starting to blossom, which means we might actually get peppers out of them.
I was also afraid we weren't going to get any peppers. I think we just started too late in the season. We didn't really get things planted until May. Next year I am hoping to get an early start in an actual garden, not just hanging pots. I guess I better get crackin' on breakin out that cement slab.

My basil is growing quite nicely. This is my biggest one, and I have about 6 other small sprouts. They heat has been good for them.

The Plumaria (sp?) we got from my grandparent's house has been going CRAZY! It took a long time for them to root, but all of a sudden it had a ton of leaves on it. And it has been getting bigger ever since.
I'm worried about my green beans. I think their growth has stopped. I've planted a few more, but they all seem to get to about 8 inches high and then stop. I'm not sure if it's been to hot, as they are in direct sun for most of the day. Or if it's the dirt, or what. Awhile back I found one small, solitary green bean on one of the plants. I thought that was the start of a giant wave of green beans, but alas. I haven't seen anymore. The last time I tried to plant green beans they climbed like crazy, and these ones aren't.

Here is my littlest one who was trying to help me take pictures. He's completely adorable. Which is probably what saved his life after he did this:

July 20, 2010

What's Cookin': Mexican Lasagna

The only thing I miss about cable is Food Network. In fact, when Ben shares food that I have made with people at work, and they exclaim how good it is he tells them "Yeah, Food Network is her bible". Heh! Luckily I can get Good Eats via YouTube (just do a search for it), which is excellent since it is my most favoritist show ever. I love it. You might even say I lurve it. (That was for Willy.) I watch it in my (rare) down time, usually while knitting.

The other day I had seen one about using up leftover tortillas and saw Alton (the host) make Enchilada Lasagna. I've made variations on that theme before, but decided to make it again the other night by adapting bits of his recipe to use up leftover mexican rice and refried beans. The only part of his recipe I really used was the enchilada sauce, and even then I modified it to fit what I had. But that's what cooking is about, right?

Mexican Lasagna - makes 10-12 servings
2 C tomato sauce (plain)
1 C chicken broth/stock
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Sprinkling of paprika and cayenne pepper, to taste (this is to replace the chipotle in the original recipe, since I didn't have any. Ok it's not a great substitute, but it worked.)
Leftover refried beans - about 1.5 Cups (doctored with bacon, onions and spices. Yummy!)
Leftover Mexican Rice - about 3 Cups

12 corn tortillas
2-3 C shredded cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Queso Fresco (Or a mix of all three, like I did)

In a medium pot mix together sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Once sauce is ready, pour a small amount into the bottom of a greased 9x13 baking dish. Dip 4 tortillas into sauce and then layer into the bottom of the dish, cutting one in half to fit. Spread half of the beans over tortillas, then follow with half of the rice and a third of the cheese. Repeat that step, then top with remaining tortillas, pour remaining sauce over the whole thing and top with the remainder of the cheese(s).

Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes until cheese is bubbly.

Notes & Variations: Had I had leftover chicken, I would have shredded it up and put it in there - either in addition to or instead of the beans. I don't have a rating for you since Ben wasn't home for one, and he's not really into enchiladas or lasagna for two. So I haven't asked him to try it. That means I got a ton of leftovers out of it so they'll go into the freezer for easy lunches! :)

July 19, 2010

What's Cookin': Squash Parmesan

Two cooking posts in one day?? I was having a "meh" day today, and I usually remedy "meh" days with cooking and/or baking. Most of the time without even realizing it until my kitchen is covered in flour and food.

Have you heard of Chicken Parmesan? Sure you have. Any commercial for Olive Garden usually has a plate of it. What about Eggplant Parmesan? It's similar, but made with eggplant. Well, it's summer and that means squash. I got a gallon bag full of squash from my mom-in-love last week and I wanted to do something different with it than the normal steamed/roasted/make-into-zucchini-cake (even though I love zucchini cake). So, I decided to play around and make a version of the above mentioned dishes.

Dudes. It turned out awesome. I was very happily surprised (so was Ben). Great way to use up squash! It is a bit labor intensive though. I would highly suggest trying it, at least once. Just try it with one squash first, if you want. I took a picture but it didn't come out well at all. So just imagine delicious, juicy squash slices fried to a golden brown then slathered in a rich and tangy tomato sauce topped with Parmesan.

Squash Parmesan
2 large squash, sliced in 1/4" slices (Or however many squash you want to use - I used a zucchini and a yellow squash)
1/2 cup flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika
2 eggs, beaten
3-4 C bread crumbs*
Oil for frying
1 1/2(ish) C spaghetti sauce
1 C Parmesan (fresh if you have it, I used green can)

Create 3 separate dunking dishes - one flour, one eggs, one bread crumbs. Fill a large skillet with about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil and heat over medium heat until shimmery. Dip each slice first into the flour and shake off the excess, then into the eggs and shake off the excess, then pat into the bread crumbs. Place in the hot oil and cook until golden brown, about 1 minute each side. We're not looking to cook them too much, since they'll be going in the oven. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Make two layers of fried squash in a 9x13 baking dish that has been greased. Spread spaghetti sauce over the whole thing, then sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake 20-30 minutes at 375 degrees until warmed through and/or squash is tender. (I was going for bubbly, but it didn't happen.)

Notes: Next time I think I will try oven "frying" the squash, so I don't have to fiddle with the oil. Also, if I had mozzarella I would add that in addition to the Parmesan. Or, you could forget the whole sauce part all together and eat these babies alone, perhaps with some ranch dip.

Ben Rating: 4, as long as I "don't make it too often" and over-squash him like I did last year. Poor guy ate his weight in spaghetti squash last summer.

*I used Panko breadcrumbs, that I bought on a whim, heavily seasoned with lemon pepper, salt, garlic powder, and paprika. You could use regular bread crumbs that you season, bought-that-way seasoned bread crumbs, or homemade breadcrumbs.

What's Cookin': Tea Time Cookies

My kids rarely ever sleep during "nap time". I'm lucky if they're even quiet, actually. And because of the lack of sleep, they tend to go downhill in the afternoon. So I usually try to make sure I have some kind of snack on hand to throw in their direction. For one, to keep them busy, and two to keep their blood sugar up so that I don't want to sell them to the circus by the time daddy gets home. I call this afternoon snack "tea time" because it makes my old soul happy.

I found this recipe on the back of the sugar bag, with the name "Old-Time Soft Sugar Cookies". I thought that was a mouthful so I'm just going to call them Tea Time Cookies. They are a really easy cookie to make, with few ingredients, and turned out delightfully tasty. They are like a simplified version of a Snicker Doodle.

Tea Time Cookies - makes about 5 dozen using a 1 tsp measure
1/2 C shortening
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 C buttermilk (or, 1 Tbs lemon juice or vinegar with 3/4 cup milk poured over and allowed to sit for 5 minutes)
1 tsp vanilla
2 C AP flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Cream together shortening and both sugars. Mix in egg, then the buttermilk and vanilla. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl; stir into creamed mixture. Chill dough for one hour. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto lightly greased cookie sheet, about 2" apart. Bake in 400 degree oven 7-9 minutes or until set.

Serve with tea and knitting. ;)

Notes & Variations: This dough looked more like a batter to me. Don't be alarmed if it comes out more like frosting than normal thick cookie dough. The cookies turn out fine. I'm thinking these would be delicious with a little bit of jam sandwiched between two cookies... Strawberry perhaps?

July 18, 2010

FK: Baby Sweater - Done And Done!

The little sweater is done blocking, and I finished sewing on the buttons about 5 minutes ago. It's ready for Ben to take to work tomorrow to give to the little one's daddy.

I heavily modified the pattern this time. Instead of working the lace edging I decided to use the picot bind off for all of the edges. I mainly did that for time purposes. I was trying to get it done quickly, at it had already taken me longer than I was hoping. I am afraid it might be a wee bit too short though. The lace edging gives about 2-3 more inches on the end and I didn't account for that when binding off. I should have added more stockinette. But Ben said she was small, so hopefully it won't be a problem.

Pattern: Baby Jacket adapted from Lace Edge Cardigan from Natural Knits for Babies & Moms by Louisa Harding

Yarn: Ella Rae Baby Cotton in "Peony" - 1 ball and a little more

Needles: Body - US 5/3.75mm & 6/4mm Brittany wood straights
Sleeves - US 6/4mm Susan Bates aluminum double points

YTD Mileage: This sweater weighs in at 2.1 oz which gives about 131 yards. Making my new YTD mileage 2.93 miles! Goodness. It's already July and that's all I've got. Guess I better knit faster.

July 16, 2010

How To: Wet Block a Knitted Object

I've finished knitting the baby jacket and it is drying on the blocking board. And now, a photo tutorial of how to wet block a knitted item!

Fill a sink or tub or something with lukewarm water. If you'd like, you can add a wool wash or a little bit of dish soap. Let sit for a bit (5-10 minutes should be good, depending on size).

Place the knitted object in the water and gently squeeze the air bubbles out of it. If you are working with a cotton then you don't have to worry about being as gentle, but don't go crazy. If you're working with wool, being careful is key as you can felt it with agitation. If you're working with acrylic... Don't bother blocking. It won't.

Gently lift the item out of the water, being careful not to let it stretch. I've heard of some ingenious people using colanders to do this. Refill the sink and repeat the process above, but without the soap. This is the rinsing step. Some wool washes don't need to be rinsed, so work according to the directions on the package if you're using a wash.

Once the garment is rinsed gently lift it again and squeeze out as much water as you can. Don't wring it! Just squeeze. Then, lay it on a towel and roll it up.

Now the idea is to get as much water out of the item in the towel burrito as possible. I generally use my hands, but some people stand on it. Do what you like.

Lay the piece on a block board, bed, towel, carpet, piece of cardboard.. Whatever you can find really. I use foam floor/exercise mats that I found at Lowe's for 18 bucks/4 pack. They're pretty much the same thing as the fancy blocking boards, only half the price!

(Since I knit this sweater as one piece with picked-up-and-knitted-sleeves, I didn't have individual flat pieces to block. So what I did was open it up and pinned down the back side first, then folded the fronts over and pinned them, as you can see in these two photos.)

Using RUST FREE (this is important) pins, pin the item to your surface of choice according to measurements of your pattern (if you have any) or til it looks about right to you. Stockinette does not need be to pulled too severely. Lace benefits from getting stretched like it was on the rack. Let your eyes be your guide. You can usually tell when it's good.

Let dry under a fan, out in the sun, or just alone. Release from its pin torture and present to the intended recipient!

A few notes:
  • You can see all my ends sticking out. I usually wait until after blocking to weave in the ends, that way the fabric is already stretched and I don't have to worry about them coming loose during blocking. 
  • Blocking will not fix severe issues, like being 4 inches too short. Believe me. Using the phrase "oh, it will block out" is an indication that you need to go back and fix it.... Just trust me on this.
  • If you are knitting an item that is to be seamed, block the pieces individually to measurement before you seam it up. This will help everything to line up better and then you can see before hand if you have any serious size discrepancies.
Blocking really does bring out the best in knitting. There have been quite a few items that I think look like crap until they have been blocked. It opens up the fibers and fills out the stitches, as well as aligns and stretches everything to give it a nice, crisp, finished look. My favorite thing to see before and after blocking is lace. Talk about a transformation.

Finished pictures of the jacket coming once, well... It's finished!

July 13, 2010

Random on a Tuesday (Warning: Long Winded!)

Looky! It's a random Tuesday! I'm procrastinating. I have things to do, but wanted to share pictures and stories.

Our 'maters are getting big. We've got about 5 or 6 now. I don't think we're going to get a ton though, so I guess I'll have to find my chili ingredients elsewhere.

I planted Basil a week ago and it came up within 5 days. It's supposed to take at least 8. Hot weather makes basil happy. This in turn makes me happy, since I LOVE basil and am so excited to make pesto from my own garden. I want to get a ton of different herbs and scatter them around. Cooking from my garden has seriously big appeal.

This is one of our flowers that came from a bulb that came from the 99 Cent Store (in a hole at the bottom of the sea... Sorry.) I can't remember what it is, and I'm not sure where the package is, so I will guess and say that it is one of the Freesia. I think I'm horribly wrong though.

Here is a bouquet of flowers entirely from our own plants. This picture does not do it justice. It made me so happy to walk outside and pick them all. It really brightens up the kitchen.

I desperately want tons and tons of plants in the backyard. Ben keeps saying we have to wait until we get sprinklers in (even though he's dieing for foliage as well), but I think I might just tell him I'll stand out there with a hose just to have plants.

This is the place our garden is going to go and I am severely tempted to rip out that slab by myself, one chunk at a time and plant things.

Last night was spaghetti for dinner. All the kids look like this on spaghetti night, but Duder was especially excited, and especially messy. I've never seen a kid enjoy food so much. You put him in his high chair and he does a little dance for food. It's the cutest thing. He's not picky. He eats anything and everything (sometimes things not edible), which makes me happy since I love to feed people.

I also changed him to a toddler bed yesterday. I was wondering how it would work out, since he's only a year. Every morning he stands in his bed and yells and screams and gets mad because he can't get down and play with his brothers. So my thinking was that if I just change his bed and put it on the lowest mattress height, then he could get down in the morning and play like the big boys. It worked beautifully. He only fell out once last night (to be expected, and after that Ben rigged up a little wall) and this morning I heard giggles and chattering. Perfect!

For anyone who hasn't seen them yet, these are the chairs we got to go with our table. I loved the X's on the back. We got them unstained, since they were cheaper, and Ben stained and laquered them and now they look like this:

Tada! Perfect match for the table! We love them, and they're so comfortable. We just got 4 for now, and will get 2 more later. Now we just have to get rid of the stupid, horrible, uneven kitchen floor. I'm having issues with it, can you tell?

Knitting has been lacking lately. I have been so incredibly busy and feeling kind of stressed. I have a website to finish for a client, bookkeeping work to get done for another, and the other day I cast on for this

which I need to finish. It's the Lace Edge Cardigan that I have knit twice before. This one is for the newborn baby girl of one of Ben's co-workers. His little one was born without half of her heart and has been down at a children's hospital in L.A. to fix it since her birth at the end of June.

Now, you all know that Ben and I have done the babies-in-NICU thing and we know how terrifying and painful it is and how you hate that you can't do anything but wait. I firmly believe that all babies should be knit for, but I have a special place in my heart for NICU babies and felt that I needed to make this. Not just for her, but for her parents, to let them know that we are there with them in spirit, praying and waiting. Ok, moving on. I'm starting to cry now.

So anyways, that's on my To Do list of things that need to get done soon, but the clients come first so it's going slowly. The blue thing above that is the GK 2010 mystery shawl progress. I'm on the last official chart, aside from the lace edging, but I will need to add a few more repeats of one of the other charts to make it bigger. The problem with knitting on smaller needles than called for means the size turns out a lot smaller. Unfortunately I haven't done any knitting on it recently. I've actually been working on washcloths more than anything. It's knitting I don't have to think about or pay attention to.

And last but not least, I found a new awesome blog/site:
Simple Bites

Go there. Just do it. You'll love it as much as I do.

Sorry for the longness, but I haven't posted in so long I had to catch up!

July 12, 2010

What's Cookin': Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ok that's kind of a mouthful. You could probably get away with just Chocolate Chip Muffins. But having 3 year olds has made me literal. Before I give you the recipe let's start out with a lesson.

Have you ever wondered why every muffin recipe tells you not to over mix your batter?

This is why. When you over mix muffin batter the gluten in the flour develops too much generating a more elastic dough texture and can cause high peaks, "tunneling" (caverns in the center of your muffin caused by gas bubbles being trapped by said elastic dough), and a tough and chewy muffin. In bread, this is a good thing. In muffins... not so much.

The sad thing is that I know this. I've known this for a long time. And I knew I was over mixing them this morning. I was just in a hurry to get food done for hungry children. Luckily though, I just over mixed them enough to get high peaks and they aren't too terribly chewy and not tough at all. They're a little more like bread than soft muffin, but they still taste delicious. However, they could have gone a lot farther and been bad. Let this be a lesson to you. DON'T OVER MIX YOUR MUFFINS! :)

And now, the recipe! (Notice the more-bread-than-muffin like center.)

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Muffins - makes 24 (truck not included)
I always make double batches, for extras to eat over the week or freeze. Cut the recipe in half for a normal batch.
2 C AP flour
1 1/2 C whole wheat flour (or just use 3 1/2 C all AP flour for regular chocolate chip muffins)
2/3 C sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 C milk*
1/2 vegetable oil
1/2 C chocolate chips (minis, if you have them. But who the heck keeps mini CCs on hand??)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl or quart measuring cup, mix eggs, milk and vegetable oil. Make a well in center of dry mix and pour wet into it. Stir until just combined (remember not to over mix!). Gently fold in chocolate chips. Spoon into greased or paper lined muffin pans, filling cups about 2/3s of the way. Bake 18-20 minutes, until golden and the toothpick test comes out clean. Allow muffins to cool in pans about 5 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.

Notes & Variations: I have two different muffin pans. One is the shiny kind, one is the dark non-stick kind. I have found that the non-stick gives me dark, crispy bottoms and sides, and almost burns them. So I did some research and found that if using a dark non-stick pan then you should lower the temperature by 25 degrees. Just so y'all know, if you're having the same problem. I prefer my shiny pan.

*I tend to use dry milk powder in my baking and mix it with water for the amount of milk called for. This way I don't use up the good drinking stuff for cooking. The dry milk powder I've found isn't necessarily that much cheaper than buying fresh (it's about $10 for a box that makes about 5 gallons of milk - about $2 a gallon, rather than $2.50 for fresh), but it lasts longer since it can be stored in the pantry. I would highly recommend keeping some on hand. It's good for emergencies as well as baking.

July 11, 2010

What's Cookin': Bean & Chicken Tostada

To mimic my son: Hey! Look! A post!

One thing I love to do is use up leftovers. In fact, I detest throwing food away. It pains me to even throw little bits of food in the trash. So I try as hard as I can to make "new" out of old.

Another thing I don't generally like to do is have meat as a main dish by itself. It's too expensive and there are so many meals I can make out of just a chicken breast or two, stretching our meat further. With that idea, the other day I roasted up a packet of chicken breasts with some olive oil, lemon pepper, Pappy's and salt and then chopped them all up to use in various dishes. I had a little bit left, along with some cooked rice, so this is what I came up with last night.

Bean & Chicken Tostadas
2-3 rasher of bacon, chopped
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed (or about 2 cups of cooked beans, if you have them)
2 (ish) Cups chicken, coarsely chopped
1 Tbs ketchup
1/4 (ish) Cup water or broth
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cumin
Salt & pepper to taste
Corn tortillas
Leftover rice

Heat oven to 400 degrees and grease a cookie sheet. Spread corn tortillas out on sheet and spray with cooking spray or brush lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and any other desired seasoning. Bake 10-15 minutes, until crisp and starting to brown. Why buy "tostada shells" when you can make your own?

Meanwhile, in a medium pot or pan place 1 Tbs oil over medium high heat. Add bacon pieces and cook until crisp. Drain (if desired) then add onion and garlic and lower the heat to medium.  Cook until onions are soft. Add beans and smash them a bit to resembled re-fried beans (or you could just use a can of re-fried if you have it). Stir in chicken and spices, adding water/broth as needed to thin it out to a smooth consistency. Lower heat and warm through.

Spread bean & chicken mix on tortillas along with rice and taco toppings such as cheese, sour cream, salsa, tomatoes, avocados, etc.

Notes & Variations: If I didn't have the chicken to use up I would have just left it out. You could leave out the bacon too if you don't have it and it would be a perfectly good meal. Beans are horribly filling and the toasted shells make it a little bit different.

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